Uploaded by Jill Hamill

Can we defend Marxism against the charge of anti

Can we defend Marxism against the charge of anti-humanism by allowing that it posits a
form of methodological individualism?
‘Although very antagonistic to liberal-individualism in his approach to the question of the
individual in society, Marx was not a philosophical anti-humanist who denied the significance of
the individual’. 1
Ian Forbes
Importance of Marxism, wealth of discussion and interpretation. Against charges from scholars
that Marxism is anti-humanistic, Elster posited that the theory should be re-interpreted from the
standpoint of methodological individual. In this essay, I will show that, while Marxism as
formulated by Karl Marx is not anti-humanist, the claims of Elster are not an effective counterclaim.
General understanding of Marxism
Marxism is an economic and social system based upon the political and economic theories of
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Under capitalism, the proletariat, the working class or “the
people,” own only their capacity to work; they have the ability only to sell their own labor.
According to Marx a class is defined by the relations of its members to the means of production.
He proclaimed that history is the chronology of class struggles, wars, and uprisings. Under
capitalism, Marx continues, the workers, in order to support their families are paid a bare
minimum wage or salary. The worker is alienated because he has no control over the labor or
product which he produces. The capitalists sell the products produced by the workers at a
proportional value as related to the labor involved. Surplus value is the difference between what
the worker is paid and the price for which the product is sold.
Marx and the New Individual, Ian Forbes
An increasing immiseration of the proletariat occurs as the result of economic recessions; these
recessions result because the working class is unable to buy the full product of their labors and
the ruling capitalists do not consume all of the surplus value. A proletariat or socialist revolution
must occur, according to Marx, where the state (the means by which the ruling class forcibly
maintains rule over the other classes) is a dictatorship of the proletariat. Communism evolves
from socialism out of this progression: the socialist slogan is “From each according to his ability,
to each according to his work.” The communist slogan varies thusly: “From each according to
his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Influences on Karl Marx are generally thought to have been derived from three sources: German
idealist philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach), French socialism (Rousseau, Charles Fourier and
Henri de Saint-Simon, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon), and English and Scottish political economy
(Engels, Darwin).
The early Marx, influenced by Feuerbach's humanistic inversion of Hegelian idealism,
articulated a concept of species-being, according to which man's essential nature is that of a free
producer, freely reproducing their own conditions of life. However, under capitalism individuals
are alienated from their productive activity - they are compelled to sell their labor-power as a
commodity to a capitalist; their sensuous life-activity, or labor, thus appears to them as
something objective, a commodity to be bought and sold like any other. Thus, to overcome
alienation and allow humankind to realize its species-being, the wage-labor system must be
transcended; separation of the laborer from the means of labor abolished.
Marxist theory leads scholars to question
whether specific social conditions and institutions weigh decisively on shaping certain concrete
forms of individual actions – more so than individual desires, passions, beliefs, goals, etc.
whether an individual’s actions and beliefs are not bent, changed, transformed through social
pressures over which he has no control, and of which he often is not consciously aware.
Louis Althusser claims that Marx’s science of history has no place for such an entity as the
individual. Althusser brands Marxism as anti-humanism. The most potent criticism of Marxist
Humanism has come from within the Marxist movement. Louis Althusser, the French
Structuralist Marxist, criticises Marxist Humanists for not recognising the dichotomy between
'Young Marx' and 'Mature Marx'. Althusser believes Marx's thought to be marked by a radical
epistemological break. For Althusser, the humanism of Marx's early writings—influenced by
Hegel and Feuerbach—is fundamentally incongruous with the "scientific", structure-concerned
theory found in Marx's mature works such as Das Kapital.
Humanists argue that ‘Marxism’ developed lopsidedly because Marx's early works were
unknown until after the orthodox ideas were in vogue and to understand his latter works properly
it is necessary to understand Marx's philosophical foundations. However, Althusser does not
defend orthodox Marxism's economic reductionism and determinism; instead, he develops his
own theories of ideological hegemony and conditioning within class societies, through the
concept of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) and interpellation which constitutes the subject.
It the early Marx philosophical questions dominate his thinking. It is in this phase that was the
formative stage of his humanism. In the second stage his interest shifts to economics, politics and
history. These two phases however were not intellectually separate and Marx never abandoned
the philosophical position he adopted in the 1840s. The economic and political schema that he
devised were rooted in his early philosophical positions, particularly his atheism and humanism.
Originally, antihumanism was a reaction against the privileging of the human perspective, a
privileging that placed the human at the center of experience, or gave the human a particular and
elevated role to play in shaping the world, or ascribed to the human subject a transparency that
allowed it to know itself and determine its future and world according to that knowledge.
Methodological Individualism
‘Marx believes in individuals, but must reject individualism’. 2
Methodological individualism - two doctrines: a claim about social entities (denies that there are
social entities independent from individuals - only individuals are real, all else - corporations,
institutions, states, societies - being in some way aggregates of individuals) and a claim about
social explanations (assertions of explanatory relations among social facts need to be reduced to
explanatory relations among individual-level).
Elster likes this theory as a scientific explanation, 'there is a need to reduce the time-span
between explanans and explanandum - between cause and effect - as much as possible, in order
to avoid spurious explanations. Elster says its for an individualist theory to introduce social
norms into its explanations (1989a:105); contrary to Durkheim's familiar view that norms have a
supra-individual status.
Humanities necessary interconnectedness – therefore, is it not more probable to say that, So it
simply is not true that all social phenomena are explicable in ways that, in the final analysis, only
ibid, p. xiv
involve individuals. Their explanation must also involve social forces and institutions which
have a logic of their own, separate and apart from that of any individuals who compose them –
irrespective of whether that logic operates a priori or a posteriori to that of personal motivations.
Individuals divorced from the social conditions in which they are embedded, are as unreal,
abstract and metaphysical (mythical, pure products of imagination) as ‘history’ is in general and
in the abstract.
Inaccuracy here leads to further false conclusions
Regarding the capitalists he states:
...we must indeed expect something to give if each capitalist acts on an assumption – that only
his workers should save or accept lower wages – which as a matter of logic cannot be true for all.
In Marx’s phrase, “each individual reciprocally blocks the assertion of the others’ interests,”
because they act on mutually incompatible assumptions about one another. (26)
Now, where Elster sees a logical contradiction (antinomy), we have to examine a concrete
contradictory historical process. Because he approaches the problem from the standpoint of the
individual capitalist’s ‘assumptions’ (as if it were a pure and simple thought process, or
psychological process), he does not see the pressure of social circumstances which force the
capitalist to act in a contradictory way, independently of his ‘assumptions.’
Note: Problem of paragraph above. For Marx, labour is not a numéraire. It is the substance, the
essence of value. For him, value is a fragment of the total abstract labour potential available in a
given society at a given time. It is, therefore, different from wages, which are just the values of
one particular commodity. The disconnection of value from wages in a much more systematic
and total way than Ricardo’s theory was what Marx considered one of his main theoretical
achievements. Second, wages are not, for Marx, direct expressions of the value of labour power;
the law of supply and demand does intervene in their determination. This occurs independently
of any changes in the bundle of consumer goods bought by money wages. Third, like all value,
the value of labour power is a social, and not an individual, phenomenon. It is determined by the
average productivity of labour in the consumer goods industries, independently of the way in
which each working class family divides up its income between different wage goods and
services. It is, therefore, a moot point whether one calculates all these aggregates in labour time,
in gold equivalents or in paper money, provided one uses the same measuring rod consistently
for particular wage goods and for the aggregate value (or production prices or market prices) of
the commodity labour power. Small discrepancies between these aggregates will cancel each
other out in the long run (i.e. presumably during a given business cycle), over which they are
established as social averages. Fourth: all these processes are social processes, in the sense that
they result from struggles between living social forces, leading to a new ‘social contract,’
Any analysis of society and its problems must, according to Marx, start in an examination of its
processes of production. All human societies have to be concerned, before anything else, with
the production and distribution of the means of life. By using tools and instruments to effect
changes in nature, humans are able to satisfy their material and other needs through productive
labour. It is this activity which Marx saw as being at the base of all societies.
Before humans can do almost anything at all they must satisfy certain basic needs, they must
feed, clothe and house themselves. Production is "the first premise of all human existence . . .
men must be in a position to live in order to be able to 'make history'" (The German
Ideology).This approach, called by Marx and Engels the Materialist Conception of History or
historical materialism, was for Marx, as he put it in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy, the "guiding thread" in his political studies.
