working-class subjectivity

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Mon Feb 12 08:40:12 MST 1996


Hugh Rodwell wrote:

> Why did you put quotes around 'Marxist orthodoxy', if you're not referring
> to Stalinist orthodoxy plain and simple? Does 'Marxist orthodoxy' include
> Lenin and Trotsky for you, <snip>

"Marxist orthodoxy", I believe, has its origins in German Social Democracy
and, in particular, the [early] writings of Karl Kautsky. Lenin, Trotsky
and most of the Bolshevik leadership, I believe, considered themselves
"orthodox Marxists" as well (although, I don't have any quotes in front
of me). The original meaning of the term might be best understood as a
position that defended Marx's revolutionary politics against Bernstein
(and "evolutionary socialism") and reformist politics in general. I do,
though, believe it is a term that deserves to be in quotes. It is
surprising to me indeed that any Marxist would want to be considered
"orthodox" given the connotations that this term has. In a similar vein,
in the 1980's there was a grouping of Marxist economists who labelled
themselves "fundamentalists"? Now, why would a Marxist want to be called
a "fundamentalist"? (I wrote about these issues in a post in May called
"Ists, Ites, Ans, and Oids").

Beyond that (reformism vs. revolutionary politics), what can we say that
"orthodoxy" means? A close, and dogmatic, adherence to the writings of
Marx? I don't think so. For instance, the crisis theories developed by
Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Bukharin were not "orthodox" in the sense
that they followed Marx's writings closely (in general, they were either
underconsumptionist and/or disproportionality theories). On this point,
see Richard Day, _The 'Crisis' and the 'Crash'_ (New Left Books).

> The clearer we see
> what Marx wrote and meant, the easier it is to see whether the original
> positions - the orthodoxy - retain their validity or whether they need
> revising.

Marx is rolling over in his grave at Highgate Cemetary! What makes you
believe that Marx (who never considered himself to be a Marxist) would
expect us to proceed as above? Is there *any* reason to believe that Marx
thought that _Capital_, for instance, was a "finished work"?

> But neither pessimism or optimism are much use in
> the task of assessing the current historical state of capitalism or the
> consciousness and clout of working class revolutionary organizations
> opposing it.

Agreed.

> >The question, though, isn't so much what Marx wrote in Capital, but what he
> >did >not write and why.
>
> I disagree. The speculation might be interesting, but it's arid when
> there's so much to appropriate and realize in what Marx (in teamwork with
> Engels, as we shouldn't forget for one second) actually got written and
> actually got done.

Volume 1 *alone* was prepared for publication by Marx. Engels took the
incomplete drafts for what became Volume 3 (written before Volume 1) and
Volume 2 (mostly written after Volume 1) edited and published them. We
*still* don't know precisely what Marx wrote that was *not* included in
Volumes 2 & 3. It is said that Marx's writings on ground rent alone which
were *not* included in Volume 3 would make up a very large book if
published.

So, your statement that Marx's writings "actually got written and
actually got done" is problemmatic at best. Moreover, we have *no* reason
to believe that Marx believed this to be the case. Given the above, we
need to interpret Marx for ourselves and ask what was not written and
why. This is not mere idle speculation. What is at issue is the extent to
which _Capital_ can serve as a "complete" theory of capitalism. We know,
for instance, that Marx never wrote books on the state or the world
market and crisis? Would you agree that those are important subjects
pertaining to the subject matter of capitalism that need further
investigation?

[I am reminded of a cartoon that Riccardo Bellofiore brought to my
attention. Marx and a man are on a cloud in heavan. Man says: "I read
your book." Marx: "How did it turn out?"]

> The whole of the Transitional Programme of the
> Fourth International is rooted in this question of relating everyday
> struggles to the larger issues of power.

True. I have yet to read a particularly interesting *critical*
interpretation of Trotsky's Transitional Programme. That would perhaps
make an interesting topic for discussion.

> Your view of 'capitalism as a dynamic dialectic in which the logic of
> capital and the logic of the class struggle are played out, with
> indeterminate and non-inevitable consequences' is self-contradictory. If
> there's a logic, it operates in a determinate and even inevitable manner -
> certain premises give rise to other certain results.

Huh? Logic, especially dialectical logic, does not require "determinate"
and "inevitable" consequences. Even from the standpoint of formal logic,
such conclusions are sensitive to the assumptions made and the
specification of variables.

> What's inevitable - like the great West Coast earthquake - is a number of
> cataclysmic crises as capitalism by the logic of its processes drives the
> contradictions within society (the relations of production) to a level of
> tension that cannot be contained.

