[OPE-L:467] Re: abstract labor

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Fri, 10 Nov 1995 11:32:19 -0800

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Mike Lebowitz says that I (Andrew) was too harsh in my criticism of Engels
for inserting a passage into Ch.1 of _Capital_ which said that, in order to
be a commodity, the product must be transferred to another by means of

It is not clear why Mike objects to my saying that this was unconscionable,
but I surmise from his post that Mike thinks it was okay because it
accords with (what Mike thinks is) Marx's own view. Even if that is the
case--which I deny--I would still reiterate my complaint. My original post
did not explain the basis of my complaint, so let me explain why it does not
*depend* on whether Engels' insertion concurs with Marx's view.

The problem is that Engels presumed to speak for Marx. True, he noted that
he as editor had inserted this comment, but he said he was doing so because
some readers had misunderstood Marx's view, thinking that any use-value
produced for others [such as foods produced on the feudal lord's plot] were
commodities. Engels thus made a crucial theoretical statement, not as his
own view, or as his *interpretation* of Marx, but as a *clarification* of
Marx. But he provides absolutely no evidence that this was Marx's view. He
simply allows himself to "represent" a dead guy who can no longer speak for
himself. (In contrast, Mike points to a passage in Marx and says that it
corresponds to the view that to be a commodity, possession must be transferred
by exchange. Now I think it doesn't correspond, but Mike's procedure enables
the reader to decide for him/herself and is clearly an *interpretation*.
Engels did not do this.)

That Engels presumed to speak for Marx is a real problem, because of the
clout he had throughout Social Democracy at that time. He did not guard
against his view being accepted via "appeal to authority." People even
used to speak of "Marx and Engels" as if they were one person. This still
goes on, and of course we've all seen people illegitimately use statements
by Engels as statements by Marx.

Now, as an isolated example, this would not be so bad. But Engels presumed
to speak for Marx again and again. Terrell Carver has shown that Engels
_Anti-Duhring_, in the form we know it today, differs from the version that
Marx saw, so that is is wrong to impute the views therein expressed to Marx.
Moreover, Carver gives real reason to doubt that the mss. was "approved" by
Marx. (I don't remember the article, but I will provide the cite if anyone
asks--I have to dig it out). And Raya Dunayevskaya, in _Rosa Luxemburg,
Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution_, shows that there
are significant differences between the views and methodology of Marx's
_Ethnological Notebooks_ and Engels' _Origin of the Family, Private Property,
and the State_. Engels had claimed (no doubt innocently) that his work was
a "bequest" from Marx--i.e., he gave the impression that he was working up
for publication what Marx had done in the _EN_. She broadens the argument
to say that all of post-Marx Marxism has been rooted in a truncated view of
Marx's work, and that other post-Marx Marxists, even the best, also presumed
they knew Marx when they did not. E.g., David Ryazonov, the Bolshevik
archivist, characterized the _EN_ as "inexcusable pedantry"--without having
actually READ the Notebooks!

As a result, we have all come to think we know *Marx's* historical materialism
when actually what we know is not the whole, and what we know is influenced
by the official seal of authenticity given to Engels' particular

OURSELVES, ON THE OTHER. I know I keep sounding like a broken record, but
the issue has been coming up again and again--in the context of value theory,
then Postone's "interpretation" of Marx's concept of abstract labor, and now
Engels' view of the commodity.


Mike brings up the old issue of whether workers produce value or whether they
only produce products, so that the products acquire value when they're sold,
and because they're sold. I really don't want to get into this issue, because
in my experience, debating the issue doesn't go anywhere. Mike provides a
popular quote. I've got my own quotes. (This does not imply that I agree
with his interpretation of his quote--I think production of value is not the
same as "realization" of value through sale.) Given that fact, and given
that we know there's no way to resolve the question--there are two opposed
theories involved--it seems to be that the only fruitful question to discuss
across the two views is: "Can we understand apparently contradictory quotes
from Marx in a consistent, internally coherent manner, that makes sense out of
his discussion of the question *as a whole*?" This is a question in the
history of ideas, which is not everyone's cup of tea--but I for one would be
very interested in discussing it.

Andrew Kliman