preface to 2nd edition of Beyond CAPITAL

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Sun Jun 08 2003 - 17:01:04 EDT

Here, as warned, is the new preface.
         in solidarity,

>WORKING CLASS  (Second Edition)
>Preface to the Second Edition (forthcoming in June 2003 from Palgrave 
>         A reviewer of the first edition of this book wrote that it might 
> be the worst possible time to publish a book about Marx. And it was. 
> Capitalism was triumphant (with little apparent opposition) and its 
> putative alternative, ‘Actually Existing Socialism’ (AES) appeared to 
> have ended in a miserable fit of the blues.
>         For those on the Right, that combination was sufficient to prove 
> the error of Marxism. Many wondered--- how could you still talk about 
> Marx? Are you still teaching Marxist economics? (Of course, in one of 
> those ironies that Marx would have appreciated, it was possible to find 
> conservatives of various hues quoting scriptures and declaring that 
> capitalism’s successes and the failures of AES confirmed that Marx was 
> right.) Some on the Left concluded, simply, that capitalist relations of 
> production do not yet fetter the development of productive forces. What 
> can you do against History? And so it was that, rather than socialism, 
> for some the only feasible alternative to barbarism became barbarism with 
> a human face.
>         Others on the Left responded to the absence of the ‘revolt of the 
> working class’ that Marx projected by concluding that Marx had it all 
> wrong--- that his privileging of workers as the subjects of social change 
> constituted the sins of class reductionism and essentialism. For these 
> ‘post-Marxists’, the multiplicity of modern democratic struggles counts 
> as a critique of Marx’s theory; in place of an analysis centred upon 
> capitalist relations of production, they offer the heterogeneity of 
> political and social relations, the equality and autonomy of all 
> struggles, and the market-place of competing discourses.
>         Beyond Capital should be understood as a challenge to this 
> retreat from Marx. It argues that the only way that they can separate 
> struggles such as those over health and living conditions, air and water 
> quality, women’s rights, government social programmes, the costs and 
> conditions of higher education, and democratic struggles in general from 
> workers is by beginning with the theoretical reduction of workers to 
> one-sided opposites of capital. Only by limiting the needs of workers to 
> wages, hours and conditions of work can the ‘post-Marxists’ theoretically 
> posit new social movements as the basis for a critique of class analysis; 
> rather than considering the worker as a socially developed human being 
> within modern capitalist society, they utilise the narrow stereotype of 
> the Abstract Proletarian.
>         Yet, the ‘post-Marxists’ did not invent that stereotype. Beyond 
> Capital argues that the concept of the Abstract Proletarian is the 
> product of a one-sided Marxism that has distorted Marx’s own conception 
> of workers as subjects. It situates the roots of this one-sided Marxism 
> in the failure to recognise that Marx’s Capital was never intended as the 
> complete analysis of capitalism but, rather, as an explanation and 
> demystification for workers of the nature of capital.
>         For one-sided Marxists, Capital explains why capitalism will come 
> to an end. Inexorable forces make history. It is a world of things and 
> inhuman forces, of one-sided subjects (if, indeed, there are any 
> subjects)--- rather than living, struggling beings attempting to shape 
> their lives. And, in this world, the Abstract Proletariat finally rises 
> to its appointed task and unlocks the productive forces that have 
> outgrown their capitalist shell. If the facts do not appear to support 
> Capital, so much the worse for the facts. As Marx commented about 
> disciples (see Chapter 2), the disintegration of a theory begins when the 
> point of departure is ‘no longer reality, but the new theoretical form in 
> which the master had sublimated it.’
>         But this is not the only aspect of the disintegration of Marxist 
> theory. Both in theory and practice, Marxism has attempted to free itself 
> from the constraints imposed by the one-sidedness inherent in the 
> exegesis of the sacred text -- and it has done so through eclecticism. In 
> practice, it has attempted to extend beyond narrow economistic appeals to 
> its Abstract Proletariat; and, in theory, it engages in methodological 
> eclecticism to modify the doctrine underlying practice. Both in theory 
> and practice, ‘modernisation’ becomes the rallying-cry and the latest 
> fad. Nothing, of course, is easier than eclecticism.
>         Yet, the freedom attained through such sophistication is neither 
> absolute nor without a price. For, the text remains, unsullied by its 
> eclectic accretions; and the one-sided reading it permits provides a 
> standing rebuke and never lacks for potential bearers of its position. 
> Thus, not freedom but a vulnerability to fundamentalist criticism; and, 
> not new directions but swings, more or less violent, between the poles of 
> the real subject and the reified text. There is, in short, fertile ground 
> for an endless dispute between fundamentalism and faddism.
>         Nor is it self-evident what precisely is saved by eclecticism--- 
> whether Marxism as a theory ‘sufficient unto itself’ survives the 
> addition of alien elements, whether the new combinations may still be 
> called Marxism. It has been the basic insight of fundamentalists that 
> eclectic and syncretic combinations threaten the very core of Marxism as 
> an integral conception. In short, neither the purveyors of the Abstract 
> Proletariat of Capital nor the eclectic dissidents traverse the gap 
> between the pure theory of Capital and the reality of capitalism. Both 
> are forms of one-sided Marxism, different aspects of the disintegration 
> of Marxist theory. They are the result, on the one hand, of the failure 
> of Marx to complete his epistemological project in Capital and, on the 
> other hand, of the displacement of the understanding of Marx’s method by 
> the exegesis of sacred texts.
>         Beyond Capital should be understood as a call for the 
> continuation of Marx’s project. By stressing the centrality of Marx’s 
> method and using it to explore the subject matter of Marx’s unfinished 
> work--- in particular, his projected book on Wage-Labour, it focuses on 
> the missing side in Capital--- the side of workers. Beyond Capital 
> restores human beings (and class struggle) to the hub of Marxian analysis 
> by tracing out the implications of that missing book. It challenges not 
> only the economic determinism and reductionism of one-sided Marxism but 
> also the accommodations of the ‘post-Marxists’. Marx’s conception of the 
> political economy of the working class comes to the fore; next to its 
> focus upon the collective producer (which contains implicit within it the 
> vision of an alternative society), the ‘post-Marxist’ view of human 
> beings as consumers (with, of course, heterogeneous needs) stands 
> revealed as so many empty abstractions.
>         This is not at all an argument, however, that class struggle is 
> absent from Capital or that references to class struggle by workers are 
> missing. But, Capital is essentially about capital--- its goals and its 
> struggles to achieve those goals. Its theme is not workers (except 
> insofar as capital does something to workers), not workers’ goals (except 
> to mention that they differ from those of capital) and not workers’ class 
> struggle (except insofar as workers react against capital’s offensives). 
> Even where Marx made sporadic comments in Capital about workers as 
> subjects, those comments hang in mid-air without anything comparable to 
> the systematic logical development he provides for the side of capital. 
> The result, I argue, is that some quite significant aspects of capitalism 
> are missing and not developed in Capital and, indeed, that there are 
> problematic aspects of the latter. Those who think that ‘it’s all in 
> Capital’ should explain the continuing reproduction of a one-sided Marxism.
>         In the Preface to the first edition, I noted that this book took 
> a long time to come together and that it was still in the process of 
> development. This edition, written 11 years later, demonstrates this 
> point well. In fact, in preparing this edition, I came to look upon the 
> first edition as a first draft. Every chapter from the original edition 
> was changed. Some alterations were relatively minor and merely updated 
> and strengthened points made earlier (drawing now, e.g., upon the 
> publication of Marx’s 1861-63 Economic Manuscripts). However, this 
> edition also reflects the further development of my thinking on the 
> questions raised.
>         One of the most significant changes involves the division of the 
> original concluding chapter (‘Beyond Political Economy’) into two 
> separate chapters (‘From Political Economy to Class Struggle’ and ‘From 
> Capital to the Collective Worker’). This allowed me to expand in 
> particular upon the concepts of the Workers’ State and of the collective 
> worker, respectively--- areas I have been exploring in the context of 
> recent papers and a book in progress on the theory of socialist 
> economies. While this elaboration had been intended from the outset of 
> plans for a new edition, two other new chapters emerged in the course of 
> the revision. The new Chapter 6 (‘Wages’) explicitly considers the effect 
> upon the theory of wages of relaxing Marx’s assumption in Capital that 
> workers receive a ‘definite quantity of the means of subsistence’; in the 
> course of this investigation, the degree of separation among workers (a 
> variable noted in the first edition) takes on significantly more importance.
>         Finally, there is a completely new opening chapter (‘Why Marx? A 
> Story of Capital’). In the course of writing a chapter on Marx recently 
> for a collection on the views of economists on capitalism, it occurred to 
> me that Beyond Capital was missing an introduction to Marx’s analysis of 
> capital. It wasn’t there originally because I had conceived of the book 
> as a supplement to Capital; however, given the way this new chapter opens 
> up questions to which I subsequently return, it is hard for me to believe 
> now that the chapter wasn’t always there.
>         I am extremely grateful to the many people who have encouraged me 
> in this work since its original publication. Among those I want 
> especially to thank are Gibin Hong, translator of the Korean language 
> edition, Jesus Garcia Brigos and Ernesto Molina (who told me Che would 
> have liked the book). At this point, though, I am especially appreciative 
> for the critical feedback on new material for this edition that I’ve 
> received from various readers. Some of this feedback has saved me from 
> serious errors; so, thank you to Greg Albo, Jim Devine, Alfredo 
> Saad-Filho, Sam Gindin, Marta Harnecker, Leo Panitch, Sid Shniad and Tony 
> Smith.
>         At the time of the writing of this Preface, chronologically the 
> final part of this edition, capitalism’s triumph is not as unproblematic 
> as it may have seemed at the time of the first edition. Strong protest 
> movements have emerged in opposition to the forms of capitalist 
> globalisation, and the development of new international links in the 
> struggle against global capital proceeds. Further, capital appears to be 
> undergoing one of its characteristic crises, and the contest as to which 
> particular capitals and locations is to bear the burden of excess global 
> capacity as well as the depth of the crisis are yet to determined.
>         If there is one important message from this book, however, it is 
> that economic crises do not bring about an end to capitalism. Once we 
> consider the worker as subject, then the conditions within which workers 
> themselves are produced (and produce themselves) emerge as an obvious 
> part of the explanation for the continued existence of capitalism. Beyond 
> Capital stresses the manner in which the worker’s dependence upon 
> capital, within existing relations, is reproduced under normal 
> circumstances; and, thus, it points to the critical importance not only 
> of that demystification of capital upon which Marx himself laboured but 
> also of the process of struggle by which workers produce themselves as 
> subjects capable of altering their world.
>         This essential point about the centrality of revolutionary 
> practice for going beyond capital affords me the opportunity to close 
> with the quotation from George Sand with which Marx concluded his Poverty 
> of Philosophy (Marx, 1847a: 212). (In the context of capital’s 
> demonstrated tendency to destroy both human beings and Nature, the 
> statement has taken on added meaning.) Until ‘there are no more classes 
> and class antagonisms …, the last word of social science will always be… 
> Combat or death, bloody struggle or extinction. Thus the question is 
> inexorably put.’
>September 2002

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: Phone (604) 291-4669
          Fax   (604) 291-5944
Home:   Phone (604) 689-9510 [NOTE CHANGE]

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