[OPE-L:6925] [OPE-L:417] Explaining the Closure in Marx

Alejandro Valle Baeza (valle@servidor.unam.mx)
Sun, 17 Jan 1999 14:23:29 -0600

Explaining the Closure in Marx

Michael A. Lebowitz

The Incomplete Marx, Felton Shortall, Aldershot: Avebury, 1994

The Missing Thread

Who could deny that an essential part of Marx is missing from Capital?
Woven into his work from the time of his earliest writings is the red
thread of the self-development of the working class through its
struggles. Marx’s argument in 1850 that workers would have to go through
as many as 50 years of civil wars and national struggles not only to
bring about a change in society but also to change yourselves
(Marx:1979,403)--- just as his statement a few years earlier that the
process of revolutionary activity was the only way the working class
could succeed in ridding itself of the muck of ages and become fitted to
found society anew (Marx and Engels:1976, 52-3)--- reflected his
conception of revolutionary practice: the coincidence of the changing of
circumstances and of human activity or self-change (Marx: 1976, 4).
As Marx was well aware, this focus upon the development of human beings
through their activities was the rational core of Hegel’s concept of the
self-development of the Idea/Spirit, which develops and increasingly
realises its nature through the creative destruction of all its
successive forms of existence. Hegel’s outstanding achievement, Marx
wrote in 1844, is that he conceives the self-creation of man as a
process, that he grasps human beings as the outcome of man’s own
labour--- although, to be sure, the only labour Hegel knows and
recognises is abstractly mental labour. (Marx: 1975, 332-3) In the fluid
idealism of Hegel, Marx uncovered the centrality of human activity and
practice for human development that was missing from the materialism of
his predecessors (Marx: 1976,3).
Nor was this critical emphasis upon practice abandoned after some
variety of epistemological break marking the chronological separation of
teleological humanist from sober scientist. In the labour process, Marx
(1977, 283) noted in Capital, the worker acts upon external nature and
changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.
This concept of joint products (the changing of circumstances and
self-change) was also present in the Grundrisse where Marx (1973, 494)
proposed that in the process of production the producers change, too, in
that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in
production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, new
modes of intercourse, new needs and new language. In all this, too,
there remains a clear conception of development; describing the process
of co-operation in production, Marx (1977, 447) commented:

When the worker cooperates in a planned way with others, he strips off
the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his

Self-development, however, for Marx always involved more than just the
process of material production. Critically, it also meant development of
socialist human beings through collective struggle. Following the defeat
of the Paris Commune, he again stressed that to reach their goal of a
new society workers must pass through long struggles, through a series
of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. As he had
argued in 1853 and 1865 respectively, in the absence of struggles
against capital, though, the nature of the human beings produced would
be predictable: workers would become apathetic, thoughtless, more or
less well-fed instruments of production and be degraded to one level
mass of broken wretches past salvation (Lebowitz: 1992, 143-4).
Effectively, they would be merely the products of capital and, as such,
conditions of existence of capital reproduced by capital itself:

In the ordinary run of things, the worker can be left to the natural
laws of production, i.e. it is possible to rely on his dependence on
capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and
is guaranteed in perpetuity by them (Marx:1977,899).

