[OPE-L] Albritton on Arthur [1/3]

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Mar 24 2006 - 11:07:59 EST

In the following review of _The New Dialectic and Marx's Capital_,
Robbie Albritton writes that this book is a "real gift", an
important book which is "masterfully" presented.  He also cites a
number of examples of what he views as "incoherence" by the author.

Is Chris's perspective "incoherent" as charged?

In solidarity, Jerry

      Christopher J. Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marx's Capital.
            Source:  Labour/Le Travail: Fall, 2004 issue
            Author(s): Albritton, Robert

      »Christopher J. Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marx's Capital
(Leiden: Brill 2002)

      CHRISTOPHER ARTHUR has devoted much of his scholarly life to
studying the relation between Marx's Capital and Hegel's Logic. This
is a collection of essays, all of which (except the introductory and
concluding chapters) have been published elsewhere, but are here
revised to varying extents.

      For those interested in Capital, this is an important book to read,
for it concentrates the mind on the meaning and sequence of the
categories in Marx's great work. It suggests a rigorously
dialectical way of reading the interconnection of categories in
Capital volume one, chapters 1-6, a way that parallels Hegel's
Logic. He makes the important claim that these chapters should be
read strictly as a theory of the commodity, money, and capital as
circulation forms. It follows that the content of these forms, which
requires a labour theory of value, can only be well grounded
dialectically after the logics of the value forms have been

      Arthur masterfully presents the basic elements of dialectical
reasoning and its appropriateness in studying an object which is
self-abstracting in the sense that it is self-expanding value
(capital) itself that, through its own motions, homogenizes the
actuality that the theory aims to grasp. To an extent, then, in its
historical unfolding, capital helps the theorist by developing a
commodity-economic logic that attempts to subsume all fundamental
economic categories to its self-expanding motion. It becomes
possible for the theorist to complete the abstracting precisely
because capital has already taken the lead in history, such that the
theorist must simply learn to follow it. This means that while "the
systematic dialectic of capital" is rooted in history, its
completion occurs only in thought. It follows that the logic of
capital and the history of capitalism are distinct, forcing upon us
the necessity of always thinking the ways in which and the degree to
which capital's logic impacts on particular historical contexts. As
Arthur points out, actual historical prices are always "hugely
overdetermined" relative to the abstract law of value. (14)

      According to Arthur, the fruitfulness of the starting point of a
dialectic is demonstrated by its ability to absorb more and more
concrete moments of a totality until it comes full circle. It is
this circle that makes capital a self-subsistent subject or a
totality able to reproduce and expand itself from within itself. But
this means that all inputs and outputs of production must be
securely commodified, so that capital can achieve the indifference
to use-value that is required by its single-minded focus on profit

      While there is much more in Arthur's collection of essays that I
agree with, I think that it will be of interest to the reader, if I
briefly mention some of my disagreements. I will condense this
discussion down to two fundamental points. First, I think his
understanding of the dialectic of capital is flawed by an inadequate
understanding of the relation between value and use-value. Second,
while Arthur distinguishes systematic dialectics from historical
dialectics, by not theorizing both their separateness and
connectedness, he sometimes inadequately distinguishes them.

      Arthur claims that Capital volume one, chapters 1-6, is strictly a
theory of forms without content, and that use-value is strictly
absent. (150) Thus, it follows that the dialectic unfolds from value
as presence relating to itself as value as absence. The resulting
value form theory is "the prime determinant of the capitalist
economy," (11) or, in other words, the "form of capital is the
overriding moment" (88) in the entire system.

      The dialectic of circulation comes to an end when it is confronted
by the use-value obstacles of production, or when form is confronted
by content. If the remainder of the theory of capital's inner logic
does not parallel Hegel's Logic, then it is unclear just how it is
to be theorized. The basic problem is that in Capital the basic
contradiction is between value and use-value from the beginning. By
pushing use-value into the background, Arthur makes capital into
pure form, which in turn leads him to overemphasize the role of pure
form determination in the entire theory.

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