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analytical Marxism, geography and

  A school of political economy and social theory originating during the 1980s, and concerned with sorting Marxism into a distinct set of claims that are then analytically scrutinized for their meaning, coherence, plausibility, and truth. More generally, the school eschews any form of dogmatic Marxism, or even a close, interpretive reading of Marx\'s texts. Marx is treated as an innovative thinker, but one whose ideas require careful dissection and development in the light of intervening history, and with the analytical tools available in contemporary philosophy and social sciences.

Analytical Marxism (or rational-choice Marxism) has proponents across a wide range of disciplines, and as a consequence the type of analytical methods employed vary. In economics the favoured starting point is the rational choice assumption of neo-classical economics, the idea that making individuals tick is only the maximization of economic gain (Roemer, 1981). In philosophy, the guiding method is the logical syllogism (Cohen, 1978). And in sociology the preferred approach is based on the rigours of statistical analysis (Wright, 1985). In each case, analytical Marxists strive for unblemished clarity and logical impeccability. The principal task is always to cleanse and purify Marx\'s chronic obscurantism so that the usefulness of his ideas can be critically assessed in understanding the issues of our own time and place.

The antecedents of analytical Marxism are with the Canadian philosopher Gerald Cohen and his book Karl Marx\'s theory of history: a defence (1978); a work that is painstaking in its logic, and \'… chock-a-block with nice distinctions other people hadn\'t dreamt were there\' (Carling, 1986, p. 25). In particular, Cohen sought to avoid the naive functionalism of some Marxists who believe that by merely pointing to the beneficial consequences of a given event, in their case to its role in furthering capitalism, necessarily serves to explain it. Cohen\'s solution is to provide an alternative, logically consistent definition of functionalism based on \'consequence laws\'. Although Cohen\'s revamped functional approach has been rejected by many analytical Marxists, the formal character of his argument established the tone and style for the school.

The American economist John Roemer (1981, 1982) brought analytical Marxism to wider attention following the publication of two pioneering monographs. Rejecting all vestiges of functionalism, Roemer argued that Marxists should provide explanations of events and actions at the micro-level using \'rational choice models: general equilibrium theory, game theory, and the arsenal of modelling techniques developed by Neo-classical economics\' (Roemer, 1986, p. 192).

In particular, the postulate of rational choice, and the attendant position of methodological individualism, form the twin foundations of much of the constructive analytical work that followed. Both are seen in Roemer\'s two theories of class and exploitation which lie at the core of analytical Marxism. The beginning point for both theories is a set of rational individuals who are endowed with given but unequal shares of society\'s economic resources, and are intent on maximizing utility. From these two axioms, Roemer endogenously derives the existence of exploitation and class; that is, exploitation and class are not a priori givens, but the logical consequence of any social system whose members are rational and that divides wealth unequally .

The details of the derivations are complex (see Sheppard and Barnes, 1990, ch. 1), but important commonalities connect Roemer\'s two theories.

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Both make differences in resource (wealth) ownership the basis of exploitation and class membership; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Both are based on a bastardized labour theory of value because, as Roemer demonstrates mathematically, there are logical incongruities in Marx\'s original version; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Both are used to understand the distinctiveness of different historical epochs, from feudalism to communism (Wright, 1985, ch. 2); and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } Both suggest that individuals choose their class positions — this is not a choice, of course, that individuals necessarily like making, but they do so because of the constraints that they are under (their society\'s share of assets) along with their desire to maximize.With the technical details of analytical Marxism laid bare, proponents of the movement have recently turned to general issues of philosophy and method in the social sciences (Wright et al., 1992), including the nature of freedom, morality and justice (Cohen, 1988; Roemer, 1988). In this endeavour, as in others, \'analytical Marxism tends to blur received understandings of what distinguishes Marxism from \'bourgeois\' theory\' (Wright et al., 1992, p. 7).

