[OPE-L:3728] RE: Hairsplitting

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Fri, 29 Nov 1996 00:46:00 -0800 (PST)

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A response to Ian's ope-l 3725.

In a post I'm sending together with this one, I indicated that it constituted
a response to Ian, but then I re-read his post and realized I needed to say
something more.

He wrote in part:

"If the question were an interpretation which saved everything in Marx's text
as opposed to others which represented his views as mistaken in this that or
the other way, we should go for the most generous interpretation. But that is
not the case, so far as I can see. We have to choose between intepretations
which save one or other of the positions Marx took."

For the record, I should reiterate that I think the TSS interpretation is
consistent with Marx's theory as a whole, not just particular "positions," and
that it refutes the charges of internal inconsistency in the quantitative
aspects of his value theory. If this can be shown to be false, I will abandon
the TSS interpretation. I have no desire to privilege particular aspects of
the theory against others, no desire to choose. My project is to understand
and explain how Marx's value theory can be interpreted in a coherent manner,
not to construct my own theory. If Marx's theory in the end is proven to be
internally incoherent, then I've been wrong, that's all.

I also don't think the term "save" is quite right. It implies that the
interpretations according to which Marx is internally inconsistent are more
"natural" than opposing interpretations, which I don't think is the case. For
instance, it seems to me very forced to read as admissions of error the
passages in Chs. 9-12 of Vol. III in which Marx notes that the value of
constant and variable capital differ from the value of means of production and
subsistence. I think this reading persists partly due to the dead weight of
tradition, and partly because many people find it more convenient to say they
are correcting what Marx knew to be in error than to say that they have
theoretical disagreements with him.

I note that Ian does not specify the aspects of Marx's theory which he thinks
contradict the TSS interpretation, so it is impossible to discuss the
substance of his claim at this point.

Ian also writes:

"The charge of 'contradiction' is just posturing. Marx should, for the sake of
consistency, adjust for changes to prices of production as imputs but it is
absurd to make a charge of inconsistency in relation to a manuscript."

This is only a terminological quibble with the word "contradiction," I think.
Ian implies that Marx's own account of the transformation does not meet the
demands of "consistency." In the passage I quoted above, Ian also implies
that we must choose between positions that Marx took because some of them are
inconsistent with or contradict others of them.

This is certainly possible, but it must be demonstrated. The usual attempts
at demonstration fail completely. The very *method* of these demonstrations
makes them invalid. I've dubbed this the "method of substitutionism." It
works like this. Take two things Marx said, A and B. Interpret A as meaning
X and B as meaning Y. Demonstrate that X contradicts Y. Then claim that one
has demonstrated that A contradicts B.

What such demonstrations actually demonstrate is not an *internal*
inconsistency in Marx's writings, but an *external* inconsistency, between
what he wrote and the particular interpretation of it. They constitute
evidence against the interpretation. Those who employ this method never
demonstrate the *necessity* of their interpretation, which is what would be
needed for their claims to be valid.

Andrew Kliman