[OPE-L:3674] RE: Operationalization of Marxian theory

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 17 Nov 1996 06:39:20 -0800 (PST)

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Andrew K wrote in [OPE-L:3670]:

> (b) Stalinism arose and much "Marxian economics" became an apologia for
> Russia and later for nationalist elites in the 3rd World, typically by
> privileging technological development (standard 2-system value theory serves
> this function well);

I see *no* evidence that the *function* of "standard 2-system value
theory" was to apologize for Stalinism by "privileging technological
development." When used as an interpretation of different theories in
political economy and Marxist movements, this mode of reasoning which
asserts a "function" to another theory or movements (other than their
*stated* function) needs _evidence_ unless it is to be interpreted as a
dismissive and mechanistic assertion. When used by Marxists against other
Marxists, the "it serves the function" comment (like the "objective
meaning" [of theories] and the "logic of [...'s] position [taken to an
extreme and asserting something that the original author did not suggest]"
are frequently less than desirable and (at best) assertive.

> (d) those doing research were now rarely full-time revolutionists and/or
> employed by the movement, as those in the earlier period had been, but mostly
> employed in academia with its specializations and boundaries, so it became
> much harder to maintain the unity of theory and practice or to work on
> specifically Marxian problematics to the extent that they couldn't be
> confined within the boundaries of a particular academic discipline.

I don't think we should romantacize the conditions of work of "full-time
revolutionists." Firstly, there is the question of *which* organization
one works for. Some organizations, for instance, had more or less of a
tradition of dogmatism and their "research" indicated that. Secondly,
there is the question of the *size* of the organization and its connection
to mass workers' struggles. IMHO, if we look at the theoretical and
research output by "full-time revolutionists" following the 1930's, there
is little to be impressed by (and this is the case regardless of the
political orientation of the organization that they work for).

*One* aspect of the above problem is the very limited research agenda by
Marxists who worked for political tendencies *or* in academia in the sense
that they they are more frequently involved in doctrinal debates and less
involved (as the German Social Democrats and the Bolsheviks had been) in
*developing* theory by confronting theory with how the world has changed.

As for academics, I think there is a large amount of truth to the idea
that areas of specialization found in academic disciplines have had the
effect of artificially separating economists, sociologists, political
scientists, philosophers, etc.. Yet, although we can not draw
artificial lines of demarcation between these disciplines and while we
should strive for a well-rounded and inclusive intellectual development,
there is nonetheless reason to have some kind of a division of labor among
Marxists doing research in different areas. If we do no have some
specialization then we run the risk is not being very familiar with any
field in our desire to have a general understanding of all fields. For
instance, I have not followed very intensively recent debates by Marxists
about literature or the physical sciences. There is a legitimate reason
for that -- I don't have the *time* (this would, btw, by the case
regardless of whether I worked in academia, for a mass-based workers'
political organization, in a factory, or was unemployed or independently

> Second, in true Hegelian fashion, when
> standard "Marxian" value theory reached its pinnacle, it negated itself and
> perished. It became obvious that the technological determinist understanding
> of value eliminated the need for value or made it self-contradictory. Almost
> all of the work in "Marxian" value theory of the past twenty years has this
> problem as its starting point, including the "abstract labor" and "value-form"
> stuff, the attempts to rescue technological determinist value theory on
> empirical grounds, the New Interpretation, SSS (in which I include Wolff,
> Callari, Roberts, Lee, Moseley, and Rodriguez) and TSS. (Have I left anyone
> out?) So I really think the controversy is a symptom and a result of a lack
> of progress --- nay, a regression --- rather than a cause.

If what you are saying is that the research by many Marxists in the last
20 years has been driven by an attempt to answer Steedman (and
Neo-Ricardianism) and Okishio, then I agree with you. I also agree that
this represents a regression.

