[OPE-L:7272] Re: interpreting Marx's texts

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Tue May 28 2002 - 08:55:16 EDT

Re Fred's [7266]:

> My point is not
> that Grossmann and Mattick did not understand the essential nature of
> capitalism as exploitation, but that they did not (I think) provide
> satisfactory responses to the cricicism of a logical contradiction in
> Marx's theory.

Perhaps they thought that the responses by Hilferding ("Bohm-Bawerk's
Criticism of Marx") and Bukharin (_Economic Theory of the Leisure Class_)
were entirely satisfactory.   One could argue, for instance, that these
responses had the advantage that they constituted part of a critique of
marginalism.  For them, in other words, the reply to the 'transformation
problem'  must be located  not primarily through hermeneutic discussions
of  Marx but through  critique of marginal utility theory and

> What is the general theory of profit that you
> present to workers and/or students?

I don't think I can answer that question succinctly since a "general theory
of  profit"  has many components which are developed and explained at
various points in the classroom.  In a sense, indeed, a "general theory of
profit" can only be fully comprehended within the *totality* of a theory and

> What is meant by a
> "qualitative" theory of surplus-value?  Surplus-value is a quantity (Marx
> called it a "pure quantity").  Therefore, the explanation of surplus-value
> requires a quantitive theory.

>From my perspective, surplus value is expressive of a specific social
relationship which comes to be expressed as quantity.  Thus, most
fundamentally, s itself is not quantity but is a relation that because of
the value-form  takes the necessary form of appearance of exchange value
and money and thereby quantity and magnitude.   It is precisely one of
the confusions of Ricardo -- highlighted by Marx --  that he understood
value _only_ as quantitative.

> Jerry, I continue to think that a demonstration of the logical consistency
> of Marx's theory of surplus-value as exploitation would be at least a
> small contribution to the development of anti-capitalist
> consciousness.  But I do not want to exaggerate its importance.

Good.  I would, however, claim that the participants in the debate on
'internal consistency' _routinely_ make exaggerated claims about the
importance of  that debate.

> For example, what difference could it make in the anti-globalization
> movement?

Nothing of any great significance, I suppose.

> Plus, working on abstract theory is one of the things I enjoy doing.

OK, well that is a much more limited claim which I can appreciate and

> I am  not arguing that others should be working on the transformation
> problem.  There are many, many tasks to be done in the development of an
> anti-capitalist consciousness.  Many more tasks than we have people to do
> them.  So I think each of us should choose those tasks that most interest
> us and that we are the best at (these two usually go together).  And try
> to make a small contribution.

As I have stated before, I support the right of Marxists to focus on ...
whatever (even UFO's -- see 7099).  However, it is precisely  *because*
there are "many more tasks than we have people to do them" that Marxists
both as individuals and as part of collectives have to think about
establishing priorities.

And, in thinking about priorities, one has to place any given task within
the larger context of how that task  fits in with  the primary revolutionary
task of comprehending and changing the world.  Thus,  to the extent that
hermeneutic debates  on Marx have significance it is _only_ in the context
of a  larger critique _of_  Marx which itself  _only_  has significance in
the context of  a larger critique of _all_  thought related to comprehending
the  essential character of the subject matter (capitalism) and struggles
against that  subject. So, in answer to your assertion, I would say that
whether a resolution of the  TP and the charges of internal consistency is a
"step forward" can _only_  be determined within the context of that larger
theory, critique and mission.

On the other hand, *if* such a resolution could be said to represent an
advance in knowledge,  then it is the case *by definition*  that it would
represent in the most abstract sense a 'step forward' since all advances
in knowledge by humankind -- regardless of subject or importance --
could be seen as steps forward.

Like Marx, we _should_ be concerned with "history of thought questions"
since that forms a necessary stage in the process of critique and
reconstruction of the subject matter (capitalism) in thought.   However, I
did not mean to imply that hermeneutics and history of thought are
synonymous.  They are not.   History of thought, whether on economics
or anything else, is a *much broader* subject then the *sub-subject* of
hermeneutics.  From that perspective, *interpreting Marx* _necessarily_
must be a more limited subject than  *understanding Marx from a history
of thought (or other non-hermeneutic) perspective*.   Indeed, there are
very few hermeneutic debates in the history of economics and political
economy -- and the debate on the TP might have the dubious distinction
of being the longest-running debate of that type.   Most historians of
economic thought also place their interpretations of what (whoever) said
within the larger context of the period of time and society in which the
subjects lived and, increasingly, contain empirical studies.  Marx
understood this as well: it would be idealistic to evaluate an author only
by what he/she  has written since that would represent a divorce of
someone's ideas from  social context and material reality  I think we should
follow Marx's example and be critical  of   *ALL*  that went before us --
and that includes Marx himself.   This critique should not merely focus on
_disjecta membra poeta_ but on the overall  theory in relation to the
subject matter that the author attempted to comprehend, critique, and
struggle against.

> Jerry, one of your contributions has been OPE-L, which I think is a big
> contribution.  Thanks again.

Thanks.  However -- as I keep emphasizing -- we are a collaborative
project and whatever we have or have not accomplished -- good or bad --
is a consequence of  the participation  and non-participation of everyone
on the list.

In solidarity, Jerry

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