Sunday, November 10, 2019

In the Pitts

This was going to be a small reply to ellenleinwand from my post here, but it grew large enough that it needed its own post.

As I am reading Open Marxism 4, I have come across a presentation of the matter by Frederick Harry Pitts appropriate to the comments here.  Pitts, explicating Heinrich as the most representative of the New Reading of Marx (NRM) proponents, says,
"The NRM suggest that value does not consist in the amount of labour-time expended in production by any one labouring individual.  It relates to the amount of time 'socially necessary for its production' (Marx).  For the NRM, value is subject to a social validation made after the concrete expenditure of labour (Heinrich 2012).  In production, value can thus only be a potential quantity, pending validation in the exchange of commodities."

The first two sentences are quite correct.  The third sentence however begins to express a problem.  "Value" is not subject to a social validation made after the concrete expenditure of labour, but the quantity of value, unless the value-form is only potential until C' become M', in which case we return to traditional Marxism via the back door that production is only verifiably capitalist if the end result is successful valorization.  Like traditional Marxism, capitalism remains in exchange, but does not go into production itself, and retains the capitalism as maldistribution-modernity split Postone and the Krisis/EXIT! journals levels such a trenchant critique of.

Pitts then seems to adjust course in the next sentence by stating that "In production, value can thus only be a potential QUANTITY."  And if I may nitpick, since it is critical in such an explication to dot the i's and cross the t's, it is possible that he should say "in the exchange of commodities for money", especially as Heinrich's claim to fame is his "monetary theory of value".

However, that evidence the slippage back and forth is not an accident, but immediately reappears.

"In this respect, a product of labour is not automatically a commodity.  By means of its sale it must be validated as such in order to enter into the value relation,  For a product to bear value, it must be a commodity."

Insofar as a commodity is something produced for exchange, that is, a presumed use-value for someone other than the producer, whose use-value for the producer is as something to be exchanged for another commodity or its universal form of appearance i.e. money, it is a commodity already prior to succeeding to be exchanged.  In point of fact, Marx does not refer to the C or the C' in M-C...P...-C'-M' as potential commodities, but as commodities (labour power, means of production and raw materials, that is, constant and variable capital, are already commodities because exchange has already taken place before production ever begins, and thus by the time production begins we are already wholly within the capital cycle, that is, M-C-M'.)

Secondly, a product of labour is obviously not necessarily ever a commodity.  Marx makes this point himself, but in relation to kinds of labours that, by their form, are not possibly value-producing, such as personal services in which the labor purchased is not used to produce something for excahnge with something else.  However, in the way Pitts puts the matter, in the context of the expanded capital cycle, he is not following Marx but Bailey.  He conflates what makes something a Commodity with whether or not particular unitsof ouput success as commodities.

Thirdly, let's take a situation of actual capitals, as opposed to the aggregate capital of Volume 1 where particular capitals are not what is under discussion, and let us say that we had 3 producers of computers, where column 1 is MoP, column 2 is labour power, column 3 is surplus value.

Let's assume a Rate of Surplus-Value of 100%, each produces 100 widgets in an hour, with constant and variable capital and surplus-value in dollars.

Producer #1 (socially average labour time)
50 + 50 + 50

Producer #2 (poor productivity)
50 + 80 + 80

Producer #3 (fully automated, no workers)
50 + 0 +0

$410 for 300 widgets
$150 constant capital
$130 hours of labour power (value)
$130 hours of surplus-value

Each widget is worth about $1.37, therefore each producer receives $137.77, so that Producer 1 has a rate of profit ~27%, Producer 2 has a rate of profit ~6%, but Producer 3 is way ahead with a rate of profit ~64%.

In a capitalist world, insofar as the realization of value in exchange is the determination of an aliquot part of value to each capital based on its productivity relative to the average socially necessary labor time, we have the peculiar outcome that for an individual capital, it is possible to have a 0 labor power expendure, but insofar as each producer is in the broad mesh of total capital, they all appropriate via their sales some portion of total value created by the total expenditure of labor power at the socially necessary average.

Pitts, and if he is correct about Heinrich and NML, cannot comprehend this: that an output  that is not a product of labor is still a commodity and can appropriate surplus-value.  It did not become a commodity through successfully being sold, it was a commodity because it was in the total cycle.

