Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Thesis Problem of the Day

I have this section of my thesis that is effectively homeless. Or at least peripatetic. I keep moving it around from place to place. Internally, it’s fine. It does its job. It reads okay. But it’s like a picture hanging on a wall that is always just slightly out of kilter – everywhere I try to situate it in the thesis just… irritates me. It interrupts the flow, kills the argumentative momentum. But I think I can’t shake the sense that I “ought” to have this section somewhere in the thesis, it’s too long to tuck into a footnote, and yet doesn’t feel comprehensive enough to justify moving it to an appendix. Basically, the section is really annoying me. ;-P

What it does, is to make a textual case that Marx intends to construct Capital as a sort of Hegelian “science” – a textual case that this was, in some sense, “the plan”. As currently written, it makes this case in a very non-comprehensive way. It takes one illustrative example from the Grundrisse, and one from “Results of the Direct Production Process” – both of which are fairly direct illustrations in full Hegelian regalia of the sorts of claims I’m making – and then talks a little bit about the much more subtle hints in the first chapter of Capital. This is not exactly what you’d call an exhaustive demonstration of the point. I say this because it would be possible to pull together many, many, many more passages across these and other works that can be used to pile up evidence for this argument. So this section is at best illustrative – a sort of demonstration to the reader that my perception that the text is using this strategy, isn’t solely an inference, but also has some more conventional sort of archival evidence to back it up. It doesn’t, however, really seek to mobilise archival material as a major reason a reader should buy into my interpretation of Marx’s method. So there’s a base-covering element to the section – which I think is part of what annoys me about it.

Another part of what annoys me about it is that I read wonderful discussions of archival evidence periodically by people who simply do a much better and more comprehensive job of assembling this evidence than I do. Every time this happens, I think, “you know, my discussion of this is really half-assed”. Then I think, “But I’m not really writing a piece on archival evidence for a particular dimension of Marx’s method, so I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this issue”. And so I end up keeping my little illustrative bit. But I continue to shove it around, in the vain hope of finding some place I can deposit it, where it doesn’t feel like it interrupts the flow of my argument, which largely tends to move from section to section by setting up some puzzle or problem presented by the reading thus far, which I’ll then try to resolve in the following section. None of these puzzles or problems intrinsically suggest that it would be interesting to go on a detour into a “proof text” for the sort of reading I’ve presented reconstructively, where the thrust of my argument has been “if we read the text with certain assumptions about method in mind, we can open some more powerful and interesting interpretations”. The reconstructive presentation keeps the focus on how the text can help us confront certain theoretical problems – so that those problems are central in my argument. What seems to happen (from my point of view at least) when I shift from reading Marx in a certain way, to trying to put forward evidence that Marx intends certain things, is that the focus of my argument is thrown into something where commentary on Marx becomes the end, rather than a means to something else I’m trying to understand… At the same time, some of the “proof texts” are far more unequivocal than anything I can do reconstructively. It’s difficult, for example, to get past a passage like this from the “Results of the Direct Production Process”, when trying to establish very clearly that Marx has Hegel’s “science” in mind when constructing his argument:

The commodity, as the elementary form of bourgeois wealth, was our starting point, the presupposition for the emergence of capital. On the other hand, commodities now appear as the product of capital.

The circular course taken by our presentation, on the one hand, corresponds to the historical development of capital, one of the conditions for the emergence of which is the exchange of commodities trade in commodities; but this condition itself is formed on the basis provided by a number of different stages of production which all have in common a situation in which capitalist production either does not as yet exist at all or exists only sporadically. On the other hand, the exchange of commodities in its full development and the form of the commodity as the universally necessary social form of the product first emerge as a result of the capitalist mode of production.

If, in contrast, we consider societies where capitalist production is fully developed, the commodity appears there as both the constant elementary presupposition of capital and, on the other hand, as the direct result of the capitalist production process.


