Making sense of Elster

Inquiry 29 (1-4):45 – 56 (1986)
Abstract
Elster contends that much of Marx's most important work was characterized by methodological individualism. I argue that this is untrue, and that to assert it results, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of Marx's writings on the individual's relation to his society. Central to Marx's writings is the rejection of an abstract ?society?. Instead we find analysis of a particular social formation, with a historically specific relation between individual and society, and between ends and means. This is demonstrated from Capital and from earlier writings by Marx. In Elster's critique of Marx's political economy, the same essentially historical content of Marx's categories is not seen. The natural (or general) and the historical are confused in Elster's argument on the theory of value. Elster's reconstruction of Marx's concepts of class and class struggle is critically examined, from the standpoint that class is a relation of exploitation, resting on property in the means of production. In supposing that Marx was in some sense a functionalist, Elster must once again be ignoring the historical core of Marx's thinking
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