[OPE-L:2731] Re: More on abstract labour

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Sat, 27 Jul 1996 01:16:46 -0700 (PDT)

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A reply to Murray Smith's ope-l 2697.

He wrote:
"At best one can characterize the USSR as a social formation transitional to
and it therefore was more profoundly marked by the "old crap" of class society
than even Marx's "lower stage" of communism (as described in Critique of the
Gotha Prorgramme). But the survival of elements of the law of value in such a
transitional formation in no way licenses the notion
that it is "state capitalist" -- a formulation that Raya Dunayevskaya sought
to bolster by arguing that "value" and "capitalism" are inextricably linked.
It is really rather surprising that so "dialectical"
a Marxist as Dunayevskaya could have authored such a formalist and
non-dialectical argument. But then "program" often determines theory more
strongly than does "method" -- and Dunayevskaya was above all concerned to
justify her break from Trotsky's "defensist" position toward the USSR."

(1) I find it perplexing that in 1996 anyone would claim that Stalinist
Russia was "transitional" to anything other than free-fall collapse and
domination by thugs.
(2) That the prevailing mode of production in Lenin's Russia was still state
capitalism was well understood by some of the Bolshevik's, especially Lenin,
who considered this and bureaucratic deformation of the worker's state as its
two foremost problems.
(3) I don't find Murray's grasp of Dunayevska's theory of state-capitalism,
or her philosophy, very adequate:
(a) It was not by arguing that capitalism and value are inextricably linked
that Dunayevskaya grounded her theory that Russia was state-capitalist. This
inextricable link was, rather, the basis of her contention that the Russian
Stalinist claim that the law of value operates under "socialism" was
tantamount to an *admission* that theirs was a state-capitalist society. The
Stalinist revision of the law of value and thus her critique of it came *after
she had completed* her analysis of Russia as a state-capitalist society.
(b) The basis of her theory that Russia was state-capitalist was, rather,
that the direction of development in Russia was capitalist. First, through an
analysis of the 5-year plans, she uncovered that the "law of motion" was that
of an increasing preponderance of means of production over means of
consumption. I would have thought that someone who calls himself a "humanist"
and argues for a continuity between the "early" and "mature" Marx would have a
better appreciation of the significance of the increasing domination of dead
over living labor. Second, she traced the *counterrevolution* in politics as
well as the social relations of production that took place under Stalin. The
"non-dialectical" category most important to this analysis was "transformation
into opposite," which, as Kevin Anderson shows in his recent _Lenin, Hegel,
and Western Marxism_, was the category most accentuated and concretized by
Lenin, through his 1914-15 Study of Hegel's _Logic_.
(c) These arguments were the economic-political basis of her opposition to
the theory of "transition." The philosophical ground was worked out in her
"non-dialectical" historical-materialist reading in May 1953 of Hegel's
"Absolute Idea" and "Absolute Mind." In the "Absolute Idea" chapter of the
_Science of Logic_, Hegel argues that in overcoming the opposition between
theory and practice, "the pure Idea, in which the determinateness or reality
of the Notion is itself raised to the level of Notion, is an absolute
_liberation_, having no further immediate determination which is not equally
_posited_ and equally Notion. Consequently there is no transition in this
freedom. ... The transition here must rather be taken to mean that the Idea
freely releases itself in absolute self-security and self-repose."
Dunayevsakya commented: "You see, Vladimir Ilyitch[,] you didn't have
Stalinism to overcome, when transitions, revolutions seemed sufficient to
bring the new society. Now everyone looks at the totalitarian one-party
state, _that_ is the new that must be overcome by a totally new revolt in
which everyone _experiences_ 'absolute liberation.'" Hegel goes on to note
that "pure truth becomes _the beginning of another sphere and science_," i.e.,
other than logic, with its transition-mediations. Dunayevskaya then analyzed
how Hegel ultimately replaces Logic with the free self-mediating development.
(d) Murray's claim that Dunayevskaya's theory of state-capitalism was merely
an excuse to justify her opposition to all state powers in WWII is
preposterous. Had that been her concern, she could have gone along with Max
Shachtman's or Joseph Carter's view of Russia as a "bureaucratic collectivist"
of "bureaucratic imperialist" society, etc., especially since these were the
dominant positions in the group she belonged to at the time, she was young, a
woman!, and heretofore no "theoretician." Instead, two years *after* breaking
from Trotsky, she opposed them, and went on to do the detailed economic
analysis and theory needed to substantiate her view that Russia was
capitalist. Why? Because she felt that in equating capitalism and private
property, they, as well as Trotsky, failed fully to understand either
capitalism or Marx, and thus failed fully to understand all that needs to be
overcome. Murray also seems to imply that theory and method should be
separate from politics and practice, which I suppose *is* "dialectical."
(4) Murray's opposition to the view that "value" and "capitalism" are
inextricably linked is based on the following: 'The "abstract labour" that is
fundamental to the capitalist value-form is historically specific; but this
abstract labour ... is also but one historical form of "the
social-equalization of labour".... what if "abstract labor" is not intrinsic
to "value" in all its historical forms? Marx's insistence that abstract labor
is the substance of value under capitalism is then in no way contradictory to
the idea that earlier (and simpler) forms of value might possess a less
developed "social substance."' Yet what Marx meant by "values" were,
specifically, "commodity values" (_Warenwerte_). Dunayevskaya followed him in
this. He simply had no theory of '"value' in all its historical forms,"
whatever this may mean. Murray's method here seems quite similar to that of
Adolph Wagner, who wished to conduct economic analysis through a discourse on
the abstract term "value," instead of through an analysis of the concretum
"commodity." Marx himself stressed this in his notes on Wagner, as well as
the fact that neither "value" nor "exchange-value" was the subject-matter of
his analysis, but, rather, "the commodity." Murray is *presupposing* the
transhistorical nature of value, whereas for Marx all social forms and laws
were historically specific.
(5) Murray claims that Ted's '"all-or-nothing" stance prevents him from
seeing that "abstract labor" is something that develops through a protracted
historical process." Apparently, this refers to Ted's view that value and
capitalism are inextricably linked. Yet this inextricable link does not imply
a lack of recognition of historical development of abstract labor, for two
reasons. First, abstract labor is synonymous with value-producing labor,
commodity-producing labor. But this predates capitalism, capitalism is fully
generalized commodity production. (To recognize an inextricable conceptual
link is not necessarily to imply anything about chronology.) Second, the
abstraction of labor develops within capitalism, as the formal subsumption of
labor under capital is replaced by machinofacture, time-motion study, etc.,
the real subsumption of labor under capital. This relation unfortunately is
continuing to develop even in our own day.

Andrew Kliman