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: Wed Mar 24 2004 - 07:14:44 EST

Hi Jerry

It still seems to me that our key disagreement is at the level of
interpretation of 'Capital' as a whole, and more interestingly of our
resepctive grasp of capitalism. Some explanations of this below:

>    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 endorse.

The issues are related as you acknowledge later below.

>    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_.

Well this repeats previous points by way of useful summary.

>     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.

Perhaps all this goes to show that whether or not they constitute
'evidence', depends on our interpretation of them. What do you

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.

I have an *interpretation* of Marx that comprehends the letters
perfectly well and doesn't see them as such a big deal. This doesn't
mean they are off my radar screen!  We have *different*
interpretations of Marx, hence of the letters. Our disagreement is
then about these interpretations of Marx, and to pursue further
therefore is quite a big task for us.

> > 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.

But I nuanced the point later in my post. More nuance below.

If by 'the text' we mean 'Capital' as a whole, then there are plenty of
clues as to the nature of 'Capital' as a whole in that text. Alot more
than in a couple of letters. If we mean just the sections on the
working day, and on primitive accumulation, then these sections
express part of the conceptual whole that is my interpretation of
'Capital' as a whole so, without going through them sentence by
sentence, it is clear in general that they must constitute evidence,
given that interpretation. Since interpretation cannot be avoided it
comes down to a clash of interpretations. But all this interpretation
issue ultimately comes down to citing 'the evidence' of the text. I'd
rather discuss the underlying grasp of capitalism that motivates the
different interpretations of the text, than cite the text itself to death!

> > (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_.

Fair point. But their very existence is also significant, and given
their existence, then we can ask how long were they before being

I don't rememeber anything in the letters you cite about primitive
accumulation. Recall, finally, the point I made previously that
enlarging through ill health does not indicate a lack of necessity.
There are degrees and types of necessity.

> > 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.

I disagree re. the method of presentation -- as this debate testifies.

>     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*.

This is the systematic dialectic point of view, of course.
> > 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?

But it doesn't address the analogy I used. If there is a problem of
infinite regression here than why isn't there the same problem in the
study of the development of biological organisms? Do you disagree
with the 'cell-form' metaphor?

I'd like to pursue this last issue further, time-permitting (which, alas,
it does not just at this moment).

Many thanks,


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