Marxism as science

Rahul Mahajan rahul at
Sat Apr 15 15:15:31 MDT 1995

Rakesh Bhandari wrote:
>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).

Not fair. I said nothing about Marx, only about one specific statement of yours.

> 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.

Neither are lawyers interested in guilt or innocence, but about winning the
case. That was what I pointed to as an essential difference between the
mindset of the lawyer and that of the scientist. The scientist is never
sure where her investigations will lead and tries to be as impartial as
possible between different outcomes. Furthermore, I think that although he
sounds too damn sure of himself sometimes, Marx's essential attitude was
that of the scientist, with a large dollop of the activist thrown in.

> 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.

I don't know what you mean by the cheapening of constant capital, but the
second is a very obvious countertendency. But why on earth do you think
that the exportation of the most egregious exploitation to the Third World,
where control of revolution by military means is much easier, combined with
the abatement of revolutionary pressure at home by the dole and all that
goes with it (not to mention the constant spate of mindless entertainment
-- bread and circuses redux) are not also very strong countertendencies?
Because it's harder to give them a hard, "concrete" economic basis?

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