[OPE-L:2611] Re: Re: Re: Critique

From: John Holloway (104164.2012@compuserve.com)
Date: Mon Mar 27 2000 - 18:38:26 EST

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Paul C. says in 2593, first quoting me:
 "> But surely the whole point of the labour theory of
> is to say that it is labour which produces capital, that workers are
> therefore dominated by their own product, that capital therefore depends
> absolutely on labour for its existence? Is this not the substance of the
> theory of crisis? Is this not the basis of hope for a different society?
By itself no, as the same could be said of every exploiting class -
that it depends absolutely on the labour of the exploited for its
This is the material basis of the class struggle but not for a 'theory of
crisis', in the sense of pointing out inherent limits of a mode of
production, since it is the invariant of all class modes of production."

Yes. The key to the weakness of any ruling class is its dependence on the
exploited class. Exploitation implies the dependence of the exploiter upon
the exploited. To study the weakness of a particular ruling class or form
of rule is to study the historically specific form taken by this relation
of exploitation/dependence. In capitalism, this relation is characterised
by the 'freedom' of capital, i.e. the fact that it is dependent on labour
in general and not on any particular group of workers and the corresponding
'freedom' of the workers. This freedom is expressed in the existence of
labour power as a commodity and in the existence of exploitation as surplus
value production. The weakness of capital deriving from its dependence upon
labour is manifested in the tendency to crisis.

Your comment, Paul, seems to imply that the theory of crisis is something
separate from class struggle. My argument throughout these exchanges has
been that nothing is separate from class struggle, that the theoretical
challenge of Marxism is to understand as class struggle that which appears
not to be class struggle.

2) Paul Z. in 2584 says:

If I read you correctly you are well on your way to what Ellen Meiksins
Wood called "Retreat from Class" (she was indeed fired from editorship of
*Monthly Review*!).

You don't. If I read you correctly, you do not want to understand 'capital'
as class struggle, you do not want to understand 'state' as class struggle,
you do not want to understand 'crisis' as class struggle. If you did, then
fetishisation, the 'thing-ification' of antagonistic relations, would of
central importance to you. If I am correct and you do not, are you not
limiting (i.e. defining) the scope of class struggle?

3) Paul Z. in 2584 says:

"I don't even know where to begin critiquing such a
statement as "the possibility of the self-emancipation of the working
class, can only be approached through a critique of fetishism". What is
that "ONLY" doing there, as if anyone of us knows how we are to get our
revolutionary act together, that there is ONLY one true path?"

And Nicky in 2599 adds:
"Good point. What indeed is that ONLY doing there?? Seems to me that
antifoundationalists (is that's what you are John?) almost always tend to
obscure, but never quite dispense with, the foundations in their own
arguments. Paul, at least, is clear about where he is coming from - and
obviously not at all worried about being labelled sectarian!"

Absolutely not a good point. My argument is very simple. By fetishism Marx
designates the thing-ification of social relations, or, in other words, the
process by which social subjects become defined as objects. To say that
anti-fetishism, i.e. the struggle against the objectification of subjects,
is the only way to think of the self-emancipation of the working class, is
merely a tautology.

Am I an anti-foundationalist? I wouldn't have thought so at all. I assume
that the foundation for all of us on this list is our hatred of capitalism,
of the mutilation of humanity that it involves and of the annihilation of
humanity towards which it seems to be rushing us. For me, this means that
our understanding of capitalism must be a negative, i.e. critical,
understanding, that we must take that which appears to be positive or
stable and show it to be negative and unstable. The reproduction of capital
is crucially a process of defining, limiting, imposing stability. That is
why our struggle is crucially anti-definitional. Go back to Bloch:
'Thinking is a going-beyond' - isn't that what he says in the second (or
first?) page of The Priniciple of Hope. If thinking is a going-beyond, it
is anti-definitional. 'The cistern contains, the fountain overflows', as
Blake puts it. Engels contains, Marx overflows?

