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4 Reviews

greatest merit… His I”as a call to arms, to
hatred: class against class, against a patient
and mortal enemy with whom there could be no

Sean Savers

The Watchdogs, however, is more than a work of mere
passion – it is also a theoretical critique of academicism, particularly in philosophy; and it is the
best modern one I have come across, for Nizan does
not take the image which academic’ phi lq,sophers have
of their own activity for the real nature of this

Paul Nizan, The Watchdogs: Philosophers and the
Established Order, r10nthly Review Press, 1971
Paperback £1. 35
Nizan’s book is a remarkable one and anyone
interested in developing a radical philosophy should
read it. It is addressed quite specifically to
students and to the young – it is a call to arms
against bourgeois academic philosophy and the worldorder which it represents.

Bourgeois academic philosophy seems to be a
harmless enough thing. Its themes have every appearance of being Timeless and remote from the immediate
reality of everyday life: contemporary philosophers
occupy themselves in ‘debating’ with Plato and
Aristotle and in ‘disagreeing with’ Hume and Kant.

Such philosophy appears to be – indeed claims to be
– pure abstract thougbt; it claims to concern only
‘the products of Reason’ (‘concepts’ in the contemporary jargon) and not the real world as produced by
human material activity. But these, according to
Nizan, are illusions – merely the appearances which
bourgeois academic philosophy presents:

Nizan was an exact contemporary and close friend
of Sartre’s: they went through Lycee together and
studied philosophy together at the Ecole Normale

Nizan’s reaction to this experience,
however, was very different from Sartre’s. It is
recorded, in a theoretical way, in The Watchdogs
(his only book specifically about philosophy), but he
describes the experience more directly in his autobiographical novel (?) Aden Arabie (1):

Every philosopher, though he may consider he
does not, participates in the impure reality
of his age.

Prudent advice, and the chances of my
academic career, had brought me to the Ecole
Normale and that official exercise which is
still called philosophy. Both soon inspired
in me all the dusgust of which I was capable.

If anyone wants to know why I remained there,
it was out of laziness, uncertainty, and
ignorance of any trade, and because the state
fed me, housed me, lent me free books, and
gave me a grant of 100 francs a month.

Philosophy, argues Nizan, is not pure thought:

Philosophy-in-itself does not exist: there
exist only different philosophies ••• The
various philosophies are produced by d~fferent


Soon after leaving the Ecole, Nizan joined the
Communist Party (in 1927, in fact). He remained a
member of the Party unti 1 1939, w]1en he broke with
it in the wake of the Nazi-S0viet Pact. He joined
the French Army and was killed almost immediately,
aged 35, at Dunkirk.

Philosophy has a material existence, as well as a
spiritual-conceptual being.

Academic philosophy is created and transmitted
in an atmosphere of ‘scholarly detachment’. It
appears to be entirely remote from the struggles and
needs of the world. Academic philosophers, both in
their thought and in their lives, it would appear,
have almost entirely withdrawn from any relationship
with the concrete social reality around them. They
frequently praise themselves for their ‘coolness’,
their ‘detachment’, their’ ethical neutrality’, etc
etc. In short, they seem to have ‘abdicated’ from
any socially valuable role, and their work consequently
appears to be entirely ‘trivial’ and ‘irrelevant’. (3)

The Watchdogs was written in 1932. The philosophers whom Nizan writes about in it are the now
obscure and forgotten French academic professional
philosophers of that time. But despite this fact,
Nizan’s book has the very strongest relevance to the
situation Here and Now. Firstly, his attack on
early 20th Century French academic philosophy is
concentrated on one feature which it certainly shares
with later 20th Century British academic philosophy namely its academicism and its social role as
ideology. And secondly, he deals with a number of
the theoretical and practical problems which face the
attempt to develop a radical philosophy. The publication of this book in English now is therefore very


But even this ‘abdication’ is not all that it

This state of quiescence has a special significance.

Lenin, an outsider who associated
with the rabble, the ignorant laymen, made an
authoritative contribution to the argument.

Although he did not have philosophy in mind
when he wrote these lines, they are perfectly
applicable to our philosophers: “In politics,
indifferent means satisfied ••• In bourgeois
society, the label ‘non-partisan’ is merely a
veiled, hypocritical, way of saying that the


The Watchdogs is a passionate work and in it
there is no pretence of the ‘scholarly detachment’

which Nizan so hated. As Sartre says (2):

His books wanted to displease: that is their



Published also by Monthly Review Press in hardback (1968) but now issued in paperback by
Beacon Press (1970).

