by Andrew Kliman
Last week, in a With Sober Senses article, “Value, Price & Prattle: A Response to Lopes, Byron, and Historical Materialism,” I asked Historical Materialism and its publisher (Brill) to retract a paper, by Jesse Lopes and Chris Byron, that was published in a recent issue of the journal. In support of this request, my article showed that the Lopes-Byron paper’s overall “argument and representation of Marx’s views were … fundamentally flawed and riddled with serious errors.” It also showed that they “misrepresented my arguments, disregarded or failed to understand the textual support I had provided for my interpretations, and seriously misunderstood the temporal single-system interpretation of the quantitative dimension of Marx’s value theory.”
There are many misrepresentations and errors in the Lopes-Byron paper.
This one is self-evident.
I was under no illusion that obtaining a retraction would be easy. As I noted in my article, “I fully expect that my request for retraction will be ignored or rejected by the editors and publisher of Historical Materialism.” Nevertheless, to make sure that Historical Materialism and Brill were aware of my request, I wrote the following message to each of them the day after my article appeared:
In an article published yesterday (https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/economics/value-price-prattle-a-response-to-lopes-byron-and-historical-materialism.html), I request retraction of a paper published in _Historical Materialism_. I am reiterating the request now in messages to the journal’s editors and to Brill, the journal’s publisher.
My article documents instances in which the _Historical Materialism_ paper misrepresents what others have stated and instances in which it is inaccurate in other ways. Since my response to the paper deals with other matters as well, I will be happy to point out the places where it provides evidence of misrepresentation and inaccuracy.
I have not (yet) heard back from Brill. But I did hear back, almost immediately, from the editors of Historical Materialism. I had e-mailed my message to them on January 18, at 1:08 pm, EDT. At 3:13 pm, EDT, I received the following reply from “The Editors,” written and signed by the head honcho, Sebastian Budgen:
Dear Andrew Kliman,
We are not going to « retract » the article. But if you write a civil response and you don’t claim that people are making death threats against you etc, we will consider publishing it on the website.
Note that Budgen did not ask me to point out my evidence of misrepresentation and inaccuracy, as I had offered to do. Note that he did not provide any defense of the Lopes-Byron paper. Note that he replied to me just 125 minutes after I sent my email (and less than 24 hours after my article was published)—which was far too little time to evaluate the evidence I had provided.
In short, my request that Historical Materialism retract the Lopes-Byron paper was not considered on its merits. Budgen’s response thus confirms, once again, what I stated in my article: “searching for and getting the truth is not a central commitment of the journal.”
Indeed, Historical Materialism’s lack of commitment to the truth is the underlying problem here. It is the reason Lopes and Bryon’s paper was published in the first place. As my article pointed out, “[i]t takes a ‘scholarly’ journal” to turn thoughts that were not ready for prime time “into a ‘scholarly contribution’ that has been peer-reviewed and deemed worthy of publication.”
In his essay On Bullshit, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt famously wrote that “[t]he bullshitter … does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.” It clearly seems that Historical Materialism is a bullshit journal, in Frankfurt’s sense of the term.
Budgen’s suggestion about publishing a response from me on the journal’s website is unacceptable for many reasons. The main reason is that the suggestion is clearly intended to prevent truth from triumphing over falsehood. Byron and Lopes would get to continue to say what they want, while the Historical Materialism crew would “consider” letting me say what I want. (And what about Marx? How can he defend himself against the misrepresentation of his statements and views?)
The end result would be, at best, a he-said / she-said stalemate in which “alternative facts” are deemed just as good as actual facts. Historical Materialism would face no consequences—it would not have to confess to its own wrongdoing, provide restitution, or even retract the Lopes-Byron paper. It would sweep an embarrassing situation under the rug and forestall the real solution. As I noted in my article, the real solution here is the building of a “pro-truth movement of opposition from the left to break their haughty power.”
Editor’s Note: If you wish to support a pro-truth movement regarding this matter, please contact MHI.