[OPE-L:8057] Re: Re: (Change the world!) magnitude and givens in philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Mon Nov 25 2002 - 16:30:53 EST

Cologne 25-Nov-2002

gerald_a_levy schrieb Mon, 25 Nov 2002 08:45:46 -0500:

> Re Michael E's [8046]:
> I'll pass over your reference to "sociation" and _Value-Form and the State_
> now but would like to return at a later date to the controversial issue of
> whether sociation (and hence dissociation and association) should form the
> starting point for a systematic dialectical reconstruction of capitalism in
> thought (as Mike  and Geert contend in _VFS_) or whether the starting point
> should remain the commodity (as in Marx).  I will note only that within
> _VFS_ the sociation/dissociation/association dialectic is crucial for the
> later comprehension of the state-form.
> Instead, I want to further discuss -- and connect -- the following sections
> of your post.
> >  It is still taken for granted today, in 2002, in the mainstream
> > social sciences that if it ain't measurable, it don't exist.
> > With respect to a theory of capitalist society, thinking aims at saying
> >  what  capitalist society _is_. This is the form of question posed by
> > philosophy since  its beginnings, the famous Socratic question _ti
> > estin...;_ "what is...?". What  something is is the question as to its
> > essence. Marx starts with an analysis of  commodity exchange in
> > order to gain a first, preliminary, but all-decisive  answer to this
> > question. He starts with a familiar phenomenon of sociation,
> > namely, the exchange of goods between people. The practice of
> > exchange sociates > (or, to use a more familiar word, associates)
> > humans with one another. So the  question is: What is going on when
> > people sociate through the exchange of  commodity goods?
> Yet,  this constituted part of  Marx's *critique* of the philosophers: "The
> philosophers have only *interpreted* the world, in various ways: the point,
> however, is to *change* it" (of course, the celebrated and oft-quoted 11th
> Thesis from the "Theses on Feuerbach.")  So, clearly Marx identified his
> task as something more than just understanding 'what is'.
> One could even argue, though, that a *consistent* application of the 11th
> Thesis  -- wherein one interrogates its meaning rather than taking it as a
> 'given' --  would lead to a rejection of  Descartes' Rule 14.4.  How so?
> Let me explain:
> While it is the case that capital attempts to subordinate all aspects of
> social life to its imperative and thereby attempts to commodidify all
> social relations and hence express those relations quantitatively as
> magnitude, this can never be entirely successful or complete.  Indeed,
> it only expresses one side of a dynamic: namely, how capital attempts
> to re-mold all  aspects of human relations in its own image.  That
> side of the dynamic is not only expressed everyday in the marketplace
> (e.g. with the attempted commodification of love) but in mainstream
> (bourgeois) thought as well (e.g. "Human capital", a la Gary Becker,
> theory).
> Yet, the perspective that beings can only be comprehended in
> terms of magnitude is one-sided and hence false.  There are many
> *essential* aspects of social relations that *can not* be expressed as
> magnitude.   In fact,  I would assert that a systematic comprehension
> of  *CLASSES* and  *THE STATE* can not be developed merely
> through an examination of magnitude.  Indeed,  *ONE CAN NOT
> THE WORLD IN TERMS OF MAGNITUDE*.   Hence,  a rejection
> of Descartes  Rule 14.4  is a REVOLUTIONARY IMPERATIVE.
> Before you arrived (in the Spring, 2002) we had a discussion on-list that
> was stimulated by the publication of John Holloway's book _Change
> the World_.   While the three of us (John H, yourself and I) have a
> number of theoretical and political disagreements (which, no doubt,
> will unfold in due course) I think we all agree that we can not understand
> _or_ change the world if we conceive of  social relations only as
> quantitative relations which can be expressed as magnitude.  E.g. in that
> discussion, John highlighted the connection between LOVE AND
> STRUGGLE.   How can we, for instance, conceive of class subjectivity,
> consciousness, sisterhood, and comradeship only as magnitude?  Of
> course, it can't be done -- indeed, it is absurd.  Moreover, the working
> class and the revolutionary movement can not be conceived adequately
> in terms of magnitude.  It  is  thus part of the process of  the unfolding
> of an emancipation movement that revolutionaries come to conceive
> of themselves as more than just  numbers.
> I look forward to further discussion.


Yes, love is struggle. Philosophy is love, as the word says. Philosophy is

You quote the 11th Feuerbach Thesis "The philosophers have only *interpreted*
the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to *change* it"

The German says: "es koemmt (an obsolete subjunctive!) darauf an". "Ankommen"
(indicative, not subjunctive) means to 'arrive'. The "however" was added by
Engels, 'correcting' Marx's version. You can't even trust your best friend not
to 'correct' you. The standard English translation does not even come to terms
with the now obsolete German subjunctive form: "es koemmt darauf an". How would
we arrive (subjunctive!) at changing the world? Marx's 11th Feuerbach Thesis
does not say who the 'subject' of change is. Is it the philosophers themselves
(is Marx a philosopher?) who are to change the world instead of merely
interpreting it in various ways? Or can the philosophers go on vacation as
being irrelevant to changing the world? If the philosophers are irrelevant,
then reading Marx carefully and "interpreting" his writings would be a waste of
time -- a mere pastime for certain academics furthering their careers or for
other bourgeois independent scholars. Then the slogan would be: Go out and
change the world instead!! Or maybe, alternatively, the philosophers _as_
philosophers have the task of not merely interpreting the world but changing
it. Then 'philosophizing' itself as a practice would have the job of opening
the world in a radically different way, in a hitherto unthinkable way, twisted
free of the traditional "interpretations". Then, trying to change the world
without radically changing  your 'interpretation' of the world would only end
up in reproducing the same old shebang, perhaps on an "expanded scale"
(erweitete Stufenleiter; Marx).

>JL: Hence,  a rejection of Descartes  Rule 14.4  is a REVOLUTIONARY

Then, what is the status of the quantitatively conceived law of value
(magnitude of value = "socially necessary labour-time")? Is it compatible with
what Marx analyzes as the "form of value"?

>JL: There are many *essential* aspects of social relations that *can not* be
expressed as
> magnitude.

I agree. Can the social relation of commoditiy exchange be adequately expressed
as magnitude? I don't think so (perhaps Marx put his bet both ways?), and that
is what we have been discussing. This has essential implications, it seems to
me, for the "systematic comprehension of  *CLASSES* and  *THE STATE*". Why?
Because the concept of value, which is first developed through a consideration
of the social relation of commoditiy exchange, is the basis upon which the
phenomena of class and the state are to be "reproduced in thought", if at all.

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