Political in Capitalism - Wood.pdf - Ellen Meiksins Wood...

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The intention of Marxism is to provide a theoretical foundation for interpreting the world in order to change it. This is not an empty slogan. It has—or ought to have—a very precise meaning. It means that Marxism seeks a particular kind of knowledge, one which is uniquely capable of illuminating the principles of historical movement and, at least implicitly, the points at which political action can most effectively intervene. This is not to say that the object of Marxist theory is to discover a ‘scientific’ programme or technique of political action. Rather, the purpose is to provide a mode of analysis especially well equipped to explore the terrain on which political action must take place. It can, however, be argued that Marxism since Marx has often lost sight of his theoretical project and its quintessentially political character. In particular, this is so to the extent that Marxists have, in various forms, perpetuated the rigid conceptual separation of the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ which has served bourgeois ideology so well ever since the classical economists discovered the ‘economy’ in the abstract and began emptying capitalism of its social and political content.* Ellen Meiksins Wood The Separation of the Economic and the Political in Capitalism 66
Since, however, these conceptual devices do reflect—albeit in a dis- torting mirror—an historical reality specific to capitalism, a real differentiation of the ‘economy’, an attempt to rescue them from bour- geois ideology and make them illuminate more than they obscure might begin by reexamining the historical conditions that made such conceptions possible and plausible. The purpose of this reexamination would not be to explain away the ‘fragmentation’ of social life in capitalism, but to understand precisely what it is in the historical nature of capitalism that appears as a differentiation of ‘spheres’—in particular, the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’. It may be possible to interpret this historical ‘fragmentation’ in such a way that the ‘fetishism’ of capitalist categories can be overcome, but without obscuring the historical realities they reflect. The differentiation of the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ is, of course, not simply a theoretical but a practical problem. There is perhaps no greater obstacle to socialist practice than the separation of economic and political struggles which has typified modern working class movements. If this obstacle were, as many revolutionary socialists have contemptuously suggested, merely the product of a misguided, ‘under- developed’, or ‘false’ consciousness on the part of the working class, it might be easier to overcome. The tenacity of working class ‘econo- mism’, however, derives precisely from its correspondence to the realities of capitalism and the ways in which capitalist appropriation and exploitation actually do divide the arenas of economic and political action, and actually do transform certain essential

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