At the risk of being humiliatingly dense, where’s Marx in contemporary discussions? In his Preface to the Contributions of a Critique of Political Economy, Marx writes:

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness… Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

We have Zizek who describes himself as a militant Marxist, but who only makes rather vague hand gestures to modes of production and material conditions, focusing instead on the Act and ideology (this, I think, should make us suspicious of his proposals as to what constitutes materialism in The Parallax View). We have Badiou, who also describes himself as a Marxist, yet who focuses on the event, truth-procedures, and decisions. Ranciere talks of counting that which is not counted and the aesthetic. Laclau talks about battles for the hegemonization of empty or void universals. Foucault, of course, power. With the exception of Foucault, aren’t these, to adopt the rhetoric, bourgeois inversions of how change takes place? Don’t these positions postulate that change proceeds via consciousness, rather than consciousness, thought, emerging from modes of production? Deleuze and Guattari seem alone in focusing on production and modes of production. Their talk of “deterritorialization”, so annoying to many, can be seen as a fancy way of talking about the leading edge of history or the history making element of history, i.e., the proletariat (though with lots of bells and whistles added). I’m sure I’m missing something here and someone will come along and give me the history of the problematic nature of the base-superstructure thesis and how it’s been complicated. Sure. But what’s interesting is that modes of production seemed to have disappeared almost entirely from the discussion. So what am I missing? Please go easy on me.

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