In his preface to Aden Arabie, reprinted in
Sartre’s Situations, Hamish Hamilton, London,


This is frequently the main target of criticism
of recent British philosophy. See e.g.: Gellner,
Words and Things; more recently also C. K.

Mundle, A Critique of Linguistic Philosophy;
and even Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (Ch.7)
and Perry Anderson, ‘Components of the National
Culture’, in New Left Review No.50.

person in question belongs to the party of
the exploiters.” In philosophy, too, indifferent
cannot mean anything but satisfied… This is
the real significance of abstention.

(pp45-6) .

Nizan shares Lenin’s uncompromising and stark
view of the situation: for them there are only two
sides: the side of the oppressed and the side of the
oppressors. And Nizan argues that when one looks at
the real effects, as opposed to merely the intentions,
of bourgeois academic philosophy, it is apparent that
such philosophy very definitely takes sides. The
academic philosophy that Nizan is talking about, and
the academic philosophy of our own time and place,
is of no use to the oppressed. In fact, it is
positively a hindrance to them, for it obscures and
hides the very features of existence which the
oppressed, in their struggle against oppression, must
bring to consciousness. (4)

Man – would embrace the philosophy of their

Furthermore, the effects of the academic’s
philosophy do not stop with students inside the
university; but via these students and ojheTreaders
etc academic philosophy is disseminateamore widely.

The ideas which are worked out and refined by
academic philosophers are subsequently simplified,
crudified and assimilated ultimately even into contemporary ‘common sense’ (5). The ideas of
academic philosophers, thus worked upon, are used in
all branches of ideology: they appear in the pronouncements of politicians, in th~ newspapers and on TV, in
moral and scientific thought – in every area of life.

The process may be briefly described as
follows: a group of philosophers, occupying
the top positions in the University hierarchy,
produces groups of ideas. These ideas are the
raw material worked up in the University.

They pass through a number of different
workshops where they are reshaped, polished
and simplified – or, to be more precise, where
they are vulgarised and made fit for public

The great anonymous mass of human beings •••
undoubtedly have a real need for a philosophy
– that is, for a consistent world-view and a
body of guiding principles and clearly defined
aims – this mass is effectively deprived by the
bourgeois{e of any ideological material which
might prove relevant to their existences.


Just because of this ‘irrelevance’, academic
philosophy fails to-attend to the real conditions of
social existence and thus tends to describe the
world in idealised terms – ignoring the needs, the
alienation and the misery which are the real facts
of oppression. And by portraying the world in this
one-sided way, academic philosophy idealises the
world and thus has the effect of justifying the
established order:

Thus, the supreme function of bourgeois
philosophy is to obscure the miseries of
contemporary reality: the spiritual destitution of vast numbers of men ••• and the
increasingly intolerable disparity between what
they could achieve and what little they actually
accomplished. This philosophy conceals the
true nature of bourgeois rule ••• It mystifies
the victims of the bourgeois regime ••• It heads
them into culs-de-sac where their rebelliaus
instincts will be extinguished. It is the
faithful servant of that social class which is
the cause of all the degradation in the world
today, the very class to which the philosophers
themselves belong.


But is this academic philosophy worth bothering
about? It seems to be an utterly trivial, esoteric
and absurd pass-time of a small handful of professional
philosophy academics – it seems a harmless enough
thing. Again, however, Nizan insists that we look
at the actual phenomenon of academic philosophy in
its real context. Then we see that philosophy is not
just a pass-time for academics – it has definite and
real effects upon others.

As regards philosophy, this process is much more
clearly at work in France, where state control of
education is more centralised and direct than in this
country, and where philosophy is a part of the statecontrolled secondary school curriculum. But even
though philosophy as such is not taught in schools in
this country, and even though philosophy as such plays
a smaller role in the wider culture here, it would be
wrong to think that the ideas of academic philosophers
have no effects outside the universities. Although
it is less apparent, much the same process is at work
here as in France.

Indeed, as a teacher I have been struck by the
fact that the students I teach have already formed a
definite and surprisingly uniform philosophy before
they arrive at university. They come to university
with a homogeneous positivistic empiricist and liberalindividualist view, albeit often unconsciously.

Thus Nizan argues that academic philosophy is
not merely an esoteric pass-time, it also has an
exoteric form in which it ds disseminated to the mass
of the people.

Just because academic philosophy is not as it
appears to be, it is worth attacking. Just because
it is not about mere ‘concepts’ but about reality;
and just because what it says about reality is not
‘detached’ and ‘neutral’ as it pretends, but serves
to justify the established order; and just because
academic philosophy is not absurd and pointless games
with words but in fact has real and important social
effects – just because academic philosophy is not as
it first appears, it is worthwhile and even necessary
to attack it.

This philosophy is not dead. But it must be
killed… For a philosophy does not voluntarily
bow out of existence, any more than a regime
dies until it is attacked. A new philosophy
does not triumph until its predecessor has been
destroyed, but a considerable effort is required
to b.ring about the latter’s dissolution.

First of all, most academic philosophers are
employed as teachers, and their ideas are taught to
students and effect th~m. For example:

When, day after day, M. Brunschvieg expounds
his philosophy without ever mentioning that
men suffer, that their private lives are often
nothing but a welter of trivial, painful or
calamitous episodes, M. Brunschveig’s students
tend to forget what real men are like. These
dutiful disciples meekly surrender to the
illusion (which is so comforting to their
consciences) that any man – or rather, any
representative of that abstraction they call

‘Academicism’ is frequently used in an illdefined and superficial way, and critiques of the
academicism of recent British philosophy have
frequently concentrated almost exclusively on its
immediate appearances (6). Nizan’s critique of


In so far as it impinges on them, which it does
see below.

– 39


Hence ‘common sense’ is not a neutral foundation
from which to construct a philosophy.

See foo~note (3).

academicism goes beyond this which is what gives it
its depth and strength. ‘Academicism’, for Nizan,
is not merely a style of thought; for he never
loses sight of the fact that academic philosophy
(like any other sort of thought) is not just thought
– it has not only a conceptual-spiritual being, but
also a social-material existence. ‘Academicism’ is
not, therefore, merely a style of thought, it is
also a social-material form. And Nizan’s book is
not therefore aimed just at academic philosophy, but
more precisely at bourgeois academic philosophy. (7)

The criticism has been made that some people are
proclaiming themselves to be ‘radical philosophers’

while in fact taking the ‘Academic road’. The whole
of Nizan’s book is an attack upon the ‘Academic road’ ,
but his account of the ‘revolutionary philosopher’ is
particularly important in this context. According
to Nizan, the revolutionary philosopher must be
closely in touch with the revolutionary struggle. He
must identify his interests with those of the oppressed
and exploited – the working class. Nizan continues:

But I would go even further and bluntly assert
that the technician of revolutionary philosophy
must be and will be a member of a particular
political party.



Because he remains aware of its political
consequences, Nizan stresses the importance of the
struggle in the ideological realm. But he is aware,
too, of the limitations of this form of struggle.

He discusses these matters in his last chapter in
which he outlines his ideal of ‘the revolutionary
philosopher’. This chapter has great relevance to
the present attempts to develop a movement of
‘radical philosophers’.

It seems to me that this is the one major place
in’ which Nizan’s views need rethinking in the light
of our present situation. This assertion of Nizan’s
would seem to imply a denial of the value of a
movement like Radical Philosophy which is independent
of political parties; but I think it would be wrong
to draw this conclusion from Nizan’s ideas as a

First of all, and on the basis of the ideas I
have already outlined, Nizan argues that theoretical
work – work in the ideological domain – is a vital
and a necessary part of the revolutionary struggle.

And it is wrong, therefore, to despise intellectual
work for not being concrete practical political
activity. The vital message of Nizan’s book is
that knowledge and understanding are weapons that
do have concrete practical effects:

When considering a movement like Radical Philosophy it is crucial to see it in its context. Today,
in Britain, the situation on the left is very different from what it was in France in 1932, when Nizan
was writing. Then, the forces of the left were
concentrated and united overwhelmingly in the
Communist Party – ‘The Party’. The revolutionary
left at the present time, however, does not have the
sort of unity which makes reference to ‘The Party’

possible. The left here now is split into sectarian
fragments (and this is indicative of its impotence).

Indeed, in the current situation many leftists have
withdrawn from active political engagement in any of
the ‘Parties’, and there has grown up a widespread
suspicion against all ‘Parties’. It is in this

Knowledge and understanding are weapons. The
question now is: will the bourgeoisie be
permitted to consign these weapons to the
scrapheap, or will men take up these weapons
once again and use them as they see fit? In
the unive~sities, the lycees and the elementary
schools, young people are indeed learning how
to handle and apply these weapons, but for
strictly academic purposes. Is there no
possibility of their using this knowledge and
understanding in more productive ways?

context that a movement like Radical Philosophy
becomes necessary.

