Chapter 4



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Scientific Marxism came to center on a concept of social structure which holds that persons are constrained, often against their will, to act in patterned ways. The familiar paradigm, of course, is Marx's concept of a "capitalist system" within which even the capitalists themselves, quite apart from their own personal wishes, are constrained to economize, to exploit labor, and continually to heighten productivity in order to keep abreast of competition: "capitalism subjects every individual capitalist to the immanent laws of capitalist production as external coercive laws. Competition forces him continually to extend his capital for the sake of maintaining it, and he can only extend it by means of progressive accumulation."1

Marx's structural perspective sees bourgeoisie and proletariat alike as doing what they must rather than what they will; men are under constraint to pursue their typically different courses of action by reason of the different positions they occupy within the social structure. For Marx and Engels, structure centers on constraint and constraint is understood as an impersonal property of a spacelike locus, i.e., a social ''position."

In a later chapter, I will show that a structural perspective is assuredly that of the mature Marx at the height of his intellectual powers. But are these structural views of Marx's mature scientific socialism a belated development that manifests itself only after his supposed rupture epistemologique with his "ideological" youth? Are they symptomatic that Marx had now reached his scientific maturity and, in Louis Althusser's conception, had put his prescientific, ideological youth behind him? There seems no evidence of this, for Marx's youthful views were not one whit less structural. Thus as early as 1843, the young Marx's "defense of the Moselle Correspondent" observed that

in the investigation of political conditions one is too easily tempted to overlook the objective nature of the relationships and to explain everything from the will of the persons acting. There are relationships, however, which determine the actions of private persons as well as those of individual authorities, and which are as independent as are the movements in breathing. Taking this objective standpoint from the outset, one will not presuppose an exclusively good or bad will on either side. Rather, one will observe relationships in which only individuals appear to act at first. As soon as it was demonstrated that something was necessitated by conditions, it will not be difficult to figure out under which external circumstances this thing actually had to come into being, and under which other circumstances it could not have come about although a need for it was present. One can determine this with almost the same certainty as a chemist determines under which external conditions some substances will form a compound.2

This, in 1843.

As a preliminary indication of the implications of this "structuralism," fully characteristic of Capital although written when Marx was only 26, we may note: (a) his counterposing of objective conditions and of the will; (b) the stress on the potency of the former; (c) the bracketing or setting aside of good or bad intentions; (d) the view of individual behavior as an illusion masking or expressing underlying conditions; (e) the view that these underlying conditions act with the force of necessity; (f) finally, the claim that they are understandable with scientific rigor.

The genealogy of this structural necessitarianism is traceable to an even younger Marx, and may be found even in a kind of "life aims" paper that he wrote at age 17 for his graduation from the Trier Gymnasium and in which he held regretfully that ''we cannot always choose the vocation in which we believe we are called. Our social relations, to some extent, have already begun to form before we are in a position to determine them."3 In the same paper it is altogether evident that, while Marx clearly saw the power of social constraint, he also judged it negatively. Constraint was powerful, but not good. He condemned constraint for debasing persons to "servile tools," a fate incompatible with human dignity.4 In this, Marxism exemplifies the more general circumstance that a significant part of all social theorizing is a symbolic effort to overcome "unpermitted social worlds"5—that is, worlds where either the good is seen as weak or the evil as strong. Struck by the sheer power of constraint, Marx sometimes obscures the fact that he detests it. Like the medical researcher proud of the new virus he has discovered, he wants others to know about it, goes about lecturing on it, and, after a while, the fact that he hates it is mentioned less than the fact that he discovered it. The tension between determinism and voluntarism was thus already visible in Marx's adolescent writings. Marx was indeed right: there are some structures—cognitive no less than social—that we acquire "before we are in a position to determine them." The idea of a necessitarian structure was one of them. The continuities in Marx's work and the implications of his Hegelian heritage are often seen in a one-sided way, focusing only on the importance that the young Marx attributed to the role of the subject-actor. Nonetheless, there is also the clearest foreshadowing of Marx's determinism in his earliest writings, a determinism which, as I mention below, is scarcely incompatible with Hegel.


