[OPE-L:7254] Re: interpreting Marx's texts (was: hermeneutics) (fwd)

From: glevy@pop-b.pratt.edu
Date: Fri May 24 2002 - 13:01:45 EDT

Re Fred's  [7249]:

> You say you agree that work on interpreting Marx's texts is important,
> although less important that just about anything else,

Fred, I did not say or imply that interpreting Marx's texts is "less important than just about anything else".

> and you seem to
> denigrate its importance (what contribution could this possibly make to
> workers' struggles?).

That was a question, remember?	I was trying to get you to state clearly from your perspective the relation between hermeneutic discussions of  intetrnal (in)consistency in Marx and workers' struggles so that we could then discuss that perspective.  Your most
recent reply, imo, is again very vague in this regard.

> It is not the demonstration of logical consistency that helps to provide a
> basic understanding of the nature of capitalism (exploitation).  Rather,
> this basic understanding is provided by Marx's theory of surplus-value and
> exploitation.  Critics have argued that Marx's theory of exploitation is
> logically contradictory and therefore invalid and should be rejected.  The
> demonstration of logical consistency removes this criticism, and enables
> us to continue to use Marx's theory to understand the essential nature of
> capitalism.

Haven't many Marxists been attempting to use Marx's theory in the last
one hundred plus years since the 'controversy' began?	I think you would agree e.g. that Henryk Grossmann and Paul Mattick Sr. attempted to do that even though they didn't share your perspective on "givens" in Marx's theory.  Didn't they understand the essential nature of capitalism while still having a different interpretation of the transformation?   

> But the critics argue that Marx's theory is not even in
> the set of "plausible" theories.  So it is at least a step forward that
> Marx's theory must be accepted in the "plausible" set.

Well, _how much_ of a step forward would it be?  Let us recall that just about all of the debates on the 'transformation problem' have been among *economists* and have attracted the attention primarily of radical economists and graduate students. Is it such a step forward if other economists say that Marx's theory is plausible logically? A step forward perhaps for radical economists, but a step forward for workers?  

Suppose by some *miracle* we all agreed that G (your interpretation) was the only valid solution to the controversy and then wrote a joint declaration as a list to that effect and posted it on other lists such as PEN-L and LBO.  Do you think there would be cheering or would there be a loud yawn?

>But, as you say,
> this is not the end of the story.  The superiority of Marx's theory has to
> be demonstrated on the basis of its empirical explanatory power.  As you
> say, much of my research has been concerned with this latter question -
> both the estimates of the rate of profit and my response to Mark Blaug's
> empirical appraisal of Marx's theory.  But the empirical question can be
> raised only if Marx's theory is logically satisfactorily.
> > For example, even if  we accept G, how does that answer the claims of
> > Allin and Paul C in "Testing Marx"?
> I have argued that Marx's theory is primarily a macroeconomic theory of
> profit, not a microeconomic theory of prices.  Therefore, empirical tests
> of Marx's theory should be concerned with the conclusions of his macro
> theory (conflict over the working day and over the intensity of labor,
> inherent technological change, falling rate of profit, periodic crises,
> increasing concentration and centralization, etc.).
> > 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?
> I have argued that the VF theory does not provide a theory of profit, and
> therefore does not provide a theory of exploitation.	If labor is not the
> source of value, then surplus labor cannot be the source of
> surplus-value.  I have also argued that VF theory also does not provide an
> explanation of the other important phenomena of capitalism mentioned in my
> previous paragraph (conflicts, tech change, etc.).

> > How does it answer a claim
> > by surplus approach theorists that due to Occum's Razor, their theory is
> > preferable?
> I have argued that the surplus approach does not provide a theory of
> exploitation.  Labor in the surplus approach is no more important than
> "peanuts" (a point famously made by Herb Gintis in the 1970s; but Gintis
> thought he was making the point against Marx, when it really applied only
> the mistaken surplus approach interpretation of Marx).  The surplus
> approach also does not provide an explanation of the other important
> phenomena mentioned above.
> > 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
> > to	contemporary capitalism?
> What criticisms do you have in mind?	In what ways do social scientists
> say that Marx's theory is "out-of-date"?  Its main conclusion - that
> capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers is certainly not out of date.

Fred, you *entirely* missed the point of my questions. My purpose was *not* to get you to state what your perspectives are on those topics but to demonstrate that they are issues which a resolution of the question of internal consistency would not resolve.

> > This  'debate on internal consistency'   has been almost completely
> > 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
> > 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
> > them, their struggles, and their understanding of the world?
> When I have taught classes to workers, I have emphasized Marx's theory of
> profit - that profit is produced by the exploitation of workers.  They are
> generally enthusiastic about Marx's theory, because it helps to make sense
> of much of their experience (e.g. conflict over the intensity of
> labor).  It gives them greater confidence in their own intuitive
> understanding of capitalism as exploitative.
> I also discuss the criticisms of Marx's theory (both logical criticisms
> and empirical criticisms) and my replies to these criticisms.  The workers
> usually are not too interested in these issues, but I feel it is my
> responsibility to raise them.  If we were not able to respond effectively
> to these criticisms, then I would feel irresponsible and dishonest in
> presenting Marx's theory of exploitation.  Wouldn't you?

No, I don't feel it is my responsibility as an educator to "defend Marx".  Moreover, I don't think it is my responsibility as a Marxist to "defend Marx".  Our responsibility to workers as educators is simply to tell them the truth as we see it and to encourage them also to think for themselves. 

> As I said above, the contribution to workers' struggles is not so much the
> demonstration of logical consistency (although this is necessary), but
> rather Marx's theory of exploitation.  The demonstration of logical
> consistency eliminates the criticisms and allows us to continue to use
> Marx's theory of exploitation to understand the essential nature of
> capitalism.

Yet, before you coidified your understanding of the role of givens in Marx's theory, I bet you tried to use" Marx's theory of exploitation as you understood it then, no?  If so, then your past history refutes your claim.

In solidarity, Jerry

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