[OPEL:6179] Re: Response to Andrew Kliman

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Wed, 11 Feb 1998 23:38:57 +0100

Andrew Kliman writes:

> ... the question of whether a "non-fatal" logical contradiction is
> present... what criteria exist for deciding whether a particular logical
> contradiction is fatal or not?

I would say that if a logical contradiction is fatal, then a manifestly
true statement cannot be maintained without invalidating one or more basic
assumptions on which Marx's entire theory is based. I personally do not
think Marx's theory is "incoherent" in this sense, really the question for
me is only whether and to what extent modern capitalism moves according to
the laws of motion he specified, given the enormous disparities in organic
compositions between industries reached today, given monopoly rents, given
the nature of the modern international financial apparatus and so on. That
is more an empirical question, which challenges us to develop Marx's theory
further I think.

> Laibman ... 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
> economy.

I consider Laibman an able Marxian economist, but if it is true that he
rejects the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall then I
disagree with him. But that doesn't mean I think Laibman doesn't qualify
as a "Marxist". The interpretation of this law is not uncontroversial
either, and I am not sure there is a fully "orthodox" interpretation.
Compare for example the interpretation of Mandel and that of Shaikh.

the question is whether the definition [of productive labour] succeeds in
> 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.


Agreed. I think you can find a consistent definition without jettisoning
Marx's theory.


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

Agreed. As in many other places, I think, Marx's writings are


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


The "point" I think is that Marx doesn't give a satisfactory definition but
you need one for accounting purposes, since all financial flows must be
allocated without being double-counted.
Either expenditures on unproductive labour included in "value added" are
accounted for as part of the current stream of surplus-value or they are
not, and if they are not, they have to be accounted for another way.


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


I don't pretend to have the final word on the nature of Marx's dialectical
method, about which disputes are probably interminable. But it does seem
to me that Marx uses the dialectical method of exposition to capture the
nature of "processes", social/economic forms and the development of
social/economic forms. Thus Marx talks about the "transformation" of one
category into the next (and the category reflects usually a social
relation), both as a gnoseological step, an historical process and a
practical achievement of human labour. This may be very insightful and
erudite, but it often isn't helpful for the purpose of rigorous
mathematical formalisations or accounting for capital and labour, because
in formal logic a concept must always denote the same thing, i.e. it
abstracts from time, whereas Marx's categories tend to "evolve". Actually
I do sympathise with Rosa Luxemburg's grumbles about Marx's "Hegelian
roccoco". I think finally dialectical thinking is involved both in Marx's
method of discovery (the identification of contradictions and their
practical resolutions) and in his method of presentation (the development
of the categories from simple abstractions).