[OPE-L:2563] Critique

From: Andrew_Kliman (Andrew_Kliman@email.msn.com)
Date: Mon Mar 20 2000 - 12:39:03 EST

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Some points on the discussion of "critique."

1. I think Mattick's account of Marx's theory of fetishism, quoted by
Nikki in OPE-L 2562, is a positivistic distortion of the actual theory.
First, pace Mattick, "the opening chapter of Capital" does *not* end
"with a discussion, under the heading of the 'fetishism of
commodities,'." The section is entitled "The Fetishism of the Commodity
and Its Secret." The difference is important because the fetish is real,
not an illusion. It is not that we "fetishize" commodities, imagining
them to be something other than they are. Rather the commodity itself is
a fetish in the strict and original sense of the term, a thing that has
un-thingly power. Thus Marx writes of "the fetishism of the commodity."

Second, according to Mattick, Marx's theory is supposedly about "the way
in which the money form obscures the working of the system by concealing
'the social character of private labor and the social relations between
the individual laborers'." This isn't right. It turns the fetish into a
subjective illusion, something at variance with the actual nature of the
relations, which *conceals* the actual relations. What Marx himself
wrote was the exact opposite: "To the producers, therefore, the social
relation between their private labours APPEAR AS WHAT THEY ARE, i.e.,
they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their
RELATIONS BETWEEN THINGS" (Capital I, Vintage, pp. 165-66, emphases

In short, Marx does not mostly criticize his opponents and common sense
in the positivistic manner, by trying to show that their conceptions are
at variance with the facts. He rather tries to show that their
conceptions *do* correspond to the facts -- THAT is why "economic theory
[has a] hold ... over the inhabitants of the system." The problem does
not originate in their heads; rather, what exists is itself untrue,
inverted. You simply cannot get rid of fetishism without getting rid of
the relations to which the fetishistic notions correspond: "The veil is
not removed from the countenance of the social life-process ... until it
becomes production by freely associated men ..." (p. 173). This idea is
of course anathema to all positivists.

Note also that in Mattick's account, the problem of fetishism is
supposedly that the money form conceals, while in the actual theory the
problem is that the relations in the labor process are unfree.

2. John Holloway (OPE-L 2551) wrote that "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."

Paul Zarembka (OPE-L 2560) replied: "A 12-page section on fetishism in
one chapter does not a book of 724 pages make. Production of surplus
value would have a greater claim (328 pages),
followed by accumulation of capital (196 pages). Even wages gets more
attention (28 pages in a whole "Part")."

But the *centrality* of a theory doesn't depend on how many pages are
devoted to an explication of the theory. It rather depends on the extent
to which the theory is integral to and influences the whole.

Section 3 of Ch. 1 is all about fetishism: the properties of the relative
commodity (i.e., any and every commodity) get turned into properties of
the equivalent (see esp. the "peculiarities" of the equivalent form).
Further, as Marx stresses, the commodity-fetish has more developed,
subsidiary forms, money-fetish, capital-fetish, etc. Thus in Ch. 4 --
note that we are no longer in Part 1 -- capital fetishistically appears
as self-expanding value, a disembodied subject of a process, whereas the
analysis of the production process goes on to show that it is there in
production that the human subject's labor expands value.

And what is Marx's analysis of the development of capitalist production,
especially machine production, all about if not that the worker is
dominated by the product of her on hands, just as in religion the thinker
is dominated by the product of his own brain? Coming to the section on
Wages that Paul mentions, it is one *transformation* after another,
various "irrational" forms of the value of labor-power that actually
exist in the real world -- again, it is not a matter of illusion.

And then there's Vol. III. It would be easy to point to the Trinity
Formula, or to the crucial discussion of relations of production and
relations of distribution. But really, this whole volume is again one
*transformation* after another. The whole thing is about how the
inversion of subject and object -- worker and machine -- that occurs in
the production process necessarily gives rise to fetishistic forms of
appearance in which capital has powers. Here's how Marx (Capital III,
Vintage, p. 136) puts it, in a statement that I think serves as a good
summation of the volume as a whole.

"Yet the way that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit,
by way of the rate of profit, is only a further extension of that
inversion of subject and object which already occurs in the course of the
production process itself. We saw in that case how all the subjective
productive forces of labour present themselves as productive forces of
capital. On the one hand, value, i.e. the past labour that dominates
living labour, is personified into the capitalist; on the other hand, the
worker conversely appears as mere objectified labour-power, as a
commodity. This inverted relationship necessarily gives rise, even in
the simple relation of production itself, to a correspondingly inverted
conception of the situation, a transposed consciousness, which is further
developed by the transformations and modifications of the circulation
process proper."

3. Preparing to write this post, I re-read Lukacs' "What is Orthodox
Marxism?" I think it holds has a lot to say about the issues being
discussed here, and I'd recommend it. In particular, it explains the
difference between positivism and critique quite well, IMO.

4. In OPE-L 2561, Jerry writes that "It is the attempt to *divorce
from this *larger* task of systematically comprehending capitalism in
thought (and then surpassing capitalism) that I object to." This
displays a positivist conception of critique, grounded in the supposed
gulf between "is" and "ought." There is on the one hand, the task of
systematically comprehending capitalism, and on the other hand a
subsidiary AND DIFFERENT task, which is critique. One the one hand, is,
and on the other hand, ought. What Jerry rejects or does not recognize
is that, for Marx, criticism is the *method* of comprehending capitalism,
not a subjective attitude toward facts that are first comprehended
independently of criticism. The dialectic "includes in its positive
understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation,
its inevitable destruction" (Vol. I, Vintage, p. 103).

Andrew Kliman

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