In struggling against capital, however, workers produce themselves
differently--- here, too, they transform themselves, develop new powers
and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language. By
co-operating with others in a planned way in the struggle against
capital, the worker strips off the fetters of his individuality, and
develops the capabilities of his species. Ridding themselves in this way
of the muck of ages, in short, they produce themselves no longer as
results of capital but as presuppositions of a new society.
Yet, whether this focus on the worker as subject and result is called
revolutionary practice, self-valorization (Negri:1991) or, as Felton
Shortall proposes (119) in The Incomplete Marx, the dialectic of human
praxis , it is certain that there are only glimpses of this theme in
Capital. Rather, Shortall argues (256) that the worker appears there as
mere object, ... a passive object.... A mere object of exploitation.
What Marx presents in Capital is the dialectic of capital, the
self-development of capital--- i.e., the objective and positive logic of
capital, which proceeds from the perspective of capital; indeed, he
notes, this critical perspective of the bourgeoisie... reduces the
working class to mere object of exploitation (120-2). Thus, the
dialectic of human praxis, the ontological basis for the entire Marxian
project (261), is buried by an emphasis on the objectivist logic of the
dialectic of capital (262-3); in the same way, the counter-dialectic of
class struggle... is so evidently suppressed in the exposition of the
objective laws of the dialectic of capital that is pursued in the three
volumes of Capital (195).
This argument about what is missing in Capital is, of course, not
unique. Rather, it adds to a growing body of work which challenges the
exclusive preoccupation with Capital of so many academic Marxists. E.P.
Thompson’s conclusion (Thompson, 65) that Capital is a study in the
logic of capital not of capitalism and that class struggle stands
outside its closed system of economic logic; Antonio Negri’s assertion
(Negri,18-9) that Capital annihilate(s) subjectivity in objectivity
[and]... subject(s) the subversive capacity of the proletariat to the
reorganizing and repressive intelligence of capitalist power; and, this
writer’s argument (Lebowitz:1992) that presentation of the worker as
object for capital but not as subject for herself in Capital both yields
a one-sided understanding of capitalism and also obscures Marx’s own
political economy of the working class--- all (along with Shortall)
stress the distinction between capital and capitalism, insisting that
Capital leaves out an essential aspect of the latter--- class struggle
from the side of workers.
But, why and how did this happen? While there are interesting overlaps,
the explanations offered differ. For Thompson (59-60), the problem is
that, in setting out to critique political economy, Marx became trapped
within its premises and proceeded to reproduce its system of closure
which excludes human experience. Negri, on the other hand, finds in the
Grundrisse signs of Marx’s larger project which reveal Capital as only a
fragment of the analysis and, in particular, identifies Marx’s intended
book on Wage-Labour as the site of the missing focus on the subjectivity
of the worker and class struggle. Also stressing that missing book on
Wage-Labour and attempting to demonstrate how it would have completed
the inner totality of capitalism and redressed the one-sidedness in
Capital, I have proposed (Lebowitz: 1992; 1997) that Capital (and,
particularly, its first volume) took precedence for Marx because of the
critical need to demystify the nature of capital for workers. While
elements of all these propositions reappear in Shortall’s explanation,
The Incomplete Marx also introduces new suggestions which deserve close
examination because they both support and raise questions about previous

The Necessity of Closure

Tracing the changing themes of Marx’s project from his earliest
writings through the three volumes of Capital, Shortall declares that
Marx moved from a Young Hegelian thematic of human liberation and ending
human alienation to one of capitalism and its overthrow and from there
to one of the dialectic of capital and the counter-dialectic of class
struggle. In this account, the first of these shifts is relatively
unproblematic--- Shortall (31) proposes that, having developed his
materialist conception of history, Marx preserved and superceded the
Young Hegelian thematic by grasping that revolution by workers against
capitalism was a necessary condition for human liberation. The second
shift, however, is somewhat more problematical. Although Shortall
indicates that in the Grundrisse the Young Hegelian thematic of human
alienation and human liberation is not only superceded but preserved
within Marx’s critique of political economy (74), it is noteworthy that
the political economy which Marx had earlier dismissed as one-sided,
considering workers only as working animals, apparently reappears to
play an important role in the change of Marx’s project into something
one-sided, too.
This sets the context for much of The Incomplete Marx. The principal
problems Shortall sets out to understand is (1) why Marx substituted for
a focus on capitalism and its overthrow the dialectic of capital and the
counter-dialectic of class struggle ; (2) why, having proceeded to this
point, Marx then stopped his analysis with the dialectic of capital---
i.e., why there is an apparent closure, why he did not go on to analyse
the counter-dialectic of class struggle; and, (3) how precisely was this
closure enacted in the Grundrisse and the three volumes of Capital.
With respect to the first of these issues, Shortall proposes that the
critique of political economy became an intellectual necessity as part
of Marx’s new thematic of capitalism and its overthrow (80)--- that, it
became, indeed, its necessary first moment. If Marx was to understand
how it [capitalism] could be overthrown, he first had to understand how
it persisted115). Thus, he had to uncover its inner laws of movement of
capitalism, the logic of capital, the dialectic of capital (116):

He had to first of all understand what capitalism is and how it
perpetuates itself.... The analysis of the dialectic of capital--- the
objective and positive logic of capital--- had therefore to be the first
moment within his thematic” (120-1).

