The Two Marxisms as an Analytic

Bluefade.gif (789 bytes)

The Two Marxisms are clearly not concrete objects but analytic distinctions, ideal types, or imputed latent dimensions. Each may be thought of as a kind of factor (or scale) produced by a (qualitative) factor analysis. Or each may be viewed as an hypothesis about which dimensions would appear if we made a "factor analysis" (in the precise sense of that mathematical term) of our information about specific and concrete Marxists. Correspondingly, then, a specific Marxist should not be spoken of as "a" Critical or Scientific Marxist. Rather, each specific theorist should be thought of as always containing an admixture of both dimensions; as always having a "score" on each of the dimensions. Nonetheless, some theorist's score on the Scientific Marxist or Critical Marxist dimension can be consistently higher (or lower) than others, during certain periods of time.

For us, then, both Scientific and Critical Marxism are underlying, latent factors, discriminable from a set of observables (which are attributes) of a number of concrete, social theorists, with personal names. In short, the concepts of Critical and Scientific Marxisms are hypotheses for a factor analysis of concrete Marxist theorists. Thus viewed, the critique of Lukacs or of Engels or Althusser, or of the young or old Marx, unduly particularizes and over-concretizes the issue. The important issue, in our framework, is not what were the theories of Georg Lukacs or Louis Althusser. By that route, one gets involved in the exegesis—the critique or apologia—of an individual's theoretical system, forgetting that it has many merely personal idiosyncracies.

Certainly, Critical and Scientific Marxisms are dimensions that may be inferred from a matrix of ongoing observables simultaneously copresent. We, however, will also look upon them as quasi-archeological data, in the sense that, though copresent, they are also differently dated. The dimensions, moreover, are not just copresent but, also, mutually interactive; and not just mutually interactive synchronically, but also diachronically. Each affects the other over time, and at specific times; each becomes what it is at a certain historical period and because of what the other was then. And, to put the matter in Fernand Braudel's terms, each may also have a different duree,1 so that two objects copresent may have emerged at different times, have different developmental rhythms, be at different stages of their development—one perhaps waning, the other waxing.

Critical Marxism emerged following World War I, the October Revolution's success, and the German revolution's failure. Its character is partly an effect of a prior dominance of Scientific Marxism in the Second International. Critical Marxism is thus in part a reaction against that prior Scientific Marxism and a polemical critique of it. In our view, then, Critical Marxism is not to be understood as the ideology generated by (however serviceable it is in), the industrially backward areas of the world; it is, rather, the newer Marxism of a younger generation of Marxists, whose cohort developed in opposition to the Marxist establishment-in-being around the turn of the century. Each, then, is a time-dated object, and each plays a different historical role. Critical Marxism faces two ways: it is a tool of ideological struggle within Marxism itself, at first most especially directed against the determinism and wooden evolutionism of the Second International, as well as a distinct critique of capitalist society.

But if Critical Marxism is a later dimension, if it is responding to the prior failures of Scientific Marxism, there is, also, in Scientific Marxism itself, an earlier and prior rejection of objective philosophical idealism and of utopian socialism. This is exhibited by the work of Marx and Engels themselves, whose polemic against idealism moved their theoretical structure into the orbit of modern science—at first, most especially, Darwinism—and under its influence. Marxism crystallized into a political movement, under the tutelage of Engels and Kautsky after Marx's death. It was then dominated by a Scientific Marxism opposed polemically to idealism, characterized by an antiidealistic naturalism alertly focused on the limits of voluntarism, and affirming the power of economic structural constraints over human action and reason. Critical Marxism, however, emerges in reaction to that reading of Marxism, counter-affirming the role of a voluntaristic consciousness against Scientific Marxism's naturalism, determinism, and its focus on the constraining character of economic structures. If Scientific Marxism emerges as the negation of academic philosophical idealism and of "utopianism," Critical Marxism is the "negation of that negation."

