One Hundred Years of Marxist Social Science

Jon Elster

There might appear to be something inherently unscientific in the designation ‘Marxist social science’. Following Whitehead’s dictum that ‘a science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost,’ one could argue that Marxism – the valuable parts of Marxism – should simply merge with the mainstream of social science and lose its identity as a separate current. Indeed, there is much to be said for this view. In the confrontation between Marxist and non-Marxist social theory over the past century, some of the main Marxist tenets have been decisively refuted, while others have been absorbed into the shared framework of all social scientists. If these were the only consequences of that confrontation, there would perhaps be no point in referring to a specifically Marxist social science. I believe, however, that there remain elements of Marxist thought which, while valuable and important, are yet not sufficiently appreciated outside the Marxist camp – and I have to add, not always within that camp either. These elements include the dialectical method, the theory of exploitation, a theory relating class interest to state policy, and what one may refer to as a theory of endogenous belief formation. These do not form a fully coherent theory, but a loosely integrated whole, with much scope for further development.

Marx’s methodological views form a confused and confusing amalgam of profound insights and utter nonsense. Some readers grow so irritated with the nonsense that they cannot muster the necessary patience to understand and appreciate the valuable parts. I will begin by clearing away the rubbish. The three deadly sins of Marxism are methodological collectivism, functional explanation and dialectical deduction. They are closely related to one another, and often go together in practice. Yet they represent distinct fallacies, and can in principle occur in isolation from one another. Methodological collectivism is the belief that aggregate entities – classes, capital, the state or the species – are prior in the explanatory order to the individual components of which they are made up. The converse of this view is methodological individualism, which insists on the need for microfoundations of such aggregate phenomena. Both views are to be found in Marx, sometimes within the same work. Instances of methodological collectivism are his idea that competition between capitalist firms is logically secondary to the notion of ‘capital in general’, or his speculative belief that history was a vehicle for the self-realisation of humanity. The latter notion was derived from Hegel. Like Hegel, Marx offered a logically incoherent view of history, a half-way house between a fully religious theory and a fully secularised theory. For both, history was the embodiment of objective teleology, a process that had goal but no subject. It is not necessary today to insist on the fact that this has led to much more than a violation of methodological individualism: that in the name of historical necessity actual individuals have been sacrificed.

Functional explanation offers an account of social phenomena in terms of their consequences, and thus is different from both causal explanation and intentional explanation which invoke, respectively, causes and intended consequences as the explanatory factors. There is nothing inherently absurd in the functional mode of explanation, provided that it is backed by an account of the mechanism by which the consequences feed back on their cause and contribute to upholding it. The actual practice of many social scientists, within and outside Marxism, does not fulfil this last condition, however. All too often they rest content with pointing to the fact that an institution or a behavioural pattern has beneficial consequences for someone or something, and then simply assume that this also provides an explanation of the phenomenon.

Dialectical deduction is dialectics in one classical, pejorative sense of that term: spurious, scholastic reasoning. In Capital, and especially in the Grundrisse, Marx tried to apply the mode of analysis of Hegel’s Logic to economic phenomena, in a seemingly deductive chain. The most notorious instance was his attempt to deduce capital from the existence of money. Arguing that money is inherently expansionary, he concluded that it can only preserve itself by multiplying and hence that money ‘posits’ capital as its fully developed form. Here Marx tried to perform with a conceptual sleight of hand the task to which Max Weber devoted vast empirical studies – that of explaining the emergence of the reinvestment motive in early capitalism.

Let me now turn to the more interesting matter of Marx’s durable contribution to the methodology of social theory. Broadly speaking, methodology involves the following: causal explanation of individual desires and beliefs, intentional explanation of individual behaviour in terms of these desires and beliefs, causal explanation of aggregate phenomena in terms of such individual behaviour.

Modern economic theory tends to take the beliefs, and especially the preferences, of individual agents as given, or at least as being outside the scope of economic explanation. Marx wanted to endogenise these phenomena. He wanted to explain, that is, how such mental phenomena are not only causes but also effects of the economic structure in which they are embedded. He did not carry out this programme as far as preferences are concerned, nor have later Marxist attempts in this direction been successful. Marx did, however, carry out his intention with respect to a certain subset of the beliefs of economic agents: their beliefs about how the economy itself works. His theory of fetishism and his critique of vulgar economy were powerful, pioneering attempts to explain how erroneous beliefs about the economy are both generated by it and in turn enter into its reproduction.

