Marx's dialectic

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jamdoughnut
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Jan 26 2012 19:24
Marx's dialectic

Hi, I'm new here. Was wondering if anyone could help and point me in the direction of some critiques of Marxist dialectics. I've heard Adorno has commented on this before, but I've no idea where to start. I think I'm specifically looking for something that comments on the metaphysical aspect of the dialectical method.

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Jan 28 2012 00:33

The best known critique of dialectics from within Marxism is from the analytical marxism school most notably G.A. Cohen. His key book is Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence.

I've read a bunch of good critiques of various Marxists' (rather than Marx's) particular use of dialectics from Engels to Lenin to Stalin. But I'd have to do some digging to find them.

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Jan 28 2012 13:42

Marx's dialectic, or Marxist "dialectics"? They're not the same thing.

On the rather limited meaning of the former, I think jura gives an excellent summary here.

All the other useages of "dialectic" by Marxists and Communists tends to be a lot of nebulous blah-blah. Red Hughs on this forum is a particularly egregious offender in that regard.

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Jan 28 2012 18:34

The post that Angelus Novus links to above deals with Marx's method of presentation, but I think it's going to far to say that this is all there is to Marx's dialectics. Apart from his "coquetting" with Hegelian modes of expression in Capital, I think Marx would argue that he used a dialectical method, just one that was different - even the "direct opposite" - of the mystified dialectics exposed by Hegel.

I would agree of course, that a lot of what is written about dialectics by Marxists is just metaphysical nonsense, and that this is much less the case with Marx himself. Marx didn't actually write a lot about dialectics, and much of what he did write was critiquing the metaphysical form of dialectics found in the writings of Proudhon, the contemporary "Young Hegelians" and indeed of Hegel himself.

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Jan 28 2012 19:29
Felix Frost wrote:
Apart from his "coquetting" with Hegelian modes of expression in Capital, I think Marx would argue that he used a dialectical method, just one that was different - even the "direct opposite" - of the mystified dialectics exposed by Hegel.

I agree that the issue is far from simple and straightforward. But what you write does not in itself preclude that Marx's dialectic could have been just a method of theoretically representing a complex system of relationships (which should not be conflated with mere style or modes of expression) - as opposed to Hegel, who insisted that the method of presentation is a reflection of the real development of absolute spirit.

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Jan 30 2012 12:48

yes jura, your position on Marx's dialectic as purely a means of presenting different characteristics possessed by objects and relationships such as commodities. I think that you let Marx off too lightly for his prophetic moments.

Marx 1856 wrote:
At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.

This antagonism between modern industry and science on the one hand, modern misery and dissolution on the other hand; this antagonism between the productive powers and the social relations of our epoch is a fact, palpable, overwhelming, and not to be controverted. Some parties may wail over it; others may wish to get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts. Or they may imagine that so signal a progress in industry wants to be completed by as signal a regress in politics. On our part, we do not mistake the shape of the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions. We know that to work well the newfangled forces of society, they only want to be mastered by newfangled men — and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself.

In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer — the Revolution. The English working men are the firstborn sons of modern industry. They will then, certainly, not be the last in aiding the social revolution produced by that industry, a revolution, which means the emancipation of their own class all over the world, which is as universal as capital-rule and wages-slavery. I know the heroic struggles the English working class have gone through since the middle of the last century — struggles less glorious, because they are shrouded in obscurity, and burked by the middleclass historian. To revenge the misdeeds of the ruling class, there existed in the middle ages, in Germany, a secret tribunal, called the “Vehmgericht.” If a red cross was seen marked on a house, people knew that its owner was doomed by the “Vehm.”

All the houses of Europe are now marked with the mysterious red cross.

History is the judge — its executioner, the proletarian.

Does this, as well as countless other moments in his writing, not indicate that he believed in really existing material tendencies for the contradictory simultaneous movement of productive capacity to become more powerful and social relations to become more oppressive?

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Jan 30 2012 18:35
jonglier wrote:
Does this, as well as countless other moments in his writing, not indicate that he believed in really existing material tendencies

Well, first of all, I don't think I ever said that Marx's concepts do not express aspects of reality. Given Marx's explicit realism in the Grundrisse, for example, such position would be untenable anyway. The dialectical method of presentation is useful precisely because the society itself is complex and processual, e.g. the presuppositions of capital become its results (capital reproduces the wage relation) - on the level of theory, this is represented as a cycle going from the sale of labor-power through production to its results (the general law of capitalist accumulation) etc. I'm very far from saying that the dialectic is a matter of stylistics or formalism.

