Re: [OPE] Reply to critics

From: christopher arthur <>
Date: Sat Oct 02 2010 - 10:25:09 EDT

Dear Jurrian

Thank you for drawing attention to these points abut the English trans. Most striking for me is that the English translations employ 'substance' when there is no trace of it in the text.
BTW the Moore is mediated through the French supervised by Marx. On the other hand Marx complained later that the French is 'flattened' and in future the translation should use the German only.
I do not understand at all why you have changed the obvious and correct 'objectivity' to 'representation' which is needed to translate 'Vorstellung'. You are right however to point out this term includes a sense of opposition, but that is precisely missing in 'representation'
You do not comment at all on 'Einheit' - literally 'unity' - which we see here rendered as reality/measure/substance. The last (namely the Penguin) is horrendously wrong but this very abstract notion is perhaps too concretely given by you as measure. I suggest dimension.
So I would give:
In direct opposition to the coarsely sensuous objectivity of the
bodies of commodities, not an atom of natural 'stuff' goes into
their objectivity as value. One may twist and turn a single commodity
as one likes, but it remains incomprehensible as a
thing of value. If, however, we remember that commodities possess their
objectivity as value only insofar as they are expressions of the same societal
dimension, human labour, that their objectivity as value is thus purely
social, then it is also self-evident that this can appear
only in the societal relationship of commodities to commodities.

christopher j. arthur

On 2 Oct 2010, at 13:23, Jurriaan Bendien wrote:

