[OPE-L:377] some problems with Alan's megaposts-- a 2nd try at posting (fwd)

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Tue, 31 Oct 1995 06:01:18 -0800

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Please make sure you fill-out the "Cc" line as above when posting. -- Jerry

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 1995 01:47:25 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael A. Lebowitz <mlebowit@sfu.ca>
To: ope-l@anthrax.ecst.csuchico.edu
Subject: some problems with Alan's megaposts-- a 2nd try at posting

While I'm impressed as always with Alan's megaposts, I have a real
problem with them on many essentials and believe that, rather than advancing
our discussions, they detour or set them back.
It's important to know, for example, that there are all these other
projects besides OPE-L, that there is MEGA, the International Working Group
on Value Theory, etc; it's nice to know what they are doing. But, I for one
am not involved in them. I am involved in OPE, on the other hand, and am
prepared to devote some time to this project. Alan's proposal that OPE not
detract from those other projects (presumably by not trying to explore the
questions that they are examining) is one that I that I find quite
objectionable precisely because I and a number of others on this list are
*not* part of those other projects and would not, therefore, want to be
excluded from discussing issues we consider important. When Alan says, "It
would be a shame if OPE was distracted from the good things it can do
by things which are already done better elsewhere," I have to respond
that, frankly, the record of Marxist economists is not one to give
confidence that things *will* be done better elsewhere. Indeed, I think the
experience and particularly the differences among the people on this list
offer a unique potential for exploring questions in Marxian political
economy and for attempting to extend Marx. It is a potential only, one that
can be realised only if we are prepared to listen and respond to each other.
Alan's megaposts, however, do not in my view exemplify that. By not
responding to individual posts but, instead, issuing a proclamation touching
presumably upon many, he in fact ignores and evades points that he should be
responding to. For example, in previous megapost 242, Alan argued that we
should follow Marx's order of enquiry and that we see in Marx's 1861-3
Economic Manuscripts that Marx's order of enquiry differed from that of
presentation and:

>Thus the order of *writing*, as opposed to the order of
> *presentation*, was this:
> IV -> III->I-> (break)->II(unfinished)

In 292, I responded to this idea and argued that the order of
enquiry included the Grundrisse which developed many central aspects of Vol
I and II and thus Alan had the order of enquiry *wrong* and further that if
this were the case there was no clear difference to proceeding through
CAPITAL. I thought my answer to Alan was relatively succinct, dealt with a
question of interest (to both of us) ---- and deserved a response. It didn't
get one (unless Alan's latest comment that he really doesn't think Marx's
order of enquiry should be the subject of our discussion is deemed to be
one). Now, what happened there? What could have been an interesting
discussion of the order of enquiry or about the Grundrisse and the 1861-3
Mss which others might have wanted to explore (remember, we were at this
point discussing how to proceed) was precluded and instead there is just
another megapost.
I don't think this example is unique. One of the many, many points in his
latest (357) is a rejection of the idea of looking to see if there are any
problems in Marx's theory which may explain inadequacies in its ability to
explain concrete phenomena:

will we advance on Marx by looking for holes? This is arse-
about. It's like trying to fly by questioning gravity. I'm
sure there are hundreds of holes in Marx. The question is
whether they are a road-block to explaining modern society.
The holes his Marx's 'correctors' claim to have found, if
they existed, would make capitalism completely
incomprehensible, which is probably why none of them
understand capitalism. But I don't get the sense that on OPE
we are talking about holes of this size.

Suppose, for a moment, that for five minutes OPE becomes
headline CNN news. Which would you prefer:

'Poor will stay poor: new findings confirm shock claim'


'Vital book missing, say disconsolate pinkos'?"

Now, it is one thing for Alan to state that he doesn't want to spend his
time looking for holes in Marx. (This is the same guy who said that we'll
make him mad if we say Marx was wrong.) However, where does he get the
confidence that some of those holes *aren't* a roadblock to Marxists
explaining modern society-- without investigating them? More to the point,
since this is why I pick this example, what kind of comradely comment is
Alan's comment about "vital book missing"? I regard this as a clear
dismissal of a rather substantial amount of work that I did in relation to
the question and implications of the missing book on wage-labour. (I'm not
being overly paranoid here--- this is the only missing book we spent any
time on OPE talking about.) Now, my problem is not that Alan doesn't agree
with me about the importance of the question; I'm sure Paul Z and Tony
haven't changed their minds either. Rather, it's that Alan has just issued
an obiter dicta, has dissed the work without challenging any of the points
that I raised repeatedly in the exchanges. And, I think the way in which he
did it is just crap. Come on everyone, which would you prefer:

To work to get rid of capitalism
to talk about value theory and sequential analysis?

Right, I think there is no place for that kind of cheap argument in a
serious project and I would object to anyone dismissing Alan's work that
way. Again, I think that inserting points in megaposts (as opposed to short,
more frequent exchanges) is not very useful for discussion on a list like
this (and, indeed, is a substitute for it).
Finally, let me note that Alan does not do justice to his own arguments
in this way. There must be about 20 interesting points in his megaposts that
in themselves would be worth exploring. No one is about to take them all up,
however, and so they inevitably get lost. If I were Alan, I would be
frustrated by that.
What, in short, I am asking is that he change his mode of interaction on
OPE. I'm not interested in going back over the points raised above at this
point. I am interested, on the other hand, in the opportunity to gain from
an exchange with him.
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
Lasqueti Island: (604) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca