Reply to Chicago Political Workshop, Chris Cutrone, and Principia Dialectica
On plagiarism, Postone, and “the” present.
By Andrew Kliman.
1. First, I want to respond to the charge that I plagiarize Moishe Postone, by categorically denying it.When, last July, Sean of Principia Dialectica put forward the allegation of plagiarism (using somewhat different words), I tried to overlook it. I thought that the charge wouldn’t be taken seriously, given that Sean left it wholly unsubstantiated. But now I see that the charge has indeed been taken seriously, repeated, and perhaps implicitly endorsed, by the Chicago Political Workshop, in a posting two days ago.
That Sean first encounters some idea in Postone, and then encounters a somewhat similar idea when he hears Kliman, tells us something about the process of Sean’s intellectual development. It tells us nothing about the process of development of the ideas. It is not evidence of plagiarism.
But as far as I can see, when Sean alleges that “Postone’s book is having a much more profound effect on” Kliman than he is “prepared to admit,” and that at “Kliman’s talk in London it was evident that Postone’s influence had rubbed off … although … he was loathe to admit it,” the case against me rests wholly on the sequence in which Sean personally encountered the ideas.
For the record: My understanding of capital(ism) and Marx’s critique of it were pretty much fully formed by or before 1988, when I completed my Ph.D. at the age of 33. The key thinker who influenced my views on these matters was Marx himself. (It is strange, indeed, to allege that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement when his Time, Labor, and Social Domination is not a primary text, but an interpretation of a work to which we both have access, Marx’s Capital!) My views were also deeply influenced by the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, and there were lesser influences-such as I. I. Rubin and various authors of the 1970s and 1980s who discussed “abstract labor” and “value-form.”
I read Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination in the mid 1990s, but it did not make a strong impression on me, for three reasons: (a) my views were already well formed; (b) much of Postone’s argument was not new to me, since it was quite similar to things developed in the “abstract labor” and “value-form” discussions of 10-20 years before (as Chris Arthur noted in his mid-1990s review of Postone’s book in Capital and Class); and (c) Postone’s view of abstract and concrete labor is so different from Marx’s, and his exegetical interpretation of Marx’s concepts of abstract and concrete labor is so wrong, that I didn’t find his book particularly helpful in order to further develop my own thinking.
But what have I said that sounds so Postone-like to Sean (and perhaps also the Chicago Political Workshop)? I’m guessing it is the following: “In his talk Kliman spelt out in a clear manner that value- as the mediator of human relations – is the subject that needs to be overcome if we are all to move towards creating a fully human society.”
Well, I arrived at this perspective by studying the work of Dunayevskaya (principally from Marxism and Freedom and from her writings of the 1940s which argued that the USSR was a state-capitalistsociety because the law of value operated there), and then from Marx himself, when I re-studiedCapital in light of her interpretation. Here’s something Ted McGlone and I wrote about this issue that was published in 1988-i.e., well before the appearance of Postone’s book:
radical economists’ views on value theory have seemingly crystallized into two main approaches, characterised by de Vroey (1982) as the ‘technological’ and ‘social’ paradigms. As students of a third, humanist problematic, we hope in this paper to create a dialogue with proponents of other approaches …. Our own view is neither ‘technicist’ nor market-oriented, but a production-centred value theory of labour . In short, we take capitalist technological relations themselves to be social relations, class relations of dead to living labour in production . ‘[L]abour is expressed in value’ because ‘the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite’ (Marx, 1977 : 174-75) . We do not de-emphasise the quantitative aspect of Marx’s value theory, however; this paper, for instance, attaches great importance to the aggregate equalities which obtain in Marx’s transformation procedure .” [pp. 56-57 of Andrew Kliman and Ted McGlone, "The Transformation Non-Problem and the Non-Transformation Problem," Capital and Class 35, Autumn 1988]
I request that a link to the above response be published wherever the allegation appears that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement, and that the allegation itself be withdrawn. [Update, May 28: the Chicago Political Workshop kindly and promptly honored these requests.--AJK]
2. I am pleased that the Chicago Political Workshop and I agree that “those on the left who treat all attempts to understand the political economy of capitalism as rank economism” should be taken to task. I hope that this can be the beginning of a fruitful dialogue.
3. The Chicago Political Workshop writes, “It is our sense that Kliman’s work thus far is inadequate to his own charge, but that he is right that understanding capitalism is essential to overcoming it.” Okay, I’ll bite: why is my work thus far inadequate to my own charge? (And what exactly does this mean-what charge, exactly?) I’m not trying to pick a fight here; I’m always seeking to improve my work. And maybe there are different views here about the kinds of things that need to be developed, which would then be a potentially fruitful topic for discussion.
4. In response to the Chicago Political Workshop post, Chris Cutrone engaged some of the issues yesterday. It is not clear to me whether Chris is criticizing me, and if so, why. But his posting can be read as one that links me to “traditional Marxism”-”Instead, it becomes a matter of one form of analysis (Postone) as better than another (Kliman, et al., or, as Postone puts it, ‘traditional Marxism’)”-and to an alleged call for “for some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalism” to the exclusion of other analyses and inquires.
Again, I’m not sure of Chris’s intent, so I’ll just discuss this possible reading. The “traditional Marxism” notion is strange and ill-informed. What is “traditional Marxism” about the Marxist-Humanism developed by Raya Dunayevskaya, which the Marxist-Humanist Initiative is now attempting to renew organizationally? She was no traditional Marxist in the eyes of the traditional Marxists who turned her into an un-person (the historical-literary allusion is intentional). What is “traditional Marxism” about the temporal single-system interpretation of Marx’s value theory, the proponents of which, myself included, have been turned into un-persons (the historical-literary allusion is intentional) by the traditional Marxist value theorists?
As for the alleged call for “for some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalism” to the exclusion of other analyses and inquiries, I have no affinity with it. I am not calling for people to come down on one side or the other of a rigid, binary, either/or choice between “economics” and everything else. I think the notion that we have to pick and choose is ridiculous.
Unfortunately, Chris doesn’t agree that it is ridiculous. For reasons that are unclear to me, he presents the options open to us as a rigid either/or choice: “As if the reproduction of capital is primarily a matter of *economics* (and not politics, culture, or ideology)!” Why do we have to choose? Can’t it be a matter of all four? And why the word “primarily”? This seems to suggest that there must be a hierarchy of determinants that’s the same in all cases, and that “economics” is separate from-if not indeed opposed to-politics, culture, and ideology, rather than all of them being mutually constituting moments of one total process.
The need to choose also seems to be implicit in the following phrases of Chris’s: “THE problem of capitalism” and “THE problem of capital” (my caps). I don’t really understand these phrases, but I’m skeptical of the reduction of a very complex set of processes to one “problem”-THE problem. But note that if there’s just one problem, then it’s more plausible that there’s just one best approach to THE problem, and thus it becomes more plausible that we have to choose THE best approach.
And then Chris says, “We do indeed need an adequate analysis of our contemporary situation. Platypus chooses, quite deliberately, to analyze the present in terms of history, the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” I have no problem with analyzing “the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” That’s also what Dunayevskaya did, again and again, and it’s what my comrades and I in Marxist-Humanist Initiative are trying to do today.
But here again, Chris burdens us with a dubious “the”: “analyze THE present in terms of history … a history of unresolved problems on the Left” (my caps). The only sense I can make of this is that Chris means that Platypus chooses, quite deliberately , to ignore any dimension of “the” present that can’t be sliced and diced so as to fit the Procrustean bed of “a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” For surely, to take just one key example, the current NON-reproduction of capital-the current economic (and therefore political, cultural, and ideological) crisis-is a significant aspect of “the problem of capital” today, an important aspect of “the present.” But there just ain’t no way that one can fruitfully discuss it “as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” Unless one wants to just ignore this significant dimension of “the present,” I think it would be more useful to seriously study the theories of value and crisis in Capital and the daily news in the financial press.
