Re: [OPE-L] "Levels of abstraction"

From: Dave Zachariah (davez@KTH.SE)
Date: Thu Jan 31 2008 - 12:47:13 EST

on 2008-01-31 15:21 GERALD LEVY wrote:
> The whole dispute, to seems to me, revolves around the issue
> of whether one accepts that the productive/unproductive
> distinction has basically the same meaning in all class societies
> or whether it is specific to capitalism.  You claim that there is
> a trans-historical sense to the distinction which can be applied
> to comprehending what is productive of surplus value under
> capitalism. If one doesn't accept that claim (which I don't) then
> it's hard to see how we could agree on these questions.
> What you call the 'historical materialist' approach may well
> help us to comprehend the character of non-capitalist societies.

You are right, but generality is one of the three criteria by which one
judges theories.

Historical materialism uses historically invariant concepts such as
'labour', 'relations of production', 'class', 'surplus product' etc. in
order to understand and compare historically specific societies. If you
take it seriously, as I do, then an analysis of capitalism must be a
specific application of this approach.

Capitalism may require historically specific concepts such as 'money',
'price', 'wage-labour' etc. but the general concepts of historical
materialism still apply. If they didn't, it would be a poor research
strategy. Indeed, Marx's theory of surplus value while specific to
capitalism rests on a historically invariant concept of surplus labour.

Don't lose sight of the original concern for the productive/unproductive
distinction. What Paul C and I have been arguing follows naturally from
a materialist concept of history, and capitalism is no exception to it.

//Dave Z

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