[OPE-L] Albritton on Arthur [2/3]

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Mar 24 2006 - 11:08:58 EST

2 of 3

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

      This leads to incoherence because he then wavers between emphasizing
the preeminance of value form theory, on the one hand, and the claim
that "value is the outcome of class struggle at the point of
production" (57) on the other. If we take this latter claim
seriously, then the laws of motion of capital disappear altogether,
since we cannot generalize about value beyond saying that it varies
with the balance of class forces in each factory. The problem is
that he defeats his own dialectic by first evacuating use-value and
then returning to it with such a vengeance. It is fine to claim that
"labour is in and against capital;" but at the level of systematic
dialectics, we cannot give the "against" any specific content,
precisely because at this level the labour market, periodic crises,
etc. regulate wages and the supply of labour. Again, it is not a
question of denying labourers all subjectivity, but of seeing
capital's commodification of labour-power as successfully
channelling that subjectivity into channels supportive of profit
maximization. For example, workers are free to quit any job, but at
this level of abstraction, we assume that any other job will have
similar wages and working conditions. Workers are free to bargain
for the highest wages possible, but this bargaining power is
undermined by the fact that in pure capitalism we cannot assume the
existence of trade unions and by periodic crises that produce high

      Arthur again falls towards incoherence when he argues that the
systematic dialectic of capital has two subjects--capital and
labour. If labour is outside capital, then the dialectic must be of
capital and labour--two totalities and their interrelations. Arthur
tries to say that there is really one totality, but labour is
relatively autonomous within this totality. But if labour is even
relatively outside, it can continually disrupt the dialectic in
unpredictable ways thus preventing it having any coherence. In order
to have a coherent theory of capital's inner logic, we must assume
that labour power has been securely commodified. The reason Arthur
has a problem with this is that he wrongly thinks that such an
assumption must deny all subjectivity to workers, and because he
thinks that the class struggle that is so present in history must
for some reason be diminished if it is not also given a central
position in systematic dialectics. This latter concern, I believe,
stems from inadequate attention to articulating the relations
between systematic and historical dialectics as distinct levels of
analysis. In other words, Arthur at times gets sucked into the very
logical-historical method that he explicitly rejects. For if the
levels are distinct, the reification at the level of systematic
dialectics that subsumes labour to capital can, at the level of
historical analysis, always be resisted and even radically

      My recommendation would be to see the entire three volumes of
Capital as a single dialectic in which value generates successive
categories by gradually overcoming the fundamental use-value
obstacles present in all capitalist economies. The use-value of
commodities is an obstacle to exchange until we dialectically
generate the money form from the commodity form. But even with the
money form, the exhange of one use-value for another is an obstacle
unless we generate the capital form that uses money to make more
money. In turn this becomes inexplicable unless labour and
production processes are subsumed to the capital form, and so forth.
At the level of systematic dialectics we study how variations in the
length of the working day impact on the extraction of suplus value,
but we do not have a working day of a given length. For that we need
to turn to historical analysis where numerous causal factors may
play a role, though we would expect that among these class struggle
would always be important. What systematic dialectics shows is that
there is necessarily an antagonistic relationship between capital
and labour, but it cannot show how this is translated into
historically specific forms of class struggle. Thus instead of
making the gratuitous claim that class struggle is the primary
determinant of systematic dialectics, we should claim instead that
systematic dialectics presents a clear structural theory of class
and shows why class antagonism is likely to be the constant
companion of capitalism in history. And four dialectic encompasses
all three volumes we will also understand how capital achieves not
only indifference to land, but also, in the form of interest,
indifference to itself. Indeed in the present age of finance
capital, we are being made painfully aware of possible consequences
of such indifference.

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