[OPE-L] Reply to Ajit Sinha and Rakesh Bhandari

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Jul 01 2007 - 10:32:06 EDT

Ajit, I am obviously well aware that you cannot get away from theory (in
1980 I passed a philosophy of science course with an A+, if that matters),
which provides a far better and more sophisticated critique of empiricism
than Althusser offers, in terms of the theory-laden nature of observation.
I think it it perfectly ok to model theorems mathematically to verify their
logical and quantitative implications, but personally I am more interested
in actual empirical trends. My experience is, that the theorems and models
are often too simple or qualified to understand the real trends and
tendencies, the conceptualisations of economics are often poor or
illiterate, and that an historical-empirical approach sheds much more light
on what actually happens and will happen.


Rakesh, it is difficult to discuss with you at all because you just assert
or alllege things without arguing your case, as I have done. Very quickly,
you make a few short marginal comments implying allegations, insinuations
and slurs, but to respond to that, takes quite a long post, since in the
process you make so many errors so quickly and get so much wrong. If the
participants in a discussion have nothing in common, and do not treat each
other's viewpoints in good faith, then no discussion is possible, just
polemics and slanging matches.

You yourself previously cited to me in debate Marx's critique of Lassalle
concerning wage-slavery, in the Critique of the Gotha Program, so why you
now want to reject your own argument I do not know.

You say "I think it's obvious that you have Marx wrong" but you do not
explain why. Anybody can say that, but it's opinion and not scholarly
argument based on argument and evidence. I do not regard you as an authority
on Marx by the way, but on a certain RCP reading of Marx. Obviously I have
never argued that exploitation is not a reality, that is a falsification, to
the contrary I have precisely argued that Marxists take a very narrow view
of exploitation (in contrast to Marx himself) which I think is mistaken. You
simply ignore all that. I do not defend empiricism as you claim, I never
have, I defend empirical and historical research to get better theories. But
as a matter of fact empiricist analyses are typically far superior to
abstract ranting by Marxists, and you learn more from them.

Marx writes in his Preface: "The physicist either observes physical
phenomena where they occur in their most typical form and most free from
disturbing influence, or, wherever possible, he makes experiments under
conditions that assure the occurrence of the phenomenon in its normality. In
this work I have to examine the capitalist mode of production, and the
conditions of production and exchange corresponding to that mode. Up to the
present time, their classic ground is England. That is the reason why
England is used as the chief illustration in the development of my
theoretical ideas."

In other words Marx was guided by English polical economy, English
capitalism and English socio-economic data, and that was that was the main
basis he abstracted from. He studied all this in detail instead of simply
spinning "r-r-revolutionary abstractions". Of course you can juggle with
words, and claim that English data are "merely" an illustration, but even
that already ignores that simply in order to find these illustrations, Marx
had to study, and abstract from, a mass of empirical material, which he did.
Your drop-of-the-hat abstractions are simply abstractions from abstractions,
Marx's abstractions are in large part abstractions from the empirical
material he actually comprehensively studied (of course he also studied the
theories of the political economists).

I don't propose to discuss Lukacs's views of Marx's method, both of which
changed in the course of time, since anybody can read the texts for himself.
Lukacs's argument is that Marxist orthodoxy inheres in fidelity to his
method, and I provide 8 crystal clear arguments for why I think that view as
such is flawed. You respond to none of them, from which I conclude that you
have no arguments against my case and concede my points. I have no
particular objection against Kuruma at this stage, because I haven't studied
his works yet in context. I was commenting to Michael about some
considerations about method that I have. I am saying that it is impossible
to be orthodox, if there is not even any agreement on what the orthodox
interpretation is. My claim is that Lukacs's understanding of the meaning of
orthodoxy itself is flawed, and that his doctrinal reading is just one
reading. He was a very learned man but in fact often gets it wrong too. The
categories of mediation and totality are metaphysical categories used by a
variety of thinkers, and I regard Orthodox Marxism as a whole is a
metaphysical, quasi-religious doctrine. Once you drop all that, you can get
back to the things Marx was really concerned with, using your own brains.
The question of orthodoxy arose for Lukacs in the context of the split in
the International, and the controversies about reformism and revolutionism
at that time.

Grossman talks specifically about a Zusammenbruch (a breakdown or collapse)
and aims among other things to prove that, beyond periodic crises, the
capitalist system must ultimately collapse. His title refers to the law of
capitalist breakdown, and he tries indeed to prove that this breakdown
occurs according to economic laws. He aims to do so with a quantitative
model of economic reproduction which shows that, in the end, insufficient
surplus value is produced to valorise the masses of capital produced,
causing crisis. But this model rests on quantitative and qualitative
assumptions which, as I argued before, I do not accept, and which I think
are far too simplistic. For one thing, Grossman focuses only on production
capital, ignoring the mass of assets which accumulates external to
production. For another thing, I think he ignores important quantitative
implications of market expansion and credit. In addition, I think he does
not adequately consider the economic role of the state. You can of course
argue that Grossman was really not talking about collapse, but about
catastrophe, but that is an interpretation, and not what he actually says
himself. It is just fudging my clear argument. Grossman is well aware of the
bloody crises and catastrophes which capitalist gives rise to, but I am
talking about his substantive argument about the laws governing the
breakdown of capitalism. Through its various crises, the capitalist system
also mutates, and through this mutation I think the variables may in
empirical reality become aligned in different ways from what Grossmann
imagined. I have argued with evidence that Grossman's portrayal of the
1929-1931 crash as a capitalist collapse is false, because the economy did
not collapse, rather a serious depression of economic activity occurred. But
I said his notion of "breakdown" is anyhow rather vague, because it could
mean different things, ranging from recession to depression, to famine, and
to total social disintegration. You ignore all that.