But none of the above proves that Marx believed in the "three laws" of dialectical materialism or other such nonsense. And even if some of his expressions suggest that he did, I'd argue that none of the central tenets of the "dialectic" as conceived by Engels and Lenin play an important role in Marx's theoretical writings (i.e. the so-called economic manuscripts). I mean, sure, there is a lot of metaphorical talk of contradictions in Marx's political writings and elsewhere, but I think one has to distinguish that from situations where Marx speaks e.g. of the contradiction of use-value and value.

Second, this:

jonglier wrote:
for the contradictory simultaneous movement of productive capacity to become more powerful and social relations to become more oppressive?

has to be qualified. Where Marx thought that the growth of productive capacity was common to all epochs, he was wrong, and he clearly repudiated this in the later writings. Same goes for the idea of a technological determinism in Marx, as well as the notion that "forces of production" = technology and "relations of production" = property relations. And I don't remember Marx making an argument about social relations becoming more and more oppressive.

On forces and relations, I'm pretty sure I can't do any better than Derek Sayer in The Violence of Abstraction so perhaps check that out.

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Jan 31 2012 12:12
jura wrote:
But none of the above proves that Marx believed in the "three laws" of dialectical materialism or other such nonsense.

As you have argued before, dialectical materialism is a specific philosophical doctrine which is not constituted automatically by a position which is both dialectical and materialist. We are not here discussing dialectical materialism but dialectics.

jura wrote:
Where Marx thought that the growth of productive capacity was common to all epochs, he was wrong, and he clearly repudiated this in the later writings. Same goes for the idea of a technological determinism in Marx, as well as the notion that "forces of production" = technology and "relations of production" = property relations. And I don't remember Marx making an argument about social relations becoming more and more oppressive.

In Capital vol. 1, Marx indicates that in the initial stages of capitalism, capitalists attempted to ensure that workers worked for as many hours of the day as was physically possible. With the introduction of government regulation of the working day, however, the emphasis was switched to hourly productivity: since the hours were restricted, the capitalists needed to ensure that as much as possible was produced during those hours. This was the reason for the development of machinery, large-scale industry and factories. In this way labour was made more productive. I'd like to know where in the later writings Marx repudiated the idea that growth of productive capacity was common to all epochs. In any case, I'm not talking about a general law of growth of productive capacity over all epochs, but Marx's understanding of capitalism. The growth of the productivity of labour in capitalism does not create value:

Capital Volume One, trans. Fowkes, p. 774 wrote:
with the increasing productivity of labour, the mass of the means of production consumed by labour increases, but their total value in comparison with their mass diminishes. Their value therefore rises absolutely, but not in proportion to the increase their mass.

Given Marx's descriptions of the conditions of the worker prior to the introduction of large-scale industry, when the working day was elongated to extraordinary length, one might have suspected that large-scale industry, because of its simultaneity with the reduction of the length of the working day, might be accompanied by an improvement in the condition of the worker. This is not how Marx understands it, however. In his opinion, the increase in productivity ushers in a simultaneous, dialectical increase in domination and exploitation:

Capital Volume One, trans. Fowkes, pp. 798-799, wrote:
We saw in Part IV...that within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of the worker are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker; that all means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become means of domination and exploitation of the producers; they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment; they alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they deform the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its measures; they transform his life-time into working time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital. But all the methods for the production of suplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation, and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse. [my emphasis]

Here Marx argues for contradictory historical tendencies that intensify over time the situation constituted by capitalism. I appreciate what you say when you point out that "I don't think I ever said that Marx's concepts do not express aspects of reality." As I understand your position of Marx's dialectic, however, you do not think that Marx believed in contradictory historical tendencies which give a direction to history. For example, in the previous thread in which we discussed this, Dialectical Materialism and Marxism, you wrote:

jura wrote:
an attempt to define what Marx's dialectic is: it's a theoretical method of presenting a whole interconnected network of very complex social relationships and processes, which feed back one into another. This network is expressed by a network of concepts, economic categories, which are the proper subject of the method. The dialectic proceeds in constructing the conceptual network of categories by identifying fundamental, mutally exclusive aspects of a category and positing them in the form of paradoxes or antinomies, with the goal of solving the paradox in a rational way.

