[OPE-L:240] MegaPost part I of III

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Wed, 11 Oct 1995 09:57:58 -0700

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NOTE 1: This was written in the main before Paul's comments,
Jerry's response and Jerry's brainstorm (which for some
reason appeared on my screen as 'Jerry's brain')

NOTE 2: It's coming in three parts. Treat it as three posts.

NOTE 3: Ignore the earlier, abortive attempt to send all 3

Where to Begin? Comments part I of III

Alan Freeman

First an apology for lateness: I (got) signed up nearly a
month ago and haven't said a word. There are incidental
reasons - I went to the Marx-Actuel conference and I sent out
a mailing for the upcoming mini-conference on value theory at
the EEA, both time-consuming. The more basic reason is that I
haven't been sure what my contribution should be. I'm still
not, but I sense some urgency in Jerry's requests for a
response and so I'll do so as best I can.

My most basic problem is that I don't really know what the
project is for. This sounds more negative than it is; I think
the initiative of creating a list for discussion on political
economy in the tradition of Marx is excellent and I think
Jerry has done an excellent job. The discussion has been
fascinating and it is a datum that the same issues are
surfacing elsewhere. Clearly interest is reviving, after a
long period of reflection, in a re-examination of the
fundamentals of Marx's critique of political economy. For
that reason alone the project has the fullest support I can
offer and any criticism should be taken in the context of
that support. But I remain unclear what an OPE participant is
actually intended to do, and what the final result will be,
which limits my ability to contribute effectively to it.

Second an apology for length: this post is a long one as you
will have realised by downloading it.

Of course the two apologies go together: my hope is that in
words per week I turn out to be average.

To offset both I have tried to arrange the post to allow for
a quick first read.

I've separated out the conclusions and put them at the
beginning of the post, and I've organised the post in two
parts each summarised at its beginning for people with
limited time. People can then read the argument at leisure,
or not at all, as they choose.



Part of the problem is the medium of E-Mail. This is a great
new tool. It has a drawback; without personal acquaintance
with your collaborators and their work, it is easy to make
mistakes about what they want to do. Despite a series of
exchanges with Gil earlier this year, I don't think I really
began to understand his point of departure and concerns until
we met at the URPE summer camp; one of my reasons for going
there. Having done so I am glad we met and all the more glad
of his participation in this forum. Similarly despite a long
interest in John Ernst's neglected work, to which Andrew
Kliman drew my attention, I did not get to grips with his
concerns until we met in New York a few days later. I haven't
met most of the others on this list and I regret to say I
haven't read in many cases enough of their work to understand
what they are trying to do. URPE has declined my contribution
to the ASSA sessions, regretfully because I hoped to visit
the West Coast and take the time to meet a few more people.
Face-to-face contact has merits which I don't think E-Mail

Perhaps my main worry is therefore that when I read Jerry's
proposals and the original invitation, the words of these
statements fail to convey what is actually intended. A
response based on the words alone therefore risks creating
unnecessary misunderstanding.

However as the BeeGees say, words are all I have. So I'll
just have to respond with more words and hope the result is
productive. My guess is that there is a 900robability that
when you all read this response we will discover that my
reading of your words doesn't correspond to what you intended
to say. Maybe this will help clarify the words. I can only
ask that my reactions, which seem to cut across some of the
thrust of the original proposals, are treated with as much
tolerance as you can manage and ask you to bear in mind the
limitations of the medium.



Preface Summary of Conclusions (this post)

II: General: The project in context (to be mailed as part II)

III: Particular: Gerry's proposals (to be mailed as part III)

Preface: Summary of Conclusions


I draw five conclusions. The first four relate to questions
which I tend to think *any* project (not just OPE) will have
to either agree on, or agree to disagree on, but cannot
ignore. The fifth is a concrete proposal for the discussion
for this project.

1) What is its relation to the political context we find
ourselves in today? I do not mean that it should have the
mechanistic aim of deducing political conclusions from
economic analysis. I mean it should have a conception of
*what* it is analysing, and *why* it is being compelled to
analyse it now, at this particular time.

It thus needs a conception of its own material basis.
Otherwise it will exist only in the academic stratosphere.

2) What relation does it have to other projects? Is it
complimentary to them, contradictory to them, a subset of
them, a superset of them? I have no fear of disagreement but
there are two obvious and polar errors to be made. The first
is to pretend agreement when it does not exist, and the
second is to find disagreement where none exists. Thus, what
we need above all is *clarity*.

I think it would be a negative development if any project set
itself the task of doing *everything*. There has to be a self-
imposed limitation. I think this is the source of my greatest
unease concerning OPE. I have an idea what it intends to do.
I want to know what is it *not* going to do.

3) What is its relation to Political Economy since Marx?

I think it is not an incidental but an integral part of any
enquiry into the modern world, that we should address and
Critique its forms of consciousness, that is its political
economy. Whilst not a necessary part of the method of
presentation, it is an essential part of the method of
enquiry. This is my biggest single worry about the approach
so far outlined, because the requirement to Critique existing
political economy, even though part of the title of the work
we are addressing, seems to have been tooo hastily set aside.
I think this is a basic methodological problem, not an
optional extra.

4) What is its relation to the interpretation given to Marx
by Political Economy since Marx?

I think we are compelled to address and clairfy the way in
which Marx is represented by modern political economy; not
necessarily to agree but to be clear where the disagreements
lie. In the century that lies between us and Marx's death,
the main cause of the gap between Marxism and the real world
is not the changes in the real world but the changes in
Marxism. This century is filled with 'interpretations' of
Marx which explain neither Marx nor reality. Every one of us
has received his initiation into Marx's economics not through
Marx himself but through the filter or at least the prism of
an intermediary. The 'received' interpretation of Marx is IMO
irretrievably and unreconstructably wrong; therefore if we
want to discuss almost any given concept however innocuous,
we have to separate out Marx's own concept from the way it is
commonly perceived in the literature, and not only in the
literature but in our own thinking.

For reasons given below I would greatly prefer us to single
out one , two or at *most* three fundamental concepts - my
first candidate would be the concept of value itself, as I
shall explain - and clarify our positions on this limited
set. These should be chosen on the following basis: what will
best equip future enquirers to apply Marx's analysis to the
modern world? What are the greatest obstacles to doing this?

I think if we do not rapidly achieve a substantial limitation
of this type on the field of our enquiry, the discussion will

5) Suggested topics for discussion and order of discussion.
Ideally we should begin with a subset of these.

a) The conceptual foundation of Value, price and the
commodity. A Critique of these concepts in modern
political economy and in Marx (Critique in the *strict*
sense of analysing bringing out the necessary
presuppositions of the concepts; not an exhaustive
survey of the concept as it appears in the literature)

b) Money. Likewise a critique

c) Surplus Value, likewise a critique

d) Relative Surplus Value and technical change; a detailed
discussion of the 1861-63 manuscripts and of the
concepts of Organic Composition, FROP, and the
formation of social from individual values

e) Accumulation, above all expanded reproduction. A
discussion of the lacunae of Volume II

f) Trade, the world economy, world capital movements,

g) The modern state

h) Poverty

I) Crisis

[Critique: a digression to clarify. The word 'critical' in
Anglo-Saxon discourse has got the meaning of 'negatively
evaluating'. I use the word, as I think most OPE-Lers do, in
its original sense of bringing out the *presuppositions* of
systems of thought. A Film Critic doesn't just rubbish
things: She or he tries to explain where they come from, what
they achieve, and what their limitations are. We have the
same responsibility to our own past].

Parts II and III follow.