Because humans produce their own means of life the means available to them to do so
determines their level of existence. These are what Marx called the "productive forces" of
society. The productive forces consist of means of production, and labour power. Means of
production include tools, machinery, premises and infrastructure ("the means of labour"-what
humans work with) and raw material ("the objects of labour"-what humans work on). Labour
power (which enables them to work with means of production) includes strength, skill,
knowledge and inventiveness.
It is the level of development of productive forces, and the way in which society organises their
operation, which marks out the different stages of human development. It is "the multitude of
productive forces accessible to men" which, Marx says, "determines the nature of society" (The
German Ideology).
Marx took for granted that human beings are inventive and are continually improving the
productive forces, and will not voluntarily give up advantages gained in the field of productive
activity. This is the evidence of history. Productive advance is independent of the social form
production takes. It is improvements in technology, improvements in the ability of human beings
to win a living from nature, which cumulatively result in major changes in society. As an
analogy we may take the invention of gunpowder making the reorganisation of armies necessary
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Marx had discovered that throughout history changes in the productive forces of society had
made it necessary to radically change the organisation of human society. As a result of changes
in the productive forces the economic structure of society (the "relations of production") had to
change to accommodate the new situation. Because they were standing in the way of further
development the old production relations had to make way for new ones.
Production relations
Production relations are of two kinds. Firstly there are those pertaining to ownership by persons,
either individually or collectively, of productive forces. These regulate and control access to, and
use of, the means of production. Secondly, relationships that structure the labour process but
which are not that process. These depend on which type of ownership relations dominate a given
society. In turn they regulate and control what is produced and when, in what quantities, and for
what purpose. The economic structure of feudal society, for example, had to be changed because
it had developed within it means of production that were being hampered from further
development by the way that that society produced and exchanged wealth. The feudal relations
of property "became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they
became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder" (Communist
Manifesto). It was at this point that feudalism gave way to capitalism.
Marx believed capitalism had reached a similar stage in its expansion of the productive forces.
They could not be further developed without plunging world society into periodic crises of
overproduction. "The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth
created by them" (Communist Manifesto). The production relations of capitalism had to be
replaced by new production relations, namely common ownership of the productive forcescommunism (or socialism). Private ownership (that is property in the means of production)
which still regulates and controls access to, and use of, the means of production has become "a
fetter". They are operated in the interest of profit-making only, and not simply to satisfy human
needs. In terms of technological knowledge the means to produce abundance now exists.
Capitalism has solved the problem of production, but it cannot solve the problem of distribution.
More and more can be produced with less and less labour. There is a "monstrous disproportion
between the labour time applied, and its product". As has happened in the past social relations
must change to accommodate expanding productive capability.
This was the conclusion reached by Marx and outlined in a passage in the Preface to his A
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859. It explained his views on the
development of human society:
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and
independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of
development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production
constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rise legal and
political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The
mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in
It appears from this passage that historical materialism is deterministic in at least the following
1. Human beings cannot develop apart from society, and as material production is social they
enter into social relations that are "given" by society.
2. That the society in which people live is the outcome of historical development and is by
implication changeable.
3. The economic structure of society depends on the stage to which the productive forces have
developed, and by implication cannot be changed by individual acts of will that ignore or try to
circumvent these stages.
4. That the ideas of society are "conditioned" by the mode of production.
5. That changes in the economic structure that is the base (the "real foundation") of society give
rise to changes in the "superstructure" and to changed ideas about how society should be
Making Sense of Marx is a 1985 book about Karl Marx by the social and political theorist Jon
Elster, in which the author reevaluates Marx's ideas. The book has received a mixture of praise
and criticism from commentators.
Making Sense of Marx was praised as "sharp" and "hard-headed" by the political scientist David
McLellan in the 1995 edition of Karl Marx: His Life and Thought.[1] The political philosopher
Richard W. Miller, writing in The Cambridge Companion to Marx (1991), called Elster's work
"erudite". 3
Miller 1999. p. 77.
