[OPE-L:1563] Re: Statement of Kenneth Lapides

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 18:53:57 -0400 (EDT)

In case anyone besides Mike L didn't receive this post due to its file
size, I am re-sending it without the attachment./In solidarity, Jerry

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 14:32:04 -0700 (MST)
From: Kenneth Lapides <lapides@sedona.net>
To: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Subject: Statement of Kenneth Lapides


I have been falsely accused of "scholarly dishonesty" by Michael Lebowitz in
this forum. This is a very serious accusation and I unequivocally affirm
that it is totally without merit. I appreciate this opportunity therefore
to present my own views on this matter.

In addition to this base personal attack on my integrity there are of course
fundamental differences between Lebowitz and myself over the interpretation
of Marx's theoretical legacy, summed up in the well-known controversy over
an alleged missing book on wage labor. This question has been discussed on
this list, particularly in the exchanges between Lebowitz, yourself and Paul
Z. I would like to add just a few comments of my own on this debate, but
first I must address Lebowitz's allegation of dishonesty.

In 1998 I published a work entitled "Marx's Wage Theory in Historical
Perspective: Its Origins, Development and Interpretation" (Praeger). In
this book I devoted one chapter to the question: "Is there a missing book on
wage labor?" This chapter was based in part on an article I published in
Science & Society, "Henryk Grossmann and the Debate on the Theoretical
Status of Marx's Capital" (Summer, 1992). At the core of this article was a
translation of portions of Grossmann's 1929 paper on the plan of Marx's
Capital, in which he showed that Marx's had moved from a six-book plan
(including a book on wage labor) to the four-book plan as we know it today.

In my own discussion I brought this debate up-to-date with a survey of the
positions taken by virtually every writer who touched on the subject
(including Lebowitz) and a brief history of Marx's evolving plans for
Capital as he expressed them in his own words. I argued against the notion
that there was a missing book on wage labor, and cited Lebowitz's book
"Beyond Capital" as an example of someone taking the opposite view. As I
said, this early article formed the basis for the more developed treatment
of this question in my book on Marx's wage theory.

I have no interest in waging a war of quotations, hurled back and forth out
of context, between Lebowitz and myself. Readers will have to judge for
themselves how well or badly I have developed my argument, and I offer them
appended to this letter (as an attachment) a copy of the chapter that so
offended Mike Lebowitz (though my full argument only emerges over the course
of the entire book). I must point out however that when he stated I am
simply "telling [my] own story of the evolution of Marx's plan for Capital,"
that is not true. I present in this chapter virtually every known statement
by Marx pertaining to the planning and publication of Capital, from as early
as 1851 to December 1881. These remarks are drawn from his correspondence,
his published works, and his manuscripts. I have also included relevant
material from Engels, bringing the story to November 1886. So this is not
"my" story of Marx's struggle to complete his great work, it is his, and it
is the only complete presentation of that story (in his own words) of which
I am aware.

As Paul Z has pointed out, Lebowitz's accusation of "scholarly dishonesty"
boils down to the complaint that I did not explicitly respond to his 1993
critique of my 1992 article, nor did I cite that critique in my 1998 book.
The following exchange between them is revealing.

Paul writes: "Mike, I don't know the personal issues here but just reading
thru what you write it seems to me you are over-doing whatever case you
have." To which Lebowitz replied: "As it happens, I don't know Lapides
personally." In these words Lebowitz adroitly deflected the original
question, the answer to which the members of this list are entitled to. The
fact is, as Paul picked up, there is a sub-text of personal animus in
Lebowitz's remarks, and though only he can tell us the full basis for it
there is more involved than his words imply.

In 1991 I telephoned Lebowitz to tell him I admired an article he had
published on the question of relative need. We had a pleasant conversation,
he said he was familiar with my edition of Marx's trade union writings, and
he offered to send me a ms. copy of his book "Beyond Capital," then in
production, which he did. Reading the full manuscript (some of the material
I was already familiar with as it had previously appeared in various
journals) I discovered that we had profound differences, that the arguments
he presented were a re-hash of other writers' views on the subject, and that
the book was poorly researched and badly written. I did not communicate
with him again.

As part of my research into Marx's wage theory I had translated Grossmann's
1929 monograph on the plan for Capital, which was the core of my 1992 S&S
article on the missing book controversy. I cited Lebowitz (at first the ms.
but when the book appeared the reference was updated) as the principal
contemporary advocate for the missing book hypothesis.

