[OPE-L] Lawrence Krader on objective and subjective value

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Nov 12 2007 - 14:56:34 EST


I can follow your jocular, sarcastic poesis quite well (I read Castoriadis
also), but thought I would try for a serious answer to your unserious quip.
I don't subscribe to historical materialism, which is a doctrine, I favour
the materialist conception (Auffassung) of history as a guide to research,
like Marx & Engels. That means I don't believe in creationism or the
idealist interpretation of history, and that I think social consciousness
and the selfawareness that people have, ought to be explained in terms of
the practical relations they have in society, the way they practically
produce and reproduce the conditions of their existence, which obviously
involves both objective and subjective conditions.

Marx & Engels never claimed the "universal truth" of historical materialism,
or any non-tautological universal truths for that matter. Scientific
statements are always fallible statements for which we can specify the
limits of their application. Universal statements are usually metaphysical
statements, not amenable to experimental proof, precisely because they are
universal. All scientists operate with some metaphysical beliefs, as Stefan
Amsterdamski noted, but if they are scientists, they acknowledge that their
metaphysical beliefs are metaphysical, and not scientific.

Marx & Engels thought that the materialist interpretation of history, as a
guide or orientation, would probably be modified in future by the scientific
research it inspired (a similar point is made by Makoto Itoh in "The
Political Economy of Socialism"), and they strongly criticised the "world
schematism" of philosophers who invented "systems" from behind their writing
desks, without doing any serious scientific research into the historical
facts of experience, as well as university drop-outs who sought to occupy a
leading position in the socialist movement. Marx indeed writes in the
preface to Das Kapital,  "every scientific criticism is welcome", though
vulgar prejudice is not. He wasn't afraid of criticism, to the contrary,
criticism led to the growth of knowledge.

Marx & Engels never laid claim to a privileged epistemic position, you are
confusing them with Louis Althusser and Stalin, who claimed the scientific
authority of Marxism (as interpreted by the Central Committee) prior to any
science really occurring, a bureaucratic fallacy. Goran Therborn among
others has emphasized the need to apply the tools of historical materialism
to the evolution of the doctrine itself (see his book "Science, Class &
Society", which was still influenced by Althusser to some extent). I myself
translated a book about the history of Marxist interpretations of the USSR.

For Marx & Engels, a privileged epistemic position was something to be
conquered through doing real research, not something granted by divine or
official ordination. In this sense, Marx wrote specifically that "there is
no royal road to science" and if you want to ascend to its luminous summits,
then you have to do the work to get there, i.e. if you want to get to the
top of the mountain you have to climb up the mountain. This was in the days
before there were the helicopters which Leonardo da Vinci imagined and
instant wisdoms through Googling the Internet.

You ask "How could Marx penetrate through the so-called "commodity
fetishism" where other political economists could not? Obviously they had
some limitation that Marx does not have."

I think this is partly true and partly false. It is true insofar as from a
certain vantage point, it is possible to understand the causes of the
reifying effects of commodification. But it is also false, since the insight
into the reifying effects of commodification was never limited to Marx at
all. Numerous 19th century political economists as well as early socialists
and anarchists concerned with "the social question" commented on aspects of
it. Marx was quite aware that alienation is never absolute, because
alienation also gives rise to the revolt against alienation, and reification
gives rise to the protest against reification. Insofar as commerce
dehumanises human relations, it also gives rise to the attempt to
re-humanise them. Insofar as postmodernism has a progressive content, it is
precisely to be found in this area.

Many leftists of the 1960s painted a picture of monumental, monolithic
domination of totally alienated people, but this is a fallacy, because it
ignores the way ordinary people subvert that domination, more or less
playfully, or more or less seriously, with their own meanings. Alienation is
rarely absolute, and precisely for that reason, people can acquire insight
of and understanding of their alienated condition. It is just that they
cannot abolish their alienation totally as individuals, however much they
try, since they are still trapped in the society which generates it. All
they can do, short of enacting a social revolution collectively, is to
generate new, authentic social relations and forms of consciousness which
partially overcome that alienation, and make life more liveable. The human
species as a distinct species is maybe 4 million years old, while bourgeois
civilisation is only a few hundred years old, and therefore many aspects of
humanity live on, even if they are denied by commerce and the cash nexus,
which reject the value of anything unless it can be traded, and postulate
liberal democracy as the "end of history" in a neo-Hegelian way.

My interest in Lawrence Krader is not a tactic for evading important logical
implications of Marx's theory. I am interested in Krader because he stayed
curious, and tried to understand the limits of economic definitions through
historical and anthropological research, and in that way enriched the
meaning and understanding of those definitions. After all, Marx's theory of
value is not intended simply to apply to capitalism, but to the whole
history of trade, even if "value-form" theorists deny Marx's statement that
"many thinkers tried for more than two thousand years to understand the
value form".

Marx wrote:"Der Austausch oder Verkauf der Ware zu ihrem Wert ist das
Rationelle, das natürliche Gesetz ihres Gleichgewichts; von ihm ausgehend,
sind die Abweichungen zu erklären..."  meaning "the exchange or sale of
commodities at their value is the rational, natural law of their
equilibrium; taking them as point of departure, the deviations can be
explained" (Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Band III, in: Marx/Engels, Werke, Band
25, Berlin 1964, p. 197). He explains,  however, that in capitalist society
mostly commodities are not traded exactly at their value, which has
important implications for the quest of realising the maximum surplus value
from the products of human labour. You may of course disagree with Marx's
procedure, and adopt another procedure, but you cannot seriously argue that
Marx subscribed to an equilibrium theory, under conditions where commodities
in reality do not trade at their value. You can only do so by regarding
price-value deviations as irrelevant. Well, few modern investment
specialists would follow you in this - they make their money especially from
price-value deviations.


What'll I tell him
When he comes to me for absolution
Wouldn't you know it
Hope I don't make a bad decision
'Cos I'd like to believe
That there is a god
Why sinful angels
Suffer for love
I'd like to believe
In the terrible truth
In the beautiful lie
Like to know you
But in this town I can't get arrested
If you know me
Why don't you tell me what I'm thinking
Hey don't look now
But there goes God
In his sexy pants
And his sausage dog
And he can't stand
'Cos he looks so good in black, in black

- "There goes God", Crowded House

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