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Levels of Analysis in Marxian Political Economy

Levels of Analysis in Marxian
Political Economy:

An Unoist Approach
Robert Albritton
Nearly every major thinker and school of thought within contemporary Marxian political economy has made some reference to
levels of analysis or levels of abstraction, and has shown some
sensitivity to the difficulties in mediating more abstract levels of
analysis with more concrete. According to E.P. Thompson, ‘The
problem .. .is to move from the circuits of capital to capitalism;
from a highly conceptualized and abstracted mode of production,
within which determinism appears as absolute, to historical
determinations as the exerting of pressures, as a logic of process
within a larger process’ . I Within the Althusserian framework, it
was particularly Poulantzas who translated Althusser’s movement from ‘abstract-in-thought’ to ‘concrete-in-thought’ to a
movement from ‘mode of production’ to ‘social formation’ .2 The
Regulation School could not avoid concern with levels of analysis
since much of its theorizing has been mid-range theory that links
more abstract theory to more concrete analysis. 3 Finally, in Late
Marxism, Jameson argues for three levels of analysis, which, in
moving from the more abstract to the more concrete are: the mode
of production, class and class consciousness, and immediate
historical events.4
Despite frequent mention of levels of analysis in contemporary Marxian political economy and even more frequent writing
where some kind of sensitivity to levels of analysis is implied
without being made explicit, there has been precious little extended and systematic theorizing of this exceedingly important
idea. Just how are we to conceptualize these different levels of
abstraction? How autonomous are they and how do they interrelate? What sort of epistemology or logic is appropriate to each
level? It is my aim in this paper to move ‘levels of analysis’ from
the wings to centre stage-to treat it as a theoretical object in its
own right, a theoretical object which I believe to be of absolutely
crucial importance to strengthening Marxian political economy
as a social science.

Perhaps the most extended and self-conscious treatment of
‘levels of analysis’ within Western Marxism has been by the
Althusserians, particularly in their efforts to theorize the interrelations between modes of production and social formations.

Because the Althusserians were relatively unsuccessful in theorizing modes of production, social formations, and their interrelations, there are probably those who feel that the discussion of
levels of analysis has already been exhausted or that the discussion has proved to be futile. 5 In my view, such an attitude is
mistaken. While it is quite true that the discussion is fraught with
extreme difficulty, this should challenge rather than discourage
us. Even small steps forward in this area might contribute immensely to the clarity and precision of Marxian social science.

The only non-Western school of Marxian political economy,
that I am aware of, which has given any systematic attention to


levels of analysis is the one founded in Japan by Kozo Uno. 6
Indeed, it seems safe to say that Uno and his followers have
focused more systematically on ‘levels of analysis’ than any other
school of Marxian political economy. But even so, the result is not
so much a fully developed theory as an analytic framework
suggestive of the first conceptual steps required to sort out this
problem. And even within the Uno school the difficulties and
complexities surrounding the idea oflevels of analysis have given
rise to various sub-schools. In this paper, I shall both briefly
introduce Uno’s perspective, and my further elaboration of it.

1. Uno’s Levels of Analysis.

According to Uno, Marxian political economy is the scientific
study of capitalism, and the most important founding work of this
science is Marx’s Capital. Although Marx’s ‘laws of motion of
capital’ generally assume a purely capitalist society, because
Marx was not clear and explicit about this, he at times mixed more
concrete and contingent concepts with his theory of the inner logic
of capital. Uno claims that Capital is at times weakened by eliding
concepts from three different levels of analysis: the analysis of
capital’s basic principles or inner logic, the analysis of the liberal
stage of capitalist development which reached its apex in England
in the 1850s and 60s, and the analysis of history. Uno’s greatest
contribution was to reformulate the inner logic of capital based
upon an explicit understanding that its rigorous formulation rests
upon the idea that it is a logic operative in a purely capitalist
society. At the same time, this reformulation was made possible
by sharply separating the ‘inner’ logic from more concrete and
contingent ‘external’ considerations. Thus capital’s basic principles were distinct from the more concrete levels of analysis that
Uno referred to as stage theory and historical analysis. It is clear
that Uno believed that at these more concrete levels of analysis the
degree of necessity at work was considerably modified by contingency, but just how stage theory and historical analysis were to be
formulated and interrelated to each other and to the basic principIes remained rather sketchy and vague.

Where the theory of a purely capitalist society analyzes capital
accumulation in the abstract and in general, stage theory ana]yzes
types of capital accumulation characteristic of different worldhistoric stages of capitalist development. According to Uno there
are three stages of capitalist development: mercantilism, liberalism, and imperialism. 7 And these stages are analyzed according
to: (1) different modes of accumulation, (2) different forms of
capital, and (3) different types of economic policy. The aim of
stage theory is to delineate the abstract types or the dominant
forms that characterize accumulation at its most successful and

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

most capitalist during different historical epochs. Historical analysis was less fully specified by Uno, but it is clear that its aim is the
analysis of historical change with a view, ultimately, to clarifying
strategic considerations involved in the transition from capitalism
to socialism.

Uno’s layered approach to Marxian political economy is
highly suggestive, but only the most abstract layer is developed by
Uno. Exactly how are we to formulate the other two levels, and
how are the three levels interrelated? Are stage theory and
historical analysis to be deduced from the inner logic? Or is the
inner logic ultimately induced from historical analysis and stage
theory? Neither deduction nor induction seem appropriate because the levels as conceived by Uno are relatively autonomous.

There are a significant number of followers of Uno in Japan,
but only two of them have written a great deal in English: Makoto
Itoh and Thomas Sekine. Itoh has made important contributions
to the theory of capital’s basic principles and to the analysis of
contemporary capitalism and Japan’s place in the world economy. 8
In my own work, I have been most influenced by Sekine’s
reflections on epistemology which have been a rich source of
hints for the further elaboration of levels of analysis. 9 In particular, Sekine has explored the sense in which the theory of capital’s
inner logic has a dialectical structure parallel in many respects
with Hegel’s Logic. Thus, for example, according to Sekine, the
contradiction between value and use-value plays a similar role in
the dialectic of capital to that played by the contradiction between
being and nothing in Hegel’ s dialectical logic. 10

beyond the theory of its inner logic. Thus, for example, capital in
its inner logic is totally indifferent to biological reproduction,
which is simply left to our instincts of self-preservation.

Sekine has shown that the theory of a purely capitalist society
has a dialectical logic embedded in it, and that such a logic of
necessary inner connections becomes possible once we assume
total commodification and reification. According to Sekine, the
doctrines of circulation, production, and distribution in the dialectic of capital parallel the doctrines of being, essence and notion in
Hegel’s Logic. In the first doctrine of the dialectic of capital the
contradiction between value and use-value generates the commodity-form, money-form, and capital-form as circulation forms.

In the second doctrine, the motion of value subsumes the usevalue obstacles generated by the labour and production process,
and in doing so generates specifically capitalist production relations. In the third doctrine, the motion of valuedeaIs with the usevalue heterogeneity within itself and the use-value obstacles

2. The Theory of Capital’s Inner Logic.

Deconstructionist critics of Western metaphysics have been critical of its binary oppositions such as that between interiority and
exteriority. But in the case of the ‘inner’ logic of capital, the
distinction is not something posited by the metaphysician Marx,
but is something that arises out of the object of knowledge itself.

Thus, for example, the reason that Marx and not Aristotle could
arrive at a conception of abstract homogeneous labour power is
that with the increasing commodification of labour power accompanying the development of capitalism in history, labour power
in reality became more homogeneous and ‘abstract’. In other
words, as societies become more capitalist, to a certain extent,
their social relations become more reified, more objectified, and
more abstract in the sense that they become more governed by the
self-expansion of value.

If capital is to some extent self-reifying in history, then it is
possible in theory to extend these tendencies to completion. Once
we assume that all the inputs and outputs of production are
entirely commodified, capital can operate as a commodity-economic logic totally indifferent to everything but profit
maximization. When we theorize the expanded reproduction of
an economy based upon the principles of total commodification
and profit maximization, the result is an ‘inner’ logic, in the sense
that we get a picture of how capital accumulates when not
interfered with by any ‘outside’ other, whether an agent or some
sort of contingency which disrupts capital’s own logic.

The theory of capital’s inner logic is a thought experiment in
which capital is allowed to get its way without any interference.