Chris writes, “Whereas Marx critiqued the bourgeois philosophy and political-economy of the heroic period (of Kant and Hegel and Adam Smith and David Ricardo, et al.) and the ideology of his contemporary socialist “Left” (of Proudhon, et al.) … we in Platypus start with the problematic consciousness on the present-day “Left” and its historical roots, what the present “Left” has abandoned as being symptomatic of its fatal problems.” Again, I have no trouble with subjecting to scrutiny “the problematic consciousness” of the contemporary Left. But Chris’s historical analogy suffers, I think, from an insufficient appreciation of the Kantian sense in which Marx “critiqued” political economy. It was a critique not just of ideology and philosophy and economic thought, but a critique of the conditions needed for them to exist-a critique of the mode of production and corresponding social formation upon which this ideology and philosophy and economic thought arise, and which make them possible.
Now, I’m not saying that the consciousness of the Left needs to be understood by deriving it from the vicissitudes of the mode of production. I’m just saying that critique in the sense of Marx’s phrase “ruthless critique of all that exists” is not a critique of “consciousness” detached from all else.
Chris’s rigid binary emerges the most clearly, however, in the following: “The spirit of Marx today is not to be found in the immanent-ideology critique of the New York Times columns of Paul Krugman et al., let alone an analysis of ‘economic’ phenomena, BUT RATHER in the political and ‘philosophical,’ cultural and psychological critique of the supposed (but actually pseudo-) ‘Left,’ and its critical recognition as the product of a *regression* in theory and practice since the time of Marx and the best Marxists” (my caps). Again, I have nothing against looking at the issue that Chris wants to look at, but what’s this “but rather” about? Why do we need to choose? And is it really in “the spirit of Marx” to ignore the worst economic crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, possibly soon to become the worst slump since the 1930s-or maybe worse? No, of course it isn’t. That’s absurd.
One matter “of consciousness” continues to intrigue and trouble me: the effort to declare that there’s one best way of looking and thinking, and that it is the same best way for everything. This effort, as I suggested above, goes hand in hand with a stringent reduction of complex processes and phenomena to single units-”the” problem of capital, “the” present.
Chris Cutrone did not invent this approach. I’ve encountered it again and again among critical-theory-type folks, Western Marxists, whatever. For instance, at a New York book party for my book,Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency, Bertell Ollman kept counterposing his way of approaching Capital (as a discussion of alienation) to mine (which is evidently to focus narrowly on the myth of inconsistency, or on “economics”-because, if I write a book about the myth of inconsistency, then, well, obviously, that’s how I approach Capital !). I just as insistently kept repeating that there was no need to choose-pointing out the cheese and focaccia that we had as refreshments at the event, I kept reminding the audience, “you can have cheese AND focaccia”-but Ollman would have none of it.
This got me to thinking: Why would anyone want to defend the importance of alienation to Capital by dismissing the issue of Capital’s internal inconsistency and by dismissing a defense of its internal consistency? And how could anyone think that he was actually defending Marx’s discussion of alienation by projecting the attitude that the logical consistency of what Marx wrote is unimportant?!
So I came up with the following conjecture: The tendency toward rigid, totalizing either/or oppositions flows from a relativist or perspectivist position that has infected Western Marxism. As we all know, there are different ways of looking at and thinking about the world. But relativists and perspectivists go further. They claim that these different ways of looking and thinking are the ultimate determinants of the conclusions at which we arrive. In other words, they claim that, in the end, one’s perspective dominates over any input from logic and facts-or that what counts as facts and logic, too, is determined by one’s perspective.
If that is so, then there are no “external” facts and logic that determine the results of any inquiry. All results depend on the perspective one adopts, and the adoption of a perspective is just a matter of choice-no “external” facts or logic induce one choice rather than another. So what becomes paramount is not to investigate the phenomena and answer the questions, but to struggle over the choice of perspective. Since the perspective determines the results, the hegemony of THE RIGHTway of looking and thinking is all important. And since there are no “external” facts or logic that would allow us to say that this method might be helpful to answering this kind of question, while that method might be appropriate to the investigation of that problem, there’s a strong tendency to TOTALIZE the struggle for the hegemony of one’s perspective. If one accepts that one’s perspective is partial, one is accepting the legitimacy of a different perspective, and since there are no “external” facts and logic that would determine the boundaries of either perspective-this is appropriate for exploring the crisis of the Left, that’s appropriate for explaining the current economic crisis, etc.-there is just an interminable turf battle, ranging over the entire turf. So in order that one’s perspective not be globally defeated by an alien perspective, one must struggle for the global defeat of the alien perspective.
In the real world (and in intellectual endeavors where getting real results, not just panache, matters), no one thinks like this. We don’t wipe our butts with spatulas; we don’t cook with toilet paper; and we don’t ask which one we primarily need in order to grapple with “the” problem of daily living. Thank goodness.
11 Comments on “Reply to Chicago Political Workshop, Chris Cutrone, and Principia Dialectica”
- 1Chris Cutrone said at 11:15 pm on May 27th, 2009:I agree that there is no question of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman. I think Principia Dialectica’s argument is tendentious, at best.Similarly, I must admit to giving a rather one-sided polemical argument in my critique of the Chicago Political Workshop.
I was arguing against an economic-determinist approach. If I were to put it dialectically, I would say, following Marx, that one needs to inquire into the philosophical underpinnings of the economy as much as one might need to interrogate the political-economic conditions of thought.
I agree that a Kantian approach is appropriate, i.e., inquiring into conditions of possibility.
So I would not want to be mistaken for giving an either/or view of economics vs. philosophy, etc.
On the other hand, I would stand by the formulation of a question of “the” problem of capital. For the totalizing process of capital is not a matter of an apparent static heterogeneity, as if there is no difference at any moment (there is), but rather how the concrete and particular play out over time (and this in a complicated way).
And so I would not chalk up emancipatory potential to such difference, which I see as potentially (and usually) contributing precisely to the reproduction of capital, rather than its overcoming over time.
I don’t think it’s a matter of adopting a (single) perspective, but rather, looking back over history, there was a trajectory from Marx to Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky that brought to a head the crisis (for humanity, in a historical sense) of capital, which has been abandoned since then. In other words, I think the contradiction of capital was manifested by historical revolutionary Marxism, rather than the latter just responding to it. I think – and it’s Platypus’s point of departure – that the history of the Left is the history of capital brought to its highest expression. This history offers us a potential perspective, perhaps not the only one, but the best one, or, more accurately, the most necessary one that is available.
In the words of Sebastian Haffner, author of Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19, this history illuminates the present – reveals it in definite relief – like a piercing laser beam.
- 2anne said at 12:59 pm on May 30th, 2009:Chris Cutrone, although he denies in his comment having an “either-or” approach, seems to attribute a lot of importance to analyzing history while little to analyzing Marx’s economic laws in order to understand the current economic crisis. He still sounds as if by writing about the existence and current forms of appearance of economic laws, one is neglecting the interaction between them and other aspects of society.Sure, politics, culture and ideology have a role in capital’s reproduction. But what interests me about them is their relation to the mode of production (if they can even be separated out from each other, in defiance of their dialectical interpenetration). If he means that any or all of these elements is an independent cause of contemporary society, I disagree. I see politics, culture and ideology as aspects of capitalist societies that are produced or retained from the past and re-produced because they are useful to capitalism’s perpetuation. We cannot re-make them unless we break from value production.
In any event, if we talk about everything at once, we risk reducing the discussion to generalities and abstractions that do not help us understand and deal with the current economic crisis. Correctly interpreting and applying Marx’s laws, on the other hand, can be enlightening, and is surely a major part of what the times demand.
- 3Chris Cutrone said at 7:16 am on May 31st, 2009:“Talking about everything at once” is the challenge of a dialectical approach, precisely because different aspects of social reality appear in antinomical relation to one another, as if in an “either-or” proposition.Why should only the “economy” be discussed as a realm of subjective-objective necessity, and not ideology, culture, philosophy and politics? Why are there only “laws” for the economy? How is the problem of political subjectivity to be approached?
