[OPE-L:1475] Re: Marx's ordering

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 14 Oct 1999 13:26:52 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1999 19:15:50 +0100
From: Jurriaan Bendien <djjb99@worldonline.nl>

Hi Jerry.

You write:

>To be frank, a theory of capitalism which doesn't have an integrated
>analysis of the state, foreign trade, and the world market is at best a
>*quasi-theory*. In other words, it is stunning in regards to its
>incomplete character.

I cannot but agree with that view, but I am grateful for some of the
attempts that have already been made in that area.
>Indeed, a *systematic* dialectical presentation of the subject of
>bourgeois society *requires* that one incorporate these subjects at a
>lower level of abstraction which are non-contingently necessary for the
>reproduction of capitalism.

I kind of see what you mean here, but I have difficulty with your schema
for abstraction. In the first place I don't think one can derive state
forms from the "logic of capital" as the state derivationists tried to do.
Secondly, I think the state has always been necessary for the (expanded)
reproduction of capitalism from its very origins. Real capitalism is
unthinkable without the role of the state. Real capitalism didn't get off
the ground without imperialism.

>Oddly, despite all of the authors that you do mention, you didn't mention
>Reuten (Gerrt)/ Williams (Mike W). Yet, their book is the only book that I
>have seen to date that attempts to develop a theory which systematically
>develops and integrates an analysis of the value-form with an analysis of
>the state form.

To my shame, I have to say I haven't read it yet, but it's on the list.

>This is the major reason for the popularity of underconsumptionist and
>disproportionality theories of crisis by the Bolsheviks and the
>German-Austrian Social Democrats (and I think this tradition, btw, heavily
>influenced Mandel's multi-causal interpretation of crisis theory).

I am not sure if I agree with you there, but I see what you mean.
Personally I am still convinced that the analysis of any real crisis
requires a multi-causal approach, or, as Marx himself suggests, that the
crisis is the expression of all the contradictions of capitalism combined.
You can certainly show, as Shaikh and others do, that there is a falling
trend in the rate of profit over a period of time. But, firstly, to explain
this trend requires I think more than reference to just the organic
composition of capital. Furthermore, showing a falling trend in
profitability does not explain why the crisis erupts at any specific point
in time, or why it deepens, or is more or less quickly overcome. To explain
this, I think much more needs to be integrated into the analysis. Lastly,
and here I am maybe heretical, I believe that in fact the specific overall
level of profitability captured by the rate of return is not so important
for the reproduction of capitalist relations as such in the long run, as
long as (1) the rate stays positive, (2) the working classes shut up and
work, (3) sufficient social mechanisms exist for integrating people
(however barbarically) into society.
>More broadly, there has been a tendency by many Marxists up to the present
>day to treat _Capital_ as if it were a finished work. Perhaps one reason
is that it is much *easier* to simply take whatever Marx had to write about
capitalism as the "last word" (or close to the last word if one includes an
analysis of imperialism) on theory. Then we don't have to do the *hard
work* ourselves of thinking *for ourselves* >rather than passively
interpreting what Marx wrote.

I personally never met any serious Marxist who thought Capital was a
finished work. But I detect a certain ambiguity in what you say. If Marx
did not have the last word, why then should we necessarily try to finish
his book for him and be bound by his narrative ? Why couldn't we write our
own book, using our own approach, while learning from Marx's ideas ? I
think it is an admirable project to want to finish Marx's book, but also a
bit odd, because now we are at the end of the 20th century and Marx has
been dead more than a hundred years, during which time a lot of changes
have occurred in the very functioning of the capitalist mode of production.
So it seems to be that the "integrated theory" you desire has to go beyond
Marx from the very start.

>There has been much discussion since the 1970's (especially in comparison
>to the doldrums of the 1950's), but I would not discount so quickly the
>rich debates among Marxists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
>(e.g. theoretical debates in German-Austrian Social Democracy).

I don't think I'm discounting them, or that I have said something that
discounts them; I have studied a number of them in the past.

>those debates took place among (mostly professional) revolutionaries in
>mass working-class parties whereas the debates among Marxists from the
>1970's forward have primarily been among academic Marxists divorced from
>mass political movements of the working class.

I wouldn't agree with that completely. The concept of "professional
revolutionary" as such was by and large Lenin's invention and implemented
by him. Many of the classical debates involved scholars (certainly as far
as Holland was concerned !). Just about all the key theoretical innovations
from the 1970s are associated with intellectuals who had ties to political
organisations aiming to act in the interest of the working class (and the
Yet, from the perspective of
>developing a *theory* of the state then one must separate out what is
>contingent from what is systematically required for the reproduction of
>capitalist relations.

What I tried to suggest is that "what is systematically required" is also
historically contingent if you take the longer view. But I will try to show
you what this means when I write up my theory. And goodness me that will
take me ages to do !

In solidarity


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Mon Jan 03 2000 - 12:18:31 EST