Following the publication of this article I was asked by David Laibman to
review Lebowitz's book "Beyond Capital" for Science & Society. I told David
that I didn't think I was an appropriate choice of reviewer, as I had
already expressed in my Science & Society piece strong criticism of
Lebowitz's position. David assured me that he had no problem with that,
controversy was healthy, and I agreed to do the review. I re-read
Lebowitz's book (this time in published form) and produced the review,
believing that the issues involved were important and needed to be aired.
(Incidentally, though in the end I must have read through his book at least
three times, and had ample basis for criticizing what I believed to be
shoddy scholarship, I restricted my comments only to the most important
theoretical issues. Lebowitz, on the other hand, while making an extreme
and unprecedented personal attack on me and my book, confesses that he did
not "read the whole work carefully.")

My review never appeared however because David and/or others at S&S found
the tone too negative, and also that I did not give a full summary of the
book's contents. (In retrospect I would agree that its tone was a bit
strident.) In addition, while my review was under consideration Lebowitz
submitted his critique of my Grossmann piece (having been sent an advance
copy with an invitation to comment), so that allowing me to respond to that
as well as reviewing his book would, David said, give me "too many turns at
bat." I was offered the choice either to respond to Lebowitz's critique or
rewrite my review. (Whether or not prior to submitting his critique
Lebowitz had been also sent a copy of my review I cannot say, but as a
member of the S&S board perhaps he had. Or perhaps he never saw the review,
and this is just his style when he feels intellectually threatened, as he
must in this case. After all, he has made it his principal mission to
advocate the missing book hypothesis, and I have undermined that by showing
it to be false.)

Now I was in a quandary what to do. If I chose to reply to Lebowitz's
critique my review, on which I had spent considerable time, would be
scrapped. If I chose to stick with the review I would have to rewrite it
and forfeit the opportunity to respond to Lebowitz. And if I did decide to
respond I would have been allowed (under standard policy) only 1,500 words,
half the length of the critique; this was insufficient space, I felt, to
thoroughly rebut his falsehoods. I was, I admit, also somewhat miffed,
since David had solicited a review from me and a comment from Lebowitz to
which I could be expected to reply, and then decided that I could not do
both. Though I believed that Lebowitz's critique misrepresented the issues,
it seemed that whatever arguments we would exchange we would always be
talking past each other, as our whole approaches to the question were so
different. Our basic premises and methodology were so different that
debating him seemed like a pointless exercise. I felt like washing my hands
of the whole mess.

I pondered for some time what to do, and in the end wrote David that I was
willing to let my Grossmann piece represent my views on the questions raised
in Lebowitz's book and in his critique, in short, that I did not feel that
the time and energy required for further involvement in this debate was
justified _at that time_. I explicitly left the door open for the
possibility that I would pursue these questions at a later time--which in
fact is what I did in publishing my 1998 book. Lebowitz makes much of the
fact that I did not reply at the time to his critique "despite being invited
by the editor." I don't think that anyone is obligated to respond to every
challenge. Not that I put myself in his category but Marx himself said more
than once that he didn't have the time to respond to every false allegation
made about him.

So does it constitute "scholarly dishonesty" to not cite a particular
article or to refuse to engage in a debate on someone else's terms? I don't
think so. If Lebowitz had presented some factual evidence relevant to this
debate or some compelling argument then I would agree that it was my
responsibility to deal with it, but he did not do so. His argument, in my
judgment, not only lacked credibility but it was laced with personal
innuendo and relied heavily on the misuse of quotations. (I invite anyone
who doubts this to thoroughly check his citations and see if they support
what he claims they do.) In the end, it was a judgment call, and I admit it
could have gone either way. But I did not believe then nor do I believe now
that there was any compelling reason for me to cite Lebowitz's 1993 remarks
(certainly far more important texts were deleted from my bibliography to
remain within the publisher's length requirements). In any case, from the
chronology I have supplied it should be clear that your analogy about the
political economy of lollipops does not apply to this case.

Lebowitz writes: "Lapides makes no effort to counter the evidence marshalled
nor does he respond." I say he has marshalled no evidence for his position.
Folks will just have to read his work and my own and come to their own
conclusion. I can live with that. But to level the charge of dishonesty
and to keep shifting the ground of attack in the face of rebuttal smacks of
McCarthyism and is unacceptable. Lebowitz has taken this beyond the bounds
of theoretical debate to conceal the bankruptcy of his own argument. His
charges are out of line, and he should withdraw them and apologize; if he
does not then other members of this list should urge him to do so.

Having said all of the above, I would now like to address the really serious
theoretical issues involved. This will make clear why our disagreement is
so sharp.

