Emerging Countries:
The Marxism-Institutionalism Controversy
Sergio Ordóñez
Marxist Response ( ...continuation )

As a result, Marxism itself provides the foundation for a large part of the arsenal of institutional critique against it, due to the lack of mediation between an abstract-structural analysis and a more concrete super-structural analysis, which directly implies the relationship between structure and agent. But it is also important to keep in mind that the critique is based on ignorance of Marx’s research method, because in light of this method, we can see that in the set of Marx’s work there is an implicit solution to the dichotomy between structure and agent, as “has previously been developed,” and which Veblen and Hodgson were unable to see.

We can state that despite the solution proposed by Marx, the presence of “operative forces” in the historical process is still missing, and the “mere position of individuals in the social process of production still says little about the specific concepts or thought habits and corresponding actions.” In the “molecular” plane of “daily” reproduction of social structures, Marxism has a category that is not considered by Institutionalism, and which contributes to the second aspect, the specific concepts of an individual and his practices, like the idea of individual conscience in itself, which includes the set of cultural and ideological representations that support an individual’s actions as a member of a determined social class and in a social structure scheme. Within this process, we find the world of representations and the specific and unique way that each individual internalizes them according to his own experience, gives rise to individual thoughts and behaviors different from any other subject.

The other Marxist category that sheds light on the “operative forces” of the historic process is conscience for itself, understood as the historic conscience of the subjects with the need for (historic) social change, which supposes the design of a societal project that leads to emancipation for members of a social class, for which original Marxism effectively does not have anything substantial to explain its formation, while one of the main sources of inspiration for the Gramscian contribution is the subsequent development of Marxism, as we will show below.

Unlike what a majority of Gramscian authors believe,15 from the viewpoint shown here, Gramsci’s contribution to Marxism revolves around the concept of hegemony, understood as the capacity for a social class to link their interests with those of other social classes and groups in a historic project directed by the class, which becomes reality when that social class becomes dominant. That is, it generates a conscience for itself that becomes shared by the rest of society (with active consensus from other classes and social groups).16

There are other concepts related to hegemony, such as passive revolution, historical block, intellectuals, the expanded State and other derivations, which constitute methodological mediation concepts in two ways: (1) between the double historical dimension of capitalism, understood either as a production mode or as a succession of historical development phases, as changing units (historical-organic) between economy, politics, ideology, culture and institutions, that constitute historical development phases in the realm of production modes, and (2) from that perspective, between the economic structure and classes and social groups and their action options, that is, between structure and agent.

From that point of view, the problem that Gramsci raises is how to explain, based on the Marxist theoretical framework, the surge and decadence of historical phases of capitalist development, without having the (historical) crises that mediate this passage derive from a process of social revolution that leads to the scientific socialism foreseen by Marx.17 The point of departure is thus to consider that in the framework of a historical crisis determined by the contradiction between the development of productive forces and the specific historical form of capitalist social production relationships in a determined stage of development (for example, Fordism-Keynesianism), the solution to that crisis coming from classes and social groups that favor the (renewed) conservation of capitalism, makes it necessary to move towards socializing production and a social division of labor, which would allow for subsequent development of productive forces that result in the formation of new technological-productive base and economic surplus, in the framework of a new historical form of capitalist social production relationships (for example, knowledge capitalism).

In this sense, supported by technological-productive progress, these classes and social groups must find a new historically viable and lasting way to resolve the general social conflict, and in particular, the conflict that contrasts capital with collective labor, as a key axis of a new historical project for society that would give (historical) viability to the new technological-productive base.

15 For authors like Portelli (1976) and others, Gramsci’s main contribution is centered on the concept of the historical block, but in reality, this concept consists of (historically) realized and institutional hegemony through the power of the State, as will be seen further on.

16 Active consensus implies consent and active participation in the historical project, unlike passive consensus, which merely requires consent without active participation.

17 The basis of all Gramscian theoretical construction is Marx’s double assertion in “Prologue” from 1857, referenced in footnote 14.