[OPE-L] SV: [OPE-L] exploitation and abstraction

From: Martin Kragh (Martin.Kragh@HHS.SE)
Date: Sun Jul 01 2007 - 12:36:01 EDT

Re: [OPE-L] exploitation and abstraction

Hi all,
Rakesh wrote (in reply to Juriaan):
"Indeed your defense of empiricism of the simple sort reads to me as dogmatic and metaphysical."
I think that from the point of view where many marxists stand today, Juriaan's point of view is indeed completely comprehensive and needs to be taken seriously. There are too many marxists who apply concepts willy-nilly, for example to the Soviet experience, concepts that often lack basic empirical substance to back the arguments up. Take Fernandez' "Capitalism and Class Struggle in the USSR" or other recent marxist scholarship on the USSR. There we learn what Marx perhaps could have thought about the USSR, and I stress "perhaps". In fact those type of books don't tell you anything about the USSR, they tell you what a specific marxist thinks about the USSR. The evidence are carefully chosen holy texts, not facts. The results are given in the premises.
Then you have eminent scholars like Don Filtzer, R.W. Davies, Alec Nove, Moshe Lewin, Oleg Khlenviuk and other Russian scholars who get to the very complex details of reality. They have indeed theorised greatly about the USSR, but to do so they had to leave the narrow marxist schemes behind (or never care for them at all). A lot of marxist work is stuck in the world of abstractions however, and never get to their level. This is what they have in common with reactionary "scholars" such as Rummel (and only this in common), who can then claim that Stalin killed 100, 500 or 1000 million people. If you stay in the world of abstractions your ideas are never confronted with reality, and that must feel very safe indeed. In the world of abstractions anything goes. But Rummel has never been in a Russian archive, and I doubt Resnick and Wolf have been either. I don't think they speak Russian. Still they write books on the history of the USSR, "marxist books".
This method or way of working seems to me to be contrary to what Marx did himself when he decided to study the Russian commune? Didn't he at least take his time to learn basic Russian reading skills, so he could verify the few facts there were? Isn't "verifying the theories" in Das Kapital, "with reality", to see there was a fit, exactly what made Marx happy? I remember he wrote to Vera Zasulich that Das Kapital was based on English economic development primarily, and that it could not simply be translated into other contexts, no?
Being "dogmatic and metaphysical" is exactly what Juriaan is not. On the contrary, he represents common good sense in the social sciences.  Adam Smith made many fallacies, so did Marx, Keynes, and Friedman, but they represent the classics because they applied common sense to facts in a way that many people still today find convincing. (I am using the concept "common sense" broadly here, and obviously not everyone agrees on the ideas of Keynes or Friedman, in fact they are opposites, but I am talking here about the development of economics as science, not specific arguments.)
"  Your tactic is to overwhelm with volume not to argue. I am sure that I am not the only one who thinks this."
Not so surprisingly perhaps, I do not share Rakesh's point of view.
My old professor used to tell his students to keep poor essays short, and good ones long, when asked about how many pages they had to write for an assignment. I enjoy Juriaan's volume, it contributes greatly to ope-l discussions.  
Many kind regards,

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