[OPE-L] exploitation and abstraction

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jun 27 2007 - 20:26:25 EDT


I have no particular quarrel with your clear presentation. When I studied this in 1981-82, I was influenced in particular by Leszek Nowak, a profound Pole, who wrote substantive volumes of work on idealisation procedures. I also read many others at the time, e.g. Zeleny, Sayer, Rosdolsky, Kosik, Vygodsky, Ilyenkov etc. etc.

My quarrel with some Marxists concerns among others these things:

1) Their abstraction is not an abstraction from any real empirical object, it's an abstraction from another abstraction, and that can go anywhere within reason, since it is not disciplined by a real empirical object. At least somebody like Paul Bairoch studied real history.
2) Exaggerated claims are made about the uniqueness and speciality of Marx's abstractive procedures, even although nobody can agree on what exactly they were, let alone replicate them convincingly.
3) Many times Marx is simply sloppy, and he isn't even aware of the full implications of his own creative thought. In part, this is because he never published the full manuscript.
4) The suggestion is we should apply Marx's method of abstraction, rather than use our own brains and narratives, and the most advanced abstractive techniques of today's science.
5) The logic of discovery (i.e. the discovery of the dialectics in the subjectmatter) is confused with the dialectical presentation of categories and theorems. You have to analyse something real before you can present your findings in a dialectical way.
6) Marx's dialectical meanings are often embedded in the German language, where one word can function in multiple conventional meanings.
7) The reference to "levels of abstraction" is often a subterfuge, betraying ignorance about what the real questions are that need to be asked, and inability to know how to study a real empirical object. 

The amount of nonsense talked about Marx in this context gets so bad that sometimes you think, better start afresh, do my own thing.

To fully understand Kozo Uno's dialectical "tidy-up" probably takes an understanding of Japanese reasoning styles and the language. But Sekine provides quite a good introduction about the essence of the whole thing. 

Kozo Uno's dialectics could be criticised in some ways, for example:

1) Uno's theory of purely capitalist society is incomplete - he misses out on the doctrine of consumption, the doctrine of the state and the doctrine of foreign trade.
2) The dialectic is rather dead, formalistic and scholastic, and the relationships linking the pure theory, the stages theory and the analysis of specific countries remain unclear, and aren't specified in a non-arbitrary way (Makoto Itoh hotly disputes this, Chai-on Lee affirms it). You are left with a Weberian ideal type.  Uno wants to ascend step by step from the principles to the empiria, but this inverts Marx's method, which abstracts principles from the empiria and what people thought about them. 
3) Uno lacks a notion that the development of capitalism is itself shaped by conflicts between social classes, which are not an exogenous factor, but a vital endogenous element propelling the system along.

Nevertheless I think Uno contributes many important insights, and enriches the reasoning about the basic arguments. Everybody knows economics bursts at the seams with ceteris paribus theorems.

On Marx's beard, see Hal Draper, "Hair! or, Marxism and Pilosity", Special Note D, in: The Politics of Social Classes, MR Press, 1978, pp. 596-598.  

Ernest Mandel had a useful short summary once about what Das Kapital was about:

The subtitle of the work is: "A Critique of Political Economy." "Political economy" is for Marx a demi-science, a science which was transformed into an ideology. It was arrested in its development and deviated from the scientific path because it remained captive to the prejudices and concepts of the dominant class of its epoch, the bourgeoisie. It was because their own logic would have obliged them to condemn the capitalist mode of production, expose its contradictions, demonstrate its transitory character and presage its end that the bourgeois economists were incapable of completing the work of Adam Smith and Ricardo and that the classical school of political economy began to decay. In carrying through the "critique of political economy" Marx therefore had to combine three steps at one time. He had to analyze the functioning of capitalist economy by disclosing its contradictions and showing to what extent the official economic science is incapable of rendering an account of these and explaining them. He had to analyze the theories of the bourgeois economists, set forth the contradictions, inadequacies and errors of their theories and trace these back to their roots in the ideological, that is to say, their apologetic role, in relation to bourgeois society. And he had to analyze the class struggle between the capitalists and the workers, which enabled the economic and ideological evolution to be incarnated in living men who made their own history, in the last instance through the class struggle. http://www.ernestmandel.org/en/works/txt/1968/centenary_of_marx_capital.htm
In Uno's principles we have only one step, not the three legs. Mandel's "the last instance through the class struggle" might in fact be "daily resistance" or "daily struggle". I don't know why he tacked that bit on at the end.


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