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

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Tue Mar 23 2004 - 10:51:16 EST

Hi Jerry,

Of course all text requires interpretation. You seem to argue that our only source for
discovering why Marx's 'Capital' devotes space to text is the letters of Marx to which
you refer (and any other such material). But such letters themselves require
interpretation! This seems to me to invaldiate the thrust of your response. Condsider
the annotations below:

> > An interpretation that makes sense of the intrinsic place of these
> > aspects of  'Capital' is preferred to one that doesn't, don't you
> > think?
> No, since you are inferring reason without evidence to the mere
> presence of material in the text.

But this includes the letters of Marx to which you point, and which my interpretation
fits very well. Your own interpretation, on the other hand, relies heavily on just those

> > Marx's letters to which you
> > refer indicate that some sections are longer than they would
> > otherwise have been; they do not indicate the sections have no
> > intrinsic place in the text.
> Read again the letter to Engels dated February 10, 1866.  The section
> which presented  historical  data on the working day  in depth "lay
> outside the original plan" but was included _because of_  his poor
> health. I.e. he didn't have  the energy for the theoretical part.
> Note "Hence" in his letter.

The letter says the section was 'enlarged' not that the section was *introduced*. To
enlarge something is not to deny that it has an intrinsic place before being enlarged.

The 'hence' does not even tell us that the enlargement was a matter of unnecessary
material. There are degrees of necessity. It is necessary to 'present' the capitalist
state, and world market, but Marx never managed it.

> > They do not
> > even indicate that lengthening the sections was not in accord was
> > the intrinsic  structure (the 'underlying architechtonic') of
> > 'Capital'.
> Well, of course, any author can spend 10 times as many words making
> the same points as can be made with 10 times less words.  The question
> at issue is simply _why_ these topics were presented in great detail.
> For this the _only_ evidence available is in his correspondence.

The latter point seems to me to be invalid since his correspondence must likewise
be interpreted. I'd say the best evidence is his text, and, better still, a balanced view
of his entire relevant material, of which a couple of letters is but a small fraction.

> > Rather, Marx would surely
> > lengthen sections which could *legitimately* be lengthened without
> > doing injustice to that intrinsic structure? He would not add
> > superfluous material, surely.
> 'Superfluous' is synonymous with 'unnecessary' in this context?
> Surely, it can not be legitimately inferred that Marx would _not_ add
> unnecessary materials.  Why can't he --like just about all other
> authors -- include information which isn't strictly necessary for an
> exposition of the subject? I think you idealize Marx by holding him to
> a higher standard than is expected of mere mortals.  In any event,
> _for Marx_ it was necessary -- given his dire financial situation and
> poor health.

Well, there are degrees invlolved here. It could have been that, whilst ill, Marx was
able to add stuff that was necessary but that he wasn't initially going to put in for
reasons of space. [Compare the fact that he couldn't put the state in for reasons of
logical ordering]. Recall again that this is a question of 'enlargement', not about the
intrinsic necessity for historical material: Marx never denied this intrinsic necessity
[though he did of course deny that logic and history always follow the same order],
and it suffuses 'Capital'.

Could I emphasise that the real issue is about how we grasp capitalism.  Perhaps a
good idea to focus on the discussion below therefore:

> > But the real point is not about the interpretation of Marx, of
> > course, it
> i> s about the  role of empirical and historical material in
> theorising > capitalism. It seems to me that  systematic dialectics
> has, in arguing > against the prevalent  'logical-historical'
> interpretation, bent the > stick  rather to far in the opposite
> direction, in seperating > system and history. To grasp a system
> entails grasping how the system > comes in to  being just as much as
> it entails grasping how, once it has > come into being, it 'posits its
> own presuppositions', don't you think?

> No. To grasp the functioning of an automobile does not require that
> one grasp the evolution in transportation from the horse or  bicycles.

I ommitted a word: I had in mind an 'organic system'. An organic system requires a
grasp of birth, growth, evolution and death. Capitalism isn't like a bike, it is more like
an organism. This sounds simple yet seems difficult to fit with the split between
system (positing presuppositions) and history (birth of system) advocated by Hegel-
inspired systematic dialectics.

> > Another thought: what of the masses of historical detail in the
> > Contribution to the  Critique?
> The "masses" of historical detail?

I haven't read the Contribution for a while -- I seem to remember it has quite alot of
stuff on the history of the banking system (as, to an extent, do the first chs of
'Capital') but I might be wrong.

> In any event, no one is saying that historical data has _no_ role. It
> has a  role especially in the process of inquiry but can also have a
> role within the exposition.  Within the context of a systematic
> dialectical presentation it can play a role as *Vorstellung*.

Historical data is clearly in Marx's *presentation*, not just his *inquiry*. All but Hegel-
inspired dialecticians conclude that it is essential to that presentation. Systematic
dialecticts is quite right to stress the systematic aspect, the necessary development
from abstract to concrete, but this seems scant justification for then removing history
from the underlying architechtonic. It is in this sense that I would suggest Hegel-
inspired systematic dialectics goes too far towards the pole of system-without-

Many thanks,


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