[OPE-L:3669] RE: Operationalization of Marxian theory

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 14 Nov 1996 08:52:07 -0800 (PST)

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Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:3667]:

> It will not be possible to construct a new revolutionary socialist movement
> unless the participants in that movement are convinced that there is a viable
> alternative. This does not mean that every participant in a new socialist
> movement will have to understand all the details of how to refute the
> Hayekian critique of socialism, anymore than that every participant in
> the Social Democracy understood every point of Marx's critique of
> capitalisms 19th century appologists. But just as the rudiments of the
> labour theory of exploitation were generally grasped, so too must the
> rudiments of a modern defence of socialism against the theory
> of market self regulation be grasped. That in turn means, that the
> critiques of the best bourgeois thinkers leveled against the socialist
> system have to be met at their own level or above. The mass of a social
> movement gets its ideas from popularisers and journalists, and unless
> these people are convinced that they have read a serious response to the
> critiques of the right, then they will be unable to project a popular
> version.

1) What does it mean when you write that critiques "have to be met at
their own level or above"? "At their own level" seems to suggest an
internal critique which takes for granted the basic conceptual framework
of the theory that one is critiquing in order to demonstrate internal
inconsistencies. While such a form of critique can be very powerful, it
often has its own problems. For example, it means all too frequently that
the terms and "terrain" of the debate are on the terms of those that one
is critiquing. It also means that one might accept for granted a
conceptual framework which *on its own terms* might be consistent, but may
be at variance with the larger subject that one is investigating. For
instance, the Walrasian system is internally logically consistent but it
is ahistorical and excludes essential categories related to understanding
capitalism, e.g. money. If a theory is incapable of explaining or grasping
a phenomena, isn't this a *sufficient* critique even where that theory is
internally consistent? By "above" do you mean confronting a theory with
empirical and/or historical evidence and/or do you mean the development of
an alternative conceptual framework that better explains the subject at

2) You say that the "mass of a social movement gets its ideas from
popularists and journalists." This may be true, but aren't the
popularizations of theory frequently the source of what some call "vulgar
or simplistic) Marxism"? Although Marx intended _Capital_ to be read and
understood by the proletarian masses, it seems that he was not that
successful in meeting that goal and that others following him have
attempted to simplify his theory in a way that often reduces theory to
slogans. I think we have to bear in mind Marx's advice to the French
public, *but* we also have to consider ways in which theory can be
explained in "plain language" that is more broadly understood *yet* still
doesn't over-simplify the subject being presented. I think this is a
pretty difficult task in practice and I don't have a whole lot of
confidence in the ability of socialist popularizers and journalists to do
justice to the theories being presented.

> At a second, more reformist level, a key political question is what
> government measures
> should the labour movement push for in order to avert the scourge of
> unemployment?

Or, more generally, if a worker was to ask you what the determinants of
unemployment and inflation are, how would you answer that obviously
important question that is of direct concern to workers today?

> If the unemployment is the result
> of the iron laws of political economy rather than being due to a particular
> political policy, then again there is no alternative and no possibility of
> a labour movement fighting for an alternative.

I never liked that expression "iron laws" much. Do others like it?

In solidarity,