[OPE-L] Reply to Rakesh

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Oct 06 2006 - 13:27:19 EDT


I am not aware that Marx equated wage-labour with slavery, except perhaps
rhetorically. Wage-labour can obviously be tantamount to de facto slavery,
but need not be (e.g. the LATimes ran an article today on the Yellow Peril
in Africa
Marx indeed points out that wage-labour provides freedoms the slave didn't

At various points after 1860, Marx referred to texts that he wanted to write
but didn't actually get around to writing; at the end of his life he said,
for example, he wanted to study the the ups and downs of the trade cycle
mathematically, but Samuel Moore convinced him the economic data to do it,
did not exist yet.

I don't really see any evidence that Marx radically revised his earlier
views in the light of his reading of the Physiocrats. The main reason is
that all the concepts he used for his theory of capital reproduction in Cap.
Vol. 2 already appear in the Grundrisse manuscript, written well *before*
1860, i.e. in 1857-58 (see, for example, p. 726 in the Nicolaus edition for
some striking passages in this regard). So reading the Physiocrats was
hardly a major *conceptual* breakthrough, that is more a "pomo" or poetic
reinterpretation, a "sexing-up" of Marx.

In reality, Adam Smith (whom Marx had read well before that time) had
already assimilated the main insights of the Physiocrats in his writing.
Marx comments in TSV just that "Adam Smith in fact only took over the
inheritance of the Physiocrats and classified and specified more precisely
the separate items in the inventory.  But his exposition and interpretation
of the movement as a whole was hardly as correct as its presentation in
outline in the Tableau économique, in spite of Quesnay's false assumptions.
When moreover Adam Smith says of the Physiocrats: "Their works have
certainly been of some service to their country" ([Wealth of Nations, O.U.P.
edition, Vol. II, p. 2991, [Garnier], l.c., p. 538), this is an immoderately
moderate statement of the significance for example of Turgot, one of the
immediate fathers of the French revolution "

Grossman of course did not have access to the Grundrisse manuscript as I
previously pointed out (nor many other manuscripts and letters) in 1929.
There is simply no evidence that the Physiocratic doctrine caused Marx to
overturn the perspective he had already developed previously, in any radical

I also doubt whether Marx was ever seriously committed to historicism
(beyond some sweeping rhetoric at times perhaps) or that he seriously broke
with humanism beyond understanding its class-defined expressions better.
Already in The Holy Family, Marx and Engels had written "History does
nothing, it "possesses no immense wealth", it "wages no battles". It is
people, real, living people who do all that, who possess and fight;
 "history" is not, as it were, a person apart, using people as a means to
achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of people pursuing
their aims."

This is a clear ANTI-historicist view, whatever Popper or Althusser might
have said. The only "historicist" position Marx took that I can find, is his
personal belief that the class struggles of the modern era would culminate
in the collapse of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat (a
workers' state - Hal Draper has carefully compiled the story in Vol. 3 of
his magnum opus).

But since Marx was also well aware that the outcome of class struggles is
not predetermined by any law, this idea is probably more in the nature of a
hope, belief, faith, prediction or program, than a serious argument about
historical inevitability. What stands out in the real Marx is his great
reluctance to pronounce "general verities" about the course of human
history, *especially* in the absence of serious historical research.

Socialist historicism was more a product of the era of the Socialist
International, when, during a long wave of economic growth, the labour
movement seemed to go from strength to strength, and when the first world
war seemed to be a sign of impending capitalist collapse. This historicism
reached its culmination when the Stalinist Central Committee claimed to be
able to divine "the march of history" in advance. The ideological importance
of this idea for bureaucratic despotism is clear: as Stephanie Coontz noted,
if history moves according to inevitable laws, and if the communist party
recognises and acts according to these laws,  it is pointless for anybody to
rebel against the communist party which, precisely, has "history on its

It could of course be argued that Marx's reference to the "law of motion"
(Bewegungsgesetz) of the capitalist economy implies an historicism, i.e. a
law-governed historical development with necessary outcomes. Yet the
development of something can be constrained by law-like regularities,
without this predisposing one particular outcome. All that a scientific
approach to history requires, is that some courses of events are definitely
ruled out by what came before, and that some courses of events are more
likely than others, given what came before. With hindsight, we may be able
to prove that a course of events occurred necessarily as it did, and not
otherwise, but it would be foolish to project this into the future, given
the permanent possibility of active human agency changing the course of
history, within probable or possible limits.

In this light, what stands out in Grossman's piece about the "law of
breakdown" is precisely its abstract historicism - the idea, that he had
exhaustively defined the parameters of capital accumulation, and therefore
could predict its breakdown after the nth cycle of capital reproduction.
Even if it was true, it would be a truth so abstract, as to be virtually
useless. It does not help us understand why capitalism had its biggest
economic boom period ever in 1947-1973. Nor does it enable us to analyse why
the stock of capital accumulated external to production is larger than the
stock of production capital, in the wealthiest countries.

In our own time, Al Gore warns us about the inevitability of "global
warming", and that something has to be done. Yet what will happen is as yet
unknown; it depends obviously on what is done (or not done) about it.

Althusser was in reality a very unreliable guide to Marx, and in his own
confessions he more or less admits that. For the most part, Marx's thought
just evolved, and being creative, he opened many more possible inquiries
than he followed through to the end.


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