[OPE-L:3022] Re: empirical verification of interpretations of Marx?

From: Steve Keen (stevekeen10@hotmail.com)
Date: Sat May 06 2000 - 06:06:57 EDT

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Jerry is effecively asking whether exegetical work is feasible. My belief is
that it is, but it is also extremely difficult--especially with a writer
like Marx, who both wrote so much, and finished so little.

But on the example he chose, I believe a categorical answer is possible:

>Let us take a simple example. Not long ago, I pointed to a quote from
>Paul Mattick, Jr. in which he said that: "The starting point of
>Marx's critique, accordingly, must be the category that is most
>elementary with respect to capitalist society *as theorized by
>classical theory*: the commodity" (in Moseley ed. _Marx's Method
>in Capital_, p. 124).
>It would seem to me that this interpretation can be *tested* in the
>following way:
>(1) did Marx ever write that he was starting with the commodity
> for the above reason?
>(2) did classical theory (or some significant section thereof)
> begin with the commodity and view it as the "most elementary"
> category with respect to capitalist society?
>If the answer can be determined to (1) and (2) and the answer to
>both is "No", then will the statement in question thereby be said
>to be inaccurate and, thereby, not validated?
>I would answer "Yes" to the last question.

I would answer "Yes!" to both of Jerry's numbered questions, and especially
to the first. To give the strongest support I can for that in Marx's words,
I refer to his final statement in the *Grundrisse* manuscript proper, which
is headed "Value", and is marked "to be brought forward"--as indeed it was,
to the opening words of both the *Contribution* and *Capital*. It clearly
presents the dialectic of the commodity as the major intellectual discovery
made by Marx in the course of composing the *Grundrisse*.

Quote: "The first category in which bourgeois wealth presents itself is that
of the *commodity*. The commodity itself appears as unity of two aspects. It
is *use-value*, i.e. object of the satisfaction of any system whatever of
human needs. This is its material side, which the most disparate epochs of
production may have in common, and whose examination therefore lies beyond
political economy. Use-value falls within the realm of political economy as
soon as it becomes modified by the modern relations of production, or as it,
in turn, intervenes to modify them.*... Now how does use-value become
transformed into commodity? Vehicle of *exchange value*. Although directly
united in the commodity, use-value and exchange value just as directly split
apart. Not only does the exchange value not appear as determined by the
use-value, but rather furthermore, the commodity only becomes a commodity,
only realises itself as exchange value, in so far as its owner does not
relate to it as use-value."(Footnote: Ibid, p. 881. Some emphasis added.)

It is also clear that the concepts of use-value and exchange-value are
central to his concept of the commodity.

As clear as this statement is, it was ignored by mainstream Marxists like
Sweezy, Meek and Dobb *who had access to it when they wrote*. Thus Sweezy's
well-known statement that "`use-value as such lies outside the sphere of
investigation of political economy'", which was ostensibly a quote from
Marx, was wildly at error [compare it to "Use-value falls within the realm
of political economy as soon as it becomes modified by the modern relations
of production, or as it, in turn, intervenes to modify them."].

So yes, exegetical work on Marx is both feasible, desirable, and to date,
done extremely poorly by Marxists.

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