49.3 Marx, class, and alienation: Dialectical enhancement without evisceration

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 11:25 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Alan SPECTOR , Behavioral Sciences Department, Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, IN
Since the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848, Marxist theory has developed as a tension between the dichotomies of structure and agency, variously expressed as body/mind or economics/politics or economic class/relative autonomy of the state as well as many other parallel dichotomies.  At the extremes we find a kind of extreme economic determinism that was often the object of Marx’s criticism and we find a kind of extreme psychological determinism that too was the object of Marx’s derision.  Attempts to reconcile the two aspects of Marxist thought have sometimes taken the form of an eclectic patching together: “it’s a little of both.”  Marx’s (and others') method of dialectics as expressed in material relations offers a way to understand how exploitation of labor, defined much more broadly and deeply than just “wage exploitation”, remains the root of oppression, rather than oppression as some kind of free-floating psychological characteristic. Understanding class as a relationship rooted in exploitation broadly defined is not the same as diluting the concept of class with terms such as “social class” or adding in factors such as income, race or gender in ways that dilute the exploitative genesis of oppression.  The concept of alienation, defined more broadly than wage exploitation but less broadly than generalized oppression or sadness, is a valuable bridge between the macro class-economic processes and the micro personal-psychological processes.  It is possible, and necessary, to explore the complex ways that culture and ideology generate oppression distinct from “wage exploitation” while still maintaining the core of Marx’s concept of class as based on exploitation of labor (control of one human’s activity by another).  Dialectical analysis provides a way to understand how the one grows out of the other, not identical, but yet connected.