[OPE-L:2764] Re: (3) "Epistemological Break" and Application to Political Economy

From: Paul Zarembka (zarembka@acsu.buffalo.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 07 2000 - 11:06:30 EDT

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"Fred B. Moseley" <fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu> said, on 04/07/00 at 01:02 AM:
>Paul, thank you very much for the series of posts on Althusser, which I
>am finding very interesting. I certainly did not expect such an
>extensive response so soon. Are you on sabbatical or something?

Yes! and it's great!

>Again, my main question is: what effect did Marx's alleged
>"epistemological break" have on his ECONOMIC THEORY IN CAPITAL (and
>especially its LOGIC)? Any effect at all?

There is so much in Althusser I could not cover in a few postings. But I
will add the following: Althusser proposes as the interpretation of Marx
the "mode of production" which has economic, political and ideological
instances, with determination in the last instance by the economy. These
instances in turn are "over-determined" or interconnected, rather than
reflecting a base-superstructure metaphor. Furthermore, for the economic
instance, social relations of production dominate over productive forces.
Therefore, the strong evolutionist portion of the 1857 "Introduction" is
very misleading and results from Marx's Hegelian elements at that time (do
I need to quote the problematic passage?)

Also, Althusser's "a-historicism" implies that "simple commodity
production" is not an historical precursor of "generalized commodity
production", EVEN IF one can identify elements, historically, of the
former before the latter. In other words, "simple commodity production"
is a theoretical construct, as is "generalized commodity production" -- a
product of theoretical WORK (Althusser emphasizes that theory is WORK --
is a production process). There should be no confusion between history
itself and theory.

Another implication is that we must develop the theory of "modes of
production" (slavery, feudal, capitalist, etc.) BEFORE we get too hung up
about "transitions" between modes of production.

So, what about Part I of *Capital*? It is part of Marx's theoretical
production and the fact that it appears BEFORE Part III, etc. is NOT to be
interpreted historically but theoretically. Part I and II is the
precursor of penetrating (penetrating below fetishism, for example, since
this has previously been discussed on the list) INTO the inter workings of
the capitalist mode of production. Thus, what I posted in 2625:

    "On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of
commodities, which furnishes the "Free-trader Vulgaris" with his views and
ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital
and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our
dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in
front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his
labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business;
the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide
to market and has nothing to expect but -- a hiding." (Marx, *Capital*,
last paragraph Part II).

Althusser relates Marx's role to the likes of Archimedes, Lavoisier,
Newton, Freud in constituting "continents of knowledge". This is such a
HUGE accomplishment that we should not even expect that Marx had
everything figured out in this lifetime. It does NOT diminish Marx at all
to say that he was struggling with Hegel and did not even fully comprehend
his own struggle.

Hope this helps a bit. Incidentally, I expect to be out of town Sunday
(possibly Monday) for a week to 10 days.

Paul Z.

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