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

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Tue Mar 23 2004 - 19:00:25 EST

Hi again Andy:

   In another post you "emphasize that the real issue is about how we grasp
capitalism."   Yet, that is not the _particular_ issue being debated in this
thread.  The issue being debated is whether it is legitimate to claim that
systematic dialectics fails to comprehend why Marx presented the
historical details on the expansion  of the working day and the history of
the primitive  accumulation of capital *at such length* in _Capital_.  This
is  a criticism suggested by Ollman which Paul Z and you seem to

   I have argued, to the contrary, that there are reasons for why these
subjects were presented *at great length* that have *nothing* to do with
the reasons asserted by Ollman, Paul Z and yourself.  Furthermore, I
have argued that by not considering the material, contingent factors that
affected Marx's work such as his dire financial situation and his poor
health, you  were led to the mistaken conclusion that these subjects
were presented *at great length* because it was "necessary" and "essential"
for Marx to do so.  In so doing, you have idealized the result (i.e. the end
product -- the final published form of Volume I) and turned what can be
viewed as a *contingent, personal necessity* (given Marx's material
situation) into an *essential, methodological imperative* (or virtue).  For
the above reasons, I will again repeat the assertion that the specific
criticism of systematic dialectics is a canard and it is Ollman and company
who  fail to do precisely what systematic dialecticians have been charged
with doing,  i.e. not fully comprehending Marx's "aims" in _Capital_.

    I'll now address some of your other comments.

> Well, amongst other things, I am pointing to the crude fact that two
> letters is a much smaller quantity than all the sections on the working
> day in 'Capital'. Crude evidence, admittedly.

     Sorry, but it is not "evidence -- or for that matter, an argument -- at
all.  We all  know that the historical sections on the working day and
primitive accumulation were lengthy.  Indeed, this served as the starting
point for this exchange.  The issue is _why_ these sections were long and
whether it was "necessary" and "essential" that they be so.  As you know,
I  have advanced reasons  for why these topics were presented at such
length that basically weren't even on Ollman's or your radar screens.

> You may have missed, on first reading, one of my other points. Your
> attempt to argue that a few of Marx's letters are the 'only' relevant
> evidence seems to be invalid. It is invalid because the letters themselves
> need to be  interpreted and therefore they cannot be held up as better
> indicators of Marx's intentions than Marx's text itself.

    Of course the letters have to be interpreted, but your assertion that
they can't be held up as "better indicators" of Marx's intentions than the
text  itself   is invalid because the text itself doesn't give us an answer
to  the specific question being discussed.

> (2) Your interpretation tries to account for the letters, to an extent.
> However, it  seems to miss the fact that the letters do not suggest
> Marx *introduced*  the  historical sections on the working day, they
> merely indicate that he *enlarged* them.

    It is the cause of the  ***length*** of the historical sections which is
being  debated. That is because Ollman, etc. have charged that systematic
dialectics fails to grasp why Marx presented these subjects at such
*length* in  _Capital_.

> Furthermore, they do not justify the section on primitive accumulation.
> Nor do they  justify the wealth of other historical material in 'Capital'
> and elsewhere  (the 'Contribution').

   If there is to be a justification for the *length* of the section on
primitive  accumulation, let's hear it.  Why was it "necessary" or
"essential"  for him to present *so much* historical material?   Nothing
you have said yet has answered that question.  Moreover, is there any
"essential" or "necessary" reason that the historical details could _not_
have been  presented as footnotes, as an "Appendix" or in a separate
book? The fact that Marx did _not_ do so proves _nothing_ (and,
for that matter, can not be taken as evidence for _anything_ that is
being debated here).

> But the key here is the grasp of capitalism rather than detailed
> cites from Marx.

     Grasping capitalism as a subject does not require the _extended_
*presentation*  of historical data on the length of the working day
and primitive accumulation. Nonetheless, the *process of inquiry*
presumes a study of relevant historical data and experiences.

    As we all know, Marx read (literally) tons of books prior to writing
_Capital_.  This was a large part of the *research project* that
pre-occupied Marx for years.  Once that research was complete
and the subject  (capitalism)  was grasped as a totality then there was
no "necessary" or "essential"  reason  why the *presentation* of the
subject _had_ to include lengthy historical  and statistical sections.  Of
course, Marx had his (non-essential and non-necessary) reasons: besides
the ones I have already suggested, I believe he knew that the material
(while not strictly necessary) would be of interest to workers and
revolutionaries (his intended readers) and would *reinforce* points he
made elsewhere in the text.  These are valid reasons but they are
best grasped, I believe, as *Vorstellung*.

> Our
> grasp of capitalism is a key influence on our interpretation of Marx.

   No doubt.

> In any case it is the grasp of capitalism that we really care about.

   A critique *of*  Marx and _Capital_ can help us grasp this subject.

> It seems pretty straightforward that to explain, say, fully developed
> biological  organisms we need to explain cells and cell-development.
> This explanation includes  necessary historical stages, from cell to
> fully developed organism,  specific to any organism type. No infinite
> regression here as far as I can see. Important  to recall  Marx's
> 'cell-form' metaphor. In any case, I look forward to an elaboration
> of your critique...

   If  the presentation of the essential nature of capitalism as an "organic
system" requires that we include a lengthy historical exposition of its
birth and, by inference, its historical relation to feudalism then one
could further argue that to be able to grasp the transition from feudalism
(its dying) one needs to comprehend  the reasons to feudalism from
ancient slavery (its birth). One could then argue that one would need to
 know the historical origins of slavery and the history of the dissolution
of  'primitive communism'. Carrying this several steps further,  to be able
to grasp capitalism we would need to grasp the history of the evolution
into the human species from apes.  Regressing further, we would need
to grasp the historical coming into being of apes from lesser  primates
and,  regressing several steps further, from single-cell organisms.
Regressing further, we would need to grasp the coming into being of
this planet and this  solar system.  Next the Big Bang or an alternative
explanation for the  unfolding of the Universe.  Next .... Do you see why
I called it an infinite regression critique?

In solidarity, Jerry

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