> Ian,
> Let me just note here that the passage you cite from the section on the
> value-form is, as much of Marx's text happens to be, badly translated from
> the German.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> (1) First of all, consider the German original:
> Im graden Gegenteil zur sinnlich groben Gegenständlichkeit der Warenkörper
> geht kein Atom Naturstoff in ihre Wertgegenständlichkeit ein. Man mag daher
> eine einzelne Ware drehen und wenden, wie man will, sie bleibt unfaßbar als
> Wertding. Erinnern wir uns jedoch, daß die Waren nur Wertgegenständlichkeit
> besitzen, sofern sie Ausdrücke derselben gesellschaftlichen Einheit,
> menschlicher Arbeit, sind, daß ihre Wertgegenständlichkeit also rein
> gesellschaftlich ist, so versteht sich auch von selbst, daß sie nur im
> gesellschaftlichen Verhältnis von Ware zu Ware erscheinen kann.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> (2) This is officially translated (Moore/Aveling) as follows:
> the value of commodities is the very opposite of the coarse materiality of
> their substance, not an atom of matter enters into its composition. Turn
> and examine a single commodity, by itself, as we will, yet in so far as it
> remains an object of value, it seems impossible to grasp it. If, however,
> we bear in mind that the value of commodities has a purely social reality,
> and that they acquire this reality only in so far as they are expressions or
> embodiments of one identical social substance, viz., human labor, it follows
> as a matter of course, that value can only manifest itself in the social
> relation of commodity to commodity'
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> (3) Now let's try for an accurate scientific translation:
> In direct opposition to the coarse, sensuous representation of the
> embodiments of commodities, not one atom of natural matter is involved in
> their objective representation as value. One may twist and turn a commodity
> as one likes in this regard, but on its own it remains incomprehensible as a
> thing of value. If however we remind ourselves, that commodities possess the
> objective representation of value, insofar as they express the same societal
> measure, human labour, that their representation as value is thus purely
> societal, then it also becomes self-evident, that this can only manifest
> itself in the societal relationship of commodities to commodities.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> (4) In the Penguin edition, we read:
> Not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values;
> in this it is the direct opposite of the coarsely sensuous objectivity of
> commodities as physical objects. We may twist and turn a single commodity as
> we wish; it remains impossible to grasp it as a thing possessing value.
> However, let us remember that commodities possess an objective character as
> values only in so far as they are all expressions of an identical social
> substance, human labour, that their objective character as values is
> therefore purely social. From this it follows self-evidently that it can
> only appear in the social relation between commodity and commodity. (p.
> 138-139).
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The Penguin version is an improvement on the original, but as we can see,
> both English translators introduce additional expressions into the
> translation, which are simply not there in the original. There is no
> reference in the original to "physical objects", "materiality",
> "composition", "purely social reality", "identical social substance", and
> "namely".
> To introduce additional terms is of course permissible for a translator if
> it conveys the meaning more exactly and accurately, but in this case the
> additional terms are not really helpful, because they raise additional
> questions about what these additional terms could be understood to mean, and
> in fact they distract from the main point. Moreover, the syntax is changed,
> plural is changed to singular and so forth. All of that would not be so bad,
> if it aided the reader in an overall sense to get the meaning of what is
> being said, but in fact, a more simple, literal rendering, without the extra
> frills introduced by the translators, conveys the point better!
> There is I suppose a problem, leaving aside simple blunders in translating
> Das Kapital, with the concept of "Gegenständlichkeit", which literally means
> "standing against" or "stand in opposition to", and which is therefore
> normally translated as objectivity or representation (the property of being
> objectified): a thing or relationship is represented by another thing or
> relationship, which exists as an independent entity. But to translate this
> appropriately, we only need to follow the logic of the argument itself
> ("Gegenstand" connotes both "the resistance of opposition" and
> "objectivity").
> In German, "gesellschaftlich" (societal) has a different connotation than
> "sozial" (social), because the former refers to a phenomenon or relationship
> pertaining to society in aggregate, as a whole, while the latter refers to
> the interactive, other-directed aspect of a phenomenon or relationship. This
> contrast does not exist in ordinary English (other than if we refer to "a
> relationship in society") and thus "social" in English can convey more
> meanings. An additional complication was that Marx was projecting English
> and Scottish concepts into German language.
> The general conclusion though is that Marx makes no grandiose metaphysical
> claims about a "social substance" or "materiality" and so forth here. He is
> merely saying that if human labourtime is the measure of the value of
> commodities, then this can become manifest only through the relationship
> between commodities, namely through the proportions in which they are
> exchanged, and the meaning of this value (in contrast to use-value) cannot
> be deduced from the observation of any particular commodity. This just
> means, that economic value itself is not directly observable in the way that
> the use of a commodity is observable, but is an inferred property. When
> academics try to define this inferred property in terms of the language of
> modern physics, they miss the point again, because they conflate the
> self-reflexive nature of human society with a physical system. We do not add
> one iota of scientificity by means of an analogy between society and a
> physical system, and in fact it signals a regression to mechanical
