Reply to Albert


For purposes of exploration and debate with Michael Albert. The whole debate can be found here.


This reply will focus on Michael Albert’s criticism that Marxism is "economistic." The argument is formulated in a number of ways over the course of his initial essay and his reply to mine, but the crux is that the Marxist tradition "tends to exaggerate the centrality of economics and gives insufficient attention to gender, race, polity and the environment." At best, Marxism "[addresses] these other factors overwhelmingly only insofar as they impact class relations, rather than also in light of their own intrinsic logic."


Albert has said that he doesn’t want to focus on this question in our debate, and he has had much more to say about Marxism’s understanding of social class and its supposed bias toward a "coordinatorist" elite. I focused my first reply to him ("Marxism vs. Coordinatorism") on these questions and intend to take them up again. But Albert has also referred to Marxism’s "economism" numerous times, and I think this is an important point that needs to be answered.




The myth of Marxism’s "economism"


Albert’s charge that Marxism is economistic can rely on what has become accepted as fact on the left. The general agreement is that Karl Marx and the Marxists who followed him were economic "reductionists"–that is, they reduce social questions, from whatever realm of life, to a matter of economics and tend to ignore or downplay issues that aren’t immediately related to the class struggle.


As in many other ways–as I’ve argued throughout this exchange–anyone who wants to argue the case for Marx and Marxism has an albatross to throw off: the association of Marxism with Stalinism, which appropriated Marxism’s vocabulary to justify exploitative and oppressive societies in the ex-USSR, China, etc. I took up a lot of space in previous contributions explaining why Stalinism is a gross distortion of Marxism. I won’t repeat the points here, but it’s important to recognize how the predominance of Stalinism for several generations shaped the debate on the left.


For example, long after the movement for gay and lesbian liberation took off at the end of the 1960s, the position of "official Marxism," embodied in the Communist Party, was that gay sexuality was a bourgeois deviation. The Maoist alternative was that gays and lesbians were examples of petty bourgeois decadence. A minority of socialists rejected this bigotry, looking back to a genuine Marxism that’s committed to the fight against all oppression–and which was responsible, for example, for the overturning of all laws against homosexuality following the Russian Revolution of 1917. But because of the predominance of Stalinism, especially in the U.S., the gay and lesbian liberation movement developed with a tendency to dismiss Marxism as having nothing to say about how to understand and fight sexual oppression.


But this isn’t the only reason for the widespread acceptance, three decades later, of the idea that Marxism is "economistic." After all, the 1960s and 1970s also produced a rebirth of authentic Marxism among people who challenged the domination of Stalinism and tried to put the principles of self-activity, liberation and democracy back at the core of the socialist tradition. This tradition of Marxism was vindicated by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the ex-USSR a decade ago–while most aspects of Stalinism have been marginalized. Thu

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Philip Gan December 10, 2014 3:23 am 

    Part of this text seems to be missing.

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