I'm quite ready to believe that a lot can be gained by using this understanding of Marx's dialectic. I'm not sure, though, if this is all there is to dialectic in Marx. When I spoke before about "really existing material tendencies", I wasn't suggesting that your understanding leaves reality aside. But Marx does more than take note of the contradictory characteristics possessed by a particular category. Our example was that of a commodity, which possesses both use-value and exchange-value. Of this example you stated, in line with your definition of Marx's dialectic cited above, that

jura wrote:
in order for a product to become realized as use-value (= consumed), it first has to be sold, realized as value. This is the way things work in a capitalist economy. But at the same time, in order to be realized as value (in order to be sold), it has to possess a use-value for the buyer.

This is absolutely fine in itself and that thread was very educational for me; I still like to reread your posts in it because there is a lot to this idea of the dialectic and I don't fully understand it. But this understanding of the dialectic in Marx is not complete. This is a way of understanding a category such as the commodity. It is an abstract understanding and does not imply a material trajectory existing in reality, but instead looks at the pure way in which a commodity is produced and circulated, and in so doing identifies “contradictory”, “dialectical” aspects of that process. Marx posits something very different when saying that as productivity increases, the oppression of workers increases.

Quote:
within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of the worker are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker; that all means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become means of domination and exploitation of the producers.

“Dialectical inversion” is a sense a meaningless phrase here. It is not as if Marx thinks that the same object persists but is somehow converted into its opposite. It is simply that given the way capitalism works, as productivity is accumulated on one pole, misery is accumulated at the other. This is in fact Marx's precise language on the same page as the last quote, 799:

Quote:
the law which always holds the relative surplus population or industrial reserve army in equilibrium with the extent and energy of accumulation rivets the worker to capital more firmly than the wedges of Hephaestus held Prometheus to the rock. It makes the accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital.

This is what I mean by “really existing material tendency”. Marx is talking about dialectics here but it is much more than an explication of mutually opposed characteristics possessed by a category: it is a description of material tendencies for contradictory effects to be realised by the development of capitalist production.

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Jan 31 2012 16:42
jonglier wrote:
I'd like to know where in the later writings Marx repudiated the idea that growth of productive capacity was common to all epochs. In any case, I'm not talking about a general law of growth of productive capacity over all epochs, but Marx's understanding of capitalism. The growth of the productivity of labour in capitalism does not create value.

This may be a misunderstanding: I thought you were arguing that according to Marx, there is a general historical law of growth of productivity. This is the so-called "development thesis" which underlies the analytical-marxist version of historical materialism. Marx certainly didn't think that. For a lengthy discussion of this, see the book by Sayer I mentioned above.

I think you are absolutely correct to point out, though, that there is a tendency in capitalism to revolutionize productivity. Of course, this tendency is not absolute either, because capital will readily prefer a more labor-intensive production process in certain circumstances (And in this sense the "development thesis" only holds for capitalism, and only under certain conditions.)

I'll try to be brief on the rest:

jonglier wrote:
As I understand your position of Marx's dialectic, however, you do not think that Marx believed in contradictory historical tendencies which give a direction to history ... I'm quite ready to believe that a lot can be gained by using this understanding of Marx's dialectic. I'm not sure, though, if this is all there is to dialectic in Marx. When I spoke before about "really existing material tendencies", I wasn't suggesting that your understanding leaves reality aside. But Marx does more than take note of the contradictory characteristics possessed by a particular category. Our example was that of a commodity, which possesses both use-value and exchange-value ... This is a way of understanding a category such as the commodity. It is an abstract understanding and does not imply a material trajectory existing in reality, but instead looks at the pure way in which a commodity is produced and circulated, and in so doing identifies “contradictory”, “dialectical” aspects of that process.

To be honest, I don't see the problem.

These contradictory aspects of the commodity are very real and in this sense "historical", and they ultimately stem from the way every capitalist society is organized. I think I gave a number of illustrations in my previous posts elsewhere of what the contradiction of use-value and value "does" in practice (e.g. wheat which can't be sold profitably is burnt in power plants, regardless of the real need of food etc.). Well, the contradiction itself does nothing, but it is a theoretical expression of how the real relationships in which real people act are set up. So it's not like the categories don't express "real tendencies". Capital was written to expose these tendencies in the first place!

