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

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Jul 01 2007 - 12:24:33 EDT

A few more short replies, just to mark differences.
1. It does not follow from the characterization 
of wage labor as slavery that Marx fought against 
wage gains.  It would be absurd to argue 

2. It's not clear that Capital is a study of the 
history of English capitalism. Marx tends to 
abstract away from the history of the 
interference of the state in the economy and the 
history of relations with non capitalist modes of 
production, so for such reasons (and they could 
be multiplied) Capital does not seem to be  a 
historical study of English or any other national 
capitalism. It seems altogether more abstract. 
And here is the problem.

3. I don't understand what is a good or bad 
abstraction in Jurriaan's mind despite the great 
length of his posts. I see that Kuruma has tried 
to lay out the nature of Marx's abstraction, but 
Jurriaan has made no contact with what this so 
called orthodox Marxist argued. Perhaps calling 
him orthodox or RCP is good enough refutation for 
Jurriaan. It's not for me.

4. What kinds of empirical tests would validate 
or invalidate a theory such as Marx's? Again 
despite the length of Jurriaan's post I have no 
idea how he would answer this.

5. Yes breakdown could mean many things (his good 
friend Wm J Blake suggested that it be translated 
as catastrophe) but despite the length of your 
post you don't establish that Hilferding or Bauer 
believed that valorization itself could result in 
economic and social catastrophe. Grossman thought 
that their theories implied that it simply could 
not, and he thought that they were wrong before 
they were proven wrong. You said Grossman was 
wrong. You write a lot about Grossman but you 
don't establish your own point or even really try 


>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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