Brenner, C. L. R. Ja mes, & José Carlos Mariátegui

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Thu Oct 26 01:39:40 MDT 2000

Colin wrote to Jim D.:

>Jim D writes:
>>  Anyway, please don't just _assert_ that capitalism needs slaves, etc.
>  > Tell me the logic behind your argument.
>It is a serious error to reason from the structural completeness of an
>abstract model of capitalism to the notion that capitalism in the real
>world is structurally complete and free-standing.  (For about the same
>reason that we shouldn't reason from the awe-inspiring structural
>completeness of Walrasian general equilibrium to a real world without
>power.)  We should not confuse models with the things modeled.
>(This is a problem Marx wrestled with -- there's a reason why _Capital_
>sticks the problem of origins rather awkwardly at the end of the first
>volume.  It's a problem in any kind of structuralist thought.  There's
>no easy solution, but if you look at Marx's work as a whole I'd suggest
>that he thought that concrete historical work and abstract analysis have
>to talk to each other and push at each other's limits.  Marxism is not
>just volume 1 of _Capital_.)

I don't think that Jim is confusing a model with lived history.  Jim
is simply suggesting that, in the course of necessary empirical
investigations of the history & current conjuncture of capitalism
(its origins, development, present state, etc.), we should not fall
for empiricism (= an inability to see the forest for the trees)
and/or functionalism (= what is "needed" by the "whole" _will_ be
provided = erasure of struggles & contingencies).

Also, there is a good reason why Marx starts _Capital_ with a
"structuralist" analysis, rather than a "historical" one.  Marx wants
us to grasp the generative mechanism (the specific way in which
surplus gets extracted as surplus _value_; why the "discovery" of the
"labor theory of value" does not free us from commodity fetishism;
etc.) of the specificity of capitalism that distinguishes it from all
other modes of production.  An empiricist and/or functionalist
analysis of history, unlike a historical materialist one, erases this
specificity, implicitly or explicitly.  More than anything else,
_Capital_ and _Grundrisse_ are a critique of _political economy_.

*****   ...Whenever we speak of production, then, what is meant is
always production at a definite stage of social
development-production by social individuals.  It might seem,
therefore, that in order to talk about production at all we must
either pursue the process of historic development through its
different phases, or declare beforehand that we are dealing with a
specific historic epoch such as e.g. modern bourgeois production,
which is indeed our particular theme.  However, all epochs of
production have certain common traits, common characteristics.
Production in general is an abstraction, but a rational abstraction
in so far as it really brings out and fixes the common element and
thus saves us repetition.  Still, this general category, this common
element sifted out by comparison, is itself segmented many times over
and splits into different determinations.  Some determinations belong
to all epochs, others only to a few.  [Some] determinations will be
shared by the most modern epoch and the most ancient.  No production
will be thinkable without them; however even though the most
developed languages have laws and characteristics in common with the
least developed, nevertheless, just those things which determine
their development, i.e. the elements which are not general and
common, must be separated out from the determinations valid for
production as such, so that in their unity -- which arises already
from the identity of the subject, humanity, and of the object, nature
-- their essential difference is not forgotten.  _The whole
profundity of those modern economists who demonstrate the eternity
and harmoniousness of the existing social relations lies in this
forgetting_.  For example.  No production possible without an
instrument of production, even if this instrument is only the hand.
No production without stored-up, past labour, even if it is only the
facility gathered together and concentrated in the hand of the savage
by repeated practice.  Capital is, among other things, also an
instrument of production, also objectified, past labour. Therefore
capital is a general, eternal relation of nature; that is, _if I
leave out just the specific quality which alone makes 'instrument of
production' and 'stored-up labour' into capital_.  The entire history
of production relations thus appears to Carey, for example, as a
malicious forgery perpetrated by governments....   (emphasis mine,
Karl Marx, _Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political
Economy_, at
<>   *****

This is in fact very difficult to keep in mind, and even very good
Marxists tend to forget it often.  However, it is absolutely
necessary to resist this "forgetting," since ideology emerges through
the "forgetting."


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