[OPE-L:6536] Re: * poll: who has advanced political economy since Marx? *

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Feb 08 2002 - 07:50:39 EST

Many thanks for the questions Jerry,

Brief responses below:

> Brief questions:
> 1)   If the problem is as you say that "Marx is little understood", then:
>       a) do you think you understand Marx? If you think you do, then
>           why do you think you have developed that understanding when all
>           but a handful of others by your reckoning have failed?

i) We all think we are (fallibly) right, but are ready to be proved 
wrong. I wouldn't be much interested in an interpretor of Marx who 
tells me his/her interpretation is certainly completely bogus! 

ii) It is nothing to do with 'my reckoning': it is a cast iron fact that, 
say, on this list, and in the broader debate, there are a host of 
different, *mutually incompatible* interpretations of value and 
surplus value. One fruitful question is: why? 

iii) I draw upon a tradition, viz that of materialist dialectics, which 
has been greatly misrepresented and pretty much put off the 
agenda amongst current intellectuals, for many reasons. I came 
across Ilyenkov's book on logic knowing absolutely nothing about 
Ilyenkov's background. Thankfully Bakhurst's book on Ilyenkov and 
the history of Russian philosophy has detailed this lost tradition. 

>       b) if you are not sure you understand Marx, how do you know that
>           so few others have understood him?

See (i) above. Unless you  want to collapse to scepticism then you 
have to admit that you can have some sort of knowledge!

> 2) If Marx is so 'little understood' can at least part of the reason why
>       be something with what and how he himself wrote?  How is it even
>       conceivable that a writer who wrote clearly and without being self-
>       contradictory can not be substantially understood 119 years after his
>       death -- especially given the thousands of scholars who have poured
>       over those writings?

Yes, that is part of the reason. Another, is that he left Engels to do 
the more philosophical aspects of their joint project, and Engel's 
philosophy has been ridiculously cut off from Marx and deemed 
nothing to do with Capital.

> 3) Since you want to talk about how the perverse appearances of
>      capitalism have affected the way in which Marxists conceive of that
>      subject, wasn't Marx presented with  those same perverse appearances?
>      Let us consider Marx's material conditions.  How is it possible that a
>      'Young Hegelian' with a PhD turned revolutionary socialist who for most
>      of his life was supported by  the charitable contributions of a
>      wealthy revolutionary who was a capitalist (FE) could penetrate those
>      appearances when all else  -- before and since -- have failed?

Why not? Perverse appearances *can* be comprehended. If you 
don't believe that, you end up collapsing to scepticism.

> 4) Could it be that Marx had a distinct advantage over Marxists in
>     that he could create a theory without reference to a Marx-figure?
>     That is, he showed  intellectual deference to no one. Can the
>     same be said for the Marxists or don't they often (habitually even)
>     defer to Marx?   Thus, perhaps it is the 'Specter of Marx' which
>      haunts many Marxists and inhibits forward movement?  Perhaps you
>      have then suggested a very good reason for _not_ studying Marx --
>      after all, if so few have attained that understanding might it not be a
>      Utopian quest -- a  search for the 'Revolutionary Holy Grail' so to
>      speak?

Perhaps, but I don't think so.
> 5) An idealistic thought experiment:
>      You get a job as a TV script writer. You are asked to develop
>       a plot along the following lines:
>      Suppose that Marx came back from the grave and joined OPE-L
>      (assuming he was recommended for membership, invited, and
>       accepted). What do you think he would say to us now?  What do
>      you think he would say to the suggestion that low these many years
>      after his death we are still trying to understand wtf he said and can't
>      attempt to move beyond his understanding until we come to appreciate
>      that understanding?

I don't know him.  But given his own theory and practice I suppose he would 
have been disappointed but not particularly surprised. 

Thanks again, Jerry,


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