Re: [OPE-L] Concepts and Starting Points

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Dec 02 2005 - 12:03:21 EST

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for the provocations below and also for the heads up in your earlier
post.  I looked at Chris's Chapter Five and I do think I was wrong on how I
characterized value as a starting point in reference to this account.  There
he starts with the movement of exchange and commodities as taken up in it.
Value emerges in the course of the process initiated by commodities drawn
into exchange.

Your quotes from Notes on Wagner I think are very important.  Two things
stand out.  One, Marx rejects the idea of starting with concepts and
manipulating mental phantoms to produce this or that result -- he is engaged
in studying the world as it presents itself.

Second, pretty much following from this, we use concepts to refer to the
world -- theoretical categories refer to material relations of production he
says in the Poverty of Philosophy.  We can think of this as using concepts
to pick out 'social things' and the causal structures that animate social

Here is a question presented by your first quote:  if neither value nor
exchange value are subjects, what does that do to the idea that value which
increases itself is the animating subject of capitalist production?  Also,
we would not want to say, surely, that, well, since the commodity is the
subject of the first part, then some concrete social thing like 'means of
production' must be the subject of the rest.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jerry Levy" <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>
Sent: Friday, December 02, 2005 9:06 AM
Subject: [OPE-L] Concepts and Starting Points

> > As for surprising you, Jerry, perhaps we are mixing the distinct
> > of  'starting point' -- or perhaps I have misunderstood.
> > If we look to the Method of Political Economy, the idea of starting
> > can mean two things -- (1) the thing, like 'population', with which we
> > begin an investigation, or (a distinct point) (2) the 'simplest
> > determination'
> > with which understanding begins.  The 'immense accumulation' of the
> > sentence of Capital, I take it, is like 'population'.  The 'economic
> > form' arrived at by means of a process of abstraction seems to me to
> > to the 'simplest determination'.  Thus, reading the first Preface
> > strictly, it's the 'commodity form' or the 'value form of the commodity'
> > that is the cell form; it is the commodity situated and understood, not
> > the commodity simply.
> Hi Howard and everyone else:
> I agree that there are different meanings of 'starting point'.   Yet, Marx
> was quite emphatic that he did not begin with "concepts" but with the
> commodity.
> You cited the _Grundrisse_ and _Capital_; I was citing the "Marginal Notes
> on Wagner."    In the "Marginal Notes on Wagner", Marx repeatedly makes
> this point (excerpts follow):
>     *    "Herr Wagner also forgets that for me neither 'value' nor
>           'exchange-value' are subjects, but the _commodity_"
>           ("Marginal Notes on  Adolph Wagner's 'Lehrbuch der
>            politischen Okonomie'" _Theoretical Practice_, Issue 5,
>            Spring, 1972, p. 42)
>     *    "According to Herr Wagner, _use-value and exchange-value_
>           should be derived d'abord from the _concept of value_, not
>           as with me from a _concrete entity the commodity [Konkretum
>           der Ware] ...." (Ibid, p. 45)
>      *   "De prime abord I do not start from 'concepts' and  hence do not
>           start from the 'concept' of value, and therefore do not have to
>           'divide' the latter in any way.  What I start from is the
>           social form in which the labour product is represented in
>           contemporary society, and this is the 'commodity'.  I analyse
>           this, and indeed, first in the form in which it appears."
>           p. 50)
>           Later in the same paragraph:
>           "Thus it is not I who divide 'value' into use-value and
>           exchange-value as oppositions into which the abstraction
>           'value' divides itself, but the _concrete social form_ [Gestalt]
>           of the labour-product:  a '_commodity_'  is on the one hand
>           use-value and on the other 'value', not exchange-value, for
>           the mere phenomenal form is not its true content." (Ibid, p. 51)
>     *   "Herr Rodbertus, for whom 'use-value' and 'exchange-value'
>          are both by nature mere 'concepts' ....." (Ibid, p. 55)
>          Later in the same paragraph:
>          "This involves a '_logical_' opposition only for Rodbertus and
>          kindred German professorial school-masters who start from the
>          'concept' of value, not from the 'social thing', the 'commodity',
>          and let this concept divide of itself (into two), and then argue
>          with each other about which of the two mental phantoms is the
>          true  Jacob!" (Ibid)
> Marx must have thought that this point (starting with a concrete, the
> commodity, rather than a concept) was a crucial point since he made
> it repeatedly and forcefully.  I think this point was important for him
> because he wanted to emphasize that his presentation was rooted in
> a material reality than merely a concept: in that sense, it could be seen
> as a statement of difference from a Hegelian ('idealist') starting point.
> How do you and others on the list view the significance of these
> passages?
>               oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
> Of course it could be objected that I have only posed the question
> above as a 'Marxological'  issue.  That side-steps the more fundamental
> methodological question: should a reconstruction in thought of a
> social subject begin with an examination of a concept or a concrete
> material reality?
> Without referring to Marx, how would others on the list answer that
> question?
> It should be noted that the 'starting point' has been a controversial
> point among Hegelians (see Tony S's _The Logic of Marx's Capital_).
> Also note that for Geert and Michael W in _Value-Form and the State_
> the presentation begins with the opposition between 'sociation' and
> 'dissociation' (notions) _rather than_ the commodity.   What are the
> merits and demerits of following the same procedure?
> In solidarity, Jerry

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