Going one step further in the explanatory hierarchy, we may explain individual actions in terms of the agents’ desires and beliefs. It is sometimes argued that Marx wanted to avoid such explanations because of their subjective character, and that he preferred to explain behaviour as the outcome of structural constraints acting upon the agents. Although it is true that Marx occasionally argued in this way, and that he was occasionally justified in doing so, there are no grounds for saying that he was in general averse to intentional explanation. His political analyses make this clear, as do many of his economic theories. The labour theory of value, for example, rests on the assumption of profit maximisation, since this is what fuels the tendency to equalisation of the rate of profit in the different spheres of production. Similarly, his theories of technical change assume that there is scope for genuine entrepreneurial choice between different techniques.

The most characteristic mode of reasoning in the social sciences is the mixed causal and intentional approach to aggregate phenomena, in which such phenomena are seen as the causal resultant of many individual actions each of which is intentionally explained. Historical forerunners of Marx in the application of this method include Mandeville, Vico, Adam Smith and Hegel. Their common premise was well summed up by Adam Ferguson: ‘History is the result of human action not of human design.’ Marx’s contribution was to transform this view from being merely a Weltanschauung into a workable scientific instrument, enabling one to see in detail how unco-ordinated actions generate unintended consequences. Although Marx did not neglect beneficial unintended effects, of the invisible-hand variety, his attention focused on the negative or self-destructive effects. He was concerned to describe capitalism as a system in which individually rational behaviour leads, in the aggregate, to disastrous results: For instance, he perceived before Keynes the central contradiction of capitalism according to which each entrepreneur wants his own workers to have low wages, since this makes for high profit, while wanting the workers employed by other entrepreneurs to have high wages, since this makes for high demand. Keynes showed that individually rational responses to demand crises – for example, laying off workers – may in the aggregate only serve to make things worse. Marx’s theory of the falling rate of profit rests on a similar paradox: each capitalist responds to a rise in the price of labour by substituting machinery for workers, but this individually rational response is collectively irrational since living labour is the only source of surplus-value and ultimately of profits. Unfortunately, this attractive argument turns out on closer inspection to leak like a sieve, but we may nevèrtheless note that it exemplifies the same important pattern of reasoning.

This, in my view, is what we should retain today of Marx’s dialectical method. The method of dialectical deduction is nothing but an arbitrary ex-post imposition of a pattern on a sequence of events which it does not in any way explain. The Hegel inspired schemata of the negation of the negation, or the transformation of quantity into quality, have a certain, rather limited interest. They are suggestive reminders that some social processes have the features of irreversibility, nonlinearity and even discontinuity, but they cannot serve as scientific laws, as Marx and especially Engels thought. By contrast, the opposition between local and global rationality remains of fundamental importance. One might argue, of course, that this idea has by now become so thoroughly absorbed into mainstream social science that there is no point in referring to it as a Marxist notion. However, Marx used the local-global contrast to explain cognitive failures as well as failures of action. The individual vision of the economy is systematically defective, just as individual rationality is systematically self defeating. This twofold use of the contrast is in my opinion Marx’s most valuable contribution to social science methodology.

I now turn to the substantive issues, following the conventional but convenient method of proceeding by discipline. Even though Marx was not one for compartimentalisation of inquiry, this is how the social sciences developed after his time and how they present themselves today.

Let me begin with the main paradox of contemporary Marxist social science. Marx, in the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, said that philosophers had merely interpreted the world in different ways: the point was to change it. It is then puzzling to find that the most vital part of Marxist social thought is in the area whose relevance for political change is the smallest – historical studies. Marxists for some reason seem to be much better at understanding the past than at analysing the present. This is a paradox comparable to the central paradox of Marxism as a political movement, which is that the only successful communist revolutions have occurred in backward agricultural societies rather than in the nations of advanced industrial capitalism. It is possible to encapsulate these paradoxes in a common formula: Marxism thrives in the past, but is less successful in the present.

