[OPE-L:2536] Re: assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Tue, 18 Jun 1996 16:04:12 -0700 (PDT)

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A belated reply to Jerry's ope-l 2471.

Jerry suggests that "the mode of presentation is secondary to the method of
inquiry." He seems to understand method of presentation as a mere matter
of style. I don't think this is what Marx meant. I quote, from memory,
a passsage (1 pg. from end) of his Postface to the 2d German ed. of

Only when this work [inquiry] is done can the real movement be
appropriately presented. If this is done successfully, if the life of the
subject matter is reflected back to us as in a mirror, then it may appear
as if we have before us a mere a priori construction.

I may have a phrase or 2 wrong, but the substance is there. Several things
may be noted. (1) This passage is important, because Marx's methodological
comments are few and far between, especially those worked out for publication.
(2) Although there may be "alternative modes of presentation" possible
that express the same content, as Jerry says, it seems that Marx thought
the number of such alternatives is rather limited. The presentation
should be "appropriate" to the "real movement ... the life of the subject
matter." He states a criterion of success. So presentation is not a mere
matter of style for Marx, and not all presentations are equal. (3) The
content of _Capital_ is not reducible to "analytics." I realize Jerry may
be using "analytical" in a more general sense, but Marx is indicating that
the presentation must "reflect" the subject matter's own *development*--
what he call's its "life" and "real movement." This accords with the
ultimate aim of the work, laying bare the "economic *law of motion* of
modern society" (my emphasis). To present capitalism in its dialectical
development doesn't mean the presentation is chronological, but it must be
*historical* in the sense of expressing the developmental tendencies of the
system and of being "open" to the novelty that arises in real history.
(4) The presentation "constructs" the subject matter--and so is "synthetic"
and not (only) analytical. Marx did not dispute the element of construction,
but only noted that it was not a priori.

It should also be noted that Marx scrapped the Grundrisse precisely
because it lacked this dialectical (self-developmental) structure. He
complained of its shapelessness (comparing it to carrots and sauerkraut)
and began reworking the whole presentation anew once he completed the work.
When he reached the end, he realized that he should begin with "the
commodity," which had been taken for granted but not analyzed or developed
throughout the Grundrisse. So yes, when Marx in the Preface to the CCPE
talks about passing from the special (or particular; they mean much the
same thing) to the general, he is referring especially to the category of
"commodity" as that particular. The point is to recognize that this
procedure is the opposite of moving from the abstract (general) to the
concrete (particular) which he laid out in the Intro. that he scrapped--
because the latter pertained to the method of inquiry, not of presentation.

"The commodity" is no abstraction. _Capital's_ starting-point is not
abstract, but concrete. Marx emphasized this sharply vs. Wagner, noting that
he (Marx) does not begin with the abstractions "value" or "exchange-value,"
but with the concretum, commodity. His main point seems to have been that
he was not beginning from a definition, or from a "theory of value," but
from the simplest element of capitalist wealth, which he analysed in the
form in which it appears.

This is one thing that makes the notion of ascent from the abstract to the
concrete seem very inappropriate to me as a way of understanding _Capital_.

I'll also note that the method of presentation was so central to Marx that
he "delayed" publication in order to get it "right." He speaks of the
work as an "artistic whole" (something that was discussed a good deal on this
list just when I came in) and notes that he won't publish anything until
he has the whole, at least in structure, complete before him.

I had written that I don't think the idea that _Capital_ is "'ordered' in
terms of increasing concreteness holds up. E.g., what's not concrete
about the analysis of the production process?" Jerry responded: "What level
of concreteness are we talking about?," which seems to beg the issue--can
we indeed speak of "levels of concreteness"? Jerry also says that
competition, "many capitals," is more concrete than the analysis of
Volume I ("capital in general"). But this is a distinction from the
Grundrisse, that seems to have been abandoned or modified later. In
_Capital_, Marx refers to "capital as such," i,e., independent of the forms
in which it appears. But even vol. I is not *about* this. It is about the
immediate (_unmittelbar_) process of production of capital.

Moreover, I don't think competition is more concrete than the analysis of
the immediate process of production. Again, I realize that Jerry didn't
make up this view, but I think it seriously confuses the distinction between
abstract and concrete with the distinction between appearance, essence, and
concept. As a *form of appearance* of capital, competition is more
concrete than the vantage-point examined in Vol. I. But for Hegel and I
think Marx as well, a concept can also be concrete--this is Hegel's
"concrete Universal." If it doesn't stand opposed to, but incorporates,
the forms in which it appears, then it is concrete. And I think that this
is what Marx's vol. 1 analysis does. For instance, what does Marx's
transformation in vol. III, ch. 9, show? That when we look at capitalist
society as a whole (aggregating the various branches), the results are
the same (for the whole) as if the entire social capital "belongs to one and
the same person"! (This discussion should also give pause to those who
think Marx was moving from abstract to concrete: right in the middle of
discussing competition, Marx ABSTRACTS from multiple owners, in order to
demonstrate that the analysis of the immediate production process is still

A few other points:
Yes, Jerry has the subtitle of Vol. III right. But look at the 1st page of
the volume. Marx makes clear there that the topic of the volume is twofold:
development of the way the categories of capital appear to the mind of the
capitalist and the economist; and development of the concrete forms of
appearance that capital assumes in competition. So I continue to maintain
that vol. III concerns forms of appearance, which is not to dis it.

I don't know what Jerry wants me to make of the 1st para. of the Preface
to the CCPE. Marx is laying out the plan for his work as he conceived it
at that point, and situating the CCPE within it.

Once again on the wages = 0 assumption, which Jerry considers "absurd."
It still seems that, although Jerry says he agrees that deeper comprehension
requires deeper abstraction, he is still judging assumptions by their
degree of correspondence with phenomena. Moreover, let me be more explicit
about why Marx employs the assumption and why it is important. As is
well known, the profit rate can be written as

r = s/(c+v) = (s/v)/(c/v + 1).

Because of this, Sweezy, Robinson, Okishio, and many others have claimed that
a sufficient rise in the rate of exploitation (s/v) can counteract any
rise in the organic composition of capital (c/v), so that there's no
"necessity" for the rate of profit to fall. According to this formula, if
the percentage increase in the rate of exploitation exceeds that of the
organic composition, then r rises. Yet what Marx points out is that the
mass of surplus-value is limited by the number of workers employed, even if
the rate of surplus-value goes sky-high. We can rewrite the profit rate

r = ------------------
(c/L)*(L/v) + 1

where L is living labor. But since L = v+s,

r = ------------------
(c/L)(1+[s/v]) + 1

as s/v approaches infinity (or v approaches 0), r approaches L/c.

What this shows is a clear maximum limit to the profit rate, even with an
infinite rate of exploitation. Extraction of living labor *does* matter
(unless one is a simultaneist, and keeps reducing c proportionately to
L, ceteris paribus). Yet this result can only be obtained by assuming
precisely that which Jerry considers absurd. But my question is, even
if the actual profit rate is not L/c, is this result absurd?

Andrew Kliman