Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst

Major work: Pre-capitalist Modes of Production (1975)
Key figures: Marx, Althusser, Engels, Lenin,

These two were influential Marxist sociologists in the 1970s. They tried to defend, in theoretical terms, the insights of Marx in an anti-empiricist, anti-teleological, anti-functionalist Althusserian vein. This project gradually fell in on itself, and by the publication of �Marx�s Capital and Capitalism today', which looked at the extent of the Hegelian influence on Marx, the project had subsided.

Notes on Pre-capitalist modes of production

The authors begin this work by explaining it is a work within Marxist theory. This is counterpoised to empiricism which takes facts as given. Hindess and Hirst argue that facts are the product of scientific practice. This is argued to pre-empt charges that their arguments go against historical knowledge and empirical realities. The �Marxist analysis of a concrete situation is always a work of theoretical abstraction�concrete conditions are not �given� to theory in order to validate or to refute its general concepts. On the contrary, it is the general concepts that make possible the analysis of the concrete.� (p. 4). Yet the attempt to provide a general theory of modes of production is deemed idealist and teleological. As such Balibar is criticised for structuralism, which inadvertently replaces Hegelian teleology with a different essence. (p. 7) It is the general notion of causation, not the idealist variant like �spirit� or �reason� that matters here. �The �structural� causality of Reading Capital is no less expressive because the essence in question is called a structure.� (p. 8) The authors insist upon the specificity of determinate instances of different modes of production, determined at anytime by specific class struggles.

H&H understand mode of production as an �articulated combination of relations of production and forces of production structured by the dominance of the relations of production.� They always exist in combination but H&H, contra Mao for instance, argue for the primacy of productive relations. "Forces of production �correspond� to relations of production as the indispensable conditions of the functioning of a determiate mechanism of extraction of surplus-labour.� (p. 22)

H&H insist that surplus labour in one form or another is a persistent feature, more a �necessary condition� of all societies. However the means by which it is produced and appropriated vary widely. A theoretical problem of the ilk that H&H aim to address is how to distinguish between these different forms. How, for example, does primitive communism differ from advanced communism, wherein both the surplus is consumed socially and is not privately appropriated. A division of labour that posits a class of non-labourers is characterised by the existence of the political form of a state.

�Where there is communal appropriation of surplus-labour there are no classes, no state, and no politics.� (p. 23)

H&H insist that the different forms of appropriation of surplus labour must be historicized. The conception is internal to the mode of production. Yet they are also adamant that surplus labour is necessary for the reproduction of any economy. Yet the mode of appropriation assists in locating different features of differing societies, and avoids the pitfalls of functionalist sociology such as that of Talcott Parsons. The latter reproduces the political level as a universal function. Despite structural differentiation, this process is teleological through its progressive rationalisation. (p. 30-31)

H&H also engage with Poulantzas, they want to demonstrate the relative autonomy of the political, but also that its function is specific to the developed form of the mode of production. It is the means of political practice (the exercise of state power) that are crucial, not simply its effects. Poulantzas though sophisticated, ends up with a formalist Marxism. �Political practice is defined by its objective with no reference to its instruments.� (p. 38) As such, though a proletarian party might occupy state power, its effects might very well be the reproduction of bourgeois relations. H&H invoke Lenin at this point to demonstrate problems with Bourgeois representation. (p. 39)

 on other sites:

Reading Guide to Selections from: Hindess, B (1977) Philosophy and Methodology in the Social Sciences, Hassocks: Harvester Press

P. Hirst Obituaries