Towards A Systematic Dialectic.

Very clear paper by Arthur outlining his project of systematic dialectic and the Marx Hegel homology:

Substantively systematic dialectic reexamines or reconstructs Marxian theory in the light
of the above protocols. (Indeed, it is striking that those who have attempted such a
rigorous dialectical systematisation of Marx’s work have generally found it necessary to
reconstruct it to some degree.)

Here the problem to be explored is why and how a categorial logic drawn from Hegel
could possibly be relevant to a critique of political economy. When Marx acknowledged
the influence of Hegel’s dialectic on his Capital he failed to explain how an idealist logic
could assist a materialist science. It is my belief that Marx himself was not clear about
the answer to this question; and the relatively sketchy, and enigmatic, methodological
remarks in his Prefaces may be a sign of this. In the Afterword to the second edition of
Capital Marx rightly said that his method had been little understood; but this second
edition was not understood either, not least because the Afterword raised more questions
than it solved, especially with regard to some notoriously ambivalent and opaque remarks
on dialectic. He says that his dialectical method is the opposite of Hegel’s. ‘With him’,
Marx says, ‘it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational
kernel within the mystical shell.’ But what exactly is to be inverted? Marx left the
impression that one could preserve a logic while inverting its ontological presuppositions.
But this introduces a dichotomy between form and content which is itself undialectical.

In my opinion what has to be understood as inverted is not only Hegel’s ‘Idea’ but capital
itself. It is because capital is upside-down, so to speak, that an upside-down philosophy
applies to it. How does a domain of material reality become inverted? Well, in the first
place it is because the logic of exchange imposes the same identical abstract form on all
goods, namely the value-form, which then develops to capital as the form of self-
valorising value. I hold that there is a peculiar affinity between the articulation of
Hegel’s ‘Idea’ and the structural relations of commodities, money and capital. Moreover,
since the human bearers of the structure of capital are reduced to personifications of its
categories, the capitalist, the wage-laborer, and so on, we find the same kind of self-acting
forms as those in Hegel’s logic. Of course, they cannot be forms of thought as they are in
Hegel. Nonetheless I believe that the capitalist system does indeed consist in part of
logical relations. At bottom this is because of the way exchange abstracts from the
heterogeneity of commodities and treats them as instances of a universal, namely value.
This practical abstraction parallels the way the abstractive power of thought operates; and
it gives rise to a homologous structure to logical forms, namely the forms of value.
Alfred Sohn-Rethel (in his Intellectual and Manual Labour) was the first to draw attention
to the crucial importance of the process, and result, of ‘real abstraction’ in the critique of
political economy. (As an aside I think it is necessary to replace Sohn-Rethel’s term ‘real
abstraction with that of ‘practical abstraction’. This is because purely mental abstractions
may yet have real effects if people act on them, and do so only because they are really
present in their heads so to speak.) Commodities brought to market are incommensurable
as use-values because their particular qualities are adapted to different uses. What
happens in the formation of exchange value is an abstraction from such specificity, and
the negation of this difference of use-value. It is not necessary for the parties to the
exchange to know what they are doing in this respect. But as a consequence of this
practical abstraction from the specificity of the use-values concerned, which is
‘suspended’ for the period of exchange, the commodities acquire as a new determination
the universal form of exchange value, and they play the role of bearers of this
determination imposed on them while passing through this phase of their life-cycle.

Moreover Sohn-Rethel analysed the form of value as such which springs from exchange
as such, bracketing any labour content. Theoretical priority must be accorded to ‘form
analysis’, because it is the practice of exchange that establishes the necessary social
synthesis in the first place before labours expended may be commensurated in it.What is at issue in the value-form abstraction is by no means the same sort of abstraction
as natural science employs, when it studies mass, for example, and treats bodies under this
description regardless of their other properties. For mass is indeed a given property of the
bodies concerned, inhering in each. But, as Marx says, value has ‘a purely social reality’,
not ‘an atom of matter’ enters into it. Whereas in the mass case ‘the principle of
abstraction’ may quite properly be used to say that two bodies, balancing each other on a
scale, share the same mass, in the case of value this principle operates in reverse so to
speak: because we equate the commodities as values we in practice impute to them the
same value as if value were a property inherent in them. The fetishism so posited is an
objective phenomenon, not a confusion of social consciousness.

I go further than just drawing attention to methodological lessons from Hegel’s systematic
ordering of categories, as do others. I draw also on his ontology. Hegel is the great expert
on how an ideality has to build itself up, moment by moment, into a self-actualising
totality, an ‘Absolute’. If then, as I believe, capital has in part an ideal reality, then if it
can be shown to incarnate Hegel’s blueprint it may be self-sustaining in the same way.
My view is that Hegel’s logic can be drawn on in such a study of capitalism because
capital is a very peculiar object, grounded in a process of practical abstraction in exchange
in much the same way as Hegel’s dissolution and reconstruction of reality is predicated on
the abstractive power of thought. Abstraction is ‘out there’.

Conversely I interpret Hegel’s self-actualising Idea as the ontologic specific to capital,
because it has relevance only to an inverted reality reproduced by self-moving
abstractions. Epochally capital has made good its claim to be Absolute through
developing its wealth and power. In subsuming all otherness as a moment within it,
capital seems a self-identical totality. ‘Post-modernists’ deny the validity of the category
of totality, as if Hegel and Marx were at fault for using it, whereas they reflect (Hegel
uncritically and Marx critically) the totalising logic of the value-form which really
imposes itself in such a manner that material and social relationships become inscribed
within it. But capital as an ideal totality cannot account for what is in excess of its concept
of itself, the concrete richness of social labor, not to mention that of Nature.
However, what is striking is that the dialectic of capital is pretty much parallel to the
dialectic of Hegel’s Idea. It is as if Hegel, in his philosophy, absolutised the specific
dialectic of capital, although his factual knowledge of fully functioning capital was gained
second-hand, in his readings of classical political economy and the English newspapers.

Worth reading the rest here, if only to see the amazing homology chart Arthur constructed.

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in Marxology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s