[OPE-L:359] Where are we going? [Part 1]

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Sat, 28 Oct 1995 20:15:39 -0700

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... and right when I was preparing for a relaxing evening, Alan has sent
us two more massive missives. Luckily, we are allowed to turn back the
clock one hour tonight and have one more hour's sleep. As I will attempt
to demonstrate, however, that does not mean that we need to push the
OPE-L clock back.

One of the problems with responding to very long posts, like Alan's, is
that one must necessarily only respond to what one considers to be the
most important points in order to keep the "byte count" down. I will,
therefore, selectively respond to some of the issues raised in Alan's
posts (and will have to do so in two parts (like Alan has done).

It is not out of line with
> Gerry's current proposal on what to do next; rather, it is a
> contribution on strategy, or where to end.

OK, this is a good place to begin. Since we agree on the above, there is
no reason for us not to begin the next stage of our discussion on Monday as
planned. Taking Alan at his word above, he does *not* object to the
current proposal, but is concerned with other issues that he goes on to

> Why limits?
> First, there isn't time in this world to do everything. But
> second, there are other people on the case.

Of course, there should be limits. I'm quite sure that everyone would
agree to this and Alan's statement that we shouldn't and can't try to
accomplish everything.

> The discussion on Marxist political economy on PEN-L seems
> to have all but dried up, and I'm not at all convinced this
> is a good thing.

I think it is quite a stretch to infer that the change in discussion on
PEN-L is due to OPE-L. Long before there was OPE-L, there were periods
when PEN-L was either relatively quiet or wasn't having discussions on
"Marxist political economy." The threads on PEN-L ebb and flow for
reasons that have to do with PEN-L, not OPE-L.

> I still think the task of an exhaustive listing of the
> concepts and questions of Marxism, dear though it is to
> Gerry's heart, will be done better, more thoroughly, and the
> way things are going probably more quickly, by the MEGA
> dictionary project. They have nearly a hundred people
> working on it, they have thrown open their doors to the
> Marxists of the world, they have the finest Marx libraries
> at their disposal, and I see absolutely no point in
> repeating what they do. What we *could* do is help them; but
> that requires a bit of humility. Before we decide how to
> help the world we might ask a bit of it what kind of help it
> wants.

I find the above paragraph to be thoroughly confusing. First, the object
of the listing is not to have an "exhaustive listing of the concepts and
questions of Marxism." The object is to identify and discuss what we
believe are unanswered questions relating to our understanding of
*capitalism* (which Alan goes on to say *should* be our *subject*).
Second, what does this have in common with the MEGA project? I thought,
based on Alan's previous mega-post, that the MEGA project had as its
object the production of a multi-volume "dictionary." I think that is an
excellent goal, but it is quite distinct from ours.

So when Gerry says that 'what is most important
> is that our understanding of capitalism is furthered', I
> agree one hundred percent. Sounds trivial but it's easily
> forgotten.

First, I am "Jerry" not "Gerry" (I don't refer to you as Alen, do I?). :-}
Second, again we are in agreement. I suspect that the issue that bothers
Alan isn't *what*, but *how*?

> A radical suggestion: disagreement as progress
> ==============================================
> What interests me most is therefore not agreement but
> *disagreement*. Therefore let me make a radical suggestion:
> let's start from the knowledge that we are going to
> disagree, that this disagreement will be fruitful, and let
> us decide not what we are going to produce but what we are
> going to *discuss*.

Although this suggestion sounds "radical", it was, in fact, embodied
within the previous procedural proposal. We do not have to agree on
everything [a utopian goal!], but we should try to discuss questions in a
systematic nature [another one of Alan's supposedly "radical
suggestions"]. Where agreement is not possible, we summarize our
positions and move on to other topics. This really isn't so "radical"
after all.

I do want to ensure that
> all sides of the argument are properly stated including
> Marx's.

OK, fine. Your way of stating a problem, however, may differ from the way
others state a problem. When this happens, we discuss the problem
intelligently and in good faith. What is key is that we must *really*
listen to each other.

I never met anyone who
> learned by talking to people s/he agreed with. In fact I
> never met anyone who learned by talking. Most people learn,
> by listening, and the more they disagree, the more they
> learn. The trick is to stay talking to people who pick holes
> in everything you say.

Well, it definitely sounds as if you are in the right place. :-) We should
not, however, attempt to "pick holes in everything you say." We should
try to *understand* each others perspectives (which is, after all, a
prerequisite for critique, is it not?).

All the finest works in the
> Marxist tradition are encounters and polemics.

Don't worry about it, Alan. I'm quite sure everyone realizes that there
will plenty of opportunities for "encounters." :-} Let's try and avoid
the polemics, though. It is all to easy to write polemics. It is much
harder to confront the *real* issues that others raise in good faith.

