[OPE-L:3668] Re: Operationalization of Marxian Theory

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 14 Nov 1996 04:21:32 -0800 (PST)

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A response to John's [OPE-L:3666]:

> a. There is not a lot happening out there. That is, capital, for now,
> appears stable. I think this may well change sooner than any of us
> would like but as Mr. Cronkite used to tell us "that's the way
> it is."

What does it mean when you assert that capital appears stable? Do you mean
that it appears that it is less prone to crisis? If that is your belief, I
see little or no evidence. Or do you mean that capital appears stable
in the sense that the proletariat has not successfully challenged -- and
surpassed -- capital? This "stability", it would seem, is momentary and

So ... what is "the way it is"? Certainly, the working class movement is
fragmented and divided internationally. Certainly, many workers
and others, including intellectuals (especially after the dissolution of
the USSR) view socialism more as a "utopia." Certainly, many workers and
others, who have suffered one defeat after the other in the period of
Neo-Liberalism, view capital as more dominant. Yet, despite the above,
there are movements for international solidarity and there are
revolutionary movements in some countries which (on different
levels) challenge the rule of capital. This is also part of the world as
it is.

> b. We are not very clear theoretically. Consider the very basic
> levels on which we find disagreement -- the valuation of capital,
> the definition of the rate of profit, etc.

To be sure, we have differences in theoretical perspective. On one level,
the "very basic" disagreements concern different perspectives on value and
method (and, by that standard, disagreements concerning the valuation of
capital and definitions of the profit rate are secondary in the sense that
they reflect some of those differences regarding our interpretations of
value and method). On another level, we differ regarding our perception of
the most important theoretical and political tasks for Marxists today.

> I'm not sure the idea of operationlization is not one way to attempt
> to make the field more "coherent." The difficulty is that to move
> to that level one needs more clarity than the field itself seems
> capable of supplying. To test a hypothesis one needs to have a
> hypothesis to test. I'm not sure we have one yet.

Let me suggest a hypothesis relevant for operationalization:

* we operationalize theory when we both understand the world better in
thought and change the world*.

In that sense, operationalization is the understanding by the working
class of the inherent nature of the capitalist mode of production and its
self-activity which can lead to the surpassing of that mode of production.
Viewed from that perspective, theoretical development is also praxis --
and in our discussions about what aspects of theory need development we
also, thereby, have to confront both the ways in which capitalism has
changed since the time of Marx and consider the explicitly (or implicitly)
political content of *what we are doing*.

> On the other
> hand, issues we have discussed could stand a bit of
> "operationlization." Here, I think the idea of constant capital
> using or saving technical change is one of them.

To be sure, this is a worthy goal. Yet, this seems a rather odd choice,
in the larger sense of understanding the world in thought and changing it,
for a starting point for a research agenda.

Shouldn't our research agenda be driven more by *political* requirements?

For instance, who can say that they are satisfied with the theorization of
the state and related issues? Do we, for instance, have a coherent theory
of public finance?

What about international trade and development? Surely, the uneven
development of capitalism internationally and patterns of trade among
capitalist nations demand further theorization. What do we say, for
instance, about the persistent inequalities between the "North" and the

What is Neo-Liberalism and how can it be overcome? [a topic that has drawn
that attention of Fred and Massimo and many thousands of other
revolutionaries internationally].

What about the relationship of nature (and the environment) to capital?
This would seem to be a rather important subject for investigation and
change. [this topic has drawn the attention of people like Jim O'Connor,
Paul Burkett, Alain Lipietz, Elmar Altvater and a host of others].

What about the role of women and feminist struggles to basic theories
regarding value and capital?

What about [as Patrick M has reminded us] the question of education and
"human capital"? Should we leave this subject to the neo-neoclassicals?

What about the question of different forms of competition and how
this has affected workers' standards of living and struggles?

What about the development of transnational corporations?

What about "imperialism"? What content, if any, can we give to that
expression today?

What about the investigation and theorization of questions relating to
class composition, re-composition, and de-composition?

Shouldn't we, as Marxists, attempt to critically evaluate the experience
of the "socialist" nations and confront the long-standing differences in
perception regarding what socialism is? [This reminds me of the song from
the 1970's called "What are we fighting for?"].

The above is, by no means, an exclusive list. What I am suggesting though
is that, like Marx, we consider the *political* in terms of our choice
about which subjects require further investigation and development. After
all, we do not want to be philosophers who only attempt to understand the
world -- we must *change* it!

> Perhaps an alternate way of getting around the lack of coherence
> that one finds in this endeavor would be to create simulation
> models of the process of accumulation itself.

As discussions on the list have indicated, we don't share the same
definitions of the accumulation of capital or constant capital. Simulation
models will not be able to substitute for this "lack of coherence."

> It seems to me
> that our generation unlike those before us have been given tools
> about which our predecessors could only dream. Here, I refer to
> high speed computers and software like spreadsheets. Why not
> take what we can from the process of operationalization and
> begin to create simulation models. This would force us to attain
> clarity as we construct a model that may one day be capable
> of being tested.

Certainly, computers are a tool in our arsenal that were unavailable to
previous generations of Maxists. Yet, doesn't the development of
simulation models follow the development of theory? In other words, *what*
are we simulating? Computers can be useful, but I believe that the
operationalization of theory requires that we first give greater
consideration to the range of issues that *require* theorization.

In solidarity,