[OPE-L:7243] Re: Re: fundamentalism

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Thu May 23 2002 - 11:47:49 EDT

I would like to respond to Jerry's critique last week of "hermeneutics", a
term which he adopts from Kliman, and which I understand him to mean the
study and interpretation of texts, which of course in this case means
Marx's texts, and more specifically the three volumes *Capital* and the
earlier drafts.  

Jerry's critique (in 7174):

> > Is there a place for hermeneutics in Marxism?   If we are going to
> > say that it is "the science of interpretation", I  would say that it has a
> > place. For example, Marx's critique of  Smith and Ricardo
> > *presupposed*  an  understanding -- an interpretation -- of those
> > authors.  On the other hand,  *Marx was not engaged in
> > hermeneutic debates*  --  even his _Critique of Hegel's 'Philosophy
> > of Right'_ was not an exercise in hermeneutic debate (although
> > there have been many debates among Hegelians and others about
> > interpreting Hegel.)   His focus was on _larger_ questions than
> > on history of thought questions. And when Marx was focused on
> > history of thought questions, it was _never_ an end in itself --
> > it was _just_  a component of a larger study of his.  In a similar
> > sense, his study of  empirical and historical sources was not an
> > end in itself -- rather it constituted a necessary stage in his
> > research that was required for the later reconstruction of the subject
> > matter (capitalism) in thought.

Jerry, I disagree with your characterization of interest in studying
Marx's theory in Capital.  My interest in Marx's theory is not a history
of economic thought question.  It is a question about contemporary
capitalism, and more precisely about the essential nature of capitalism,
which was true in Marx's day and is still true today.  The essential
nature of capitalism (i.e. its overriding purpose) is the production of
surplus-value, or profit.  This essential nature of capitalism is what
Marx's theory is mainly about:  How is surplus-value produced and what
determines its magnitude?  Marx's theory concludes, of course, that
surplus-value is produced through the exploitation of workers and that its
amount is determined by the quantity of surplus labor.  

A century of critics have argued that Marx's theory is internally
logically inconsistent, i.e. that Marx's theory contains basic logical
flaws, most importantly that Marx forgot to transform the inputs of
constant capital and variable capital from values to prices of production
in his determination of prices of production in Part 2 of Volume
3.  Therefore, there is a logical contradiction between Marx's theory of
exploitation in Volume 1 and his theory of prices in Volume 3.  These
critics conclude that, because of this logical contradiction, Marx's
theory of exploitation is invalid and should be rejected.  

I argue that this criticism is not valid.  Rather, it is based on a
misinterpretation of Marx's basic logical method, and in particular on the
method of determination of the inputs of constant capital and variable
capital.  After all, since Marx is accused of making a logical mistake,
then one must understand the precise nature of Marx's logic as well as
possible.  I argue that, if Marx's logic is correctly understood - and
especially how the inputs of constant capital and variable capital are
determined - then Marx did not commit this logical mistake, i.e. he did
not forget to transform these inputs.  

I think this project is worth doing, because I think it will contribute
to the development of an anti-capitalist consciousness in the US and
elsewhere.  I think there are different ways to contribute to an
anti-capitalist consciousness - not only concrete analyses of contemporary
capitalism, nor only actual economic and political struggles against
capitalism, but also providing a basic understanding of the nature of
capitalist society - that it is based on the exploitation of workers.  The
demonstration that, properly interpreted, Marx's theory does not contain
this logical contradiction provides further support for Marx's theory of

Even most Marxists, including most OPE-L members, agree that Marx made
this logical mistake.  But they argue, contrary to the critics, that this
mistake doesn't really change anything fundamental, i.e. that Marx's
theory of exploitation is still valid, it is just modified a little.  

I think that the defense of Marx's theory of exploitation can be even
stronger than that - that Marx did not make this logical error and that
his theory does not contain this logical contradiction.  Marx's theory of
exploitation is logically consistent (at least in this important
respect).  There is no contradiction between Marx's theory of exploitation
and his theory of prices of production.  This alleged contradiction is a
mistaken conclusion based on a misunderstanding of Marx's logical
method.  It is not a legitimate reason for rejecting Marx's theory.  

I do not argue that doing abstract theory is the most important thing to
be doing or is the most important way to contribute to a revolutionary
consciousness and movement.  However, I think it is an important and
worthwhile contribution.

Jerry continued:

> > I think we should follow Marx's example and *not* be primarily
> > focused on hermeneutics.  While what Marx wrote and whether
> > his quantitative theory is consistent or inconsistent is of interest,
> > it has I think *very limited* interest -- to me at least -- from what
> > I view as the larger question of comprehending and struggling
> > against capitalism (which presupposes that we comprehend not
> > only 'capital in general' but capitalism as a totality *and*
> > contemporary capitalism; thus our knowledge must extend beyond
> > _Capital_ not only because that work only attempts to explain
> > capital at a relatively high level of abstraction and  therefore is
> > necessarily and intentionally  "incomplete" but also because we
> > must grasp the ways in which capitalism has changed since Marx's
> > time.)   

I have indicated above why I think the question of Marx's theory of
exploitation is of great interest to me, and why understanding the
essential nature of capitalism (exploitation) is a necessary part of
comprehending and struggling against capitalism.  Not the "be all and end
all", but a necessary part.  I of course agree that our knowledge must
extend beyond _Capital_, but I also think that it must begin with
a thorough understanding of _Capital_.  Yes, capitalism has changed in
some ways sine Marx's time, but its essential nature (exploitation) has
remained the same, and must be comprehended as such.  

> > Yet, even if I don't agree that hermeneutics should be a major
> > research focus of Marxists today, I -- of course -- support the
> > right of others to focus on hermeneutics, animal husbandry,
> > meteorology,  gardening or whatever.   I do think, though, that
> > there are more important subjects in the world that need
> > addressing than gardening.

Well, I think understanding Marx's theory of exploitation and defending it
against its critics is more of a contribution to the development of an
anti-capitalist movement than gardening - and I like gardening!

Jerry, do you see what I mean?

I look forward to further discussion.


P.S.  I should add that abstract theory is not the only work I do.  I also
try (as most of you know) to do applied empirical analysis of the
contemporary US economy.  For example, I am especially interested right
now in an analysis of the current situation in the US economy; more
precisely: is the current recession really over? (and not just the US
economy, but the world economy; but right now the US economy seems to be
the key for the world economy).  Rakesh mentioned in a recent post a
recent article of mine on this subject on the Monthly Review website.  I
was hoping that others might want to discuss points in this article and
especially the conclusion that the recession is not over and the worst is
yet to come.  Perhaps I will come back to this article in a subsequent
post and see if there is more interest.  

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