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Tag: Marx

Some Stories About Communization

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by Jasper Bernes, Nov 2020-Jan 2021, via Substack

(see also Planning and Anarchy (2020), and Belly of the Revolution (2018))

Part 1, Nov 26, 2020

I want to do a series of posts on the theory of “communization” as it has developed since 1968, because it seems to me there is a great deal more interest in the term and desire than there is comprehension. There are many reasons for the abuse the word has suffered, but foremost is that, in France, from whence it derives, “communization” never at first served to name a tendency or a coherent theory. It was simply a term of art that a loosely connected network of communist projects used to explain their vision of communist revolution.

Even as the term courant communisateur – communizing tendency, or communizer current–began to be applied to these groups retrospectively, many questioned and resisted the term, drawing attention to the way that it conflated advocates of communization, who can exist in the world here and now, with those who practice communization, that is with people who do not yet exist.

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Marx on Social Reproduction

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by Paul Cammack (Historical Materialism, 2020)

Marx is generally reckoned to have had too little to say about what has come to be defined as ‘social reproduction’, largely as a consequence of too narrow a focus on industrial production, and a relative disregard for issues of gender. This paper argues in contrast that the approach he developed with Engels and in Capital, Volume 1, provides a powerful framework for its analysis. After an introductory discussion of recent literature on social reproduction the second section sets out Marx’s approach to the ‘production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation’. The third addresses his account of reproduction in Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 23. The fourth and fifth compare the relationship of the family to industry and exchange as depicted in Capital and in the present day respectively. The conclusion suggests some implications for theories of social reproduction.

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Beyond Reification: Reclaiming Marx’s Concept of the Fetish Character of the Commodity (Pepperell 2018)

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by Nicole Pepperell, Contradictions Vol. 2 number 2 (2018)

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György Lukács’s influential interpretation of commodity fetishism as “reification” shapes many contemporary critiques of the apparently objective and impersonal form taken by capitalist social relations. Such critiques seek to debunk the false veil of objectivity that results from fetishism, revealing the real character of the social relations underneath. This line of criticism, however, often attributes totalising power to capitalism, which undermines its own critical standpoint. I argue that the solution to this dilemma lies in understanding the fetish not as an ideological veil that needs to be debunked, but instead as a novel form of social interdependence that is genuinely – not illusorily – impersonal. This impersonal form is generated by a diverse array of disparate social practices whose interaction yields this unanticipated and unintended result. Within this framework, the diversity of the underlying social practices offers a practical potential basis for constituting new forms of social interdependence that lack not only the semblance, but also the reality of capitalism’s oppressive objectivity. READ PDF

See also by Pepperell:

Marxism and Mediation (Gunn, 1987)

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Richard Gunn, Common Sense No. 2 (July 1987)

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In both Hegelian and Marxist thought, the concept of mediation figures as a central dialectical category. That the category does theoretical, and revolutionary, work is clear. What is less clear, to myself at any rate, is what might be termed the conceptual geography of the category itself. It is this conceptual geography which, as a preliminary to further discussion, the present paper attempts to clarify. A more pretentious title for what follows might be ‘Prolegomena to a Reading of Marx’.

To mediate is to bring about a relation by means of a relating (an “intermediate”) term. A mediation is the relating term itself. To count as a mediation, a relating term must be more than a mere catalyst or external condition (however necessary) of the relation: rather, it must itself be the relation. It must constitute it, in the way that for example – and the example is offered merely heuristically – a rope linking two climbers is constitutive of the relation in which they stand.

If a mediation is, thus, the relation which it establishes, it does not follow that just any relation counts as a mediating term. A mediated relation is distinct from a relation for which, to render it intelligible or accurately describe it, no reference to a relating term need be made – for example, a relation of juxtaposition. A relation of this kind is an immediate relation (which, for its part, may be catalysed or necessitated in this or that way).

