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 - 09:50:08 EST

Hi again, Jerry,

> > 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!
> Maybe I missed something -- when and where (before yesterday)
> did you come to grips in your interpretation with how Marx's poor
> health and financial distress had an impact on his work?  I.e. what is
> the role in your interpretation for contingent, 'accidental' factors
> affecting the final format, content and length of Volume 1?

Well, we all know about Marx's biographical details to a greater or lesser extent.
Having studied Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics for quite some time I am very
aware of the letters  to which you refer and the other general arguments, evidence
etc. I put rather less weight on the contingencie to whihc you refer when it comes to
my interpretation of Marx than you do, it seems. Not enough weight to explicitly
include them in discussion and articles. You bring up the letters explicitly, so I have
replied explicitly, that's all.

> > 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.
> We have different understandings of capitalism and different
> interpretations of Marx, to be sure.  However,  in this thread
> I have been focused on a much narrower question: i.e. I have
> presented a reply to a portion of the critique of systematic
> dialectics made by Ollman and others which asserts that
> systematic dialectics fails to comprehend _why_ Marx
> presented the historical details on the working day and
> primitive accumulation at great length.  I have made the
> counter-argument, as you know by now, that it is Ollman and
> others who made this charge who fail to fully comprehend the
> all of the specific reasons why Marx presented these topics at
> great length in _Capital_.   While it might be useful to probe the
> extent to which our understandings of capitalism (including our
> positions on method and value) and our overall interpretations of
> Marx's project differ, it should be much easier to focus on one topic
> at a time -- such as the one now being discussed. (But, see next
> comment.)

But your counter argument fails in so far as it tries to critique the positive position of
critics since there is a simple explantion for the letters to which you refer, and of the
impact of the contingencies to which you refer. Your general defence of systematic
dialectics, as opposed to your critique of the positive position of others, is more
successful. Though, I guess the problem you have is that, prima facie, it is not too
convincing to put such weight on such contingencies affecting Marx's text. Still, you
have succeeding in showing what your perspective is, and it seems to me the only
way to progress debate is to address differences of perspective directly.

> > I'd
> > rather discuss the underlying grasp of capitalism that motivates the
> > different interpretations of the text, than cite the text itself to
> > death!
> OK, despite what I just wrote, I'll take a small bite (mostly to see
> if by so doing we can draw others into -- and thereby expand the scope
> of -- this exchange):
> * Can you explain (without citing 'the text') how your underlying
> grasp
>         of capitalism differs from systematic dialectical
>         interpretations?

Well, I have pointed to an ongoing general tradition in part initiated by Ben Fine
which has established a range of positions clearly at odds with Hegel-inspired
systematic dialectics.

To pick out a particular point on which I have worked: I think value is congealed
abstract labour which necessarily appears as money. I think this labour substance of
value must be established right at the outset of the presentation of capitalism, and I
think that the quantitative implication is that labour time tethers money magnitude.

Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics does not support all of the above propositions.

> > Do you disagree with the 'cell-form' metaphor?
> No, but we may disagree on the meaning of that 'metaphor'.  From
> my perspective, it is a restatement by Marx of the importance of the
> 'starting point' of  the commodity.  As you know, the 'starting point'
> of the presentation has great significance for both Hegel and his
> student, Marx.

But the cell-form metaphor implies a *historical* angle: a cell *develops* through
*time*, in definite *stages* -- most abstractly birth, life, death of the organism. I
wonder if the Hegel-inspired systematic dialectic attempt to grasp the 'cell-form'
metaphor omits what is essential to the use of such a metaphor.

Don't get me wrong, I take Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics to be a massive
advance in Marxian methodology; hugely helpful in giving, finally, a clear
articulation of what it is to advance logically from abstract to concrete. But there are
deep remaining problems which I think materialist dialectics overcomes.

Many thanks,


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