[Andrew Kliman wrote:]
Reply to Chicago Political Workshop, Chris Cutrone, and Principia Dialectica
Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: Andrew Kliman | Filed under: Organization, Philosophy | Tags: concreteness, plagiarism, Postone |
On plagiarism, Postone, and “the” present
May 27, 2009
1. First, I want to respond to the charge that I plagiarize Moishe Postone, by categorically denying it. When, last July, Sean of Principia Dialectica put forward the allegation of plagiarism (using somewhat different words), I tried to overlook it. I thought that the charge wouldn’t be taken seriously, given that Sean left it wholly unsubstantiated. But now I see that the charge has indeed been taken seriously, repeated, and perhaps implicitly endorsed, by the Chicago Political Workshop, in a posting two days ago.
[Principia Dialectica allegation of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman:]
[Chicago Political Workshop posting:]
That Sean first encounters some idea in Postone, and then encounters a somewhat similar idea when he hears Kliman, tells us something about the process of Sean’s intellectual development. It tells us nothing about the process of development of the ideas. It is not evidence of plagiarism.
But as far as I can see, when Sean alleges that “Postone’s book is having a much more profound effect on” Kliman than he is “prepared to admit,” and that at “Kliman’s talk in London it was evident that Postone’s influence had rubbed off … although … he was loathe to admit it,” the case against me rests wholly on the sequence in which Sean personally encountered the ideas.
For the record: My understanding of capital(ism) and Marx’s critique of it were pretty much fully formed by or before 1988, when I completed my Ph.D. at the age of 33. The key thinker who influenced my views on these matters was Marx himself. (It is strange, indeed, to allege that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement when his Time, Labor, and Social Domination is not a primary text, but an interpretation of a work to which we both have access, Marx’s Capital!)
My views were also deeply influenced by the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, and there were lesser influences—such as I. I. Rubin and various authors of the 1970s and 1980s who discussed “abstract labor” and “value-form.”
I read Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination in the mid 1990s, but it did not make a strong impression on me, for three reasons: (a) my views were already well formed; (b) much of Postone’s argument was not new to me, since it was quite similar to things developed in the “abstract labor” and “value-form” discussions of 10-20 years before (as Chris Arthur noted in his mid-1990s review of Postone’s book in Capital and Class); and (c) Postone’s view of abstract and concrete labor is so different from Marx’s, and his exegetical interpretation of Marx’s concepts of abstract and concrete labor is so wrong, that I didn’t find his book particularly helpful in order to further develop my own thinking.
But what have I said that sounds so Postone-like to Sean (and perhaps also the Chicago Political Workshop)? I’m guessing it is the following: “In his talk Kliman spelt out in a clear manner that value – as the mediator of human relations – is the subject that needs to be overcome if we are all to move towards creating a fully human society.”
Well, I arrived at this perspective by studying the work of Dunayevskaya (principally from Marxism and Freedom and from her writings of the 1940s which argued that the USSR was a state-capitalist society because the law of value operated there), and then from Marx himself, when I re-studied Capital in light of her interpretation. Here’s something Ted McGlone and I wrote about this issue that was published in 1988—i.e., well before the appearance of Postone’s book:
[R]adical economists’ views on value theory have seemingly crystallized into two main approaches, characterised by de Vroey (1982) as the `technological’ and `social’ paradigms. As students of a third, humanist problematic, we hope in this paper to create a dialogue with proponents of other approaches …. Our own view is neither ‘technicist’ nor market-oriented, but a production-centred value theory of labour . In short, we take capitalist technological relations themselves to be social relations, class relations of dead to living labour in production . `[L]abour is expressed in value’ because `the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite’ (Marx, 1977 : 174-75) . We do not de-emphasise the quantitative aspect of Marx’s value theory, however; this paper, for instance, attaches great importance to the aggregate equalities which obtain in Marx’s transformation procedure.” [pp. 56-57 of Andrew Kliman and Ted McGlone, “The Transformation Non-Problem and the Non-Transformation Problem,” Capital and Class 35, Autumn 1988]
I request that a link to the above response be published wherever the allegation appears that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement, and that the allegation itself be withdrawn.
2. I am pleased that the Chicago Political Workshop and I agree that “those on the left who treat all attempts to understand the political economy of capitalism as rank economism” should be taken to task. I hope that this can be the beginning of a fruitful dialogue.
3. The Chicago Political Workshop writes, “It is our sense that Kliman’s work thus far is inadequate to his own charge, but that he is right that understanding capitalism is essential to overcoming it.” Okay, I’ll bite: why is my work thus far inadequate to my own charge? (And what exactly does this mean—what charge, exactly?) I’m not trying to pick a fight here; I’m always seeking to improve my work. And maybe there are different views here about the kinds of things that need to be developed, which would then be a potentially fruitful topic for discussion.
