The annals of Marxist political economy, c.q. the critique thereof, show a great deal of abstruse, opaque, and downright remote argumentation about minutiae. Much of this can be blamed on the persistent habit of Marxist arguments to take the form of disputes about the ‘true Marx’, about what Marx ‘really said’, rather than being arguments on the merits of theories in their own right. This substitution of philology and exegesis for direct debate cannot fail to make already quite abstract arguments even more confusing and distant from everyday political concerns, and thereby even less accessible to the average activist or intellectual interested in developments in Marxist theory. That’s deplorable, and it is incumbent on all those concerned to end this sorry tradition.
That said, the latest round of such argumentation is that between Michael Heinrich and Andrew Kliman and his collaborators on the nature and meaning of the ‘law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’.(1) Heinrich is the main exponent of a German school of interpretation of Marx, known as the Neue Marxlektüre, that is heavily philological. Various members of this school including Heinrich himself are involved in the project of the new scientific complete editions of Marx and Engels’ works in German (and the other original languages), known as MEGA2, which perhaps furthers this exegetic mindset. Kliman and his colleagues, on the other hand, are more prominent in the Anglosphere and represent a particular school of Marxist political economy there, best known for developing a powerful critique of prevailing assumptions about the ‘transformation problem’ that has obstructed Marxist economic thinking for so long. This approach, known as TSSI, has made quite an impact and has contributed to clearing the way for actually moving ahead with more novel and empirical work in Marxist economics, in lieu of the repetition of moves that had been the norm for most of the 20th century.
I have reviewed Heinrich’s main work translated into English, his introduction to Capital, in some detail here, and I won’t repeat my points in that context. What is significant in this particular case is that a number of economists, namely Kliman himself, Alan Freeman, Nick Potts, Alexey Gusev, and Brendan Cooney of kapitalism101, have written a rejoinder to Heinrich’s arguments about the impossibility of a law of the falling rate of profit and Marx’s alleged decision to abandon such a theory. The rejoinder can be found here, in response to Heinrich setting out the same argument of his book in Monthly Review; a reply by Heinrich is said to be forthcoming.
This argument gives rise to some reflection by outsiders (especially in the Marxist Facebooksphere), and I think that’s justified, and I want to add to that. While the argument is about as obscure and polemical as one can imagine, this kind of odium theologicum among Marxist economists is worth going into for a number of reasons. The first is because of the way philology and exegesis get mobilized. The reading of texts, especially for Heinrich, appears to be central to the argument about the correct presentation of Marxist theory. This in turn invites the counter-philology of Kliman et al., who counter Heinrich’s reading of Marx’s texts and manuscripts with their own – much of this revolving around inconsistencies in marginal notes and unpublished documents. There are some serious issues with this. Both sides are quite inconsistent, in that they accuse each other of selective reading and use of unpublished documents to prove their point, which both of them indeed are guilty of.
Some arguments are less strong than others – it seems to me Kliman et al. overall have the stronger argument in philology itself, because of the consistency of their view with Marx’s work as a whole and the purpose of his value theory, especially of the sections on the falling rate of profit in it. But it is clear that the question is not quite resolvable on this basis. Engels’ editing work is brought in once again as the eternal point of dispute, mainly as nobody quite knows what his influence was and how much it matters – the appearance of Engels as the deus ex machina, or more often the demon ex machina, of Marxology is a sure sign that the argument has become fruitless. Some have pointed to the one clause in which Marx writes ‘rises’ and Kliman et al. suggest this may be a slip of the pen, which seems an illegitimate and opportunistic argument; but such things do indeed happen, as proven by the infamous case of the Wicked Bible. But what’s more important is the premise that such philology is the deciding factor. Whereas Heinrich as a German speaker working on the manuscripts themselves no doubt has a superior position in analyzing individual comments, this is no reason why Kliman et al. could not have the better reading on the whole. What seems ignored by both parties is that it is a truism of any philology that for a prolific and perfectionist, constantly learning author like Marx, it would be highly suspect if there were not inconsistencies in his comments and works – especially in marginal notes in unpublished manuscripts. This gets us nowhere.