And all of the quotes from the later parts of Vol. I you provide can be traced back to chapter one, to the contradiction of use-value and value. It is precisely because a capitalist's interest lies in value, or, more precisely, in surplus-value and not in use-values or human needs per se, that the introduction of machinery does not lead to less toil and to a general shortening of the working day. Precisely because of that does the "capitalist use of machinery" lead to intensification of labor, layoffs, immiseration or other negative effects (like deskilling). Conversely, any capitalist will gladly employ more labor rather than invest in machines if it saves him money, i.e. increases profits. For Marx, these are of course very important arguments on the "immanent critique" side of things, as the majority of political economists, including Ricardo for a time, argued that machinery is beneficial to the working class at least in the long term. The important thing here, though, is that (at least in my view) all of this fits quite well in the broader scheme of Marx's method I described.

jonglier wrote:
“Dialectical inversion” is a sense a meaningless phrase here. It is not as if Marx thinks that the same object persists but is somehow converted into its opposite.

I don't think so. The inversion consists in the fact that capitalism "develops production", but does so at the expense of the subjects who actually "do" the production. But of course without these subjects, there would be no production at all. So there is a certain limit to which capital can "develop production", a limit set, for example, by the self-activity of the subjects and their willingness to accept exploitation. So production is developed, but not for its own sake, but only as production conforming to the needs of capital, which are opposed to the needs of the working class, of the producers. BTW, I think there is a clear continuity between this and the section on commodity fetishism, as well as the contradiction of use-value and value.

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Feb 10 2012 13:21
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The inversion consists in the fact that capitalism "develops production", but does so at the expense of the subjects who actually "do" the production.

That's what the "inversion", the word used by Marx, refers to, but inversion isn't what happens: inversion is the wrong word.

If I drop a brick, is the kinetic energy released "dialectically inverted" into the sideways movement of the air? No - there is no "inversion", there is simply what happens, the sideways movement of the air is as necessary as the falling of the brick, they are different consequences of the same force, they are equal and opposite reactions. It adds nothing to my understanding of this process if I describe the relationship between the two movements as a "dialectical inversion".

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Feb 10 2012 13:50

Jonglier, I'm all for discussing the nuances of individual words. But if you want to do that, we'll have to stick to what Marx says,1 not what the translator dreamed up:

MEW 23, p. 674 wrote:
Wir sahen im vierten Abschnitt bei Analyse der Produktion des relativen Mehrwerts: innerhalb des kapitalistischen Systems vollziehn sich alle Methoden zur Steigerung des gesellschaftlichen Produktivkraft der Arbeit auf Kosten des individuellen Arbeiters; alle Mittel zur Entwicklung der Produktion schlagen um in Beherrschungs- und Exploitationsmittel des Produzenten...

In case you don't read German, there is no explicit mention of dialectics or inversions in the original passage. The word is "umschlagen" and it means something like "to turn around", "to turn into the opposite", "to turn over". What Marx says here corresponds, I think, to how I interpreted it above. "Dialectical inversion" is a heavily philosophically-laden translation (and a useful reminder of just how bad the English translations of Capital are).

  • 1. Obviously, even the quotation below is not "the original" because it's taken from MEW which has modernized Marx's language according to current rules.
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Feb 10 2012 14:08

On the brick example, it's actually pretty good.

The theoretical consciousness of capitalism – political economy – proclaimed that capitalism is the force of progress, of endless development of productive capacities which will ultimately be for the benefit of all. Marx shows how capitalist development of production necessarily takes place at the expense of those who do the production (even threatening the possibility of production itself, like with the lengthening of the working day). Whatever ideal intentions capitalists and their ideologues may have, actual capitalist development is at the expense of the producers. This is paradoxical. And very important to a critical theory which shows how human actions have unintendened consequences which are only partially (or in a distorted way) accounted for in the consciousness of the agents. To show this and reveal it as a paradox ("inversion") adds to the understanding of what's going on, unlike saying that bricks behave dialectically.

tl;dr: unlike bricks, people have intentions.

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Feb 10 2012 14:07

I have a non-MEW edition of Capital, 2nd edition 1872

The same part reads here:

Quote:
Es zeigte sich im Vierten Abschnitt bei der Analyse der Produktion des relativen Mehrwerts, daß alle Methoden zur Steigerung der gesellschaftlichen Produktivkraft der Arbeit in der kapitalistischen Form sich auf Kosten des individuellen Arbeiters vollziehn; daß alle Mittel zur Entwicklung der Produktion in Beherrschungs- und Ausbeutungsmittel des Produzenten umschlagen [...]

p596, chapter 23 (Anaconda)

Jura is entirely correct. But only because Marx didn't explicitly talk of dialectics, it doesn't mean he doesn't mean it that way; however, I think to translate it as "inversion" is quite a stretch.