Conversely, the Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel gave the work a negative review entitled "How
to Make No Sense of Marx", 4 while the philosopher Jan Narveson wrote that Making Sense of
Marx was, "greeted with highly mixed feelings by those who had hoped the title meant that there
was sense to be made" of Marx. 5
Marx's analysis revealed that developments in the productive forces of society are working in
favour of change. Marx showed that capitalism had outlived its social usefulness. It had fulfilled
its historic role-that of developing the productive forces to such a point that it was both feasible
and desirable to end class society and exploitation. It had compelled "all nations, on pain of
extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production . . . to become bourgeois themselves. In
one word, it creates a world after its own image" (Communist Manifesto). Capitalism itself was
producing the conditions for its own destruction by implementing changes that constantly
increase productive capacities on a world scale. But it is unable to cope rationally with the
productive resources of the planet and is constantly lurching from crisis to crisis. In other words
the "material productive forces of society [are] in conflict with the existing relations of
production" (Preface to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy).
Marx's analysis shows that the socialist revolution must be world-wide and cannot be achieved in
one country alone. Because capitalism has become a world-wide system the society to replace it
must also be world-wide. Class emancipation must mean the "freeing of the whole of society
from exploitation, oppression and class struggle . . ." (Engels's Preface to 1883 German edition
of Communist Manifesto). Capitalism has made abundance a possibility, and made workable the
Mandel 1989. pp. 105-132.
Narveson 2001. p. 348.
"Communistic abolition of buying and selling . . . the moment when labour can no longer be
converted into capital, money or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolised"
(Communist Manifesto). As we in the Socialist Party predicted at the time of the Bolshevik
insurrection it was not possible to have a socialist revolution in those countries in which
capitalism had not yet fully developed and then to wait for the rest of the world to join in. The
Bolsheviks had no possibility of introducing socialism. There is no "short cut" that can be
implemented by a minority "vanguard" on behalf of the working class.
The change from capitalism to socialism requires the deliberate actions of men and women-it is
not an automatic or mechanistic process. The task must be carried out democratically by those
whose interests are most involved and who have the most to gain: that is, the working class.
Changes to the economic structure of society have to be brought about through action on the
political field. The owners of the means of production must be dispossessed by those who must
first " . . . win the battle of democracy" (Communist Manifesto).
Before it is possible to have socialism a majority of the working class must understand what
needs to be done. To be successful the socialist movement must be "the self-conscious,
independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority"
(Communist Manifesto). In addition to the struggle over wages and conditions at work, the
working class has to contest with the owners of the means of production on the political field in
order to change the economic structure. It must "thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions
and thus the very nature of this act . . . and the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to
accomplish" (Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).
Marx's "guiding thread" had led him through his studies to the conclusion that capitalism had
brought into being a class that would be able to free itself from exploitation without having to
rely on leaders to do it for them. "We cannot therefore co-operate", said Marx, in a criticism of
Leninism before its time "with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to
emancipate themselves and must first be freed from above" (Letters to Bebel, Liebknecht and
others, September 1879).
Elster, “'By this I mean the doctrine that all social phenomena - their structure and their change are in principle explicable in ways that only involve individuals - their properties, their goals,
their beliefs and their actions. Methodological individualism thus conceived is a form of
reductionism' 6.
The young Karl Marx is sometimes considered a humanist, as opposed to the mature Marx who
became more forceful in his criticism of human rights as idealist or utopian. Marx believed
human rights were a product of the very dehumanization they were intended to oppose. Given
that capitalism forces individuals to behave in a egoistic manner, they are in constant conflict
with one another, and are thus in need of rights to protect themselves. True emancipation, he
asserted, could only come through the establishment of communism, which abolishes the private
ownership of all means of production. 7
In 1845, Marx broke radically with every theory that based history and politics on an essence of
man. This rupture is Marx’s scientific discovery. Marx rejected the problematic of the earlier
philosophy and adopted a new problematic. The earlier idealist (‘bourgeois’) philosophy
depended in all its domains and arguments on a problematic of human nature.
Karl Marx On the Jewish Question (1843)
This problematic was neither vague nor loose; on the contrary, it was constituted by a coherent
system of precise concepts tightly articulated together. When Marx confronted it, it implied two
complementary postulates he defined in the Sixth Thesis on Feuerbach:
(1) that there is a universal essence of man;
(2) that this essence is the attribute of ‘each single individual’ who is its real subject.