For this reason, those who are most unhappy with analytical Marxists tend to be other Marxists. Known as fundamental Marxists, they strive to uphold Marx\'s original word against what they think is analytical Marxism\'s perverse reading (Meiksins-Wood, 1989). Their criticisms include: that the preferences, and social contexts, of rational individuals are never explained by analytical Marxists, with the consequence that everything that is important to social analysis must be done before applying the rational choice model; that there is no explanation of historical change other than as unintended consequence; that it rests on an economistic, market view of human nature, thereby aligning analytical Marxism intellectually with the resurgence of interest in right-wing thought; and finally, that its prosecution of methodological individualism renders analytical Marxism philosophically and politically bankrupt. It was the arch-conservative British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, after all, who said, \'There is no such thing as society\'.

In addition to critique, fundamental Marxists have also demonstrated that they are as adroit as Roemer et al. in mobilizing mathematics, and especially statistics. In their case, though, it is to show the continued relevance of an unadulterated Marx. Following the arguments of Farjoun and Machover (1983), fundamental Marxists, such as Shaikh and Tonak (1994), argue that Marx\'s labour theory of value is highly tractable and robust in the statistical calculation of such basic classical Marxist variables as rates of accumulation, exploitation, and the falling rate of profit.

There has been only limited use of the analytical Marxist framework by economic geographers. Sheppard and Barnes (1990) provide the most systematic treatment, and, although sympathetic to analytical arguments, they argue that the incorporation of geography into both Roemer\'s work on class and exploitation, and Elster\'s (1985) on class formation, fundamentally disturbs their respective aspatial conclusions. Roemer\'s central claims about the relationship between exploitation and resource ownership is vitiated in a space-economy because of the possibility of negative exploitation (Sheppard and Barnes, 1990, chs 8 and 11), while Elster\'s conclusions about class formation based upon the rationality postulate and accompanying methodological individualism are upset once his scheme is set in a geographical world. For Elster collective action is a puzzle; it is not something in which rational individuals should engage even though they do. Sheppard and Barnes (1990, ch. 10) argue, however, that once such individuals are embedded in the geographical world of space and place, collective action is no longer a puzzle but is the norm (see game theory).

Paralleling Sheppard and Barnes, but from a fundamental Marxist slant, has been Webber and Rigby\'s work culminating in their tome, The golden age illusion (1996). Less interested in theoretical critique, Webber and Rigby carry out a heroic set of mathematical and statistical calculations based upon Marxian labour values to interpret the recent historical geography of post-war capitalism. Although the framework is different, their conclusion is remarkably similar to Sheppard and Barnes\'s, and in fact David Harvey\'s (1982). The introduction of space and place fundamentally disturb the conclusions of aspatial social theory, including such variants of political economy as analytical Marxism. The rigours of the rational choice assumption, logical deduction and statistical analysis cannot protect analytical Marxism from this geographical critique; indeed, they show only its power and force. (TJB)

References Carling, A. 1986: Rational choice Marxism. New Left Review 160: 24-62. Cohen, G.A. 1978: Karl Marx\'s theory of history: a defence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cohen, G.A. 1988: History, labour and freedom: themes from Marx. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Elster, J. 1985: Making sense of Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Farjoun, E. and Machover, M. 1983: Laws of chaos: a probablistic approach to political economy. London: Verso. Harvey, D. 1992: The limits to capital. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Meiksins-Wood, E. 1989: Rational choice Marxism: is the game worth the candle? New Left Review 177: 41-88. Roemer, J. 1981: Analytical foundations of Marxian economic theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Roemer, J. 1982: A general theory of exploitation and class. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Roemer, J., ed., 1986: Analytical Marxism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Roemer, J. 1988: Free to lose. An introduction to Marxist economic philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Shaikh, A. and Tonak, E.A. 1994: Measuring the wealth of nations: a political economy of national accounts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sheppard, E. and Barnes, T.J. 1990: The capitalist space economy: geographical analysis after Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa. London: Unwin Hyman. Webber, M.J. and Rigby, D.L. 1996: The golden age illusion: rethinking postwar capitalism. New York: Guilford. Wright, E.O. 1985: Classes. London: Verso. Wright, E.O., Levine, A. and Sober, E. 1992: Reconstructing Marxism: essays on explanation and the theory of history. London and New York: Verso.

Suggested Reading Carling (1986). Ruccio, D.F. 1988: The merchant of Venice or Marxism in the mathematical mode. Rethinking Marxism 1: 36-68. Sheppard and Barnes (1990).



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