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Feb 10 2012 18:43

Well, in English "invert" does in fact usually mean to turn over, or to turn into the opposite. So it seems like a fairly good translation to me, if that is the meaning in German.

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Feb 10 2012 20:55

Well, it is the term "dialectical inversion" as a whole that is rather troublesome. I think that a translator shouldn't insert heavy words like "dialectical" if they're not in the original context. It should be up to the reader to decide what the "overturning" or "inversion" or whatever is the best sounding translation really means. In this case, however, it's not such a big deal – the "inversion" fits quite well, I think, into the "minimalist" version of the dialectical method that I'm arguing for. I just wanted to point out how translations of Capital can be misleading (ironically enough, this is the Penguin edition which some people consider definitive). Marxist Philosophers sometimes get very excited, confused, or both, about things Marx supposedly says when in fact it's the translator speaking.

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Feb 10 2012 21:07
jura wrote:
. I just wanted to point out how translations of Capital can be misleading (ironically enough, this is the Penguin edition which some people consider definitive). Marxist Philosophers sometimes get very excited, confused, or both, about things Marx supposedly says when in fact it's the translator speaking.

good point. and don't get me started on the translation of Grundrisse...

Whenever there is a strange passage in Capital (I use Fowkes as the standard) I consult the German "original". While I can't read the German version cover to cover, my German is decent enough (helps that Norwegian is close-ish to German) to consult a sentence or passage or two. If I can't make sense of the German I consult the Moore and Avering (or did I completely get their names wrong...) or the Norwegian translation.

I am often quite shocked at the poor choice of words in the English translation. And I am also certain that there are likely issues in passages where I think the meaning is clear.

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Feb 10 2012 21:20

My favorite error (from the Moore-Aveling translation, which was supposedly edited by Engels) is this:

Quote:
First of all, Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative — the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things.

English is not my first language, so what do I know, but does the second part of the sentence in bold make any sense to anyone? "Instrumentality of things"? The proper translation (I think Fowkes got it right) would be something like "social relation between persons mediated by things".

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Feb 10 2012 21:51
Angelus wrote:
All the other useages of "dialectic" by Marxists and Communists tends to be a lot of nebulous blah-blah. Red Hughs on this forum is a particularly egregious offender in that regard.

Still smarting from previous discussions, it seems...

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Feb 10 2012 23:37
jura wrote:
My favorite error (from the Moore-Aveling translation, which was supposedly edited by Engels) is this:
Quote:
First of all, Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative — the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things.

English is not my first language, so what do I know, but does the second part of the sentence in bold make any sense to anyone? "Instrumentality of things"? The proper translation (I think Fowkes got it right) would be something like "social relation between persons mediated by things".

"instrumentality of things" - not exactly a common wording. But in this context, "instrumentality" might make sense as a synonym for "utility", i.e. it is things' use value (the value of a thing which exists due to its utility) which makes us interested in exchanging them and thus gives rise to trade and capital.

But yeah this is an unfortunate use of English; In almost 40 years I don't think I've ever heard the word "instrumentality" spoken and I've rarely seen it written. "Utility" or perhaps "functionality" would be a much better choice.

Not sure how the original text could be translated in these quite different ways. I don't have the original to hand and my German is very basic. The footnote suggests to me that the M-A translation is right though:

Marx wrote:
“A negro is a negro. In certain circumstances he becomes a slave. A mule is a machine for spinning cotton. Only under certain circumstances does it become capital. Outside these circumstances, it is no more capital than gold is intrinsically money, or sugar is the price of sugar.... Capital is a social relation of production. It is a historical relation of production.” (Karl Marx, “Lohnarbeit und Kapital,” N. Rh. Z., No.266, April 7, 1849.)

So things and people take on certain roles according to how they are used, i.e. their "instrumentality". That's how I read this anyway.

OK I found this (possibly not the original?) from here - http://www.mlwerke.de/me/me23/me23_792.htm

Quote:
Er entdeckte, daß das Kapital nicht eine Sache ist, sondern ein durch Sachen vermitteltes gesellschaftliches Verhältnis zwischen Personen.

which I would translate (uncertainly) with my high-school German and my copy of Langenscheidt as:

"He discovered that Capital isn't a thing, but a through-things-mediated social relationship between people."

