Analytical Marxism

12 Dec, 2019 at 11:22 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments

41I1CkwyXjL 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”.


  1. Capitalism won. Now totalitarian communism uses the engine of predatory capitalism to modernize its military while Trumpism turns the last superpower that once aspired to democracy — America — into an elective despotism founded on amoral transnationalism (think predatory corporatism for the god of profiteering) in collusion with Russian conspiracy theories to prepare the way for a new wave of modern fascism while economists fiddle while Rome burns. Welcome to irony.

  2. As a contribution to Marxist theory – or more specifically, “Marxism for Marxists” – the neoclassical Marxian project, a la Roemer and Elster, was never going to have legs. But I have a sneaking suspicion that dyed-in-the-wool Marxists were never really the intended audience. I suspect that this project was really an attempt to enter the neoclassical economics citadel and make ideas such as class, exploitation, and initial-position wealth reallocation (however warped) respectable within the broader academic economics discipline. That too, of course, was a manifest failure because it seriously underestimated the intellectual and ideological inertia of the discipline – to say that it made its push in the heyday of the “greed is good” era. In a sense, the whole project was thus an almost entirely idealist one (in a crude philosophical sense): imagining that one could turn a disciplinary Titanic around by sheer force of an “insider’s” logical analysis is as naively doomed to failure as the suggestion, say, that J.K. Galbraith’s work would have been given pride of place in the mainstream pantheon if only he had “mathematised” his arguments.

  3. Thank you for citing my book. Analytical Marxism did indeed go down better with the economic orthodoxy because it “proved” that the authors were “good economists”. As child born in the colonial era, it was not hard to recognize the strategy. And it worked, at least in terms of personal advancement in the heyday of neoliberalism.

  4. […] via Analytical Marxism — LARS P. SYLL […]

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