[OPE-L:6910] [OPE-L:400] Re: Re: new book by Rosenthal

C. J. Arthur (cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk)
Wed, 23 Dec 1998 18:17:40 +0000

I look forward to Mike's long review of this book. Tony Smith I know is
also working on a refutation of it. In the meantime here is my short review
to appear in Radical Philosophy which will give peole some sense of it.

John Rosenthal, The Myth of Dialectics : Reinterpreting the Marx-Hegel
Relation, Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, London and New York, 1998. xv +
238 pp., 45.00 hb., 0 333 69442 2.
This work situates its treatment of the 'Marx-Hegel relation' and 'the
mysteries of dialectics' in the context of 'a certain revival in academic
circles of specifically Hegelian Marxism'. Rosenthal intends to exorcise
the baneful influence of Hegelian dialectic from Marxism, very much in the
spirit of Althusser and Colletti, because this is incompatible with
science. The originality of his enterprise lies not so much in the details
of the anti-Hegelian polemic as in his interpretation of Marx's theory of
value. Since 'the real form of economic value, viz. money' has 'a
fortuitous theoretical isomorphism' with Hegel's mystical 'Idea' the way
was open for Marx to flirt with Hegelian modes of expression and for 'New
Hegelian Marxism' to foolishly take this as a vindication of Hegel's method
and to seek to employ it more consistently than Marx himself. Authors cited
under this head are Backhaus, Banaji, T. Smith, Arthur, Reuten and
M.Williams; but he adds that 'the new Hegelian Marxism is, so to speak, "in
the atmosphere".'
A debate on new Hegelian Marxism is certainly due. Unfortunately the
present work constitutes little more than a shot across the bows, since the
treatment of this topic is somewhat perfunctory, as is indicated by the
chapter-heading 'Some Passing Remarks on the "New" Hegelian Marxism'. Much
more substantial is the critique of 'old' Hegelian Marxism. Rosenthal
argues that 'the traditional historicist variety of Hegelian Marxism' not
only proposes a misleading interpretation of Marx's Capital, it presupposes
a 'banalized interpretation of Hegel's Logic'. Key here is its insistence
on giving Hegel's category of 'negation' a temporal connotation. Rosenthal
rightly points out that, even if Hegel slides from one meaning to another,
the original sense of 'negation' in Hegel's logic is that of limitation and
alterity. The new dialectic, in its interpretation and reconstruction of
Marx's Capital, abjures the old historical dialectic but finds in Hegel's
central works precisely the articulation of a system of synchronic
categories. The 'method', therefore, to be appropriated from Hegel and
Marx, is that of systematic dialectic. However this will not do for
Rosenthal either, for he argues that Hegel's logic - which he says is
thoroughly 'paralogical' - debouches into a form of Christian mysticism in
which the 'Idea' incarnates itself in the world and, conversely, there
results a 'logicization of the empirical'.
Rosenthal's own account of Marx discusses the peculiar 'objectivity of the
economic', which requires theory to grasp the 'transcendental conditions'
of the possibility of exchange. Prior to any actual exchange the category
of value is 'presupposed' because 'value as a practical concept is not
abstracted from particulars in their empirical diversity, but rather
projected upon them'. Rosenthal rightly insists that this has an objective
character, it is not a merely intersubjective convention. The consequence
of this practical inversion is that a peculiar 'objectivity' is constituted
that is 'analogous' with the world of Hegel's Idea. Rosenthal insists that
this 'unmistakable isomorphism' is 'a remarkable accident'; thus it gives
no warrant whatsoever for the general applicability of Hegel's method.
Rosenthal concedes that 'Marx made the curious discovery of an object
domain in which the inverted relation between the universal and the
particular which constitutes the distinctive principle of Hegelian
metaphysics in fact obtains.' But, so far from justifying the appropriation
of a 'rational kernel' in Hegel's method 'the relevance of Hegel's
philosophy to Marx's analyses consists precisely in the peculiar logical
formulae which Marx takes over from it (and not in any 'method') and the
distinctiveness of these formulae, as well as their usefulness for Marx,
consists precisely in their inverted character...which is to say that it is
paradoxically the mystical formulae of Hegelian 'logic' for which Marx
finds a rational scientific application.'
This position is that which I have myself adopted, as Rosenthal briefly
notes, and thus I am by no means committed to the view that there is
nothing wrong with Hegel's method in general and that Marxism simply makes
a better application of it, a view characteristic of Tony Smith, Geert
Reuten and Michael Williams, for instance. (See my contributions to Marx's
Method in Capital: A Reexamination ed. F. Moseley, Humanities 1993, and
The Hegel-Marx Connexion, eds. T. Burns and I. Fraser, Macmillan,
forthcoming.) I hold that Hegel's effort to think through a genuine
idealism capable of understanding how a realm of objectivity might be
constituted through the effectivity of pure concepts has a certain
relevance to how the inverted world brought into being in exchange imposes
itself on us, how a real ideality pervades the economy and shapes its
Finally if one considers the specific polemic against 'New Hegelian
Marxism' one finds little to get to grips with. Indeed the discussion is
curiously out of focus in that it is organised around the
essence/appearance distinction in a peculiarly misleading way. Rosenthal
attempts to warn us off Hegel through holding up to ridicule a couple of
citations from Encyclopaedia 131 Addition, supposed show Hegel's contempt
for the real world. Rosenthal therewith repeats a common error of Hegel's
critics, namely the attribution to him of a position he is discussing but
which not his own view. Rosenthal should have understood that the whole
Doctrine of Essence is not Hegel's standpoint but, as he carefully
explained at the outset (114), that of the reflective Understanding; and
rather than being truth it is 'the sphere of posited contradiction'. It is
of course a feature of Hegel's method that even the most inadequate
categories are retained when sublated but their meaning in then controlled
by the larger framework, and they must therefore be used with due care;
absolutising them leads to falsity. Yet this absolutisation is what
Rosenthal does when he attributes such positions to Hegel as if the view in
question were Hegel's last word. In the logic the immediate successor to
Essence and Appearance (or Existence) is Actuality. What a different Hegel
Rosenthal would have shown us had he cited this category, which results
precisely from destabilising and overcoming the essence/appearance
opposition: 'The utterance of the actual is the actual itself, so that the
actual remains still something-essential in this utterance and is only
something-essential so far as it is in immediate existence.' (142) So,
after all the real world is ... essential! - indeed, as he goes on to say,
'rational through and through'.
The lesson of all this with respect to Marx's substantive problem - the
value form - is clear. It is inadequate to assert that 'value' is essential
and money price mere appearance. The actuality of value is achieved only in
and through price. It would be still worse to assert that value is
inessential while the 'reality' is exchange of labours, for the key task is
to show how the product of labour takes the value form and only therewith
is properly a value. The strange thing is that this is precisely the view
taken by 'new Hegelian Marxism', whereas the over-emphasis on essence,
which Rosenthal falsely attributes to Hegel, is that of the old orthodoxy
which never took value forms and fetishism seriously and read Marx as a
Notwithstanding this, I agree with Rosenthal that there is something
mysterious about Hegel's philosophy. It is one thing to vindicate the
category of Actuality, another to logicize what is actual as if the world
were there simply to provide a proof of the category. In Hegel's philosophy
the relation of logic to the world is aporetic. But this has its parallel
in the topsy-turvy world of capitalism. Does the dialectic of 'the Concept'
create the world or simply appropriate it in thought? Does capital create
wealth or does it simply expropriate under its own forms the wealth derived
from labour and nature?
Chris Arthur 17 Bristol Road Brighton BN2 1AP 01273 698564