I believe that I have convincingly shown that there is no case for a missing
book on wage labor; however, there is more involved than whether or not one
agrees with that proposition. The real question, according to Lebowitz, is
that because Marx did not write a book on wage labor he failed to provide
"an adequate basis for considering the struggle of workers to realise their
own goals" (Beyond Capital, p. 57). Marx has been accused of many things in
the past 120 years or so, but charging him with neglecting the class
struggle has to be the most bizarre of all.

I have argued, on the other hand, that although "in all of Capital little is
said about the role of trade unions or of workers' strike struggles in
affecting wage determination," elsewhere and particularly "in the
fragmentary material of an earlier draft" Marx did "present a clear-cut case
for the role of trade unions in maintaining the value of labor power." As I
also show and as is widely known, Marx attributed a social and historical
component to the value of labor power, it having no inherent upper limit
apart from the disincentive lower surplus value (due to higher wages) would
have upon the capitalist's willingness to continue production.

As Lebowitz and others have repeatedly said, proving that Marx had or had
not abandoned the idea of a book on wage labor is not the point. I agree.
The crux of the issue is whether or not Marx's theoretical legacy is
sufficient for the working class to pursue a revolutionary program in
opposition to capitalist rule. Not only does Lebowitz believe that Capital
offers an inadequate basis for such a program, he believes in all of Marx's
writings there is a "theoretical silence" that eviscerates his doctrine.
Consider the following lines from his book Beyond Capital:

"Not only the absence of socialist revolution and the continued hegemony of
capital over workers in advanced capitalist countries, but also the
theoretical silence (and practical irrelevance) with respect to struggles
for emancipation, struggles of women against patriarchy in all its
manifestations, struggles over the quality of life and cultural
identity--all these point to a theory not entirely successful" (p. 6).

This is at the root of our disagreement. I say Marx's theory has been
rightly called the citadel of the working-class movement, and if answers are
hard to find in Capital to all our questions then we must turn to his other
writings. And that precisely was my objective in presenting Marx's theory
of wages and wage labor in its entirety for the first time--to show that his
theory most definitely offers "an adequate basis" for working people to
realize their goals.

So when the question is asked what is at stake in this debate my answer is
this: Marx's "theory of wages and wage labor has long been an indispensable
element in the ideological arsenal of the working-class movement; to pretend
that it does not exist is an attempt to disarm working people by denying
them this part of his legacy" (233).

There is another issue that needs to be addressed that also goes to the
heart of my differences with Lebowitz. He has failed to grasp one of the
most important elements of Marx's wage theory, the distinction Marx makes
between the fundamental tendencies of capitalist economic relations and the
phenomenal representation of those underlying forces. It is not enough that
Marx has laid bare the essential dynamics of this economic system, including
the complex laws governing the labor-capital relation, Lebowitz wants a
handbook explaining how workers are to conduct their day-to-day struggle.
Lebowitz's idea of the book on wage labor is just not the book Marx wanted
to write. In Marx's chapter on time wages in Vol. 1 of Capital (quoted on
p. 196 in my book), he writes:

"the laws set forth in the 17th chapter, on the changes in the relative
magnitudes of price of labour power and surplus value, pass by a simple
transformation of form, into laws of wages....It would be useless to repeat
here, with regard to the phenomenal form, what has been already worked out
in the substantial form."

One of the many original contributions made in my Marx's Wage Theory is the
discussion of Marx's distinction between the phenomenal and substantial
forms. This occurs in various places throughout the book; the following is
taken from my chapter on Capital:

"Wage labor exists in two realms for Marx: first, as it is part of the
essential nature of capital--both wage labor and capital being two sides of
the same coin; and, second, in its phenomenal aspects, as it exists on the
surface of society, the analysis of which does not touch the inner process
of capitalist production. The analysis of the former he called 'the theory
of wage labor,' as opposed to 'the theory of wages.' This dichotomy is
reflected in a certain tension in his work between his analysis of these two
realms, with their opposing claims" (209).

Rather than bemoaning the fact that Marx didn't provide us with all the
answers to every question we should work on uncovering and understanding the
very rich legacy of analysis and methodology he did leave. There is more
than enough in Marx's doctrine for working people to pursue their struggle
for emancipation. The fact that that struggle has not yet been as
successful as we would like can not be blamed on Marx. He has written his
book on wage labor: it is our responsibility to help bring it to the workers.

Thank you for allowing me to present my thoughts on certain aspects of this
debate. As I mentioned, I am attaching to this letter a copy of my chapter
on the missing book controversy (it was produced in WordPerfect 5.1).

Best regards,

Kenneth Lapides


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