From the commodity to the spectacle: Debord’s Marx (Russell, 2019)

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by Eric-John Russell, Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image eds. Osborne, Alliez, Russel (2019)

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Published a century after Marx’s Capital, Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle was described upon its release as ‘the Capital of the new generation’ (Le Nouvel Observateur). However, the book’s content has almost never been seriously examined alongside the dialectical logic of the social forms of value systematically ordered within Marx’s Capital. Despite Debord’s description of the modern spectacle as a development of the commodity-capitalist economy, discussions on Debord’s debt to Marx customarily emphasize those early writings in which Marx enunciates the critique of alienation without having yet traversed the works of classical political economy. And for good reason, as his archival notes can verify. A preliminary glance at The Society of the Spectacle elicits the impression that the ‘ruthless criticism of all that exists’ first enunciated by Marx in his early twenties continued to reverberate a century later. The book resounds with both implicit and explicit reference to the phenomenon of social alienation or estrangement described by Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts. READ PDF

The Principles of Communism (Engels, 1847)

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by Friedrich Engels

Written: October-November 1847;
First Published: 1914, Eduard Bernstein in the German Social Democratic Party’s Vorwärts!
Translated: Paul Sweezy
MECW 6: 341-357

— 1 —
What is Communism?

Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat.

— 2 —
What is the proletariat?

The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labor and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for labor – hence, on the changing state of business, on the vagaries of unbridled competition. The proletariat, or the class of proletarians, is, in a word, the working class of the 19th century.[1]

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On Slavery and Slave Formations (Patterson, 1979)

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by Orlando Patterson, New Left Review, 117, 31– 67.

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What is slavery? How do we identify a slave formation or society? What do we mean when we say that a given society was based on slavery? Is there such a thing as a Slave Mode of Production? It is remarkable that after nearly a century and a half of modern scholarship on the subject these are still unanswered questions. At no time, however, were answers more urgently needed than now. Slave studies has become something of an academic industry. The industry encompasses a vast and growing body of works from Marxist and bourgeois scholars alike, and on the ancient, medieval and modern periods of every continent. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, few scholars are concerned with both the theoretical and empirical aspects of the problem. An unhealthy specialization has therefore developed in current slave studies. On one side stands a legion of empiricists who pursue every conceivable detail of slave culture and economy, often in a theoretical wasteland; on the other side is a small but growing band of theorists who insist on defining the ‘crucial issues’ and weave theories which, by their own admission, bear no relation whatever to reality. READ PDF

See also:

Class and Capital (Paul Mattick Jr., 2002)

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by Paul Mattick Jr. Download PDF 

[originally published in The Culmination of Capital: Essays on Volume III of Marx’s Capital ed. Martha Campbell and Geert Reuten, 2002; republished as Chapter 9 in Paul Mattick Jr.’s Theory as Critique, Brill 2018]


The concept of class has never remained a harmless concept for very long.

Ralf Dahrendorf

Dahrendorf gave a common view dramatic form when he wrote, ‘Marx post­poned the systematic presentation of his theory of class until death took the pen from his hand. The irony has often been noted that the last (52nd) chapter of the last (third) volume of Capital, which bears the title “The Classes”, has remained unfinished. After a little more than one page the text ends with the lapidary remark of its editor, Engels: “Here the manuscript breaks off”’. Unfortunately, the colourful picture this suggests, of the pen dropping from the hand of the dying Marx as he was on the point of completing his masterwork, isn’t ours to keep: the draft containing this chapter was completed, as is fairly well known, before Marx turned to the preparation of Volume I for publication. Nev­ertheless, some have taken Marx’s delay in returning to the chapter – until it was too late – as an admission in actu of failure, attesting to a basic flaw in his theory. Engels’s explanation is less dramatic: Marx liked to leave conclusions ‘for the final editing, shortly before printing, when the latest historical events would supply him, with unfailing regularity, with illustrations of his theoretical arguments, as topical as anyone could desire’. Reopening the question of the relation of Marx’s final page and a half to the rest of Capital, I wish to explore what Marx’s willingness to leave the matter in so sketchy a state might indicate about the nature, or even the existence, of a Marxian theory of class. [Read PDF]


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Postone and Class Theory

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by A New Institute for Social Research (2019)

Moishe Postone’s most famous work in the Anglophone world, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, is hampered by the fact that it is written against a straw man — “traditional Marxism.” The effort to prove that traditional Marxism has a superficial understanding of capitalism, and thus that the USSR only made superficial changes and remained essentially capitalist, leads him to the curious argumentative strategy of attempting to sift out only what is ‘essential’ in Marx’s theory. Yet as Postone himself continually asserts, Marx’s categories are historically specific and refer to the actually-existing capitalist social totality. This perverted totality is constituted by a real metaphysics, an essential movement and its forms of appearance, but that doesn’t make the forms of appearance ‘inessential’ in the sense of being dispensable — as every student of Hegel knows, essence must appear. What sense does it make then to claim that the commodity (a thing produced by and for exchange) is essential, but exchange is not? That proletarian labor is essential, but class is not? It makes sense only to the extent that Postone has redefined property, class, and exchange in a superficial manner in order to declare them inessential.