Accordingly, Shortall suggests that Marx embarks upon his critique of
political economy as the condition of understanding “the essence of
capitalist society”. Why? Because political economy presents the
positive laws of capitalism-- even though it is from the perspective of
the capitalist: “Marx has to take up, albeit critically, the perspective
of the bourgeoisie” (122).
The same theoretical imperative that impelled Marx to take up the
critique of political economy, Shortall further argues, also would
require him to make a provisional closure:

He has to establish the objective laws of capitalist production
independently and in abstraction from its subjective determinations. It
is in this way that he comes to provisionally assert the dialectic of
capital over the counter-dialectic of class struggle as a logical
necessity (263).

In short, adopting the problematic of political economy meant that “the
counter-dialectic of class struggle and the class subjectivity of the
proletariat had to be closed off” (130). Shortall’s main theme (as will
be seen below, there are other explanations he offers), thus, is that
the “counter-dialectic of class struggle”--- which delimits the
functioning of the dialectic of capital by the manner in which “the
workers in their everyday struggles impose limits on the operation of
capital” (129)--- disappears from Capital as a logical necessity.

Closure as Contingent?

Yet, in addition to the argument stressing the logical imperative for
Marx as scientist, another image lurks here as well--- Marx as socialist
actor. Marx, Shortall offers, embarked upon the close study of political
economy in order to make his work more scientific than that of
competitors in the early socialist and workers’ movement. To combat “the
voluntarism of his socialist rivals”, Shortall proposes, Marx was
“forced to stress the need for a ‘scientific’ and objective basis for
socialist theory and practice” (133). Indeed, Shortall argues that the
“struggle against Proudhonian socialism” became “the driving imperative
of Marx’s theoretical efforts”; and, “this proved to be an important
catalyst in the development of Marx’s theoretical project towards a
critique of political economy” (38).
Nor was this true only at the time of writing The Poverty of
Philosophy, Marx’s specific assault on Proudhon; Marx continued to
combat the influence of Proudhon and similar theorists among workers at
the time of the First International. What, thus, drove Marx was “the
political imperative that arose with his confrontation with Proudhon and
the artisanal socialism of the mid-nineteenth century workers’ movement”
(80). It became necessary to provide a solid foundation for his
argument: “Against the voluntarism and utopianism of Proudhon, Marx had
to above all stress the historical and economic necessity of the
development of capitalism and its contradictions” (44).
Of course, there is no necessary conflict between the picture of Marx
as scientist and that of Marx as socialist actor. Yet, distinguishing
between the two can be important. Whereas the former stresses what is
immanent in the body of Marx’s work, the latter situates Marx very
clearly in time and space. The distinction takes on importance when we
consider Shortall’s explanation as to why a closure emerged in Marx’s
work--- why the “counter-dialectic of class struggle,” which delimits
the functioning of the dialectic of capital by the manner in which “the
workers in their everyday struggles impose limits on the operation of
capital” (129), disappears from Capital.
Once Shortall situates Marx as a socialist actor, rather than focusing
on logical and theoretical necessities, the explanation of closure
becomes Marx’s own inability to go further--- i.e., the extent to which
“Marx’s theoretical efforts were delimited by the limitations of his own
epoch”(2). One such limitation was that “in the absence of a
revolutionary situation Marx had to fight on the terrain of the
bourgeoisie”--- a terrain “dominated by positivism and scientism” and
“accepted to a large extent even by the most militant members of the
working class”(75-6).Thus, that Capital was “a text of economic laws in
which the questions of class subjectivity and human alienation become
suppressed,” Shortall argues, “was a concession to his readership, that
was in awe of the advance of the natural and positivistic sciences”
(75). Yet, Shortall hints there is somewhat more to this when he notes
that this ideological hegemony was accepted to a large extent by
militant workers “and perhaps to a lesser extent by Marx and Engels
themselves” (76).
This is not the only suggestion of a shortcoming in Marx’s own thought.
Shortall contrasts to Marx the position of Proudhon and Bakunin, who
“clearly recognized money and the state authority as the hostile will of
the bourgeoisie and as a consequence... resolutely set themselves
against them.” Marx’s failure to grasp what the anarchists did, however,
“opened the door to Marx’s authoritarian statism, and subsequently to
Marxism’s commitment to state socialism.”(164) Shortall praises in this
respect Bakunin, whose “more immediate and imminent perspective of class
antagonism places him in a far more perceptive position than that of the
more sophisticated and ‘scientific’ Marx of Capital.”(164).
For the most part, though, it is the weakness of the revolutionary
workers’ movement itself that produces the limit in Marx’s thought.
Shortall cites approvingly Debord’s comment that:

The weakness of Marx’s theory is naturally the weakness of the
revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of his time....The fact that
Marx was reduced to defending and clarifying it [revolutionary theory]
with cloistered, scholarly work, in the British Museum, caused a loss in
the theory itself (2)

The situation, Shortall proposes, is that the existence of only an
“embryonic workers’ movement” (80), the fact that the proletariat had
not yet emerged fully as a class directly opposed to capital (136),
meant that “while Marx could see the full development of the dialectic
of capital he could not see the development of the counter-dialectic of
class struggle”(146). He understood tendencies in relation to the side
of workers which were emerging but “the embryonic state of such
tendencies restricted his analysis of them and could therefore remain
only implicit within his theory” (136). Marx, in short, did not explore
the way in which workers through their struggles place limits on capital
simply because he was not able to go further: “The historical context
within which Marx lived and wrote, therefore, restricted his ability to
make the great reversal within his broad thematic, from the dialectic of
capital to the counter-dialectic of class struggle”(140).
Although Marx himself was among the first to recognise the effects of
historical change upon the development of theory, Shortall’s comments
about how the immaturity of the workers’ movement limited Marx’s theory
simply do not stand up. Rather, for example, than it being “too remote
and speculative” (139) for Marx to discuss the possibility of rising
real wages in 1865, Shortall’s musings on this matter ignore not only
the rising real wages of the period but also Marx’s own explanation as
to why he was assuming them fixed until the book on Wage-Labour as well
as the places in Capital and other writings where he addressed these
very questions (cf. Lebowitz: 1992). Much, indeed, of Shortall’s
discussion of Marx’s limits is gratuitous and a digression from the main
thrust of his argument. Certainly, the unsupported charge about “Marx’s
authoritarian statism” will appear quite strange to anyone familiar with
Marx’s writings on the French state, in particular, his The Civil War in
France (or his notes on Bakunin). If Marx did not go beyond “the
dialectic of capital”, it was not because the limitations of the epoch
prevented it--- as his writings other than Capital testify.

