[OPE-L:3989] Re: Books 4-6

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 15 Jan 1997 10:17:36 -0800 (PST)

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Previous message: Tony Smith: "[OPE-L:3988] Books 4-6"

Tony wrote in [OPE-L:3988]:

> Just a thought, but it is really the case that no worthwhile work has
> been done in the last century developing Marxian theory regarding the
> state, foreign trade, and the world market?

There have been many writings and debates by Marxists earlier this century
and in the 1960's on 1970's on imperialism and the internationalization of
capital, yet the relation of those debates to the theory of capital in
general and the state remain unclear theoretically. There has been very
little work indeed regarding theories of international trade and, again,
the relationship of those theories to capital in general and the state
remain vague. As for writings on the state, there have indeed been many
debates since the 1970's (see, for instance, the edited volumes:
Holloway, J. and Picciotto, S. eds _State and Capital: A Marxist Debate_,
London, Edward Arnold, 1978; Clarke, S. ed. _The State Debate_, NY, St.
Martin's Press, 1991; and Bonefeld, W. and Holloway, J. _Post-Fordism &
Social Form: A Marxist Debate on the Post-Fordist State_, London,
Macmillan, 1991), yet ... again ... the relation of those debates to basic
theory remains unclear. There are many other questions as well, e.g. who
can explain a coherent Marxist theory of public finance to me? What is the
role of the state in the process of international trade? How do we
articulate the relationship between international economic policy pursued
by the state and non-economic (e.g. political, military) objectives? What
is the importance of nationalism in state policies?

> Is merely an instrument of
> the capitalist class? Does the self-interest of state officials in a
> capitalist society generally lead them to further capital accumulation
> automatically? Is the state a site of class struggle where interests of
> the working class and its allies can be furthered, albeit in ultimately
> incomplete and inadequate ways? Marxists have debated these and related
> topics since the publication of CAPITAL, and it seems to me that there
> have been advances in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the
> arguments for these positions.

Certainly, there have been many debates on these topics. For two very
different perspectives, compare Hardt, M. and Negri, A. _Labor of
Dionysus: A Critique of the State-Form_ (Minneapolis, University of
Minnesota Press, 1994) to Geert and Mike W's _Value-Form and the State:
The Tendencies of Accumulation and the Determination of Economic Policy in
Capitalist Society_ (London, Routledge, 1989). I think the latter work has
the advantage of recognizing the need to *systematically* examine the
relationship between the value-form, accumulation, and the state. That is,
there is the recognition in the Reuten-Williams work that the state-form
can not be investigated in either an _ad hoc_ manner or merely through
conjunctural (or class) analysis -- it must be *developed* theoretically.

> Similarly hasn't the Marxian debate on
> imperialism summarized in Brewer's book furthered our understanding of
> foreign trade and the world market?

Furthered our understanding ... certainly. Yet, there remain *many*
unanswered questions (for another "summary" book, see Chilcote, R.H.
_Theories of Development and Underdevelopment_, Boulder, Westview Press,
1984). Yet, the Brewer book (_Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical
Survey_, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul) was written in 1980. How much
have Marxists written on these topics in the last 20 years? [This was a
point, I believe, that Alan made on PEN-L before the inception of OPE-L).

Also, where have the "Marxist economists" been while these debates were in
progress. for instance, I think that debates on the state have mostly been
among "sociologists" and "political scientists." Ditto foreign trade and
the world market. I think there is a need to integrate the research
efforts of Marxists in different disciplines (oh, and let's not forget
Marxist geographers, philosophers, historians, etc. either).

> In comparison with mainstream
> social theory - which as far as I can tell has a theory of the state
> that more or less repeats Locke and a theory of foreign trade that more
> or less repeats Ricardo - it is not at all clear to me that its Marxism
> that has the "degenerate" research program.

If your point is that *compared to* mainstream social theory, Marxists are
way out in front in many ways, I agree. Yet, that can not be the standard
that we apply to ourselves. We not only have to develop theory better
*relative to* mainstream theory -- we have to recognize the areas of
theory that require further and more complete theorization and then do it.

In solidarity, Jerry