The main impact of Marxist historical analysis has been in the area of social history, and to a lesser extent in economic history. The theory of the class struggle has proved immensely fruitful for understanding social conflict and social change. It is not, however, uniformly successful in throwing light on all historical periods. In pre-capitalist society the foci of solidarity and mobilisation were not always – and not even mainly – classes, but rather the various ‘orders’ or ‘estates’. These, typically, were subsets of classes as defined by Marx, not themselves classes. It may be that Weber was on the right track when he confined the existence of classes to market societies: i.e. societies in which agents endogenously sort themselves out into different classes by the exchange of commodities and labour-power. These are complex issues, and far from completely resolved. Yet it is at least arguable that the theory of class struggle is less successful when applied to pre-capitalist societies than when applied to early and classical capitalism. The same difficulties hold with respect to the fallacy of ethnocentrism. Although Marx warned against this fallacy – for instance, in relation to the study of Indian property forms – his modern followers have fallen for it on a vast scale in their attempts to fit the history of non-Western societies into the Procrustean bed of the Marxist periodisation of history. The contortions of Soviet and Chinese historians, compelled to find a place for slavery, feudalism and capitalism, and to get around the uncomfortable stage of the Asiatic mode of production, would have been laughable had they not had such disastrous effects on scholarship. The applicability of Marxism to history is not universal, whatever some practitioners may say. The theory of class struggle is very useful for the understanding of Western societies from the 16th to the 19th century, but has at best a limited value outside this chunk of space-time.

Next, consider sociology. With the exception of some brief remarks here and there, Marx did not concern himself with what one could call the texture of everyday life outside the work-place. He focused his energy on economics on the one hand, politics on the other, and the class struggle as the mediator between the two – and presumably thought that the phenomenologically important details of daily life were mere derivatives of class position. Today, however, Marxist sociologists do study these details, almost invariably in the functional mode of analysis. They argue, or more often postulate without argument, that crime, schooling or mental illness can be explained by their stabilising influence on the capitalist mode of production: they provide scapegoats, turn children into docile workers. The closely-related radical school of theorising, which includes Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, engages in the same dubious explanations. With frictionless ingenuity they succeed in demonstrating, at any rate to their own satisfaction, that societies are systematically organised for oppression, even in the absence of identifiable oppressors.

The question of class is more interesting. In modern sociology there has been a three-pronged attack on the Marxist theory of classes. Marxists have been partially successful in rebutting the objections, but no more than partially. There remain strong reasons for thinking that class is not the privileged tool of analysis of modern capitalism.

First, there has been an ongoing confrontation between the theory of classes and the theory of social stratification. Opponents of Marxism have argued, with much success, that at the individual level such variables as health, cultural behaviour and education are less closely correlated with class than with income or prestige. It is doubtful, however, whether this really constitutes an objection to Marx’s own analysis. He did not seek to explain individual-level variables through individual class membership, but rather to explain why collective action and social conflict took the forms they did.

Next, however, there has been a frontal attack on his use of class as the key factor for understanding social conflict. Dahrendorf and others have argued that class, being based on property, is less fundamental than power for the explanation of organised conflicts in society. Weber had already observed that the workers were often more likely to turn against the managers than against the shareholders, a fact even more obvious today than it was in his time. Contemporary Marxist sociologists tend to accept this objection, and to redefine class position, not only by such economic transactions as the buying or selling of labour-power, but also by the giving and the receiving of commands.

There remains a third objection, which has proved more difficult to accommodate. This is the recalcitrant fact that in many modern capitalist societies class is not the only or not even the dominant focus of mobilisation and conflict. In Ireland, South Africa, Belgium or the United States we find that other issues, such as race, region, nation, religion or language, are more important. Cultural identity offers a competing line of mobilisation. Marxists have tried to counter this objection by arguing that these further lines of division can be explained by their usefulness to the ruling class on the principle of ‘divide and conquer’. This account suffers not only from the general weakness of functional explanation, but also from the particular defect that lines of cultural division are not always internal to an exploited class, but may have the effect of leading a part of the exploiting class to join forces with a part of the exploited class, as when workers and capitalists on the periphery ally themselves against workers and capitalists at the centre.

Considering the past as well as the present, we thus observe that class as defined by Marx is far from being the only focus of social mobilisation and social conflict. Status in precapitalist societies, power in modern capitalist societies and cultural identity in all societies have offered alternative lines of division and alliance. Class remains vitally important, and in some cases may well be the dominant source of conflict, but it is not possible to uphold the view that all societies containing classes are predominantly organised around class.

There are those who will disagree with me when I say that historical studies are the most vital part of contemporary Marxism. They may point to the flourishing of Marxist economic theory. They may cite, for instance, the capital controversy which ended in the victory of the Marxist or Neo-Ricardian school over the neo-classical theorists. Aggregate capital is no longer a notion that can be used without circumspection. They may, furthermore, refer to the development of mathematical Marxist economics, in the works of Okishio, Morishima and Steedman. In my opinion, these are minor or spurious achievements. Real progress, however, has been made in the normative area of Marxist economic theory – specifically, in the theory of exploitation.

Marxist economics rests on three pillars: the labour theory of value, the theory of accumulation and technical change, and the theory of capitalist crises. Of these, the first and the third have been decisively refuted. Consider first the labour theory of value. In many cases, the notion of the labour-content of a commodity cannot be defined, and in the cases where it is defined it is difficult to know what to do with it. Marx and many of his followers thought that one had to determine the labour content of the commodities in order to derive the equilibrium rate of profit and relative prices: but these can be derived directly from a knowledge of the technical structure of production, and the indirect method of first deducing values and then going on to prices is quite pointless. Labour values serve no analytical, explanatory function. They may, however, enter into a normative theory.

There are two main varieties of crisis theory in Marx: the theory of the falling rate of profit and the theory of underconsumption crises. There is no point in spelling out the multiple defects of the theory of the falling rate of profit, except to say that the idea that the rate of profit will fall because of technical progress has proved contrary not only to intuition but to truth as well. The theory of underconsumption is not spelled out by Marx with sufficient precision to allow discussion and evaluation. Later attempts have been less nebulous, but their success in explaining the development of capitalist economies has been minimal.

The Marxist theory of accumulation and technical change fares somewhat better. The reproduction schemes of the second volume of Capital represent a genuine analytical achievement, even if Marx uses several hundred pages to express what can be said in ten lines. His analysis of technical change focuses on two impediments to progress created by the capitalist relations of production. First, the criterion of profit maximisation will not always lead to the adoption of a socially desirable technique, evaluated according to the criterion of labour-time minimisation. Recent developments have shown that Marx was not fully correct in his analysis, but that the analysis nevertheless contained an important insight. The two criteria can diverge, but under more special conditions than Marx had in mind. Secondly, capitalists may be deterred from adopting new techniques which will increase profits at the ruling wage level, if it is anticipated that they will also lead to an increase in wages and a net reduction in the profit rate. This could come about because new techniques typically are embodied in new plant, which could have an impact on the organisation of the workers and hence on their combativity. These are fertile suggestions, currently pursued by many Marxist economists, but they do not amount to the creation of a separate Marxist economic theory.

Going back to the work of the mathematical Marxist economists cited earlier, I can explain why their achievements are largely spurious. The main results are wholly negative in nature, explaining in rigorous detail why the labour theory of value and the theory of the falling rate of profit do not hold water. The demonstration of the defects of the notion of aggregate capital is more substantial, but it is matched by a demonstration of even more serious defects in the notion of the aggregate labour content of a commodity. Since there are several forms of labour, skilled and unskilled, and some forms of skilled labour cannot be produced using unskilled labour as raw material, the notion of the labour content of a commodity cannot be defined. Heterogeneous capital goods create problems for the notion of aggregate capital, and heterogeneous labour creates even deeper problems for the notion of labour value. ‘Even deeper’, because in the case of labour the aggregation problem invariably arises, whereas in the case of capital it can be confined to certain ‘perverse’ cases, the empirical importance of which is still an unsettled question.

The notion of labour value also serves a normative purpose, in the theory of exploitation. According to Marxism, an agent is exploited if he works more hours than the labour embodied in the commodities he can buy on his income. I shall not here enter into the strictly normative question about what is wrong with exploitation, but assuming that it is an ethically relevant notion, we may ask about the forms in which and the conditions under which exploitation can appear. John Roemer has constructed a series of models that allow us to answer these questions. In particular, he has found that exploitation can occur without class formation, if it arises by exchange in the commodity market; that exploitation arising in the labour market is correlated with class membership; that labour market exploitation and credit market exploitation are in a precise sense equivalent phenomena.

Now of course this theory is also vulnerable to the objection stemming from the existence of heterogeneous labour. Roemer has therefore gone on to construct a more general theory of exploitation, postulating that a group of agents are exploited if they could do better for themselves by withdrawing from society with a specified proportion of the means of production. This construction has proved a very valuable tool for exploring our intuitive notions of which situations are exploitative and which are not. It is quite possible that our intuitions will turn out to be inconsistent, and that the models will force us to choose which we want to retain. I see Roemer as engaged in the process of seeking a ‘reflective equilibrium’ in which our theory of exploitation and our intuitions about particular cases can be made to fit one another.

