chaion lee (conlee@chonnam.chonnam.ac.kr)
Mon, 30 Oct 1995 01:13:48 -0800

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Hi Comrades,

"Some dissenting note on the conventional understanding of Marx's method"

Texts: Sweezy(The theory of capitalist development), Meek (Studies in the
labour theory of value), Foley (Understanding Capital), etc. Foley's is the
most representative.

0. The concept of "critique": why Marx gave his capital the sub-title "A
Critique of Political Economy"?
[Lee] Marx criticised the political economy in such a way that, while taking
over some of the results of the contemporary political economy, he created
something new in the place of the whole. Its intention was neither to
discover faults in others' nor to point out the fallacy of several theses that
others have regarded as evident truths. He did not simply reveal the
mistakes of others. His aim was a positive, more correct and complete
solution of some problems raised by his predecessors, and of a number of
others that had never been raised before. My dissenting note is also in this

1. The concept of *abstraction* = ways of talking about aspects of reality
that are separated from and purified of their relations to the whole complex
of factors that make up the concrete instance." This is common in the social
sciences although the specific abstractions that are viewed as relevant, and
their status, differ greatly among various theoretical traditions. (Foley: p 3)

[Lee (1)] No distinction between the neo-classical (either succesive or
holistic) modelling and the Marx's abstraction is made in the above. The
layering of determinations in Marx's abstraction (Foley: p 4) is similar with
the neo-classical successive modelling (partial equili.). Self-determination in
Marx's abstraction (Foley: pp 6-7) is similar with the neo-classical holistic
modelling (general competitive equili.). First approximation at first and then
its modifications in Marx (Foley: p 9) is similar with Keynesian macro theory
which starts from simple consumption and investment functions and then
revises them into more complex ones incorporating other factors, e.g. the
gov't, foreign trade, etc. at later stages.

[Lee (2)] There are two sorts of abstraction, however. One is empty
abstraction like "the population" in Marx's Grundrisse (p 100). The other is
substantive abstraction like "the labour-value" in Marx's Capital. The
criterion for the two abstractions is if many determinations and relations can
derive from it (cf Grundrisse, p 100). From the former derives a small
number of determinant (thinner abstractions, the simplest determinations).
>From the latter, however, a rich totality of many determinations and relations
we get.

[Lee (3)] Then, how to know what is empty and what is substantive from
the very beginning if we have to start from the latter? By intuition? Far
from it! A true method, if it deserves the name, would have to explain how
to grasp the substative from the very beginning. Sweezy, Meek, Foley did
not explain this, however. Someone might reply that it belongs to the
question of the method of investigation which should differ from the method
of presentation. Then, what is the investigation method? A trial and error?
Or else, his historical materialism that worked in his mind? Then it could
not but be mystified.
Marx started from the particular concrete (the commodity), not from
the simplest abstract (labour value). By analysing the the simplest and
particular concrete (the commodity), he could have arrived at the substantive
abstract, i.e. the simplest thinnest abstraction (read carefully Grundrisse, p
100 cf p 881, "Preface" to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,
p 19). From there, the journey was retraced from the simplest, general
abstract to the concrete complexity (the world market). The first path is
described as analytical and the second path described as synthetic (Hegel,
Hegel's Logic, Clarendon Press, pp 285-6).

[Lee (4)] The concept of abstraction: not isolating certain aspects of the real
world for intensive investigation (like modelling) but being *logically anterior
to* the others. Eg. Value is logically anterior to money, money is logically
anteriror to capital.
(Logical embryology)
eg. the commodity's inherent antithesis between use-value and value --> By
the commodity exchange, the inherent antithesis is externalized --> external
antithesis between relative form of value and equivalent form of value -->
the external antithesis is objectified as that between money and ordinary
(Logical ontogeny)
eg. the inherent antithesis between u-value and value is still retained in the
objectified external antithesis between money and ordinary commodities -->
the nature of commodity circulation in which the inherent antithesis is
combined with the external antithesis (money also has its own u-value and
value) --> the metamorphosis of money and ordinary commodity into each
other --> it generates another development that transformed money into
capital and labour-power into a commodity. An egg (the commodity) --> a
larva (money into commodity, commodity into money) --> a chrysalis (the
hoarding of money and other commodities) --> a butterfly (capital).
(Logical phylogenesis)
Capital: (the three phases of capital-circuit; productive capital, commodity
capital and money capital) generates the ramification of various capitals into
industrial capital, merchant capital, commercial capital, money dealing capital,
commodity dealing capital, money-lending capital, interest-bearing capital,
banking capital, etc.
(NB: So, I would argue that the so-called monetary theory of labour-value is
against the above logical anteriority of Marx's categories).

[Lee (5)] Human labour, however, is not logically anterior nor logically
posterior to value. Marx derived abstract labour and concrete labour both
from the analysis of the commodity not in a synthetic but in an analytical
method. The above logical anteriority is all about the sequence in the
synthetic method (starting from the labour-value arriving at the world
market, crisis, etc). The logical anteriorities do not apply to an analytical
method. In analysing the commodity, he used here *the power of
abstraction* This does not conform with formal logic nor with dialectical
logic. This is why his process of derivation of the substance of value from
the analysis of the economic cell form of the commodity is so problematic (I
suggest next topic to be "Marx' analytical method in regard to his value
theory"). He analysed value in the triad of the substance of value, the
magnitude of value and the transformation of value into price of production.
(NB: So, I should argue that the so-called value theory of labour (Elson's) is
also against Marx's abstraction method)