It is a theory constructed strictly from the point of view of capital
and of what capital requires materially to reproduce society while
expanding itself. Indeed, it assumes total reification, or, in other
words, the ideal conditions for capital ‘commodity-economically’ to manage social reproduction. Any aspect of social reproduction that cannot be managed strictly and directly by commodity-economic means is beyond the purview of capital and hence

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

posed by land. The motion of value does this by generating an
average rate of profit which finally subsumes use-value heterogeneity to the self-expanding motion of value and in the process
generates a set of capitalist distribution relations. Like Hegel’ s
Logic, the dialectic of capital is a necessary unfolding of an inner
logic that involves the progressive deepening of its basic contradiction. Thus the value/use-value contradiction is deepened as
circulation forms are transformed into production relations, and
these two together are transformed into distribution relations.

While the logical parallels between Hegel ‘ s Logic and Marx’ s
theory of the inner logic of capital are sufficiently striking to
warrant extensive exploration and analysis, here I want to point
out, that despite parallels in logical form, the epistemological
substance of the two dialectics is quite different. These differences stem primarily from the spiritualist setting of Hegel’s, as
opposed to the materialist setting of Marx’ s, dialectic. Hegel’ s
dialectic theorizes the inner logic of the absolute idea; whereas
Marx’s dialectic theorizes the inner logic of capital: a historically
specific mode of production. Flowing from this basic ontological
difference, I see four differences in their epistemologies.

First, for Hegel concrete reality is largely the concretization of
the idea. The extent to which reason condescends to determine the
concrete particular reaches amazing proportions with Hegel. For
example, if a criminal is found guilty of murder and is executed,


the rational criminal himself’ … finds in this process the satisfaction of justice and nothing save his own act’. 11 Contingency is
only allotted a very restricted sphere in Hegel’ s system, and this
only because he considers that it would be irrational to accord no
space to contingency. 12 In other words, reason itself dictates that
certain interstices remain in the system where contingency has a
confined space within which to operate.

For Hegel, then, the logical determines the historical to such
an extent that his dialectic represents an extreme form of what I
have elsewhere called ‘the logical-historical method’ .13 In opposition to this, the version of Marxian political economy that I am
recommending is made up of relatively autonomous levels of
analysis. The theory of the inner logic of capital clarifies the
modus operandi of capital in its purest commodity-economic forms, but
says nothing about the extent to which
capital’s operating principles prevail

in particular historical contexts. The
first difference, then, is that for Hegel
the logical largely determines the historical and for Marxist-Unoist political economy the degree to
which the logical determines the historical is not known in
advance of further research of particular historical contexts.

Second, for Hegel there is a single dialectical logic that
extends from the most abstract universal to the most concrete
particular. In this version of Marxist-Unoist political economy,
by contrast, a dialectical logic is only appropriate at the most
abstract level of analysis – the theory of the inner logic of capital.

Indeed, as I shall argue later, the levels of analysis are sufficiently
autonomous to require distinct logics and epistemologies. Thus
the most abstract level, the dialectic of capital, can inform stage
theory and historical analysis, but the logics operative at these two
more concrete levels are not themselves dialectical. A material
reality such as a mode of production can only be theorized as a
dialectic to the extent that it is totally reified as in the case of a
purely capitalist society. Where reification is only partial, a
dialectical logic is inapplicable. Thus, the second difference is
that for Hegel there is a single logic, but for the Marxist-Unoist
approach there are three different logics, a dialectical logic
obtaining only at the most abstract level of analysis.

Third, Hegel’ s dialectic is universal and teleological, whereas
the dialectic of capital is neither.

The fact that the inner logic of
capital can be theorized as a diaNo Road, Legal or
lecticallogic does not imply that
other charges.

anything else can be so theorized.

What is being theorized is the
inner logic of a historically specific mode of production. Furthermore, the dialectic of capital
theorizes the inner principles according to which capital operates,
but it does not say anything about the extent to which these
principles will become effective in history or how history will
unfold as a result. The dialectic of capital shows how capital
works in an ideal environment without any outside interferences;
it does not show how thi~ working will play itself out in history.


Thus the dialectic of capital is neither universal nor teleological.