For a product to bear value... it must be part of total capital process, it must have had money spent on its production, even if that money is only on constant capital.  The point here being, insofar as the use-value was produced in a process begun with M-C...P... C' cannot but be a commodity entitled to an aliquot part of the total monetary expression of value equal to its C+V.

The only exception to this is the case in which something is produced and not one unit of the output is sold.  If even one unit of the output is sold, the originating capital recieves an (however infinitesimally small) aliquot part of total surplus value.

To not realize this, Pitts, and I am suggesting Heinrich as well, move loosely back and forth between treating Volume as about particular capitals and as aggregates.  Following Fred Moseley, I hold that Volume 1 is about aggregate capital, not particular capitals, and thus everything produced is a commodity because it is considered in the total capital cycle of M-C-M'.

Finally, if Pitts is correct his presentation of Heinrich, then it implies that Value is not merely realized in exchange, but only produced in exchange, since the ouput is not even a product of Commodity production if the commodities did not successfully get sold.  Taking a step further, the suggestion is that both the commodity and the value of the commodity only have a determinate social form because of exchange.  Again, Bailey, not Marx.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

What is Communism?

Jehu does these neat little nuggets and I think he hits this, above all else, on the head.

His own blog header starts with this:
"Communism is free time and nothing else!"

That is a good start.

This is the obvious one:
"Communism can only be defined as the complete abolition of wage labor, capital and the state, and the realization of the principle of “to each according to need”. If communization has any meaning, it is that the complete abolition of wage labor, capital and the state — a fully communist society — is possible right now, immediately."

This adds a little clarity to what the abolition of the working as a class means:
"There is only one way the proletarians can abolish themselves as a class: the buying and selling of labor power must be abolished."

But what does that really entail? This is a little more specific and it is very important [all subsequent italics mine]:
"A society characterized by the communist principle requires certain definite technical material conditions so that the social product can be distributed without regard to the labor contribution of its members. These conditions may not necessarily require the complete automation of production, but they must at least guarantee that whatever living labor is required can be met by voluntary contribution of the members of society. Basically, communism requires that wage labor is already superfluous to the production of material wealth at present."

Now that is some good stuff as a basic "elevator pitch" answer to the question, "What do you mean by communism?"
It does not tell us how to get there and is not political strategy, but it puts us in the right frame of mind because there is no question that we can produce enough to take care of people, that it can be done with many fewer hours of labor than even happens now, but further that even now, wage labor is superfluous to the production of material wealth.

Postcapitalism, Basic Income and the End of Work: A Critique and Alternative by Frederick Harry Pitts and Ana C. Dinerstein

A lot of this essay is a pretty convincing poke at the anti-work milieu, whether Left or Right, Accelerationist or (post-)Autonomist.  It is very much worth reading, especially as they point out how often these theories are predicated on a very masculine and middle-class flight from reproductive labor and "bullshit jobs" (Graeber), that is, work that doesn't suit their personal (intellectual/non-manual) creativity.

That is something very important to point out and a problem I have with people for whom the abolition of labor is the abolition of "the metabolic interchange between humanity and nature".  They are quite right to point out that the problem is not generic, transhistorical labor, but the social form of labor.  As I have tried to point out in earlier posts, it is the social form of labor as abstract domination that is at issue. 

The section outlining the way in which a Universal Basic Income (UBI) conforms both to a strong statism and nationalism seems very clear.  The way in which a UBI is managed through a citizen's right opens the way to deny the UBI to non-citizens, to the disenfranchised (in the United States, for example, would this also include persons who have lost the right to vote through felony offenses?)  They make a very strong presentation on how the authoritarian Modi government in India has looked to possibly use a UBI as a way to further mobilize national-chauvinism against minority groups.

A Problem?
There is a section near the beginning of the essay that I have problems with, and maybe it is just a matter of precision on their part, or maybe it is not.

"We suggest that the postcapitalist prospectus fails on three fronts. The first is that the post-work literature is productivist insofar as it sees ‘work’ as the central relation of capitalist society and not as the antagonistic relations of property, ownership and subsistence that logically and historically precede a society in which most people are compelled to sell their labour to live, nor the specific kind of results assumed by the products of that labour in the market."

