[OPE-L:2755] Re: More on abstract labor and Dunayevskaya

Murray Smith (msmith@spartan.ac.brocku.ca)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 09:04:43 -0700 (PDT)

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In his last contribution to the exchange between us [OPE-L:2752], Andrew
Kliman accused me of possible slander against Raya Dunayevskaya, the
dissemination of misinformation, and, at least implicitly, "CAD" (which
has been used in previous posts to stand for "cowardice, apologetics and
dogma"). I will leave it to others to judge from a careful reading of our
previous exchanges who is engaging in "slander" and misrepresentation.
I have no desire to continue what is becoming an increasingly intemperate
exchange between Andrew Kliman and myself. But his last post does call
for a response from me.

Let's step back and put this controversy into perspective. It began with
a few brief comments by me at the conclusion of a lengthy intervention on
the issue of abstract labour. I reproduce here in full the comments that
have apparently so offended Andrew:

"At best one can characterize the USSR as a social formation transitional
to socialism, 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 the Critique of the Gotha Programme). 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."

Now, in his latest post, Andrew defines the basic purpose of his first
response to me as an answer to my supposed "(a) attack on Raya
Dunayevskaya's state-capitalist theory and the opposition to the theory
of 'transition' as 'formalist and non-dialectical' and (b) uncharitable
and perhaps slanderous characterization of her motives, namely that her
theory was above all an excuse to justify an earlier political position."

A careful reading of both of these passages will reveal that the "argument"
that I refer to as "formal and non-dialectical" is not "Dunayevskaya's
state-capitalist theory" (which in any case was developed over a period
of many years, as both Andrew and I have acknowledged) but her argument
of 1944 in the American Economic Review (originally cited by Ted McGlone
in his post on abstract labor) that "value and capitalism are
inextricably linked." In the context of my earlier invocation of Rubin's
"genetic-dialectical method" and Rubin's comments on the pre-capitalist
provenance of value, I was suggesting that, by comparison, Dunayevskaya's
argument was "formal and non-dialectical." I stand by this. The reason
that I didn't respond to Andrew's comments on the later philosophical
underpinnings of Dunayevskaya's theory of state capitalism was that they
were substantially irrelevant to the question at issue: whether or not
R.D.'s argument of 1944 lacked the dialectical insights deployed by Rubin
in his treatment of values's historicity.

As to Andrew's charge that I was at best uncharitable and perhaps slanderous
in saying that R.D. was in 1944 "above all concerned to justify her break
from Trotsky's 'defensist' position toward the USSR," I simply don't
understand what the problem is with this. At the time, R.D. had not yet
developed her "mature" theory of state capitalism of the 1950s, but she
was waging a fight within (an ecumenically-defined) Trotskyist movement
for a perspective and program predicated, in part, on the proposition that
Stalinist Russia was state-capitalist. That fight (begun in Shachtman's
Workers Party and continued in the Socialist Workers Party after 1947)
found its highest theoretical and programmatic expression in the
Johnson-Forest tendency document "The Invading Socialist Society"
co-authored by C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya (whose pseudonyms
respectively were Johnson and Stone).To say that Dunayevskaya was "above
all" concerned to justify her political perspective (which, in the
context, of the world Trotskyist movement of the time necessarily
involved justifying her break from Trotsky's position on the USSR) is
thus simply a statement that R.D. was, at the time, first and foremost
a revolutionary socialist and not an arm-chair theorist.

Unlike Andrew, I'm more interesting in teasing out the political implications
of value theory in relation to the Soviet industrialization debates on
the 1920s than in pursuing a discussion of Dunayevskaya's "Marxist-Humanist"
theories of the 1950s.

This leaves me with two further points to address. In his last post
Andrew implies that I equate "productive forces" with technology. This is
not true and the falsity of this claim can be easily verified in my
published writings. Nor did I imply such an equation in my earlier post
where I defended the necessity of an industrialization policy in the
Soviet Union of the 1920s. However, I would defend the proposition that
the "development of the human being" that Andrew defines as "the greatest
development of productive forces" is inseparable from industrial and
technological progress. Certainly this was Marx's view. The view that
such progress is irrelevant to the realization of socialism is utopian
voluntarism. Perhaps all we need is the inspirational thoughts of
Chairman Mao?

Finally, Andrew opines that "I don't think there's anything authentic
about a 'Marxist-humanism' that would sacrifice in CAD fashion the lives
of human beings to the juggernaut of production for production's sake,
with, of course, the promise of a 'transition' to the realm of freedom,
which, however is not a 'sure thing,' and who knows how many generations
will need to be sacrificed before we get there?"

This is really a vile piece of vituperation directed, apparently, against
my own version of Marxist humanism and the theoretical positions
(including certain Trotskyist ones) that inform it. In the first place, it
equates, entirely illegitimately and irresponsibly, Trotsky's analysis of
the Soviet degenerated workers state (and the transitional social formation of which
it was a part) with the defense of Stalinism. It thereby dishonours the
memory of all those Trotskyists whose last words before Stalin's firing
squads were "Long Live the Soviet Union, Long Live the World Socialist
revolution!" In the second place, it ignores the fact that there are no
guarantees of success associated with any attempted transition to socialism.
Guess what Andrew: Marxist socialist politics is a risky business! But
then so to is the complacent notion that the fight for socialism isn't
worth it. Tell that to the millions of people who die every year
from starvation or disease as a direct and indirect result of the
operations of world capitalism. Andrew's comments above are really an
argument for the abandonment of the struggle, apparently in favor of
endless ruminations on "the dialectic of the Absolute Idea."

Murray Smith