[OPE-L:282] What is to be done

MATTICK@adlibv.adelphi.edu (MATTICK@adlibv.adelphi.edu)
Wed, 18 Oct 1995 12:23:06 -0700

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I've just recently joined ope-l, which means that there is a gigantic
stack of earlier posts for me to read to get a good idea of what you
all have been up to. Nonetheless, a few recent contributions,
particularly Alan Freeman's, lead me to jump in in medias res.

What seems to me most important and most valuable in AF's text is the
emphasis on Marxian theory as critique, and the relation of
theoretical work to actual social conditions. These are of course
connected, since economic categories--the object of the Marxian
critique--structure actual social practice as well as purport to
describe them. Nonetheless, I will separate them to make some quick

(1) In my opinion, it is not even quite correct to speak of the order
of presentation of the theory in Capital as independent of the
element of critique of political economy; the whole argument is
structured from the appearances of the system in economic theory (as
a commodity-exchanging system; see the first sentence of Vol.I!) to
the "underlying" reality (a system for the extraction of surplus
labor in the value form, accumulable as capital) and finally to an
explanation of the appearances (much of VOl. III).
Now, the situation of economics as lived category-system and as
theory is somewhat different than in Marx's day. The basic categories
of value, capital, etc. remain established in consciousness and
practice. Aside from the proliferation of brands of theory as
relatively arcane academic specialties, economics came to play an
important role in the formation of state policy with the development
of Keynesianism after the 1930s. I think my father, Paul Mattick, was
quite right to focus on Keynes as the most important ideological form
of the 1950s and 1960s; his critique was a restatement of Marxian
principles in the course of an analysis of actual social developments
and of the inadequacies of their theoretical representation.
The hopes placed in economics to solve the difficulties of
accumulation have been disappointed (note the general decline in
faith in economics). So this is the situation we need to try to
understand: the ideologies produced in response to the failure of
Keynesianism (and of course monetarism), at a moment when the limits
of state spending are apparent while it cannot be abandoned.

(2) This brings us to the economic situation. Here I think AF has
stated the issues very well: poverty, crisis, and war. Or: the limits
to accumulation (and their effects on the working class); new forms
of crisis, and the consequences of the fact that the Keynesian card
has been played; the economic functions of war, and the disruptions
of economic processes by war. I definitely feel the long term goal
should be to come to grip with these questions, so that the theory
can help us to understand the social/political situation we are

And in the short term? It's true, as Saad Filho says, that Alan's
list is still too big. I myself never tire of talking about abstract
labor, value, and money. But we might consider an alternative
approach: to begin at the end, with the phenomena to be understood.
They will lead quickly enough to the more abstract questions
(poverty, for instance, to labor-power and wage). This may not be a
good idea--I haven't thought it through. But it should be considered.
It would both establish a meaningful focus beyond pure theory and
also keep the discussion connected to the project of the critique of

Paul Mattick, Jr