Fourth, the dialectic of capital is not an expressive totality in
the Althusserian sense. The materially distinct social institutions
of a purely capitalist society cannot be reduced to a mere expression of a simple centre. In Hegel’s Logic, as Sekine argues,
‘Nothing’ never really offers any real opposition to ‘Being’. The
victory of Being over Nothing is both preordained and total,
whereas the victory of value over use-value is very tenuous and
is only made possible by the assumption of total reification. And
even with the assumption of total reification value can only
manage those parts of social life subject to total commodification
and reification. Thus, as soon as we take the smallest step away
from total reification and capital’s inner logic, that which is
exterior to the inner logic emerges and may fundamentally disrupt
or alter that logic. In the dialectic of capital, value does become the
centre, but it is a fairly complex centre, and the huge variety of
use-value obstacles that it subsumes, from land to labour-power,
are not simple expressions of value, but are materially autonomous realities that we allow value to subsume by assuming an
ideal environment of total reification. For example, land is not an
expression of value; indeed, in and of itself it has nothing to do
with value. The motion of capital only manages to reach a modus
vivendi with landed property through the theory of rent, which
ultimately subsumes land to the motion of value. Thus the
dialectic of capital is not an ‘expressive totality’ but is a centred
totality, where materially autonomous social institutions are all
subsumed to the motion of value, which, as it is completed first as
a set of circulation forms, then a set of production relations, and
finally a set of distribution relations, becomes capital-in-and-foritself. It is only the assumption of total reification which enables
the motion of value to subsume materially autonomous social

The rather paradoxical conclusion to this argument is that we
find great similarities in the form oflogic in the dialectic of capital
and Hegel’s Logic, but because the dialectic -of ‘capital is a
materialist dialectic, its epistemological substance is radically
different from that of Hegel’ s dialectic. To understand the differences better, it will help to consider the sorts of logics and
epistemologies consistent with my formulation of stage theory
and historical analysis.

3. Stage Theory
It is more common to find approaches to Marxian political
economy that either explicitly or implicitly utilize two levels of
analysis rather than three. The Althusserian ‘mode of production ,
as opposed to ‘social formation’ is perhaps the most fully developed and influential two-level approach. Bhaskar’s critical realism, with its transfactual generative mechanisms at one level and
empirical analysis at another, also implies at least a two-level
approach. 14 Bhaskar makes it clear that the object of knowledge
is different at the two levels, and he marks this difference with the
distinction between ‘intransitive’ and ‘transitive’ objects.

Three-level approaches are less common, are more complicated, and typically have not been well developed in the literature
of Marxian political economy. Some interpreters of Regulation
theory have referred to it as ‘mid-range theory’, thus implying
both a higher- and lower-range theory, but there has been little
effort systematically to develop these three different ranges and
their interrelations. Jameson explicitly refers to three levels of
analysis, but he then leaves the idea almost totally unelaborated.

Uno’s three levels – constituted by the theory of capital’s basic
principles, the theory of stages of capitalist development, and the
analysis of capitalist history – seem, intuitively, to make good

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

sense. And yet when we begin to ask questions about the independence/dependence of the distinct levels, we are immediately
plunged into difficulty. The difference between capital’s inner
logic (an ‘intransitive object’) and the analysis of history (a
‘transitive object’) is readily apparent, but what is the justification
for a distinct middle range theory that mediates the two?

It is difficult to separate the justification for stage theory from

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a consideration of its substance, since we need to know what stage
theory is in order to appreciate its necessity. However, there are
two initial considerations in favour of stage theory that are at least
worth mentioning. First, there is a great gulf separating the inner
logic of capital from the analysis of the twisted, impure, and
uneven development of capitalism in history. It therefore makes
sense to have some kind of mediating theory bridging the gulf
between these two levels. Second, capitalism does seem to pass
through various stages of development, there being important
qualitative differences between the most characteristic forms of
organization and modes of accumulation of capital in its different
stages of development.

If the dialectic
of capital theorizes
capital’s laws of
motion in the abstract and in genread th is book beeral, and historical
fore buying a house
analysis theorizes
the historical evolution of capitalism, what is left for stage theory that is logically distinctive? In my
view the theoretical raison d’ atre of stage theory ought to be the
exploration of capital’s principles of operation in its various
stages of development. Like the theory of pure capitalism, its aim
is to clarify how capital accumulation works and not how it came
into being. But it is distinguished from the more abstract level in
not assuming total reification. As a result, at the level of stage
theory only some use-value production is subsumed to the motion
of value, it may be only partially subsumed, and even this partial
sUbsumption may require ideological, legal, and political supports. Like the level of the historical analysis of capitalism, stage
theory is context-specific, but it differs from the more concrete
level in focusing on stage-specific abstract types of structure and
their operating principles and not on processes of historical

Globally, capitalism develops very unevenly, and stage theory
is limited to exploring the most capitalistically developed forms
in their most successful operation. Thus central to stage theory are
stage-specific types of use-value, subsumed to the motion of
value in stage-specific ways, located territorially in that country
or those countries which are most capitalistically developed.