Marxist economic thinkers of the first quarter of the 20th century (e.g.
Luxemburg, Bukharin, Bauer, Moszkowska, Steinberg, Grossman) at various
times tried to develop crisis theories based on Marx's reproduction schemes,
the idea being that specific disproportions must necessarily occur or recur,
and possibly recur with ever-increasing amplitude. But as Pannekoek,
Rosdolsky, Anwar Shaikh and Mandel among others have convincingly argued,
using the reproduction schemes for this purpose is misplaced, because Marx's
reproduction schemes are not intended for that purpose. They intend to prove
mainly how the whole of economic life can reproduce and perpetuate itself on
the basis of the circulation of capital, and therefore that the capitalist
mode of production can exist as a distinct and independent economic
formation, reproducing itself on a wider and wider scale. If you read what
Marx himself says about the reproduction schemes, this is quite clear. I
don't think I need to repeat all the arguments, because it is wellknown.

You can obviously argue that the reproduction schemes could be developed for
the purpose of crisis theory (which Marx did not do, so it is an unorthodox
maneouvre) but at best, all this proves is that capitalism cannot maintain
the conditions for balanced growth, longterm - what specific disproportions
you discover, will depend entirely on the quantitative and qualitatative
assumptions of the reproduction models you devise. But the impossibility for
balanced growth in the long term can also obviously be argued without any
reference to reproduction schemes. You cannot prove logically that any
specific disproportion must necessarily occur and recur in reality, at most
you can prove a more likely occurrence of some disproportions than others,
and that if certain disproportions occur, then they are fatal for the
capitalist system, or that they would have certain deleterious economic
effects. Nobody needs to prove that capitalism develops spasmodically
through booms and slumps, because that is a verifiable fact. The challenge
is to explain why this occurs, but we cannot do so by ignoring the facts.
Furthermore, there is no reason why each crisis must have exactly the same
basic causes, and Marx never said that this was the case.

An intellectually mature view of the reality of capitalist crises actually
has to come to grips with the empirical material. A few dogmatic utterances
or an abstract model good for all time will not suffice for this. Marx
himself of course said that he believed that crises were the outcome of ALL
the contradictions of the capitalist system, which means among other things
that the tendency of the rate of profit in industries to fall must be
analysed together with ALL the factors that can mediate or counteract it,
plus other circumstances.

My own argument here is different from the theories of orthodox Marxism.
Contrary to orthodox Marxist metaphysics, I think that you can empirically
prove that a tendency for the rate of profit to fall in industries exists,
beyond spinning out theories about it - I even made a bibliography of
empirical studies on profitability around the world once, though the
manuscript got lost by a Trotskyist I lent it to -  but I don't think that
it suffices to explain economic crises. All Marx really showed himself was
that crises are system-immanent, which basically means three things: (1)
markets do not tend spontaneously to an equilibrium state, even although
supply and demand obviously adjust to each other, (2) that crises are not to
be explained simply by exogenous factors impacting on market activity, (3)
the structure of capitalism makes it impossible to sustain balanced economic
growth long-term. But beyond noting a tendency of the rate of profit to fall
and various countertendencies, Marx offered no systematic analysis of the
necessity, periodicity and scope of crises.

Some of what Hilferding says is perfectly valid, but I don't accept his
theories of the state, and really his theory of finance capital has to be
qualified in the light of modern research about the real history of
capitalism. Otto Bauer's manuscript "Die größte Krise der kapitalistischen
Weltwirtschaft (1929 - 1935) Eine marxistische Erklärung" has only recently
been published by Michael Krätke and Karl Heinz Roth, and I have not read it
yet. We have Grossman's side of the story, but many other works written or
appearing at that time, are not available in English, and we don't have a
balanced overview of the Marxist controversy about capitalist crises at that
time yet, in English.

You reference to my "google stream of consciousness posts" are just
repugnant slurs. I offered substantive and referenced arguments based on my
reading, research and thinking over the years, but you never respond to
them, let alone responding to them in good faith, and you start talking
about something else instead, or insinuate I am not orthodox in my
interpretation. But I don't even want to be orthodox anyway, because I am
not a religious conservative clinging to a sacred idea. I prefer Marx &
Engels to orthodox Marxism.

I can only conclude from waht you say that you have nothing to counter my
substantive arguments, beyond innuendo, flourishes and rhetoric. It is true
that I do not have the book collection here that I used to have, and that as
a worker I mostly do not have the leisure to refer to chapter and verse in
research libraries with regard to writings I don't own a copy of. My posts
have often been long, but the reason is that complex issues are raised, and
Marxist allegations are made, which you cannot respond to rationally and
sensibly just by reiterating a certain article of faith you have.

But you are right, there is no point anymore in writing posts, at least not
long substantive ones. I have stated clearly where I stand on the issues,
and that is enough. I have to get on with life and with my spare-time
research, and constantly responding to people who deliberately misrepresent
what I mean, for the sake of scoring cheap points, is just a distraction
from my life.



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