Sussex PM meeting: Knafo and Teschke on Radical Historicism and the methodology of PM

September 11, 2014

New PM meeting on Friday, 10th of October, 13.00-15.00 pm. Room TBC.

Samuel Knafo and Benno Teschke will discuss a paper entitled The Rules of Reproduction of Capitalism: A Historicist Critique.

Marxism has often been associated with two different legacies. The first rests on a strong exposition and critique of the logic of capitalism, which has been grounded in a systematic analysis of the laws of motion of capitalism as a system. The second legacy refers to a strong historicist perspective grounded in a conception of social relations and an emphasis on the centrality of power and class struggle to analyse history. In this article, we challenge the prominence of structural accounts of capitalism which are inspired by the first of these legacies and argue for the need to radicalize the agent-centered and historicist contribution of Marx that stem from the second. Our claim is that Marxists operating within a structural framework systematically fall into economistic readings of capitalism which hinder the practice of historicisation Marxism was supposed to buttress.

To make this argument, we show how this tension between these legacies has played out within Political Marxism (PM). We argue that both orientations – encapsulated in the simultaneous programmatic emphasis on historically specific social conflicts and determinate rules of reproduction – co-existed already uneasily in Robert Brenner’s original contributions to the Transition Debate. We proceed by critically exploring the increasing reliance on a structural conception of the ‘rules of reproduction’ in later works of PM’s early proponents and by some of its contemporary followers. This, we argue, has led to the reification of capitalism and a growing divide between theoretical premises and historical explanation. In response, we seek to return to the early historicist innovation of PM and to recover and develop its commitment to a more contextualised and open-ended interpretation of social conflicts. Through this internal critique and re-formulation of PM, we wish to open a broader debate within Marxism on the need for a more agency-based account of capitalism, which builds more explicitly on the concept of social relations.

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