An Open Statement to the Editorial Board
(and Readership) of Historical Materialism
by Gabriel Donnelly
This statement is in response to the article “Phenomenology, Scientific Method and the Transformation Problem” which appeared in Historical Materialism, vol. 30, no. 1 (May 2022), pp. 209–236 and to Andrew Kliman’s rebuttal “Value, Price & Prattle: A Response to Lopes, Byron, and Historical Materialism.” His rebuttal to Lopes and Byron’s article clearly lays out examples of egregious misrepresentation on their part, and misunderstanding of Marx’s work as well as the temporal single-system interpretation of his value theory (TSSI). Lopes and Byron’s cherry picking of quotations of Marx struck me as particularly egregious, and reminded me of something I have not seen since childhood (more on that below).
For example, Lopes and Byron misused a quote from Marx to try and hold up their ridiculous, and untrue, claim that Marx “never states that labour-time is also a measure.” They presented a relevant and representative quote of Marx’s, which says that labor-time is the measure of value that’s immanent in commodities … and then pretended it said the opposite! This misrepresentation and lying about Marx and the man’s work is appalling.
Near the beginning of his rebuttal, Kliman requests a retraction of Lopes and Byron’s article, and also sets out a call to action for a broader front against academic malpractice on the left: “What is needed is thus a pro-truth movement of opposition from the left to break their haughty power.” This statement is my attempt to stand with such a movement, and I encourage anyone reading these words who feels similarly to draft one of their own.
I don’t think that the kind of undergrad-level errors shown in the Historical Materialism article should ever be enshrined in a peer-reviewed journal, but it is particularly galling at this moment. More and more people are turning to the left to help understand the world at this moment of acute crisis, and the editorial board of Historical Materialism presents themselves as, and certainly believes themselves to be, stewards that could usher people into such serious, important thinking. I don’t think it’s just myself who can sniff through the patina of serious academic work here, and see that other aims and goals are pushing what conclusions get published and how the discourse of ideas is conducted.
When people new to the ideas of Marx come across material like this, will they think that the left that they’re turning to is lacking in principles, leaning on arguments as weak as rotten old wood, and self-serving? If they thought so and headed for the nearest door, I wouldn’t blame them.
When I was very young, I became enraptured by the fiery “evolution vs. creationism” debates that flared up during the Bush years. These histrionic debates were my first exposure to serious argumentation of ideas. I have seen many bad-faith arguments and nonsense since then, but I will always think of the creationists as the kings of BS. Creationists would masterfully cherry pick quotes from Darwin to sow uncertainty about evolution. The creationists fought hardest not to actually have debate, but to create a “sound and light show” simulation of a debate. For the creationists, there was no need to read the pages and pages that evolution proponents wrote, dismantling their ideas. They knew how to frame the conversation, and frame their replies, to make it seem like there was a debate between two sides and two sets of “alternative facts” for people to pick between.
In a follow-up statement, on Historical Materialism’s response, or lack thereof, Kliman refused to have a response published on the journal’s website as opposed to securing a retraction of the original article in question. He wrote: “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.” I can only agree with Kliman that such an end result would be deeply unsatisfactory because it would allow the Historical Materialism article to retain the pretense of credibility. If we, who imagine ourselves on the left, expect to be taken seriously by anyone, then we must hold ourselves to higher standards than creationists. Retract the article. Stand up for truth. Cut the bullshit.