Marxism as science

jones/bhandari djones at
Sat Apr 15 20:38:45 MDT 1995

In his response to my post, Rahul raised at least three different points:

1. Marxism  itself points to the development of the productive forces as
"an important universal trend with great emancipatory possibilities."

2. My understanding of Marxism reduces it to lawyering: in order to prove
the necessity of proletarian revolution (how that project is derived being
unclear), reasons are then adduced as to why it is necessary,  desirable or
perhaps even inevitable.

3. Imperialism, finance capitalism and welfarism are the most effective
counterweights to the evolution of socialism, not fascistic politics.

I'll respond quickly and suggest, yet again, that very exciting treatments
of these issues can be found in Moishe Postone's book (Time, Labor and
Social Domination: a reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory. Cambridge.
1993), especially (a) Marx's establishment of the growing anachronism of
bourgeois forms with the development of the productive forces and (b)the
argumentative strategy which Marx employs in his critique of political

Let me focus here on Rahul's second point.  I do not think that Marx
begins, as a lawyer, with guilt of capitalism or the innocence of the
proletariat--though Marx's theory of value has often been reduced to a
proof of capital's guilt as a violator of its own bourgeois norms (again
Postone is scintillating in his critique of such a reduction of Marx's
value theory).

 Marx begins with that which specifies capitalism--the commodity. That Marx

with the determinate character of capitalist social man,
that the commodity is such a 'characteristic form' and
that such determinateness is central to Marx's theory of scientific knowledge

are all brilliantly discussed by Martha Campbell and Patrick Murray (cites
below).  As Campbell points out and elaborates upon, in his critique of
Adolph Wagner Marx argued that his starting point was not value but the

 Marx is not interested, as a lawyer would be, with capital's guilt or
innocence but first and foremost with its nature. And to understand that he
must begin with an analysis of its characteristic form. Why Marx starts
with the commodity and not value is a critical question, one that for him
indicates the scientific nature of his theory.  This is all very critical,
and I must refer the reader to the cites below.

 In  his analysis of the commodity, Marx then makes several
discoveries--including the pivotal one of the duality of labor--which then
allows him to discover the source of surplus value.

  As Postone points out--drawing from a letter to Kugelmann on status of
value in Capital--Marx's starting point (commodity, value) is then
retroactively validated by the real tendencies of capitalist development
which his most basic categories allow him to explain--for example, the
concentration and centralization of capital.

In short, in Postone's treatment Marx does not come out as F Lee Bailey.

As for countertendencies in terms of total capital, from my Grossmannite
understanding of capitalism, there are essentially only two: the cheapening
of constant capital and a higher rate of surplus value.

 Of course after we leave that level of abstraction, there is much more to
explain.  It's been a while since I read Kevin Brien's reconstruction of
the movement from abstract to concrete in Marx's explanatory practice, but
I remember it as very good and  consistent with Fred Moseley's unpublished
work on Marx's movement from capital in general to many capitals.

Martha Campbell, "Economics as Worldly Philsophy", ed. Ron Blackwell.
(NY:St. Martin's Press)

Patrick Murray. Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge. NJ Atlanta Highlands


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