Or more naturally, "...a social relationship between people, mediated by things".

Where the hell is "instrumentality" coming from? Having seen and attempted to understand the German text, I would agree with Jura - Fowkes seems more accurate.

I prefer the "mistranslation" as it actually says something!

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Feb 11 2012 02:29

In that passage, it is important that "durch" is translated properly. If I remember my highschool German "durch" is not "by" but "through". So it's not that social relations are mediated by things, but through things. It's a subtle difference, but somewhat significant (I guess it makes it less deterministic in a way).

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Feb 11 2012 23:31
Khawaga wrote:
In that passage, it is important that "durch" is translated properly. If I remember my highschool German "durch" is not "by" but "through". So it's not that social relations are mediated by things, but through things. It's a subtle difference, but somewhat significant (I guess it makes it less deterministic in a way).

As a native speaker of English I don't think this makes any difference. Whether you use "by" or "through" to indicate/conform to the instrumental* case is, to my knowledge, a matter of convention, style or idiom. I'm not highly educated in English grammar though, if you're aware of some nuance in meaning between "through" and "by"** that's escaped me all my life then please let me know!

It would be normal to say "mediated by", not "mediated through". On the other hand, you would seek fame through good works, not by them. However you would be known by your good works! To say "known through good works" doesn't convey some subtle semantic nuance, it's just not what a native speaker would say. It sounds clumsy.

*I hope the introduction of the word "instrumentality" didn't come about because someone was looking up the definition of the word "durch" and found a reference to the "instrumental" case... that would be embarrassing.

** Other than the nuance present between phrases like "through the tunnel" and "by the seaside" - but this is not the instrumental case.

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Feb 12 2012 04:31

You're right in English, it's doesn't make much difference. In Norwegian (and I assume German because of that) it is a significant difference so that's likely why I see it as such. In Norwegian (and again ditto for German I think), something can be "mediated" through and by. (Norwegian "formidlet gjennom [through]" or "formidlet av [by]. Hmm, come to think of it maybe I am Norwegifying this. Durch in german is both through and by... I think...

Lol, can some German speaker clear this up?

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Feb 12 2012 10:24
Khawaga wrote:
Durch in german is both through and by... I think...

Lol, can some German speaker clear this up?

Yes. Both through and by, if that is of any help for this discussion.

Basically a catch-all word for all mediations lol.

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Feb 12 2012 20:48

Thanks!

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Feb 17 2012 10:31
jura wrote:
In case you don't read German, there is no explicit mention of dialectics or inversions in the original passage. The word is "umschlagen" and it means something like "to turn around", "to turn into the opposite", "to turn over". What Marx says here corresponds, I think, to how I interpreted it above. "Dialectical inversion" is a heavily philosophically-laden translation (and a useful reminder of just how bad the English translations of Capital are).

Hi jura, thanks for this. I don't read German but I am learning the language at the moment and you have re-emphasised for me the importance of doing so. I suppose that I should not be so surprised at what the translators have been getting up to, but I think I have read translations for so long that I tend forget they are translations.

jura wrote:
The theoretical consciousness of capitalism – political economy – proclaimed that capitalism is the force of progress, of endless development of productive capacities which will ultimately be for the benefit of all. Marx shows how capitalist development of production necessarily takes place at the expense of those who do the production (even threatening the possibility of production itself, like with the lengthening of the working day). Whatever ideal intentions capitalists and their ideologues may have, actual capitalist development is at the expense of the producers. This is paradoxical. And very important to a critical theory which shows how human actions have unintendened consequences which are only partially (or in a distorted way) accounted for in the consciousness of the agents. To show this and reveal it as a paradox ("inversion") adds to the understanding of what's going on, unlike saying that bricks behave dialectically.

tl;dr: unlike bricks, people have intentions.

I'm going to think about this and get back to you.

Best, jonglier

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 5 2012 22:25

I wonder why none of you has questioned the traditional interpretation of Marx's relation to Hegel. It's quite clear that by the time he came to write Das Kapital, he had excised Hegel completely from his thought.

In response we are often pointed toward this passage from the Afterword to the second edition:

Quote:
The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi [Epigones – Büchner, Dühring and others] who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

However, it's worth noting that Marx put this avowal ("I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker..") in the past tense. He pointedly refrained from putting it in the present tense, nor did he say that he still thought Hegel a "mighty thinker".

