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: Thu Mar 25 2004 - 05:50:59 EST

Hi Jerry

> 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.)

I have come across the letter you mention before some where or other. Probably in
the systematic dialectic literature. But you seem to be making a big deal out of
something that isn't that important (as Paul Z. suggested), here. Your general line of
argument is very familiar; one way or anothert a Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics
has to account for the fact that the text of 'Capital' doesn't always follow the
recommended logical ordering and procedure.

> > 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.

Just repetition here, isn't there?

> > 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.

Quite true.

> > 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"?)?

The theory has the same core as it always did, viz. LTV, emphasis on levels of
abstraction, importance of VCC/OCC/TCC distinctions, emphasis on need to
incorporate concrete, empirical, historical and contingent material. The elaboration
of the philosophy has never been Fine's focus, as far as I can tell. Others have tried
to develop this side.

> > 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?

Well, take a look at the exchange between Fine et al and Tony Smith re Brenner
and world crisis, for example. Or Alfredo on the transformation problem (there is a
new paper on this I just noticed the other day by Alfredo, Fine and Lapavitsas). Or
Fine on the LTRPF. In fact compare and contrast the bulk of Fine's concrete work
with that of others, including Hegel-inspired systematic dialecticians.

One thing I would like to do one day is to look more closely at the different
resepctive versions of crisis theory and the role of finance therein, in these particular
literatures. Geert's stuff on this is very interesting and would be great to compare
with other stuff. There *are* some close parellel's. E.g. both Geert and Fine see the
LTRPF as essentially cyclical, and to do with stratification of fixed capital of different

Crisis can in general be seen as the reassertion of the law of value, in particular the
dominance of labour time (immanent measure) over price (external measure). Thus
speculative bubbles etc. take prices further an further away from labour values
(already modified by prices of production), the bursting of the bubble is the
reasertion of labour time measure and essence. Not easy to view crises in this way
through Hegel-inspired systenatic dialectics (specifically through value-form theory).

> > 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.

The commodity form develops in to the money then capital forms, does it not? It is
the most abstract form of capitalist (bourgeois) society, its' most undeveloped
expression. It *does* therefore refer to capitalism, even if terribly abstractly, or in

> I look forward to further discussion.

I'm glad we are getting on to grasp of capitalism. However, this is a big topic! I can't
promise to keep up the discussion, given time constraints.

Many thanks,


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Mar 26 2004 - 00:00:01 EST