[OPE-L:7245] hermeneutics (was: fundamentalism)

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Thu May 23 2002 - 18:38:35 EDT

Re Fred's [7243]:

> Jerry, I disagree with your characterization of interest in studying
> Marx's theory in Capital.

Fred, in the section of my [7ll4] that you clipped I was referring to
the place of hermeneutics in Marxism and from Marx's perspective.  I
was not referring specifically to _Capital_ or  to what you go on to
largely discuss -- the "transformation problem".  However,  I'll shift
my focus to that in order to confront the issues that you raise.

> 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
> exploitation.

Well, I agree that there are different ways that individuals can contribute
to an anti-capitalist consciousness. What I am very unclear about, however,
is how you think that a demonstration that Marx's theory does not contain
a logical contradiction and is therefore internally consistent contributes
to  anti-capitalist consciousness.   Your are, imho, very vague above when
you assert above that a demonstration of internal consistency in Marx's
theory will help to provide a basic understanding of the nature of
capitalist society and class exploitation.  Please explain.

> 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.

Let's say that  there is a set of  theories that claim that Marx's theory is
internally  consistent  called X and that your theory is G which is a part
of the X set. Suppose,  *for the sake of argument*,  that we accept G
or any  other member of  X (but not more than one).  Now where are
we?   The  *most* that could then be claimed is that  Marx's theory
because it is  internally consistent is logically *plausible*.   It does not
mean that it  is  'right'.  It does not mean that it has been shown to be
valid historically or empirically.  Do you agree?

For example, even if  we accept G, how does that answer the claims of
Allin and Paul C in "Testing Marx"?   How does it answer the claims of
Geert and Mike W  that their perspective in _VFS_, while largely based
on Marx,  is superior to Marx's perspective?   How does it answer a claim
by surplus approach theorists that due to Occum's Razor, their theory is
preferable?  How does it come to terms with the criticisms made by many
social scientists that Marx's theory is out-of-date and no longer relevant
to  contemporary capitalism?   In  other words, all it establishes is that
Marx's theory is one theory among many theories that is plausible.  Is
this such a great accomplishment?  For whom?

This  'debate on internal consistency'   has been almost completely removed
from the real struggles of workers.  How many workers in a thousand do
you think have heard of the 'transformation problem'?  My guess is that it
is less than one in one thousand.  If you were to tell them that Marx's
theory  has been shown to be logically consistent what would that mean to
them, their struggles, and their understanding of the world?

> 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.

In the section of [7ll4] that you clipped I  *also* argued that there *is* a
place for hermeneutics in Marxism.   I also argued that, like Marx's
empirical  and historical studies, it "constituted a necessary stage in his
research that was required for the later reconstruction of the subject
matter  (capitalism)  in thought".   So, we are *not*  putting forward the
opposite propositions.  At difference, imo, is _how_  important  a 'thing'
hermeneutics is 'to be doing'  in relation to other tasks.

> 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.

But (see above) you haven't indicated _how_  a recognition that
Marx's theory is internally consistent helps us understand the essential
nature of capitalism as exploitive.

> Not the "be all and end
> all", but a necessary part.

Almost word for word exactly what I wrote previously.  You write
"necessary part", I wrote "necessary stage".

> Jerry, do you see what I mean?

Yes and no. See above comments.

> I look forward to further discussion.

As do I.

> 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.

Yes, I understand that your "primary research area" has *not* been in the
field of hermeneutics.   I looked again at your Vita at your Web site to
verify  that my perception about this was in fact accurate.  I would note
that  a)  you  have devoted a lot of effort to -- for want of a better
expression --  'Marxian  empirical research' (clearly, the focus of your
dissertation and the  book that  you alone wrote was not hermeneutic);
b) most of your books and articles have not focused on hermeneutic
questions; c) we have seen again  and  again  on OPE-L -- whether it
 was in a discussion of the South Asia crisis or  the  current recession in
the US -- that you have not focused only or primarily on  hermeneutics.
Indeed, in [6303], you wrote that "I will be happy to return to these more
abstract theoretical issues once the current recession is over,
whenever that is".   Thus, I was initially  somewhat puzzled by your defense
of  hermeneutics as a primary research focus.

In solidarity, Jerry

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