Post-Marxist Modes of Production

According to whoever wrote the editorial ‘notes’ for Radical Philosophy 17, ‘the present upsurge of fundamental Marxist researches may indicate an exit route from the circle of philosophy’s deaths and re births, via which the problem of the specificity of “the philosophical” might be both subverted and understood’. And according to Graham Burchell in Radical Philosophy 18, two books of Barry Hindess and Paul Q. Hirst ‘may give some support to this hope’.

Are Hindess and Hirst the long-awaited intellectual hegemonogues of the British left? This is doubtful. Marxism needs, no doubt, to be transcended; but not, it seems to me, in favour of the phenomenalist relativism that pervades the writings of Hindess and Hirst and their co-thinkers. I want to discuss certain philosophical positions that have been advanced by them, especially in their writings in Economy and Society from 1974 to 1976 (including their letter of resignation from its Editorial Board and Hirst’s ‘Althusser and the Theory of Ideology’) and Hirst’s widely read Communist University of Cambridge lecture (Problems and Advances inthe Theory of Ideology 1976 20p). That these sources correspond to the doctrines of their books can be confirmed from Graham Burchell’s precis (RP18), from Andrew Collier’s article (this issue), from Tim Putnam’s review in Capital and Class (Spring 1978) and from Rod Aya’s review in Monthly Review (January 1978).

Hindess and Hirst deny the realist view that scientific theories are valid to the extent that they correspond with what is objectively the case. Rather they urge that theories can only be ‘validated’ within their own terms (they are all, therefore, no more ‘valid’ or ‘invalid’ than each other). As this renders the very idea of intellectual validation redundant, Hindess and Hirst insist on a practical, political criterion of acceptability in terms of the capacity to provide strategic leadership for political practice’ (Resignation letter).

So it is for ‘history’ and for ‘ideology’. Historians have no independent object; their practices ‘define the past’. Ideology is not, on the other hand, a misrepresentation of what science or history may truly represent: ‘ … we do not have a truth/falsity, illusion/reality opposition here.’ (Problems and Advances). Thus, historians’ work is the activity of ‘social and political ideologies’; and ideologies can be assessed only in terms of their political ‘effects’. I have stressed this common phenomenalist/pragmatist thread. But, as the arguments develop in specific ways according to the specific focus, I shall separate out four ‘theses’ for discussion purposes.


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