Sunday, April 24, 2005


Val Burris writes in the California Sociologist about reification from a Marxist perspective.


The concept of reification is used by Marx to describe a form of social consciousness in which human relations come to be identified with the physical properties of things, thereby acquiring an appearance of naturalness and inevitability.

This essay presents a systematic reconstruction of Marx's theory of reification, with an emphasis on the social-structural dimensions of the concept. This reconstruction differs both from the conceptions of reification that are found in non-Marxist sociology and from the interpretations of some of Marx's followers. Marx's concept of reification is then taken as the model for a more general theory ideology.

In the final section of the essay, I show how this theory can be used to analyze the emergence of new forms of reification in capitalist society, including those that are based on the growth of technology, the spread of bureaucracy, and the rationalization of occupational selection.

Val Burris begins his discussion noting what this blog has rhapsodized quite a bit about the "twin distortions of Marx's theory of positivistic psychologism on the one hand and moralistic polemicizing on the other." Burris finds this "tendency" to be "quite common" in modern work conceptualizing alienation, and it carries over in work done on reification as well.

Val Burris contends that "for Marx, reification is not merely an illusion foisted upon consciousness from the outside, but derives from the objective nature of social institutions; hence the critique of reified theories is never more than a preliminary to the analysis of the social relations which produce such reifications."

Burris begins his reformulation of Marx's theory from the objective characteristics of capitalist society found in Capital chapeter 1. Burris relates how for Marx , the real relationship between social humans becomes mediated by the relationship found between individually produced commodities.

"Since individuals do not enter into productive relations with one another directly as social beings, but only as owners of particular things, the possession of things becomes a condition for and determines the nature of each individual's participation in the productive relations of society."

Thursday, April 21, 2005

An Autodidactical Note On Private Property In Hegel And Marx.

Private property is often defended by philosophers with an apeal to the "rights" of man. In both Hegel and Marx the concept of "rights" to private property can be understood within the dialectical conception of a contradiction.

Marx from The Critique of the Gotha Program:

It [private property] is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only -- for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.[my emphasis]

Hegel from The Phenemomenology of Mind (Spirit):

Property therefore contradicts itself on all hands just as much as absence of property; each has within it both theses opposite and self contradictory moments, universality and particularity.

There were of course a number of major differences between Marx and Hegel on the meaning of private property.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Introduction to Marxism

Introduction to Marxism is a webiste developed by Dino Felluga. It includes lesson plans, terms and concepts and a general introduction which I have inserted below. The site also includes several modules of major Marxist theorists like FREDRIC JAMESON & LOUIS ALTHUSSER. I offer this website becuase I will almost never cover Althusser or Jameson.

MARXISM IS COMPLICATED by the fact that Marx is by no means the only influence on this critical school; indeed, given the various sorts of political movements that have been inspired by this thinker (socialism, Trotskyism, communism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, radical democracy, etc.), one despairs at trying to provide a fair and lucid introduction. Add to that the fact that Marx himself changed his mind on various issues or sometims expressed opinions that appear mutually exclusive, and one is faced with a rather high hurdle. Nonetheless, there are a number of Marxist thoughts and thinkers that have been especially influential on recent scholarly developments (particularly in literary, cultural, and political studies).

In short, the goal of this section of the Guide to Theory, as with any of the sections, is not to give an exhaustive account of this critical school but, rather, to give a sense for the major concepts influencing this approach while attempting to stay conscious of the various ways that individual terms have been contested over the last number of decades. The major distinction in Marxist thought that influences literary and cultural theory is that between traditional Marxists (sometimes, unfairly, called vulgar Marxists) and what are sometimes referred to as post-Marxists or neo-Marxists.

The major distinction between these two versions of Marxist thought lies in the concept of ideology: traditional Marxists tend to believe that it is possible to get past ideology in an effort to reach some essential truth (eg. the stages of economic development). Post-Marxists, especially after Louis Althusser, tend to think of ideology in a way more akin to Jacques Lacan, as something that is so much a part of our culture and mental make-up that it actively determines what we commonly refer to as "reality." According to these post-Marxist critics, there may well be some hard kernel behind our obfuscating perceptions of reality but that kernel is by definition resistant to articulation. As soon as one attempts to articulate it, one is at risk of falling back into ideology. This understanding of ideology is what Fredric Jameson famously terms the "prison-house of language." The links on the left will lead you to specific ideas discussed by Marx and those "post-Marxists" who have proven to be most influential on literary and cultural studies; however, you might like to begin with a quick overview:


KARL MARX is, along with Freud, one of a handful of thinkers from the last two centuries who has had a truly transformative effect on society, on culture, and on our very understanding of ourselves. Although there were a few critics claiming an end to Marxist thought (and even an end to ideology) after the fall of the communist system in the former Soviet Union, Marxist thought has continued to have an important influence on critical thought, all the more so recently after the rise of globalization studies. As protests at recent G7 and IMF meetings make clear, the school can also still have important political effects.

LOUIS ALTHUSSER represents an important break in Marxist thought, particularly when it comes to the notion of ideology. His Lacan-inspired version of Marxism significantly changed the way many Marxists approached both capitalism and hegemony after the second world war.

