Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Some comments on the first meeting of Grundrisse

Due to my poor understanding and memory, I don't think I'm able to summarize the first meeting. Instead, I'll just write what I said (or intended to say) to the questions raised in the discussion. Sorry for this, but please understand....

Q1: Does Marx prioritize production over distribution, circulaiton, and consumption? If so, why?

My answer to the first part is, yes. But I don't think he attempts to prove it or explain why. Rather, he seems to take it for granted without question as he did for the value concept (and labour as its substance) in relation to his theory of value in ch.1 Capital Vol.1. In his letter to Ludwig Kugelmman (11 July 1868, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1868/letters/68_07_11.htm), Marx addresses the critique widely raised after the first publicaiton of Capital Vol.1 that he failed to prove the existence of value and labour substance of value. In this letter, Marx writes to the effect that those are so 'self-evident' facts, and thus require no proof.

In the similar vein, I think that Marx is taking for granted the priority of production which is the site of labour expansion; and that the detail explanations on the dialectical relations among production, distribution, circulation, and consumption are not to be read as proofs for the priority of produciton, but as premised upon the latter.

Q2: How should we understand Marx's method described with dichotomous sets of 'complex/simple' and 'concrete/abstract'?

I think we have to understand Marx's two-way categorial development in light of Hegel's Logic. In Science of Logic, Hegel distinguishes two methods of logic; i) analytical method ("Its activity therefore consists in analysing the given concrete, isolating its differences, and giving them the form of abstract generality.") ii) synthetical method ("It starting-point is given by the general, from which we proceed by particularizing to the individual [i.e. concrete].")

How I understand Hegel's Logic, very briefly: First of all, Hegel's Logic is the science of Idea, and has totality as its object. First facing with empirical facts of totality, Idea has very shallow understanding of totality; so moves to the abstract/simple stage through abstraction. (analytical method) Through the categorial development from the abstract/simple to the concrete/complex Idea reaches the full conception (or notion, begriff) of totality. (synthetical method)

Since capitalism (an object of Marx's theory) too is totality which cannot be immediately grasped, Marx thought Hegel's Logic a useful method in having a full notion of his totality object. (In this sense, I think Marx did not mindlessly take Hegel's method so as to apply it to his object of analysis, but critically appropriate it.) So I think there is a strong parallel; the first journey 'the chaotic concrete -> the abstract' and the second 'the abstract -> the concrete with many determinations' corresponding to analytical method and synthetical method, respectively. Returning back to where it started, i.e. sensically observed capitalism, but this time with a full grasp of it in its totality.

I think Marx applied this method in presenting his labour theory of value in ch.1 of Capital. He starts with commodity and exchange value as empirically observed, and abstracts to value and labour. (analytical method) From there he traces back to where he started. (synthetical method) But this time we have knowledge that commodity doubles into commodity and money, and exchange value as a form of appearance of value has different forms, i.e. money form and capital form.

Q3: Is Marx's method (of categorial development) purely logical, or do its categorial stages correspond to actual history?

As for this famous 'logical-historical vs. capital's logic' controversy, I side with the latter. As said, Marx's method starts with the observed reality in capitalism, and from there it conducts the categorial development in order to grasp the inner logic of capital. I think Marx's method is historical-material in two senses: i) It starts from nowhere but concrete historical facts in capitalist society, and problematizes them. ii) It's final aim is to acquire a full conception of those concrete historical facts in their totality. It doesn't seme to me that the historical-material aspect of it requires every categorial stage to correspond to a certain historical stage. Since the object of Marx's analysis is capitalism, his method deals with inner logical stages of capitalism not actual stages of the developmental history of capitalism. Marx's logic seems to be synchronic rather than diachronic.

1 comment:

ManafQ said...

Hello Everyone,

For Question 1, i would add that Marx prioratizes production because it is the site where social stratification and inequality occurs. Moreover, it is also the site where resistance occurs as well. But this is a reflection on Vol. 1 of cpaital and not the Grundrisse, which i havent struggled with yet. Nit sure if you can use teh same dress for the Grundrisse. I hope im not confusing anyone or misunderstanding things.