If the forces of the left were

united and strong in such a way that there was a
‘The Party’, then no doubt there would be less need
for a movement with such a vaguely and broadly defined
type of radicalism, or with such a limited area of
activity (philosophy). But in the present context
it seems to me that there is a very real need for a
movement like Radical Philosophy, and very real and
useful tasks they can perform.

The tendency to despise theoretical work is
widespread on the left in this country (and in
America). The slogan that ‘theory should not be
divorced from practice’ is twisted into its opposite:

it is interpreted to mean that only concrete
practical political activity has any real effects
or any real value in the struggle. Against this
Nizan stresses that ideological work does have real
effects and that the struggle against bourgeois
ideology is an important one. He quotes Marx

As for an assessment of Radical Philosophy in
this light – it is still too soon to pass any final
judgement. Radical Philosophers (and other intellectuals) have only just begun the process of organising
themselves as a group and of working together.

Whether an effective group of radical philosophers
will emerge from these efforts remains to be seen.

But, already, some of the dangers which threaten the
development of an effective movement are becoming
clear. I have mentioned them already and tried to
bring out the way in which Nizan’s book is relevant
to them. First of all, radical philosophers must
resist all the forces of their training and the
pressures of their situation (either as students or
teachers) which push them to take the ‘Academic
road’ – a road that can be taken even in Marxist
clothes. But secondly, no sort of ultra-radical,
‘practice not theory’ type of sectarian idealism and
purism – whether in a libertarian or Leninist guise
– should be allowed to fragment and destroy the
movement before it has developed.

(p127) :

The weapons of criticism cannot replace the
criticism of weapons. Material force can only
be overthrown by material force; but theory
itself becomes a material force when it has
seized the masses.

Like Marx, Nizan is also very conscious of the
limitations of the ‘weapons of criticism’; and so he
also opposes a second tendency which has manifested
itself on the left and particularly among some radical
philosophers: the tendency to believe in the absolute
value of theoretical work in itself, and the tendency
therefore to struggle only for a more congenial
intellectual climate in which to think.


Nizan also has well developed views about the
ways in which the academic set-up and the class
situation of the academic (petit-bourgeois)
effect him and his philosophy. For the sake of
brevity and clarity, I have omitted any account
of Nizan’s sociology of bourgeois academicism.

Nevertheless, it is an extremely important part
of his argument and should not be forgotten or

Nizan describes the task with absolute clarity
and simplicity. And although he says everything
that Radical Philosophy has been trying to say – and
much better – this only makes the task of contemporary
radical philosophers more urgent. Now we can read
Nizan and know what is to be done – but still we
must do it. This is hard work, and would-be radical
philosophers must undertake it together.


is little discussion of the vexed question of the
transition from capitalism to communism, and he also
confesses to being puzzled by the tension between the
long-term view of the Grundrisse and Marx’s prognostications about a fairly imminent revolution implied in
such later political writings as the Drafts for the
Civil War in France and his remarks on Bakunin’s

Karl-Peter Markl” Kevin Mulligan &
Ali Rattansi

Statism and Anarchy.

Situating Marx edited by Paul Walton and Stuart Hall,

paperback El.45; hardback E2.95
Sociology of Meaning

by John B O’Malley, paperback

El.s5; hardback E3.9S
This review was written in the framework of the
Saturday morning group on Radical Epistemology and the
Critique of Method at the Social and Political Sciences
DeE~rtment, Cambridge, in September 1972

The growth of sophisticated Marx scholarship in
recent years serves to bring home to us not only the
diversity of intellectual traditions upon which Marx
drew, but also the way in which these different traditions, working in different conjunctures, have developed
within Marxism so that today we have not merely
‘Marxism’, but several different kinds of Marxism.

This latest offering on ‘Situating Marx’ grew out of
a symposium held at Birmingham University to ‘record’

the publication of McLellan’s selections from the
Grundrisse, and it is an attempt to come to terms with
precisely this diversity of intellectual traditions;
it is the first, tentative step towards ‘rediscovering
the “total Marx”‘, as the editors put it – an
evaluation of the differing traditions, and the
development of ‘a Marxism for our times and thus for
the times to come’. Especially, we are warned about
the dangers of ignoring this latter task in_favour of
equally important problems within Marxist historiography, though it is perhaps ironic that most of the
contributions to this volume remain imprisoned within
the academicism of Marxist historiography; this is the
major shortcoming of a volume which in other respects
contains much that is of interest and value.

McLellan’s paper on the Grundrisse (which in a
slightly different form has appeared twice before,’ in
Encounter November 1970 and as the introduction to his
selections from the Grundrisse) outlines in a brief
but lucid overview the interpretative shifts – he lists
six – that have characterized the development of
Marxist thought from the evalutionism of the German
Social Democrats to the latest structuralist elaborations of Althusser; the paper concludes with an
evaluation of the importance of the Grundrisse. The
account, however, is too brief and there is little
critical discussion of these developments; the important
replies to Althusser by U Jaeggi and A Schmidt, for
instance, are completely neglected. (1)
We believe, with McLellan, that any account of
Marx’s intellectual development which claims that he
abandoned the concept of alienation in his later works
or that his intellectual development was ruptured by
one precise ‘epistemological break’ needs to be
rejected (2). McLellan’s discussion is not entirely
panegyric, however, for he points out that even though
the Grundrisse reveals that the growth of technology
and automation, the rise in working-Class living
standards and scientific competence, the emergence of
leisure – the very factors often cited to disprove
Marx’s analysis – are actually viewed by Marx as
necessary preconditions for his revolution (3). There


Urs Jaeggi, “Ordnung und Chaos”, Der Strukturalismus als Methode und Mode.

Alfred Schmidt “Der strukturalistische Angriff
auf die Geschichte” in ‘Beitrage zur marxistischen Erkenntmistheorie’, edition Sulrrkamp, 1969.

A point very well made by R.J. Bernstein in his~
most readable text, Praxis and Action, 1972.

A point already emphasized by Martin Nicholaus in
The Unknown Marx, NLR 48.

The tension between these two views may be more
apparent than real, for McLellan fails to consider the
possibility that Marx’s historical perception was even
greater than he is given credit for, that the first and
better known theory of revolution derived from an
analysis of a capitalist system still undergoing and
experiencing the birth-pangs of industrialization – a
process of transition described by Engels in his preface
to the English edition of Capital a~ being from ‘the
period of manufacture proper, based on the division of
manual labbur’, to the ‘period of modern industry based
on machinery’ (4) and in which it was threatened by an
impoverished class-conscious labour force, while his
reflections in the Grundrisse relate to a fully
industrialized capitalism which, for historically
specific reasons, has managed to contain the revolutionary threat and is well on its way to exhausting
its potentialities for further development. (5)
Walton’s paper From Alienation to Surplus Value
is an analysis of the centrality of labour as a
category in Marx’s thought, and the way in which it
provides the unifying element in all his work, from
the l844Manuscripts to Capital; what is problematic
in Wait on ‘s remarks, ‘as Nicolaus points out in his
Comment on the paper (p.37), is his description of
‘labour’ as a central ontological assumption and as
providing the philosophical basis for his economics.

This leads Walton to misunderstand certain aspects of
the relationship between Marx’s early and later
writings, a misunderstanding that results from confusing political economy with philosophy. Walton sees
the Marx of 1844 as already having worked out his
ontology – “man’s special teleological nature” (p. 20)
– and argues that the only break in his thought is an
empirical not an ontological one, consisting in a
“shift from merely viewing capitalism as extracting
surplus from labour to his demonstration of how this
is based on the extraction of surplus-value” (p.28).

Walton’s assumption that labour is an ontological
rather than a socio-economic category commits him to
the view that the historicity which informs Marx’s
later work, of which he is clearly aware, is already
present in the EPM’s, and he therefore fails to
understand (see p.27) McLellan’s earlier remark that
“what is new in Marx’s picture of alienation in the
Grundrisse is that it attempts to be firmly rooted in
history”, allowing Marx to treat the centTal themes of
the Paris Manuscripts “in a much maturer way” (p .12) .

Walton is right to point out that there occurs in Marx’s
work a shift from focussing on the market mechanism of
capitalism to its productive relations, but fails to
realize its relation to the increasing historicity
which informs his later work. In the 1844 Manuscripts
we find an anthropological conception of alienation
in which the origin of alienation is found to be not
a specific social formation but in human nature,
alienated man being contrasted to man as a ‘speciesbeing’; it is only with The German Ideology that Marx
breaks with this conce~tion and analyses alienation
and exploitation as being rooted in specific historical
structures, and it is this transformation in his
historical awareness which eventually resulted in
Marx’s view of the significance of the mode of
production on which the theory of surplus-value
extraction in’its final form is based (6). To treat
labour as an ontological category and thus to anthropologize the concept of alienation is to reverse a step
that marks a crucial development in Marx’s thought.


