[OPE-L:437] Re: abstract labor and social mediation

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Mon, 6 Nov 1995 07:01:25 -0800

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Andrew here. I am replying to Riccardo's response to my points regarding
Postone. I do not understand Riccardo's 1st point--I don't disagree, I just
don't understand it, in particular the notion of a passage from physiological
labor to abstract labor and vice-versa.

As to the 2d point, I was not suggesting "fidelity" to Marx as a methodological
position. I think anyone should be free to disagree with Marx. But I don't
think *interpreting* someone by throwing out an element of their position
constitutes a legitimate interpretation. Proponents of the fashionable
idea of interpreting through "rational reconstruction" of course will
disagree. But I think this methodology *uses* past thinkers for one's
own purposes and thereby is liable to distort their meaning. One really
does need to understand the whole of what someone was saying, not chop
it up and rearrange it.

Now Marx may have been inconsistent. But one needs to be careful here. What
seems inconsistent from one vantage-point may not be an inconsistency within
Marx's own vantage-point. So Postone really had the task of *showing* how
it could not be possible to maintain two views that Marx held--that abstract
labor is phyiological and that it is historically specific. Postone did not
do so. He simply gave reasons--from *his own* vantage-point--why *he*
regarded them as inconsistent propositions. This is far from a demonstration
of inconsistency in Marx.

The history of the "transformation problem" and other debates in value theory
is replete with methods similar to Postone. People think it is relatively
simple to show inconsistency. But to "reconstruct" two ideas and to show
the *reconstructions* to be incompatible simply does not show any incompati-
bility in the *original*.

I am thus perfectly willing to entertain notions that Marx was inconsistent.
But such assertions must be *tested*--it must be shown that no consistent
reading of the text is possible. In Postone's case, I think I have shown
that he was wrong. Likewise several folks have shown that the alleged
contradictions in Marx's value/production price transformation and the law
of the falling rate of profit are only contradictions within a *particular
interpretation*, not necessarily the original.

My overriding concern here is with the faithfulness of interpretations to
the thinker's own thought, and not to "doctrinal" rigidity.

Andrew Kliman