The impact of Marxism on political science mainly relates to the theory of the capitalist state, or, less tendentiously, to the state in capitalist society. Later Marxist studies of the state have faithfully reproduced a central ambiguity of Marx’s own thought. Up to 1848 he believed that the state in capitalist societies was a direct tool of the capitalist class, except in backward countries like Germany where the bourgeoisie would soon fulfil its historical mission and take political power. In this they would be aided by the workers, who wanted to clear the battleground of feudal rubbish and take on the capitalist class directly. The revolutions of 1848 did not live up to his expectations. The German and the French bourgeoisies stepped back from power, partly because they were just as able as Marx to perceive the dangers of coming to power with the help of the workers. A similar development was observed in England, where the industrial bourgeoisie seemed strangely content to leave government in the hands of the landowning aristocracy. Marx therefore had to construct a second theory of the state. This starts out by according a certain autonomy of action to the state, but adds that the autonomy is in fact instrumental for the capitalist class. It is in the interest of the economically dominant class to have a state that does not in all cases act according to its short-term interest, since this has the effect of splitting the energy and combativity of the workers between two enemies, Capital and State. The observed facts compelled Marx to concede a certain autonomy to state policy; his basic theory pulled him in the opposite direction and so he evolved a theory of the bourgeoisie’s abdication from power which allowed him to explain the autonomy of the state in terms of the interest of the capitalist class.

Later Marxist theorists of the state have taken their cue from this idea. Hitler’s rise to power has been explained by an analogy with Louis Bonaparte’s coup détat as discussed by Marx. The German capitalist class allowed Hitler to take power, knowing that he would respect their interest in his own self-interest and that he would be better placed to repress the workers than they could be. A variety of recent writers have explained the rise of the welfare state from a similar perspective. Although social security and unemployment benefits are very costly to business, they are nevertheless useful in providing legitimacy for the capitalist system.

In my opinion, this perspective is quite mistaken. Let me instead suggest the following. In modern capitalist societies the state has a considerable autonomy which allows it to pursue its own goals. These include imperialist expansion, development of the welfare state, promotion of cultural goals, or just increasing the power of the state bureaucracy. Since all of these goals require resources, the state has an economic interest in the prosperity of the economy. This will lead it to take account of the interests of the capitalist class, to ensure that investment takes place on the necessary scale, and those of the working class, to prevent disruptive strikes. The fact, however, that the state has to respect these class interests in its own self-interest should not lead us to speak of the state as being in the service of one or the other class. In The German Ideology Marx dismisses those who believe that the state, thanks to its power of expropriation, is the real owner of property. This, he says, is like arguing that my watchdog is the real owner of my house. In the present context, I would like to use another illustration: to say that the state in a capitalist society must be a capitalist state is like saying that the goose which lays the golden egg is the real master of the farmer who keeps it alive.

Yet this metaphor errs in the opposite direction, by suggesting that social classes are mere dummies to be manipulated by the state, rather than strategic actors. In modern capitalist societies workers, capitalists and the state confront each other in a triangular strategic relationship, in a game which is a mixture of conflict and co-operation. The temporal dimension of their interaction is especially important, in that the current claims of any of these groups on the net product for immediate consumption go against their common long-term interest in a high rate of investment for the sake of increasing future consumption. The work of Adam Przeworski has illuminated these problems, and the more general relation between capitalism and democratic political systems. We must add that government is constrained not only by the economic behaviour of the various classes but also by their political behaviour. Governments need votes no less than money. Even though class cannot be the sole nor even necessarily the main determinant of social conflict, these strategic analyses of the relation between class interest and state policy go a long way towards explaining the recent development of capitalist democracies.

Finally I shall consider what Marxists refer to as the theory of ideology. Non-Marxist writers often call it the sociology of knowledge, but it could also be classified as a branch of cognitive psychology. Like all other parts of Marxist doctrine, this, too, has attracted its share of extravagant and unsupported assertions. In addition to the usual functionalist excesses, one finds a tendency to explain beliefs in terms of ‘structural homologies’ with the underlying economic or social situation. In virtually all cases, these similarities have no existence outside the eye of the beholder. Marx himself indulged in such frictionless speculations, as when he saw a close relation between economic credit and the religious notion of salvation. Yet here as elsewhere, profound observations are found side by side with mere speculation.

The various schools of cognitive psychology, centred over the past few decades at Stanford University, tend to distinguish between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ mechanisms of belief formation and, more specifically, belief distortion. Hot belief formation involves motivational factors, as in wishful thinking. Cold errors arise because of such defects of cognitive processing as the tendency to generalise from small or biased samples. Marx’s theory of ideology invokes both kinds of mechanism, explaining beliefs in terms of class interest as well as class position. The explanations in terms of interest are somewhat ambiguous, suggesting sometimes that beliefs are shaped by the interests of the believers and at other times that they are to be explained by the fact of serving the interest of some class, not necessarily that of the believer. The former kind of explanation invokes a form of hot cognition; the latter relies on the more obscure functionalist mode of analysis. My concern is with the cold or cognitive mechanisms that lead to distorted belief formation.

Many readers of Marx will have been struck by his tendency to argue ad hominem. The theories of his opponents were rarely treated as alternative views of the same social reality as he was studying: he saw them instead as part of that reality. Bourgeois economists were not observers of the capitalist economy, but endogenous products of it. Marx, in other words, was inclined to focus on the social origin of their views, not on their logical validity. This practice might appear contrary to the normal canons of science, and to the extent that Marx thought sociological analysis was a substitute for logical refutation he was indeed guilty of confusion. Yet this does not detract from the interest of the theory of endogenous belief formation. According to Marx, the capitalist economy secretes illusions about its own mode of functioning, first in the minds of the economic agents and then in the theory of the economist if he rests content with systematising the point of view of the ‘practical capitalist’. Fetishism and vulgar economy are the main expressions of this tendency.

One instance of fetishism is what Marx calls money fetishism, the tendency to believe that monetary capital is productive in a real sense. For the individual capitalist, this is in fact the case, since instead of investing his capital in productive activity to create a profit he can put it in the bank and draw interest. Yet one would commit the fallacy of composition were one to argue that all capitalists simultaneously could choose the second option. This is the basic fallacy of mercantilist thought, as in the belief that war will not deplete the forces of a nation as long as the money stays within the country. A slightly more sophisticated form of mercantilism argues that profit arises in circulation, as if all commodity-owners could make a profit by buying cheap and selling dear to one another. Again, this rests on the fallacious belief that what is possible for any single agent could be possible for all agents simultaneously.

Vulgar economy rests on the belief that wages, profit and rent are created by the corresponding factors of production – labour, capital and land – instead of accruing to their owners by virtue of monopoly. According to Marx, all these forms of revenue derive from labour – wages from paid labour, profit and rent from unpaid labour. Although Marx has little to say about the psychological mechanisms that lead to the vulgar belief, these might include the tendency to confuse causation with correlation and the notion that distinct effects must have distinct causes.

Thus Marx pioneered what has come to be called ‘psychological economies’: the study of the formation of consumer preferences and, especially, of beliefs about how the economy works. He argued, moreover, that economic theorists had to make an effort to liberate themselves from these spontaneously arising illusions, and that even the best of the bourgeois theorists sometimes confused the appearance of economic life with its essential features. He was fond of saying that science would be superfluous if the essence of things were immediately given, and compared his own work with the Copernican revolution that refuted the spontaneously arising illusion that the sun turns around the earth. Although later Marxists have not taken his theories much further, I believe that the interaction between economic structure, the beliefs of economic agents and the views of theoretical economists is worth pursuing. In particular, this could help explain why the phenomenon of exploitation is generally not perceived as such, but instead appears to be a fair way of sharing a jointly-made product.

There can be no doubt that Marxist social science exists as a separate current of thought. What we should try to assess is whether this is an unambiguously bad thing, as Whitehead wanted us to believe. Imagine that Marxist and non-Marxist scholars alike were able to engage in dispassionate discussion, to take the best from one another’s theories and willingly give up refuted views. Would this lead to the gradual disappearance of Marxism, and to the confirmation of Whitehead’s dictum? Should the goal of Marxists be the withering-away of Marxism? In the short and medium term, I do not believe this will or should happen. What will ensure the continued presence of Marxist social science is the importance placed by Marxists on the phenomena of exploitation and alienation in capitalist society. This normative stance, together with the refusal to accept theories of human nature that purport to show the impossibility of overcoming these phenomena, will continue to guide Marxist studies. The influence will make itself felt mainly in the choice of problems to be studied, not in the analytical tools used for their resolution. To the extent that specific problems require the development of specific tools, which are less applicable in other domains, this could also show up as an analytical difference. The history of science tends to show, however, that the main value of new theories often comes from their spill-over effect in other disciplines and for other problems: hence I do not believe this will prove important. In the long term, I do have hopes for the withering-away of Marxism, because its underlying normative ideas will have found general acceptance. Marxist social science can make some contribution towards this goal, but must of necessity be subordinate to political activity proper; The academic controversies about Marxist social science will not be decided by academic discussion.