[OPE-L:524] Logical vs Historical/ Concrete to Abstract

John R. Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Mon, 20 Nov 1995 18:28:22 -0800

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Fred (OPE 516) says:


A few older scholars have dissented from this traditional
interpretation (Rubin, Korsch, Rosdolsky, Mattick Sr.) and
argued instead that CAPITAL is about capitalism from the
very beginning. A growing number of younger scholars
have adopted and developed this alternative interpretation
(Janarus Banaji, Tony Smith, Chris Arthur, Martha Campbell).
These writers generally emphasize that Marx's logical method
followed something like Hegel's concept of TOTALITY. In
other words, Marx assumed from the very beginning of CAPITAL
the TOTALITY of capitalism. His logical method was to pick
one aspect of this TOTALITY as the starting point of his
analysis of capitalism. He picked the most abstract, universal
aspect of capitalism, the fact that its products are
commodities. From this abstract starting point, Marx
derived the other, more concrete aspects of capitalism
(we will of course see more about this as we proceed). In
this way, the sequence of Marx's categories follows a logical
order, rather than an historical order.

I also accept this alternative interpretation - that Part 1
analyzes the most abstract aspect of capitalism.

What do other people think about this issue?

John says:

Fred, I think what is key to the idea that capitalism is
assumed at the "very beginning of CAPITAL" is the idea of
"TOTALITY." That is, if as Marx is moving from the
abstract to the concrete in CAPITAL itself in a manner
such that it appears that more concrete aspects of
capitalism are "derived", then it would seem that it is
rather crucial to be able to travel from the concrete to
the abstract starting point. The movements from abstract
labor to value to exchange value to price of production to
market value to market prices are assumed to have taken
place in the reverse prior to the beginning of CAPITAL.
If this is the case, then abstract labor in the first
chapter takes on a character different than physiological
labor common to all labor in all historical epochs.
Abstract labor follows from the notion of value as much as
value follows from it. Thus, if, for some reason, in this
period of production, I am able to produce more value
than before in a given amount of time, say 8 hours,
I may be laboring in abstract terms for 10 hours. ,
Clearly, this will have implications as we proceed since,
for example, that grand topic of "transformation" would be
dealt with as though the "untransformation" took place