[OPE-L:2561] Re: Critique

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Mon Mar 20 2000 - 05:33:21 EST

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Re John H's [OPE-L:2559]:

1) theory and politics

> The farther we go, the clearer it becomes that we have very
> different understandings of Marx, Marxism and Capital - though not
> necessarily very different concepts of politics.

You're probably right ... and that itself (the relation of theory to
political conceptions) might make an interesting topic for discussion.
E.g. while we would agree that there is a relationship it does not always
appear to be a very *clear* relationship: thus one might claim that
autonomist Marxism and council communism share many political conceptions,
and have a similar history of struggle, but the theoretical perspectives
and interpretations of Harry Cleever (if you are reading this, hi Harry!)
and Paul Mattick Sr. (and if you are reading this, hi Paul Jr.!) on Marx
and _Capital_ are *very* different.

2) On critique:
> We clearly have very different understandings of the meaning of critique.
> By 'critique' I understand not the 'rejection of bourgeois conceptions' but
> genetic critique, the attempt to understand the genesis of bourgeois
> categories, their origin in the form of organisation of human work.
> Critique is the movement of anti-fetishisation, that is the theoretical
> recuperation of the power of work or, better, the theoretical recuperation
> of the all-constitutive power of human doing. If that is not central to the
> revolutionary process, then I don't know what is.

The task of understanding the genesis of bourgeois categories, etc. --
what you call the "movement of anti-festishisation" -- has meaning if
placed in the context of Marx's theory. That context (the "ultimate
aim" of "this work") is to reveal ("to lay bare the economic law of
motion of") "modern society". It is the attempt to *divorce critique*
from this *larger* task of systematically comprehending capitalism in
thought (and then surpassing capitalism) that I object to.

> To say that critique is not central to Capital is to say that the concept
> of fetishism is not central to Capital, which presumably means forgetting
> about Vol.1, ch.1 and everything that follows it.

I *did not* say that critique was not central to _Capital_. What I
asserted instead is that critique was not the *subject* of _Capital_ but
was rather a *vehicle* for the analysis and presentation of the subject
of "modern society" (i.e. capitalism). What I reject is not the
importance of critique to _Capital_ but rather the idea that critique
forms the *only* subject and aim of _Capital_.

> I'm very glad that you opened up (in OPE-L 2556) the question of the
> meaning of critique, since it does seem to me that that is the central
> issue.

Good, because I wrote that post, largely in response to your previous
points on critique, hoping that we could deepen that discussion.

So, what do you think of the definition that Mike W gave in [OPE-L:2558]?

I don't think it really captures Marx's understanding of critique. From my
perspective, critique was primarily used by Marx not to criticize previous
conceptions (although, that comes out in the laundry, so to speak) but as
a *means* (what I call above a "vehicle") of presenting an *alternative*
conception. Thus his primary task was not to tear down previous
conceptions but to build new and revolutionary alternative conceptions.
Hence, rather than having a "negative" purpose it has as its aim the
construction of a "positive" alternative (yet, destruction is a necessary
moment in laying the foundation for the new theory). The point, in other
words, was not to critique political economy, but to *surpass* political
economy (just as the point is not to critique philosophy but to surpass
philosophy since the understanding of the world is a necessary part of
the process of changing the world).

(by way of analogy -- connecting this subject to another thread -- the
critique of the H-O-S theory of comparative advantage must not be merely
destructive. Rather, an *alternative*, and superior, Marxist conception of
trade must be developed and presented. This, of course, holds for other
subjects as well, including a theory of foreign exchange, public finance,
If this be the case then there were overwhelmingly important
political reasons for Marx, the revolutionary communist, to write
_Capital_. Most fundamentally, *understanding capitalism* (rather than
merely political economy) by the working-class is a crucially important
part of the revolutionary process.

btw, what role is there for critique of economics today? One member of
this list, several years ago, argued that what we really should be
concentrating on is reading and critiquing Milton Friedman and the
monetarists. Is that a priority task from your perspective?

On the other hand, I think that Marxists could gain much from a
systematic engagement with and then critique of "heterodox" economic
theories, e.g. post-Keynesianism (Hi Steve K!). Interestingly, the
advancement of Marxist ideas related to non-equilibrium theory owes much,
I think, to an accessment of chaotic models rather than an examination of
18th and 19th century ("scientific" and "vulgar") political economy.

Another issue, perhaps, for discussion, is whether we need to extend
"ruthless" criticism to *all* that is? Does that include our allies? E.g.
should "ruthless criticism" be extended to the peasant movement for
autonomy in Chiapas? Do you (and others) think that is proper stance from
the perspective of demonstrating and building solidarity? Does "ruthless
criticism" also require, if applied consistently, that we apply the same
standard for Marx's writings? (e.g. should we be ruthlessly critiquing
Marx's critique of political economy?)
I'll return to a discussion of Vol. 3, Ch. 52 if others are interested.

In solidarity, Jerry

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