[OPE-L:4218] Re: extending (completing, developing, deepening) Marx

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 14 Feb 1997 03:48:18 -0800 (PST)

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Andrew K wrote in [OPE-L:4214]:

> I agree with Alejandro Ramos's view (ope-l 4211 and prior) that
> understanding reality, and understanding how others view reality,
> cannot be separated.

I seem to recall in #4191 a very sharp distinction between re the TP,
i.e. "NOTHING" concerning the TP relates to what "ACTUALLY EXISTS."
Furthermore, you have consistently insisted that interpretive questions
relating to Marx must be separated from discussions re what actually

> To assert that understanding what others have said is literature
> review, and real work in understanding reality begins where that leaves
> off, is to separate them.

I didn't say that the "real work" of "understanding reality" begins when
and where literature review "ends" (see #4212).

> It presupposes a separation between thought and reality, the very
> separation against which Hegel and Marx fought.

"The philosophers have only *interpreted* the world, in various ways: the
point, however, is to *change* it."

One might think, thereby, that for Marx there *could* (but, should not) be
a disjuncture between "thought" and [changing] "reality".

> Yes, by definition a draft cannot be "complete," and Vols. II-IV of
> _Capital are, in THIS sense, incomplete. This is obvious and innocuous,
> and it is not what is meant by "incomplete" in statements such as
> "_Capital_ is incomplete" or "Marx didn't complete his project" or
> "Marx's solution to the transformation problem is incomplete." These
> statements all imply that a THEORETICAL incompleteness exists, that this
> or that is incomplete IN ITS OWN TERMS. The difference between these
> two meanings of "incomplete" is crucial to recognize, because otherwise
> you can get hoodwinked into accepting that evidence of one kind of
> incompleteness --- unrevised manuscripts --- is evidence that the other
> --- theoretical incompleteness --- exists.

Rather than deal with generalities, let me ask some specific questions:

To begin with, what *IS* the "economic law of motion of modern society"?
Please tell me -- I want to know. Since Marx _didn't_ tell us what it
means (yet this is supposed to be the "ultimate" aim of _Capital_), this
would seem to be a rather important question.

Another example: *please* tell us what *is* the relation between the
profit rate, the turnover of fixed capital, and technical change. Is this
a question which in Marx's "OWN TERMS" has been answered
"THEORETICALLY" completely?

If you can't give clear answers _in Marx_ to the above questions, then you
will have at least admitted that there is some element of theoretical
incompleteness in _Capital_.

> For an
> example of the difference, in the 1988 Kliman and McGlone article in C&C, we
> have only a few paragraphs on the differences between Marx's concept of simple
> reproduction and the concept formalized in general equilibrium, input-output
> models, and we indicate that we will elaborate on this topic in a "future
> paper." We haven't done so, and I doubt that we will ever do so. So in one
> sense, those few paragraphs are incomplete: they are the "future paper" only
> in outline. But they are not theoretically incomplete, because they are the
> outline of the "future paper."

That is a rather unconventional interpretation of the meaning of the
expression "future paper." You seem to be assuming that the "future paper"
will simply be an explanation of your few paragraphs. Yet, you seem to be
downplaying the fact that in the process of investigating and writing your
"future paper", the _content_ of the "future paper" will change, mature,
be reformulated, etc.

> In a rather similar sense, Marx many times
> refers to this or that topic as one that belongs to a study of competition,
> but I think it is at the very minimum not improbable that his theory of
> competition was worked out when he wrote Vol. I, that he included the
> important propositions in the text of that Volume and in the manuscripts for
> the other three books at the points where they became relevant, and that any
> study of competition would be an elaboration of what we already have.

You like to talk about "evidence": where is the _evidence_ for that
position regarding "probability"?

In a similar vein, Marx stated in the "Preface" to _A Contribution to the
Critique of Political Economy_ that: "I examine the system of political
economy in the following order: *capital*, *landed property*,
*wage-labour*, *the State*, *foreign trade*, *world market*." Yet, was it
"at the very minimum not improbable" that his analysis of these subjects
was not worked out when he wrote the _Contribution_?

> The ideological function of statements that assert a theoretical
> incompleteness is much like the ideological function of statements that
> assert internal inconsistency: they provide justification not only for
> revising what Marx wrote, ignoring certain things he wrote, blending
> them with other ideas --- all of which is fine by me -- but also for
> claiming that the result is Marx's, or an "extension" or a
> "development," etc.

I think, rather, that there can be an "ideological function" to the
position that _Capital_ is "complete", namely, to take what Marx wrote as
the "last word" in understanding Marx and Marxism. If we take that step,
then we reduce Marxism itself to ideology (and, possibly, dogma).

> Of course, the possibility that something in Marx is self-contradictory or
> theoretically incomplete in its *own* terms cannot be ruled out a priori.


> Now, I think the same is basically true concerning the issue of theoretical
> "incompleteness." The truth-value of such claims is decidable, on the basis
> of evidence, but the evidence is again faulty, in this case because the
> "evidence" is obtained by begging the question (petitio principi): one
> asserts what would be "complete" and shows that the text, or project, is
> "incomplete" by this standard. (This begs the question because to
> assert what would be "complete" is at the same time to assert what is
> "incomplete.") What I've always found to be lacking is any way for the
> standard to be tested, so it functions as a dogma, whatever the
> intentions of those who make the assertions.

After you have answered the above questions, then we can evaluate the
merit of the above paragraph.

In solidarity, Jerry