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The Mesh of Power (Foucault, 1976)

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by Michel Foucault 1976 (translated by Chris Chitty)

Introduction by Chris Chitty |  Original French

We will attempt to proceed towards an analysis of the concept of power.1 I am not the first, far from it, to attempt to skirt around the Freudian schema that pits instinct against suppression [répression], instinct against culture.2 Many decades ago, an entire school of psychoanalysts tried to modify and develop this Freudian schema of instinct versus culture, and of instinct versus suppression – I am referring to psychoanalysts in the English as well as the French language, like Melanie Klein, Winnicott, and Lacan, who have tried to show that suppression, far from being a secondary, ulterior, or later mechanism, which would attempt to control a given or natural play of instinct, constitutes a part of the mechanism of instinct, or, more or less, of the process through which the sexual instinct [l’instinct sexuel] is developed, unfolded and constituted as drive [pulsion].

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Die Sehnsucht nach dem ganz Anderen: Max Horkheimer im Interview mit Helmut Gumnior (1970)

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»In einer wirklich freiheitlichen Gesinnung bleibt jener Begriff des Unendlichen als Bewußtsein der Endgültigkeit des irdischen Geschehens und der unabänderlichen Verlassenheit des Menschen erhalten und bewahrt die Gesellschaft vor einem blöden Optimismus, vor dem Aufspreizen ihres eigenen Wissens als einer neuen Religion.«

Diesen Satz schrieb Max Horkheimer vor 35 Jahren im amerikanischen Exil. Er war damals seit über einem Jahr in New York. Noch galt er zu der Zeit als Marxist, als Begründer einer Theorie, die gesellschaftliches Wirken als Produktionsprozeß zu begreifen versuchte, die Philosophie als Kampf und nicht als weltferne Spekulation verstand, die von einer Revolution eine heile Welt, den vernünftigen Zustand der Gesellschaft erwartete.

H.G.: Herr Horkheimer, wie kommt ein Marxist, ein Revolutionär dazu, einen solchen Satz zu schreiben?

MAX HORKHEIMER: Es stimmt, ich war Marxist, ich war Revolutionär. Ich habe nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg begonnen, mich mit Marx zu beschäftigen, weil die Gefahr des Nationalismus offenkundig war. Ich glaubte, nur durch eine Revolution könnte der Nationalsozialismus beseitigt werden und zwar durch eine marxistische Revolution. Mein Marxismus, mein Revolutionärsein war eine Antwort auf die Herrschaft des Totalitären von rechts. Ich hatte aber schon damals Zweifel, ob die von Marx verlangte Solidarität des Proletariats schließlich zu einer richtigen Gesellschaft führen würde.

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Theory of Crisis and the Problem of Constitution (Marramao, 1975)

 

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by Giacomo Marramao – Telos No. 26, Winter 1975-76

1.
It is still widely held that the theory of the crisis and collapse of the capitalist system is inherited from the positivist deformation of the “Marxism of the Second International,” and that it thus implies ideological support for reformist politics. Ten years ago, Raniero Panzieri wrote: “As a matter of fact, Marxist thought since Marx has recognized the appearance of a ‘turn’ in the system with the development of monopoly capitalism and of imperialism around the 1870s (which today appears to us as a transitional period in relation to the ‘turn’ that began in the 1930s and is now being completed). But the analysis and description of the phase following that turn was immediately framed in terms of laws that such a phase tended to overcome. Thus, it was interpreted as a ‘final phase’.”[1] And, in a note, he added: “The mythology of the ‘last stage’ of capitalism exists with differing, even opposite, ideological functions both in Lenin and in Kautsky: in Lenin, to ‘legitimize’ the breakdown of the system at the less advanced points of its development; in Kautsky, to sanction the reformist postponement of revolutionary action until the ‘correct time.’ Since the 1917 revolution failed to consolidate itself with revolutions in more advanced countries, it fell back on objectives immediately realizable within Russia’s level of development. This would-be explanation of the possible presence of capitalist social relations in planning (a shortcoming remaining in the whole development of Leninist thought) will later facilitate the repetition, whether in the factories or in total social production, of capitalist forms behind the ideological screen of identifying socialism with planning and the possibility of ‘socialism in one country’.”[2]