What the part I have italicized seems to suggest is that Marx's critique is not a critique of relations of production, of abstract labor as determinate social form, but of relations of distribution (property, ownership).  Moishe Postone makes a very succinct critique of exactly this view and it remains his most enduring contribution to revitalizing Marx's work.  The problem with this view, in its most succinct sense, is that it is a criticism of property and ownership that leaves labor as determinate social form, as form of domination, untouched.  The logic is then that one needs to change who owns, to change the property relations, but it doesn't take issue with production as such.

I believe that Dinerstein and Pitts do actually want to call the social form of labor into question, but you cannot do so from the perspective of the relations of distribution.  It is labor, as the contradictory unity of concrete and abstract labor, itself which must be abolished because value as the social form of wealth is itself a category of production, not of exchange or circulation, that is, not a social form produced after production that leaves production beyond critique.

This dilemma probably arises from the adoption of the position now put forward by Michael Heinrich and Christopher J. Arthur that the value-form is produced through exchange.  This so-called monetary theory of value does exactly what Marx does not: it situates value as social form of wealth in exchange, rather than in production.

This essay also dovetails with a point made by Jehu, repeatedly, regarding the crisis of capital being one of the increasing superfluity of living labor leading to technologically-driven permanent unemployment due to the increasing organic composition of capital, as opposed to the increasing organic composition of capital increasing the difficulty of expanded valorization of value and hence of a crisis of overaccumulation.  The former, which Jehu ascribes to Endnotes (fairly or not), he says is a Keynesian position (fairly), whereas the latter is Marx's position. 

Dinerstein and Pitts point to a similar issue when they say that "But this is a very narrow understanding of capitalism that sees it synonymous with labour itself and not, as we have stated above, with value, commodities and a certain historically-specific set of antagonistic social relationsbased not around labour but labour-power. With the waning of work, we are told, technological unemployment renders the wage insufficient to secure workers' subsistence. Their labour-power- the pure potential to labour- must be reproduced through other means." [Italics mine - CW]

Here again we see this attempt to drag domination and exploitation out of the relation of capital and labor in the production process.  The fixation on labor-power comes at the expense of the problem of abstract labor.

This gets a little weird at the point at which they seem to claim that UBI would destroy the class struggle by putting an end to the struggle over property and ownership:

"This is an extreme example that usefully serves to highlight how, liquidating class struggles for a nationally-constituted citizenry, abstract utopias reliant on the UBI might also treat the class struggle as a closed case whilst largely retaining the current rule of property ownership, including, crucially, that of the means of production, for which no postcapitalist or  post-work vista gives a convincing vision for redress. The basic income, as a key principle of  the proposed post-work society, breaks here with some vital preconditions of worker organisation. In his analysis of the Keynesian state, Holloway argues that the latter constituted a specific ‘mode of domination’ (Holloway 1996, p. 8) for the Keynesian state contained the power of labour via the ‘monetization’ of class conflict: ‘In the face 13 of rigidity and revolt, money was the great lubricant. Wage-bargaining became the focus of both managerial change and worker discontent’ (Holloway 1996, p. 23). The crisis of Keynesianism was, in this sense, ‘a crisis of a form of containment of labour’ (Holloway, 1996, p. 27). The basic income could become, then, another form of domination of the power of labour, only that this time, rather than relying on class conflict, aims at obliterating it." [Italics mine - CW]

The key here is the idea that capital is a "form of domination of the power of labour".  If, however, domination is all the way down to the point of production, then it seems unlikely that a UBI scheme will obliterate class conflict.  The struggle after all is not merely over wages, but over the very imposition of labor as the necessary condition of life for the vast majority of human beings, of the conditions under which that domination takes place, of the logic for which production takes place, and so on.  In other words, the struggle against capital is the struggle against more than the distribution of the means of production, but over the very way in which those means of production are themselves an expression of domination.

