Social Scientist. v 9, no. 103 (Dec 1981) p. 68.

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On Some Issues in Marxian Economics and Historical Materialism

THE following comments are prompted by two remarks made by William J Barber1 on certain aspects of Marxian economics. The first deals with the appropriateness (or rather, inappropriateness, as Barber contends) of Marxian doctrine for the analysis of current problems of the underdeveloped world. The second concerns a supposed difficulty, in the author's view, that surrounds the permises of the Marxian notions of economic determinism and historical causality.

Barber suggests that in certain important respects, Marxian economics is inapplicable to the analysis of less developed countries (LDCs):

From the outset Marxian categories were shaped to deal with the circumstances of industrial societies. Marx himself had little comprehension of the problems of agriculture, and particularly of traditional agrarian societies; as one critic has observed, Marx treated peasants as a "bag of potatoes". Yet the central fact about the underdeveloped world is the dominance of an agrarian structure. It is one of the ironies of history that Marxist doctrine has enjoyed its greatest political success in predominantly agrarian societies, even though the Marxian mode of analysis is not well suited to such environments.2

Barber's first proposition itself is false—Marxian analytical categories were not shaped to deal with circumstances of industrial societies, but in order to understand the "laws of motion" of capitalist society. It is therefore not at all surprising that the categories developed in Das Kapital have actually been used to study development and underdevelopment. While there is a historical coincidence between capitalist relations of production and industrial technique, and between slave and feudal relations of production and

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