[OPE-L:72] Marx's Goals and Ours

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Tue, 19 Sep 1995 08:14:56 -0700

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"Beginnings are always difficult in all sciences." (Marx, Preface to the
1st edition)

Beginnings are indeed difficult as any writer or scientist knows. In this
post I'm going to try to briefly identify Marx's goals in writing
_Capital_ and compare those goals to our own.

I. Marx's goals:
A. Outline and explain the logic of capitalism and its "laws of motion."
[the primary goal]

B. Explain the logic of capitalism with his understanding of
historical materialism and his dialectical method. While the
particular style of exposition was somewhat influenced by his
desire to defend Hegel from the "ill humored, arrogant and
mediocre epigones" (Postface to the 2nd edition), it is clear both
from the "prefaces"/ postfaces" and the previously-written
_Grundrisse_ that Marx's understanding of dialectics was an
essential component of his method of studying political economy.

C. Develop a theory that would serve as a guide for his revolutionary
politics, i.e. to further develop a class analysis and perspective
that would help workers and revolutionaries understand the world
better so that they could change it.

D. Write a popular work which would be successful. This is related to
"C" above. I think that it is also reasonable to assume that he
wanted the Book (especially Vol 1) published expeditiously (a
concern for authors in his time and ours). It is known that Marx
was disappointed in the reception that V1 received. This, no doubt,
had some impact on his decision not to complete all of the
remaining (V2&V3) manuscripts.

E. Develop logical categories which mirrored capitalist reality,
rather than just develop abstract theory. This goal, of course, is
related to Marx's materialist method. In many places, in VI
especially, Marx took great pains to explain how his logical
categories reflected real, historical forces and developments. To
make this connection, Marx had to gather large amounts of
historical and empirical evidence.

F. Develop a critique of political economy and existing thought. This
was done, not only in what became TSV, but in each of the other Books.
In part, this was done for "scientific" reasons (to show how his
work represented an advance on existing thought) and, in part, for
political reasons (such as countering Malthus, Say, and even,

The above, of course, is only intended to be a rough sketch of Marx's

II. OPE-L Goals:
Let's take A-F above and ask how Marx's goals relate to our goals.

A. The primary motivation of explaining the logic of capitalism should
be our main goal as well. We have the advantage of being able to draw
upon the collective experience of over 100 years of writings on
political economy by Marxist economists. While, as Marxists, we
must make an attempt to understand Marx's purpose and analysis,
our task should be to work towards the goal of developing a
framework, initially in skeleton-like form, that will allow us and
others to advance our understanding of capitalism. We do not have
to complete such a task ourselves. If we are able to identify and
logically connect outstanding issues relating to understanding
capitalism, that would be a major accomplishment of and in itself
in that it would allow us (individually and/or collectively) and
others to move forward (even if by a negative critique of our
work). After we have completed this task (I am assuming
optimistically that we will be able to largely meet that goal),
our next task might be to further consider particular topics and,
possibly, advance the theory itself.
While this should be our primary goal, this list might be
usefully used for other purposes as well, e.g. to subject
works-in-progress to criticism and suggestion and to review and
discuss new releases that relate to furthering the analysis of

B. All attempts to understand social questions require methodological
underpinings whether those understandings are stated explicitly or are
implied. We will have to consider the logic that we wish to use
regarding understanding capitalism. We can initially attempt to
discuss this question now by discussing the importance of Marx's
method to his plans, our understanding of that method, and our
critical perspectives on that method. More specifically, we will
need to consider the logical divisions in _Capital_ and our
critical understanding of those divisions. I will leave it to
others to discuss Marx's method more, however, I do want to
note that this can not be an issue that we resolve now since issues
of method will come up at most stages in our project and will have
to be discussed at those other times as well.

C. Our class perspectives and politics (which may differ in certain
regards) will clearly also impact our project. I would like to think
that we could produce a framework that would be of use, at some
point, to workers, trade unions, and working-class political
movements. How this fits into the logic of understanding
capitalism will have to be discussed now and at subsequent points
in the process.

D. It would certainly be desirable if we could end up producing works
that can be read popularly. To do this, we will have to pay
attention to several factors. Firstly, our writing should be clear
and free of mystifying jargon. Secondly, we should try to only use
technical concepts and advanced mathematics where such concepts or
math are essential to the understanding of a particular subject.
Even when this proves necessary, we should also try to explain in
non-technical and non-mathematical terms the basic concepts that
we are advancing. Thirdly, we should write in a style that is
intelligible to non-academics and non-economists. All of the
above, however, only really become issues when we have something that
we wish to share with others outside of our list. Hopefully, our
writing style will prove more intelligible than Marx's or many other
We are currently using a medium, unavailable to Marx, that would
allow us to communicate our ideas to thousands with a few presses of
the button. We can discuss, though, how we can communicate our
ideas publicly when we have something to communicate, i.e. we can
cross that stream if and when we get to it.

E. Given our limited aim, we don't have to conduct long reviews of
historical and statistical evidence. However, as we move to discuss
more concrete subjects, we will probably find that we have
somewhat different understandings of real-world economic
processes. We should certainly keep in mind that we don't want to
develop a abstract theory divorced from the real capitalist world
and we will have to ask each other occasionally for empirical and
historical evidence regarding these real forces where we disagree
on our perception of what is/has been occurring. We will also find,
no doubt, that we as individuals have different strengths and
weaknesses regarding our understanding of particular subjects. It
may be the case that, as we move towards more concrete subjects,
we will have to give some additional consideration to expanding
our group to include people with expertise in particular areas
that we might be weak in.

F. While our own understandings are certainly related to our own
critiques of existing economic thought, my own feeling is that we
can avoid the task of critiquing marginalist et. al. economic
thought. I would say that the best critique is to advance our own
theory, i.e. the best defense often turns out to be the best
offense. On the other hand, it may happen that individuals feel
the need to respond to the emergence of new (especially
reactionary) streams of thought and practice. If we find that this
becomes the case, then, perhaps we can leave room enough on the
list for discussion of such issues. In other words, while we have
a primary object, we might be able to use the list secondarily for
other purposes as well (perhaps, including joint writing). There
are other lists where such topics can be discussed (PEN-L,
marxism, PKT), but we might find it useful, under certain
circumstances, to discuss some issues on this list because of its
different structure. Note that this idea (that we can use the list
for other purposes besides developing the outline) is a new idea
which should be discussed if anyone has any reservations.

While this post does not speak to substantive issues such as Marx's
method and the logical structure of _Capital_, I believe it is useful for
two major purposes:

1) it highlights the potential for this list and our enterprise; and

2) it allows room for us to agree on certain common purposes,
understandings, and advantages before we go on to discuss the next
issues where we might find disagreement.

Try to remember the promise and possibilities of our venture as we move

In OPE-L solidarity,