Re: [OPE-L] Grundrisse.Help

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sat Aug 05 2006 - 02:24:16 EDT

Hi Rakesh,

Unfortunately I expect to be out of email touch for a week, so I doubt I
will be able to follow in my inbox.  Perhaps I will be able to pick up at
the website.

I wonder if you really need to think in terms of "idealized" and of a mental
experiment regarding pure capitalism.

True enough, water is rarely just H2O.  But the point is we use this formula
to pick out an actual causal structure, not an idealized one.  That is, the
category we construct is something we use to refer to the world.  It is a
tool that allows us to accommodate our practice to the world.  We see a
clear, colorless, odorless liquid and ask whether it is H2O.  We test.  Then
we drink or not.   The concepts we use have explanatory power when and
because we use them to refer to the underlying causal structures of things
we give theoretical explanations or definitions of.

Abstraction isn't about idealizing but about prescinding from features that
are less important to get to the most important causal properties of a

Biological kinds are the same.  Individuals of a kind are different, but the
essential causal features they share are not some mental ideal hovering
above them.  We don't say that the particular sequence of DNA that
characterizes a species of living thing is ideal.

The commodity form offers a simpler example than capital.  Recall the fifth
paragraph of Section 2 of Chapter 1 and its last sentence: paraphrasing,
those things become commodities that are produced separately and as part of
the division of labor in society.  That sentence expresses a theoretical
concept by referring to the animating structure of a social kind.  The
concept has explanatory power when it refers to and picks out this causal
structure of social life, even though which of the full spectrum of causal
powers we now associate with it (the structure) actually gets manifested
will depend dramatically on the environment in which it occurs
(precapitalist, capitalist or socialist transition).

In sum:  Mental concepts refer.  In science they refer to actual causal
structures in the world.  When we have it right about the things to which
they refer it makes it possible for us to accommodate our practice to the
way the world is.  Of course 'accommodate' includes transforming the world
in ways actually available to us.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Rakesh Bhandari" <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>
Sent: Friday, August 04, 2006 7:28 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Grundrisse.Help

> Jurriaan ,
> You make many points, not all related to each other.
> So let's just take the nastiest criticism you have not so subtly made of
> >In this respect, the biggest enemies K. Marx ever had were Marxist
> >doctrinaires who tried to turn his interpretations and hypotheses into a
> >fixed, completed neat-and-tidy theoretical system (a 'doctrine' as
> >called it) which only the 'orthodox' Marxist high-priests are allowed to
> >modify.
> Marx did say that his magnum opus was an artistic whole. What did he
> mean by that? How could
> it be an artistic whole if it breaks off arbitrarily as you are saying?
>   Marx conducts a mental experiment through the creation of a pure
> With this pure capitalism to work on,  he explains the integration of
> production, circulation and
> reproduction AS A WHOLE as he moves from an abstracted study of
> production to circulation to dynamics to the misleading surface
> appearances of this idealized mode of production. He also finds
> within it a self generated tendency towards collapse. That is, he
> integrates the constituent elements of this mode of production, and
> he theorizes its dynamics and limits.
> The theory does have the beauty of an artistic whole. The theory
> integrates and dramatizes. It tells the story of the birth, growth
> and senility of its subject. But it is a fictional subject.
> Capital is not a complete theory of any actually existing capitalism,
> but that was not Marx set out to do after he abandoned the six book
> plan. . He did not set out to tell the history of capital in all its
> forms or landed property or wage labour or international trade.
> Marx tried to show the relations between what he took to be
> the essential features of the capitalist mode of production and to
> lay bare the dynamic tendencies
> of an idealized capitalist mode of production. And in this regard he
> completed his theory. I think Howard and I are agreed on this point
> (and I accept Howard's point of difference between Weber and Marx.)
> One could say that Marx should not have kept to an isolated and pure
> capitalism but theorized
> the social formation as a necessary articulation of capitalism and
> non-capitalist modes of production. One could say that Marx should
> have built state taxation and expenditures into his pure capitalism.
> Or one could say that Marx should  have studied not a pure capitalism
> in isolation but  a social formation made up of interdependent and
> competing national capitalisms.
> In other words, one could say that Marx was too abstract, too removed
> from real history. But who says that Newton's laws of motion are
> dogmatic because they do not consider air pressure or viscosity?  Of
> course we do not have a complete explanation of observable motion,
> only the theoretical basis for understanding it. That is what Marx
> provided--a theoretical basis for understanding the internal relations
> of the constituent elements of the system and its observable movement.
>   After all, the above criticisms are not really charges of
> incompleteness but of error in the construction of the mental object
> on which Marx does his experiment.   But if Marx had not constructed
> this object of a pure capitalism and complete his theory of it, then
> there would have been no basis for understanding both the modifying
> effects of pre capitalist modes, state intervention and world trade
> and (just as importantly) the limits of those modifications on the
> observable motion of actually existing capitalism.
> So no one is saying that there is nothing to do. Least of all Grossman.
> After all, he added to Marx's theories of counter-tendencies and
> seeks empirical information on the tendencies and counter-tendencies.
> Rakesh
> >Rakesh,
> >
> >you wrote:
> >
> >"Marx did however complete the study of the very object his study
> >created--an "ideal-typical" capitalist mode of production.
> >But what is the nature of this ideal type? Weberian or not? What do
> >we think of the Unonist interpretation? Or Leswak Nowak's?"
> >
> >I remember studying this problem once, in MA class in 1982. A Weberian
> >type is a 'useful fiction' (an analogy, metaphor or model) accentuating
> >certain salient features of a social phenomenon, and one compares that
> >picture with a complex social reality, to illuminate and interpret it. An
> >ideal type is however not 'true or false', and one cannot say that one
> >type is better than another, only that one is 'more useful' than another
> >interpreting the social phenomenon to which it refers. That is, Weber was
> >basically a neo-Kantian. He did not believe you can know social reality
> >it really is' through an investigative procedure. In effect, for Weber
> >nobody can have any epistemically privileged vantage point with regard to
> >any social reality, and for him a social 'science' referring to law-like
> >regularities (necessities) in social behaviour was impossible. This was
> >commented on critically e.g. by John Lewis and Goran Therborn.
> >
> >Thus, there are very big differences between K. Marx and Weber qua
> >(1) ontological assumptions about social reality,
> >(2) epistemology (how and why we know, truth claims etc.),
> >(3) abstractive procedures (how we arrive at our generalisations and
> >distinctions).
> >
> >I think both L. Nowak and K. Uno/T. Sekine make many important valid
> >in this regard, but they also subscribe to viewpoints I think are
> >mistaken. For example,
> >
> >- Nowak implied that idealization as such has a necessary (logical)
> >'structure', quite independently from the object to which it refers,
> >in fact at best you can say in this regard that some forms of
> >are more appropriate/useful/ reasonable with regard to an object of study
> >than others.
> >- Uno equates the 'capitalist mode of production' with 'capitalist
> >and completely ignores the sphere of consumption; he implies that his
> >'doctrines' of circulation, production and distribution are sufficient to
> >define the essence of capitalist society, which is an gigantic error. For
> >example, joint-stock capital is historically part of the very essence of
> >capitalist mode of production 'from its birth', although K. Marx did not
> >discuss that in any detail.
> >
> >There exists definite evidence that Marx did not even leave us even with
> >'completed story' about the capitalist way of producing, never mind
> >capitalist society as a whole:
> >
> >(1) The Grundrisse manuscript and other preparatory manuscripts refer to
> >many more topics in this regard than he published on.
> >(2) His own changing research and writing plans, and his own comments,
> >that he envisaged much more about it, than he wrote down or published.
> >(3) By F. Engels's testimony, the manuscripts for Cap. 2 & 3 were often
> >incomplete, k. Marx intended to write more, and many 'gaps' had to be
> >in (for example, chapter 4 of Cap. 3 was completely written by F.
> >(4) Theoretically and historically, the capitalist way of producing could
> >not emerge and exist without share-capital, the state, foreign trade and
> >world market.
> >
> >In this respect, the biggest enemies K. Marx ever had were Marxist
> >doctrinaires who tried to turn his interpretations and hypotheses into a
> >fixed, completed neat-and-tidy theoretical system (a 'doctrine' as
> >called it) which only the 'orthodox' Marxist high-priests are allowed to
> >modify.
> >
> >I think K. Marx himself probably believed that it was sufficient for him
> >even just to publish only Cap. Vol. 1, since anybody capable of thinking
> >through the argument would be able to complete, or fill out, his analysis
> >the source of value and capital accumulation.
> >
> >Paradoxically, often the "Weberian" Marxists are more progressive than
> >"orthodox" Marxists, because at least Weber emphasizes the importance of
> >substantive independent creative thinking, which is annihilated by the
> >orthodox Marxists, for the sake of doctrinal purity.
> >
> >Regards
> >
> >J.

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