[OPE-L:296] Re Mike L's proposal (ope-l:293)

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Fri, 20 Oct 1995 10:27:26 -0700

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Andrew here:

Mike Leibowitz suggests we ask why capitalism is still around. Obviously an
extremely important question. But it isn't one I think political economy can
answer, at least not alone. While capital tries to turn society into
component parts of its unidimensional drive to expand itself, this one-sided
ness is not the whole of reality. Accordingly, Mike's question will not yield
to an "economistic" sort of answer (I am NOT of course trying to label Mike an
"economist"). On the other hand, of the three types of explanations he lays
out, I do think changes in the nature of capitalism since Marx's time are
very important. Certainly, the worldwide stage that has been with us since the 1930's, characterized by permanent state interference in the economy, and the
state increasingly assuming the role of the "national power of capital over
labour" (which Marx singled out after the Paris Commune--the quote is from
_Civil War in France_), are crucial aspects of the problem.

This is not strictly economics though, and there are other major features of
the problem. For one, what have been the failures of the Left, including the
"MArxist" left? Relatedly, what damage did Stalinism do to smear the concepts
of socialism and Marxism? I happen to think these questions are probably
more crucial than what used to be called "economic factors" in explaining why
capitalism is still around.

Regarding value, the transformation problem, etc. I can certainly sympathize
with Mike's--and others--desire to make an end-run around these issues. That
desire stems from a long experience that such discussions are metaphysical and
sterile, because everyone is just putting a different "twist" or "slant" on
the SAME solution--in the case of the TP--or arguing about things that don't
have a bearing on concrete problems--like value. Certainly, this USED TO BE
the case. But the new rethinking on these matters is yielding very different
answers, proposing an interpretation of Marx's value theory that "makes sense
out of" it, and thereby challenging the very concepts that everyone has
agreed on and taken for granted in the past, as well as the conventional
answers. For instance, it is now clear that the misconceptions surrounding
the "transformation problem" are intimately connected with acceptance of the
Okishio theorem, the critique that value is "redundant," the belief that
Marx's value theory can yield negative values and surplus-values, etc. This
is NOT to argue the primacy of the TP, but to argue that all these conundrums
that bedeviled people are integrally related, mathematically as well as
conceptually; that the "logical objections" to Marx's value theory are all
wrong, for more or less the SAME reasons; that the basic tenets of the
orthodox "Marxist economics" of the 1970s and 1980s must be rescrutinized
precisely because they CANNOT make sense out of Marx's value theory (i.e.,
they find scads of "logical inconsistencies" and build ever-more elaborate
conceptual and mathematical structures trying to square the circle--for a
"conceptual" example: the attempts to justify value theory even though it
is [allegedly] redundant. For a mathematical example--the "fundamental
Marxian theorem"); and that the old ways of thinking about questions is
accordingly falling apart. What I mean by the latter is that, in the old
paradigm, discusiion of "value" was epistemological-metaphysical; discussion
of the "transformation problem" was an esoteric corner reserved for matho-
philes and those who wanted to grind a new ax though a "new" solution (apolo-
gies to Foley/Dumenil, et al.--I meant "new" in a much more inclusive sense--)
and discusions of the falling rate of profit broke down into some shouting that the profit rate falls "becasue that is the nature of capital," and everyone
else accepting the Okishio theorem but trying to find yet another "trick,"
like joint production or non-perfect competition, to produce a falling rate.

I think this description is now breaking down, and that discussions of value
and the TP have become important to REAL issues. The foremost of them is
indeed the falling rate of profit, and relatedly, crisis--because the new
rethinking of Marx's value theory has also *begun* to make sense out of Marx's
idea that the very same forces that lead to a falling rate of profit lead to the destruction of capital. (A _separate_ crisis theory, rooted in capitalists'
responses to a falling rate of profit, or underconsumption, etc., is not needed--here's another example of old distinctions breaking down).

For these reasons, I don't think that a new discussion of value has to be
sterile. And I think it won't be if it begins with discusing how Marx might
have been non-wrong after all.

Andrew Kliman