- 4Andrew Kliman said at 2:08 pm on June 1st, 2009:I’m still having a hard time with “the problem of capital(ism),” because I don’t understand the meaning of this expression.I wonder if Chris could define how he’s using it in the following passages of his critique of the Chicago Political Workshop:
“This is the foundational myth of the 1960s ‘New Left,’ … that the prior, ‘Old Left’ attempt to overcome capitalism … was doomed to failure, by its supposedly inadequate critical grasp of the problem of capitalism.”
“There is no reflection [by the Chicago Political Workshop] on the inherent difficulty in trying to critically address, in theory and practice, the problem of capital.”
“For our understanding of the problem of capital has not developed but only worsened since then [the time of Marx and the best Marxists], [and this is] the actual cause of the present paralysis in consciousness and political action on the ‘Left.’”
- 5Chris Cutrone said at 9:03 am on June 2nd, 2009:The question is whether capital has a totalizing logic that effects/conditions all aspects of society, including attempts to struggle against it, and whether a politics of removing this obstacle of the totalizing logic of the domination of society by capital is necessary.I see revolutionary Marxism as the attempt to remove or at least transform the constraint of the logic of capital, in order to open other possiblities that this side of emancipation are either foreclosed or highly attenuated.
The question is: What are we fighting against? Are we fighting against one thing that has been adequately identified, via Marx and his best followers in theory and practice, or is anticapitalism in a Marxian sense understood only as what the struggle against exploitation, oppressive gender and sexual dynamics, and other forms of oppression have in common in terms of oppressing human beings? Are we and our struggles part of capital, or somehow outside it? The point is not to somehow affirm our participation in the totalizing logic of capital, but to critically recognize and try to overcome this. Again, this means the necessity of overcoming the specific problem of capital, rather than getting lost in a host of struggles against oppression (e.g., the struggle for higher wages and shorter working hours and better workign conditions) that actually participate in the reconstitution of the problem of capital, as Marx understood it.
- 6Andrew Kliman said at 3:13 pm on June 3rd, 2009:Thanks for the reply, Chris.
I’m still not sure about your phrase “the problem of capital(ism).” It seems that this is just a cumbersome way of saying “capital(ism)”:
“supposedly inadequate critical grasp of capitalism.”
“inherent difficulty in trying to critically address capital, in theory and practice.”
“For our understanding of capital has not developed but only worsened ….”
As for the rest of what you write, I largely agree, of course, when you write, “capital has a totalizing logic that affects/ conditions all aspects of society, including attempts to struggle against it, and … a politics of removing this obstacle of the totalizing logic of the domination of society by capital is necessary.” This is fundamental to Marxist-Humanism. In her May 12, 1953 letter on Hegel’s “Absolute Idea,” Raya Dunayevskaya wrote, with regard to the “accumulation of capital … the laws of concentration and centralization of capital and socialization of labor” in Marx’s Capital,
“we kept repeating Lenin’s aphorism that Marx may not have left us ‘a’ Logic, but he left us the logic ofCapital. This is it-the logic of Capital is the dialectic of bourgeois society: the state capitalism at one pole and the revolt at the other.
“… when Marx was developing the dialectic of bourgeois society to its limit and came up with the revolt ‘united, organized, and disciplined’ he also set the limits to the dialectic of the party which is part of bourgeois society and will wither with its passing as will the bourgeois state.”
So here we have both a recognition of the totalizing logic of capital and a recognition that it affects also the Left: the dialectic of “the party” takes part in the dialectic of bourgeois society.
However, precisely because “capital has a totalizing logic that affects/conditions all aspects of society,” I don’t agree with your separation of “society” and “capital”: “domination of society by capital.” I don’t think this is a semantic matter. You refer to “removing this obstacle” and “domination,” as if capital is something externally imposed on a “society” that exists prior to and independently of it, so that we simply have to get rid of this thing standing in the way of us living our lives freely.
I don’t know if you actually mean this, but lots of people do. It’s a prominent feature of some automomist thought, especially Negri; and it seems to have originated in CLR James: the new society already exists within the old one; we just need to break the shell (integument) in order to release it. This consciously (on Negri’s part) undialectical inside/outside thinking misses or rejects (a) the totalizing logic of capital and thus (b) the need, not only to TEAR DOWN the existing society, but to CREATE a new society that is free of the logic of capital (i.e., the laws of capitalist production and reproduction), a new society that does not now exist (except in the imagination and in intimations/prefigurations). The latter point, which Dunayevskaya called “the dual rhythm of revolution,” is the essence and reason-for-being of Marxist-Humanism.
I would also say that we need to move beyond the general question of “whether capital has a totalizing logic,” to the specific question of what that totalizing logic is. I think it is the logic of the “self-”expansion of value by means of the process analyzed in Capital:
M-C [MP, L] … P … C’-M’-C’[MP', L'] … P’ …
I put “self” in quotes because the “self-expansion” of capital is just the fetishized bourgeois understanding of the process, as one in which value grows on trees, as it were. In fact, capital expands only by incorporating its opposite, the unpaid labor of people, into capital.
I suspect that you don’t agree, since you seemed to suggest that the reproduction of capital is primarily a matter of politics, culture, and ideology, not of “economics” (though you withdrew the opposition later, perhaps), when you mocked the notion that “the reproduction of capital is primarily a matter of *economics* (and not politics, culture, or ideology)!”
It also seems to me that concrete and detailed analysis of the processes of capitalist production and reproduction (M-C [MP, L] … P … C’-M’-C’[MP', L'] … P’ …) is vital in order to develop our understanding of capital (or the problem of capital, if you will), and in order to understand what specifically needs to be changed in order to break with its logic and to create a new society that is not subjected to the logic of capital.
You also write, “What are we fighting against? Are we fighting against one thing that has been adequately identified, via Marx and his best followers in theory and practice, or is anticapitalism in a Marxian sense understood only as what the struggle against exploitation, oppressive gender and sexual dynamics, and other forms of oppression have in common in terms of oppressing human beings?”
Well, first of all, your phrase “best followers” seems to refer to folks like Lenin and Luxemburg, but I think that their understanding of capital(ism) was undeveloped and flawed. I doubt whether any 2d International Marxist could even have understood the notion of a “logic of capital.” They all thought that capitalism was private property and competition, such that the creation of giant corporations was a negation of capitalism; what needed to be done was to further centralize production, allocation, and distribution-turn the whole society into a corporation-and have the working populace take it over and run it in its own interests. Lenin pointed to the post office as an instance of socialist production. Of course, this was in the days before “going postal”!
In any case, I think that capital was pretty adequately identified-and critiqued and analyzed-by Marx. And I definitely don’t think that “anticapitalism in a Marxian sense [...is] what the struggle against exploitation, oppressive gender and sexual dynamics, and other forms of oppression have in common.” I think all of these struggles are vitally important, but they are not, in and of themselves, struggles against capital (unless they take on capitalism, as some in the women’s liberation movement did, for instance). That’s perhaps the key error typical of autonomism.
HOWEVER, since the transformation of society is not just a matter of tearing down the old, but also one of creating the new, the issue is not only what the various movements and forces fight against- i.e., are they anti-capitalist or anti-something-else-but also: what are they struggling for? At their high points, at least, a whole gamut of forces and movements have had in common the quest for new,human relations. This makes them part of the revolutionary process. (Also, the existing society isn’t just capital, so struggles that aren’t against capital as such can be and at times have been struggles against this society.)
Now of course, there’s the big issue of being subsumed under the logic of capital, coopted by capital As you say, there’s “the necessity of overcoming the specific problem of capital, rather than getting lost in a host of struggles against oppression (e.g., the struggle for higher wages and shorter working hours and better workign conditions) that actually participate in the reconstitution of the problem of capital, as Marx understood it.” I agree with this in a general sense, but perhaps not in the manner in which you mean it. The key issue here is not what is being struggled for but “getting lost”. The struggle for peace, bread, and land was revolutionary in Russia in 1917, etc., etc. So the immediate purpose of a struggle is not really the issue.
One final point: when I wrote above that 2d International Marxists had an undeveloped and flawed understanding of capital(ism), I didn’t mean to imply that the major problems on the Left will go away by working out and providing a better understanding of it. The major problems are due, not to somemisunderstanding of capital (or misunderstanding of the dual rhythm of revolution), but to rejection of Marx’s critique of capital(ism) (and Marxist-Humanism’s perspective on the dual rhythm of revolution). Explaining and analyzing is important, in order to help new people and uncommitted ones know what’s really going on, but I agree with you, Chris, that when it comes to those who know what they’re for, the main problem isn’t an “inadequate critical grasp” of capital(ism).
- 7Sean said at 8:38 pm on June 3rd, 2009:Eat up while it’s fresh!
- 8Chris Cutrone said at 10:37 am on June 4th, 2009:This, for me, is the rub:”[T]he existing society isn’t just capital, so struggles that aren’t against capital as such can be and at times have been struggles against this society.”
The challenge is to think the totality, which, as Adorno put it, “must be simultaneously construed and denied,” meaning the totality must be grasped as an object of critique, transformation and overcoming.
The critical (rather than descriptive) category of capital is, for Marx, one of the social(-historical) totality, and not just the economy. The present society is capital; the struggles within it are capital. The struggles against “capitalism” are (re)constitutive of capital, as Marx recognized them to have been since, e.g., the “struggle over the working day,” or since women and minorities have struggled for “bourgeois rights” (which as Locke, Smith, Kant, Hegel, et al. – and Marx! – recognized the rights of labor – see the 1844 Manuscripts) – the rights to become members of the proletariat.
But bourgeois/proletarian subjectivity is not merely socioeconomic, but cultural and political (etc.) as well. The struggle for “social democracy” goes on within the horizon of bourgeois right, and hence of capital.
The point is how to get beyond the society of capital – the society of the rights of labor. For all that social struggles under capital have been hitherto have been the struggles for the expansion and deepening of the rights of labor. The society of capital is one in which social existence is justified in and through labor.
The problem with trying to envision the “new” society of post-capital from within the “old” one of capital is (as Marx already recognized in, e,g., the 1844 Manuscripts) that one inevitably projects present conditions onto the future (e.g., Proudhon’s time-chips instead of money).
So Marx asks the question: How does capital make it possible that we get beyond this? – Not “what” society we desire beyond capital, but how?
For Marx, the struggle for proletarian socialism was a struggle within and through the society of capital, on the basis of capital, that might advance the contradictions of capital to a point of transcending, superseding and (self-)abolition. The self-abolition of the proletariat would be the self-abolition of capital – but nothing other or less than that would be this. – This is what Marx meant.
- 9Andrew Kliman said at 11:14 am on June 4th, 2009:In Chris Cutrone’s latest message, he writes,”The critical (rather than descriptive) category of capital is, for Marx, one of the social(-historical) totality, and not just the economy. The present society is capital; the struggles within it are capital.”
This is simply not so. The very first sentence of Capital distinguishes between the “capitalist mode of production” and the “societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails.”
I hope you’ll respond to the other aspects of my post of yesterday as well, Chris, which are point-by-point replies to what you wrote. That’s because I hope we can achieve some resolution or at least clarity. (For instance, I’m still trying to understand what one of your central concepts-the “problem of capital”-means.) I don’t find discussions particularly helpful in achieving resolution or clarity unless they stick to what’s been said without introducing new points until the original points have been taken care of.
A propos of this, let me note that, while you now say that (for Marx-but I think you’re actually expressing your view, or one of your views, of the matter), “[t]he present society is capital,” you earlier made what I regard as the opposite error. As I noted yesterday, you
“separat[ed] ‘society’ and ‘capital’: ‘domination of society by capital.’ I don’t think this is a semantic matter. You refer to ‘removing this obstacle’ and ‘domination,’ as if capital is something externally imposed on a ‘society’ that exists prior to and independently of it, so that we simply have to get rid of this thing standing in the way of us living our lives freely.”
- 10Chris Cutrone said at 6:42 pm on June 4th, 2009:It could be that we are beginning to speak past each other. I cannot do a point-by-point response precisely because I think we differ on what’s important at issue.The terminological issue is for me one of descriptive vs. critical and dialectical categories. Marx’s use of categories is not the same at all times. Also, I think that there is a difference between capital and capitalism.
You might find this quite wild, but I think that the category of “society” is itself historically specific to capital, i.e., that it would not have made sense to address human communities (for want of a better phrase) pre-capital with the category of “society.” For instance, there was no need or even possibility of sociology as mode of inquiry pre-capital. We objectify our social life with categories like “society” as if society were a thing distinguishable from the humans participating in it. Not only that, but there are recognized non-human elements of society, such as natural and technological objects. Certainly for Marx all these are conditioned – indeed constituted – by capital, and are also part and parcel, constitutive of it.
The issue is how we address capital dialectically. I may not be particularly persuasive in my jottings here for such a dialectical approach to the problem of capital, which I see as identical to the problem of modern society, but this is my intent. The point is that “capital” is a category for addressing the self-contradictory character of modern society. I think that I am following Marx in this.
- 11Andrew Kliman said at 7:33 pm on June 4th, 2009:In response to Chris Cutrone’s latest comment.He writes, “I cannot do a point-by-point response precisely because I think we differ on what’s important at issue.”
One can respond to things point-by-point even if one does not think each point is an important point at issue. The alternative is to keep emphasizing “one’s own” points, to the exclusion of the points that the interlocutor is making, thereby controlling the discussion.
CC: “The terminological issue is for me one of descriptive vs. critical and dialectical categories. Marx’s use of categories is not the same at all times.”
I of course agree that his use of terms is not the same at all times. But that’s not the issue. This issue is whether he ever identified capital and the whole of society, as you do in your formulation, “The present society is capital.” I have shown that, at the start of Capital, he distinguished between them. Do you have any textual evidence that he ever identified “capital” and “society,” or used them interchangeably?
CC: “Also, I think that there is a difference between capital and capitalism.”
I agree. The difference, to be precise, is the difference between the capitalist mode of production and the societies in which it prevails. I find it surprising that you would recognize this difference, yet assert that “The present society is capital.” … I could accept “The present society is capitalist,” but that means something different.
CC: “You might find this quite wild, but I think that the category of ‘society’ is itself historically specific to capital, i.e., that it would not have made sense to address human communities (for want of a better phrase) pre-capital with the category of ‘society.’ For instance, there was no need or even possibility of sociology as mode of inquiry pre-capital.”
You’re confusing two separate things. One is how people in the past understood themselves. The other is how we understand them.
For a strict, point-by-point analogy: the category “animal” is itself species-specific to human beings-no other species employs the category. It does not follow that it fails to make sense to address other species (i.e., talk about them) with the category of “animal.” That’s the case even though there is no need or even possibility of other species using the category of “animal” in theoretical inquiry.
And if the category “society” is specific to capitalism, and I don’t know about that, closely related categories were not, as when Aristotle said that human beings are by nature political animals-i.e, members of a polis.
CC: “Not only that, but there are recognized non-human elements of society, such as natural and technological objects. Certainly for Marx all these are conditioned – indeed constituted – by capital, and are also part and parcel, constitutive of it.”
Yeah, but this is no warrant for effacing all distinctions and making a hash of everything. Who I am is conditioned by my wife, and who she is is conditioned by me, but I am not my own wife, the play notwithstanding.
CC: “The point is that ‘capital’ is a category for addressing the self-contradictory character of modern society. I think that I am following Marx in this.”
Only in the most general sense, in which we could also say that “State,” as Marx used the term, is a category for addressing the self-contradictory character of modern society. But once we recognize that there are several such categories, one needs to distinguish among them and identify what is specific to each. “Capital” has a very precise meaning in Marx’s work (see Chap. 4 of Capital, Vol. 1: it is the subject of a process of advancing value in order to end up with more value, which is shown to entail:
M-C [MP, L] … P … C’-M’-C’ [MP', L'] … P’ …
This may be my last opportunity to write until near the middle of the month. I’m going away on a short trip.