Yet if historical materialism is right, then theoretical reflection is part of social reproduction and is therefore situated “in” society itself. Theoretical reflection is subject to the uniform principles in accordance with which social reproduction takes place, and so social critique must involve a self-critique of Marxist theory. Such a self-critique will situate its own theoretical practices and simultaneously account for its own procedure and its truth. In order to be consistent, Marxism has to give an account of itself that does not rely upon a representational or Platonic theory of knowledge and truth. What we know by means of Marx’s theories cannot be an object “out there”. In “representing its object”, Marxism in fact represents itself (it is an object for itself), and its understanding of itself as representational is due to the effects of what Marx called “fetishism”. But if what it thought belonged to the commodity actually belongs to itself, then Marxism’s own theory of itself as an accurate representation of the mode of production has to be false. Marxism is not a “mirror” or a “picture” of capitalism; it is an “internal moment” of capitalism itself.
The representational self-understanding of Marxism is itself an effect of the domination of the whole of the society by the capitalist mode of production. As this mode of production comes to characterize the totality of modern society, the totality itself as a phenomenon vanishes from view and become inconspicuous to cognizing subjects. Reified, capitalist society divides up into discrete, autonomous spheres, each operating according to its own laws. Various sciences arise to study the laws according to which these spheres operate. They treat society, economy, law, the family, etc., not as institutions arising out of concrete human acts, but rather as “given” realities “out there” which their theories attempt to represent (albeit imperfectly). In theorizing society this way, the human sciences must remain unable to account for the real grounding of their objects in human relations and accomplishments, and they must remain essentially unreflective with regard to their own material, historical conditions of possibility. Marxism traditionally understood as the accurate representation of the laws of the movement of capitalist society is just such a representational theory of society and economy following from the objectification of society and its fragmentation into discrete components. The epistemic appropriation of social relations by means of the production of such representational theories is itself an effect of the ubiquity of the capitalist mode of production.
Seen from an abstract, epistemological point of view, this process has three components:
- The data of social theories are taken to be "natural", ready-made, and value-neutral. Therefore, the job of the social theorist is to observe this reality and by means of induction to generalize the laws operative in these particular fields.
- Given the capacity of sociology, economics, etc., to generate such law-like generalizations, methodology progressively overcomes and replaces critical reflection upon the basic concepts and phenomena of the field. Methodology is taken to be a sufficient model of analysis itself.
- As a result of their emphasis on methodology and as a result of their treating the data as mere givens, the social sciences beget a dissolution of their understanding of the social totality (and so the source of reification itself is lost, if not the phenomenon itself), and they continually "bracket in" their historical and ontological conditions.