(OPE-L) Kliman On Marx's _Capital_

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat Jul 10 2004 - 13:37:49 EDT

From another list./JL

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: On Marx's _Capital_
From:    "Drewk" <Andrew_Kliman@MSN.COM>
Date:    Wed, July 7, 2004 10:58 am

The following essay will be the Introduction to The Hobgoblin's upcoming
special issue on Marx's _Capital_.   The Hobgoblin (
http://members.aol.com/THEHOBGOBL ) is a British journal of

========Introduction:  Marx's Capital in the Struggle for a New Human Society

by Andrew Kliman

This special issue of The Hobgoblin on Marx's Capital carries three
chapters of Raya Dunayevskaya's 1958 Marxism and Freedom which analyze and
comment on all three volumes of Capital, as well as her late 1970s'
critiques of Ernest Mandel's "Introduction" to Volume I and of Roman
Rosdolsky on Marx's method.  Also included are new essays by Dave Black on
the concept of value and Chris Ford on the free association of producers.

In the face of unprecedented retrogression, the struggle for new human
relations continues.  A whole new movement against exploitative global
capital has emerged, and tens of millions of people worldwide have
mobilized in opposition to the U.S. government's "permanent war."  Yet
people engaged in these and other struggles must also struggle daily with
an inner enemy, the ever-present spectre of TINA - "there is no
alternative."   TINA weighs like a nightmare on our brains, constricting
our thought processes and making our brains themselves impose limits upon
what we dare to fight for and even to hope for.

These self-imposed limits should not be confused with realism and
practicality.  TINA has led to the resurgence of an unrealistic, almost
desperate hope that, though capitalism is here to stay, it can nonetheless
be reformed in a fundamental and sustainable way.  How else can we account
for the renewed popularity of social democracy, even though it collapsed
everywhere just as Russian state-capitalism did, unable to sustain itself
and its reforms in the face of neoliberal reaction?  Moreover, the
theoretical basis of calls for "fair exchange," more representative
international financial and political institutions, "living wages," and
similar nostrums is, all too often, unrealistic hope that fundamental
reform is sustainable.

 What we need, I think, is a different sort of hope, hope grounded in real
possibilities for a better future, and a different sort of thinking -
dialectical thinking - that can help us search out and develop the real
possibilities that TINA-think assumes away.  Capital continues to deserve
careful study as a prime example of revolutionary dialectical methodology
in action.  Although many leftist theorists today regard the dialectic as
an expression of capital's "totalizing" logic, in Marx's hands the
dialectic "includes in its positive understanding of what exists a
simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; .
it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state,
in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; . it does
not let itself be impressed by anything, being in its very essence
critical and revolutionary"  (Marx, Postface to the 2nd ed. of Capital,
Vol. I).

Thus, although Mandel's "Introduction" and other commentaries try to
divide Marx into a revolutionary and a "strictly scientific" economist,
this division is untenable.  From the dual character of the commodity on
the first page, to Volume III's law of the tendential fall in the rate of
profit, the internal contradictions of which produce economic crises,
Capital's "positive" theory of how capitalism functions includes
"negativity" within itself.  The system's dualities and internal
contradictions are what make it inherently unstable and therefore
something humankind can transcend.  At each moment, however, discerning
how this abstract possibility can become a real one requires a lot of hard

            Another reason why Capital continues to have direct
implications for political practice is that Marx was taking on
ideologies quite similar to those of our day.  On the one
hand, he combats the TINA-think of bourgeois political economy
("there has been history, but there is no longer any").  At
the same time, he combats the political economy of Proudhon
and other leftists who claimed that the ills of capitalism can
be ameliorated by reforming monetary, exchange, and financial
relations, while leaving the capitalist mode of production

            This latter dimension of Capital is often suppressed.  Some
leftists do not want the specificity of Marx's ideas to
interfere with their calls for us to "unite" - behind them;
others want to attach his name to perspectives and projects
that have more in common with the tendencies he fought than
with his own ideas.  Marx himself, however, continually fought
for his specific ideas within the movement, especially once
Capital was published and available for all to study.  In
1875, the "Marxist" (Eisenach) and Lassallean political
parties in Germany united on the basis of the Gotha Programme.
 Marx's critique of this Programme complains again and again
that its positions and demands fail to measure up to the
theoretical conclusions worked out in Capital.  This was no
academic exercise.  He opposed the unification of the parties
precisely because he found the Programme's ideas wrong and
inadequate.  He would not let the desire for unity interfere
with the development of ideas.  The ideas are what give action
its direction, as Dunayevskaya often put it.

When Capital is considered as a critique of bourgeois political economy
only, not a critique of Proudhonist political economy as well, some of it
becomes inscrutable or even pointless.  Consider section 3 of the first
chapter, on "the value-form."  This section contains an intricate
dialectical derivation of money from the commodity form, but what is the
point?   Marx is emphatic that this derivation is crucial - "we have to
perform a task . we have to show . we have to trace" - but why?   The
answer, I believe, is that he is showing money to be a necessary
consequence of commodity production.  In order to do away with the social
ills associated with money and exchange, it is necessary to do away with
commodity production.  Conversely, as long as commodity production
remains, so must money and the social ills associated with it.  As Marx
had written earlier, in a critique of Darimon, a Proudhonist, "it is
impossible to abolish money itself as long as exchange value remains the
social form of products.  It is necessary to see this clearly in order to
avoid setting impossible tasks, and in order to know the limits [of]
monetary reforms and transformations of circulation [commodity exchange]"
(Marx, Grundrisse, Vintage Books, p. 145).

