[OPE-L] Marx and philosophy

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Nov 07 2007 - 08:42:41 EST


The question was whether Marx's "laws of motion" were a direct reference to
Isaac Newton's physical laws of motion. I doubt this is the case, and I
haven't found textual or theoretical evidence to that effect. I would think
that Marx's understanding of natural necessity operating in social
development owed much more to Hegel and Darwin. It is true though that Marx
does borrow metaphors or analogies from the physical sciences, and that he
believed the development of society was also governed by natural

What Marx says is that:

Intrinsically, it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of
development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of
capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these
tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results.

The German original reads as follows:

An und für sich handelt es sich nicht um den höheren oder niedrigeren
Entwicklungsgrad der gesellschaftlichen Antagonismen, welche aus den
Naturgesetzen der kapitalistischen Produktion entspringen. Es handelt sich
um diese Gesetze selbst, um diese mit eherner Notwendigkeit wirkenden und
sich durchsetzenden Tendenzen. http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me23/me23_011.htm

As you can see, in the original German there is NO MENTION of "inevitable
results" ("unvermeidliche Resultaten"). Literally, what Marx says is "It is
a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron
necessity and winning through."

The argument is that insofar the capitalist mode of production exists and
persists, then it will necessarily expand and develop internationally,
according to its intrinsic laws and tendencies, which he specifies - as the
aggregate outcome of a myriad of interactions among individuals and groups
making their lives on the basis of the capitalist mode of production,
regardless of whether this social outcome was their intention or not. The
reason is that in producing andf reproducing material life, they must
necessarily enter into relations of production and exchange which exist
independently of their will and which have certain necessary consequences
for the development of society as a whole. If those kinds of necessities did
not exist, it would be impossible to have a social science because it would
be impossible to specify any determinate outcome of social action. Marx
moots a "bold hypothesis" which can be tested against the historical record.

Of course Marxists can appeal to particular quotes to bolster all kinds of
interpretations, and so could I. The question however is what
interpretations the text really warrants. You can make Marx say all sorts of
things, but if he didn't even say it or logically imply it himself, the
interpretation of what he says is usually not very credible.

You can say that if certain conditions A,B, C exist, they will necessarily
have a certain result X, without thereby saying that X is "inevitable" per
se. It is inevitable, only insofar as conditions A,B, and C exist.
Scientific statements are usually conditional statements in this sense.
Moreover the occurrence of X, given the presence of A, B and C could be
contigently mediated by all sorts of other conditions, such that the result
X might occur only in the long term, rather than immediately. In that case,
we might say that it is inevitable only in the final analysis, or the last
instance, without denying that all sorts of other factors might intervene
prior to that result.

If there are "tensions", they are tensions within the capitalist system,
resulting out of the fact that this system generates all sorts of mutually
contradictory tendencies which must be constantly mediated in one way or
another. Hence the need to understand these tendencies in a dialectical way,
i.e. in terms of reciprocal effects in which the main tendency of a process
eventually wins out.

"Capitalism" and the "capitalist mode of production" are not identical
expressions. "Merchant capitalism" historically often lacked a specifically
capitalist mode of production. Capitalism properly speaking refers to
"capitalist activity", whatever the form is that capital may take (e.g.
rentier capital, interest-bearing capital, commercial capital, production
capital, bank capital etc.).

The first volume of Das Kapital is subtitled "The process of production of
capital", the second one "the process of the circulation of capital", and
the third one "The process of capitalist production as a whole". Clearly,
the "whole" in this case is the "whole" of the capitalist mode of
production, defined, as Marx himself says, as the unity of the production
process and the circulation process, a unity which did not exist for most of
human history, even when capital already existed, because means of
production and labour-power could not be universally bought and sold as
commodities, given the prevailing property relations and techniques. Because
that was the case, the expansion of a capitalist mode of production was
practically impossible for most of human history.

The "capitalist mode of production" is not the same as "capitalist society
as a whole".

I do not deny that Marx's treatment is unfinished and incomplete, in fact I
emphasised this, in previous mails. But you can give a picture of the
totality of something without necessarily describing all its facets in
detail, just as e.g. I can take a series of photos of a building which shows
its overall structure, without displaying all of the rooms within it, or all
of the the surrounding area.


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