[OPE-L:4149] RE: extending [completing, developing, deepening] Marx

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 5 Feb 1997 04:33:23 -0800 (PST)

[ show plain text ]

Andrew K wrote in [OPE-L:4144]:

> What criteria do you use to decide whether something not addressed in
> someone's work is "missing"?

Most authors state, in one way or another, what the aims or goals of their
works are. One can then use this as a "success criteria."

For instance, in the "Preface to the First Edition" of VI (it is quite
ordinary for authors to state their objectives in a "Preface" or
"Introduction"), Marx tells us: "...it is the ultimate aim of this work to
reveal the economic law of motion of modern society" (Penguin ed., p. 92).

* To begin with, where in VI itself does Marx refer to the "economic law
of motion"?

* Secondly, does Marx ever tell us -- explicitly -- what the law (note
singular) of motion is?

* Thirdly, is it possible to conceptualize the law of motion of capitalism
through an examination of "the process of capitalist production" in
abstraction of "capitalist circulation" and "capitalist production as a

* Fourthly, can you understand the "economic law of motion of modern
society" in abstraction of landed-property, wage-labour, the state,
foreign trade, and the world market and crises?

Other "success" or "failure" criteria can be observed by a close reading
of the texts in question.

* For instance, if an author keeps telling you that competition is
important for an analysis of topics related to the
ones that author is discussing and never gets around to analyzing
competition more concretely, there is something "missing."

* Or if an author tells you that the turnover of constant fixed capital is
one of the "material causes" of the periodic cycle -- and if there is
reason to believe the causes of the periodic cycle are important when
trying to discover more concretely how the "law of motion" operates --
but does not *explain* this _assertion_ or incorporate it into the
theory, then there is something "missing."

Many other examples, along these lines, are possible.

> that the
> Keynes' _General Theory_ doesn't have a theory
> of commodity fetishism. Does that make it incomplete? Why or why not?
> Is the theory of commodity fetishism "missing"? Why or why not?

Keynes never suggested that an analysis of commodity fetishism was
important for either the _GT_ or the rest of his theory. On the other
hand, there are many reasons to believe that Marx did think that an
analysis of (among other topics) competition, the state-form,
international trade, and the world market were important for his purposes.

> What criteria do you use to decide whether the absent thing is "missing" when
> viewed from the vantage-point of the work itself? How would you decide, for
> instance, whether a theory of commodity fetishism "belongs" in the GT?

See above.

> Jerry writes: "Whether Marx was 'complete' or not should be a secondary
> question -- the primary question is whether we have a theory that
> explains systematically the 'law of motion' of capital."
> Why are you such an absolutist in this regard; can't something be
> secondary in relation to one objective, but primary in relation to
> another?


> Second, if you think this question

which question?

> is of little significance, are you willing
> to refrain from using the alleged incompleteness of Marx's economic
> work as a justification for the projects you favor?

If the question is of some significance -- such as comprehending in
thought the economic law of motion of modern society -- then I will not
refrain from the process of critique. Part of the process of critique for
those following Marx is critiquing Marx's own writings. We must hold Marx
to the same (or higher) standard that he applied to others -- he would
expect or demand no less of us.

> Jerry: "Whether one wishes to call this "extending Marx" or "completing Marx"
> or "developing Marx" (a phase used in the past by Andrew K) ...."
> I remember Jerry attributing this phrase to me. I don't think I ever used it;
> I find it very imprecise, at best.

You used the expression "develop Marx's work" in #2993. I then asked you
how Marx's work could be developed from your TSS perspective. As I recall,
you basically declined to answer that question.

> Jerry: "I would say it is more important for us to understand capitalism
> than to be concerned primarily with textual --
> Marxological - questions ....
> "Us"? Who is this "us"?

All of "us" Marxist economists who are are more concerned about
understanding the "economic law of motion of modern society" rather than
primarily history of political economy questions.

> (I think I'm old enough to decide for myself what's
> important to me. I'll let you decide what's important to you.)

That reminds me of the "I'm OK, You're OK" line of thinking in popular
psychology in the 1960's.

Let's say there was a Marxist economist who told you that analyzing the
preponderance of bread crumbs on your kitchen floor was an important
theoretical task for political economy. Would you then simply say: "well
you're an adult, decide for yourself"?

All those who engage in research projects must be prepared to justify the
importance of their research. It is both right and proper that one's
objectives must be weighed against other objectives that one could conduct
research on.

> What is the
> more elemental goal you have that makes "understand[ing] capitalism" more
> important?

It is an unfortunate fact that we live in a capitalist society.
Understanding capitalism is, therefore, more important from the
perspective of political economy than counting the whiskers on your two
cats. For Marx *also* the objective of explaining the economic law of
modern society was the most important task that he had re _Capital_. The
process of critique was part of the process of that investigation. In that
sense, an examination of what Marx -- and others -- wrote on political
economy and economics is a component part of the process of understanding
capitalism. Yet, the *goal* -- "ultimately" -- was not to write a history
of thought text alone.

> Do you think that people who have other fundamental goals may
> legitimately consider "understand[ing] capitalism" less important?

If one is a chemist, then one might have other goals more important
fundamentally than understanding capitalism. If one is a costume designer,
one similarly might believe that understanding capitalism should not be
the fundamental goal (et., etc., etc.). For Marxist political economists
living under capitalism, what theoretical goal is more important that
understanding capitalism? (I set aside the question here, pace Paul C, of
understanding socialism).

> Do you
> think it is legitimate that other people have other fundamental goals?

All of us should be prepared to explain _why_ the goal that we identify as
fundamental is "legitimate."

In solidarity, Jerry