4. In response to the Chicago Political Workshop post, Chris Cutrone engaged some of the issues yesterday. It is not clear to me whether Chris is criticizing me, and if so, why. But his posting can be read as one that links me to “traditional Marxism”—“Instead, it becomes a matter of one form of analysis (Postone) as better than another (Kliman, et al., or, as Postone puts it, ‘traditional Marxism’)”—and to an alleged call for “for some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalism” to the exclusion of other analyses and inquires.
[Chris Cutrone response to the Chicago Political Workshop:]
Again, I’m not sure of Chris’s intent, so I’ll just discuss this possible reading. The “traditional Marxism” notion is strange and ill-informed. What is “traditional Marxism” about the Marxist-Humanism developed by Raya Dunayevskaya, which the Marxist-Humanist Initiative is now attempting to renew organizationally? She was no traditional Marxist in the eyes of the traditional Marxists who turned her into an un-person (the historical-literary allusion is intentional). What is “traditional Marxism” about the temporal single-system interpretation of Marx’s value theory, the proponents of which, myself included, have been turned into un-persons (the historical-literary allusion is intentional) by the traditional Marxist value theorists?
As for the alleged call for “for some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalism” to the exclusion of other analyses and inquiries, I have no affinity with it. I am not calling for people to come down on one side or the other of a rigid, binary, either/or choice between “economics” and everything else. I think the notion that we have to pick and choose is ridiculous.
Unfortunately, Chris doesn’t agree that it is ridiculous. For reasons that are unclear to me, he presents the options open to us as a rigid either/or choice: “As if the reproduction of capital is primarily a matter of *economics* (and not politics, culture, or ideology)!” Why do we have to choose? Can’t it be a matter of all four? And why the word “primarily”? This seems to suggest that there must be a hierarchy of determinants that’s the same in all cases, and that “economics” is separate from–if not indeed opposed to–politics, culture, and ideology, rather than all of them being mutually constituting moments of one total process.
The need to choose also seems to be implicit in the following phrases of Chris’s: “THE problem of capitalism” and “THE problem of capital” (my caps). I don’t really understand these phrases, but I’m skeptical of the reduction of a very complex set of processes to one “problem”—THE problem. But note that if there’s just one problem, then it’s more plausible that there’s just one best approach to THE problem, and thus it becomes more plausible that we have to choose THE best approach.
And then Chris says, “We do indeed need an adequate analysis of our contemporary situation. Platypus chooses, quite deliberately, to analyze the present in terms of history, the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” I have no problem with analyzing “the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” That’s also what Dunayevskaya did, again and again, and it’s what my comrades and I in Marxist-Humanist Initiative are trying to do today.
But here again, Chris burdens us with a dubious “the”: “analyze THE present in terms of history … a history of unresolved problems on the Left” (my caps). The only sense I can make of this is that Chris means that Platypus chooses, quite deliberately , to ignore any dimension of “the” present that can’t be sliced and diced so as to fit the Procrustean bed of “a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” For surely, to take just one key example, the current NON-reproduction of capital—the current economic (and therefore political, cultural, and ideological) crisis—is a significant aspect of “the problem of capital” today, an important aspect of “the present.” But there just ain’t no way that one can fruitfully discuss it “as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” Unless one wants to just ignore this significant dimension of “the present,” I think it would be more useful to seriously study the theories of value and crisis in Capital and the daily news in the financial press.
Chris writes, “Whereas Marx critiqued the bourgeois philosophy and political-economy of the heroic period (of Kant and Hegel and Adam Smith and David Ricardo, et al.) and the ideology of his contemporary socialist “Left” (of Proudhon, et al.) … we in Platypus start with the problematic consciousness on the present-day “Left” and its historical roots, what the present “Left” has abandoned as being symptomatic of its fatal problems.” Again, I have no trouble with subjecting to scrutiny “the problematic consciousness” of the contemporary Left. But Chris’s historical analogy suffers, I think, from an insufficient appreciation of the Kantian sense in which Marx “critiqued” political economy. It was a critique not just of ideology and philosophy and economic thought, but a critique of the conditions needed for them to exist—a critique of the mode of production and corresponding social formation upon which this ideology and philosophy and economic thought arise, and which make them possible.
Now, I’m not saying that the consciousness of the Left needs to be understood by deriving it from the vicissitudes of the mode of production. I’m just saying that critique in the sense of Marx’s phrase “ruthless critique of all that exists” is not a critique of “consciousness” detached from all else.
Chris’s rigid binary emerges the most clearly, however, in the following: “The spirit of Marx today is not to be found in the immanent-ideology critique of the New York Times columns of Paul Krugman et al., let alone an analysis of ‘economic’ phenomena, BUT RATHER in the political and ‘philosophical,’ cultural and psychological critique of the supposed (but actually pseudo-) ‘Left,’ and its critical recognition as the product of a *regression* in theory and practice since the time of Marx and the best Marxists” (my caps). Again, I have nothing against looking at the issue that Chris wants to look at, but what’s this “but rather” about? Why do we need to choose? And is it really in “the spirit of Marx” to ignore the worst economic crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, possibly soon to become the worst slump since the 1930s—or maybe worse? No, of course it isn’t. That’s absurd. One matter “of consciousness” continues to intrigue and trouble me: the effort to declare that there’s one best way of looking and thinking, and that it is the same best way for everything. This effort, as I suggested above, goes hand in hand with a stringent reduction of complex processes and phenomena to single units—“the” problem of capital, “the” present.