The Dialectic of Capital

So, let us return to Shortall’s main theme--- the logical necessity for
(provisional) closure. Where and how did Marx enact this closure in
Capital? It all begins, apparently, with the starting point--- the
commodity. Whereas Marx’s Grundrisse discussion starts with money
(Negri’s preferred point of departure), Shortall proposes (165-6) that,
in opening with the commodity-object, Capital proceeds from the result
of capitalist production--- a result which testifies to the
subordination of the will of the worker who produced the commodity and
to the triumph of the capitalist’s will as owner. “By starting with the
commodity, Marx comes to close off the question of the subjective, and
with this the counter-dialectic of class struggle.” (199). Once, too,
labour-power is purchased as a commodity and subsumed as variable
capital, “a mere quantitative and objective element of productive
capital,” another critical step has been taken in the presentation of
worker as object: “right from the start of Marx’s theory of
surplus-value, we can see how Marx closes off the subjective by
emphasizing the objective and reified relations of the capitalist
production process” (253).
Shortall returns to this theme of the worker as object on a number of
occasions in his discussion of Volume I, noting, e.g.., how in
capitalist production the act of labour is not the means by which the
worker realises herself “but is rather the means through which capital
comes to realize itself as such” (281), how “with the completion of the
process of production, the worker and her living labour appear as merely
a vanishing moment in the movement of capital’s self-expansion” (293),
and how in the theory of accumulation the working class is “mere object
regulated by the rhythms of the objective laws of the dialectic of
capital” (261). He brings out well how Volume I--- in direct contrast to
Marx’s discussion in the Grundrisse and the “missing sixth chapter ”
where “the subjective conditions of the worker are far more to the fore”
(299)--- suppresses the standpoint of the worker in order to trace the
logic of capital. In this respect, he makes a valuable addition to the
literature on the one-sidedness of Capital.
Yet, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the bulk of Shortall’s
extended discussion of the three volumes of Capital focuses not on the
missing side of workers but, rather, on a different closure--- the
suppression of crisis in Capital. For Shortall, this is not a digression
because these closures are not separate: “the closure of rupture and
crisis is intrinsically linked to the closure of the counter-dialectic
of class struggle as two aspects of a two-fold closure” (346). The
precise connection between the two, however, cannot be grasped fully
without probing this concept of the dialectic of capital.
In The Dialectic of Capital (1984), Tom Sekine argued that the
dialectic of capital (which his mentor Kozo Uno designated as the
“theory of a purely capitalist society”) “forms a self-contained
theoretical system” (Sekine, 15). It “envisions a purely capitalist
society in which the reification of social relations is supposed to be
complete” and which is “mentally constructed just as Hegel’s
metaphysical system is” (Sekine, 39). And, although “Capital falls short
of presenting a pure dialectic of capital” because it discusses “both
the inner logic of capitalism and its historically particular
manifestations as if they were the same thing” (Sekine, 17), it contains
within it the “objective knowledge of capitalist society which Marx
discovered in essence” (Sekine, 18).
Thus, for Sekine (and the Uno School of Marxism), the point of the
dialectic of capital is to distinguish between what is logical to
capitalism and what is merely contingent. A clear conception of pure
capitalism, Sekine argued, is the necessary first step before any
concrete analysis: “it is both futile and fool-hardy to discuss such
questions as class struggle and socialism without a prior grasp of what
capitalism is all about” (Sekine, 87). Accordingly, the dialectic of
capital is intended to provide the logical exposition of capitalism:
“The purpose of the dialectic of capital is to demonstrate the logical
possibility of capitalism once its historical existence is
presupposed...” (Sekine, 270).
Although Shortall does not follow the details of Sekine’s construction,
he accepts fully its general theme that Marx’s main concern in Capital
was to establish “the ontological basis for capital” (244). Shortall
asks, “what makes the capitalist economy possible (202)? To explore this
question and to set out the dialectic of capital, he proposes, Marx
necessarily put to the side (as premature) all those elements which
negate the possibility of capitalism--- even though the negation, “the
impossibility of capitalism”, repeatedly emerges (249). Thus, for
Shortall, capitalism contains within in it both possibility and
non-possibility, both positive and negative; the one-sidedness of
Capital, then, is not simply that it excludes the side of workers as the
negation of capital but, rather, that its presentation of capital as a
self-contained, self-reproducing system marginalises any elements which
suggest the non-reproduction of capital. Accordingly, Marx’s suppression
of crisis and rupture emerges as equivalent to the eclipse of the
“counter-dialectic of class struggle” as the result of Shortall’s
conception of the dialectic of capital as “the objective and positive
logic of capital” (121).
Thus, Shortall proceeds to trace this second closure. While the
possibility of “rupture and crisis” in the circulation of capital
surfaces first with the discussion of money as mediator in C-M-C, it is
closed off as Marx chooses instead to emphasise the “unity of
opposition” (235). At every step, Shortall proposes, we see Marx stress
the unity of commodity and money over their “opposition and separation,
and the consequent question of crisis” (244)--- all in order to develop
logically the nature of capital. This closure is especially marked
throughout Volume II where Marx constantly must defer discussion of