At the level of stage theory, there is too much contingency and
plurality for a dialectical logic to operate. Because reification is
only partial, the economic is not self-subsistent, but is instead
conditioned by the ideological, legal, and political. Althusserian
terms such as ‘structural causality’, ‘relative autonomy’, and
‘overdetermination’ indicate the kind of logic appropriate to a

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

theory of abstract types. Because it is a theory of abstract types,
stage theory may appear not only Althusserian but also, to some
extent, Weberian. This apparent similarity is, however, rather
shallow since Weber’s ideal-types are informed by an individualist ontology borrowed from marginal utility theorists such as
Menger, Wieser, and Bohm-Bawerk. In the case of stage theory
the formation and organization of abstract types is informed by a
more abstract dialectical logic.

Thus, for example, in the stage theory of liberalism, the most
typical form of capital accumulation is cotton manufacturing, and
the stage of liberalism reaches its’ golden age’ or its most typical
forms in Britain between 1850 and 1870. Now the above claims
are not based on my subjective judgement or my ability to spin
ideal types out of my head, but upon an understanding of what
capital is and how it operates attained through the theory of
capital’s inner logic. Using the dialectic of capital as a source of
guidelines the abstract types of stage theory are abstracted from
those times and places where stage-specific types are most fully
developed. Thus for the stage of mercantilism it is England
between 1700 and 1750, for the stage of liberalism it is England
between 1850 and 1870, for the stage of imperialism it is Germany
and the U.S. between 1890 and 1914, and for the stage of
consumerism (Uno did not theorize a fourth stage, but I think there
are good grounds for so doing) it is the U.S. between 1950 and

I conclude so far that at its most abstract level Marxian
political economy can formulate a theory of capital’s inner logic
and that this logic is dialectical. A dialectical logic appropriate to
a theoretical object that is totally reified is not appropriate to a
theoretical object that is only partially reified and shot through
with historically specific contingencies. At the level of stage
theory, therefore, we not only move to a different level of
abstraction, but to a different logic altogether. At this level, where
we are trying to typify stage-specific structures, the appropriate
logic is structural in at least a partially Althusserian sense. It
should be clear, at the same time, that some aspects of Althusser’s
epistemology are not applicable to a stage theory limited to a
historically specific mode of production, and that is a mid-range
theory informed by a higher level dialectical logic and by a lower
level logic as yet to be specified.

4. Historical Analysis of Capitalism
Probably for good reasons, historical analysis has always had a
strong empiricist bent. By this I do not mean that it has adhered
to some rigorously empiricist epistemology, but rather that it has
adopted a kind of common sense empiricism in which the aim is
continually to improve our understanding of history by gathering
more and better confirmed information about the past and by
improving our interpretations of this information.

Historical analysis as a level of Marxian political economy
differs from other historical analysis in first of all focusing
primarily on the history of capitalism, and, secondly, in being
unusually self-conscious about how it is informed by more
abstract levels of theory. The aim of historical analysis thus
understood is to clarify the extent to which, and the ways in which,
capitalism and modem history have influenced each other’s
development. The theoretical object of historical analysis is first
and foremost change, and this differentiates it from the two more
abstract levels which are primarily concerned with how something works rather than with how it came into being and is

No doubt it would be possible to insert much more consideration of change than I do into the level of stage theory. My reason


for not doing so is not simply to bolster what might appear as a
rather artificial distinction between stage theory and historical
analysis. Rather, I see the analysis of historical change as highly
complex, whilst this complexity has far too often been reduced to
a simplicity in which historical change is reduced to little more
than a function of mid-range theory. I want to problematize the
relation between stage theory, which is highly structural and
synchronic, and historical analysis, which is primarily processoriented and diachronic. I believe that the two more abstract levels
of theory can inform historical analysis, but not necessarily in
direct and unproblematic ways. Above all I want to avoid any
temptation to fall back into any rendition of the ‘logical-historical
method’, where the historical is destroyed by being made a
function of the logical (as in economism) or the logical is
destroyed by denying it any utility at all in the analysis of history
(as in some forms of spontaneism or voluntarism).

,…. .,,1/0,, ….,,… ….'”

