[OPE] German politics (was A profit squeeze in Germany? A study inpunk economics)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Thu Dec 25 2008 - 21:10:07 EST


I think it is logically possible to obtain a consistent theory of economic value in capitalist society, along the kinds of lines that Ian Wright marks out, provided that

(1) you drop the idea that variations in volumes of labourtime can explain ALL variations in ALL values and ALL variations in ALL prices.
(2) that you distinguish appropriately between a theoretical model of the "pure cases" and the empiria.
(3) You don't try to make Marx say things he doesn't say, distinguishing appropriately between his idea and your own hunches.
(4) You don't accept Marx's story as the complete story about life in capitalist society.

I think Marx had several reasons for wanting to examine the theoretical problems in the "pure" or simplified situation, "peeled out" as it were from a mass of empiria and theories:

(1) because he believed that if you cannot even explain the simplified or "pure" situation, you cannot explain anything,
(2) he believed that the developmental tendency of capitalism was to approximate the "pure" case more closely across time, as obstacles to the free movement of capital and labour were gradually eradicated.
(3) Introducing too many variables and modifying influences into the argument would:
    (a) create a level of quantitative complexity that he could not computationally manage, and
    (b) would obviate the very aim of theory, which aims to state the essentials of phenomena in the simplest terms possible, in order to provide a real orientation for behaviour.

When I started out studying Marx as a youth, the New Zealand republican socialist Bruce Jesson wrote to me once that he thought the major mistake that Marxists often make, is to think that the abstractions of Das Kapital generally directly apply to empirical reality - students are impressed by the empirical illustrations Marx provides for his argument, and assume therefore that his argument can generally be applied directly, in an unmediated way, to empirical reality.

But that is both a fault in understanding Marx's own argument and method, and an immature understanding of reality, which leads to the attempt to find "analogies" in reality for the argument, in which case you obtain a metaphorical description of reality rather than an explanation of it. I personally think the only way out of that problem is to study the facts of experience seriously, in order to understand analytically what the validity of abstractive procedures is (that is quite a different project than "philosophies" of realism or "philosophies" of abstraction, in which the mature Marx himself showed a remarkable lack of interest). For a historical materialist, in other words, there is no way out from studying the real facts of historical processes, in order to discipline the theoretical notions we have. Human beings can, of course, entertain far more theories than they are actually able to prove. It can be a lot of work even just to prove a relatively simple and modest theorem.

I do not claim to be "fully consistent" at all times, either in theory or in everyday life - my personal philosophy is that life contains riddles, contradictions, and humanly speaking you get it correct or wrong at different times. However, I do strive for integrity and consistency as much as I am able, and do stick to my basic positions, unless I am convinced that they are plainly wrong or erroneous. Everything I think could be completely wrong, but if I was a consistent skeptic in that sense, I would never even get across the road. The human brain simply wires us to "believe" something in advance of proof or confirmation (we must assume certain things), but thankfully also provides us the with ability to discover and verify the rational or practical grounds for belief, or abandon the belief, because there are no good grounds for it.

In reality, given the conservatism of human conciousness (because it is strongly influenced by memory, and by the need for continuity and order, which are also necessary for learning), even leading scientists not infrequently continue to believe something although it has already been definitely disproven. If I still believed things that I believed 30 years ago, I would be inclined to think there was something wrong with me - if you learn anything at all, you change or modify beliefs, even if you do have to believe something all the time. The question is only how you go about that change, whether it is done thoughtfully or arbitrarily, rationally or irrationally, and that is in part a function of how you formed those beliefs in the first instance, what motivated them.

As an example, ex-OPE-Ler Michael Williams convinced me that my understanding of the commoditization of services was wrong. Marx wrote that "Capitalist production is distinguished from the outset by two characteristic features. First. It produces its products as commodities. The fact that it produces commodities does not differentiate it from other modes of production; but rather the fact that being a commodity is the dominant and determining characteristic of its products. (...) The second distinctive feature of the capitalist mode of production is the production of surplus-value as the direct aim and determining motive of production. Capital produces essentially capital, and does so only to the extent that it produces surplus-value." http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch51.htm I had previously thought that services could not really be commodities, but Michael Williams convinced me that this interpretation was mistaken.


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Received on Thu Dec 25 21:15:10 2008

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