> No-one who has objected to the adoption of a critical
> approach has explained why Capital was subtitled the
> *Critique* of Political Economy. If we are going to refuse a
critical approach, let's at least explain what an awful
> mistake Marx made in choosing this title.

Again, I am confused (or, more accurately, I think *Alan* is). *NO ONE*
has objected to a critical approach! *NO ONE* has objected to Marx's
choice of a sub-title. If Alan thinks that the procedure that we are
about to adopt does not "embody" (a poor choice of words?) a critical
approach, then he has not considered the dynamic of what we are about to
do next (or what we have done to date).

> If we simply exchange polemics on everything of interest to
> each individual member, the result will probably be a sorry
> mess and certainly not a nice advert for Marxist thinking.
> That is another reason to modify the normal practice on E-
> Mail discussion lists, and develop a bit of self-discipline.

I agree with the above. We will need "self-discipline." However, we can
not and should not create a rigid structure which does not allow
list members to discuss other questions as "digressions." I, for
one, was glad to see Paul C's digression since we were only
discussing procedural questions at that juncture. It was, IMO, a
welcome diversion.

>So OPE should not just be a place where everyone throws in
>their 'latest idea' or dashes off a comment. It should be a moderated
>list in which we attempt to stick to a more or less agreed agenda,
>taking time out of course for digressions and clarifications but
> attempting to abide by a certain order of procedure.

Agreed, but I think we need to be clear that the "more or less" point is
important. We need to move forward, but we also have to allow for some

>To clarify this still further, let
> me make the point as polemically as I can: I don't think
> Marx's writings should be our subject of enquiry.
> Let me repeat that. I don't think Marx's writings should be the subject
> of our enquiry.

There's no need to repeat yourself. We heard you the first time. You must
not have heard us, though. Marx's writings are *not* the subject of our
enquiry. Our subject is capitalism. We are about to address that subject
through an examination of Marx. Why? We *all* agree that _Capital_ does
not have all of the answers regarding an understanding of capitalism. We
differ, though, on what needs to be "developed", "furthered", "extended".
etc. How do we address these differences other than by stating them and
discussing them?

*Capitalism* should be the subject of our
> enquiry, and specifically, *modern* capitalism.

Exactly! That was the subject *all along* for this project.

>Now for reason number two: I think the most appropriate subject of
enquiry for a heterogenous group is neither a text nor a method but a
> concrete issue.

I want to discuss concrete issues as well. What did you have in mind:
"The concept of value in the 20th Century"? :-) Let's begin by stating an
obvious *fact*: we have different understandings of value and method. Why
not evade such discussions and move directly to the examination of
concrete issues? If we do that, then we will be constantly chasing our
own tail. It's better to let everyone get their ideas on the table then
*constantly* "re-fighting" issues that have already been discussed.
Does *anyone* have any illusion that this would not be the case? Alan's
comments *make crystal clear* that he *will* discuss value and method.
So, let's just get on with it.

>This is the proposal favourably received by some people, and negatively
> received by no-one, that that the subject of our enquiry
> should be those most salient features of the modern world
> economy which contemprary political economy had done least to
> explain. These were, I suggested, poverty, crisis and war.

I believe that the OPE-L archives will show that the above is a
"revisionist" history of OPE-L.

> Am I arguing to scrap the substantial agreement about what to do next?
> Not at all.

Glad to hear it.

>I want to know what Marx found out, not what he missed > out. What lies
*underdeveloped* in his thinking
that would help us better understand the world we live in?

This is a legitimate concern. How can Alan address it on OPE-L? As we
discuss specific issues, I'm quite sure that Alan *will* do just that.
So, what's the point in arguing about something that will happen almost
as inevitably as sunrise following sunset? We all *know* it will happen.

> Thus my main proposal about our method of enquiry is that we should
> be motivated to find, not the gaps in Marx's theory
> that make it harder to understand what is already known, but the
> presences in Marx's theory that make it easier to understand what
> remains unexplained.

We can do both tasks simultaneously. In fact, I have *no doubt" that
Alan's presence will ensure this eventuality.

> Faced with disagreement on such a fundamental matter,
>then I think our first task is indeed to clarify this as far as we can,
> to get this disagreement right out into the open. It is for this
> reason, not for any other, that I favour a preliminary discussion on
> value and Part I of Volume I.

I just can't figure Alan out. He spends 30K discussing, in large part,
why we should discuss inequality, crises, war (concrete issues?), rather
than differences in value and method. Then he spends the bulk of the rest
of his post discussing precisely what he says we shouldn't discuss. Go

Damn Allan -- you sure can turn out the bytes. You are going to wear me
out for sure.

In OPE-L Solidarity,