(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: Wed Mar 24 2004 - 17:53:49 EST

Hi Andy:

We are not coming to any agreements but some 'new' issues
are emerging that merit further discussion.  E.g.

> 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.

You have aroused my curiosity!

I am not aware of any systematic dialectical writings which
highlight the contingent, material factors of  Marx's extreme
poverty and poor health in explaining the length of the historical
sections in Volume I  on the working day and primitive
accumulation.  Nor am I aware of any interpretations
by systematic dialecticians which focus attention on Marx's
letters to Engels dated June 18, 1862 and February 10, 1866.
Hence, I'd very much like to know which 'Hegel-inspired'
articles you are referring to -- since the critique I was advancing
was my own, or so I thought.  It would please me to know
that someone in the systematic dialectical tradition had made
similar arguments citing the evidence I referred to.   So, please,
make my day and inform me of the publications you are
referring to.

(NB: for all I know,  Chris, Tony S, Michael W, and Geert may
strongly disagree with what I have written in this thread since I
am presenting my own perspective and not simply echoing
their perspectives.)

> But your counter argument fails in so far as it tries to critique the
> positive position of  critics since there is a simple explanation for
> the letters to which you refer, and of the impact of the
> contingencies to which you refer.

The 'simple explanation' fails, though, precisely because what was
being debated was the reason  (or reasons) for the _length_ of the
presentation on certain historical topics.  The 'simple explanation'
that you have asserted that the materials were included because they
were 'necessary' and 'essential' has not been demonstrated.  And
there is counter-evidence, especially as it relates to the historical
section on the working day, that the _length_ was influenced strongly
by a highly contingent, personal factor -- changes in the health of
Marx's liver.

> 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.

It's not convincing, I guess, for those who wish to downplay the role
of contingent factors in considering the written product of an intellectual.
Materialism -- as _I_ understand it -- allows for a role for contingent,
personal material factors.  How important those contingent factors are
can not be determined _a priora_ as it relates to an individual: each
case must be examined separately and concretely.

> 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.

Since you recently pointed out that Fine regrets the Althusserian
influence on _Rereading Capital_ (jointly authored by Harris),
which tradition and Fine are you referring to: the "Young Ben" or
the "Old Ben" (or, should I say, "Mature Ben"?)?

> 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.

True, there is disagreement on these highly abstract conceptions. Since
you wrote previously that you wanted to discuss "our respective grasp
of capitalism" how does this difference in perspective show up in our
more concrete comprehension of capitalism?   To pose the question
more concretely still: how does your materialist dialectics perspective
comprehend contemporary capitalism differently than the understandings
of systematic dialectical theorists?

> 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.

The cell-form metaphor was a reference not to bourgeois society ('the
complete  body') but to the commodity-form.  The abstract character
of the commodity-form does not require an explanation of the historical
emergence of 'commodities' in Ancient societies and under feudalism.
Indeed, such a history would be misleading since it would lead one
to believe that Marx was positing a trans-historical 'commodity.'
The 'life cycle' of the commodity-form (the 'cell-form' that you are
referring to) can be explained conceptually: i.e. it is conceived and
takes a physical form in the production process, is actualized in
exchange (when it is spanked on the behind, so to speak) and 'dies'
when its use-value is exhausted.

I look forward to further discussion.

In solidarity, Jerry

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