rupture and crisis--- even though by Part III “it reaches the point of
insurrection [and]... threatens to break out and disrupt the very line
of development of Marx’s exposition” (307). Indeed, by the time we see
the “very precariousness of the conditions of social capital’s
reproduction” in Marx’s reproduction schemes, it appears that “in
delineating the possibility of the overall circulation of social capital
Marx comes to posit its very impossibility” (345). And, the “imminence
of crisis and rupture” surfaces “more and more violently” in Volume III
(346, 349), where the provisional closure that Marx has imposed in order
to stress the unity of capital “becomes exhausted”.
Here again, in Volumes II and III, the point of suppressing crisis and
rupture is to permit Marx to reveal the dialectic of capital, “the
objective and positive logic of capital.” Shortall notes the manner in
which different aspects of capital emerge in these volumes: whereas
Volume II explores the particular forms that capital takes in its
circuit and ends by exploring the unity of capital-in-productionoffer no
clear guidance as to the way beyond--- other than the need to go right
back to the starting point. “The tangential moments of Capital,” he
advises (467), “must be bent back together to form a new presentation.”
How that is to be done--- i.e., how those elements of “the
counter-dialectic of class struggle” and crisis are to be developed,
however, remains a mystery. And, an important part of the reason is
that, in structuring his argument around this concept of the dialectic
of capital, Shortall himself has become trapped.
All Shortall’s judgements begin from the premise that Marx’s project in
Capital is to demonstrate, through his dialectic of capital, that
capital constitutes itself as “a self-reproducing whole”--- i.e., a
system which produces all its own premises. This again is precisely the
argument that E.P. Thompson (163,167) made--- that Marx introduces an
organic system, a system of “closure”, in Capital, where all is subsumed
within the circuits of capital. Yet, as I have argued in Beyond Capital
(1992), there is no organic system presented in Capital; rather, the
side of wage-labour must be elaborated in order to establish adequate
conditions for a reproducing whole.
This was always Marx’s understanding. It certainly can be seen in his
earliest writings, when he criticised political economy for its
one-sidedness in considering the worker only as an object for capital
and where he declared that capital and wage-labour were antitheses and
constitute a whole (cf. Lebowitz: 1992, 9, 60). Yet, it also is apparent
in his Grundrisse projections (Marx:1973, 264, 227, 108) when he
indicated that the book on Wage-Labour would complete “the inner
totality” and that this was to be followed by “the concentration of
bourgeois society in the form of the state,” the “concentration of the
whole” in the book on the State.
Precisely because the book on Capital was not about capitalism as a
whole, the whole question of movements in the level of workers’ needs,
Marx noted in his Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, does “not belong here,
where the general capital-relation is to be developed, but in the
doctrine of the wages of labour.” In order to understand the nature of
capital, “the only thing of importance is that it [the level of workers’
needs] be viewed as given, determinate” (Marx:1988,44-5). And, this is
why Capital assumes the standard of necessity to be given, an assumption
designated for removal in the book on Wage-Labour, a book that Marx
still made reference to in Capital (Marx:1977,683); it allows Marx to
demonstrate that capital is the result of exploitation.
Yet, as Marx knew quite well, that standard of necessity is not given;
rather, like the length and intensity of the work-day, it is determined
by two-sided class struggle, where contrary to the efforts of the
capitalist, the worker “constantly presses in the opposite direction
[and] the matter resolves itself into a question of the respective
powers of the combatants” (Marx:1985,146). Class struggle on the part of
workers, in short, is required to determine an essential premise for
capital. There cannot be a self-reproducing totality in Capital because
the necessary presuppositions for capital are not all results of it
itself but, rather, depend on something outside of capital as such
Shortall, through his embrace of the dialectic of capital, has himself
imposed a closure upon Capital. Although he understands that there is
something outside of Capital that is critical (which he assigns to the
unexplained “counter-dialectic of class struggle”) and that the
categories of that book by itself are one-sided, his acceptance of the
concept of the dialectic of capital prevents him from seeing the opening
contained in Capital. As a result, the way to incorporate the other
side, the side of wage-labour, in a logical extension (rather than a
reversal) of the argument in Capital is also obscured for him.
However, it is not simply through its assumption of a self-contained,
self-reproducing totality that the dialectic of capital leads Shortall
into an impasse. Given his argument that Marx must suppress the question
of rupture in order to trace out the “objective and positive logic of
capital”, crisis and rupture become the subject for much of his
discussion of Capital. The question of crisis not only “repeatedly
serves to drive Marx’s exposition forward” (244) but it also “reaches
the point of insurrection” (307). While there are definite insights
(such as the link to the distortion of Marx’s value theory) as the
result of this focus on the suppression of rupture, the dialectic of
capital deflects attention from the worker as subject in order to stress
this second closure.
Can a closure with respect to rupture and crisis, however, compare in
significance to that enacted in Capital with respect to the side of
workers? Indeed, the place of crisis in Marx’s theory is far more
complex (as Shortall recognises) than merely a challenge to the
possibility of capitalism:

Crisis emerged from the very conditions that ensure the coherence of
capitalism just as subsequently the coherence of capitalism is reimposed
by means of crisis (481-2).

Despite his acknowledgement of the corrective aspect of crisis,
Shortall proposes that, in addition to their common characteristic as
threats to the possibility of capital, the two closures (or “two aspects
of a two-fold closure”) are linked in another way. The development of
the working class into a class-in-and-for-itself, he argues, “requires
the mediation of crisis, the development of temporary centrifugal forces
in the dialectic of capital that can break up and rupture the smooth
operation of its objectification and reification” (430). Indeed, these
ruptures and crises appear to be not only the necessary but also the
sufficient condition for subjectivity:

The dialectic of capital, through its inherent ruptures and crises,
produces the objective conditions for the emergence of the
counter-dialectic of class struggle which holds within it the
possibility of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and thus of a
future communist society (454).

Certainly the establishment of a direct connection does seem to be
necessary--- once these are identified as the two aspects of that
two-fold closure that the dialectic of capital requires. Unfortunately,
Shortall merely asserts this linkage and does so in a way that contains
more than a hint of the automatic Marxism he elsewhere criticises.
Further, the focus of his discussion of crisis is on the possibility of
crisis, not its necessity--- i.e., why crises in capitalism are
inevitable. Not only, then, does his emphasis upon rupture and crisis as
a second aspect of closure effectively marginalise consideration of the
worker as subject but Shortall’s attempt to relate directly the two
aspects of this two-fold closure seems to leave the worker as object of
crisis, the subjective as reflection of the objective. For a work
explicitly oriented toward the recovery of the subjective and the
dialectic of human praxis, this is no small irony.

The Fate of the Dialectic of Human Praxis

Shortall’s goal in The Incomplete Marx is to contribute to a return to
Marx--- a Marx freed once and for all from the scientific and
deterministic readings of orthodox Marxism. He looks to a “return that
would be free to reconstruct a true Marxism based on a theory of human
praxis and aiming for the full liberation of humanity in communism”
(488, 491).
At the core of this vision, clearly, is the dialectic of human
praxis--- “the self-development of human beings in their relation to
each other and nature” (119). Self-development because, through their
own activity, people change both circumstances and themselves: “In
transforming the world in accordance with their own subjective will and
purpose they come to transform themselves as natural and social beings.”
Shortall understands that this dialectic, which he describes (261) as
“the ontological basis for the entire Marxian project,” contains within
it the potential for a society based upon the association of free and
equal producers, one which permits the free development of human beings.

How was it, however, “that the revolutionary theory of Karl Marx which
had originally aimed at human liberation ended up as a conservative
state dogma which sought to liberate the productive forces at whatever
human cost” (485)? Shortall’s answer, as we have seen, begins with Marx
himself--- that Marx imposed, indeed was forced to impose, a closure in
Capital in order to develop the dialectic of capital. What was for Marx
a provisional closure, however, became for Marxism “a final closure” as
Marxists proceeded to consider Capital a closed book rather than one
which pointed beyond itself (469).
While there are many who share responsibility for the eclipse of Marx’s
revolutionary theory of human praxis, Shortall blames, in particular,
Engels. He argues that Engels vulgarised Marxism--- that by rooting the
dialectic in the natural world, “Engels had come to discard the theory
of praxis and human alienation” (487). Given, too, that Engels’
influence was key in shaping the Marxist orthodoxy of the Second
International and that Soviet Marxism retained the economic determinism
of the Second International (486-7), what became known as Marxism was,
largely, what Shortall calls “the Engelist degeneration of Marxism”
And, yet, Shortall makes a strikingly familiar point in his discussion
of Engels’ distortion of dialectics. He argues that Engels’ “simple
materialist inversion of Hegel led him to preserve the Absolute Idea
(God) in the guise of the forces of production which must constantly
seek their highest expression in the course of human history” (487).
However, as noted above, Shortall had earlier concluded (465) that
Marx’s dialectic of capital “appears as the mere materialist inversion
of Hegel’s dialectic--- and this is reflected in the structure of
Capital.” So, why should we not acknowledge that the real problem was
that Marx, having become trapped within the premises of political
economy or Hegel’s Logic or positivism and scientism, himself discarded
the dialectic of human praxis, the concept of revolutionary practice?
Certainly, the picture that Shortall offers of Marx’s work in
Capital--- one in which capital ultimately reveals its eternal order
through the workings of the Invisible Hand--- is rather removed from a
thematic of the self-development of human beings. As noted earlier in
this essay, the evidence for Marx’s continuing focus on human praxis is
there; rather than revealing this, however, Shortall’s preoccupation
with the limiting concept of the dialectic of capital only serves to
obscure this critical theme.
Given Shortall’s goal of restoring the dialectic of human praxis to its
appropriate place in a renewed Marxism, this is unfortunate. It can be
said that a working class in motion will redirect attention to what is
present in Marx; however, simple dialectics tells us it’s the other way
around, too.