This comes back to the problem that if the abolition of labor in the accelerationist sense has a merely technological determinist notion of what is wrong with capitalism, so too the fetishistic putting forward of labor as something to be liberated takes us backwards to the view of the identity of free labor and freedom, as opposed to freeing humanity from the imposition of labor on individuals as a precondition for the actual freedom of all.  Only when labor is no longer imposed, that is, when an individual's access to the means of life no longer depends on the performance of labor, will human beings be free.  Contra the accelerationists, that doesn't mean that human beings won't engage in the metabolic interchange with nature, but that that interchange will not govern the relations between human beings.

My problem with Dinerstein and Pitts, in the end, is not that they go too far, but do not go far enough.

The result is an especially trade-unionist view of matters that if the workers don't have income to fight over, they have no reason to fight the system:

"The basic income effectively abolishes any means by which workers can struggle for a better deal, liquidating class struggle and purporting to resolve its contradictions at the imaginary level of a nation state paying free money to a nationally-defined people. In so doing, the vista of an abolition of work afforded by the basic income serves up the fruits of struggle prematurely, without struggles having taken place. It temporarily defers the contradictions of class antagonism without resolution through the antagonism itself. This is ironic even on the terms of the postcapitalist argument itself, insofar as class struggle would be necessary to drive up wages to the extent that employers would be motivated to worth(sic - "replace"?) low-paid workers in bad jobs with machines in the first place. Yet none of the popular imaginaries of an automated future entertain this notion, outsourcing capitalist development to technology as a neutral force as opposed to one imbricated and resulting from wider social relations."

How is it that a UBI serves of the fruits of struggle prematurely?  Is there some bizarrely Christian self-flagellation requirement without which the working class is not entitled to the fruits of that suffering?

However, as is evidently the case, it doesn't resolve the antagonism itself.  And why not?  That is not actually addressed because to do so would involve taking up the point that the only problem with labor is not that it is monetized, but that it is the necessary form of activity that produces value, that is, that there is no value-form without human productive activity in the form of abstract labor.  The point being, that capital that would cease to employ living labor qua wage-labor would cease to produce value and collapse.

But we are not done yet.  About a page later we find out that "basic income...  purports to change the social relations under which we get paid for the better, but runs the risk of doing so for the worst precisely because the class struggle contained and concealed in the formal legal relationship between the buyer and seller of labour is elided."

Now the class struggle is contained and concealed in the exchange relation between buyer and seller.  This is really explicitly the end of the Marxian idea of a critique of the relations of production for one in which the real problem is the buyer-seller relation.  And yet Marx makes explicit that this is a relation of equality, one which he goes on to mock as the seller (the worker) is taken by the buyer (the capitalist) for a good tanning in the actual labor process itself.

In the end, UBI could only be deployed in a minimal manner.  Dinerstein and Pitts are more right than they seem to realize in pointing out that maintaining dependence on monetized relations, on the money-form, thus entails the maintenance of domination, but not because value is produced there, but because monetized relations assume a commodity that produces a surplus of wealth, not merely in material form, but in the social form of value.

Environmental(?) Crisis and that Guy

Posted at Cominsitu  https://cominsitu.wordpress.com/2019/09/23/a-sick-planet/

Debord, once again, decades ahead of his time.  And yet, one should ask, what is left of the idea of workers’ councils?  I do not mean to despair, but to ask in all fairness "What does the Left have in mind, if it has a mind at all, in imagining that such a thing might have any purchase in the present?"  If anything is clear right now, it is the lack of a revolutionary subjectivity presenting itself anywhere, in any way.

Like Debord at the end of his life, we should proceed recognizing that the police behave like revolutionaries and the revolutionaries are all police.  This is not to adore the police, but to recognize that the "radicals in balaclavas" were agent provocateurs and the radicals in balaclavas were "agent provocateurs". 

The potential is absolutely clear, and has been for five to six decades (Adorno and Horkheimer recognized it in the 1950's, and were not the first) that the way we live is insane, and that decency of life with a minimum of effort has long been present.  What Debord and Adorno took up was how such a potential could be repressed by a lifeless, a spectacular, a damaged, life.  The actuality of that crisis presents itself more virulently than ever before.

