[OPE-L:5182] Re: open/autonomist marxism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 19:15:31 -0700 (PDT)

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Re Massimo's [OPE-L:5172]:

> Yes, I have been provoked to response. So, I break my silence
> (mostly due to other commitments) and happily jump in (Just to
> realize that Mike is away for two weeks !!!!).

It's good to hear from you again, Massimo.

I'm sure Mike L will have something to add when he returns, but let me add
a few comments here to get the ball, hopefully, rolling.

As I indicated in a previous post, there are many issues associated with
the autonomist critique that are well worth our discussing. Here, I will
only try to delineate two of those issues ... and, thereby, probe the
extent to which we agree and disagree on those issues.

The two related issues that I think are posed (at least in my mind) by the
differing interpretations of _Capital_ by Toni Negri and Harry Cleever

(1) What was the purpose of _Capital_?

(2) What is the logical design of _Capital_ and how was Marx's
revolutionary politics expressed in that design?

I. The purpose of _Capital_

I would say that Marx had a number of different, but related, purposes in
writing _Capital_.

_Capital_ was intended to be:

a) a systematic exposition of the inner nature and dynamics of the
capitalist mode of production (to "ultimately" reveal the "economic law of
motion of modern society");

b) a critique of political economy, including both classical political
economy and "vulgar economics";

c) a popular and readable exposition that could be understood by
working-class revolutionaries and socialist intellectuals of his time;

d) a work which would have a political impact and, ultimately, be an
expression of his revolutionary politics.

Regardless of how we stress the relative importance of these different
goals, can we agree that all of these aims were important to Marx?

I would suspect that the above is not particularly controversial. More
controversial is how we view how Marx attempted to satisfy these varied

Some of these differences can be seen in the following:

> 1. I think the position of Cleaver and
> Negri is slightly different. The latter sees Capital mostly as a book
> on - literally - capital, or at least one in which categories such as
> struggle, working class, subjectivity, etc., are very marginal. This
> is why, Negri, gives so much importance to the Grundrisse.
> <snip> Negri's reading
> of the Grundrisse is not aimed at discovering the **logic ** of
> capital, but at making sense of the free activity of the social
> subjects breaking out of capital.

> Cleaver's position is different, in his book Reading
> Capital Politically he sees struggles/working class/subjectivity etc.
> as central element for the definition of the categories in Das
> Kapital.

I agree with the above summary and note that these are *two very
different* interpretations of _Capital_, i.e. Negri views "struggles,
working class/subjectivity, etc." as "very marginal" to _Capital_ (but not
to Marx!) , whereas Harry reads _Capital_ in a way that emphasizes these
as "crucial elements" for the categories developed in _Capital_. On this
point (i.e. interpreting _Capital_), they offer almost diametrically
opposed readings.

Expressing the above somewhat differently, I think that Negri interprets
_Capital_ as being (unlike the _Grundrisse_, in his interpretation) a work
which focuses too narrowly on the "logic of capital." Harry, on the other
hand, interprets _Capital_ as a fundamentally political work which
stresses (or at least incorporates) working class struggles and
subjectivity. Despite *many* other differences, I think that Mike L shares
Toni's perspective on the "one-sided" nature of _Capital_ (btw, in our
very early history -- September, 1995 -- there was a fascinating debate on
this question, and the question of Book III, between Mike L and Tony [and

II. The Archiotronics of _Capital_

> 2. What does the search for the "missing book on
> wage-labour" mean? Does it mean the satisfaction of a curiosity
> in the history of thought? In which case, it is a quite legitimate
> mystery to be solved. Or does it mean that Marx has excluded from his
> analysis the perspective of the working class?

I think that those who are concerned about this topic have more than a
"curiosity" from a history of thought perspective.

I.e. if one views _Capital_ as, essentially, expressing the logic of
capital, then one is faced with two choices:

a) believing that an exposition of the logic of capital was adequate for
both understanding Marx's critique of political economy and understanding
capitalism; or,

b) believing that capitalism can not be systematically understood as an
organic system entirely from the one-sided nature of _Capital_.

If one believes in b), then one can go on to make the case, as Mike L
does, that the "book on Wage-Labour" and the other "missing books" are an
essential part of conceptualizing the inter-relationships and
contradictory nature of capitalism.

I see Cleever as arguing thaat both a) and b) are mistaken [and, thereby,
not seeing the logical need for Book III -- since, he essentially views
the contents of Book III as already having been included in _Capital_],
whereas Negri and Mike L -- in different ways -- accept b).

So .. these two positions not only involve different perspectives on
_Capital_ re Book III, but also re Books II-VI.

A separate, but related, question concerns the role and importance of
Marx's historical accounts of working-class conditions and struggles in
_Capital_. I see this as important for Marx's goals of producing a
readable work which could exercise a political influence, but not
essential to Marx's theory *in _Capital_*. For instance, in Marx's 2/10/86
letter to Engels, he makes it clear that he "enlarged the historical part
on the 'work day,' which lay outside the original plan" *because* he was
too ill to proceed with the theoretical sections ("The brain was too weak
for that"). Elsewhere, in his 4/30/67 letter to Sigfrid Meyer, he says
that in VI he is going to "present in detail, from the hitherto unused
*official* sources, the condition of the English -- agricultural and
industrial -- proletariat *during the last twenty years". *But*, Marx is
quick to add: "You understand as a matter of course that all this serves
me only as *argumentum ad hominem* [an evasive argument]".

Whereas Harry views the historical sections as crucial to "reading Capital
politically", another perspective might be that they are examples of
"Vorstellung" (which Tony translates in his _The Logic of Marx's
*Capital*_, p. 11, as meaning "imaginative representation" or
"picture-thinking"). Perhaps we would need to discuss Hegel some more to
understand the importance of the distinction between "Denken" and

Now ... I hope I am not running on too much here ... one could argue that
a) and b) in Section I (systematically conceptualizing the operation of
capitalism as a system and & thru critique) were the *primary* purposes
of _Capital_ [and/or "Economics"] and that d) (Marx's revolutionary
politics) would be revealed through that exposition. *Or*, one can argue
with Harry, that d) was the primary focus of _Capital_. These are very
important differences in interpretation, but I think the point that is
shared by many "capital logical" and autonomist (as well as
value-form and Althusserian) interpretations is the rejection of
"orthodoxy" as expressed in "diamat" expositions made popular
in the USSR during the '30's and after. Thus, as I remarked before, I
find it very interesting that Cleever and Mattick (Jr. and the late Sr.),
who have very differing interpretations of _Capital_ have similar
political positions (i.e. autonomist Marxism and Council Communism). I
suspect that the same could be said for our "Marxist-Humanists", like
Andrew K and Ted, who might be closer to Mattick's interpretation of
_Capital_, but who identify politically with many of the positions of both
autonomist Marxism and Council Communism (but I don't want to misrepresent
them, so they should correct me if I am mistaken).

There's a lot more worth saying, but I better stop this post now.

In solidarity, Jerry