… _ ….1,…..,;… —

…. “,. __ ..:_.:.:”::..;;””B·


Having emphasized the integrity and autonomy of historical
analysis, it is important to grasp that the more abstract levels can
significantly inform historical analysis. Marxian historical analysis tends to be particularly interested in the larger, more long-term
trends and forces at work, and hence with history conceived
structurally. This structural orientation tends to align historical
analysis more closely with stage theory than it might otherwise
be. But even with a historical sea-change like World War I, the
stage theory of imperialism as I conceive it can only provide a
series of useful guidelines as to how to understand the role of
capital accumulation in fuelling the tensions that eventually
erupted in World War I; it cannot itself provide a historical
account of the role of capitalism in World War I.


Since historical analysis as a level of political economy is
primarily concerned with change, the logic appropriate to such a
theoretical object is a logic of process. This does not mean that
historical analysis is not concerned with structures (and even
relatively enduring structures), but that these structures themselves are understood in process terms as structures which are
maintained/changed by on-going processes of reproduction, alteration, or destruction.

Because historical analysis may be more global or more local,
concerned with long- or with short-term developments, or concerned more with structures or with agencies, it is difficult to
generalize about the methodological principles that might inform
or guide its logic of process. However, I want very briefly to
recommend three general methodological principles: the principle of agency, the principle of critique, and the principle of
multiple points of view.


First, historical analysis should not adopt an epistemology
that makes it difficult or impossible to understand agency. Agency
implies an agent that acts, but an agent need not be an individual.

Indeed, in the study of history the most important agents are
generally collectivities, and collectivities are typically highly
conditioned by structures and processes. Furthermore, collectivities
tend to be heterogeneous, complex, decentred, and open totalities.

If we think of agency first and foremost as agency by collectivities,
and consider agency by individuals as derivative, rather than viceversa, then we are not likely to fall into the trap of privileging the
originating, willing individual subject as the typical agent-a trap
into which a great deal of social science has fallen (most particularly those schools inspired by methodological individualism).

The second principle is the principle of critique. At the level
of the theory of the dialectic of capital, the critique of capital is
only implicit. It is implied by an economic system that is totally
reified and as a result generates a capitalistic rationality which
pursues profit regardless of the cost in human or ecological terms.

It is implied by an economic system based on exploitation. But in
the context of pure capitalism, where the dialectic is limited to
drawing out capital’s basic operating principles, it is not possible
to develop any criticism of capitalism beyond implications that
flow from a totally reified economy. At the level of stage theory,
the critical dimension of Marxist -Unoist political economy can be
extended to the consideration of stage-specific abstract types of
exploitation and oppression. But here too, the full development of
the critical dimension is constrained by the fact that the stage
theory is principally concerned with the point of view of capital
and how capital accumulation works. To the extent that capital
accumulation systematically marginalizes or silences certain
realms of social life, certain voices, or certain alternatives, we
need to consider not only how capitalism works but also how it
systematically excludes or suppresses. Thus capital accumulation
may be accompanied
by an ‘informal sector’ , or by various sorts
of ‘colonialized secLet your
tors’, which are heavily shaped by capital
accumulation butrelatively invisible from
the point of view of its dominant forms. It is only at the level of
historical analysis that these issues can be fully analyzed in the
concreteness that they require. It is only at this level that we situate
capital accumulation in the concrete totality of social life and
consider how what is most internal to capital can be related to all
that is most external, and indeed how capital may to some extent
generate that which is external.

Third, according to the principle of multiple points of view,
historical analysis as a level of Marxi an political economy analyzes
modem history from the point of view of the impact of capitalism
on that history. An indefinite number of other points of view on
history are possible. For example, one could look at modem
history from the point of view of the impact of religion, gender
relations, ecology, or war. Those adopting the perspective of
Marxian political economy do so, at least in part, because they
think capitalism has played an important role in modem history.

But just how much can be explained by this perspective as
opposed to others remains an open question.

The above considerations should provide some indication of
the difficulties involved in offering any simple epistemological
characterization of historical analysis’ logic of process. There are
not only the above principles to be considered, but also the ways
in which historical analysis is informed by both the dialectic of
capital and stage theory. In the approach I am advocating, histori-



Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

cal analysis is accorded much more autonomy than usual in
Marxian political economy. I believe this is important for breaking with the logical-historical method which has too often bred a
kind of theoreticism or reductionism. Historical analysis has its
own internal integrity and is in no sense determined by more
abstract levels of analysis, but is only informed by them.

E. P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays, New
York: Monthly Review Press, 1978, p. 163.


This framework generated a debate that became large enough to
be given its own name: ‘the modes of production debate’.