Arguably, in a piece filled with brilliant flashes of the brutal future-present, this passage struck me most profoundly:

"Nineteenth-century scientific optimism foundered over three main issues. The first was the claim that the advent of revolution was certain, and that it would ensure the happy resolution of existing conflicts; this was the left-Hegelian and Marxist illusion, the least acutely felt among the bourgeois intelligentsia, but the richest, and ultimately the least illusory. The second issue was a view of the universe, or even simply of matter, as harmonious. And the third was a euphorically linear conception of the development of the forces of production. Once we come to terms with the first issue we shall deal by extension with the third, thus enabling us, albeit much later, to address the second, to make it into that which is at stake for us. It is not the symptoms but the illness itself that must be cured. Today, fear is everywhere and we shall escape it only through our own strength, our own ability to destroy every existing kind of alienation and every image of the power that has been wrested from us: only by submitting everything except ourselves–to the sole power of workers’ councils, possessing and continually reconstructing the totality of the world–by submitting everything, in other words, to an authentic rationality, a new legitimacy."

The first illusion, richest and most profound indeed, at the time.  Today, even more difficult to feel among any part of the population except the intelligentsia

The second illusion, the view of the universe as harmonious is the foundation of the fetish of the natural sciences that is supposed to guide us today against the impending, the already-overwhelming, irrationalism.  And yet its predicate is a nature reducible to mathematics, to a logos only comprehensible through a Logos of God, a certainty of quantification outside of historicial specificity only in a deity-dominated universe.

The last presents itself in complete self-negation: the certainty of overproduction as our self-destruction alongside the certainty of production as our only way out.

All that is missing from Debord's piece, impossible for it was only emerging in his day and "the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk", is the simultaneous hagiography and demonology of financialization as the end-all and save-all of our crisis, of finance as cause and salvation.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Hegel's "the rational is real and the real is rational"

Hegel's famous quote from the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, "was vernünftig ist das ist wirklich und was wirklich ist das ist vernünftig", typically translated as "the rational is real and the real is rational" ought to be considered one of the most misunderstood phrases among his generally misunderstood work.

For example, the Wikipedia page on Hegel says the following:

"Hegelianism is the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel which can be summed up by the dictum that "the rational alone is real", which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. His goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of absolute idealism."

What, however, if this is mistaken? On the one hand, for Hegel, following from the Science of Logic, his attempt to begin without presuppositions, to think Being without any presuppositions, from an immediate, unmediated, sheer Being that itself turns out to immediately vanish into Nothing, leads him to the conclusion that the categories of Thought are also the categories of Being, not because we dogmatically assert, that is, assume, this is so, but through a lengthy logical working out. That is, if Thought can think Being without imposing its own presuppositions on it, then, contra the contemporary Pragmatist-influenced reading of Hegel's logic as non-ontological, Hegel's logic is an onto-logic. Following both Slavoj Zizek (Absolute Zero) and Stephen Houlgate (The Opening of Hegel's Logic), both of whom approach Hegel's thought in otherwise quite different ways, I would argue that Hegel proposes a non-dogmatic beginning to philosophy, unlike the modern metaphysics of Leibnitz, Spinoza, and Hegel's own contemporaries, that nonetheless takes seriously the critique of metaphysics pace Kant. To put the matter bluntly, Hegel is making claims about Being in a manner that does not correspond with deflationary notions of truth as argued by Robert Pippin in "Back to Hegel?" in the journal Mediations.

Hegel takes Kant's critique of prior metaphysics seriously insofar as he accepts that metaphysics made assertions about Being that presupposed what had to be proved, but at the same time Kant still presupposes certain things about Being, that is, what could and could not be said about Being, but further Kant simply takes the categories of thought without justification from traditional metaphysics, hence his putting forward of the twelve categories. The result in Hegel's work is the Science of Logic and the attempt to engage the questions metaphysics proposed while keeping Kant's own critique of pure reason in mind.

The end result, and one I would suggest is maintained by Marx, is that the categories of Thought are the categories of Being because the categories of Being can be thought adequately without importation of unjustified concepts by working through Being itself. The dilemmas of philosophical realism, which take for granted and defend the dualistic separation of Thought and Being whether in a (neo-)Kantian mode or an empirical-positivist mode (Trent Schroyer's book The Critique of Domination lays out the distinction between the two reasonably clearly), are fundamentally non-problems from the Hegelian and Marxian perspective. In the case of the latter, this is of course frequently not grasped and so you see nonsense like the split between Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism or Subjective Dialectic versus Objective Dialectic and various other dualisms which uncritically reproduce the aporias of dogmatic thought.