This means that Critical Marxism is susceptible to a certain ambiguity. On the one hand, it has the potentiality of becoming a merely negative dialectic that would make it regressive—i.e., another form of German idealism On the other hand, Critical Marxism might not simply react against Scientific Marxism but, selectively assimilating the latter's contribution, it might transcend the originating structural dichotomy of idealism and materialism. Such a transcending Critical Marxism, then, need be neither a regression to philosophical idealism, nor simply the mirror-image of Scientific Marxism.

Our study, then, rejects any idea that Marxism is a reified "thing''-inbeing, an intellectual sword that lays waiting in its scabbard. To study Marxism, from our standpoint, is not simply to point to it as an object-topic, but to raise a question about what it is and how to conceptualize it.

There is, moreover, no reason to suppose that Marxism is an intellectual island unconnected with other modes of critical discourse or other reflexive speech variants. Nor need we suppose that our view of Marxism—either as topic or resource—must be limited only to the unique characteristics distinguishing it from other social theories and movements. Again, there is no reason to limit our view of Marxism to the self-understanding of Marxists (or of those defining themselves as such). Certainly, our rejection of this is consistent with Marxism itself which has never believed that consciousness determined being.

In insisting that Marxism be viewed as an historical product, I am not suggesting in the slightest, however, that this obviates the need for separate rational-empirical evaluation. Thus, I veer from Karl Korsch's formulation, when (among the very first) he raised the question of a reflexive, auto-critique of Marxism: "dogmatic calculations of how far different versions of Marxist theory correspond to some abstract canon of 'pure and unfalsified' theory should be abandoned. All these earlier and later Marxist ideologies must, on the contrary, be seen in a historical materialist and dialectical perspective as products of a historical evolution." This formulation seems to open the door to a radical relativism and an inevitable nihilism. For how could one view Marxist ideologies as "products of a historical evolution" without first saying what Marxism is; which then, seemingly, plunges us back into that very "dogmatic calculation" of Marxism against which Korsch warns. A reasoned provisional statement o{~. what Marxism is, a tentative analytic characterization of it, is necessary and prior to its historical examination.

When indicating which aspects of Marxism we are willing to use as our resource (to understand Marxism as a topic), we are thereby committing ourselves, tentatively, to a judgement of the truth in Marxism—not to "all" its truth, but, at least, to that part on which we necessarily rely when using it as a resource.

This is really the essential question with which I am concerned, which I cannot address directly until a later volume. For if concerned to understand Marxism, it is not simply so that, once having discovered it is, we may then contemplate it passively. We seek to know what ism is from the standpoint of its defensibility in the light of criical reason, no less than as an historical object. We want a knowledge of Marxism that distinguishes its true or rational part from its untrue, mystified, and false consciousness. And we walls it so that we may use the former, and transcend, avoid, and discard the latter.

There is, however, one difficulty with this view of the matter. The standards of critical rationality, with which we judge Marxism, are not themselves eternal objects autonomous from the critique that Marxism makes of the world. To say it differently: the value of Marxism is not limited to middle-range sociological truths about economy and society, but also entails Marxism's critique of critical rationality itself. Marxism's value derives in part—or, at least, so I shall argue in later volumes—from its ability to help us transcend certain limits of our historically evolved rationality: i.e., the culture of critical discourse's reflexive speech. Clearly, then, Marxism implicates our most fundamental intellectual resources, and reflects not only on our sociological or economic topics.


Bluefade.gif (789 bytes)


1. See J. H. Hexter, "Fernand Braudel and the Monde Braudellien," Journal of Modern History, December 1972, pp. 480-539.


Bluefade.gif (789 bytes)


From Alvin W. Gouldner,  The Two Marxisms.   New York:  Oxford University Press, 1980,  Appendix Two - "The Two Marxisms as an Analytic Distinction"    pp. 164-167.

Waveline.gif (3038 bytes)


Back to the Table of Contents

Back to  Appendix One - "Other Formulations of the Two Marxisms"

Forward to Appendix Three - "On Social 'Contradictions' "

Back to the Dead Sociologists' Index