Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jim Kincaid's Reading of Capital: Notes on his contributions to Historical Materialism 13:2

This will be a series of notes focused on Jim Kincaid's contributions to the journal Historical Materialism.  Kincaid is cited by Nicole Pepperell as a kindred spirit in his reading and so I have wanted to read his work in detail for some time.  My reading of Chris O'Kane's doctoral thesis has spurred me to take this up now.

HM 13.2 Debating the Hegel-Marx Connection: Editorial Introduction

Raises the question as to whether or not the value-form analysis is capable of going beyond a "high level of generality":

" At  stake  is  how  Marxist  political  economy  can  contribute scientifically and in a concrete way to the theory and practice of anticapitalism today. The value-form reading of Marx, which Arthur and others advocate, involves a root-and-branch repudiation of capitalism as an essentially inhuman totality  and  finds  practical  expression  in  a  politics  of  uncompromising opposition to capitalism. But its account of capitalism tends to remain only at a high level of generality. Is it possible to derive from value-form theory more detailed Marxist accounts of the structural diversity and varying historical trajectories of the economic and political formations within which everyday struggles  of opposition  and  transformation  have  to  be  waged?"

Just as a grumble, though we will see if this grumble finds substantial issues later, why do we want a Marxist Political Economy?  Was Marx doing an alternate, "more accurate" political economy?  I don't think we or Marx wanted anything of the sort.

My next objection is with the following:
"Familiarity with Marx’s great work can lead us to forget the strangeness of its argument. Its major topic is how capitalism works as a productive system [italics mine], using nineteenth-century England as its prime example."

I don't actually think that this is the major topic of Capital since that would assume Marx's priority is a kind of positive sociology at best and a Marxist Political Economy at worst.  It also simply ignores the subtitle of Marx's work, a critique of political economy.  Certainly, the book is concerned with "how capitalism works", but that would assume that 1) it does work, and 2) that it's main feature is as "a productive system" rather than a system of domination.

"Hegel’s  Logic (in  its  two  versions)  was  a  vital influence in Capital because Marx learned from it a method of developing an argument in which the essential mechanisms of capitalism as a system were explained in terms of dialectical necessity and interdependence."

The first question I have is what Marx means by a "method of treatment"?  The answer is undoubtedly in the oft-quoted introduction where he discusses the method of research versus the method of presentation, which is actually like Hegel's: the extensive appropriation of the material and their minute analysis pulling together all of the interconnections in the material, but then a method of presentation which starts with the results of the finished analysis and presents them logically, rather than historically or in the same manner as the appropriation of the material happened, so that we also end up with a work that has the appearance of an an a priori construction.

Mechanisms and system are, well, mechanistic rather than organic.  In fact, the mechanistic and systemic appearance of capital is part of the mask of it's autonomy and totality.  We should not therefore think of Marx as himself falling into the trap of the very fetish-character of capital he is intending to lay out.

A rather hackneyed notion of dialectic.

This is the presentation of dialectic as a positive logic, a kind of alternative to formal logic, which has its own "forms of thought and science", but it is forms of thought which have their own dialectic, not dialectic which has "forms of thought".

I cannot help my allergic reactions (philosophically speaking) to "a complex economic system who elements are interdependent".  This is Whitehead's process philosophy, but not Marx.  There is no trace of Cartesian atomism, in which "elements" are "interdependent" in a "complex system", like a machine.  There are no elements or parts composing a system (complex or not.)  Neither Marx nor Hegel is given to a genus-species ordering of elements under the complex system.  As Hegel criticizes this ordering in Observing Reason in the Phenomenology of Spirit, so Marx does the same in Capital regarding the money-form.

Also, Marx is not writing about a totality as "a given whole", but as something which is only a totality qua capital.  Postone is much clearer on totality in Capital than this.

This account of Hegel's Logic is embarrassing.  Hegel does not begin with "the simplest and most elementary concepts which are used in everyday life."  His work in the Logic presumes the achievement of the Phenomenology.  Further, he begins with the most abstract concepts, which are not simple, elementary or everyday.

HM 13.2 A Critique of Value-Form Marxism
This is the second piece by Kincaid in response to Chris Arthur.

The idea of "a counter-text which unfolds in two dimensions" is interesting.
"(1)  An  explicit  set  of  arguments  about  the  omnipresence  of  use-values,  at work  at  the  heart  of  the  value-form  system  and  its  sequence  of  trans-formations. We can agree with Arthur that Capital is centrally concerned with social forms. But, in Arthur’s account, only exchange-value has form; use-value is defined solely in qualitative terms. Something of fundamental importance is being overlooked. Embedded in Marx’s story is an account of the forms assumed by use-values, and the ways in which they disrupt the regular rhythms of capitalist reproduction."[Italics mine - CDW]

"(2)  The  text  of  Capital is  rich  in  poetry:  an  astounding  array  of  metaphors and  rhetorical  strategies  are  deployed.  These  function  to  qualify  and subvert the abstractness of the political economy discourse of Capital. The counterforces which surge through Marx’s text register that his concern is  not  just  to  explain  capitalism  but,  in  every  way,  to  contest  it.  That challenge is enacted within his own text. There is a performative dimension in Capital. It does not just talk about the need to oppose capitalist abstraction. Disruptive  and  subversive  forces  are  released  within  the  text  itself  to undermine abstraction. Marx does use Hegel’s idealist logic in ways which Arthur’s  discussion  helps  to  clarify.  But  Marx  also,  in  his  own  phrase, ‘coquets’  with  Hegel,  and  refuses  to  play  along  with  the  strict  rules  of Hegelian dialectic, which include a ban on metaphors and images. 3" [Italics mine - CDW]

I see no problem with the first point yet, though this is a preliminary note.  I wait to see how Kincaid develops it.

The second point is partially correct about Marx, but wrong about Hegel.  Hegel does not ban metaphor and images, but is keenly aware of their limits.  In fact, thinking is strictly impossible without representation, but cannot remain bound to the level of representational thought.  A keener appreciation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, especially in the Revealed Religion section, but many other places as well, esp. in Spirit, is required because there Hegel deals with the dialectic of representational thought and properly conceptual thought.  This is also true of Marx's work, and thus we should be aware of the how Marx puts forward representational thought, inverting images and metaphors to undermine their claim to complete representation (to complete truth), and at the same time, displaying the inadequacy of images and metaphors conceptually.

This second point is clearly where there is an affinity with Nicole Pepperell's work, though so far I feel that Pepperell has a much better grasp of Hegel.

"Finally, Arthur is insistent that a clear line of separation must be drawn between the type of dialectic
used  to  explain  systems,  and  dialectical  explanations  of  historical  change. What is underplayed in his discussion is that systems themselves are subject to historical development, processes of formation and disintegration. Capitalism as a mode of production has gone through a number of fundamental structural mutations. I argue that, in explaining capitalism historically, what is essential
in Marxist political economy is not value-form theory, but Marx’s dynamic theorisation of capitalist competition, summarised in the shorthand term law of value. 5"

I don't know if this is true of Arthur's account, though I see elements of a similar dualism in Chris O'Kane's account of a distinction between a critical-genetic method of analysis and a dialectical method of presentation (see p. 46 of Chris O'Kane's doctoral thesis.)  If it is correct, then the dynamism and fluctuation of the phenomenal forms would be something Arthur could not really account for, being trapped between a static "system" on one side and a separate logic of change on the other.

What bothers me, however, is the idea that "what is essential... is not value-form theory, but Marx's dynamic theorisation of capitalist competition, summarised in the shorthand term law of value."  This strikes me as completely in error since it immediately puts the central point of Marx's work not on the constitution and the constituens of that constitution of capital as a historically specific social form which therefore is limited and mortal, but an emphasis on the competition of capitals, that is, a rather banal treatment of "how capitalism works as a productive system", to refer back to Kincaid's introduction to this volume of HM 13:2.  How this is going to be more than just Capital as a better, more accurate political economy eviscerated of all of its critical content escapes me.

It is interesting that he cites Heinrich as something of a kindred spirit from within the value-form camp.  This also returns me to a point I made in an earlier post that even if one accepts Backhaus' monetary theory of value (and I think at the level of the concept that value can only appear as money, that the money-form is the mode of existence of value, is in fact correct, and that Postone and Murray agree with that point), there is no need to accept the ways in which Arthur or Heinrich develop it.

I like his point about The Value-Form or Exchange-Value
"One of the key threads which runs through Marx’s chapter about the value-form  is  that  the  equivalence  between  two  commodities  which  exchange  is based  on  their  being  the  products  of  quantities  of  labour.  ‘As  values, commodities  are  simple  congealed  quantities  of  human  labour . . .  abstract labour’. 8 Abstract  labour  has  been  defined  earlier  as  ‘the  value-forming
substance’,  measured  as  quantities  of  socially  necessary  labour  time. 9"

Of course, Postone and Murray have no problem with this, having laid out the same critique of Arthur, and so it would seem that the issue is with a certain reading of the value-form theory, rather than the value-form theory as such.  Murray, and I agree with this, is lively to the necessary element of any form-analytic approach having the Aristotelian dimension, in which forms are never empty and thus Arthur is following a rather non-Hegelian, non-Aristotelian notion of form that puts it forward as an empty abstraction.  This is also visible in my criticism of Chris O'Kane's doctoral thesis, which however does not succumb to Kincaid's claim that value-form theory ignores this section.  Quite the contrary, O'Kane deals with it openly and clearly.

Other writers have noted (Murray 1988, I believe, among others) that Marx'd dialectic is not presuppositionless in the sense Hegel would use the term, since human existence at any given moment presupposes the necessity of human self-reproduction.  God, not "producing or reproducing" Itself, is capable of being purely sans presuppositions.

However, there is the other sense of presuppositionless that is appropriate to Marx, which is that the historically specific and determinate categories cannot be presupposed, but must be posited and then grounded, but in such a way that what begins as abstract is made concrete.

Werner Bonefeld's new book Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy does exactly this with his analysis of value and originary accumulation and should be taken up as a significant contribution to the critique of political economy.

His point that "Marx brings use-value into the heart of the value-form" seems very good to me, but then again I have long ceased to entertain the fantasy that imagined that use-value wasn't itself part of the value-form, that is, that it was not itself the socially specific form of something being 'useful".  How the qualitative dimension could escape form-determination escapes me.

I also see no reason why this would pose a problem for Postone or Murray and they see themselves as inheritors of the Backhaus/Reichelt tradition of critical theory and value.

References to "material things" may be infrequent in Hegel's Logic, but they are very common in the Phenomenology of Spirit and I would suggest that Marx's Capital is simultaneously a Phenomenology and a Logic, and this is quite possibly necessary for a materialist philosophy of practice.

Hard to say how accurate of a critique of Arthur this is, but as an account of money, it seems relatively good.

"In the risky transition from commodity  to  money,  lies  the  possibility  of  capitalist  crisis,  and,  in  later sections of Capital, Marx develops detailed accounts of the concrete ways in which  disproportionality  between  supply  and  demand  (in  the  market  for means of production, as well as for consumer goods) finds expression in crises of  over-investment,  inadequate  levels  of  consumption,  and  falling  rates  of profit. 35 The use-value category is decisive here. If the commodity does not make the grade as a use-value needed by a buyer on the market – then the value  of  that  commodity  remains  only  virtual,  not  realised . . .  not  yet  real. It is crucial to see the flow of production, circulation and the sale of commodities – as taking place in real time, that is, as transactions conducted by actors who make their decisions at a particular point in time, and faced with an inherently uncertain future."

From this point, Kincaid goes into a much more intensive analysis of Marx's use of language, which I think is worth reading itself and so I may wait to comment on it until a later time or add to this later.

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