Simultaneously, the categories of thought are also not simply imported by Hegel wholesale from prior philosophy, but themselves come into being and disappear and then reappear in different ways. Not all social formations of humanity have access to the same categories of thought and they don't even necessarily think those categories in the same way. This does not mean that all categories of thought are social constructions as if they had no objectivity of their own, since if they are also categories of being they cannot be simply subjective. Nor do "older" categories necessarily have the same character as if they were immutable. This is fairly clear in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, which takes us through many shapes of consciousness, in which many categories appear repeatedly in different shapes of consciousness with differing degrees of determination and concretion.

However, there is a more important sense in which the reading of the original quote from Hegel is horribly mistaken, and that has to do with what Hegel means by "real" or "actual". Most commentators confuse the real with what exists. Of course if this was the case, then Hegel's point would be conservative at best, and really simply a wholesale justification of "things as they are".

Something is real in Hegel in a speculative sense, that is, not because it is materially there or because it is coherent, but because it has possibility. The real and what exists for Hegel are by no means the same thing at all.

Here I just want to end with a practical example of the speculative dimension of Hegel's statement.

Two people are in a long-term intimate relationship and they are nominally committed to spending the rest of their lives together. However, one of them then finds out that the other person has been having sex with their best friend for years. As it turns out, though the relationship existed, it was not real. Of course, the relationship is also then not rational exactly because an intimate relationship between two people involves honesty, trust, and so on between the two people and instead the foundation of the relationship was dishonesty and distrust; essentially a lie. Thus the relationship, which fully existed, turned out not to be real or rational.

We might then say that Hegel's statement is, at its heart, how we ought to read Marx's oft-quoted, always misunderstood:

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

Communism is the real that is rational within capital. Marx does not praise capital in The Communist Manifesto because it is itself great or rational, but because it's potential is communism, which is the rational outcome and inner dynamic of capital (all inner dynamics, if I may use that phrase, for Hegel are those of negation and so a rational outcome is also a self-negation), and therefore the real movement.



Thursday, December 21, 2017

Reflections On "REFLECTIONS ON MARX'S CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY"

http://faridabadmajdoorsamachar.blogspot.in/2013/06/reflections-pdf.html?m=1

It's taking a bit of time to look through this, but I have not seen it before.

I do have some initial reflections:

The basis of their criticism of Marx is the confusion over the historical precedence of exchange and circulating capital to productive capital versus the logical precedence of productive capital over them.  As Capital is not a historicist work, there is no reason to believe that the historical order is the same as the logical order, especially as come into a world of generalized commodity production.  As such, capital did not subvert its own rules (p. 4) since merchant and usurious capital existed on the fringes of non-capitalist society, and thus money, commodity, value, etc. as constitutive social forms were at best nascent in them, but not yet wholly socially determinate.  Once productive capital subsumes the whole of society, non-productive capital only then truly becomes capital.

The confusion brought about by this is immediately evident because they argue that profits were made by the "different socially necessary labor times for the production of a thing".  However, socially necessary labor time and exchange-value only have bearing in generalized commodity production, in already capitalist society.  As such, the wealth that came from merchant and usury capital does not take the form of value.  Petty commodity production was not a mode of production, there was no exchange-value or use-value for that matter, since there was no value.  There was no abstract labor or concrete labor.  All of those categories only have bearing in relation to capital, that is, in the situation in which M-C-M' will actually work itself out to be M-C...P...C'-M'.

However, it is necessary to begin with M-C-M' because that is how capital appears.  This appearance is not false, so much as incomplete.  Marx will spend the first 6 chapters moving through different ideas of commodity, money, value, etc. and each chapter is driven to the next by its own inadequacy in grasping capital.  The first 6 chapters are about showing why value and surplus-value in generalized commodity society cannot come from exchange, which necessitates beginning with M-C-M', since C-M-C clearly doesn't lead with any necessity to an infinite cycle.

This is also why even if M-C-M' is only how capital appears, it is nonetheless not therefore simply an illusion.