[We proceed from the commodity, this specific social form of the product, as the basis and the presupposition of capitalist production. We take the individual product in our hands and analyse the formal determinations it contains as a commodity, which mark it out as a commodity… commodity circulation, and money circulation within certain limits, hence a certain degree of development of trade, are the presupposition, the starting point of capital formation and the capitalist mode of production. It is as such a presupposition that we treat the commodity, since we proceed from it as the simplest element in capitalist production. On the other hand, the commodity is the product, the result of capitalist production. What appears as its first element is later revealed to be its own product, and the more this production develops, the more do all the ingredients of production enter into the production process as commodities.]

The commodity as it emerges from capitalist production is determined differently from the commodity as it was at the starting point, as the element, the presupposition, of capitalist production. We started with the individual commodity as an independent article in which a specific quantity of labour time was objectified, and which therefore had an exchange value of a given magnitude.

Henceforth the commodity appears in a dual determination:

(1) What is objectified in it, apart from use value, is a specific quantity of socially necessary labour, but whereas in the commodity as such it remains entirely undetermined (and is in fact a matter of indifference) from whom this objectified labour derives, etc., the commodity as the product of capital contains in part paid, and in part unpaid labour…..

(2) The individual commodity not only appears materially as a part of the total product of the capital, as an aliquot part of the amount produced by it. Now we no longer have in front of us the individual, independent commodity, the individual product. It is not individual commodities which appear as the result of the process, but a mass of commodities in which the value of the capital advanced + the surplus value, the appropriated surplus labour, has been reproduced. Each of these individual commodities is a repository of the value of the capital and the surplus value produced by it. The labour applied to the individual commodity can no longer be calculated at all – if only because this would be a calculation of the average, hence a notional estimate….

(3) The commodity now reveals itself as such – as the repository of the total value of the capital + the surplus value, as opposed to the commodity which originally appeared to us as independent – as the product of capital in reality as the converted form of the capital which has now been valorised – in the scale and the dimensions of the sale which must take place in order that the old capital value may be realised, along with the surplus value it has created. To achieve this it is by no means enough for the individual commodities or part of the individual commodities to be sold at their value.

And so on… On one level, these sorts of passages illustrate the claims I’m making about Marx’s appropriation of Hegel’s method in a clear and definitive way. On another level, these passages also introduce other sorts of (extremely interesting) issues, but prematurely, with reference to what I’m trying to discuss in the early chapters, where I’m making preliminary claims about Marx’s relationship to Hegel in order to get the narrative underway. So there’s a problem created by the need to draw a reader’s attention to how these texts support the claims I’m making about Marx’s method, without getting distracted into interpreting these passages themselves… And there’s simply the problem that introducing a section that talks about textual evidence of Marx’s intentions, seems to me to keep interrupting the flow of my argument…

I’ve been toying with the question of whether I can deal with this problem with a slightly more elaborate version of what I did for the conference paper. There, I said that I would leave aside the whole issue of textual evidence for Marx’s intentions, and instead ask what difference it would make for our reading, if we approached the text with certain key assumptions in mind (assumptions I had derived from an interpretation of Hegel’s method). I’m toying with the idea of doing something similar in the thesis, via pointing to the various works whose express purpose is to demonstrate this sort of connection between Hegel and Marx – so to include just a couple of sentences or a paragraph in transition from Hegel to Marx, mentioning that better scholars than I had done wonderful work on this issue, and so I’ll presuppose certain things as given, based on their work, and focus instead on how the text opens up, when we confront it with those premises. My hesitation here is that there are differences – sometimes slight, but sometimes significant – between how I personally read both Hegel and Marx, and the readings that inform other attempts to demonstrate the Hegelian underpinnings of Marx’s work. So, while I think it’s been fairly well-illustrated that Marx intends Capital as a “science” in a certain Hegelian sense, and a few of the authors who think this also share a similar conception of how the derivation of categories works, at least in a general sense, any works I might cite will also be making claims about Marx, Hegel, or both that don’t entirely jibe with my reading – and I don’t want to act as though I’m implying that other scholarship supports what I’m doing, more than it actually does. And, of course, launching off onto a long digression about how, exactly, I differ from a number of specific works that address this issue, carries much the same disadvantages as just outlining my own textual evidence: it distracts from the flow of the argument into a side issue…

I’m sure this all makes scintillating reading… ;-P Just depositing the problem here to see if the process of complaining about it, helps me work out a better strategy for writing my way around it…

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