[OPE-L:2850] Re: Zapatista's encuentro

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Mon, 26 Aug 1996 12:03:50 -0700 (PDT)

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A response to Duncan's and Jerry's discussion in ope-ls 2840 and 2842.

I think Duncan asks a crucial question: "How did the political effect of the
[Marx's?---AJK] analysis become inverted?" Surprisingly little thought and
discussion of this issue has taken place. In Howard and King's 2-volume
_History_ for instance, there is very little discussion of the socio-political
determinants of the development of "Marxian economics" at all. We seem to
have pure theory arising out of pure theory.

I certainly do not have "the answer" to Duncan's question, just some

There's no denying that there is some truth to Jerry's tentative answer:
careerism ("The object was to obtain a comfy job as an academic rather than
help make a revolution"). But I think this is more a symptom than a cause.
As Jerry himself notes, the careerism of Left intellectuals arose *in part*
out of professionalization of intellectual endeavor and the weakness of social
struggles against capital. More importantly, if one looks at what became the
Social Structure of Accumulation school, for instance, it is not correct to
say that they were concerned initially with comfy jobs rather than revolution;
and I'd say that they are still not concerned to develop theory and analysis
for their own sakes, but for political purposes. Moreover, although I'm not
one of them, I also don't think it is accurate to say that the work of others
who are concerned to construct an alternative political economy in full
"technical detail" is motivated mostly by careerism.

So what else is involved in the inversion of the political significance of
Marx's body of ideas?

One thing, certainly, is that those who have opposed (knowingly or
unknowingly) Marx's Marxism have appropriated the name for their own, mostly
ideological, purposes, turning it into its opposite. The exemplary instance of
this, though certainly not the only one, is Stalinism. Yet one cannot simply
alter political *conclusions* - the ideas themselves must be altered so that
the conclusions fit. Hence, much of what is accepted as "orthodox" "Marxian
political economy," even among non- and anti-Stalinists, was forged by folks
such as Sweezy, Dobb, and Meek, in dialogue with folks like Robinson. Its
ramifications are too numerous to enumerate, but in general, it is possible to
say that _Capital_ was turned into an expose' of the "anarchy of the market,"
production for private profit, competion, and "unfair" distribution, in favor
of state planning and technological development; the "law of value" was
de-historicized (as Ted noted recently, this flows directly out of the 1943
Russian revision in the meaning of this law); and, in general, the accepted
mode of explanation became economic- and technological-determinist and

Another factor that permits the inversion of the political implications of
Marx's ideas, which has had a decisive impact on the development of "Marxian
economics" especially, is his "logical inconsistencies." If his conclusions
are necessarily invalid, because self-contradictory, then, when one "corrects"
his work, it is not surprising that different conclusions emerge. For
instance, the whole purpose of Marx's Ch. 9 transformation was to show that
the phenomena of competition, atomized ownership, and the quest for maximum
private gain do not alter the law of value-the results for the total social
capital are exactly the same as they would be if the whole social capital
"belong[ed] to one and the same person" (Vol. III, Vintage, 259). The
"corrected" transformation does not display Marx's invariances, however, which
leads to the *opposite* conclusion that "[s]imultaneous equation models ...
capture one essential aspect of the capitalist economy: interdependence among
atomistically separated units of control" and that these models show
exploitation to be "inseparable from the entire web of interconnections in the
structure of production and exchange" (David Laibman, paper presented at 1996
EEA, p. 4, p. 12).

This inversion of Marx's own conclusions, of course, is not at all separate
from the inversion I discussed two paragraphs above, and hence I believe it is
no accident that the "transformation problem" became a persistent one. The
view of capitalism that Laibman here expresses dominated (and dominates) and
it tends to lead to a particular way of posing and conceiving the
transformation-a way that does not permit the "problem" to be "solved."

Yet another factor flows largely from the perceived insufficiencies of Marx's
own work: the proliferation of many "Marxisms." Once the original is
perceived to be fundamentally flawed, one has every right to, indeed *must*,
"correct" or "complete" it. And this can be done in potentially an infinity
of ways, by privileging this or that particular insight while ignoring--or
rejecting, on the ground of consistency-the overall meaning and context, and
developing a Marxism the political conclusions of which diverge from the
original. The resulting de-centered, ambiguous atmosphere also permits the
acceptance, as one variant of Marxism, of projects stemming from other