Then there is the common misconception that "capital is a social relation".  I would say that Capital is closer to Hegel's notion of Concept in the Science of Logic

"The understanding determines, and holds the determination fixed. Reason is negative and dialectical, since it dissolves the determinations of the understanding into nothing; it is positive, since it generates the universal, and comprehends the particular therein. Just as the understanding is usually taken as something separate from reason in general, so also dialectical reason is taken as something separate from positive reason. In its truth reason is however spirit, which is higher than both reason bound to the understanding and understanding bound to reason. It is the negative, that which constitutes the quality of both the dialectical reason and the understanding: it negates the simple, thereby posits the determinate difference of the understanding; but it equally dissolves this difference, and so it is dialectical. But spirit does not stay at the nothing of this result but is in it rather equally positive, and thereby restores the first simplicity, but as universal, such as it is concrete in itself; a given particular is not subsumed under this universal but, on the contrary, it has already been determined together with the determining of the difference and the dissolution of this determining. This spiritual [obviously for Marx 'spiritual' is not the right word - me] movement, which in its simplicity gives itself its determinateness, and in this determinateness gives itself its self-equality – this movement, which is thus the immanent development of the concept, is the absolute method of the concept, the absolute method of cognition and at the same time the immanent soul of the content."

They further go on to talk as if there were such a thing as "simple commodity production" as something distinct from, as a kind of mode of production independent of, capital.  Aside from Engels' complete misunderstanding of the matter, I don't see a point in Marx's text that would allow for this reading.

Reading on through, I think there continue to be significant problems with how they comprehend Marx's actual work.  It is a bit like reading Marx's critique of Hegel, in that one really feels like Hegel is the name ascribed to the Young Hegelians, and therefore much of the criticism of Hegel as more aptly a criticism of the Young Hegelian reading of Hegel.  In the same manner, this essay is wrangling with post-Marx Marxism, and particularly the versions of it that one might call Orthodox Marxism, the Marxism of the 2nd and Third Internationals.

The reason this matters is simply that a lot of what Marx is actually engaged in cannot be read since they see a work like Capital through the lenses of Engels, Lenin, Kautsky, Luxemburg, Pannekoek, et al, and most of this stuff is nearly worthless for us today.  Marx, however, retains a freshness that speaks to the moment.

Allow me to give examples. 

The first mistake is evident in the idea that Marx's Capital is a critique of capitalist society, and thus Capital is an empirical, historicist text that must project an ideal in order to be coherent.  I would argue that that text is nothing of the sort.  Marx's work is, firstly, a critique of political economy.  Marx is rather explicit about this, as that is the subtitle.  Very few people, however, think about that very seriously and so they assume that Marx is simply presenting a better political economy, not a critique of political economy as such, as an attempt to rationally comprehend capitalism as a rational object.  This obscure the irrationality that Marx identifies both within capital and political economy. 

Instead, we should see Capital differently.  It remains immanent to political economy's categories and is a critique of those categories and their insufficiency, and insofar as political economy is capital thinking about itself in a rigorous way, about its being-for-itself if one wanted to borrow a Hegel-ism, Marx considers it scientific, which in his Hegelian sense would mean both ontological and systematic, wissenschraft, not scientific in the natural-sciences sense which takes the object of its investigation for granted.  Actually, beginning with J.S. Mill in particular, Marx excoriates as vulgar economics or vulgar political economy the shift from wissenschaft to natural scientific approaches to a decidedly non-natural object.

Capital thus moves like a Hegelian phenomenology of categories taken from within political economy, not proposed from outside of it, developing a "science of logic" of capital through the limitedness of those categories from their abstractness to greater and greater degrees of concretion.  As such, the complaint that Marx does not take into account states and cannot explain wars misses that Marx never actually arrives at The State or International Money/Finance because those were supposed to be a part of the 4th volume of Capital, and could only be dealt with at a degree of concretion that was beyond what Marx was able to complete in his lifetime and which was largely never taken up afterwards, with only a few exceptions, prior to the last quarter of the 20th century and even then, as a completely heterodox strand of Marxian thought.  One of the more engaging recent pieces on exactly this is Werner Bonefeld's excellent book

Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy: On Subversion and Negative Reason.



