[OPE-L:2768] Re: assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 17:28:11 -0700 (PDT)

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A reply to Michael Williams' ope-l 2758.

Michael: "...it does seem clear that the account of production in volume 1 is
abstract in
being taken in isolation from circulation, and from the process as a whole."

Andrew: I don't think so. Again, I find it very concrete. I don't think it
examines production in isolation from circulation, but presupposes particular
conditions of circulation. More importanly, none of the analysis needs to be
modified in the least as a result of examining *circulation* more concretely.
I'm also always wary of the "abstract" argument here, since it is often used,
in conjunction with Marx's "errors" on the "transformation problem" and the
"incompleteness" of _Capital_, for messing with the analysis of the immediate
production process without openly saying one is *disagreeing* instead of
completing Marx's analysis.

Michael also takes exception to my saying "that appeal is made to the
intro to the _Grundrisse_, on the movement from abstract to concrete.
But there are two huge problems with that interpretation. (1) Marx is
there referring to the method of inquiry, not of presentation ..." Michael
says that pp. 100-08 of the Grundrisse deal with both. It is true that in
this section, and elsewhere, Marx is in general trying to work out the order
of the categories, and thus presentation. Yet, here the opposition is not
between abstract and concrete, but between chronological order and "order
within modern bourgeois society" (p. 108). The discussion of abstract vs.
concrete has to do with investigation, specifically the development of

"the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in
which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the
mind" (p. 101).

Michael: "What the most structured, systematic presentation in ordered levels
of abstraction is
supposed to facilitate is the grounding of the fundamental abstract starting
point ...."

Andrew: Marx gets to the very end of the Grundrisse and begins to talk about
"commodity," noting that this section is to be brought forward (p. 881). It
became the starting point of CCPE and _Capital_. Now I think Michael is right
that abstract and concrete are thinks that tend to change places depending on
perspective. But I think it is very significant that in his notes on Wagner,
Marx said he began not with "value" or "exchange-value" but with the
*concretum*, commodity, and that he *analyzed* it, beginning in the form in
which it appears. (Maybe for other purposes, resting methodological arguments
on Marx quotes is no real help, but for arguments as to *his own* methodology,
the horse's mouth is a good place to start, at least, IMHO.) As I'm sure
Michael knows, Geert Reuten has also called attention, rightly in my view, to
Marx's approach in the initial pages as being (dialectical) analysis, and not
the systematic-dialectical development he favors. It couldn't be, if it
begins from the concrete.

I had also written that "In the Preface to the CCPE, Marx says explicitly that
he is omitting the
Intro., and that the reader who wishes to follow him at all must pass from
the *special* to the *general*. I.e., the reverse process" to the movement
from abstract to concrete.

Michael responded: "I don't have easy access to the text here, but if
special/general are taken to be partially constitutive of concrete/abstract
(which is a bit dodgy - the concrete is the specific grasped in its location
within the whole), then the path Marx is inviting us to follow is one of
rather than presentation."

Andrew: Except in special circumstances, abstract and general are usually
identified, and one specifies or particularizes a generality to make it more
concrete. So I think Marx is signalling that his method is the very opposite
to that of ascending from abstract to concrete. And I think the reason, to
begin with, is that he is starting from the concrete. To be more precise, he
is starting with the basic unit or elementary form of wealth in capitalism and
developing all the contradictions of capitalist society out of the
contradiction within each commodity, between social form (value) and material
form (use-value). This is extremely important, IMHO, because it locates the
source of contradictions in the commodity form of the product of labor itself,
not money, not unfair distribution, not property forms, not "planlessness,"
etc. That labor produces value, produces commodities---this is what must be

The passage from the Preface to the CCPE (Progress, 1970) reads:

"A general introduction, which I had drafted, is omitted, since on further
consideration it seems to me confusing to anticipate results which still have
to be substantiated, and the reader who really wishes to follow me at all will
have to decide to advance from the particular to the general."

The general introduction is that published with the Grundrisse. Since Marx is
talking about what the reader must do to follow his *presentation*, since the
reader certainly cannot share Marx's process of inquiry, I think advance from
particular to general refers to the method of presentation.

This is certainly not the method of Hegel's _Logic_, which makes me suspicious
of the growing number of attempts to "apply" the categories of the _Logic_ to
the *structure* of _Capital_. Moreover, I think that dialectic method is not
an applied method, since it is the nature of the fact, though equally the
movement of cognition, that causes the movement and development. Thus the
dialectic arises out of the concrete reality, and must be reproduced anew in
each new case. As should be clear, I am arguing that the dialectic in
_Capital_ is an historical one, gets its shape from history (though that
doesn't imply chronological presentation). I don't think the development
moves by transcending the insufficiencies of the less developed categories.

Given the events of the last couple of days, I mightily appreciated Michael's
serious critique. Not only was it not all familiar to me, but I'm not even
sure I understood it all.

Andrew Kliman