[OPE-L:2228] Re: Reply to Duncan (Profit Rate, Science)

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Wed, 15 May 1996 09:18:46 -0700

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Some comments on Andrew's response:

I'm glad you laid all this out, to begin with, because I think it will
clear the air, and help us to move forward.

I'm sympathetic to many of the frustrations you give voice to, not least
because I've shared them myself. I haven't, however, felt any lack of
scientific respect in comments on your work and postings from anyone on
this list, even when there has been open skepticism and deep reservations
about it. I also think that the list conversation over the last few months
has had a considerable educational effect: I'm sure that everyone here
could now give a much more accurate lecture on the TSS (what does that
stand for, by the way?) interpretation than before, whatever their degree
of interest in it as an interpretation of Marx or as a theoretical

I think it is very useful in the list discussion to separate out the
issues of the history of economic thought from the issues of the ongoing
development of economic theory in a Marxian direction. The two projects
are clearly linked and mutually supporting, but are by no means identical.

Establishing what a dead and prolific writer like Marx "really" meant is a
project with many inherent pitfalls, ambiguities and difficulties. Marx
may have changed his mind about some points (as I believe he did about the
quantity of money theory of prices); he may have glossed over certain
analytical difficulties with some issues; he may even have adopted
contradictory positions in different parts of his writing. It's going to
be a lot easier to establish propositions such as: "the X interpretation
of the LTV forms a coherent and consistent theoretical framework", or "the
X interpretation has explanatory power in investigating the Y phenomenon"
than it is to establish a proposition like "the X interpretation is
certainly what Marx meant".

I share very much your frustration at the spectacle of bourgeois
economists fattening their scholarly reputations with claims of proving
that "Marx was wrong" (which is always read, of course, as some kind of
proof that the project of socialist revolution was wrong). But maybe the
problem here is accepting the legitimacy of this way of posing the
question to begin with. Sophisticated historians of thought don't argue
about whether other major figures were "right" or "wrong", they argue
about what they had to say. There's a certain danger that posing the
question as whether or not Marx was right feeds into this ideological
deadend. It's important to notice that in order to "prove" Marx was
"wrong" scholars like Samuelson or Roemer have first to establish a very
strong version of "what Marx said". In general, in doing this they fall
into exactly the problems I've described in the last paragraph, reading
selectively and reading into rather than reading to try to understand. It
seems to me that one of the best legacies this generation can leave the
future is to return to Marx to the status of an ordinary human being and
writer, and return the discussion of his work to the same standards that
are used for other geniuses.

One function this list might perform is to work out some ways in which we
can do justice to each other's ideas even when we disagree with them. I
think this is particularly important in teaching, since students often
come away from classes on Marx with either a very narrow understanding of
the actual range of opinion, or the impression that Marxists can agree on
nothing at all, both unfortunate results.