A second mistake is to think that Marx is not concerned with realization of value or that he held to a disproportionality theory of crisis.  He is explicitly concerned with the realization of value and issues arising from it and all crisis in Marx is logically a crisis of valorization.  However, the problems that arise from the failure of realization, from what we might call a part of a crisis of accumulation, could only be partially developed in his incomplete work.  It is already implicit, however, in his discussion of value and price and the implication that value and price are never the same in actuality.  That is, insofar as the validation of the expenditure of labor, raw materials and means of production into potential values only is realized in exchange, there is always the situation that no individual capital can ever gauge socially-necessary labor time accurately.  This is part of the reason that command capitalist economies, rather than market capitalist economies, are so much more rigid and stagnant.  Competition between capitals through freely floating prices really is the only way that winners and losers can be sorted out in a way that is not directly distorting (it is indirectly distorting, but that comes back to the problem of the necessity of the critique of value to grasp the social form and nature of crisis, and why competition models fail.)


The third mistake is the attribution to Marx that the overthrow of capitalism is the overthrow of relations of distribution (private ownership of the means of production.)  They are quite clearly wrong that "Exproprition of capitalists or the dissolution of the private power of the individual capitalists would thus obviously be the negation of capital", not simply as a statement, but as attributing this view to Marx.  Marx's critique is not a critique of distribution, but of the very mode of production itself, and thus of labor, of value, of money, etc.  Postone's work has been critical to recovering this dimension of Marx's work (see the recent “The Current Crisis and the Anachronism of Value”


Of course, they are quite right to reject the idea that overcoming private ownership of the means of production is the end of capital, even if they got there by throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  However, they would get much more out of Marx if they gave up reading him through their Leninist-tinted lenses, a tint that they have not because they are Leninists, but because they end up reading Marx through lenses they purport to want to stop wearing.  It would make the work of a more adequate critical theory against capital less difficult.


I also fully concur in their statement that Monopoly Capitalist analyses take us away from the critique of capital, that they "blatantly subvert the analyses of value relations i.e. they render impossible the comprehension of the social distribution of labour in commodity economy."  This is fully evident not only in obvious ways with writers like Robert Brenner fetishize intra-capitalist competition as the locus of capitalist crisis, and therefore the competition between states as central to crisis, but very much also in what would seem to be quite otherwise critical Marxists, such as Endnotes, which in their last issue largely adopted the stupidity of Brenner, and the British SWP trotskyists who always understood their state capitalism as provable through the competition between states.

The further conclusion that theories of imperialism, oppressed and oppressor nations, etc. is reactionary rubbish is on very solid ground.  My complaint would simply be that I sense a tendency (and let me be clear, it is a sense of a tendency, not a claim that this is quite made explicit) in the text to want to shrug aside gender, nationality, sexuality, race, etc as kind of fake and class struggle as real.  As I see it, this would be radically false, insofar as it confuses the critique of political economy with a reification of class.  Race, gender, sexuality, etc are very much categories of capitalist society and are as connected to the logic of capital as class.  I would argue that part of the crisis of communist ideas today is the end of the working class as a third estate, as a social group with its own culture, ideas, and separation from society a a whole.  It is also the foundation of the possibility of returning to Marx's work as the critique of labor rather than as the critique of capitalism from the point of view of labor.

I haven't gone though all of their notes, and I probably won't because it is a rehearsal of a lot of things I have read over the years.


That said, I appreciate their attempt to grapple with the present and to abandon orthodox Marxism and I am very sympathetic to their political conclusions, but they need to go rather further with their critique and oddly enough they will not get there without recovering Marx.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Christian Thorne • Commonplace Book

Very interesting site recently brought to my attention.  Between articles and the new translation work on Adorno'sNegative Dialectics, very worthwhile.

Christian Thorne • Commonplace Book

I do not exactly agree with his points about Marx's relation to ontology, as I do not think Marx is a deflationary thinker and hence we cannot replace the word "materialism" with "pragmatism" without accepting the Kantian transcendental move.

His point that Marx is close to Pyrrhonic skepticism is spot on, but Hegel was also an admirer and supporter of the same Pyrrhonic skepticism, as is evident from his reading of it in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy.  However, this is important in part because that skepticism does not throw out truth in the post-Kantian manner or in a way similar to the skepticism of the Scottish Enlightenment.