If the essence of man is to be a universal attribute, it is essential that concrete subjects exist as
absolute givens; this implies an empiricism of the subject. If these empirical individuals are to be
men, it is essential that each carries in himself the whole human essence, if not in fact, at least in
principle; this implies an idealism of the essence. So empiricism of the subject implies idealism
of the essence and vice versa.
By rejecting the essence of man as his theoretical basis, Marx rejected the whole of this organic
system of postulates. He drove the philosophical categories of the subject, of empiricism, of the
ideal essence, etc., from all the domains in which they had been supreme.
Marx established a new problematic, a new systematic way of asking questions of the world,
new principles and a new method. Historical materialism: a historico-dialectical materialism of
praxis: that is, by a theory of the different specific levels of human practice (economic practice,
political practice, ideological practice, scientific practice) in their characteristic articulations,
based on the specific articulations of the unity of human society. …a concrete conception of the
specific differences that enables us to situate each particular practice in the specific differences
of the social structure.
Marx’s theoretical anti-humanism: the absolute (negative) precondition of the (positive)
knowledge of the human world itself, and of its practical transformation. It is impossible to know
anything about men except on the absolute precondition that the philosophical (theoretical) myth
of man is reduced to ashes. So any thought that appeals to Marx for any kind of restoration of a
theoretical anthropology or humanism is no more than ashes, theoretically. But in practice it
could pile up a monument of pre-Marxist ideology that would weigh down on real history and
threaten to lead it into blind alleys.
Leading from theoretical Marxist anti-humanism is the recognition and knowledge of
ideological humanism itself. Marx never fell into the idealist illusion of believing that the
knowledge of an object might ultimately replace the object or dissipate its existence. Marx never
believed that a knowledge of the nature of money (a social relation) could destroy its appearance,
its form of existence – a thing, for this appearance was its very being, as necessary as the existing
mode of production. Marx never believed that an ideology might be dissipated by a knowledge
of it: for the knowledge of this ideology, as the knowledge of its conditions of possibility, of its
structure, of its specific logic and of its practical role, within a given society, is simultaneously
knowledge of the conditions of its necessity. So Marx’s theoretical anti-humanism does not
suppress anything in the historical existence of humanism. Furthermore, Marx’s
theoretical anti-humanism, by relating it to its conditions of existence, recognizes a
necessity for humanism as an ideology, a conditional necessity. The recognition of this
necessity is not purely speculative. On it alone can Marxism base a policy in relation to the
existing ideological forms, of every kind: religion, ethics, art, philosophy, law – and in the very
front rank, humanism. When (eventually) a Marxist policy of humanist ideology, that is, a
political attitude to humanism, is achieved, this policy will only have been possible on the
absolute condition that it is based on Marxist philosophy, and a precondition for this is
theoretical anti-humanism.
Marx’s theories attempt to humanise labour and dehumanise capital (from a basis of fact,
not ideology). Whereas, from Marx’s point of view, our ongoing capitalist reality and its
ideologies dehumanise labour and humanise capital. Man’s loss of control over his labour power
Marx calls his dehumanisation; it, too, is the same process — a process which for Marx remains
of central importance to the understanding of capitalism. Man’s loss of control over the product
of his work Marx now calls exploitation; a term which does not mean that Marx thinks the
capitalist is getting too much — more than is ‘reasonable’ but which underlines his insistence
that what belongs to one man, or to men in general, is being appropriated by others, or by some
men in particular. Exploitation is made possible by the creation of surplus value; but its basic
ground for Marx remains the alienation of man from his labour power, the fact that man’s
activity becomes a commodity.
German Ideology:
“The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from
which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their
activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already
existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely
empirical way.
“The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals...
“Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.
They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce
their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation. By
producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.” 8
Production and social intercourse will be stripped, for the first time, of their independent
character and subjugated ‘to the power of individuals united’ (G 1, 70; M 1, 5, 60).[96] The
material process of production will become ‘a process carried on by a free association of
producers, under their conscious purposive control’; the relations between human beings in their
practical everyday life will ‘have assumed the aspect of perfectly intelligible and reasonable
relations between man and man, and between man and Nature’ (K I, 85; C I, 92).