See Mike Davis, ‘Fordism in Crisis’, Review, 11, 2, Fall 1978, p.

208; Bob Jessop, ‘Regulation Theory, Post Fordism and the
State’, Capital and Class, 34, Spring 1988, p. 162.


Fredric Jameson, Late Marxism, London: Verso, 1990, p. 8.


See Aiden Foster-Carter, ‘The Modes of Production Controversy’, New Left Review, 107, 1978.


The only work by Kozo Uno so far translated into English is
Principles of Political Economy, Hassocks, Harvester Press,
1980. Two Japanese scholars heavily influenced by Uno have
written a good deal in English: Thomas Sekine, and Makoto
Itoh. See especially Sekine, The Dialectic of Capital, Vol. I,
Tokyo: Yushindo Press, 1984, and Vol. 11, Tokyo: Toshindo
Press, 1986; M. Itoh, The Basic Theory of Capitalism, London:

Macmillan, 1988. See also my A Japanese Reconstruction of
Marxist Theory (London: Macmillan, 1986); A Japanese Approaches to Stages of Capitalist Development (London,
Macmillan Press, forthcoming 1991). The article literature is too
large to list. For a good brief introduction see S. Mawatari, ‘The
Uno School: a Marxian Approach in Japan’, History ofPolitical
Economy Journal 17: 3,1985.

Uno’s only book on stage theory, Types of Economic Policies
Under Capitalism, is in the process of being translated into
English by Sekine.

Itoh’s most recent book is The World Economic Crisis and
Japanese Capitalism, London: Macmillan, 1990.

See, for example, his ‘Introduction’ to Uno’s Principles.

5. Conclusion
If it seems that the emphasis placed upon the autonomy of the
levels here is too strong, it is well to consider that all three levels
in one sense or another have capitalism as their theoretical object.

Thus, instead of working against each other, the three levels are
essentially a division of labour for working on the same project.

Consider, for example, the analysis of capitalist exploitation
across the three levels. At the
level of pure capitalism, exploitation is governed entirely by a
commodity-economic logic and
is expressed in a rate of surplusvalue. At the level of stage theory,
exploitation cannot be simply encapsulated in a rate of surplus
value, but is better seen as one of
four world-historic stage-theoretic types of capital/labour relation with economic, ideological,
legal, and political dimensions. At the level of historical analysis,
the evolution of capitalist exploitation can be examined worldhistorically, regionally, or in any particular locale, as it intersects
with any other set or sets of social relations. Although it is clear
that the three levels can combine to analyze exploitation, I am
suggesting that they work together best when they keep their own
logics to themselves. In this way each logic aims to be appropriate
to a particular degree of reification, a particular level of abstraction, and a particular set of theoretical tasks.

Starting with Uno’s highly suggestive notion of three levels of
analysis, I have arrived at a complex layered epistemology which
combines Hegelian, Kantian, Humean, and even Postmodern
elements into an entirely new synthesis that is not easily slotted
into any of the old epistemological camps. I am proposing a
plurality of epistemologies that can work together best by preserving their own relatively autonomous identities. And these
separate logics are required because of the differences in the
theoretical object at each level: a totally reified self-expanding
economic system, a stage-specific type of capital accumulation,
and an historical process of change seen from the viewpoint of

The epistemology that I have only sketched here can no doubt
be further developed once more substantive work has been done
in accord with the levels of analysis approach to Marxian political
economy. Hitherto most work has been focused at the level of the
theory of capital’s inner logic. Very little work has been done at
the level of stage theory, but this work is crucial for ultimately
strengthening historical analysis. IS Indeed, without this mediating level of theory, work on capital’s basic principles remains
isolated from the real world. If such work is directly applied to
historical analysis, it must do so across a rather large gulf and in
the process nearly always produces some degree of economism
and reductionism. Improved historical analysis can also feed back
and strengthen stage theory. I believe that a more self conscious
and theoretically rigorous approach to levels of analysis is the key
to Marxian political economy advancing as a social science.

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Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992



This is most fully elaborated in his two-volume work The
Dialectic of Capital.


Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Oxford: Oxfor,d University Press,
1967, p. 141.


Ibid., p. 137.

See especially A Japanese Reconstruction of Marxist Theory,
Chapter 2.


Roy Bhaskar, Reclaiming Reality, London: Verso, 1989.


My book A Japanese Approach to Stages ofCapitalist Development is soon to be published by Macmillan.



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