First, Poster argues Marx constructs history as a narrative of a subject (the labourer) acting on an object (nature) in which the subject increasingly comes under the domination of impersonal forces. This is theoretically expressed in Marx’s youthful theory of alienation and its mature rendering as commodity fetishism. Poster asks if premising critical theory on a labour-centered foundation is adequate to the task of unmasking contemporary forms of domination, particularly in the advanced capitalist societies where production is being displaced by service industries as the main sector of employment.
Second, Marx comes under fire for his notion of proletarian universality – the idea the self-liberation of the working class will eliminate all oppressions that appear independent of class, such as sexism, racism and homophobia. Poster argues this is little more than an expression of faith. For example he believes Marxism passes over awkward questions such as the oppression of working class women by working class men, which in turn reinforces his scepticism class struggle will sweep away all forms of oppression.
Thirdly, Poster argues that for Marx socialism was the end point of history, a not-so-subtle recoding of Hegel's philosphy of history. Here history is understood as the progress from lower to higher forms of social organisation. The further along the historical track the nearer history is to the instantiation of the Absolute - the point where history ends and reason begins. The difference for Poster is whereas for Hegel the Absolute is destined to come about naturally, for Marx the proletariat is the bearer of a higher form of social organisation which is established as the successful outcome of class struggle.
Finally, Poster criticises Marx’s method for its imputed teleology, where conjunctural specifics and accidents of history are reduced to class and related to the inevitable march to the communist future. Working class interest in ‘non-class’ issues are therefore products of an inadequate socialist consciousness, of false consciousness.
The Marxist method for Poster stands in the Enlightenment tradition of affirming the ability of reason to grasp and restructure the real. In contrast, "for Foucault, history is a form of knowledge and a form of power at the same time ... it is a means of controlling and domesticating the past in the form of knowing it. The historian pretends to recreate the past ... as it really was. Using an awkward combination of anecdote and statistic, the historian paints the landscape of the past in the colours of the present" (ibid. p.75).
In other words, Marxism is another network of power/knowledge with typical Enlightenment characteristics. It totalises history, premising it on a metaphysical labour narrative and is compromised as a critical theory by its inability to conceptualise oppressions arising outside of the production process. Therefore, Poster is predisposed toward Foucault because he eschews metaphysics, affirms anti-teleology, anti-totalisation while emphasising the discontinuities of history.
Despite this, Poster notes a couple of problems with Foucault. The radical anti-teleology and resistance to totalisation embedded in the genealogical approach rules out theorising relationships between micro-technologies of power and the wider social formation. Second, Foucault uses concepts with the barest minimum given over to conceptual construction. This, Poster argues, not only leaves Foucault’s concepts open to contention but has hampered their diffusion. Nevertheless Poster believes they are a clear advance over Marxism, providing answers to questions Marxism has barely addressed.
The whole contents of Toward a Marxian/Foucauldian Encounter can be viewed here.