Barker, Colin. 1997. “Some Reflections on Two Books by Ellen Wood” in
Historical Materialism, No. 1 (Autumn).
Lebowitz, Michael A. 1992. Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of
the Working Class (London: Macmillan).
Lebowitz, Michael A. 1994 "Analytical Marxism and the Marxian Theory of
Crisis," Cambridge Journal of Economics (May).
Lebowitz, Michael A. 1995. “Situating the Capitalist State,” in Antonio
Callari et al, Marxism in the Postmodern Age: Confronting the New World
Order (London: Guilford Press).
Lebowitz, Michael A. 1997. “The Silences of Capital” in Historical
Materialism, No. 1 (Autumn).
Marx, Karl. 1973. Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Books).
Marx, Karl. 1975. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in Marx
and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 3 (New York: International
Marx, Karl. 1976. Theses on Feuerbach in Marx and Engels, Collected
Works, Vol. 5 (New York: International Publishers).
Marx, Karl. 1977. Capital, Vol. I (New York: Vintage Books).
Marx, Karl. 1979. Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne
in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 11 (New York: International
Marx, Karl. 1985. Value, Price and Profit in Marx and Engels, Collected
Works, Vol. 20 (New York: International Publishers).
Marx, Karl. 1988. Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 in Marx and Engels,
Collected Works, Vol. 30 (New York: International Publishers).
Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick. 1976. The German Ideology in Marx and
Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5 (New York: International Publishers).
Negri, Antonio. 1991.Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse (New
York: Autonomedia).
Sekine, Thomas T. 1984. The Dialectic of Capital: A Study of the Inner
Logic of Capitalism, Vol. I (Tokyo: Yushindo Press).
Thompson, E. P. 1978. The Poverty of Theory (New York: Monthly Review
Uno, Kozo.1980. Principles of Political Economy: Theory of a Purely
Capitalist Society (Brighton: Harvester Press).

Cf. Colin Barker’s discussion of this problem and some of its
implications in Barker (1997).
Sekine, 1984, 15. Shortall (468) dates Sekine's The Dialectic of
Capital: A Study of the Inner Logic of Capital as 1985 and credits it
for the attempt “to relate the structure of Marx's critique of political
economy to the logic of Hegel” but makes no other reference to the
work--- none, at least, that could be found in a book without an index.
A briefer and more accessible account of this theory may be found in
Sekine's “An Essay on Uno's Dialectic of Capital” in the appendix to Uno

Sekine (51) proposes that “sometimes the correspondence is so close
that... it is as if Hegel already had a complete knowledge of the
dialectic of capital....”
See the discussion in Lebowitz (1992), which is extended further to
explore the capitalist state in Lebowitz (1995).
It should be noted also that this so-called dialectic of capital, with
its intimations of eternity, is an integral element in a perspective
which explicitly rejects the materialist conception of history (Sekine:
12-5,72-86). Pursuing the “objective and positive logic” of capital, it
differs substantially from Marx’s (1977, 103) own concept of dialectics,
which itself “includes in its positive understanding of what exists a
simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction”,
and it abstracts entirely from Marx’s discussion in Capital of the
process of becoming--- both the becoming of capitalism but also the
becoming of its transcendence.
For a discussion of the distinction between the possibility and
necessity of crisis, see Lebowitz (1994).
The proposition that Engels discarded the dialectic of human praxis
does gain some credibility when we consider one example of his editing
of Marx. After Marx’s death, when Engels published an edited version of
Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, he dropped one phrase from a passage in the
third thesis. The passage Marx wrote was “The coincidence of the
changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change can be
conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.” The
phrase missing in Engels’ version is “or self-change”.(Marx: 1976,4, 7.)