Yet I think there is an even deeper, philosophical problem involved, one that
bears more directly on the issues Jerry, especially, raised (maybe Duncan,
too, but his post was too short to tell). From the beginning of post-Marx
Marxism (Engels), a strain of positivism infected it. This positivism was
quite prominent in the 2nd International, as it was among European
intellectuals of the time generally. It encouraged the separation of theory
and practice, the view of Marxism as positive "science" and as something
external to the working class (Kautsky), and so on. The dualism inherent in
positivism has a power of its own, even when its adherents *are*
revolutionaries and even activists. Once "science" and revolution, theory and
practice, are separated, it requires an act of will to join them together:
one, for instance, "chooses" to "apply" a theoretical analysis to reality.
Certainly everyone knows that political visions and commitments have an impact
on the activity of the theorIST, but positivism denies that THE THEORETICAL IS

IMO, this dualism was foreign to Marx and his work, so the attempts to develop
his work or to "use" it that are premised on this dualism necessarily distort
it, run into profound complications, create "internal contradictions" in his
work, and give rise to entire research agendas devoted to solving the problems
they have created themselves.

IMO, the very concept of "Marxian (or -ist) economics" or "Marxian (or -ist)
political economy" is premised on this positivism and runs into the problems
it creates. If you have a divorce between "science" and revolution,
"economics" falls on the "science" side. And if it is "science," it is
neutral: it does not *inherently* have a class character. This leads to a
notion of "Marxian economics" as more or less the mirror image of one or
another "school" of bourgeois economics. They give different answers, but
different answers to much the same set of questions, because these are
"neutral" questions that arise naturally in the course of pursuing the same
scientific problematic. Above all, the nearly exclusive reason for knowledge
and theory is to *account for what exists*.

>From this perspective, one *necessarily* finds that Marx's "critique of
political economy" is *theoretically* "incomplete," because it fails to
address or even begs many of these questions, and gives peculiar, unsatisfying
answers to others. Thus, one has to develop a Marxist theory of this, a
Marxist theory of that, a Marxist theory of the other. My point is not that
everything that needs to be solved is necessarily already solved once one
abandons a positivist outlook and a positivist reading of Marx, but that the
problematic changes, one's understanding of Marx's own answers changes, the
areas that need development change, the dividing lines between theories
change, and so on.

Once the "positive/normative" dichotomy is made, the implications of theory
are *permitted* to mutate and to become inverted. We are told that any
"evaluation" can be made of any "fact." More important, I think, is that the
changed context, within which Marx's work is read, itself tends to give rise
to a changed conception of the political-philosophical significance of its
parts and the work as a whole. In general, positivism rejects as unscientific
the investigation into the MEANING of things, what they ARE, and seeks rather
to "explain" them by giving an account of how they operate, i.e., their
position in time and space.

>From this perspective, for instance, the law of the FRP can look-and
become!--"technical," concerned with predicting the movement in an economic
variable rather more removed from immediate experience than unemployment
rates, tax rates, etc. What is lost is the *meaning* of the FRP to Marx:

"The _true barrier_ to capitalist production is _capital itself_. It is that
capital and its self-valorisation appear as the strating and finishing point,
as the motive and purpose of production; production is production only for
_capital_, and not the reverse, i.e. the means of production are not simply
means for a steadily expanding pattern of life for the _society_ of the
producers" (_Capital_ III, Vintage, 358).

The very "fact" of the tendency to a FRP is here a *critique* of the motive
and purpose of the capitalist mode of production and an articulation of its
absolute opposite, a new, human society. I suggest that this is no less
directly relevant to people's immediate experience than an analysis of
poverty, and that it is *more* directly relevant to revolutionizing praxis,
inasmuch as the latter requires not only knowledge of what one is against, but
a vision of what one is fighting *for.*

Nor is discussion of the Okishio theorem a mere technical matter separate from
all this. As I wrote in my paper on the theorem in the Freeman/Carchedi
volume (pp. 206-07): "If indeed the production of capital as an end in itself
is capitalist production's immanent barrier and source of crises, then '[t]he
true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself'
[Capital III, Vintage, 959] is neither mere rhetoric nor utopian morality. On
the contrary, this humanist perspective becomes the concrete, practical
alternative to capitalism and its unending crises, and not only as a goal, but
also as the way to achieve it. ...

"The very opposite impact of the Okishio theorem has been to turn radical
theorists' attention away from the capitalist mode of *production*, its labor
process, and towards forms of distribution and competition. ... The theorem
purports to demonstrate that, if the real wage rate remains constant,
mechanization introduced by profit-maximising capitalists cannot, in and of
itself, lower the equilibrium profit rate. Thus, rising real wages are the
true source of falling profitability."