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Structuralism as De-centering

In structural analysis, the analyst (Marx or any other) shows that human actions are patterned without having been designed by the will or policy of any person or group. Actions are not only shaped by intended influences, but there are also unintended outcomes. The real "genius" of the capitalist "system" was that it produced a patterning (de-randomization) of gratifications and costs without these having been necessarily intended by the advantaged or consented to (and even recognized) by the disadvantaged. In that vein, Marx quotes Hegel on the cunning of reason.6

Marx's reaction to this is ambivalent, on the one side rejecting its idealism, but, on the other, accepting its determinism. The dis-continuity is a familiar point; the remnant continuity is less commonly recognized. Marx's structuralism only rejected Hegel s idealistic assumption that the directive force was reason. For Marx, the influence is not some demiurge above the actors but a blind, unwitting force of nature within society. Structural analysis profoundly redefined human affairs, ejecting providential design and relocating social order within blind nature. Persons and society are now the sphere of a natural order.

As a natural order, a society's patterns are not to be understood as conforming to anyone's plans or policies, even powerful authorities governing the group. The conception of (group life and) society as a natural order—this very sociological conception—was thus always potentially subversive of established authority and power, for it sees these as blind and subject to the natural order. Groups and societies are now no longer thought intelligible simply if the policies of their leaders are known, and there is now little point in appealing to leaders, for they themselves are controlled by other forces. Authority and rationality are now split; relations to authority are not to be guided by rational appeal or persuasion, since authority (no more than anyone else) is not an agent free to follow the urgings of reason; force, power, and struggle, rather than reason, now become the instruments through which authority is moved. The policies of a group's leadership also lose their grounding in rationality; instead, they are seen not as initiating action but as only mediating other unintended and often unrecognized natural forces. To justify a policy, one must now show that it is born of necessity and, conversely, to de-authorize it requires that it be shown as no longer historically necessary.

If Marx rejects the idealism of Hegel's reason he does not, therefore, reject her cunning control over other objects, i.e., her capacity to 'guide things to her own ends." Hegel's transcendent reason was the expression of an objective idealism that was no less deterministic than it was idealistic. For Hegel, persons did not choose to conform to the spirit of the times or the Volksgeist, but this spirit constituted persons and their identity. In Hegel's terms "individual personalities disappear from our point of view, and the only ones that are relevant are those that posit in reality the will of the Volksgeist." Hegel's objective idealism thus postulates the very depersonalized structures and determinism that Marx retained, even while rejecting Hegel's idealism.

In constituting societies as natural systems, structural analysis involves a paradigm shared by both Marxism and normal, academic sociology, as well as by political economy or economics. In the first lecture on sociology given in France (1888), Emile Durkheim observed that while reflection on society was as old as Plato's Republic, "until the beginning of this century, most of his work was dominated by an idea which radically prevented the establishment of sociology. . . . nearly all of these theorists saw society as a human creation, a product of art and reflection. . . . in this view, a nation is not a natural product, like organisms or plants, which grow and develop through some natural necessity." With August Comte, said Durkheim, sociology emerges and centers itself on that idea that ''societies, like everything else, are subject to laws" and constituted "a natural realm to observe."7 Marx and Comte are thus members of the same naturalistic cohort.

The conception of society as a naturally developing entity has two facets, one liberative and critical, the other, conservative and dehumanizing. In the former, to view societies as natural systems is a tacit critique of authority which undermines irrational views concerning the importance of political leadership and their self-serving claims to special privilege. The natural-systems view of society denies the aura of potency which political leadership commonly prefers to draw around itself; it dispels the mystique of authority and says, in effect, that outcomes do not depend as much upon them as they like to pretend, but on forces over which even they have no control. In this view, leaders can be legitimated only as mediators open to and transmitting the requirements of natural processes. In the second (conservative and dehumanizing) implication of the natural-systems view, however, ordinary persons may come to be viewed as mere objects—"like organisms or plants"—shaped by natural forces, rather than as subjects capable of influencing their own lives. If even leaders and "great men" are, in the natural-systems view, simply "midwives," then ordinary persons are likely to be judged even more passive and impotent to effect their social world.

At this point, however, the structuralism of Marxism and academic sociology diverge. To normal academic sociology, the autonomy of groups from control by their members—the fact that groups develop requirements and a direction of their own independent of the will of group members—is accepted as a normal condition. In contrast to academic sociology, however, Marxism viewed this same condition as abnormal, as a pathological alienation, as the very reason to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism: i.e., with production by a "free association of producers under their conscious and purposeful control."8

The central interest (or value grounding) on which Marx's structuralism rests, is the revolutionary overthrow of the present because it transforms persons into passive objects, rather than treats them as autonomous subjects. Thus Marx's structuralism focuses on persons as controlled by impersonal conditions precisely because he deplores this. Marx's structuralism, then, is sociological description made from the perspective of a critique of society grounded in the value of human autonomy, and aiming to emancipate persons from autonomy-impairing structures. Marx's structuralism was grounded in the supposition that human autonomy had, in fact, been undermined and in a value judgement that rejected this condition. For Marx as proponent of critique, structuralism is fetishism. To that extent, his is not an antihumanism but a humanistic imperialism, aiming at the unlimited dominion of the human species over all things. It is both structural sociology and critique and, indeed, a sociology founded on a critique, where description and analysis are guided by the specific value interests in human autonomy.


