michael a. lebowitz (email@example.com)
Sat, 23 Oct 1999 18:12:52 -0700
I have now had an opportunity to read Kenneth Lapides' views (in #1546),
which for some reason I did not get the first time around. I won't burden
you any further with any charges or discharges and agree with Lapides that
"Folks will just have to read his work and my own and come to their own
conclusion." I do want to set the record straight on a few new matters and
make some comments.
>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.
I do now remember that telephone conversation and my recollection is the
same as his-- that it was pleasant.
> 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.
Although I haven't thought of this before, it is not clear to me why he
didn't. This is a question which relates to our behaviour as Marxist
intellectuals. We on OPE work in a scholarly community. We exchange ideas,
we write articles, we write books--- and, in arguing our findings, we hope
to convince others that we are correct, that our interpretations are valid.
In this process, we recognise, though, that others may respond and counter
our arguments and interpretations and that the result of the process (which
may involve several iterations) may be that our own arguments and evidence
are not strong enough to carry the day in the view of that community. As
Marxists, too, we live in a political community. Our articles, etc are not
written as abstract entries for a resume with the goal of gaining tenure
and promotion. Insofar as our goal is the abolition of capitalism, those
articles are meant to help change the world. So, yes, there are stakes
greater than those of many of our colleagues, stakes which should mean we
keep our eyes on the prize. And that should mean we recognise that we have
a common purpose and that we have a collective responsibility to each other
to ensure that the best work is done.
As Lapides notes, I published portions of my book in the form of articles
as I was developing my argument. It meant that these articles passed the
purview of editors and referees of S&S ("Capital and the Production of
Needs", "The Political Economy of Wage-Labor"), RRPE ("The One-Sidedness of
CAPITAL") and Rethinking Marxism ("The Significance of Marx's Missing Book
on Wage-Labor"). Unfortunately, nobody responded and critiqued any of
these, which would have been my preference since I could have responded and
further attempted to communicate my argument. The foundations of the book
were all out there and, had anyone accused me of poor scholarship and bad
writing (the lowest blow of all!) and provided any support for this, I
certainly would have responded.
I wonder, though, whether we engage each other's work sufficiently---
whether we are not so absorbed in our own work that we let things go by in
the journals (and here) that we really do think are flawed and do so
because these things are outside our own immediate focus. I know that I am
guilty of this and wonder if this is something worth talking about among
On another matter, Lapides has offered an account of having written a
review of my book for S&S and being given a choice by David Laibman of
publishing either the review or responding to my critique of his own
article (and choosing, ultimately, to do neither). Just in case there is
1. I never saw this review and know nothing of its contents. Although names
on the masthead in the last year or so have been called upon for referee
reports, this did not tend to occur at the time.
2. I heard that he had sent a review in (I thought it was unsolicited but
that must have been a confusion) and that he had been given the choice of
review or response to submit (which I understand as an editorial judgement).
3. I would have killed to have a review or response appear in S&S since it
was so obviously a place to communicate the existence of the book (which
received very few reviews)-- and I would have responded to either from
4. I'm still waiting for a review in S&S.
One final comment re Lapides. He states:
>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
Lapides doesn't mention that this passage comes after citing a number of
critics of Marxism (including Bowles and Gintis) and is preceded by the
statement, "Let us be frank." He also doesn't mention that shortly after
(p. 11), I indicated that I would proceed to reject the thrust of those
arguments in the book and that, on the contrary, I embraced Gramsci's
description of orthodox Marxism that it "contains in itself all the
fundamental elements needed to construct a total and integrated conception
of the world." Finally, although prepared to quote my introduction to
represent my position, he doesn't mention that in my concluding summary I
stated the following:
"We began by acknowledging the inadequacies of Marxism as a received
doctrine not only to explain the absence of socialist revolution and the
continued hegemony of capital over workers in advanced capitalist countries
but also with respect to its silence on matters relevant to the concerns of
'feminists, environmentalists, national minorities, or even rank and file
workers' [a quote from Bowles and Gintis--ML].
Rather, however, than conclude that Marxism is inherently flawed because
of its 'closed system of economic logic' [E.P. Thompson--ML] or the
inadequacies of political economy as such, we have argued the necessity to
go beyond _Capital_ to explore _Wage-Labour_. Recognition of the importance
of _Wage-Labour_, indeed, is a precondition for the further development and
elaboration _in a manner consistent with Marx's method_ of the concepts
which are only latent in _Capital_."
Although you'd have to read the book to see the argument which leads to
this conclusion, it does seem more or less straight-forward that insofar as
workers are not the subjects of study in Capital, there are many important
issues left out of that work. My particular effort was to attempt to show
how these could be incorporated in an integral rather than eclectic and
Michael A. Lebowitz
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: Phone (604) 291-4669
Fax (604) 291-5944
Home: Phone (604) 872-0494
Fax (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810
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