Capital Vol.I, Moscow 1961, pS.

cf. interalia, the works of A Touraine and Serge



See, for a similar viewpoint, E. Handel, The



Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx,

NLB 1971, ch. 10.

The problem of alienation raises, however, the
converse problem of non-alienation and the classless
society and Sohn-Rethel’s Mental and Manual Labour in
Marxism is a remarkably interesting and suggestive
discussion of this theme. As he points out, in a
socialist society “the control of social production
cannot lie with the workers so long as such control
necessi tates intellectual work beyond their scope”,
(p.47) while it is an essential condition of capitalistic relations “that the technology of production be
founded upon a knowledge of nature from sources other
than manual labour”. (p. 46) . One of the main criteria
for judging socialist progress must, therefore, be the
elimination of the division of “head and hand”. The
intellectual basis of this division Sohn-Rethel
locates in the a-historical, universal character of
mathematics and science; the possibility of classlessness and the abolition of the division of labour “can
be theoretically established only by proving that the
logic of scientific thinking originates in social
history – failing this, it would be technocracy, not
socialism, we must expect of the future”. He finds
the social and economic roots of this thinking in the
rise of commodity production in the Greek City States,
and initially appearing in the philosophy of
Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmemides around SOOBC;
the reason for this lies in the fact that commodity
exchange is a process of abstraction by action,
operating in time and space – an activity abstract
from ‘use’, developing its own institutions, especially
money, which then permeate the character of thought,
leading eventually to the development of the ahistorical, timeless and universal logic of the
abstract intellect.

Sohn-Rethal also argues that with the advent of
monopoly capitalism and the emergence of ‘scientific
management’ there is developing a growing contradiction
between the commensuration of manual labour, now based
on time and motion study, and the relations of
capitalist production, requiring as they do a
commensuration of labour based on the exchange value
of products.

This essay is undoubtedly the most substantive
one in the volume; several problems, however, remain
outstanding and our purpose here can only be to state
some of them though they merit a great deal of


Sohn-Rethel assumes (see p.50) that merely by
locating the socio-economic roots of universal
logic he has thereby seriously undermined its
validity – such an assumption is seriously


In so far as social organization is a constituent
feature of technology it is obvious that socialism will require a different technology; but it
is by no means obvious, as Sohn-Rethel seems to
imply, [and this follows from (1) above] that the
abolition of the division between mental and
manual labour will require the development, for
instance, of a mathematics whose logical principles will be entirely at variance with the
categories of mathematics under capitalism;


It must be pointed out that within capitalism the
relationship between commensuration of labour by
the exchange value of products and commensuration
by time and motion study is complementary rather
than contradictory.

If Sohn-Rethel is interested in applying historical
materialism to social and intellectual structures,
O’Neill is concerned to defend its critical function
against attacks by Habermas and Althusser; the former
is taken to task for his scient is tic and technological
reading of Marx while the latter is more justifiably
accused of having robbed Marxism of its rich critical
heritage in the Hegelian system. O’Neill’s own notion
of critique, based on Hegel’s Phenomenology, the young
Marx and ~1arleau-Ponty, is however weak and his
critique of Althusser remains ineffectual.

Lest one suspect that O’Neill’s problems stem
inevitably from an underlying commitment to phenomenology, O’Malley’s Total Marx and the Whole of Man,
from a similar phenomenological perspective, turns out
to be much more sophisticated. The publishers claim
for this article an original critique of historical
materialism, from a non-Marxist standpoint; a close
reading and a decoding of O’Malley’s esoteric terminology suggests that both claims are misleading – his
critique is directed rather more at the anti-humanist
structuralism of Althusser and Godelier than at
historical materialism as such, and his genuine
phenomenological and dialectical insights stand in a
relationship of complementarity rather than in opposition to Marxism. (For O’Malley’s promiscuity in this
respect see below). His objections to Althusser will
be familier to those who have read the critiques in
New Left Review (7): he castigates’Althusser for his
scientism and for the ambiguity inherent in his
distinction between ‘science’ and ‘ideology’ (pp.102,
110, Ill), rejects the concept of the ‘epistemological
break’ and points out that Althusser emasculates the
concept of praxis and eliminates human agency completely
from the schemes of things (p.l06). Needless to say,
Marx can hardly be accused of having left Man out of
history, thus rendering O’Malley’s critique applicable
only to Althusser and not to historical materialism as
such. What O’Malley does question in Marx is “whether,
even if social productivity is a measure of sociality,
sociality is reducible to that measure” (p .112), and
yet recognizes that Marx was by no means committed to
this kind of determinfsm; 0 ‘Malley’ s remarks here
provide an effective corrective against those who see
the socialization of the means of production as the
only goal of socialist practice. For O’Malley the
goal is “‘total subjectivity’, the anticipated and
unrealized existential fulfilment of the potentialities
inherent in the category of transcendental subj ectivity.”
(p.114) But this is indeed very like Marx’s own notion
of non-alienated being, of conscious understanding and
control of social relations, what O’Malley himself
calls ‘historical subjectivity’. O’Malley’s paper
illustrate~ the importance and usefulness of a
phenomological reading of Marx, not least as a
corrective against anti-humanist and-basically nondialectical alternatives.