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Some Formal Aspects of Structure

The concept of structure as constraint is, as indicated, an element that Scientific Marxism shares with normal, academic, scientifically committed sociology. This is plainly evident, for example, in Robert K. Merton's formidable essay, "Manifest and Latent Functions." Merton first makes systematic use of "structural C011text" to indicate how social outcomes are generated and limited: "The interdependence of the elements of a social structure limits the effective possibility of change or functional alternatives. The concept of structural constraint corresponds, in the area of social structure, to Goldenweiser's 'principle of limited possibilities', in a broader sphere."9

The analytic function of this concept of structure, then, is to account for certain patterns by citing the inhibition of some (not all) of the possible alternatives in a situation. It treats the situation as a kind of ecology affecting the growth of its inhabitants by discouraging certain species. Most importantly, "structure'' accounts for the survival of some and the elimination of other alternatives, not by examining the interrelationship among the alternatives themselves, and specifically not by examining the survival of some as the result of their mutual competition or direct struggle against their adversaries. This conflict is omitted in the concept of structure. It is not the interrelationship of alternatives, nor their struggle against one another that is invoked, but the effect of something outside of them all: structure is an external environment. Thus the structuralism congenial to Scientific Marxism is dissonant with an emphasis on class struggle, the latter being more congenial to Critical Marxism.

The notion of structure also entails a treatment of some element as an independent variable within the context of a tacit discourse about system, where every variable is formally held to be both independent and dependent. Structure is thus a way of singling out some elements and assigning special causal potency to them, and thus has a certain dissonance with general systems analysis which focuses on any element as both cause and effect.

On the most general level, structure refers to any enduring arrangement of interconnected elements. As "interconnected," structure constitutes a system. That some interconnections ''endure" refers to the persistence of the system (of the ongoing interconnections of elements) relative to aspects of the surrounding "environment." "Structures" are stable arrangements of elements seen from the standpoint of their effect upon their environment; they are seen as producers rather than as produced.10

Most generally, the effect of any structure upon its environment is to de-randomize certain aspects of it. Given a structure, certain aspects of the environment hitherto randomly distributed are now differentiated in patterned ways: they are "sorted out." A physical structure, for example, a flour sifter, takes a hitherto unsorted batch of flour and de-randomizes it; it sorts it out with respect to size, only allowing flour particles smaller than a certain size to pass through, and retaining the larger ones, thus creating two different piles of flour where before there had only been one. The de-randomization produced by a structure thus occurs only with respect to a certain, limited criterion, here size; the color of the flour particles as well as other attributes may continue to be randomly distributed.

A structure is thus treated as if it were relatively unchanging, like a rock in a river deflecting a waterflow in different directions. Social structures are deemed to operate in essentially similar ways, de-randomizing persons impersonally, for example, in terms of attributes such as wealth, power, prestige, skin color. Given a capitalist structure, some will be constrained to sell their labor power for wages; those owning the means of production will control the production process; and, according to Marx, wealth will accumulate at one pole while poverty and misery will accumulate at the other, and the units of production will continually get larger and more centralized.

Structures, however, are not ontologically given; things are not "structures" simply because reality has dictated that they should be. But to treat things as producers rather than as produced is not inherent in them; it is a selective perception expressing the viewer's interest and decision, rather than the structure's inherent nature. Structures are thus constituted by the interest and perspectives in terms of which they are viewed, no less than by the "things-in-themselves." It is not that structures and nonstructures refer to different concrete things. The structuralist decentering of the world is always grounded in interests centered in a selective subject.


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Constraint as Costs That Can Be Met

The normal, unexamined notion of structure looks upon a given arrangement of parts as producing its effects in certain specific ways, namely, via the constraining effects of its ''proper/its.'' Structures are imputed to produce effects through the mediation of properties attributed to, and seen as inhering in, them. In the view of structure held by Scientific Marxists, a "constraint" is in the constrainer; it has a certain "necessity"; this cannot be escaped by the object constrained, precisely because the constrainer is in no way dependent on it. This objectivistic view is the everyday concept of "constraint" for which Scientific Marxism has an elective affinity.