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The original content of the communist program (Bordiga, 1958)

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By Amadeo Bordiga

The original content of the communist program is the obliteration of the individual as an economic subject, rights-holder, and agent of human history

Marxism and property

One topic that we have frequently found ourselves occupied with is that of the formula which in the communist program correctly counterposes the post-bourgeois historical era to the current one. To this topic was dedicated the old study in the first issue of Prometeo on “Property and Capital” [1]. We discussed, and at our last meeting in Turin [2] we returned to it with thoroughness, the most common propagandistic formula of pre-war socialism: the abolition of private property in the means of production (and of exchange). We use the parenthesis because this is how it is written in a fitting text by Engels.

The noun abolition has never been satisfactory. It reeks of a volitional act, and as such it is good for anarchists and (logically) for reformists. The adjective private raises the question of whether the relationship which we denote by the word ‘property’ should disappear in communist society, or only change its subject.

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Mask Off: Crisis & Struggle in the Pandemic

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Cosmonaut.blog – Richard Hunsinger & Nathan Eisenberg give an in-depth analysis of the current crisis where economic breakdown, pandemic, and mass revolt collide into a historic conjuncture that will forever shape the trajectory of world events. June 2020. DOWNLOAD PDF

We are running out of places to keep the bodies. In Detroit, a hospital resorted to stacking up the dead on top of each other in a room usually used for sleep studies. In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic where, for a week in April, someone died of COVID-19 every 3 minutes, a fleet of refrigeration trucks is enabling interment in parking lots for overcrowded hospitals. The chair of New York’s City Council health committee, publicly stated that they were preparing contingency plans, per a 2016 “fatality surge” study, to dig mass graves in a public park. The resulting moral backlash prompted Mayor de Blasio to deny any such plans would be carried out, but he would go on to emphasize the necessity for mass graves on Hart Island, an old potter’s field in the Bronx long home to the unclaimed corpses of the indigent, which has quintupled its monthly intake of bodies. As is protocol, the excess demand for the work of burying bodies on the island is being met with the use of prison labor from Rikers Island, which itself has the highest infection rate in the world. The situation in private funeral homes is similarly dire. Dozens of corpses were recently found rotting in U-Hauls outside a funeral home in New York. In Ecuador, there are cases of bodies being wrapped in plastic and left on the sidewalk for days before strained hospitals can send an ambulance, prompting engineers in Colombia to come to their aid by developing hospital beds that transform into coffins. Mass graves are cropping up across the world, in Ukraine, in Iran, in Brazil. A man in Manaus, Brazil, interviewed by a Guardian reporter while watching his mother’s coffin be lowered into a trench alongside 20 others, despaired, “They were just dumped there like dogs. What are our lives worth now? Nothing.”

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Value Isn’t Everything (2018)

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by John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett (Monthly Review) 2018

The rapid advances in Marxian ecology in the last two decades have given rise to extensive debates within the left, reflecting competing conceptions of theory and practice in an age of planetary ecological and social crisis. One key area of dispute is associated with the attempt by a growing number of radical environmental thinkers to deconstruct the labor theory of value in order to bring everything in existence within a single commodity logic, replicating in many ways the attempts of liberal environmentalists to promote the notion of “natural capital,” and to impute commodity prices to “ecosystem services.”1 For many in Green circles, Karl Marx and a long tradition of Marxian theorists are to be faulted for not directly incorporating the expenditure of physical work/energy by extra-human nature into the theory of value.

