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Milton Fisk on the anti-Marxists: a response.


In his article "Why the Anti-Marxists Are Wrong" (MR, March), Milton Fisk makes a sophisticated argument against "anti-Marxists" but, ultimately, his case for the primacy of class in theoretical understanding is unconvincing. Indeed, the reduction of social domination to class domination, and the elevation of economic relations of production to primacy over other social relations can only thwart Fisk's goals of a liberated society.

Certainly under advanced capitalism a major form of domination stems from the private ownership of the means of production which forces the majority of the population to "earn" its subsistence by selling labor to capitalists. It is difficult to imagine human emancipation without overturning these class relations that allow capital to dominate labor. But while socialization of the means of production may be necessary, it is not a sufficient means for overturning a social system of domination in which men dominate women, society dominates nature, bureaucracy dominates community and individuals, and wealthy nations dominate poor ones.

While class may be an important factor in domination, the history of all hitherto existing societies is not necessarily the history of class struggle. In fact, class societies--of which capitalism is the most advanced form--are a manifestation of earlier hierarchical (and patriarchical) societies. Hierarchy precedes class and is a more fundamental aspect of domination than class-based economic stratification. An overemphasis on class and economics obscures the way that hierarchy pervades supposedly "superstructural" realms of culture, tradition, and consciousness to reproduce systems of command and obedience that give elites varying degrees of control over subordinates.

Fisk asserts the overriding importance to human liberation of working-class seizure of state power, and the creation of a socialist state, since it is the state that protects and fosters economic relations. But again, a socialist state that divests capitalists of their ownership of the means of production--and thus of their class character--does not necessarily overturn the hierarchies that deny individuals their freedom from domination. Domination can exist without economic exploitation and within a "classless" society. Particularly within the state--an institutionalized product of the long social evolution of hierarchy--"masses" can continue to be dominated by bureaucrats who profess to speak in their "higher social interests," as Murray Bookchin argues.

What radical ecologists, feminists, and others in liberation movements increasingly realize is that domination is not just a social or economic condition but also a state of consciousness--a "sensibility toward phenomena at every level of personal and social experience," again to quote Bookchin. It is a state of consciousness that is not determined only by the base of economic relations. When Marx speaks of the "civilizing influence of capital" under which

nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production (Grundrisse)

he betrays an internalization of hierarchy, typical of the bourgeois era, in which the "blind forces of nature" must be dominated before humanity can be free. What is true of external nature for Marx is true of internal nature for Freud. This sensibility rationalizes human domination of human as a "necessary" step toward freedom and civilization.

It is this hierarchical sensibility that is at the root of social domination. It is a sensibility that is reproduced not only by relations of production but by other social relations, and that reproduces sexual and racial domination, not just class domination. It is this fundamental aspect of domination that must be overthrown before the potential for human freedom can be realized. And it is this important point that is obscured by the elevation of class and economics to theoretical primacy.
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Author:Wrabley, Ray
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Dec 1, 1987
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