The essential thing for Marx that makes production truly social is the abolition of money as a
circulating exchange value (K III, 932; C III), the fact that the individual is no longer an abstract
buyer and seller of commodities, but a participant in the social business of production and of
Jill, check: book of Denis de Rougemont: “Politique de la personne”. De Rougemont contrasts
Hegel and Marx -- opposite Kierkegaard and Proudhon. Proudhon humanist – Marx antihumanist
The German Ideology, passage on Estranged Labour: Man is a species-being, not only because
he practically and theoretically makes the species – both his own and those of other things – his
object, but also – and this is simply another way of saying the same thing – because he looks
upon himself as the present, living species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and
therefore free being.[22]
Methodological Individualism: the claim that social phenomena must be explained by showing
how they result from individual actions, which in turn must be explained through reference to the
German Ideology, Chapter 1A, §2. 1845
intentional states that motivate the individual actors. It involves a commitment to the primacy of
what Talcott Parsons would later call “the action frame of reference” (Parsons 1937: 43–51) in
social-scientific explanation. It is also sometimes described as the claim that explanations of
“macro” social phenomena must be supplied with “micro” foundations, ones that specify an
action-theoretic mechanism (Alexander, 1987).
Elster's book.
A bit more than midway through the text, in a section entitled 'The conditions for collective
action,' the following appears: The motivation to engage in collective action involves, centrally,
the structure of the gains and losses associated with it for the individual... The gains and losses
associated with collective action must, for the present purposes, be measured in terms of
expected utility. Hence they depend both on the individual's estimate of the likelihood of success
and failure and on the degree of risk aversion.5 For 5 By alluding to degrees of risk aversion,
Elster implicitly invokes the assumption that utility is cardinally measureable, with no apparent
awareness of the enormously powerful premises required for that assumption. There are even
suggestions, as we shall see, of interpersonal utility comparisons. Here, as elsewhere, Elster uses
what I should call the rhetoric of game theory with no attention to its logic.
Marx, in the Manuscripts of 1844, follows Feuerbach’s thought. He writes, ‘Man is not merely a
natural being: he is a human natural being.’11 9 Feuerbach’s man is neither the cause nor the goal
of any history. Marx’s critique: Feuerbach defines the essence of man by means of an atemporal
relation – whether man/object, self/other, man/woman – and on the fact that, for Feuerbach,
sensible experience is not historical. Marx doesn’t object to the fact that Feuerbach’s history has
a subject; he objects to the fact that his subject has no history. If history reaches this subject,
closed in as he is in the contemplation and interpretation of the world, it is purely by accident.
Feuerbach’s philosophy is indeed humanistic, but his humanism does not go hand and in hand
with any historicism. Marx does not refer Feuerbach’s man to the category of the subject, even
though such a move, coupled with the mediation of bourgeois rights, would have sealed the
relationship between this man and bourgeois economism. Instead, Marx points out that
Feuerbach’s man is German. This is far from being the ‘simplistic’ observation it is sometimes
taken to be. Indeed, it tells us a few things about this humanism, lass struggle?
Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in MECW3, 105.
Marxist antihumanism: we struggle to pass beyond capitalist forms of subjectivity. We cannot,
when we choose for ourselves, 'choose for all men' because our choices only make sense within a
very specific society at a specific point in time/space. Althusser argues that our human condition
is in the final instance determined by the class relations of a given society: understanding
ourselves as thinking beings confronted by meaningless is itself only made possible due to the
specific class relationships in our current society, which have eroded religious/transcendental
forms of meaning at the expense of secular, market-oriented forms of meaning.
