[OPE-L:1606] Re: Lapides' chapter 11

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 28 Oct 1999 14:11:31 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 09:49:36 -0700 (MST)
From: Kenneth Lapides <lapides@sedona.net>
Subject: Re Re: Lapides' chapter 11


I appreciate not only the positive things you had to say regarding my
chapter 11, but also the good-faith effort to grapple with the real issues
involved in this discussion where we disagree.

If we examine ourselves honestly, we must join with Freud when he wrote:
"Now it is inherent in human nature to have an inclination to consider a
thing untrue if one does not like it, and after that it is easy to find
arguments against it." In a debate of this sort therefore we should try to
keep in mind what is really the issue and why we feel drawn towards one
position or another. In the big scheme of things it hardly matters if Marx
intended to write a treatise of four books, six books, or whatever. The
plan problem is really about the theoretical integrity of Marx's legacy, or
the sufficiency of his theory for the historical tasks of the working class.
Am I understanding your position correctly if I phrase it as the proposition
that Marx's theory is not sufficient--particularly in the area of wage
labor--for working people to accomplish the revolutionary transition to
socialism? It seems to me that how we feel about this question will affect
our interpretation of the missing book debate.

In that sense you are right to see in my work a "political motive," because
I do want to shed light on an area of Marx's doctrine that does have great
political importance to anyone committed to the emancipation of working and
oppressed people from the yoke of capital. But if you imagine that this
"political motive" would cause me to conduct my research or present my
conclusions in a narrowly tendentious manner, seeking only to substantiate
pre-conceived opinions, you're mistaken. In fact, when I began work on this
project several years ago I took for granted, following Rosdolsky, the
existence of a missing book on wage labor. It was only as I thoroughly
researched the entire subject that I came to realize that there was no basis
for it.

I'm not sure why you find it troubling if someone professes to believe that
Marx's writings, particularly his economics, are the basis for the modern
working class and communist movements. Is it because, as you suggest, that
"it can not legitimately be deduced that what Marx left us is either
'sufficient' or 'not sufficient' from a *theoretical* perspective"? Are
you, in other words, an agnostic in relation to Marx's doctrine? It appears
as though you are.

I first became acquainted with this list through its online archives, which
features a portrait of Marx on its homepage. I was led to believe that the
OPE list is for Marxist economists. Do you consider yourself a Marxist, and
if so what does that identification mean to you, and further how do you
reconcile that with your doubts that his theory is an adequate basis for the
working-class movement? (N.B. I say "basis," not a compendium of answers to
all questions.) Personally, I don't care much for labels, but if I were to
identify myself as a "Marxist" (I would if I were asked) the first thing
that that identification would mean for me is the belief that his theory is
the basis for (among other things) a socialist workers' movement aimed at
overturning capitalist economic relations. Moreover, if you want to
separate politics from Marx's doctrine then I don't see either how you can
call yourself a Marxist.

Among people who profess to call themselves Marxists, whether academics or
activists, there are many who have entirely distinct and even incompatible
definitions of what that means. Think of all the sectarian battles that
have taken place in the "Marxist" movement. On top of that, there are those
who claim to be Marxist whose main purpose is to campaign "from inside"
against the ideas of Marx. As Lenin said, "The dialectics of history were
such that the victory of Marxism in the field of theory compelled its
enemies to *disguise themselves* as Marxists." That is why it is all the
more important that we try to arrive at some common ground in our
understanding of what it means to be "Marxist."

For example, Lebowitz is still crying over the fact that I didn't refer to
his article in my book. Aside from the fact that his article is just not as
important as he would like to think, I suspect that he and I have radically
different notions of what it means to be a Marxist, and that I don't feel we
share that common ground that makes discussion meaningful. His focus is on
what is missing in Marx, in Marx's "theoretical silence," rather than on
understanding and applying what *is* in Marx. He takes the same attitude
towards me. Rather than trying to benefit from and extend the work I did he
is focussed only on what is missing in it (i.e., references to him).

It's too bad that you have only looked at my chapter on the missing book
debate and not examined the book as a whole, because in it I tried to
present Marx's complete theory of wages and wage labor as it evolved,
precisely because he did not package it all up in one convenient place. In
that sense, and in that sense only, there is a missing book. And in that
sense there is a missing book on dialectics, a missing book on communism, a
missing book on revolution, and so on. But I think that that's a rather
doctrinaire approach to Marx, and also rather sterile.

My own approach has been to locate in all of Marx's writings those
formulations that are relevant to the question of wage theory in order to
allow the reader to absorb this material without having to go through all
the years of research that I took bringing it together. So if you had
examined my book perhaps you might have come to agree with me that Marx "did
successfully create a dynamic, complex, and comprehensive theory of wages
and wage labor that explains and predicts the various wage phenomena as well
as the fundamental tendencies of the labor-capital relation" (207).

As I have tried to communicate in my previous letters there is a huge basis
for misunderstanding the nature of Marx's theory of wages because of the
unique terminology he used. As I point out in my book, this involves Marx's
distinction between the phenomenological aspects of the wage relation and
its fundamental dynamics. In line with this, he distinguished between a
theory of wages and one of wage labor, and according to his definition of
these terms did not develop the former, only the latter. This I believe has
contributed to misleading Mike Lebowitz and others about the basis for a
missing book. I would like to offer therefore another extract from my book
in which this confusing matter of terminology is explained. It is attached
to this letter as a generic text file.

By the way, the difference between your use of the word "ideological" and my
own is a further cause for confusion. You write that I have "a possible
ideological motive for advancing a particular interpretation of Marx." As I
see it, there are two principal meanings to the term: in the narrow sense,
it refers to that "false consciousness" of which Marx spoke, but I also
think we can use it more loosely (until we agree on a better word) for that
bundle of ideas, opinions, values and so forth connected to our politics,
philosophy, code of ethics, economic analysis, theories of art and culture,
etc. So when you write that Marx believed his theory was not ideology I
agree, but I assert that his (or any) doctrine can legitimately be part of
someone else's "ideology." I see no problem therefore with using the
formulation, "Marx's theory of wages and wage labor has long been an
indispensable element in the ideological arsenal of the working class."

It's silly to quibble over words. The International Workingmen's
Association proclaimed Marx's Capital to be "the Bible of the working
class." Does that mean we have to worry ourselves about the relationship of
religion to "scientific socialism"? We could put it another way: Marx
believed, according to Engels, that Volume 1 of Capital was "the political
economy of the working class, reduced to its scientific formulation." The
fact is that working people have never complained about a missing book on
wage labor. On the contrary, they have voiced the sentiment (in word and
deed) on countless occasions that Marx's Capital and his related writings
(such as "Value, Price and Profit") have taught them as nothing else to
understand the true nature of their predicament, and the only solution to it.

While I plead guilty to an "ideological" motive in writing this book, i.e.,
I hope it will help promote a greater understanding of Marx's ideas and thus
help promote greater class consciousness among working people, the only
motive I have for advancing "a particular interpretation" of Marx is my
hard-earned conviction that it is consistent with the truth.

Kenneth Lapides

The following is excerpted from "Marx's Wage Theory in Historical

        What conclusions can we draw when Capital itself appears to draw to an
        Paradoxically, while Marx presented an integral wage theory in Capital

In so far as machinery brings about a direct reduction of wages for the

        Marx was primarily concerned with analyzing the situation of the worker

The problem of these movements in the level of the workers' needs, as also

Wage labor exists in two realms for Marx: first, as it is part of the

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