[OPE-L] Truncating Marx

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Sep 11 2007 - 18:31:15 EDT

Hi David,

I think I understand the validity of what you said. But it raises new questions, foundational questions, such as: what is the purpose of value theory and why do you need it? What is the purpose of price theory, and why do you need it? Why does a Marxist or socialist need it? As far as I can see, there are many different answers to that, different motivations, and often shared explanatory objectives are lacking.

You say for example, "We need to understand how capitalism contains immanently within it a tendency toward instability and crisis."

It seems that you want to argue, that in going about getting that understanding, value theory is essential. But there can be all sorts of reasons for this. In a sense it is obvious that capitalism contains immanently within it a tendency toward instability and crisis, if you follow the news or read history. What purpose is the explanation to serve? Then, there might be all sorts of tendencies. I think what you mean, is that the point is to explain that the root of the problem is capitalism. But is it? If that is true, how does it help? It might help, but in what way?

What you are really saying I think is that Andrew Kliman claims consistency in advance of offering it, and more substantially that the consistency here is at the expense of any genuine theory of what determines price behaviour (in fact Andrew Kliman claims he does not really know what the empirical applicability of the law of value might be, p. 193 ff).  But at issue there is also what you are trying to explain, and why. I am not always sure that I understand Andrew Kliman's answer to that, or that I understand your answer to that, I would need to read more than I have done to get it. The explanatory objectives often refer to professorial interventions in a meandering discourse that I do not know all the ins and outs of.

As far as I understand, Marx's motive can be sketched as follows:

(1) His book is called Das Kapital. Capital accumulation existed sporadically for thousands of years, in commercial trade. At a certain point, however, with the growth of a stable commercial class, capital begins to subordinate production and consumption to its laws, i.e. reshape and dominate the entire economy according to its intrinsic principles, which was the new development of the epoch. From M-C-M' you go to M-C...P...C'-M'. Marx then wants to show without mystery how it is possible for capital to establish and maintain its rule over the whole of the economy, or indeed the whole of social life, and what the human implications are (in particular for the labouring classes; it is a critique of the cynicism and reifications of political economy as well). He tries to show, that the reproduction of the whole of social life can be organised by capital according to its principles, and regulated by it. And he shows that this is a problem-fraught process, insofar as this system inherently throws up obstacles and resistance to its own reproduction and growth. He tries to do this with a set of ordered concepts he believes can provide an integrated theory.

(2) Marx tries to study the circuits of capital mainly "in their "ideal average", or "other things being equal", i.e. abstracting out those durable or permanent features of the system which define its historically specific structure, and then he tries to specify the laws of motion or operative dynamics which arise out of that structure, and propel the system along as it reproduces itself on a larger and larger scale. He does this partly to understand what the constants and variables really are. Otherwise, you only have variations of variations, and that is not a theory but a comparativism, the theory aims to grap with historical insight what is constant and durable, and what is variable or contingent, the deeper cause and the surface appearance. You can build a theory on quicksand by mistaking effect for cause, symptom for foundation, variable for constant, and so forth. Capital can be studied from all sorts of angles, but what vantage point you take, will determine whether you can build up a consistent theory of the totality of it, or whether you just end up with paradoxes and riddles. You start off with the materialist approach to history as a guide.  The idea then is that you study the phenomena in their simplest, purest forms first, and then integrate more and more conditions to get to a more realistic picture. A sharp distinction is made between theoretical contradictions (logical inconsistencies) and the practical contradictions which the system has to resolve and mediate, in the course of reproducing itself, although the two types might be related in specific ways.

(3) However, this "ideal average" thing I refer to has a special meaning for Marx, namely, his thesis is that the penetration of capital into every sphere of life, removing all obstacles to its growth, will mean that, in reality, capital will increasingly approximate the definition of its "pure concept", its "pure motion" and simultaneously generate the conditions for its supersession, insofar as its pure form contains irresolvable contradictions, which it can only mediate or bridge, by bringing into being new conditions (forms of human cooperation and technologies), that point to an existence beyond capital. 

As regards (1), that aspect does not raise so many questions per se except for specialists, the analysis is fairly clear. As regards (2), this gets trickier, because has Marx in fact abstracted correctlly, or is his historical and economic understanding faulty in one or more respects?  As regards (3), this is really the "crunch" moment, because does real capitalism correspond increasingly to its pure concept as Marx defines it? That is very much more contentious. If you say no, then this implies Marx did not in fact abstract wholly correctly, there were other conditions which he did not consider appropriately or elaborate on. I think in fact this is the case, so then you have to adjust the analysis in different ways to make sense of the facts. How do you do that? Well, basically by sifting critically through the facts,  the theories about the facts, and the interests/purposes which the theorists had, like Marx did (the "dialectical method"). 

But the point I am trying to make is really, if these three were broadly speaking Marx's explanatory objectives in Das Kapital, should these be our explanatory objectives? Should our approach be the same as Marx's? Does the analysis Marx made serve our purposes?  Marxism says yes, but I say not necessarily at all. I mean, my life is different, I have to live my life, there's stuff I have to explain far removed from Marx's concerns. If you say for example that capital brings into existence new conditions that point to an existence beyond capital, you might want to study those new conditions, in order to see how a new society could grow out of it. A socialist could repeat Marx's story, but could also start a new story.

As for myself, I have to integrate body, mind and spirit better, and am taking a holiday from next week before starting a new job next month, I will be abroad for a while and so you will not be bothered then by my posts for some time on OPE-L :-) I have to cut down for my health also. The way I'm going I am going to die sooner then I think, or so it often seems to me.



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