> materialism.
> For the benefit of Jerry: we can validly say that a product has a value in
> society, quite independently of whether it is exchanged or not, but in order
> to know the magnitude of this value, we necessarily have to refer to the
> proportions in which it is normally exchanged. The only other yardstick we
> could refer to, is the amount of labour which the products actually took to
> make, but the point is that even if we could know this reasonably
> accurately, ceteris paribus we do not know exactly how this quantity happens
> to be related to the social average (the relationship of particular labour
> to general labour) and therefore we still do not know, other than
> intuitively or by rule of thumb, what the particular labours (and
> consequently their products) are really "worth". Even if we set up a
> macro-economic accounting system for labour hours worked, we still need a
> criterion for the equation of those hours, and in the last instance that
> criterion must be assumed, rather than deduced from a mathematical equation,
> it depends on categorical distinctions which are themselves not provable by
> a mathematical procedure.
> The effect of this comparability problem is, that a social relationship
> between people as producers and consumers takes the form of, or is
> symbolized as, a (monetary) relationship between things. The social
> relationship is then indirectly, or in a roundabout way, affirmed via the
> intermediary of trading ratios between things. Things strictly speaking
> cannot have a "social relationship" (that would be a reification) unless we
> stretch the meaning of social to "interactive association" or group
> membership. But we could say that there is a "societal relationship" between
> things if we reasonably assume the things exist in society, rather than
> (say) in outer space, i.e. we consider things in their social context, and
> in this sense, the things are "socially related". And if this is habitually
> assumed in practical life, then it follows that social characteristics will
> be imputed to things, even although those characteristics are not intrinsic
> to those things, but conditional on the social relationships between people.
> In itself, this insight is exceedingly (devastatingly) simple, and if the
> Marxist knowledge bureaucrats wax profoundly with an enormous academic
> terminology and conceptual apparatus to explain it, and to prove their own
> erudition and super-radicality, it really adds nothing at all to the
> argument, it's humbug.
> Is Marx himself to blame for the fracas of Marxist and other scholarly
> falsifications in this regard? Yes and no. When he originally wrote A
> Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), he expressed
> himself in the simplest terms, stating the argument very plainly. He was
> himself convinced at the time that, in one slim volume, he had briefly
> stated a giant step forward in scientific understanding, but few other
> people thought he had really delivered - it was "too simple" for them to be
> credible - and Marx's book - qua format a sort of sardonic parody of the
> format of his own Phd thesis - just failed to sell. When he subsequently
> restated more or less exactly the same argument in Capital in 1867, using
> the exactly the same opening quotation he had used in the 1859 book
> (originally drafted in the Grundrisse), he was much more concerned with the
> total persuasiveness of the argument - in several ways, such as:
> 1. He wanted to make the discussion about "the commodity", such as engaged
> in habitually by political economists, much more entertaining and
> interesting.
> 2. He wanted to convey much better the social and theoretical importance of
> the rather simple insights, particularly with regard to the idea of
> reification of consciousness.
> 3. He wanted to get back at the doctrinaire German and other professors with
> their endless, pseudo-profound twaddle about "the concept of value".
> 4. He wanted to use the device of ambiguity, surreality and theatricality in
> a pedagogic sense for his narrative, to "set traps" for the reader, in order
> to intrigue the reader, and get the reader to think critically for
> himself/herself about the meaning of the text.
> 5. He wanted to make more explicit the way in which he had transcended
> Hegel, by referring back to Hegel's language.
> On balance, he succeeded to some extent with the skilled workers, who simply
> applied the theory to their own experience, but really failed with the
> academics, even if the academics wrote hundreds of thousands of articles
> about what Marx really intended (Marx did succeed in intriguing them, but
> the simple content failed to communicate well).
> Rosa Luxemburg shows a sense of this when she complained about Marx's
> "Hegelian rococo" (""I now have a horror of the much praised first volume of
> Marx's Capital because of its elaborate rococo ornaments a la Hegel."). The
> whole exposition ended up more turgid and cumbersome, than it really needed
> to be. The first generation of Marxists was hardly schooled in Das Kapital
> at all, their education came principally from pamphlets by Engels and
> Kautsky.
> Francis Wheen delights in telling us about the atrocious, miserable
> conditions in which Marx was often writing his text, and it may be, that if
> Marx had been able to work comfortably as a salaried academic assisted by
> interns to do the manual work for him, he would have delivered much better
> prose than he did.
> But in fact an academic environment proved not even conducive to gaining the
> new scientific insights - the new insights arrived exactly because they were
> gained external to the regimented academic environment, in a battle with
> adversity where every new idea had real consequence rather than being just a
> matter of taste and fancy.
> Let us note for example that when the Scottish bookseller and printer Robert
> Chambers wrote his brilliant "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation"
> in 1844, which proposed a materialist interpretation of history quite
> independently from Marx, it was too controversial even to be published under
> his real name, and even when Chambers publicly discussed rather
> uncontroversial topics, such as the geology of beaches, he was lambasted by
> religious and academic authorities.
> Jurriaan
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Received on Sat Oct 2 10:42:28 2010

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