"Cataclysmic"? Are you referring to economic crises? I believe that the
above rests on a too simple understanding of historical materialism as
expressed in the "Introduction" to the _Critique_.

> If the working class is not organized and led in such a way as to
> take power in society and start building socialism by way of a
> revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, then barbarism will ensue.

Barbarism? Perhaps. Please explain. Possible barbarism in the current
century might include fascism (which I do not view as inevitable) or
large-scale, i.e. nuclear, wars (not inevitable) or environmental
destruction/barbarism (a very likely scenario).

> There is as little fatalism in this view of the logic of capital and the
> class struggle as there is in the logic of chemistry and its production of
> salt from the fusion of sodium and chlorine. It's the way the processes
> work.

Very mechanical. A very poor analogy besides. People are not just
chemicals. They have individual and social consciousness that can lead to
a change in the consequences of social activity. Even Plekhanov, a
"orthodox Marxist" allowed a greater role for individual and social
action than you do above.

> >>Working class subjectivity has as its main goal its own abolition.
>
> >I believe this is one of Negri's central points.
>
> Maybe, but where do you stand on it?

I don't accept the view that working class subjectivity must
*necessarily* lead to the abolition of the working class.

> 'The class as a whole' is a figment, unless you are completely in thrall to
> objectivism.

Yes. We need to look at the composition of the working class. That is one
of the central tasks of the "Open Marxists" (which, BTW, I am not an
adherent of).

> I will be categorical. There is no way to understand the subjectivity of
> the working class without relating it to the development of a revolutionary
> party capable of resolving the historical task of the abolition of wage
> labour and capital.

I will be categorical as well. There is no way to understand the
subjectivity of the working class without giving that expression a
clearer historical and theoretical meaning.

> The book we are
> potentially collaborating on would be entitled 'Positions of
> Class-Consciousness in relation to the Capitalist Mode of Production'.

[I'm not sure I want to know, but]: who is "we"?

> An academic
> discussion with no party impact will make no contribution to defining the
> tasks that are central to our epoch and get us no closer to a solution.

A party discussion, where the party is a small sect without roots in
the working class and its struggles, can not be expected to necessarily
get us closer to the "solution." The solution will not be found by
academics or small sects, but by workers themselves engaged in struggle
with capital.

> Capitalism
> may very well break down of its own accord in one of its terminal crises
> (the 'Death Agony of Capitalism' is not a mere figure of speech). If it
> does this spontaneously and no party is in place, barbarism will result.

What is a "terminal crisis"? As for barbarism, see comments above.

> The Preface to the French Edition seems utterly irrelevant to this
> discussion.

It relates to a point you made in a previous post about reading and
interpreting _Capital_. See comments on the "French public" and the
"royal road to science."

 As to vols 2 and 3 and their relation to vol 1, isn't Marx's
> letter to Meyer of 30 April 1867 crystal clear on this?
>
> 'The knowledge that a man of high principles has been secured for our Party
>  compensates me for the worst. ... [snip] ...
> I had to make use of _every_ moment when I was able to work to COMPLETE MY
>    BOOK [my emphasis], to which I have sacrificed health, happiness and
> family.
>

No, it is *not* clear. *Only* Volume 1 was completed by Marx.

> _Volume I_ comprises the _'Process of Capitalist Production'_ ... [snip] ...
>I hope the whole work will have been published a year from now. _Volume II_
> gives the continuation and conclusion of the theories [This refers to our
>present Vols 2 & 3], _Volume III the history of political economy from the
>middle of the seventeenth century_ [referring to our present Theories of
>  Surplus Value].
>

As I said before, what became Volumes 2 and 3 were VERY incomplete. TSV,
BTW, edited by Kautsky, did not include a great amount of what Marx wrote
on this subject. For you to sustain your argument, I believe, you either
have to show that the subject matters for the remaining 5 books were
incorporated into _Capital_ (I don't know of anyone who seriously
suggests this) or that Marx didn't consider those subjects important
anymore (a position which I find to be rather far-fetched).

> What's sterile is arguments about them that use them as an
> excuse to avoid appropriating what we actually have.

We need not only to appropriate what we already have. We need, as well,
to advance our understanding of capitalism unless: a) you think the world
hasn't changed since Marx's time; and b) you think the theory is
"complete" (which conflicts with  Marx's writings, a reading of the
context of those writings, and a consideration of the many topics
logically that require further investigation).

Jerry


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