From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Mar 12 2004 - 15:12:03 EST
"Marx's Dialectical Method is More Than a Mode of Expression: A Critique of Systematic Dialectics" -- in Albritton, Robert and Simoulidis, John (eds.) (2003) _New Dialectics and Political Economy_ (Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 173-184) -- presents a brief critique of systematic (Marxist) dialectics. Ollman claims that he has a "generally favorable bias" towards systematic dialectics which led him to present his critique in a "softening light." In this essay Ollman focuses on the writings of Sekine, Albritton, Arthur and T. Smith whom he believes are "the most important of these thinkers." (*) The central claim of the essay is captured in the title of the contribution: namely, that systematic dialectical authors have _reduced_ Marx's dialectical method to a strategy of presentation. The author claims that systematic dialectics privileges epistemology over ontology, inquiry, "intellectual reconstruction", exposition and praxis. Yet, Ollman himself recognizes that "my own attempts to explain dialectics have also privileged one moment -- in this case epistemology -- over the others." He claims, though, that he (unlike systematic dialectics) has "always tried to integrate it with the rest." Many of the specific claims that Ollman makes about systematic dialectics are problematic. E.g. he claims repeatedly that the focus of systematic dialectics is on the mode of exposition employed by Marx in Volume One of _Capital_. Systematic dialectics thus fails to consider the "strategies of presentation" in Marx's other writings, including the drafts for what became Volumes Two and Three of _Capital_, according to Ollman. This is an odd assertion. _Which_ of the writers in the systematic dialectical tradition(s) focused _only_ on the mode of exposition in Volume One? The author does not tell us. This is simply a claim which will not bear close scrutiny. There is an implication here that the "strategies of presentation" in Marx's other writings, including the other volumes of _Capital_, are different than that employed in Volume One. Yet, aren't the "strategies of presentation" in _all_ of the volumes of _Capital_ and in his _other_ major writings on political economy (with the possible exception of his writings on the history of political economy, i.e. what became _Theories of Surplus Value_) essentially similar? Another central claim by Ollman is that many of Marx's aims are not recognized or revealed by systematic dialectics. Since "these aims require strategies of presentation that have little to do with Hegel's conceptual logic ... Volume I contains whole sections which, according to the proponents of Systematic Dialectics ... simply do not belong here." This also is not a very convincing claim. To begin with, he is presuming that the systemic dialecticians believe that the other "aims" have no merit. This is an unwarranted presumption. The question is not whether Marx's aims -- such as "showing capitalism's origins in primitive accumulation and its potential for evolving into communism" or "mapping the class struggle, and raising workers' class consciousness" -- have _a_ valid place within Marx's social theory but rather _where_ and _what_ that place is within the context of his critique of political economy. Although Ollman claims that systematic dialecticians (such as Sekine) can't grasp _why_ Marx -- among other topics -- pays "so much attention to the expansion of the working day" or why he wrote "the 100-plus pages at the end of _Capital_ devoted to primitive accumulation", it is Ollman himself who fails to grasp all of Marx's aims since (as we discussed on OPE-L just the other day) the length of _Capital_, Volume One, was at least partially influenced by the imperative to make more money since the arrangement was that he would be paid by the sheet. He therefore reads both too much and too little into the reasons why these topics were presented at great length in _Capital_. In the conclusion, Ollman repeats his claim that systematic dialectics errs in "exaggerating the role that conceptual logic plays in Marx's dialectical method." Yet, he qualifies this by then adding "... with the partial exception of Tony Smith." Had Ollman gone beyond just an examination of hermeneutics and interrogated the writings of systematic dialecticians on _other_ topics than just how they interpret Volume One then his conclusion might have been far more qualified and he might be less puzzled by the "partial exception of Tony Smith." The sections of the essay which concern Marx's strategies of presentation, his dialectical method, and three kinds of abstraction are certainly worthy of a close examination. Yet, one is left pondering to what extent these sections actually form part of a valid critique of systematic dialectics. Furthermore, in reply to his comment that "the problem in which all dialectics ... is addressed is: how to think adequately about all change, all kinds of change and interaction, all kinds of interaction", one could observe that "Marx's Dialectical Method in _Capital_ is More and Less than an Examination of Change." While one can not argue with his claim that Marx's aims in writing _Capital_ have to be placed in the context of the aims revealed in his other writings and praxis, one also needs to recognize that he had _limited_ and _specific_ aims in writing _Capital_. The issue then is not whether his other aims have been ignored but rather where the place of those aims fit within the project of reconstructing in thought the essential nature of the bourgeois mode of production. Although Ollman has spared systematic dialectics a harsh polemic with his "softening light", one is left wondering whether he shines the light on the most relevant questions. In solidarity, Jerry (*) Reuten and M. Williams, among others, were not included among the listing of "most important." One wonders why, especially since one of the contributors to this volume is Reuten. I guess one would have to ask Ollman, but a couple of thoughts come to mind: i) Ollman focuses in this essay on interpreting Marx's dialectical method, yet Reuten and Williams (1989) is a work whose scope goes well _beyond_ interpreting Marx. ii) Perhaps Ollman thought that a reference to Reuten and Williams would make his critique more complex (and lengthy) since it might have to note the *differences* in method between Arthur and Smith on the one side (materialist dialectics) and Reuten and Williams (transcendental idealism) on another side.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Mar 14 2004 - 00:00:01 EST