critique of Ricardianism

jones/bhandari djones at
Thu Feb 23 00:53:54 MST 1995

In the following passage from Jean-Marie Vincent, there is an implicit
discussion of ontology which I thought that people may find interesting.
In fact, I think that Vincent is arguing here that the method of scientific
enquiry which Marx developed in the course of his critique of Ricardo is
radically at odds with philosophy as I understand it:

Ricardo is basically occuplied with the problem of an invariable standard
of value whereas Marx seeks to determine what value truly is,namely, what
gives the products of human activity the character of commodities having a
set value in exchange.  Marx does not seek an a-temporal answer to this
question by giving value a definition that transcends historical eras;on
the contrary, he seeks to specify the form of productive activity
attributable to capitalist society and which leaves an indelible mark on
exchange transactions that occur in that type of society.  He is not
seeking, in other words, to define the "natural-ness" of economic
activities behind the procedures of particular social organizations
existing in space and time; rather his goal is to discern what makes
capitalist society distinctive from the point of view of value and labour.

"The historical dimension of capitalism is not presented as a stage of
evolution in a trajectory determined from the origins; it presents itself
as the opposition of systems of differences between different social
formations.  Thus,, it cannot be reduced to its development or to its
genesis; it is made up, rather, of links among concrete determinations
which distinguish themselves from other concrete determinations. As Marx
demonstrates clearly in his 1857 Introduction, history and logic are not
radically heterogeneous; they are, rather, tightly linked, the logical
being localisable through space-time co-ordinates and the historical
dimension being characterized by its determinations and predications above
and beyond its positions in chronologies or temporal successions.  In this
sense, the present can no longer be understood as a mere result of the past
or as a deviation with respect to an origin, nor can it be considered the
mediatisation of an originally immediate relation.  In his singular battle
with political economy, Marx thus discovers that origins must be apprehened
as a complex set of problems rather than as the promise of an immediate
relations which guranatees the transparence of activities in the future.
When he turns towards the theme of the value of labor as it is found in
Ricardo's works, he is not seeking a miracle solution tothe social enigma,
but merely an opening towards a new field of investigation requiring
further exploration in depth.

"The critical task is no longer to show that a set of social relations and
activities has broken from what is and should be in positive form of life
in society with its 'naturally' communitarian manifestations; its to
examine a given situation in its context--with its faults and
contradictions, its misperceptions and its difficulties in expressing
itself.  To criticize is not to compare a real state of affairs with a
desirable one; it is to break insofar as possible with a priori assumption
and views which impinge from the outside on an object of study, in order to
bring out the unformulated or neglected problems.

"This new critical enterprise, which operates in the immanence of the
object of study and refuses to transcend the immediately given except
through a labor of mediatisation and deconstruction starting from the
'simple' or 'natural', clearly raises many problems.  It must designate
firm bases from which to approach its material of study an develop criteria
for establishing order in this material...."(Abstract Labor: A Critique.
New York: St Martin's: pp. 83-84)

Vincent elaborates this argument, as does Patrick Murray in Marx's Theory
of Scientific Knowledge (along with Moishe Postone too)

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