[OPEL:6167] Response to Jurriaan

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@CLASSIC.MSN.COM)
Wed, 11 Feb 98 16:07:18 UT

Specifically, to the PIAF:

From: owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu on behalf of jurriaan bendien
Sent: Monday, February 09, 1998 8:31 AM
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
Subject: Re: Response to Andrew Kliman

I'm in basic agreement with what (I think) Jurriaan is saying in this last
post. Here are a few comments meant mostly to see if we do have any
differences remaining.

Jurriaan: "In response to Andrew Kliman:

"1. I don't think there is a "fatal logical contradiction" in Marx's ideas
about productive labour,..."

This raises the question of whether a "non-fatal" logical contradiction is
present. The putative "correctors" and "completers" of his work claim rather
commonly that logical contradiction is present, but it isn't fatal, as is
shown by their "correction" or "completion," which supposedly rescues one or
another result of Marx's (while jettisoning others). But this begs the
question, since what criteria exist for deciding whether a particular logical
contradiction is fatal or not?

For instance, in a paper at the EEA conference two years ago, David Laibman
claimed that the value theory of the "20th-century Marxists" "corrected"
Marx's "errors" but preserved and rigorously built upon the "foundation
concepts" of his value theory. In my paper, I responded that he had offered
no criterion -- other than his personal intuition -- for deciding which
concepts of Marx's are foundational and which aren't.

Laibman singled out the exploitation theory of profit, which he said is
retained by the "20th-century Marxists" (we now know that's incorrect; see my
"Simultaneous Valuation and the Exploitation Theory of Profit are
Incompatible," a draft of which I posted to this list last month). Yet he
said nothing about the law of the tendential fall in the profit rate, which
the "20th-century Marxists" clearly do not replicate, but which Marx
considered to be in every respect the most important law of modern political

Jurriaan: "... and a consistent definition can be provided."

Undoubtedly. But the question is whether the definition succeeds in making
coherent sense of the various things Marx said about the matter (so that
there's no logical contradiction in his own work), or whether it achieves
consistency by jettisoning one or another aspect of Marx's theory.

Jurriaan: "But Marx himself did not provide it, as in many other issues, he
at most suggests one, and that's the point."

I agree that he did not provide a single definition of productive labor that
addresses all dimensions of the issue. Since he provided no definition of
that sort, he therefore provided no consistent definition of that sort. We
cannot infer from this that logical contradiction is (or isn't) present in
what he did write.

I'm not sure why that's "the" point. But perhaps that's because I haven't
spent enough time studying the posts on the issue.

Jurriaan: "2. Marx does indeed modify his definitions in line with his
"dialectical method", which seeks to grasp developmental processes."

Some of the productive/unproductive stuff has to do with developmental
processes, e.g., productive labor as such vs. under capitalism. But I don't
think all of it does -- productive labor from the vantage-point of the
immediate process of production vs. from the vantage-point of production vs.
circulation. So I don't think Marx's dialectical method can be understood
just as an attempt to grasp developmental processes. Also, "grasp" seems to
be the wrong word, because what's at issue here is the method of presentation
and not of discovery.

Jurriaan: "But for social accounting purposes we do need a rigorous set of
defining criteria."

True. But if I use a fine Italian shoe to swat a fly, and have difficulty
doing so because the shoe is not flexible enough, I don't think I'd be
justified in placing the blame on the shoemaker for having produced a poor
fly-swatter. (This analogy is not intended to compare _Capital_ to a shoe or
social accounting to swatting flies.)

Jurriaan: "3. By a dialectical interplay between theoretical tradition and
experiential evidence, or between tradition and innovation, I mean we have to
go backwards and forwards between the two in order to make sense of current
problems, applying the insights of the past but also being aware of their
limitations and being open to novel phenomena. We can neither afford simply
regurgitating what has been said before, venerate the authority of tradition,
or try to assimilate the present to schemas of the past, nor should we take
present evidence simply as a refutation of past theories."

I agree, 100%. I'm also in awe of your way of expressing this.

"4. I don't think that there is much point in making rules for conduct, since
it is impossible to impose those rules on list-members. At most you can have
some guidelines for what we like to see, or engage in "exemplary practice",
and I take Alan's comments in this spirit. Beyond that, I trust the
list-owner will be able to adjudicate quite well when unpalatable comments are

Well, I'm adhering (unilaterally) to the terms of the cease-fire that Alan
proposed, so I'll write to Jurriaan privately about this.


Andrew Kliman