(OPE-L) Systematic Dialectics and the Presentation of Historical Detail in Volume I of _Capital_

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Mon Mar 22 2004 - 20:04:45 EST

(The following was written before I received a message from
Bertell on Jim Becker.  I'll  keep the post 'as is', though, because
Bertell appreciates  the merit of an occasionally vigorous debate
among comrades.)

Hi Andy.

> Furthermore it (systematic dialectics, JL) regards much of the detailed
> historical work  in 'Capital' (e.g. on length of the working day), and the
> discussion of  primitive accumulation as not essential to 'Capital'. This
> may seem indicative of  idealism from a critical realist perspective
> [recall, also, Ollman's criticisms].

   Since you have repeated this canard, let's deconstruct this assertion
that it is the systematic dialecticians who are the ones who are not
able to adequately explain why Marx included the historical sections
on the working day and primitive accumulation.

   You repeat the assertion that this is symptomatic of idealism.  I will
argue in this post to the contrary that it is Ollman and others who
repeat this charge that have not comprehended the reasons
for these sections in _Capital_ and, in so doing, it is _they_ who
demonstrate idealism.

  Ollman is certainly (and tautologically) correct that Marx "found a
place" for these subjects in _Capital_.  From his perspective, the
systematic dialectical interpretations of Volume I  fail to grasp the
fact that Marx used "other strategies of presentation in the service
of other aims."  To begin with, this is a misrepresentation of
systematic dialectical interpretations: they also recognize that Marx
had a variety of "aims" in writing _Capital_ but also assert that it
was not completely systematic.  But, more significantly, it is Ollman
himself and others who repeat this interpretation who fail to
comprehend _why_ these topics were discussed at length in
_Capital_  because it is _they_ who don't fully recognize all of
Marx's "aims" and because _they_ don't have a fully materialist
explanation for how the material conditions of his life affected
his work.

Consider the following evidence:

1) Marx's letter to Engels dated June 18, 1862

    In this letter in which Marx -- once again -- complains about
his desperate financial situation, he notes that "I keep on
expanding the volume, the more so since the German dogs
estimate the value of books according to their cubic content."
This, of course, is a reference to the fact that his arrangement
with the publisher was that the amount of financial compensation
would be largely dependent on the quantities of sheets required
to publish _Capital_.  In other words, Marx had a _material
incentive_ to increase the length of the book beyond what was
required for the purposes of exposition.  How bad was Marx's
material situation at this time?  Well, he begins this letter by

   "It is most loathsome on my part to regale you again
    with my misery, but _que faire_ [what to do]?  My wife
    says to me every day she wishes she and the children were
    dead, and I can't really blame her, for the humiliations,
    harassments, and terrors that one experiences in this situation
    are in fact indescribable."

    Where is there a place in Ollman's perspective for these very
real, material conditions of Marx and his family in explaining
_why_ the  historical sections on the working day and primitive
accumulation were so extended in _Capital_?  Clearly, to think
that Marx's material conditions had no impact on his work would
be idealistic, correct?

2) Marx's letter to Engels dated February 10, 1866

    Why guess about why Marx presents so much historical detail
on the working day when he *tells us why* in this letter.  The
reason:  his _health_.

     "The most disgusting thing for me was the interruption of my
       work, which had proceeded splendidly since January, when
       my liver illness went away.    Of course, there was no question
       about my 'sitting.'  It still inconveniences me now. But I have
       drudged on, lying down, even if only at short intervals during
       the day.  I can not proceed with the theoretical part. The
       brain was too weak for that. ***HENCE*** I have enlarged
       the historical part on the 'work day,' which lay outside the
       original plan." (emphasis added, JL)

     Where does Ollman and others who criticize the interpretations
of _Capital_ by systematic dialecticians for being "idealistic" and
not grasping the multiplicity of Marx's aims take note that -- according
to Marx himself -- the reason  why he "enlarged" the section
on the working day was _because of_ his poor health?  Certainly,
a materialist explanation of _Capital_ would take into account
this rather large contingent material factor  which influenced the
concrete nature of his intellectual output, correct?

    The problem with the Ollman et. al. position on this question,
I believe, is that they take the 'finished product' (_Capital_,
Volume 1) and infer that it must represent some kind of 'optimal'
(ideal) product because, unlike the remaining drafts of _Capital_,
Volume I was edited for publication by Marx himself.   Having
then equated "complete" with "ideal", they fail to recognize any
of the highly contingent factors that caused Volume I not to have
an entirely systematic dialectical presentation and why historical
details were presented at great length.  No doubt, Marx _did_
have political reasons related to his revolutionary politics for
why these subjects were introduced with extended historical
examples.  But, it is the "materialist" explanation of Ollman et. al.
which fails to grasp the contingent and accidental (but none the
less, material and real) reasons for his presentation of the historical
detail  at great length.  Hence, an idealistic bias of the 'materialists.'

   Wouldn't materialists like Ollman consider how the material
conditions of an individual impact that person's work and activity?
Certainly they would.  Yet, there is an apparent lapse into
idealism when they fail to apply the same criteria for evaluating
Marx's life and work as they apply to everyone else.

In solidarity, Jerry

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