FREDRIC JAMESON is surely the most influential contemporary Marxist thinker in the United States. His own alterations of and dialogue with Althusserian and Lacanian thought have established him as an important influence on the rise of globalization studies, an important critical school of the last few years. In particular, he has attempted to make sense of the continuing staying power of capitalism and the ways that capitalism has transformed since Marx wrote his critiques in the nineteenth century, addressing such issues as multi-national (or "late") capitalism, the power of the media, and the influence of postmodernity on Marxist debate. The lattermost issue is explored in the Jameson modules under Postmodernism.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005




" Karl Marx did not invent worker alienation, virtually without exception, everyone working for someone else experiences feels it. The moment you enter the factory gate or the office door, you lose all your natural rights as a human being. You have no freedom of speech or right of assembly, you have no say or vote in what goes on. You may as well be a cow or a piece of machinery."


"A blog devoted to my interests which include anarchism and social movements, history, archeology, and anything else I choose to write about."

As Marxists we will be interested in his critique of "anyone who accepts "really existing capitalism" uncritically, and this would seem to encompass the majority of [the] mainstream."

Congrats to The Porcupine Blog the "Site of the Week!"

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Nazi or Commie debate on the Agoraphillia Blog

Visit this absurd posting on how Commies are as bad as Nazi's If not worse here... Agoraphilia

The post refers to the killings of millions of persons by the Nazi's and by governments (claiming at least) to be communistic. I find all the had washing of capitalists quite remarkable.

Yes, the Nazi's killed millions and yes so did the tyranny of governments that ruled in Russia for the last 500 hundred years. Stalin best of all. How this is Karl Marx's fault I can't care to venture. I suppose Jesus is to blame for the Crusades as well as Jerry Fawell.

Although the Black Book Of Capitalism hasn't been written...



What..what.. what...?

Um ...let's start with the genocide of the Native American population by way of Manifest Destiny. And the millions of Africans killed in the journey for slavery. (Oh yea, there was that whole slavery thing too once they got there.)

The Industrial Revolution swept in by the capitalists caused millions of deaths and many children to lose their fingers. Today hundreds of thousands of deaths still occur , due to managements refusal to abide by basic safety laws. Just about every major Fortune 500 company is a felon and has had to settle cases for hundreds of millions of dolars against them. Not to mention countless deaths brought on by business from cancers and pollution and a general refusal to internalize the true cost of a commodity. (This is a basic feature of capitalism found even in capital's Econ 101 books.)

And when capital or democracy feels threatened by communistic nations it starts wars in Indo-China [or the Persian Gulf] and kills millions of them to stop the red "threat." Millions of Asians got to pay the price in red as well.

Here was the first articel that I read that suggested that Karl Marx got "nothing" right:

That got me started and angry , I must apologize for this rant and we will resume are normal practice of reasoned critique Marx on my next post.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Moral Marxist-G. A. Cohen and the Need for a Marxist Morality.

In my last post I berated several of the leading proponents of Marxism, particularly Cohen and Wood for becoming "moralizer(s) and utopian(s) rather than critic(s) of capitalist theory."

It turns out I am hardly alone in this criticism: From The Future for Philosophy, by Brian Leiter. An entire chapter of his book has been excepted for our benefit. Chapter Three: The hermeneutics of Suspicion Recovering Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.

[Then click on the pdf file. It's a rather lengthy treatment, but we will concern ourselves only with his Marxian critiques.]

The paper has as it's goal,"to displace the the antipathy to naturalism often thought to be constitutive of the Continental tradition." Leiter describes his view of naturalism as "fundamentally a methodological view, which holds that philosophical inquiry should be both modeled on the methods of the successful sciences." It is Leiter's view [I might add mine as well] that the methodology of hermeneutics does not violate the the prescription of being modeled after successful science.

Leiter must first respond to the obvious objection that the originator of the term " hermeneutics of suspicion" would have disapproved of his use of it with Marx, that it would have appeared "strange to Ricoeur, who was in the grips of a fairly crude philosophy of science. He thought the hermeneutics of suspicion stood in opposition to a scientific understanding of phenomena."

Leiter can begin his defense of the naturalism that is to be found in Marx [ and by that the hermeneutic method and Continental philosphy ] by taking the premise that science has evolved from the purely positive account of empirical matter that dominated the "mid-20th-century scientistic philosophy." In turn, this should have required Anglophone philosphers to take seriosly the claims that Marxism is science.

The failure to find Marx as a naturalist has allowed Anglo philosphy to abandon the science of Marx in favor of moral justifications. Anglophone philosophers like G.A. Cohen believe that “Marxism has lost much or most of it's empirical carapace, its hard shell of supposed fact..." and as a result, "Marxists...are increasingly impelled into normative political philosophy."

Leiter sees the abadonment of observation in favor of the use of moral justification not because Marx 's work is not scientific enough, but becasue,"these moralizing philosophers are not interested in the explanation of phenomena [but] favor ...the more traditional philosophical enterprise of justification, whether of the just distribution of resources or the possibility of morality's authority."