In the final section of the book Ian Birchall,
Stanley Mitchell and Jerry Palmer discuss the relationship between Marxism and the analysis of literary and
artistic activity. Though Birchall’s is an imaginative
reconstruction of Marx’s views on literature from
fragmentary remarks in various works, the discussion
hardly gets off the ground, the comments on the paper
being too short and schematic to mark any advance in
the creation of a Marxist theory of literature and art
for which a comprehensive evaluation of the general
contributions of WaIter Benjamin, Lukacs and,
marginally, L Goldmann is indispensable. It is
equally disappointing that there is, for instance, no
discussion of Fischer’s The Necessity of Art,
Williams’lCulture and Society, or Wollheim’s Socialism
and Culture, nor of the stimulating contributions made
by Hauser, and others to the social history of art.

The contributions to the volume, then, are of an
uneven quality, more often raising familiar problems
than proposing imaginative solutions and rarely
descending from the level of historiographical disputes.

Despite the attempt to transcend sectarianism, the
conflict between the humanists and anti-humanists
permeates the discussion, though precisely because of
this it provides an accurate reflection of the current
state of Marxism.

Published concurrently with Situating Marx is a
book by John O’Malley entitled Sociology of Meaning,
by which he means not a sociological study of meaning
but rather a sociology based on a dialectical understanding of meaning as its epistemological principle.

Those who follow the socio-philosophical debate on the

N. Geras, Althusser’s Marxism, NLR 71.

A. Glucksman, A Ventriloquist Structuralism, NLR 72.

Continent rather than narrow minded versions of
analytic linguistic philosophy will meet in it a
selection of familiar terms and thoughts. Certainly
a book was needed to bridge the gap between a number
of very fruitful de~elopments in ‘European’ thought
and Anglo-Saxon academic philosophy. This implies a
re-introduction into English philosophy of some of the
vocabulary currently preserved by sociology in this
country. Unfortunately, sociology of Meaning, if it
offers a bridge of the required kind, does not do so in
a very convenient manner. The English readers, mainly
sociologists and philosophers, whom we have consulted
found its language largely incomprehensible. Some
thought it read like notes jotted down for further
. elaboration. The reconciliation of two estranged areas
of thought is severely hampered by O’Malley’s linguistic idiosyncracies. Also, and surely quite independent
of the grammar involved, the author never hesitates to
use unusual words from an extreme variety of specific
philosophical jargons – unknown to most British schools
of philosophy or even theoretical sociology.

Despite all this we can profit a great deal from
the content and meaning of sociology of Meaning. It
should be the aim of a further debate to analyse its
place in, or its relation to, more received thinking.

Only then shall we find whether we are dealing with an
original contribution to critical social ·theory or
merely with a very complicated ‘Ersatz’.

Peter Binns
IDEOLOGY IN SOCIAL SCIENCE, edited by Robin Blackburn
(Fontana 75p)
This book has got some real gems ·in it which are
not otherwise readily available to students, and Robin
Blackburn has done very well to dig them out of their
relatively obscure holes for all to see. (In one case,
Edward Nell’s “Economics: The Revival of Political
Economy”, the essay is published for the first time).