 *                                              *

 Dunayevskaya's interpretation of Capital, too, can offer us crucial
assistance today as we labour to search out and develop real
possibilities for a new, human society.  She challenges the widespread
leftist faith that abolition or reform of market relations can overcome
capitalism.  Simultaneously, she "grasps the transient aspect" of
alienation and exploitation, which are engendered and sustained by the
historically unique system of capitalist production.  Only in this system
is there an incessant drive to produce ever-more "value" - ever-more
wealth as an end in itself, wealth that is produced in order to produce
more wealth, not to satisfy human needs.  And only freely associated
workers, Dunayevskaya contends, can abrogate the law of value and thereby
make their products serve them, rather than the opposite.  (Suddenly the
words "commodity fetish" take on a whole new meaning.)

Some of what she said about Capital is more widely recognized today than
when she wrote, and a whole school of Marxian economists and philosophers
- the so-called "value-form" school - now emphasizes, as she did,
Capital's focus on capitalism's historically unique character.  Yet what
it emphasizes is the uniqueness of a society dominated by money, market
exchange, and finance.  Marx realized that, in a society "bounded by the
craze for making money," it is difficult "to see in the character of the
mode of production the basis of the corresponding mode of circulation,
[not] vice versa" (Capital, Vol. II, Kerr ed., pp. 132-33)  It is all the
more difficult in an era in which finance seems increasingly to be the
prime engine of money-making.

Thus, much of what Marx said, and Dunayevskaya reclaimed, about the
relationship between production and the market has yet to be understood,
much less internalized.  Consider another statement from Volume II to
which she draws attention:  "The peculiar characteristic is not that the
commodity, labor power, is saleable, but that labor power appears in the
shape of a commodity."  "Huh?," one can hear frustrated and bemused
readers ask.  "What is a commodity if not something saleable?"  If Marx
was right that the commodification of workers' labour power (capacity to
work) is the defining characteristic of the capitalist epoch, then those
who want to transcend this epoch would do well not to let the question
remain a rhetorical one.

 What made Dunayevskaya singularly able to reclaim dimensions of Capital
that many overlooked or found opaque - and others have suppressed - was
her conviction that Stalinist Russia was a state-capitalist society,
together with her felt need to substantiate that conviction by grounding
it in Marx's theory.  Russia's statified property and Plan sufficed to
make it non-capitalist in the eyes of those who equated capitalism with
private property, the market, etc.  Rejecting that equation, she was able
to discern that Marx had distinguished capitalism from all other
societies on the basis of its historically unique mode of production, a
mode of production that, she held, prevailed also in Russia.  This
insight into the uniqueness of capitalist production enabled her to
develop a new interpretation of Capital in which "commodity," "abstract
labour," "fetishism" and other concepts were no longer centered in the
market and exchange.

Thus Dunayevskaya's presentation of her new interpretation of Capital is
tightly interwoven with her analysis of Russia as a state-capitalist
society.  Yet the former is not reducible to the latter.  It remains
relevant in an era in which state property, planning, and the Party are,
thankfully, widely recognized not to be panaceas, but in which faith
persists that mere changes in property forms, exchange relations, and
political institutions can bring about sustainable social change.

*                                              *

Reading Dunayevskaya on Marx, however, is no substitute for reading Marx -
nor do I think she meant it to be.  Her commentaries on Capital are all
"argumentative" rather than "expository"; they are interventions on
specific issues that sometimes presuppose the reader's familiarity with
the book, not attempts to popularize it or tell us "everything we need to
know" about it.  She regarded Mandel's lengthy introduction to Volume I of
Capital as a "burden" on the work and a "vulgarization" that presented his
views instead of Marx's.  The particular content of his introduction is no
doubt part of what angered her, yet, especially in the last decade of her
life, Dunayevskaya also expressed profound dissatisfaction with how even
the best "post-Marx Marxists," such as Engels, had treated Marx's work.
Because they were overly confident that they understood his work, she
argued, they too gave us popularizations that presented their views as
his.  (See "Marxist-Humanism's Challenge to All Post-Marx Marxists," in
the 2nd ed. of Dunayevskaya's Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and
Marx's Philosophy of Revolution, Univ. of Illinois Press, 1991.)

In the case of a book like Capital, there is a constant temptation to rely
on popularizations, as well as a temptation to read commentaries like
Dunayevskaya's as if they provided the same "assistance."  I think it is
crucial to resist such temptations.  Precisely because Capital is so
difficult and complexly structured, one ends up either reading the
popularization instead of the book, or reading the book through the
popularizer's eyes, lightly glancing over unfamiliar things and finding
(of course!) that the rest confirms what one already "knows."
Unfortunately, what has long been said about there being "no royal road to
science" is true.

I'd like to conclude with a comment on another kind of resistance to the
patient, methodical study that a work like Capital demands of the reader.
Like much of the 1960s' New Left, many young leftists today think that
"too much" emphasis on theory is a bad thing, that it leads to hierarchy
and the authoritarian vanguard party.  I consider this a radical
misdiagnosis.  The vanguard parties were long on flexibility and short on
genuine theoretical reflection and development.  (I recently learned that
the U.S. Communist Party held classes at its Jefferson School, ostensibly
on Capital, in which students never even opened the book.)  Rank-and-file
members needed to learn flexibility, not ideas, in order to fall in behind
the changes in the party line, and the name of the game was to follow the
leader, not to follow out the logic of ideas to their conclusion.  And if
we fail to follow out the logic of ideas, we inevitably end up following
someone or something else.  We either follow the leader or rely upon
"common sense" - i.e. unthinkingly follow bits of bourgeois ideology
instilled in us since birth.

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