Did Marx invent “class conflict”?

Marx offered several theories of the modern world that he observed around him in mid-nineteenth-century Britain that have influenced much of turmoil that ensued in the following century and a half -- theories about the "capitalist mode of production," about the role that class conflict plays in historical change, about the determinants of the actions …

The second primitive accumulation

One of the more memorable parts of Capital is Marx's description of the “so-called primitive accumulation of capital” — the historical process where rural people were dispossessed of access to land and forced into industrial employment in cities like Birmingham and Manchester (link). It seems as though we’ve seen another kind of primitive accumulation in the past …

First generation anti-positivism: Wellmer

  In Critical Theory Of Society (1969) Albrecht Wellmer announced a critique of positivist assumptions in the study of society. Proceeding from the perspective of critical theory and especially Horkheimer and Adorno, Wellmer denounced the embrace of positivism by "bourgeois" social science. But perhaps more surprisingly, he addresses this critique to Marx's system as well. …

Marx on peasant consciousness

  One of Marx's more important pieces of political writing is the The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851) (pdf). Here is his analysis of the causes of the specific nature of peasant political consciousness leading to the election of Napoleon III: The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering …

Lucien Goldmann on dialectics and history

Lucien Goldmann made important contributions to French Marxist theory and philosophy in the 1960s. Unlike other luminaries like Althusser and Poulantzas, Goldmann took a cautious stance on the strongest claims of scientific certainty for the theses of historical materialism and Marx’s theory of capitalism. Instead, he placed more emphasis on the dialectical core of Marx’s …

The mode of production as society’s structure

Figure: Althusser's conception of the CMP (RP Resch, Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory) Sociologists study social structure and the effects that structures have on individual behavior and life outcomes. But what do they have in mind when they refer to "structure"? It turns out that there are important ambiguities in the idea of …

Marx on a global wage

  What is the longterm tendency in the wage for relatively unskilled labor?  In the United States we've been thinking about this problem in the past three decades in the context of "outsourcing" and the flight of manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. Moderate- and high-wage industrial jobs have left the country in large numbers.  In …

Prosperity based on commodities

An earlier post looked at economic prosperity and standard of living from the point of view of a grain-based agricultural economy. There I singled out intensive, extensive, and technology-based growth, and the effects these scenarios had on the standard of living for a farming population. This is a particularly simple case, since it equates standard …

Marx on Russia

In 1881 Marx wrote a letter to Vera Zasulich, an important Russian follower, that addresses the question of theory and prediction when it comes to thinking about the future course of history.  In particular, he denies that his theories have determinate predictive implications for the development of capitalism or socialism in Russia.  Here is a link to the …

Public health estimates in Marx’s Capital

  Long stretches of Marx's Capital take the form of an effort at developing and defending an economic model of capitalism, based on the theories of value and surplus value.  But there are also recurring efforts at providing a descriptive sociology of capitalism: the forms of day-to-day life that British economic relations imposed upon the working …

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