From the standpoint of Critical Marxism, however, the effects of some constraining property are always partly dependent on its interaction with the ''constrained" object, and the outcome varies with the latter's ideology, culture, and definition of the situation. Here constraint refers to the costs of producing any outcome, which are potentially variable under different circumstances. The notion of structure held by Scientific Marxism also operates with an unexamined and common-sense assumption of ''normal" persons that, given a certain structure, persons are "unable" to do to accomplish, or to bring something about. (As noted earlier, from the standpoint of Scientific .Marxism, it is supposed that without a maturely developed capitalism and its advanced productive forces, socialism cannot be brought into existence.) From the more voluntaristic standpoint of Critical Marxism, however, "constraint" makes reference to the variable costs of pursuing a certain line of action, not to its intrinsic impossibility. The ''impossible," from this standpoint, is the limiting case of a goal that cannot be achieved whatever the costs invested in achieving it.

To view certain conditions as constraints is to treat them as "givers," or as unalterable. To view certain conditions as entailing costs of action, however, is to treat conditions as capable of being overcome with sufficient struggle, sacrifice, or exertion, rather than taking them as naturally given. The same events can be treated from either standpoint; the events themselves do not impose the standpoint. From the standpoint of Critical Marxism, many circumstances defined as unalterable ''conditions" of action may indeed be altered, if only given enough effort by those who want to. Sometimes, at certain moments, conditions may conceivably be unalterable but, often enough, intimates the Critical Marxist, they are unchangeable only because people define them as naturally given; have not thought of changing them; would not want to, even if they could; or are unwilling to invest the time, resources, and energy that it would require. The faintheartedness of persons and the unyieldingness of structures are simply different sides of one coin.

The ''unalterability" of patterns is in part always a function of persons' commitments, and not only of the character inherent in the structural conditions themselves. If persons are committed to maintaining a life style that would need to be changed, or to husbanding resources that would need to be expended to achieve a goal, or if they prefer to spend them on something else, then the structural "condition" persists as much because of these commitments, as because of properties inhering in the structure. "Conditions" are simply ways of defining circumstances naturalistically, as if persons' actions and commitments did not matter and as if the conditions existed apart from commitments.

From the standpoint of a Critical Marxism, it is not that different structures do not contribute differently to the shaping of outcomes, but only that they never do so in isolation and apart from the actions or understandings of persons willing to pay the costs of changing their world. From this perspective, structures and their constraints are commitments which were once made but which persons now take as givers, and in which, therefore, they persist To Critical Marxists, "structures" are produced by persons' alienation from their own actions and commitments, and history is not made by social structures but by groups of persons who—having "nothing to lose but their chains"—are ready to pay costs From the standpoint of a Scientific Marxism, however, the real actors are the structures, and persons are the objects on (or through) which they act. Here structure is Geist. The structuralism of a Scientific Marxism premises that persons are not significantly different from other objects and is thus antihumanistic.


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Different Accounting Systems

It is not, then, that Critical Marxists do not see structures or that Scientific Marxists do not understand that historical outcomes will differ depending on the sacrifices or costs persons are willing to pay. Rather, they are using different "accounting systems," different rules of accounting for social events. The differences in then, are related to their different value commitments and interests— values and interests, not surrendered lightly, are constitutive of commitments—and these, over time, are generative of different structural conditions.

The accounting system of Critical Marxism proceeds by holding structure constant, while varying (and making problematic) the commitment, will, or energy of persons devoted to some goal. Scientific Marxists do the opposite, varying the structural conditions (which requires that they be made problematic), while tacitly taking commitments as given. Critical Marxists want to know (and show) how much historical outcomes will differ when persons' commitments vary; Scientific Marxists want to know (and show) how outcomes will differ if there is variation of the structures within which action is situated.

Underneath their accounting systems, the two Marxisms differ on another level. At this deeper reach, their difference devolves around value differences, particularly the value and potency attributed to ''normal" persons. Scientific Marxism wants to eliminate persons, personhood, personality, and other person attributes (e.g., "ideas") from its accounting scheme, regarding them as things to be accounted for, as dependent or mediating variables, rather than as things with which to account for others. Scientific Marxism is, as will be shown in the next chapter, manifestly identified with nineteenth-century science, most especially with evolutionary Darwinism. Critical Marxism, however, is grounded in an older ''humanism'' precisely because it wishes to utilize person (or "subject") attributes as among the loci of power accounting for events, thereby systematically distinguishing persons from all other "things." (It would not, however, be correct to say that Critical Marxism's humanism alone reflects subterranean links to Christianity. Rather, what happened is that Christianity's 'natural law" and its "free will" were split, the former fusing with the uniformitarian science paradigm of impersonal regularities and assimilated into Scientific Marxism, the latter, "free will,'' becoming part of the tacit grounding for Critical Marxism.)

As differing accounting systems, Scientific and Critical Marxism also entail different action systems, i.e., different command, therapeutic, engineering, or political systems. Each looks to a different site for its leverage. To change the world, Critical Marxism  focalizes the way in which change is contingent on changes in and of persons—in their consciousness, ideologies, theories, values, knowledge, energies. Critical Marxism is thus closely linked with (what Scientific Marxism denigrates as) "utopian socialism." Scientific Marxism, conversely, views the true actors as the social structures themselves and regards persons as the "supports" bearing the structures or as ''actors" playing constraining roles they did not write. From this standpoint, the appropriate political tactic is to change the structures in which people act without addressing (or appealing to) the goodwill, or reasoned understanding of persons. In short, Scientific Marxism is grounded in an extension of nineteenth-century science to human behavior, which entails that it be viewed as a thing like any other thing studied by science; Critical Marxism, however, is grounded in a view that stresses that change requires an inner change of the person, along with other things, and is thus tacitly grounded in a certain "spiritual" view of persons.

Scientific Marxism's structural accounting method is also to be understood as arising out of its opposition to two other ideological movements: ( 1) liberalism as an historically recent ideology of the bourgeoisie, and (2) the agent centeredness of the mass consciousness of everyday life in Christian society. Marxism's structuralism can, from this standpoint, be effectively appraised only in the context of the theoretical traditions and everyday culture which it opposed.

Both Christianity and liberal political economy portrayed men as "free to choose," the former because of their divinely provided "free will," the latter because the market provided them with free choices. Liberalism contended that the market system enabled mel1 to make rational decisions free of coercion. The contention here is that both liberalism and Marxism are in part "systems of social accounting," rules partly tacit and partly explicit, for explaining human behavior. The liberal system accounts for outcomes in terms of the inner traits of persons; the structural model, however, refuses to treat individuals in isolation or to understand them by their inward characteristics. Marx's structuralism entails a de-atomization (or recontextualization) in which persons are seen as related to one another within arrangements which exist prior to their actions and which limit these actions. This structure is seen as accounting for the behavior of persons; what happens to them is held to depend less on their innards than on their location in the ongoing arrangement. The liberal model accounts for behavior by imputing intentions and motives; the structural model accounts by locating persons in social regions that would constrain them quite apart from what they might want.

Liberalism's accounting system thus centered on the motives, appraisals, and knowledge of persons whom it saw as the fount of actions and events: i.e., principals. Marxism, however, replied that liberals were operating with a very limited notion of coercion, of coercion as originating with persons and their intentioned action. Marxism certainly recognized that persons could be sources of coercion, but its polemical emphasis was directed against the omissions entailed by liberalism, which focused it on the variety of other unintended coercions to which persons art subjected—in short, it focused theoretically on coercion via structure. Correspondingly, Marxism understands social structures as making reference to and recovering those unintended but patterned coercions systematically ignored in the liberal accounting system.

Harold Draper has made the relevant point here with singular clarity:

Marx was concerned to point out more than once that the course of social development was historically accompanied by a change in the forms of coercion.... 'the totality of the process appears as an objective interconnection arising directly from nature; . . . it emerges out of the interaction of conscious individuals, but it does not reside in their consciousness.... Their own mutual collisions produce an alien force that stands above them.... Under capital, the association of workers is not compelled by direct physical force or by forced labor, corvee labor, slave labor; it is compelled by the fact that the conditions of production are another's property."11


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Structure as Critique of Liberalism

Structure, then, pertains to that impersonal ''force of circumstances" that patterns human events and actions, in contrast to that force and violence inflicted knowingly upon persons by others. It operates through the impersonal constraints of the price, the wage, and the property systems, whether or not any intend it. Structure, then, is a critique of the liberal concept of the ''free market" and, more generally, a critique of the liberal accounting system that was centered in the actions and intentions of individual persons. It says that it is not the person but the "system" that counts.

