[KB] Burke & the Division of Labor

wessr at oregonstate.edu wessr at oregonstate.edu
Mon Sep 12 21:16:35 EDT 2016

I don't think Burke ever "rejected" Marxism. Instead, I think he  
tended to see himself incorporating Marxism into his own system  
(Marxists would no doubt object to the incorporation but that is a  
different story).

At the end of his response to Jameson, for example, Burke insists on  
starting with symbol-using rather than class struggle, but adds that  
the study of the symbol-using animal "can welcome the topic of class  
struggle as a notable contribution" (Critical Inquiry 5.2 [1978]: 416).

An example would be the argument in Rhetoric of Motives that  
symbol-using animals are "classifying" animals before they are "class"  
animals (282-83). "Class" in the Marxist sense is one mode of  
classifying but not the only one. "Classifying" is prior.

The things he took from Marx were things he thought could be applied  
to a critique of the current state of things. I don't think he limited  
Marx to a prediction about the future.

That being said, he did see the Marxist narrative of history as a  
particularly good example of how an "ultimate" terminology works as  
persuasion (RM 189-97). The Marxist "ultimate" terminology turns a  
mere worker into the proletariat, an agent of history. He is not  
defending this narrative in this section, but he is using it as a model.


Quoting Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>:

> It's been over 50 years since I did most of my intensive study of Burke,
> though I continued frequently to browse in the Grammar & the ...Literary
> Form until my eyes failed me nearly 10 years ago. I also read carefully his
> exchange in CI with Jameson at the time of its publication.
> If I remember correctly, the core of Burke's rejection of Marx was his
> (Burke's) belief of the inevitability of the division of labor. If that is
> so, his objection to Marx was grounded in his premise that "Marxism" was
> essentially a recipe for a future society rather than a critique of
> contemporary society. Again, if I remember correctly, Burke in the Grammar
> did speculate on making a worker the _owner_ of his job. That had to be
> premised on the permanence of capitalist social relations, combined with at
> least a speculative belief that either (a) wage workers could achieve the
> political and social power to seize possession of their jobs (permanent
> tenure for all employees, public & private) _or_ (b) that capitalists could
> be persuaded (through a correct rhetoric) to grant wage workers such tenure
> voluntarily. His use of the trope "the human barnyard" might point to the
> latter hope.
> Carrol
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