4) Nicky in 2599 says:

"John doesn't seem to believe that class is definable, so any struggle in
this direction is a waste of everyone's efforts, anyway."

I never said that at all. Capital defines class all the time. I said that
our struggle is against definition. One of the disturbing features of
'Marxist economics' is that it tends to assume a continuity between
bourgeois theory and Marxist theory rather than a radical rupture.

5) Ernesto says in 2587, quoting Paul C.:

"Ernesto 2587:
>The reason why definitions are important is that the words that
>we use enable us to communicate things to other people. The
>key point in having a clear definition of classes comes down to
>the fact that actions are taken on the basis of these definitions.
>The question of class definition comes down then to who are our
>friends and who are our enemies, with whom does the communist
>party ally and who does it fight. A clear definition has had to
>be part of the party line in order that separate detachments can
>follow a consistent policy across the country.
>The clearest example of this is Mao's 'Analysis of the Classes in
>Chinese Society', which provided the guiding definitions for the
>policy of alliances during the civil war.
Perfectly agreed. I have nothing to add."

That lends support to my initial argument that there is a close relation
between 'class demarcation' and Leninist politics. My argument is not in
the first place an argument against Leninism (although I would say, to put
things in the most generous form possible, that Leninism is no longer of
any help in thinking about the revolutionary transformation of society). My
argument is rather that, although it is probably true that it is impossible
to read Marx without going through the residue of assumptions bequeathed us
by Engels and Lenin, we should at least be conscious and critical of those

6) Jerry says in 2583:

"There is no contradiction between saying that workers *are* victims of
capital and at the same time saying that they are *more than* victims.
>From the one-sided perspective of capital, workers are merely raw
material -- living means of production (so to speak) which represents a
cost of production. From the standpoint of the working-class, however,
workers are human beings with a subjectivity and a capacity to change the
world and engage in self-emancipation. Hence, labor is *both* object (to
capital) *and* subject (for themselves).
What I would add, hence, is that in attempting to understand the logic of
the working class, we also recognize that there is a logic of capital
which stands in opposition to the working class. Thus, understanding the
logic of capital is an essential part of understanding the dynamics of
capitalism and class struggle. Rather than negating the subjectivity of
the working class it forms a logical pre-requisite for the development of
an understanding of that subjectivity."

Yes. The problem is to understand labour as the subject-object of history,
as Lukács puts it. Capital, as you say, treats labour as object. Hence our
perspective can only be a critique of capital's perspective, a critique of
the objectification of labour, in other words a critique of the treatment
of labour as victim. It is through that critique that we assert the
subjectivity of labour. Are we in agreement? I wonder.

The study of the logic of capital (the object of 'Marxist economics'?)
gives an understanding of capitalist development only to the extent that
labour is really objectified, to the extent that fetishism is total. The
problem, of course, is that to the extent that labour is really
objectified, the self-emancipation of the working class is inconceivable.

7) Allin (lovely to 'see' you too, Allin, after so many years) says in

"I accept that much of Marx's work is a critique, attempting to
lay bare the basis of bourgeois representations of "the
economy": to explain both _what_ is being represented, and the
mechanism/logic of the representation. But I don't see this
point as ruling out of order a "Marxist economics", or
"economics in the service of Marxism". The construction of a
different and better social order needs an economics -- a
systematic set of ideas regarding the allocation of resources
(foremost among them, labour time) in the interests of the

The problem is that economics treats things as things, not as social
relations, i.e. it reproduces the thing-ification of social relations. That
is why I don't I don't think of the construction of a different social
order in terms of the allocation of resources *in the interests of* the
people, but as the organisation of society *by* the people.

8) Paul Z. says in 2606:


I did a search of *Capital*, Vol. 1. "Fetish" and "fetishism" ONLY
appears in that ONE 12-page section of Chapter 1 (other than in Chapter 3,
"the hoarder, therefore, makes a sacrifice of the lusts of the flesh to
his gold fetish"). How can one make "fetish" THE category of Marx's work,
in the face of this evidence?!

The point is not to count words, but to try to understand.


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