The liberal accounting system was also a command system: it said, if you want persons to do something then they may be appealed to, shown that it is in their "interest" to do something persuaded, that is, by material incentives or rhetoric, persons will do as desired. Responses to such persuasion are seen as free acts. Marx, however, replies that despite the absence of deliberate force or violence, coercion may yet exist. Submitting to or concurring with an appeal is one thing when there is no cost inflicted for refusal, or no rearguard availability of force; it is quite another, however, to reject an offered incentive and to know the alternative is privation or starvation. Much of persuasion, therefore, is "coercive persuasion." Every property system is a structure producing a patterned allocation of differential advantages and costs for different classes that cumulatively strengthens the position of the advantage and weakens that of the disadvantaged.

Although Marx never theoretizes it with any reflexivity, the idea of' a structure is fundamental to Scientific Marxism and is one of the most important of his theoretical contributions. The notion of structure enables Marx to bring into view and recover certain aspects of social causation which liberalism had obscured. Like any contribution, its worth can be judged only within some tradition of discourse. This contribution by Marx must be measured against a liberal accounting system which failed to register that coercion may not necessarily entail either an act of commission, or an act of force and violence, and its results may not be intended or even recognized. Christian liberals had overemphasized the extent to which what happened to persons was the result of their own or others' intentions. They tended to untie persuasion and rationality from other features of the social situation, never noting that, quite apart from the arguments adduced, some features of the situation furthered conformity. For Marx, the worker accepts his wage because he is constrained to, not because he is persuaded that it is a fair price for his labor. The absence of alternatives for workers may not be intended by employers; nonetheless it structures their relationship Structure, then, relative to liberal discourse, is all those ways of patterning outcomes other than by deliberate force or by a rational appeal to self-interest. Structure focuses on "blind" constraints, nonforceful and nonrational institutional arrangements, commonly treated as natural or taken for granted, which de-randomize costs and benefits, allocating them systematically, differentially, and cumulatively among different classes, thereby yielding stratified hierarchies.

Now, though Marx's view of structure constitutes a substantial advance over the liberal system of social accounting, it imposes its own costs, tending as it does toward a generalized fetishism. It "fetishizes" precisely in the Marxist sense of stripping persons from the social scene, when, in fact, structures are only persons doing structure. In the situation where the worker is portrayed as constrained to accept his wages, it is not just physical starvation or the threat of it that constrains him. The worker who rejects an offered wage is threatened by starvation only if there are no welfare provisions or no unemployment insurance in his community this, in turn, depends in part on what he and others have brought about through their political efforts. It depends also on the solidarity of his fellow workers and on whether they will scab on him, or stand by him should he refuse the wage offer. It depends as well on what his own family is willing to suffer.

The constraints of the wage system, then, are the collective actions of a large number of persons, giving or withholding their collaborative efforts, and thus upholding or cancelling the threat ''in'' the wage structure. Structure, then, is people doing things—or not. Social "situations," then, are not regions in which persons act; they are the recurrent and collective actions of persons. These do indeed impose costs and benefits on actors, thereby "structuring" them. But the resultant constraint is not merely "in" the actions with which persons are confronted but depends on the relationship between the situation and those interacting with it. Partially but inescapably, the structuring costs depend on how the situation is defined. However false or incorrect the "definition of a situation," as Antonio Gramsci and W. I. Thomas have both noted, it is real and its consequences vary with its character. In that sense: "a situation defined as real is real in its consequences." Costs which pattern actions are thus not imposed mechanically, apart from human understandings and intentions.

If Marx's structuralism must be understood as a critique of liberalism, structuralism is obviously not limited to Marx and has other roots. One is the very nature of language itself, with its distinction between subjects who do the acting and objects on which they act; Jerome Bruner speaks of "the presence in all languages of categories of agent, action, object of action, recipient of action, location, possession, etc."12 To the extent that language premises that some beings are intrinsically acting agents and others intrinsically acted-upon objects, it provides a cultural grounding for notions of structure. That certain kinds of things, especially persons, should intrinsically be regarded as the origins of actions, the source of effects, is the common-sense wisdom of some ordinary languages; structure, however, is the secularized, nonprovidential but impersonal unmoved mover. There is thus a further liberative element in structure: it opposes the traditional spiritual hierarchy of mind over body; structure's determinative element is not a form of ''minced'' steering that controls the body from the outside but a property of the "body" itself: Structuralism is thus intrinsically a critique of idealism, and "materialism" is but the explication of that critique. Structure, in short is the secularization of pantheism. It continues to reflect its linguistic grounding, however, to the extent that it assumes that some things are intrinsically producers, while others are intrinsically produced, without asking how structure itself is produced and reproduced. The whole concept of a structure is modeled on and hence grounded in the kind of one-way influences and potencies linguistically imputed to persons. The linguistic paradigm embedded in the notion of structure resists assimilating the full reciprocity of a more radical system view in which each thing is both producer and produced, for in language the subject is not and cannot also be the object.