Yet, there have been research efforts that have not taken this as a
starting point. The effort by Reuten-Williams (and many others who are not
economists) was largely directed at further theorizing the capitalist
*state*. The effort by Mike Leobowitz was largely a response to what he
sees as "one-sided Marxism" and was intended to further develop the
subject of *wage-labour*. The effort by Mino Carchedi in his _Fronteirs_
book was directed at other questions as well, e.g. the division between
intellectual and manual labor (or, more generally, class composition and
re-composition) and the internationalization of capital and unequal
exchange. Then, there are efforts by Shaikh/Tonak, Cockshott/Cottrell (and
many others) to engage in empirical measurement. Of course, there are many
other examples of research by Marxists in the last 20 years which has not
been directly (or fundamentally) concerned with Neo-Ricardianism.

> The key example is Lenin's _State and Revolution_, most of which
> was a detailed textual analysis of Marx's and Engels's writings on the State
> and a critique of opponents. Were anyone to attempt to do something like that
> nowadays, all kinds of epithets about "ideology" and "religion" would be used
> to bury it immediately, yet Lenin's approach didn't detract from the
> originality or importance of what he was arguing, IMO, but made his work
> possible.

_State and Revolution_ had a lot of quotes from M&E (primarily because it
was, in part, a polemic against the Mensheviks, the SR's, and anarchists
and Lenin wanted, I think, to highlight the "revisionism" of his political
opponents), but it was not, IMO, a primarily detailed textual analysis of
M&E. It was a political work along the lines of _What is to be Done?_ in
the sense that it attempted to give theoretical expression for the key
political tasks of the day.

When one looks at Lenin's writings on political economy (e.g. _The
Development of Capitalism in Russia_ and _Imperialism_) they were
primarily attempts to understand both the uneven development of capitalism
and the internationalization of capital in its "latest" stage (although,
_Dev of Cap_ was also clearly intended to be a critique of other
tendencies on the Left).

Indeed, if one examines the great debates among German-Austrian-Russian
Social Democrats (and, later, Bolsheviks and the Communist International),
one can observe that in no major case were they primarily interpretive
debates on Marx.

> To pursue the Kuhn analogy
> further, I think we're living in a period in which a paradigm has collapsed
> and a paradigm shift may be underway, and "normal science" doesn't take place
> in such a situation; rather, there is a reconstruction of fundamentals and
> propagation of the new paradigm.

What paradigm has collapsed and which paradigm is becoming? It seems odd to
assert that a new paradigm is emerging before one has indicated the
essential characteristics of the new paradigm.

> There is a good deal of "internal" discussion among people
> doing TSS work, a good deal of cross-fertilization, only part of which is
> reflected on ope-l.

Why hasn't there been more "internal discussion" and "cross-fertilization"
by TSSers on OPE-L?

> I'm not in favor of trying to subsume the
> differences in a search for unity, because I think development tends to arise
> through contradiction.

I don't think *anyone* has argued that they are in favor of subsuming
differences in search of unity. However, the negative task of identifying
differences must be accompanied by the positive task of identifying

> It seems to me that a
> lot of the current controversy stems from our inability to accept others'
> theories' questions and answer-forms.

If we were to simply accepts others' questions and answer-forms, then we
would not be critically confronting those theories.

> For instance, the operationalization of Marx's (Marxian?) theory is of
> *primary* importance to Duncan, whereas it is of little importance from my
> perspective.


> Conversely, correlations between
> prices and vertically integrated labor coefficients is a crucial to
> everything
> or almost everything Paul and Allin care about, whereas this issue of of no
> importance to me.

Firstly: I don't think that correlations between prices and vertically
integrated labor coefficients is crucial to _everything_ or _almost
everything_ that they care about.

Secondly: why is this issue of no importance to you? If critiquing Okishio
is important to you, why is a critique of others like Cockshott/Cottrell
unimportant to you?

> Rather, we find that the
> reason we're unable to proceed together on complex matters is that we don't
> agree on elemental ones.

We can't proceed to discuss complex topics until we *start* to discuss
complex topics. Did the debates on imperialism, for example, start from
the premise of first trying to resolve basic questions re interpreting
Marx and value theory? Or was the premise that there needs to be further
theorization of important new developments re (what was then) contemporary

In solidarity,