[OPE-L:7239] Re: individual capitalist behaviour [was: Marx on human problems]

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Wed May 22 2002 - 18:58:09 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <j.bendien@wolmail.nl>
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 6:00 PM
Subject: [OPE-L: 7231] individual capitalist behaviour {was: Marx on human

 Hi Jerry,

 Thanks for the comment. I can only reply briefly unfortunately. As
regards the Marx quote I mentioned, I really wanted to write something
more profound about it because I think that far from being
unsubstantiated assertion it is part of Marx's unique approach and
method. Unfortunately I do not have my library anymore so I cannot
refer to the relevant passages I needed.

 Already in his youth, Marx muses about the "issues of the day", the
"questions of an epoch". He says each period of history throws up its
own riddles, questions and (putative) solutions, and to get anywhere
with social analysis we need to take those riddles, issues, questions
and solutions and analyse them critically, reframe them in order to
get at the heart of the matter. Marx's point is that what is really
the matter is obscured by ideological distortions of various kinds.
Once we reframe the problems posed in a rational way, we discover that
they already contain the terms of their own solution, but this
solution is maybe not something people want to see, or own up to,
precisely in function of their class interests or private interests,
or their ideological delusions. So in a way, the social scientist has
to be a kind of "therapist" who through critical inquiry uncovers what
is really the matter and then clarifies what the solution is. In this
sense, Marx says to Arnold Ruge, "we don't go around shouting to
people, stop your struggles, they are stupid, we want to shout the
true slogan at you - rather we develop new principles to the world out
of its own principles, and consciousness will change whether people
like it or not, through changes in material circumstances".

 That is really part of Marx's unique approach. About his book Capital,
Marx said "I said very little that was really new, I did not innovate
a great deal". All he did was to study the sources and creatively and
critically reframe the literature in order the illuminate the heart of
the matter, the core of the issue or however you like to call that
thing. He even when so far as to use copious footnotes, unusual for
his time, in order to indicate who said it first and who said it
already. The strength of his method was not its originality but the
fact that he based himself heavily on what all the authorities had
already said.

When Marx talks about "mankind inevitably sets itself only such tasks
as it can solve", he is continuing this train of thought. He
distinguishes very clearly between the real objective problems people
face in practical, material reality, and the ideological way in which
those problems are reflected in human awareness. Those reflections are
not false as such, only distorted or one-sided, reified or biased by
sectional interests. So people often do not want to think their ideas
through to their conclusion, because if they did that they would
arrive at solutions that they could not live with or which are against
their sectional interest. Nevertheless people are "driven" to the real
conclusion eventually, sooner or later, by the changes in their
material and social circumstances. What the social scientist is
supposed to do, is to point out what the real problems and solutions
in society are and so enable people to "make history" less stupidly
and more intelligently. Of course, Marx was "above all a
revolutionist" and so he drives his argument to revolutionary
conclusions which people may not accept until they are "driven" to
those conclusions by the changes in material and social conditions. As
Trotsky points out in his history of the Russian revolution, very few
people actually desire a social revolution, rather they driven on to
the path of revolution by material conditions which have become
unbearable and intolerable. In fact people will do an awful lot to
stave off a revolution, until they cannot stave it off anymore because
the conditions cry out "hic Rhodes, hic Salta" (Marx's formula).

Now as to your new points: the professional investor as a speculator
is usually completely orientated to getting the maximum rate of
return, he doesn't mind if he makes his profit from a truckload of
oranges or the sale of a house, and what people end up doing with
those resources is no great concern of his. Nevertheless even the
profesional investor or speculator is still vitally interested in
"use-values" because it is part of his market knowledge, he needs to
know what sells where and why at what time. Of course, the bourgeoisie
as a class contains many different divisions and strata. But they are
all interested in the use-value of products.

 So what I am saying is that this idea that capitalists are indifferent
to the use-values they produce is just a hoary myth, which arises out
of a stunted, infantile reading of Marx's unfinished writings. Only
very few Marxists have pricked through that myth, for example Roman
Rosdolsky in his essay "The role of use-value in political economy".
Ben Fine has written a book about the sphere of consumption, and so
forth. You are best off to abandon this myth.

 You can talk all you like about "levels of abstraction", "individual
capitalists" and "cultural/ emotional attachment to the product or
branch of activity" etc. but the real point is that NO real
capitalists are indifferent to the use-values being produced and sold,
ultimately precisely in function of the quest for surplus value. Hence
also phenomena such as "quality circles", "total quality management",
"after-sales service", "trade associations",  "customer and public
relations", "marketing and marketing research", "product knowledge
training", "advertising", "new economy" and so on and so on. If he
could, the capitalist would like to get right inside the consumer,
under his skin as it were, in order to determine his consumer
behaviour. The consumer not infrequently has to defend himself against

 If anybody is "indifferent" it is more likely to be the Fordist or
post-Fordist worker who day after day has to crank out commodities for
which he personally maybe doesn't really care a hoot. What capitalist
management tries to do, is to make sure that the worker "cares" about
the product being produced and sold, sufficiently so that it is
produced well, fast and sold in large quantities. Far from being
irrelevant, the so-called "use-value" of commodities is a contested
terrain, a site of class conflict... right down to the use-value of
labour power as a commodity itself. What is the process of so-called
"commodification" if not the commodification of use-values ? Why
should we leave the subject to the sociological speculations of Pierre
Bourdieu and people like that ?

 Of course you can twist what I say into an apology for capitalism, to
the effect that the operation of the capitalist market system meets
human needs remarkably well, presenting the right product at the right
time for the right price to the consumer, but I am not arguing that.
It is difficult to believe when a billion people are jobless and many
more live in brutal poverty, when the environment is polluted and
destroyed, when people become so alienated that they are confused
about what their real needs are, and so forth. Market signals are not
so "efficient" as von Hayek makes them out to be, in the real world.
But anybody knows this already, the point is that we have to think
about socialist economic relations and how they could be more
efficient and effective.

 As regards my statement that capitalists are concerned about the
social consequences of their actions, this is especially true for
large corporations which have a big effect on the society they operate
in. They cannot very well ignore the state, politics, population and
the legal system of the countries they operate in, and they have to
concern themselves with all sorts of social issues. Just study the
behaviour of e.g. Monsanto or IBM or Microsoft for example. You can
say they have this concern with definite private motives, or that they
don't have the right concerns, but you cannot say that they are not
concerned with, or unaware, of the social consequences of their
activities. That is just an infantile Marxism.

 I can assure you that I have assiduously studied Marx's Capital and
other writings, plus all the important commentaries. But that does not
mean that we don't have to do our own thinking. It doesn't mean we
should take what Marx says as holy writ. If anything, I am a little
disappointed by how literally many Marxists have interpreted his work
in the previous century, rather than develop new critiques and
analyses which go beyond Marx, and which address the real issue,
namely the transformation of capitalist relations into socialist



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