The notion of structure is also a contextualizing one, saying that peoples' actions are constrained by their location in a situation. In its contextualizing, structure thus reaches out toward holistic analysis, focusing on the ways in which outcomes depend on locations within some larger whole, on the one side and, on the other, on the ways in which these locations are interconnected with others. Structural analysis always involves the exhibition of the interconnection of constituent elements which are positioned by the specification of their interconnections. "Structure,'' then, is a tacit spatial metaphor; or as Louis Althusser has noted, infra- and superstructure in Marx are topographical metaphors. Structures tacitly liken social action to edifices or buildings, treating it as an "environment'' and thus viewing action as a thing capable of being made once for all; as a product separable from the process of action that produced it, rather than an ongoing, continuing performance which, like a musical performance, ceases once the actions and doings constituting it stop. Structure thus conflates doing and making.

If structure is a recontextualizing system of accounting, the circumference of the context it encompasses is limited; the context into which it recontextualizes events is arbitrarily narrowed to exclude systematically the ways in which persons' understandings and definitions of their situation are part of the meaning-bestowing, action-shaping context. Structures are, therefore, seen as producing meanings rather than as incorporating them, and as not varying in their effects with such incorporated meanings. The "structure" of Scientific Marxism, then, is an abortive, incomplete recontextualization.

The view that persons are affected by their positions in social structures does not, of itself, entail a rule establishing the amount of power that structures exercise over persons' actions. This can be a varying influence, ranging from a very tight control to a loose boundary within which there is room for considerable variability. A social position (or role) need not be a destiny imposed on persons, and persons need not be viewed (as Althusser does) as mere vehicles for social roles. A role is one thing; a role performance, quite another, for obviously all persons do not play the same role in the same way. Indeed, there is no known role system or social structure impervious to subversion and rebellion. The twentieth century has been a century of revolutions, some successful and some not, against brutal social systems and imperialisms. This, then, is how Mao may be understood when he held that "imperialism is a paper tiger": there is no social structure, however brutal, callous, vicious, and powerful, that can forever confine a resistant people. Under special circumstances established structures may be destroyed or overthrown; and even under ordinary, everyday circumstances they allow considerable variability in tile behavior and events they "constrain."


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Structure and the "Normal" Person

Structures do not eliminate variability in the actions of those playing roles in them because role "requirements" must always be interpreted in the light of the tacit, background, common-sense understandings of the role players. There is also always considerable variability in how these understandings are applied because there is variability in the "interests" and past history of the persons applying them. When structures are defined as successfully constraining persons there is, as suggested earlier, a tacit, common-sense assumption about "normal" persons. It is premised that "most people," of a certain (usually unspecified) variability would on the average capitulate to the "pressures" of the structure, i.e., be unwilling to pay the costs of resisting it. Under unspecified commonsensically understood normal conditions, normal individuals do what people with guns tell them to do. Normally, but not always; because persons vary in their conceptions of who they are and what they will tolerate. Even "normally" conforming, submissive, and passive persons have limits that can be overstepped and will not submit to certain situations. There are mutinies, revolutions, hijackings, strikes, riots, uprisings, sabotage, bombs planted—resistance. Structural analysis which fails to make problematic the idea of the normal with which it tacitly operates is, therefore, commonly taken by surprise when change erupts. It forgets that there are always conditions under which some will not behave "normally" and will opt for conflict rather than resign themselves to pressure.

How compatible, then, can structuralism be with revolution? A revolutionary theory such as Marxism is, indeed, caught in internal contradiction when it interprets itself as a Scientific Marxism and opts for a structural analysis. Here, again, and from a deeper perspective, we note the fundamental contradiction within Marxism itself, around which its diverging polarities of Critical and Scientific Marxism are differentiated.

