[OPE-L:556] reconciling the irreconcilable?

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Thu, 23 Nov 1995 21:03:57 -0800

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In message Tue, 21 Nov 1995 09:58:11 -0800,
Tony Smith <tonys@iastate.edu> writes:

> The discussion on abstract labor in Volume I on the list has proceeded
> on the assumption that Marx held one consistent view, and our job is
> just to find out what it was. I think we ought to consider seriously
> the possiblity explored in Geert Reuten's article "The Difficult Labor
> of a Theory of Social Value" (MARX'S METHOD IN CAPITAL, ed. Moseley,
> Humanities). Geert argued that there are a number of incompatible
> perspectives on value theory at the start of Volume I.

Although I haven't read Geert's article, I agree with Tony that we
should consider seriously this possibility in this case and in others. I
think there is some evidence within CAPITAL of views which are not entirely
compatible--- such that the attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable (and to
convince the unconvinceable?) may be fruitless. Ie., it may not simply be
that our interpretations of Marx differ, but rather that the conflict is
within the object of analysis itself. We certainly have seen here that we
are able to draw upon differing quotations to support our respective
The question that I think we should address, then, is *why* incompatible
arguments may exist in the same text. I suggest that, while we know that
Marx drew upon earlier notebooks for CAPITAL, we also know that his thought
continued to evolve. Under these circumstances, could it not be predicted
that where incompatibilities do emerge it will tend to be the result of
incompletely transcended earlier positions? Eg., to what extent are some of
the problems in relation to the concept of abstract labour the result of an
incompletely transcended Ricardianism--- *places* where, despite having made
that so-important distinction between abstract and concrete labour ("best
thing"), the concept of abstract labour remains infected with attributes
more appropriately associated with concrete labour (e.g., the focus upon
physiological expenditure of energy)?
If we are willing to entertain the idea that differing interpretations of
Marx (*some*!) have their roots in his own failure to reconcile the
irreconcilable and that this, in turn, can be traced to the incompleteness
of the revolution in thought in CAPITAL, does not an effort to develop and
extend Marx require us to scuttle those aspects of CAPITAL which reflect its
merely historic presuppositions? I don't think this problem is limited to
the concept of abstract labour; there are irreconcilables elsewhere (eg., in
relation to the value of labour-power) and problems in places such as Vol I,
Ch 25 (where Marx draws heavily upon earlier, pre-Grundrisse work).
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
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e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca