Dr. Medulla wrote: ↑
25 Oct 2017, 12:32pm
eumaas wrote: ↑
25 Oct 2017, 12:13pm
I haven't read that, but it looks interesting. It reminds me of Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically (& from what I hear, Harvey's Limits to Capital)
I do have a copy of Cleaver and I remember having it queued up to read—likely during a spate of Marxist reading—and then … something distracted me and it got lost. I could do well to be sent to prison for a decade or so just to catch up with reading.
The father of all such readings of Capital is, I think, Reading Capital
, the Althusser-led volume. Finally published in a complete English translation just last year. I was briefly taken with Althusser, but found his approach to Capital a bit forced. For example, here's how he recommends reading it:
I therefore urge on the reader the following method of reading Volume One:
1. Leave Part I (Commodities and Money) deliberately on one side in a first reading.
2. Begin reading Volume One with its Part II (The Transformation of Money into Capital).
3. Read carefully Parts II, III (The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value) and IV (The Production of Relative Surplus-Value).
4. Leave Part V (The Production of Relative and Absolute Surplus-Value) on one side.
5. Read carefully Parts VI (Wages), VII (The Accumulation of Capital) and VIII (The So-called Primitive Accumulation).
6. Finally, begin to read Part I (Commodities and Money) with infinite caution, knowing that it will always be extremely difficult to understand, even after several readings of the other Parts, without the help of a certain number of deeper explanations.
I guarantee that those readers who are prepared to observe this order of reading scrupulously, remembering what I have said about the political and theoretical difficulties of every reading of Capital, will not regret it.
Althusser was an anti-Hegelian, and as I recall Part I shows the greatest influence of Hegel, so no surprise that you're supposed to set it aside for last. Anyway, the idea is to get more than just political economy out of the book.
How much of that, I wonder, is out of a fear that the old carbuncle is no longer of great value under late capitalism, so there's a habit to scrape away contemporary issues so that we are left with a form that better fits Marx. I'm admittedly quite stupid when it comes to economics—I can't get my head around how the statistics are arranged and interpreted—so I'm more passive than healthy when it comes to that kind of analysis.
There are a few problems when it comes to working out Marx's political economy:
1. Capital, his mature statement, is incomplete.
2. Volumes two and three were put together by Engels.
3. His other economic works, whether published or manuscript, reflect different projects and positions than Capital
. So using them as supplemental can be problematic.
For some Marxists, the project of Marxian political economy becomes a matter of working out and demonstrating the internal coherence of Marx's body of work on the critique of political economy. I think this is an appealing venture because it's all down to textual reasoning, and academics often love to work off of texts alone. The twofold value of the theory as 1. an explanation of capitalism, and 2. a tool for changing the world, recedes in favor of working out a textual interpretation that demonstrates coherence. The pithy line from Kliman, "the economists have changed Marx, in various ways; the point is to interpret him--correctly" more or less sums up those who view Marxian political economy in this way. That said, they will eventually look to apply this interpretation of Marx to contemporary economic phenomena, but generally do so as part of polemic with those Marxians willing to revise the theory. The idea is that they are keeping orthodoxy.
I am being a bit harsh on these Marxians, but so it goes. I associate this impulse with Trotskyism and sometimes with left-communists who are punctilious about being orthodox. For some reason those coming out of an engagement with Marxism-Leninism (i.e. Stalinism) and Maoism have been less interested in the purity of theory, despite their reputation as dogmatists. This could be because those tendencies have had to wrestle with the problems of really existing socialism, whereas Trotskyists and council communists (for the latter, in my view most unfortunately) have never successfully led a revolution and had to deal with post-revolutionary society.
On the other hand, there are Marxians who are more concerned about explaining recent developments in capitalism than about producing a textually-sound orthodox political economy. I would count the Monthly Review school around Sweezy as the biggest representative of this approach. That said, there are others who aren't orthodox but also disagree with the Monthly Review theories. This broad camp is generally willing to take influence from Keynes, Kalecki, and other economists outside of Marxism. Notably, the Sweezy school (inspired initially by Lenin's "weak links" idea) implies that revolutionary activity will be more common on the tumultuous, super-exploited periphery than in the stagnant centers. This is generally offensive to Trotskyists, whose permanent revolution theory requires the western proletariat (i.e. the workers at the economic-imperial centers) revolt in order to secure the revolutions at the periphery, which are seen as secondary, and more important as a stimulus to revolution in the center. This is why you'll see Trotskyism criticized as eurocentric, and I think it drives a lot of the Trotskyist interest in formulating an orthodox Marxist position--it recenters the western proletariat as the subject of history.
My own approach is to look at how the theory squares with reality and what it suggests about social change. For me, the Monthly Review school better explains economic phenomena than orthodox schools. Sure, they use Kalecki and to a lesser extent Keynes to supplement Marx. So what? If one takes Marxism's pretensions to science seriously, then treating Marx as a biblical text is going to be counterproductive. I also find the Monthly Review theory of surplus waste extremely convincing, particularly dealing with the kind of financialization that led to the 2008 collapse. It seems clear to me that the system is choking on surplus, and we're dealing with crises of overaccumulation/underconsumption. Trotskyists slam this school for suggesting that there are countervailing tendencies that keep capitalism operating without collapsing due to a falling rate of profit. Well, we've had years and years of predictions of total collapse, but it seems to me that capitalism is going to keep running until it makes the globe unlivable unless people actively overthrow it. Maybe this gets rid of the inevitability thesis, but so what? I do think that the contradictions of capitalism are going to destroy it, but we're dealing with a long-term problem and a system that is inventive at sustaining itself.
For a brief piece on surplus waste, see:
https://monthlyreview.org/2016/07/01/su ... apitalism/
One of the criticisms of the Monthly Review school is that underconsumption/overaccumulation implies that capitalism could sustain itself by assigning waste to the welfare state, i.e. by becoming social-democratic. So for some this means the theory suggests a reformist position (revisionism in Marxist parlance). On the contrary, I think it's illustrative of the fundamental antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. There is such an excess of surplus, and yet the capitalists continue to pursue neoliberal destruction of the welfare state. The income disparity between capital and labor, together with the stripping away of welfare state protections, indicates that even when it may be in the interests of capital to accommodate labor (by assigning surplus to the welfare state or reducing the rate of exploitation), capital is incapable of doing it. See also the fundamental irrationality of capital with respect to the environmental crisis.
Anyway, I wrote a lot more than I intended to and probably bored everybody to tears.