But, even if he still thought Hegel a "mighty thinker", that doesn't mean he agreed with anything he had to say. For example, I think Plato is a "mighty thinker" but I disagree with 99.9% of what he said.

And we needn't speculate about the extent of Marx's respect for Hegel, since Marx indicated it was pretty low, for he went on to say:

Quote:
and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him.

So, we can see the extent of Marx's regard for Hegel; it meant that the very best he could do was 'coquette' with a few Hegelian terms-of-art, and only here and there! Hardly a ringing endorsement of Hegel, since it indicates Marx did not take him at all seriously (otherwise, why 'coquette'?). These days, we'd put such terms in 'scare quotes'.

Of course, Marx put all this beyond doubt when he very helpfully added to the same Afterword a review of 'his method':

Quote:
"After a quotation from the preface to my 'Criticism of Political Economy,' Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method, the writer goes on:*

'The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence. ... If in the history of civilisation the conscious element plays a part so subordinate, then it is self-evident that a critical inquiry whose subject-matter is civilisation, can, less than anything else, have for its basis any form of, or any result of, consciousness. That is to say, that not the idea, but the material phenomenon alone can serve as its starting-point. Such an inquiry will confine itself to the confrontation and the comparison of a fact, not with ideas, but with another fact. For this inquiry, the one thing of moment is, that both facts be investigated as accurately as possible, and that they actually form, each with respect to the other, different momenta of an evolution; but most important of all is the rigid analysis of the series of successions, of the sequences and concatenations in which the different stages of such an evolution present themselves. But it will be said, the general laws of economic life are one and the same, no matter whether they are applied to the present or the past. This Marx directly denies. According to him, such abstract laws do not exist. On the contrary, in his opinion every historical period has laws of its own.... As soon as society has outlived a given period of development, and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins to be subject also to other laws. In a word, economic life offers us a phenomenon analogous to the history of evolution in other branches of biology. The old economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry. A more thorough analysis of phenomena shows that social organisms differ among themselves as fundamentally as plants or animals. Nay, one and the same phenomenon falls under quite different laws in consequence of the different structure of those organisms as a whole, of the variations of their individual organs, of the different conditions in which those organs function, &c. Marx, e.g., denies that the law of population is the same at all times and in all places. He asserts, on the contrary, that every stage of development has its own law of population. ... With the varying degree of development of productive power, social conditions and the laws governing them vary too. Whilst Marx sets himself the task of following and explaining from this point of view the economic system established by the sway of capital, he is only formulating, in a strictly scientific manner, the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have. The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx's book has.'

"Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" [Marx (1976), pp.101-02. Bold emphases added.]

Comrades will no doubt note that Marx calls this the 'dialectic method', and 'his method', but it is also clear that it bears no relation to the sort of dialectics the aforementioned tradition would have us believe, for in it there is not one atom of Hegel -- no 'quantity turning into quality', no 'contradictions', no 'negation of the negation', no 'unity of opposites', no 'totality'...

It's also worth noting that this is the only summary of 'the dialectic method' that Marx published in his entire lifetime.

So, Marx's method has had Hegel totally extirpated. For Marx, putting Hegel on 'his feet' is to crush his head.

And of the few terms Marx used of Hegel's in Das Kapital, he tells us this:

Quote:
"and even, here and there in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him."

So, the 'rational core' of the dialectic has not one microgram of Hegel in it; indeed, as we have seen, Marx merely 'coquetted' with a few words of Hegelian jargon in Das Kapital. Marx's dialectic thus more closely resembles that of Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School (of Ferguson, Millar, Robertson, Smith, Hume and Stuart).

Others point to the Grundrisse, but Marx didn't see fit to publish that book, but he did publish the above. So, whatever it was that happened to Marx's thought between writing the Grundrisse and publishing Das Kapital, it clearly changed his view of Hegel's 'Logic' -- to such an extent that its phraseology became something with which he merely wished to "coquette".

Still others refer us to certain letters Marx sent to Engels and others (which seem to support the view that Marx still looked to Hegel when he wrote Das Kapital). However, these letters aren't conclusive either. Moreover, and more importantly, no unpublished work can countermand an author's published comments. In Marx's case, this included the only summary of 'the dialectic method' he published in his entire life (quoted above), in which there is no trace of Hegel whatsoever.

