Re: (OPE-L) Historical Explanation and Systematic Dialectics

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Thu Mar 25 2004 - 12:00:17 EST

>Patrick Murray summarizes an important point made by Tony in
>the exchange on Brenner in the following paragraph:
>   "A fourth mix-up has been pointed out by Tony Smith.  The error
>    here is to confuse primacy in systematic dialectical presentation
>    with explanatory primacy in historical explanation. Against this
>    misstep, Smith offers the proposition, 'There is an unbridgeable
>    gulf between systematic dialectics and historical theorizing
>    such that explanatory primacy in the former does not imply
>    explanatory power in the latter.' Applying this in the context
>    of the debate over Robert Brenner's 'The Economics of Global
>    Turbulance', Smith argues that the primacy of the class
>    relationship between capital and wage labour in Marx's systematic
>    dialectical theory in _Capital_ in no way assures that class
>    conflict, and not inter-class competition, is the primary cause of
>    the global downturn after the 'Golden Age' that followed
>    the Second World War." ("Things Fall Apart: Historical and
>    Systematic Dialectics and the Critique of Political Economy"
>    in Albritton, R. and Simoulidis, J. [eds.] _New Dialectics
>    and Political Economy_, p. 162)
>I believe this is an *excellent* point made by Tony since, in my
>view, so much of what passes as Marxian history is *reductionist*
>for the reason Tony gives.  This *simplistic* reduction of historical
>explanation from theory is bad history and bad theory.  Yet, this
>privilaging of class conflict over other factors, including
>competition within a class, happens so often.  Historical
>phenomena are too complex, though, to be explained by way of a simple
>reduction and deduction from basic theoretical propositions.

No, the argument is that competition tends to become fraticidal and
crises protracted rather than solveable through a simple
redistribution of capital only when accumulation has come to founder
on a shortage of surplus value in the abode of production though said
shortage manifests itself as a surplus of commodities in the realm of
circulation (Mattick, 1969, 1981). Inter-class competition (sic:
should it not read intra class competition?) cannot in itself explain
a a protracted downturn in which competition has become fraticidal.
I immediately made this argument on LBO-talk in response to Brenner's
NLR book upon its publication. Werner Bonefeld made a similar
argument. The inability of intra capitalist competition in itself to
explain a protracted downturn has been demonstrated by several of
Brenner's critics. Ultimately Brenner explains a depression in the
profit rate as a result of a rise in the real wage, though he insists
that the real wage does not rise as a result of working class
militance. That is, Brenner himself does not ultimately explain the
long downturn as a result of simply intra capitalist competition; he
too turns to a change in the real relationship between capital and
wage labor in the division of net product.

And on the general topic of this exchange there does seem to be
logical and historical aspects to Marx's analysis of the transition
from the lower forms of value to the money form (as Costas Lapavitsas
has very insightfully argued Marx is quite superior to Menger here)
or from absolute to relative surplus value. It seems to me that Marx
is saying that such transitions are motivated by historico-practical
problems rather than simply logical ones (hence, his coquetting with
the Hegelian dialectic while inverting it) and that the transitions
are not in any way teleologically motivated.


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