[OPE-L:4711] Notes from a "class enemy"

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Sat Dec 16 2000 - 01:06:08 EST

Rakesh writes:

>Gil, I just don't get what you are saying. Have you never met anyone 
>who finds  Marx's value theoretic critique of political economy, as a 
>systematization of the everyday ideas of agents caught in bourgeois 
>economy, the most powerful weapon ever created to do battle with the 
>representatives of a decaying bourgeois order? You obviously think 
>the whole of Marx's value theory is suspect. I react because you are 
>trying to take away on manifestly spurious grounds the conceptual 
>arsenal needed to rebel against and understand critically bourgeois 
>society--e.g., that since merchants' profit and banking interest are 
>primarily derived out of the surplus value produced in the circuit of 
>industrial capital in which the working class is directly exploited, 
>it is impossible to follow the Nazi claim that there is fundamental 
>distinction between predatory (Jewish) and productive (Aryan) 
>capital.  I consider you, Ajit and Steve class enemies just as you 
>all openly and proudly think of yourselves as freeing socialism from 
>its ridiculous charlatans and fundamentalist Marxist popes.

Speaking just for myself: in its own seemingly extremist and paranoid way,
Rakesh's assessment would make sense if his characterization of what I'm
attempting to argue were at all accurate.  But it's not.  What your
comments make absolutely clear, Rakesh, is that after all this time you
don't have the first clue about what I'm arguing or its ultimate point.
Hint 1: I'm not "trying to take away... the conceptual arsenal needed to
rebel against and understand critically bourgeois society", although my
critique may require some rethinking of the foundation of this arsenal (in
order to ground it more firmly, not to eliminate it).

Hint 2, and more immediately to the point:  despite your confident
representation to Andrew of the "crux of [my] argument", which you know to
be "manifestly spurious" and "groundless", it doesn't seem to have sunk in
that I'm arguing a *dilemma*, of which you've only engaged one horn.  I
signalled this initially when I posed the original round of questions in
"either-or" form (see post 4625):  is Marx's Ch. 5 rejection of
redistribution as a basis for surplus value an aspect of his *definition*,
or an *inference* from a previously given definition?  You first indicated
the latter, but upon subsequent argument it turns out you really meant the
former, at which point I introduced the other horn of the dilemma (see the
last two full paragraphs of post 4689).  Which you've ignored.

Why posit the critique of Marx's argument in Vol. I, Part 2 as a dilemma?
Well, two reasons.  Marx coins a new term, "valorization" [Verwertung, in
the original German] in defining surplus value, and he's not around to
explain exactly what he meant by this, so we have to consider every logical

The second reason has made itself abundantly clear in our discussion:  you
have been remarkably reluctant to commit yourself to a particular reading
of what Marx meant in response to my quite pointed and persistent
questions.  I still don't know your answer to my second original question.
And on the first one, as late as post 4703 [see the last exchange in the
post], you're still answering a different question than I ask. Now, why is
that?  If I were in the mood to match you ad hominem for ad hominem, I
might speculate that you're afraid to commit yourself because then you
might have to accept that that understanding turns out to be logically
incoherent.  Better to stay vague and maintain deniability.

Take the present stage of the argument as an illustration.  I asked you
repeatedly if you thought Marx's Ch. 5 argument followed simply from his
definition of surplus value as the positive difference between M' and M,
subject to your caveat that surplus value was an "aggregate category," and
you indicated that it did.  I spelled out carefully what I understood you
to mean by the latter phrase (see post 4369 and subsequently), and you
voiced absolutely no objection to this reading, and added nothing to it.
And you mentioned nothing whatsoever about conditions on the circuit of
commodity exchange as part of the definition of surplus value (which makes
sense; neither does Marx, anywhere in Volume I , part 2).  But *after* I
point out that this interpretation implies that the ch. 5 argument commits
a fallacy of division, then your story changes.  

But I went with your revision, and introduced the other horn of the dilemma
in response to your ex post revision.  This horn, I think, leads to some
powerful implications about the logical status of Marx's Ch. 5 argument.
Now, we might both have learned something from a frank and open-minded
discussion of the full logical consequences of alternative interpretations
of Marx's definition of surplus value. And it might *just possibly* turn
out that, although Marx's specific analytical structure must be
reconceived, his fundamental critique of capitalism can be grounded even
more surely and--my ultimate point--generally. 

But that can't happen, can it?  You suspect, deeply, that I'm a "class
enemy" determined, by devious and indirect means, to "take away on
manifestly spurious grounds the conceptual arsenal needed to rebel against
and understand critically bourgeois society".  There is of course no way
that the good faith necessary to carry on a theoretical exchange can be
built on this suspicion.  Your class duty is to deny and demonize ( the
Holocaust, indeed.  That's about as plausible as saying that Marx's
occasional anti-Jewish jibes in Capital led to the official acts of
anti-Semitic repression in the Soviet Union.  No, less plausible.) every
argument that deviates from the traditional catechism, because to do
otherwise would allow the possibility that some part of Marx's original
account is--gasp--invalid, and can thus be improved upon, just as any
scientific work can be improved and extended.

So this exchange is necessarily over.  So be it.  Please just don't again
put forward the pretense of actually engaging my argument, when the
foregone conclusion is that you will oppose it by any means necessary.   


P. S.  Oh--hint 3, concerning your response to the "crux" of my argument in
your reply to Andrew (post 4707)--yes, I know what Marx wrote about
merchant capital in Ch. 5.  Believe it or not, I've actually read the
chapter once or twice, thought about each passage in it, and actually have
a critique of this particular passage  [presented more than once on OPE-L,
by the way, so you might at least have done me the courtesy of addressing
the critique instead of simply re-reciting the passage as if that somehow
settled the issue].  That's all addressed in the other horn of the dilemma.

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