Elster, “In my struggle with Marx’s writings on ideologies, I have been constantly exasperated
by their elusive rhetorical character. In order to pin them down, I have insisted on the
methodological individualism set out [in the introduction] with results that may appear
incongruous to some readers Yet I fail to see any satisfactory alternative. A frictionless search
for the “function” of ideologies or the “structural homologies” between thought and reality had
brought this part of Marxism to deserved dispute. To rescue it – and I strongly believe there is
something here to be rescued – a dose of relentless positivism seems to be called for”. 10
Elster’s methodological individualism: By this, I mean the doctrine that all social phenomena –
their structure and their chance – are in principle explicable in ways that only involve individuals
– their properties, their goals, their beliefs and their actions. Methodological individualism thus
conceived is a form of reductionism” (5)
Defenders of methodological individualism – only individuals are real – other institutes are
aggregates of individuals
The motivation to engage in collective action involves, centrally, the structure of the gains and
losses associated with it for the individual... The gains and losses associated with collective
action must, for the present purposes, be measured in terms of expected utility. Hence they
depend both on the individual's estimate of the likelihood of success and failure and on the
degree of risk aversion. For the time being, I assume the utility derives from the material gains
and losses for the individual himself… On these assumptions, then, the utility calculus of
Making sense of Marx, 239
collective action is capture in three variables. The first is the gain from cooperation, defined as
the different between what accrues to the individual if all engage in the collective action and
what accrue to him if none does. The second is the free-rider gain, that is the difference between
what he gets if no one engages in collective action, and what he gets if everyone does so. Finally,
there is the loss from unilateralism – the difference between what he gets if no one engages in
collective action and what he gets (such as punishment or costs of engaging in useless individual
action) if he is the only one or among the few who do so.
Other things being equal, the probability of collective action increases with the first of these
variables and decreases with the second and third. Frequently, however, they do not vary
independently of one qnother… In general, collective action will be either individually sensible
(large free-rider gains), individually inaccessible (large losses from unilateralism) or both. Since
nevertheless such action does occur, we must try to understand how these obstacles are
overcome (351-2)\
Micro-foundations for collective action.
In Marxist philosophy, the term dominant ideology denotes the attitudes, beliefs, values, and
morals shared by the majority of the people in a given society. As a mechanism of social control,
the dominant ideology frames how the majority of the population thinks about the nature of
society, their place in society, and their connection to a social class.[1]
In The German Ideology (1845), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels said that “The ideas of the
ruling class are, in any age, the ruling ideas” applied to every social class in service to the
interests of the ruling class. Hence, in the revolutionary practice, the slogan: “The dominant
ideology is the ideology of the dominant class” summarises its function as a revolutionary
In "Three Challenges to Class" (1986i) and "Marxism, Revolution, and Rational Choice" (1988d)
Elster turns his attention to this set of problems. He emphasises the importance of providing an
account of the microfoundations of collective action, since most instances of political collective
action involve the pursuit of public goods. It is not sufficient, therefore, to refer to the shared
interests that members of a class have in the attainment of a political end; it is necessary to
identify as well the individual-level circumstances that given potential participants an incentive
to involve themselves in the collective action. Otherwise we should expect free-riding and
prisoners' dilemmas to make collective action unattainable. Others have treated this problem as
well; but Elster's discussions carry the issue a step forward. Here again is an instance of Elster's
ability to bring some of the results of one area of social research fruitfully to bear on a topic in a
non-standard area.
M. Warren: Marx rejected individuals ‘because they treat the intentional properties of individuals
as metaphysically existent rather than as problematice’(1988, p.453) He accuses that ‘an a priori
conception of agency serves an axiomatic role in the explanation of actors’(ibid. p.459)
Since Marx sought to demonstrate that it is individuals who can make society, but who are
presently prevented from doing so, he is in conflict with individualism, no matter how
sophisticated its form, because he claims to be able to incorporate and realize some of its key
values, while demonstrating that individualist practice cannot.
Nicholas Abercrombie & Bryan S. Turner (June 1978). "The Dominant Ideology Thesis". The
British Journal of Sociology. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
Elster, Jon. 1985b. Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
__________. 1986d. An Introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.
__________. 1988d. "Marx, revolution and rational choice" in Rationality and Revolution. See
M. Taylor 1988.
Forbes, Ian. Marx and the New Individual (RLE Marxism)
Mandel, Ernest (1989). Ware, Robert; Nielsen, Kai, eds. Analyzing Marxism: New Essays on
Analytical Marxism. Calgary: The University of Calgary Press. ISBN 0-919491-14-6.
McLellan, David (1995). Karl Marx: A Biography. London: Papermac. ISBN 0-333-63947-2.
Miller, Richard W. (1999). Carver, Terrell, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Marx. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36694-1.
Narveson, Jan (2001). The Libertarian Idea. Orchard Park, New York: Broadview Press. ISBN 155111-421-6.