Re: [OPE-L] Albritton on Arthur

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sat Mar 25 2006 - 08:47:16 EST

Hi Chris,

You didn't see Robbie's review in _La Travail_ and I haven't read
the exchange between the two of you in _Historical Materialism_.
But, it may indeed be the case that similar points were made in each,
especially since he wrote in the review that he would "condense this
discussion down to two fundamental points".  I brought the review
to the attention of the list because I thought that the same criticism
that he made about your alleged "incoherence" could also be extended
to some others on the list.

First, a side point. Robbie claims that:

"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."

but this doesn't sound right: in your theory is use-value pushed into the

It is the next section that could have been written as a criticism
of the perspectives of many others on this list:

"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 unemployment. 8
            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
transformed. 9"

Do others on the list recognize this as a critique that could be extended
to others?  How can/should it be answered?

In solidarity, Jerry

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