The sixteen essays are sorted into three sections:

‘Critiques’, ‘Key Problems’ and ‘Alternatives’, but
this is a somewhat arbitrary – for instance Hobsbawm’s
“Karl Marx’s Contribution to Historiography” included
in the ‘Alternatives’ is in reality more like a critique
of non-marxist and vulgar marxist historiography, and
Nell’s abovementioned paper, supposedly a ‘Critique’ is
definitely proposing the ‘Alternative’ of Classical
Political Economy (as amended by Piero Sraffa and Joan

The volume begins with Macpherson’s brilliant
“Post-Liberal-Democracy?”. 19th century LiberalDemocratic theory was “an uneasy compound of the
classical liberal theory ( … individual right to
unlimited acquisition of property, to the capitalist
market economy, and hence to inequality), and the
democratic principle of the equal entitlement of every
man to a voice in choosing governments and other
satisfactions”. Macpherson traces through the growing
strain and contradiction between these principles,
throwing interesting light on Green’s anti-landlordism
and Hill’s proposals for cooperatives of artisans.

The symptoms of the complete breakdown in LiberalDemocratic theory are to be seen in the changes in the
society justified (“Our present managed economy,
managed both by the state and by the price-m·aking
corporation … is still capitalism. But it has made
nonsense of the justifying theory”), and in the abandonment of Classical Political Economy for marginalism a theory which justifies the status quo whatever it is.

Another gem is Nell’ s “The Revival of Political
Economy”. This is surely the best short (and clear)
summary of I,hat is at issue between Classicists and
‘.larx i st s on the one hand and the neo-Classicists on


the other. The importance of this issue for all aspects
of radical social thought cannot be overestimated.

The Labour Theory of Value stands or falls on it and
so consequently do the concepts of class, exploitation
and alienation. Nell destroys the claims of Capital
by showing that the notion rests upon an ambiguity:

“On the one hand it is property in the means of production … On the other hand ‘capital’ also means
produced means of production … ‘Capital’ is relevant
to the analysis of-the division of income among the
members of society, but a non-specific fund has no
bearing on production. ‘Capital goods’ are relevant to
the study of production, but have no bearing on the
distribution of income, since profit is earned and
interest paid on the fund (value) of capital invested,
regardless of its specific form. ‘Capital goods’,
specific instnlments, can only be converted into a
fund of ‘capital’ on the basis of a given set of prices
for these instruments; but to know these prices we
must already know the general rate of profit …

Hence the amount of ‘capital’ cannot be among the
factors which set the level of the rate of profit.”
The final five essays (in the ‘Alternatives’

section) are all important and interesting. Nicolaus’s
“The Unknown Marx”, stands apart from the others. The
Grundrisse is less unknown than when Nicolaus originally
wrote this for NLR, but the author’s claim that the
Grundrisse throws essential light on contemporary
aspects of Capitalism (specially on automation,
leisure, and the absolute limits of the capitalist
production process) cannot seriously be challenged.

The other four articles should be read together. It
is probably best to begin with Godelier’ s “Structure
and Contradiction in ‘Capital”’, which presents us with
one of the clearest examples of the structuralist
approach to the subject, replete with illuminating
parallels with Levi-Strauss. With this as a basis,
the other essays can be seen as attempting to modify
aspects of this analogy. Thus Geras (“Marx and the
Critique of Political Economy”) argues that fetishism,
crucial to the critique of capitalism, is “the absurdity not of an i llus ion, but of reality i tse If … ” a
notion which stands outside the framework of Althusser
(and Godelier). Hobsbawm (“Karl Marx’s Contribution
to Historiography”) shows the difficulty of a structural model successfully envisaging “the simultaneous
existence of stabilising and disruptive elements
which such a model must reflect.” Finally, Colletti’ s
“Marxism: Science or Revolution?” shows that “This
view clearly allows no room for a link between science
and class-consciousness … let alone for the
‘partisanship’ of science”.

Overall, the book is an odd mixture of an openminded anthology (witness the above paragraph) and
intellectual partisanship. For the latter see Nairn’s
article on “The English Working Class”, backed up by
Stedman Jones on “History: The Poverty of Empiricism”.

Nairn’s significance is overwhelmingly derived from a
reaction to historians like E P Thompson, and as a
consequence his paper appears weaker and limper than it
might in the company of one of the latter’s pieces
such as “The Peculiarities of the English.”
But this, and a few other flaws, do not in any
important way diminish the excellent value of this book.

It contains some quite outstanding papers, and it will
surely remain a classic for some time to come. What
is more it is quite reasonably cheap and won’t fall
apart as soon as you open it.

“The true and lawful goal of the sciences is
none other than this: that human life be endowed
with new discoveries and powers. But of this the
great majority have no feeling, but are merely
hireling and professorial … In general, so far
are men from proposing to themselves to augment
the mass of arts and sciences, that from the
mass already at hand they neither take nor look
for anything more than what they may turn to use
in their lectures, or to gain, or to reputation,
or to some similar advantage.”

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