Chris Cutrone did not invent this approach. I’ve encountered it again and again among critical-theory-type folks, Western Marxists, whatever. For instance, at a New York book party for my book, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency, Bertell Ollman kept counterposing his way of approaching Capital (as a discussion of alienation) to mine (which is evidently to focus narrowly on the myth of inconsistency, or on “economics”—because, if I write a book about the myth of inconsistency, then, well, obviously, that’s how I approach Capital !). I just as insistently kept repeating that there was no need to choose—pointing out the cheese and focaccia that we had as refreshments at the event, I kept reminding the audience, “you can have cheese AND focaccia”—but Ollman would have none of it.
This got me to thinking: Why would anyone want to defend the importance of alienation to Capital by dismissing the issue of Capital’s internal inconsistency and by dismissing a defense of its internal consistency?
And how could anyone think that he was actually defending Marx’s discussion of alienation by projecting the attitude that the logical consistency of what Marx wrote is unimportant?!
So I came up with the following conjecture: The tendency toward rigid, totalizing either/or oppositions flows from a relativist or perspectivist position that has infected Western Marxism. As we all know, there are different ways of looking at and thinking about the world. But relativists and perspectivists go further. They claim that these different ways of looking and thinking are the ultimate determinants of the conclusions at which we arrive. In other words, they claim that, in the end, one’s perspective dominates over any input from logic and facts—or that what counts as facts and logic, too, is determined by one’s perspective.
If that is so, then there are no “external” facts and logic that determine the results of any inquiry. All results depend on the perspective one adopts, and the adoption of a perspective is just a matter of choice—no “external” facts or logic induce one choice rather than another. So what becomes paramount is not to investigate the phenomena and answer the questions, but to struggle over the choice of perspective. Since the perspective determines the results, the hegemony of THE RIGHT way of looking and thinking is all important. And since there are no “external” facts or logic that would allow us to say that this method might be helpful to answering this kind of question, while that method might be appropriate to the investigation of that problem, there’s a strong tendency to TOTALIZE the struggle for the hegemony of one’s perspective. If one accepts that one’s perspective is partial, one is accepting the legitimacy of a different perspective, and since there are no “external” facts and logic that would determine the boundaries of either perspective—this is appropriate for exploring the crisis of the Left, that’s appropriate for explaining the current economic crisis, etc.—there is just an interminable turf battle, ranging over the entire turf. So in order that one’s perspective not be globally defeated by an alien perspective, one must struggle for the global defeat of the alien perspective.
In the real world (and in intellectual endeavors where getting real results, not just panache, matters), no one thinks like this. We don’t wipe our butts with spatulas; we don’t cook with toilet paper; and we don’t ask which one we primarily need in order to grapple with “the” problem of daily living. Thank goodness.
[Chris Cutrone replied:]
1 comment: Chris Cutrone said at 11:15 pm on May 27th, 2009:
I agree that there is no question of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman. I think Principia Dialectica’s argument is tendentious, at best.
Similarly, I must admit to giving a rather one-sided polemical argument in my critique of the Chicago Political Workshop.
I was arguing against an economic-determinist approach. If I were to put it dialectically, I would say, following Marx, that one needs to inquire into the philosophical underpinnings of the economy as much as one might need to interrogate the political-economic conditions of thought.
I agree that a Kantian approach is appropriate, i.e., inquiring into conditions of possibility [inquiring into the conditions of possibility for capitalism].
So I would not want to be mistaken for giving an either/or view of economics vs. philosophy, etc.
On the other hand, I would stand by the formulation of a question of “the” problem of capital. For the totalizing process of capital is not a matter of an apparent static heterogeneity, as if there is no difference at any moment (there is), but rather how the concrete and particular play out over time (and this in a complicated way).
And so I would not chalk up emancipatory potential to such difference, which I see as potentially (and usually) contributing precisely to the reproduction of capital, rather than its overcoming over time.
I don’t think it’s a matter of adopting a (single) perspective, but rather, looking back over history, there was a trajectory from Marx to Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky that brought to a head the crisis (for humanity, in a historical sense) of capital, which has been abandoned since then. In other words, I think the contradiction of capital was manifested by historical revolutionary Marxism, rather than the latter just responding to it. I think — and it’s Platypus’s point of departure — that the history of the Left is the history of capital brought to its highest expression. This history offers us a potential perspective, perhaps not the only one, but the best one, or, more accurately, the most necessary one that is available.
In the words of Sebastian Haffner, author of Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19, this history illuminates the present — reveals it in definite relief — like a piercing laser beam.
* * *
P.S. I would encourage everyone interested to review my exchange with the Marxist Humanist Peter Hudis in the Platypus Review on capital in history:
My original article:
Peter Hudis reply: