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Analytical Marxism

Summary:
Perhaps the most striking application of hyper-rationality occurs in Analytical Marxism, whose doctrines were outlined clearly and concisely by its leading philosopher Gerald Cohen … It is an anti-dialectical and anti-holistic attempt to ground Marxist notions in neoclassical methodology. It “believes that [neoclassical] economics is essentially sound” and consequently relies on rational choice theory, game theory, and associated neoclassical mathematical techniques to derive its conclusions. In keeping with that tradition, it attempts to “explain molar phenomena by reference to the micro-constituents and micro-mechanisms that respectively compose the entities and underlie the processes which occur at a grosser level of resolution”. This is particularly critical to the

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Analytical Marxism Perhaps the most striking application of hyper-rationality occurs in Analytical Marxism, whose doctrines were outlined clearly and concisely by its leading philosopher Gerald Cohen … It is an anti-dialectical and anti-holistic attempt to ground Marxist notions in neoclassical methodology. It “believes that [neoclassical] economics is essentially sound” and consequently relies on rational choice theory, game theory, and associated neoclassical mathematical techniques to derive its conclusions. In keeping with that tradition, it attempts to “explain molar phenomena by reference to the micro-constituents and micro-mechanisms that respectively compose the entities and underlie the processes which occur at a grosser level of resolution”. This is particularly critical to the economics and social techniques of Roemer and Elster. Hence, Analytical Marxists “reject the point of view …[that] social formations and classes are depicted as entities obeying laws of behaviour that are not a function of their constituent individuals”. In other words, as a branch of neoclassical economics it denies the notion of emergent properties. As Cohen puts it, “behaviours of individuals are always where the action is, in the final analysis”.

It is difficult not to agree with Shaikh here. Analytical Marxism turns out to be something completely different from what it purports to be. Maybe it is analytical, but it has very little to do with Marxism. Instead of making “sense of Marx”, it mostly presents us with “nonsense”.

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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