[OPE-L:7143] Re: Re: "Quaderni di Operai Contro" (Vitale) v. Paolo Giussani

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Fri May 10 2002 - 09:21:59 EDT

Re: [OPE-L:7136] "Quaderni di Operai Contro" (Vitale)Re Riccardo's [7138];  Allin's [7l40], and former listmember
Jurriaan's [7l4l]:

>From Riccardo's [7l38]:
> (i) most Marxists, and also and primarily the those who objects of Andrea Vitale, are using exactly the same style, simply turned upon some kind of academic ultra-orthodox marxism, which takes almost all the history of Marxism except Marx and themselves as 'errors' and (implicitly) betrayal of truth <

Hi Riccardo. 
Of the 5 "public letters" in this self-described polemic, only the
3 which were written by Vitale have been published online.  The
above criticism (or is it a conclusion of a critique?), because of
the clause that reads "primarily ... those who objects to Andrea
Vitale", seems to be directed at Paolo Giussani.  Is that the case?
Are you basing this criticism on the  content of the 2 unpublished 
(at least online) public letters of Giussani  or is this a criticism of
his style  (and substance) generally?  Are you inferring that the 
advocates of TSS (or  just Giussani)  represent "some kind of 
academic ultra-orthodox marxism, ...."?   

> (ii) Vitale is making interventions not in 'scientific arena' but in 'political' debate: I still don't like that style, but that's a different thing [e.g., I suggest people going to read, say, how Lenin, or even Luxemburg, or even Marx,  wrote, I think you may easily find same kind of phrases] <

I think that Allin and Jurriaan made similar points.

The most personalized public attacks that Marx tended to 
make (e.g.  against "Parson Malthus" and the "stupid" J.B. 
Say) were directed against *class enemies*.   [Side note: on
another list it was suggested by Justin Schwartz that the
term "Marxism" was first coined by Bukunin as part of a 
polemic against Marx and the "scientific socialists".  In this
sense,  "Marxism" -- a personalized term -- was allegedly first 
used in a derogatory way during a public polemic.  Both 
Marx and Engels and the other "scientific" and "critical"
socialists strongly objected to this.]  When, in the history of
Marxism,  this style of abuse  in polemics was extended to 
include  debates with *other  revolutionary and socialist parties 
and individuals*,  I'm not sure.  The tradition of "public villification" 
may have started  with Lenin, as Jurriaan suggests, or it may 
have started beforehand  (immediate references don't come to 
mind now, but I think the latter is the case.)  Lenin and the 
Bolsheviks --  and groups that   have identified themselves as 
Leninists since -- have tended to   relate to other political 
groupings and parties in the workers'  movement as "enemies" 
which have to be defeated in the course of struggle.  In this sense, 
one could claim that Lenin's polemical  form was a reflection of 
his conception of  revolutionary organization  and the "vanguard 
party".    In this sense,  Lenin's "ruthlessness"  (which he 
considered to be a character virtue for revolutionaries) 
towards other political parties on the Left was a reflection of his 
political program.  

Russian culture might have also entered into this tradition, as 
Jurriaan suggested. One might also claim -- connecting this 
thread to one from last week -- that this style of argumentation 
has some patriarchial roots in that it might be seen as exhibiting
what Nicky, citing Herring in [7082; 7094], called "masculine 
language" and forms of discourse.

However, I think it is misleading to suggest _just_ continuity 
between these traditions.  One can't forget that Lenin was the 
leader of a mass political party and was engaged in debates with
representatives of other political parties which also had mass 
followings.  The same can not be said for the groupings that both 
Vitale and  Giussani are part of.  I think that in general the most 
heated and personalized debates have tended to happen, in recent
decades, among small (often *sectarian*)  groups rather than
mass political parties of the working class.  From that perspective,
the degenerate style of debate  -- and the heat with which basically
obscure theoretical questions, which are often far removed from 
the actual class struggles of the day, are "discussed" -- is a reflection 
of the weakness and isolation of small groups of political activists
and/or academics.

> (iii) the actual content of what Vitale positively says is VERY interesting, very often more interesting than academic Marxism, still more than those academici Marxists who wants to show the scientific truth of each word of Marx. <

I agree. If one takes out all of the personal abuse, then some 
interesting (but very abstract) questions are being debated.  The
issues being debated seem to me to revolve around the questions:

a) [from Vitale] "can value be determined before and independently
from exchange?"  [this is a question that we have repeatedly discussed,
including in a rather long thread on "ideal vs. real value".

b)  whether value and surplus value should be understood as quantity, as
magnitude.  Thus, Vitale criticizes Giussani for allegedly viewing 
exploitation  as "a simple quantitative difference".  [This also has been
an issue that we have discussed, e.g.  in debates between Fred and 

c) what are the limits of "algebraic Marxism" (an expression also used
by Alain Lipietz  -- see Appendix on "The Value Controversy"  in _The
Enchanted World_] and of applying quantitative methods [note Vitale's
criticism of the "calculus of values']  towards comprehending value.
[This, as well, has been discussed -- somewhat obliquely -- in connection 
with the previously mentioned threads;  Michael P for instance has 
repeatedly  questioned whether it is useful to try to calculate value (and 
here I paraphrase)  down to the last decimal point; on the other hand, 
another  subscriber -- who would surely have been sharply attacked by 
Vitale -- once claimed that "capitalism is all about quantitative relations".]

*YET*, all of Vitale's basic points can and should have been made 
without personal abuse.  Indeed, my biggest criticism of her interventions
is that her "style" of argument got in the way of her being able to clearly
focus on the real issues being debated.   In that sense, they detracted 
from her argument rather than focused it with greater clarity. And, *this*,
from a pragmatic perspective, is the biggest problem with this style of
argument: i.e. it tends to be  *self-defeating* since it misdirects attention
to the style and away from the substance.  In this connection, I am 
reminded of a discussion I once had with a subscriber. I invited him to
my home, gave him coffee and bagels with cream cheese, and tried to
explain to him that his style of argumentation was getting in the way of
his being able to communicate his thoughts clearly.  I  suggested to
him that all of the basic points that he wanted to make could be made
without all of the drama and accusations and then asked him: "Did anyone
ever tell you that you are your worst enemy?".   I was somewhat taken 
aback when he answered "No, no one ever has"  and when he then asked 
me to explain what I meant -- which I then did.   So, from my perspective, 
the one who is usually hurt the most by this style of argument is the one
who is making the argument.

For others, the question that becomes: how best to respond? Often, 
one responds in kind which doesn't help a debate get back to the 
issues. Or, one can try to re-focus the debate on the issues -- which
is sometimes very hard to do. Or, depending on how important the 
issue being discussed is, to simply drop out of the debate and refuse to
communicate with someone who has misrepresented your positions. 
This also can be hard to do but sometimes might be the only real option 
-- since staying in a discussion with others who are purposely and
maliciously mis-representing your position gives credibility to those
who are making those charges.  For myself, had either Vitale or Giussani
(who is a old and good personal friend of mine, btw)  addressed me in 
such a way over the above issues then I would have most likely
withdrawn from the debate: life is too short ....

In solidarity, Jerry

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