[OPE-L:3760] RE: artistic whole revisited

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 04:38:36 -0800 (PST)

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Andrew K wrote in [OPE-L:3750]:

> Answer to (1): letter to Engels, 31 July, 1865. For my part, I consider the
> following from that letter to be definitive:
> "there is still the 4th book ...to be written, which will, comparatively
> speaking, be the easiest part for me, since *all* the problems *have been
> resolved* in the first 3 books .... But I cannot make bring myself to send
> anything off until I have *the whole thing* in front of me. ... my writings
> .. are an artistic whole, and this can only be achieved through my practice
> of *never* having things printed until I have them in front of me IN THEIR
> The last phrase,
> was emphasized by Marx himself.

I think you are reading *far too much* into a single letter.

(1) Marx doesn't state above what "all the problems" are.

(2) As Marx makes clear from the next sentence (not quoted above), his
concern about not sending writings for publication until they are
completed is related to how his writings (in this case _Capital_) are
"dialectically constructed."

(3) At the time that V1 was published, he *did not* have _Capital_ in its
entirety in front of him for publication. Indeed, there are *many* parts
of the other volumes which are _incomplete_ (YES!). Evidence of this fact
can be seen, for instance, in V3 where many sections were written by
_Engels_ and other sections were _very_ sketchy and fragmented.

(4) Had the rest of _Capital_ "in its entirety" been finished, then there
can be *no doubt* that Marx would have wanted to publish the rest --
precisely because he viewed his writings as an "artistic whole."

(5) Regarding his decision to publish V1 alone, it should be remembered
that he was already years behind schedule and was under frequent pressure
from the publisher, Engels, and other Social Democrats to publish --
sooner rather than later.

(6) What is the "artistic whole"? Is it the whole of _Capital_ or was it
all 6 books in the 6-book-plan? *At no point* did Marx ever state that he
abandoned the 6-book-plan. The fairest conclusion, in the presence of all
of the documentary evidence, is that there is neither conclusive textual
evidence to support the conclusion that he he had abandoned the original 6
book scheme or that he retained it. For a compelling discussion of this
topic, see Allen Oakley's _The Making of Marx's Critical Theory: A
Bibliographic Analysis_ (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983).

> Answer to (2): Probably because he had more important things to do.
> He spent
> a lot of his last decade on things other than political economy, such as
> anthropology and geology. Remember that, according to this letter, ALL the
> problems HAD BEEN RESOLVED, IMHO (in Marx's humble opinion), and Marx
> evidently thought his time would be better spent by investigating new
> questions that hadn't been resolved, such as the revolutionary potential of
> peoples from noncapitalist lands, than preparing manuscripts for publication
> which dealt with questions he had already resolved. He trusted that Engels
> would be able to make something of these manuscripts after his (Marx's)
> death. (He also wanted to see what the crisis of the '70s would produce.)

(1) *At best*, Marx was anticipating results that he had not demonstrated.
If all the problems *were* resolved (and if one does think that there is a
dialectical unity among the subjects that were later published after his
death as _Capital_), then he would have published the remaining volumes.

(2) For *many long years* Marx had labored on _Capital_. It is simply not
credible to believe that he simply abandoned the rest of _Capital_ because
he had "more important things to do." Certainly, Marx never *stated*

(3) If Marx eventually trusted that Engels would "make something of these
manuscripts" (which, btw, were eagerly anticipated by Social Democrats),
then it was only because of the combination of his poor health and his
realization that he would not be able to complete the "artistic whole" in
his lifetime.

(4) Yes, he was concerned with other issues near the end of his life
(especially, the peasant communes and revolutionary movements in Russia).
Yet, this was *connected to* his critique of political economy.

> The key point is that VOLUME I CONTAINS THE WHOLE.


(1) Marx never said that.

(2) If that is the case, then (at *best*) *all* that is in V2, V3, and
_TSV_ is ***redundant***!

(3) If that is the case, then why did Marx in V1 *explicitly* refer to
other "continuations" of his work?

> Since the work was written
> in REVERSE order, it follows that, according to Marx's thinking,
> nothing that was not discussed explicitly in Vol. I contradicted the
> results of that
> Volume, but only elaborated on them further.

_Capital_ was not entirely written in reverse order. For instance, much of
what became V2 was written *after* Marx wrote V1.

> If one doubts this, then please
> explain why he refused to publish Vol. I until he had the whole thing
> in front

As Rob Beamish's book _Marx. Method, and the Division of Labor_ (Urbana
and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1992) demonstrates: as Marx was
writing _Capital_, he found his work and tasks telescoping far beyond what
he originally intended (especially in terms of length). In other words,
*as he wrote*, he increasingly realized the tremendous intellectual tasks
that he had set himself and the amount of research that was needed to
deal with the subject satisfactorily (particularly as it relates to
historical detail). We can not fault him if he did not have the *time* to
satisfactorily complete his original plan. He was, after all, only one man
and was working under very difficult circumstances.

But ... the main point is that he *did not* have the whole of his work "in
its entirety" before him when he published V1.

> Still, it is possible for Marx to state something clearly without all readers
> understanding clearly what he meant or, even if they understand it, accepting
> its meaning. Many "Marxists" do have and have had material and/or ideological
> interests in portraying _Capital_ as something that Marx considered
> theoretically incomplete.

Regarding the first sentence: I agree.

Regarding the second sentence: many Marxists may have had material
and/or ideological reasons for portraying _Capital_ as something that Marx
considered to be theoretically complete. For instance, after the
publication of V2, V3 (and other writings published after Marx's death),
a lot of the interpretations of Marx that had been based on V1 (or V1 and
V2 alone) fell asunder. Had v3 not been published, then we (like the
majority of the German, Austrian, and Russian Social Democrats) would
probably have thought that Marx's theory of capitalist crises was based on
underconsumptionist and/or disequilibrium understandings. As each "new"
publication presented itself after the death of Marx, generations of
Marxists have had to reaccess what Marx said and meant. For many, this
represented a challenge to older, more "orthodox" ways of looking at what
Marx wrote.

In Solidarity,