I think Jerry's question, about how many workers have heard of the Okishio
theorem, is really besides the point. How many have heard of "surplus-value"?
The "real subsumption of labor under capital"? Etc. The real issue is
whether this is all an intellectual game, or whether it has meaning for their
lives, speaks to their concerns and aspirations, addresses things about which
they want to know and, above all, helps point a direction out of the current
morass. Certainly they *do* know about, toil under, lose jobs under, the
ideology of which the theorem is part and parcel, that increases in
productivity are the solution to our economic problems, and that they must
sacrifice today for prosperity tomorrow. Meanwhile, how does the activist
left, or what remains of it, respond? Generally by marching everyone around
for hours chanting inane distributionist slogans: "Money for ____, not for
____." Even if this were based on an adequate analysis, it certainly
wouldn't help develop a vision of an alternative way of working and living.

I basically agree with Jerry, therefore, when he writes: "in our decisions
about how to allocate our time on investigating theoretical issues, we should
ask ourselves about the political significance of our investigations." Yet I
think that this formulation ignores another aspect, to me a more important
one, of the debate on such things as the transformation and the Okishio
theorem-the battle of ideas, which is not the same as theory. As Ted and I
wrote in our paper in the Freeman/Carchedi volume (p. 29): "Our work ... is
not intended to develop an alternative, non-equilibrium political economy.
Rather we conceive our defence of Marx's account of the value-price
transformation as an attempt to combat an ideological attack on his body of
ideas and thus to create a place for its renewal, and as contributions to the
*critique* of political economy on the foundations laid by Marx." We go on to
explain the latter as follows: "whereas rival schools of economics primarily
ague over which gives the best account of the functioning of existing society,
_Capital_ does not merely criticize others' *conceptions* of reality. It is a
philosophical critique of economics, which critiques the existing reality of
capitalism *itself*, including its thought, from the standpoint of an
envisioned new, human society, the conditions for which develop through the
struggles of revolutionary subjects within existing society. Because its
projects and concepts-and not only Marx's own opinions-are thus inherently
critical, Marx's work becomes subject to distortion when forced into the mould
of economic theory."

I've quoted this latter part largely to flesh out my earlier remarks on
positivism. The point about "combat[ing] an ideological attack on Marx's body
of ideas" is more pertinent to understanding the full significance of the
debate. The importance of this is, first, to set the historical record
straight, and second, to allow *Marx's* Marxism to exist and to develop, own
its own terms and in its own context. IF IT IS PLAGUED BY INTERNAL
Marxism exists and develops, however? The reason extends far beyond what Marx
has to say about economics. I think we are sorely in need of *Marx's
philosophy of new human relations*, of which the critique of political economy
is an inseparable dimension of the whole, in order to overcome the paralysis
and hopelessness, the seeming eternality of capitalism, the seeming lack of an
alternative, that grips thought today.

Now, I'm not interested in technical details for their own sake (who is?), but
when one is challenging a century-long consensus and asking that the record be
set straight, one had better be right, down to the last dotted-i and
crossed-t. Even were I not concerned with this at all, those who do not wish
to accept our conclusions (that the internal inconsistencies do not exist and
that we have formalized Marx's value theory in a coherent way) see to it that
we do work out the details. As everyone on the list is aware, rather than our
conclusions having been accepted and acted upon, objections concerning
technical details continue to be raised, to which we have to respond.

BTW, I think this process largely accounts for Marx's own care with technical
details. Issuing such a thorough challenge to bourgeois society as he did, he
damned well had to get things right. This attention to detail, however, can
easily make it seem that he was developing an alternative political economy.

Jerry asks: "how important is the task of working out those details in
relation to the task of analyzing the multitude of other theoretical issues
that have significance for working people today? ... How important is the task
of developing yet another critique of the Okishio Theorem when for example we
can't even articulate all of the determinants of inflation, unemployment, and

I've tried to respond to most of this but, following up on my comments
concerning positivism and Marx's philosophy, let me ask: how important is the
analysis of the multitude of economic issues and the articulation of the
economic determinants of what exists as against the need to develop and
articulate a vision of a new mode of life and labor? It seems to me that in
the history of Marxism, far more attention has been given to the former than
to the latter (even when the latter is not rejected outright, or separated
from "science") and that the most pressing problem of the day, which envelops
and colors all the particular ones, is the thorough hegemony of capitalist
ideology. Knowing how things operate is necessary and good, but not good
enough. It only seems that way from the vantage-point of mechanistic
thinking, which reasons that, to undo the effects, you undo the causes. But
to bring about a new human society, millions of downtrodden people must have
confidence that they can change things fundamentally and they must have a
goal, a vision of a wholly different future. *By themselves*, no amount of
analyses will help meet this challenge, I am afraid.

"But the *practice* of philosophy is itself *theoretical*. It is the
*critique* that measures the individual existence by the essence, the
particular reality by the Idea" (Marx, _Collected Works_ I, p. 85).

Andrew Kliman