Hence, if we rely on what Marx actually published, which he called 'his method' and 'the dialectic method' -- and ignore the failed Hegel-Engels tradition -- it's clear that Marx had largely turned his back on this 'mighty thinker' when he wrote Das Kapital.

Others point to the following passage from Das Kapital:

Quote:
A certain stage of capitalist production necessitates that the capitalist be able to devote the whole of the time during which he functions as a capitalist, i.e., as personified capital, to the appropriation and therefore control of the labour of others, and to the selling of the products of this labour. The guilds of the middle ages therefore tried to prevent by force the transformation of the master of a trade into a capitalist, by limiting the number of labourers that could be employed by one master within a very small maximum. The possessor of money or commodities actually turns into a capitalist in such cases only where the minimum sum advanced for production greatly exceeds the maximum of the middle ages. Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his 'Logic'), that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes. [Marx (1996), p.313.]

Values (it is assumed that these are "exchange values") do not become capital by mere quantitative increment. It requires the presence of a capitalist mode of production (and thus a change in the relations of production), or a different use of that money, for this to happen. The capitalist concerned has to do something specific with these exchange values. So, the mere increase of exchange values does not automatically "pass over" into a qualitative change and become Capital. They have to be invested, and that too isn't automatic (in certain circumstances, they could be consumed). So, if anything, what we have here is a change in quality passing over into another change in quality! Quantity has nothing to do with it. The same quantity of money could be used as capital or fail to be so used. It requires a change in its quality to effect such a development

So, £x/$y (or their equivalent) owned by a Medieval Lord in the High Middle Ages couldn't become capital, no matter how large this pot of money became, whereas £w/$z in nineteenth century Manchester, even though it might be less than the £x/$y pounds held by that Lord (allowing for inflation, etc.), would be capital if employed in certain ways. It's not the quantity that is important here but the Mode of Production and the use to which the money is put.

[And does this money actually "develop"? In what way can it "develop"? Sure, money can be saved and/or accumulated, but how does a £1/$1 coin "develop" if its owner saves or accumulates more of the same? Even if we redefine "save" and "accumulate" to mean "develop" (protecting this 'law' by means of a terminological dodge, thus imposing it on the facts), not all money will "develop" in this way. What if all the money was stolen or was expropriated from, or by, another non-capitalist? What if all of it was obtained by selling land, slaves, works of art, political or other favours, etc? Where is the "development" here? But, it can still operate a capital, howsoever it was acquired.]

In which case, this is an egregious mis-application of Hegel's 'Law'. Now, either we believe Marx was an imbecile (in that he made this simple error), or we conclude he was still "coquetting". Take your pick...

Finally, others point to this letter

Quote:
What was of great use to me as regards method of treatment was Hegel's Logic at which I had taken another look by mere accident, Freiligrath having found and made me a present of several volumes of Hegel, originally the property of Bakunin. If ever the time comes when such work is again possible, I should very much like to write 2 or 3 sheets making accessible to the common reader the rational aspect of the method which Hegel not only discovered but also mystified." [Marx to Engels, 16/01/1858; MECW, Volume 40, p.248.]

Needless to say, Marx never supplied his readers with such a précis. From this we may perhaps draw the conclusion that in the end Marx didn't really think Hegel's method was all that significant. So, despite all the millions of words he committed to paper, he didn't consider it important enough to complete these relatively few pages.

Meanwhile, and in stark contrast, Marx spent a whole year of his life banging on about Karl Vogt -- but he still couldn't be bothered with this 'vitally important' summary.

High time we abandoned the traditional interpretation of Marx's dialectic...

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LaForce
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Mar 6 2012 09:12

Marx sucks.

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Railyon
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Mar 6 2012 09:17
LaForce wrote:
Marx sucks.

I used to think the same.

Then I actually read his stuff.

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LaForce
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Mar 6 2012 09:46

Haha... Yeah I've read Marx. That was one of them joke things.

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Mar 6 2012 09:51
LaForce wrote:
Haha... Yeah I've read Marx. That was one of them joke things.

Well, you never really know... black bloc

Not like there aren't any anarchists who think Marx was like the Jesus of communism, nothing surprises me anymore. tongue

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Mar 6 2012 10:01

Haha... and scarily there are just as many among those who hate him as those who like him.

Im pretty sure it was the John the Baptist of individualists who said something about there only ever being one christian and him dying on a cross.... or something?