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Expropriation of the Expropriators

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by Jacob Blumenfeld APRIL 30, 2020  Legal Form – Marxist Analysis of law

Throughout his work, Marx is very clear about how to overcome capitalism. [1] There is, in fact, one simple trick, although it is not easy, and how one goes about doing it determines everything. I am not referring to the self-emancipation of the working class or the self-abolition of the proletariat. These classic revolutionary formulas name the agent of revolution (the working class or the proletariat) and the aim of revolution (emancipated from wage-labour or abolished as a class), but they do not describe the content of revolution. Instead, I want to talk about a single phrase that Marx repeats at key points in his work, something more banal, more concrete. That is, the expropriation of the expropriators. At the end of the first volume of Capital, while describing the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation, Marx writes:

The centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated. [2]

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Capital Abandon: Some Words On and Oft Inspired by Jacques Camatte

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by Howard Slater, January 2020 (metamute)

While for many on the Left, the theory of ultra-left communist Jacques Camatte has long been condemned for its ‘nostalgia’ and ‘primitivism’, our current moment of climate crisis and a ‘generalised madness’ brought on by capitalism’s psyche harvesting reveals these works to have a powerful relevance. In this overarching account of Camatte’s project, Howard Slater, citing previously untranslated texts, draws out the former’s interest in unlocking the repressed communal dimensions of the human being as a marker of revolutionary praxis

‘What is important for us is to create new

emotional relationships for a redeployment of life

Jacques Camatte

The work of Jacques Camatte is still relatively little known in the English-speaking world and as a consequence rarely discussed by Marxologists. His work is more familiar to that mix of disgruntled anarchists and non-Leninist communists who had passed through the Situationist School: anarchists tempted by the revelatory rigour of Marx, and Marxists tempted by the communitarian and non-party dimension of anarchism. In more recent years Camatte’s work has found itself utilised and commented on by two divergent schools: the accelerationist and communising tendencies. This is perhaps testament to the resonant eclecticism of Camatte’s work, his deep familiarisation with the work of Marx and yet his ‘shocking’ rejection of one of its main tenets: class struggle.

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Planning and Anarchy

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by Jasper Bernes (2020) PDF

Central planning?! Computers can do it!!! Among the intuitions animating the contemporary left, we must rank rather high the felt sense that powerful new computing technologies now offer a solution to problems of calculation previously insuperable for the red-eyed central planners of “actually existing” socialist states. This is more or less the central thrust of Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski’s recent book, The People’s Republic of Walmart, recapitulating a line of argument expressed in prominent books like Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future and Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism. Walmart and other corporations demonstrate that “economic planning on a massive scale is being realized in practice with the assistance of technological advance, even as the wrangling of its infinities of data . . . are supposed to be possible to overcome” (Phillips and Rozworski 2019: 39) . . .

source: South Atlantic Quarterly (2020) 119 (1): 53–73

The Temporalities of Capitalism (Sewell, 2008)

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by William H. Sewell, Jr

Socio-Economic Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, July 2008, Pages 517- 537 (PDF)

See also: Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation 2005

The temporalities of capitalism are in certain respects unique. The temporalities of social life in general are ‘eventful’, i.e. irreversible, contingent, uneven, discontinuous and transformational. Although capitalist social processes are in certain respects super-eventful, the extreme abstraction that is a signature of capitalist development enables core processes of capitalism to escape from the irreversibility of time and to sustain a recurrent logic at their core. This means that the temporality of capitalism is composite and contradictory, simultaneously still and hyper-eventful. Recognizing this contradiction at the core of capitalism poses important conceptual and methodological challenges for those who study it.

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No Bases, No Superstructures: Against Legal Economism

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Nate Holdren and Rob Hunter on rethinking the “base/superstructure” model.

via Legal Form

[Several recent posts on Legal Form have tackled the “base/superstructure” model sketched in Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, posing questions about its analytical usefulness, correct interpretation, and ongoing relevance. For these earlier posts, authored by Anandha Krishna Raj, Nate Holdren, and Matthew Dimick respectively, see herehere, and here. The present post responds to and builds upon these earlier posts.]

Three Different Accounts of the Relationship Between State and Civil Society

Capitalist society subordinates human flourishing and freedom to the accumulation of value. This proposition is central to Marx’s critique of political economy. Historically, critics of Marx have taken this view to mean that he is a fundamentally economic thinker, portraying his critique as merely economic, and thus necessarily inadequate or distorted. This criticism has motivated a number of attempts to theorize the relationship between economic relations and other social relations. Such attempts are premised on the recognition that the sum of economic relations is not simply the prime mover of every other social relation. Law, the state, culture and subculture, religion, gender, sexuality, and more all have specificities forged through concrete histories of struggle, just like (and in close connection with) economic relations.

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