Critical Marxism rejects the passivity-generating aphorism of Scientific Marxism that "freedom is the recognition of necessity," holding instead that freedom is the willingness to pay the price to achieve one's values, to the extent that these indeed are one's own values; that is, to the extent our values are critically sifted and are not the result either of an external mechanical programming or of internal obsessions and compulsions. Persons are free, then, to the extent that they struggle for what is their own and to the degree that they can eject from the self what is not theirs.

The capacity to endure and struggle against odds (i.e., against structures) is, after all, the meaning of "heroism"; the ability to absorb punishment is the power of the weak. A dominant group with power routinely available to it, but which loses the will to combat, may be defeated by a dominated, bondsmen group without institutional power, if it has the stomach to absorb punishment and to make sacrifices; these are the bondsmen's substitute for thc power of the master group. It is this capacity and this alone that enables a bondsmen group to play an historical role. When the master group loses its taste for struggle, then the days when it can play an historical role are numbered, no matter how advantaged by the structure. The paradox of every master group is this: as a master group it has, of course, structured the situation to advantage itself and it therefore comes in time to rely on that structure, rather than on its own personal qualities, so these in time deteriorate, leaving the masters vulnerable to structurally weaker but more vigorous bondsmen.

Yet, there is also a necessary interaction between the bond-groups' willingness to pay costs and the size of the costs involved. There will be limits, even if these vary, on the bill "normal" persons are willing to pay. If there is no outcome that is inevitable because of the way a situation is structured, still the more costs inflicted by a structure on those resisting it, the more precarious and short-lived their will to resist. Ideology and consciousness held equal, increased punishments and costs deter resistance. In part, the will to resist is a function of the costs of resistance that are experienced and anticipated. In what is or is imputed to be an overpowering situation, the will may flag; faced with what is defined as a manageable situation, the will may exert itself. But clearly, situations will be overpowering or manageable, not in themselves, but in some relation to the energies and commitments that are ignited by ideologies. Ideologies and consciousness are never "held equal"—especially by Critical Marxists.

In human society, there is no inevitable law and no structuring that automatically brings anything into existence, there is also no voluntaristic freedom that ensures the success of heroic efforts. We had best assume that there are limits on what may be achieved in any situation. Yet these do not depend only on what is "in" that situation but vary also with how persons define it and what they bring to it. The indeterminancy of this condition is acute. We really do not and cannot know just how limiting a structure is, or how strong the will to overcome it is, without pitting each against the other. There is an irreducible indeterminacy here. Neither strength of will nor of structure may be known apart from grappling with one another.

This does not mean that one is not obliged to bend every effort to gauge each occasion with the most painstaking rigor in advance of launching action. For without such intellectual effort the call to test a situation in action is a foolhardy adventurism that gambles with human lives. What it does mean is that such efforts at prior intellectual assessment have an irreducible (if changing) measure of uncertainty, with the result that they may often be judged true or false only after the issue has been joined in action. It is in that sense, too, that Hegel was right in holding that the Owl of Minerva extends its wings only when dusk falls.


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1. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. I, translated from the 4th German ed. by Eden and Cedar Paul, published in 2 vols. with an introduction by C. D. H. Cole (London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1930), vol. 2, p. 651.

2. L. D. Easton and K. H. Guddat, eds., Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1976), pp.144-45.

3. Ibid., p. 37.

4. Ibid., p. 38.

5. For full development of the distinction between permitted and unpermitted social world, see Alvin W. Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (New York: Basic Books, 1970), pp. 484-88.

6. "Reason is as cunning as she is powerful. The cunning of reason is mainly shown by the indirect activity through which, making objects act and react against the other in accordance with their own nature, she is able without direct interference in this process, nevertheless, to guide things toward her ends." Cited in Capital I, Dent ed., 1: 171.

7. Emile Durkheim, On Institutional Analysis, ed. Mark Traugott (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 44, 47, 50.

8. Capital I, Dent ed., 1: 54.

9. Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structures, rev. ed. (Glencoe, III.: Free Press, 1957), pp. 52-53.

10. It is thus revealing that references to "social structure in Merton have more citations to its role in "generating behavior" than any other subcategory. Ibid., p. 644.

11. Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Part 1: The State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), vol. 1, pp. 241-42. (2uotations from Marx are from Grundrisse: Der Kritik der politischen Okonomie, 2nd ed. (Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1953), pp.111,484.

12. Peter Collett, ed., Social Rules and Social Behavior (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977), p. 92.

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From Alvin W. Gouldner,  The Two Marxisms.   New York:  Oxford University Press, 1980,  Chapter 4, "Social Structure and the Voluntarism of Suffering"  pp. 89-107.

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