A better scientific criterion would be to leave the philology for what it is and decide the question as a question of theory. There, the deciding factors are the normal scientific ones: which theory has more explanatory value, is more consistent, usable in practice, empirically ‘testable’, more clearly defined in its terms and domain, and relates better to other theories – in other words, is more operational? It seems to me the Kliman et al. version, leading to the interesting and plausible novel proposals such as Kliman’s book on the crisis, has the better of it on that basis. As Kliman et al. rightly point out, the fall in the rate of profit as an empirical phenomenon, as a secular trend, was taken as known by the classical economists from Smith onwards. The question was always how to explain it, and this makes Marx’s idea of this law much more plausible and purposeful, especially since this is not at all equal to the statement the rate of profit is always falling. Heinrich claims there is no such theory at all, which then makes the purpose of any of Marx’s comments on it impossible to understand.
Neoclassical economics, which has no real theory of profit, has buried this notion, despite its recurrence in cases of crisis, as noted in a confused way even by its most mainstream analysts possible. In their somewhat preposterously titled 2011 Big Shift Index, Deloitte’s analysis of long term trends reports: “One of the central themes of the Shift Index, and the topic which generates the most questions each year, is that asset profitability (ROA) has shown a downward trend over the past four decades; a trend illustrating a steady decline in firm performance that not many have even noticed, much less investigated. Indeed, there continues to be a profound cognitive dissonance around this point: on one hand, we all acknowledge experiencing increasing stress as performance pressures mount; on the other hand, we seem unwilling to accept that all of our efforts continue to produce deteriorating results.”(2)
But this is not the argument Kliman et al. make, except to use this as a grounds for declaring a victory of exegesis, and that is a missed opportunity. This brings me to the second point: the arguments via Marx appear as arguments by proxy, in the same way as historical arguments in bad Marxism often do, as I have argued before. One could resolve a lot of the problems by simply opposing the two as Kliman et al.’s theory of the rate of profit versus Heinrich’s – then a real decision could be made. Of course, Kliman et al. do rightly note that this is especially the strategy of their opponents, wanting to ‘have their cake and eat it too’: having their own argument and Marx’s imprimatur for it. But this is best addressed, I believe, in terms of philosophy of science, not in terms of counter-exegesis: boldly state against this one’s own theory, and let epigones be epigones.
By playing the philological game, such a decision and its criteria and implications are obscured. This has the effect of making Marxism not just an exercise in rabbinical readings of scripta minora and marginal notes, but it makes it less accessible for newcomers and outsiders and less practical. Such an inward turn achieves very little and tends to be the sign of degenerative aspects of a research programme, in Lakatos’ terminology. This is not to say questions of method are not important, or that nothing hangs on the outcome – far from it. The necessity or contingency of capitalist crisis and the role of the rate of profit in it, especially as a long term phenomenon, are more significant than ever in practical terms, as the current crisis shows.
However, making the argument about ‘the real Marx’ and limiting one’s domain thereby necessarily to the total opus of Marx’s works makes such implications and their empirical and theoretical support difficult to comprehend, liable to confusion, and frustrating for people not already among the ranks of the converted to one or another camp. In this way, it does the political significance of Marxist economics, which is real and enduring, a disservice. I propose it is time we stop making all our arguments about the real Marx, however tempting and interesting that can be from a history of ideas perspective, and let ‘the dead bury the dead’. Not to bury Marx and his critique of political economy with it – on the contrary, only by burying the dead letter can the live thought once more animate us.
NB: Andrew Kliman, the lead author of the paper discussed here, has replied to this article.
1) For the uninitiated: the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (LTRPF) – a strange mixture of law and tendency – essentially states that given an overall tendency for capital to develop productivity by means of labor-saving machinery, there will also be a secular decline in the rate of profit caused by this change. The reason for this is that the higher level of productivity lowers the value of the commodities across the branch of industry or the economy the change applies to, as competition will force all companies in that branch to adopt the new technology. The result is that as productivity increases, the margin for profit per product declines. Underlying this is an affirmation of Marx’s point that only living labor can create new value. The actual law is a bit more complex than this, but this is the basic idea.
I thank Gavin Mendel-Gleason for bringing this to my attention.
I’m usually in spot on agreement with you, but you seemed to have made a few slips in this post.
It is not definitely not the case that Kliman et al are arguing for the “true Marx.” They make this especially clear in their paper, and I’ve met Kliman, and read his other books, to know this to be the case. He has no interest in trying to channel what Marx thought on X date at Y time, about Z. His goal, as he always makes clear, is to read Marx by utilizing the principle of charity. I’m sure you know what the principle is, so I won’t repeat it. It may very well be the case that Marx wrote X, but always believed Y. And Y may be the true Marx,* but Kliman et al’s goal is to read X charitably and see if it can make sense, and/or be consistent. It’s actually the Heinrich position that engages in musings about what really went on between Marx, Engels, and their colleagues, through speculation without any possible empirical verification or logical depth. Maybe Engels did or didn’t do a bit more than a polishing of Marx’s texts, but in anycase the position of Kliman et al holds ups. The text is still comprehensible, consistent, and as Kliman has shown in his other books (which you’ve read) capable of elucidating the internal logic of capitalism, warts and all.
So while it’s true that Kliman et al engage in their own philology, I don’t think the entirety of their recent publication depends much on the final section about Engels and Marx’s letters to friends. It’s of course interesting for us Marxists who get a little over zealous about these things, but it’s not the pinnacle of the argument. As Kliman et al point out, even if the Y Marx mentioned above didn’t really believe in this theory, “even if we assume for the sake of argument that Marx’s own thinking about capitalist crisis was unsettled, as Heinrich and
Monthly Review claim, it is an incontrovertible fact that this theory exists. We are proponents of it.”
So this means that Kliman et al may agree with you that Marx does have inconsistencies in the entirety of his writing. Since you charge that one of their failings is not to acknowledge this. But in relation to the issue of the LTRPF, there may not be one. That is, Kliman may believe that Marx was inconsistent about, let us say, the state, or human nature,** but it doesn’t follow that his theory of LTRPF as laid out in Vol III has to be inconsistent, and that therefore Kliman et al have to be charged with this:
“what seems ignored by both parties is that it is a truism of any philology that for a prolific and perfectionist, constantly learning author like Marx, it would be highly suspect if there were not inconsistencies in his comments and works – especially in marginal notes in unpublished manuscripts. This gets us nowhere.”
*some speculate that Dostoevsky was really an atheist, and others speculate on whether Hume was a deist, agnostic, or atheist, and others wager that Descartes was far more radical than his texts lead the reader to believe, alas the speculation has no bearing on the consistency of the arguments in their texts.
**this is just an example for the sake of argument, I have no reason to think Kliman does/does not think these (in)consistencies exist.
That was also Kliman’s own reply to this. I take that well – but I don’t see what prevents them from presenting this as their theory, or explicitly a question of ‘Marxism’ rather than ‘Marx’. Kliman says that this would be dishonest, but it seems to me that this would be if anything more honest – by making the argument about what it should be about.
It’s true that in the beginning and the end of the paper it is framed more in those terms, and in the TSSI arguments with the dual system people etc this is also a running topic. But I’m not charging anyone with conflating the two in theory, but with conflating the two in practice – that is, they always seem to be the shell for a philological core. Perhaps my critique is too strongly charged, but it is hardly a phenomenon unique to this specific debate; it has been very common in Marxism, and largely to its detriment. As I said to Kliman, I think Heinrich is more at fault here than Kliman et al. are, but it is an illustrative case either way.
Ultimately, it’s not that the question ‘what did Marx say/mean’ is unimportant at all – I reject the ‘zombie Marxism’ attitude of the left soc-dems like Mike Beggs or Dissent. (I might write against that later.) But I think it would improve things to keep the two debates practically separated as much as possible, i.e. in different papers/journals/books; and it would improve things if people were more willing to say ‘this is my theory, whether or not it is Marx’s – I am inspired by Marx saying XYZ, but I defend it like this in either case’. Kliman’s slogan is “the economists have changed Marx, in various ways; the point is to interpret him correctly”, but that’s only *sometimes* the point, and only for particular purposes.
I understand your point, but Freeman’s phrase “marxists without marx” is all too clear lately for me to totally embrace the idea that the theories ought to be fought on their theoretical grounds alone, albeit the authors are claiming to be marxists. I mean one instantly think of Alain Badiou, and Slavok Zizek, when reading Freeman’s phrase. These two will pepper their books with an opening quote from Mao, or Lenin, and then launch into a 200-600 page desultory diatribe on why the ontology of psychoanalysis prevents us from generating revolutionary miracles.
And this is where Kliman et al are necessary, at least in Marxian political economy – that is, instead of doing what Zizek would do (e.g., ask how is Marx’s theory of reification present in Freudian psychoanalysis, in relation to the symptom), and musing about theories within theories, in relation to other theories, they ask how can we make X text consistent and clear. This is a practice more common in analytic circles, and less common in continental circles, where hermeneutics is less about consistency and more about trying to see deeper than the fabric of space-time, and quarks.
So in this regard Kliman et al benefit over because, as I believe you accept, their theories and TSSI model are better at elucidating capitalism than Heinrichs political economy. But they also add that element to Marxism that is missing, that is, they are not engaging in a Marxism that really is becoming a philosophy entirely devoid of Marx, where the point isn’t to read him correctly but to passively mention his name, make a tongue and cheek bow towards communism, and then pontificate on issues no human can ever know for certain.
Frankly, I endorse the left hook, right hook, approach…..
Heinrich’s article that appeared in Monthly Review was originally slated to appear in a collected volume on various topics to do with MEGA2 research.
In other words, it’s a philological article about Marx philology.
In their obsessiveness with Michael Heinrich, Kliman’s followers desperately want to pretend there is some sort of debate between Heinrich and Kliman on immediate questions of political economy, when in fact Heinrich simply attempts to engage in Marx scholarship (he teaches economics as his day job, but he is in no way involved in any attempt to construct a coherent “Heinrichian” account of contemporary empirical economic reality).
Matthjis is correct that Kliman and his followers would be more honest if they would just say, “here’s our argument about the economy, and here’s where we think Marx is useful to our argument.”
Instead, they want to have their cake and eat it too: engage in an argument about philology, while at the same time defend a very specific interpretation they have of Marx.
Heinrich makes no specific claims about the fall in the rate of profit as a historical tendency. Indeed, that is totally outside the scope of his article, and he says as much! He is simply interested in tracing Marx’s shifting views of the subject given in the textual legacy of the MEGA texts.
I think it’s totally disingenuous to pretend there is some “debate” between Heinrich and Kliman. Heinrich writes Marx philology, and the Kliman people feel like their specific claims are threatened by the findings of such philology. There is no “Heinrich school” of political economy. There is no Heinrich equivalent of “TSSI” to defend.
No it’s not. See my answer to it below, to which there has been no rebuttal.
You say the Kliman school wants to “defend a very specific interpretation they have of Marx.” That’s right, the interpretation that utilizes the principle of charity, a principle that anyone reading any text ought to employ. To utilize any OTHER interpretation method is at best inconsiderate…
Allow me to make a quick clarification, as someone who is a philosopher, we are trained very early on to read all text with the principle of charity, even for the people we obviously most disagree with. I don’t know about other professions, but at least from my academic, and professional angle, Kliman is doing what any other legitimate scholar should be doing.
Gosh, how convenient that the principle of charity yields an interpretation that corresponds 1-to-1 with Andrew Kliman’s!
How about this for an interpretative method: Marx, like any other major thinker, thought and wrote a lot of different things throughout the course of his life. Some of which represents a continuity, some of which represents a series of breaks. None of which can be invoked as “the” Marxist position, but at best as “the position advanced by Marx in year x in text y.”
These attempts to derive a coherent, all-encompassing worldview from Marx are a bed legacy of Second and Third International Marxism. Nobody would ever attempt to derive a grand unified “Foucault-ism” linking both the early works and the later “biopolitical” works, nor would anyone attempt to honestly argue for seamless continuity between early- and late-Wittgenstein. But Foucault and Wittgenstein both had the fortune to not be the main intellectual figures in the European labor movement, and hence figureheads of a secular religion.
Heinrich’s great sin in the eyes of the dogmatists is to point out that Marx was an extremely brilliant human being whose thinking was always developing, never static.
Your argument is just flippancy, and doesn’t contain logic, comprehensive analysis, or serious concern.
I’ll address each paragraph:
1. There’s no surprise that people who read texts utilizing the principle of charity will walk away with similar readings. Obviously this type of reading is going to match someone’s interpretation, so just because it matches Kliman et al isn’t a serious critique whatsoever. To disregard this reading style a priori, or with jest, is just odd, and not intellectually serious.
2. No one is disputing that the totality of what Marx wrote has breaks and continuity throughout his whole life; the dispute is about breaks and continuity regarding the LTRPF. I can think of several inconsistencies on Marx’s end, but again, that has no bearing on the particular question Heinrich and Kliman et al are engaged in.
3. No one is doing that here with Marx. I don’t see Kliman et al reengaging debates about natural science and dialectics, or Lukacsian concepts of totality. Again, this is a debate about the LTRPF. You’re reading fantasy in between the lines, and then extrapolating broad conclusions from that fantasy. What you’re offering isn’t even conjecture so much as pure fantasy.
4. Refer to 1-3 above. Reorient yourself on the issue being discussed, please.
“How about this for an interpretative method: Marx, like any other major thinker, thought and wrote a lot of different things throughout the course of his life.”
What if one interpretation makes this all coherent. Then I would follow that position. It is a good job as interpretation.
I’ve posted a reply to Mattijs’ critique on the homepage of my personal website (click my name above)
I make this comment as a political intervention, part of a struggle for pluralism. I object to Kliman’s attempt to eliminate Heinrich’s writings. This attempt greatly hinder efforts to develop theory and empirical analysis using Heinrich’s writings. This attempt, if it were accepted, would further the suppression of Heinrich’s work and thwart efforts to conduct theoretical and empirical analyses grounded in it.
Crash Course: You have not substantiated your charge that I (and my co-authors) have attempted to eliminate Heinrich’s writings. Please do so or withdraw the charge. I deny the charge. My co-authors and I have not claimed, for instance, that Heinrich has no actual theory of the value form, or no actual interpretation of Marx, or is “ambivalent,” etc.
It won’t be over till they clear his name.
Disagreeing with someone’s theories, interpretations, and overall writings, does not conflate with an “attempt to eliminate Heinrich’s writings”. What, did you catch Kliman breaking into the Monthly Review offices and burning all the spare copies?
Just because two people have an academic disagreement, doesn’t mean one side is literally trying to duct tape the others mouth shut, and black-bag them into the pacific.
“What if one interpretation makes this all coherent. Then I would follow that position. It is a good job as interpretation.”
Sure, with a lot of finessing and intellectual glue and twine, any disparate body of work by anybody can be made “coherent.” The question is whether the author of such a body of work intended for work to be made “coherent” that the author themself might have discarded. Marx was engaged in constantly revising his work, to the point where he only even published Vol. I of Capital under pressure (he wanted to wait until the complete work was finished). At the end of his life, he only agreed to a new edition of Vol. I with the understanding that he would soon engage in a **complete revision** of the entire volume.
If people have an interest in falling rate of profit theory, it seems to me an entirely legitimate pursuit to try to come to grips with it by wading through empirical material to see if it makes sense, without having to resort to Marx’s authority. That’s basically what somebody like Robert Brenner does.
With the Kliman people, however, it’s not just a matter of arguing for or against a tendential fall in the rate of profit; it’s about being able to appeal to the authority of Marx to do so. Hence all the weird attacks on the MEGA2 project; hence all the uninhibited ad hominem attacks on Heinrich in the comments section of Michael Roberts’ blog. It’s not so much an interest in the falling rate of profit as a matter of economic theory, but an emotional investment in being able to attribute the theory to Marx, and to claim that Marx adhered to it until the end of his days.
I’m not usually a fan of Christopher Hitchens, but his dictum that “what has been asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence” is all too apropos here:
“Sure, with a lot of finessing and intellectual glue and twine, any disparate body of work by anybody can be made “coherent.”
Could you actually point to the areas where glue, and twine are being used to prop up a straw-man, instead of just repeating ad nauseaum that Kliman et al are mendacious? Moreover, it is simply not the case that any intellectual finessing can make a theory hold together. There’s a reason scientist no longer talk about the phlogiston theory of combustion.
You say that “the question is whether the author of such a body of work intended for work to be made “coherent” that the author themself might have discarded. ”
See this strikes me as a question that we cannot know for certain given that A. Marx is dead, and B. as Kliman et al have shown, it’s quite possible to read his letters as saying that THEORETICALLY the work is complete, stylistically it is not. And these letters match the available evidence, i.e., Capital Vol II and III are far from the engaging style employed in Vol I. So, since A and B are true we are left not asking the question you feel we must ask (what was Marx really thinking behind the text), but instead we are left with the question of: can the text be made consistent! And the answer, as constantly demonstrated is….yes, no matter how much you accuse people mendacity without evidence. If you want to go around asking the question of whether hypothetically an author may have thought his text inferior, and therefore no worthy of reading, without evidence, can we then read his books into a jumbled mess…feel free to ask that question. Just don’t expect to be taken seriously by anyone.
“With the Kliman people, however, it’s not just a matter of arguing for or against a tendential fall in the rate of profit; it’s about being able to appeal to the authority of Marx to do so.”
Well obviously if they are going to use Marx’s theory, openly, they need to be able to say that this is in fact his theory under a principle of charity reading, otherwise they could try to pretend it’s their own theory, and quickly be debarred from academia for plagiarizing….Which would be a really stupid approach to doing anything. Nevertheless, I don’t actually see a problem with citing someone who spent decades researching political economy as an authority, any more than I see a problem with citing Carl Sagan when I engage in a discussion about life outside of Earth….But you seem to suggest that Kliman et al are mendacious, yet it’s okay to have conversations that make citations and don’t cite authorities even when utilizing said authorities…which is itself mendacious!
Uh, CB, I don’t think I was addressing you. You’re the incorrigible fibber who claimed that Heinrich doesn’t quote Marx in his _Capital_ introduction. Anything you say on this matter is in bad faith, so I’m not engaging you. I was responding to “mreverpresent.”
Yet again a series of extreme logical fallacies. Your arguments don’t stand/fall based upon who they are addressed to.
p1 All men are mortal
p2 Socrates is a male
C Therefore Socrates is a mortal
The argument stands or falls on its own merit. Just as your arguments stand or fall on their own merit.
I’m not sure what you’re referring to about Heinrich and quoting? But let’s assume for the sake of argument that my claim was wrong. That has no bearing on future arguments. I can be wrong about X in 2012, and be right about Y in 2013.
At this point you’ve now suggested that:
1. People should not defer to authorities
2. People should make claims for work that isn’t theirs
3. People should not be taken seriously about anything if they were ever wrong about something – which presumes some people are infallible
4. Arguments cannot be or should not be contested if they are not being directly addressed to the person doing the contesting
5. Everyone that uses the principle of charity is mendacious
6. The principle of charity is frivolous.
Keep up the great work.
P.s. I just reread my review of Heinrich’s book on amazon, and at no point did I do what you claimed I did….I.e., complain that Heinrich didn’t cite Marx in his introduction.
“I can be wrong about X in 2012, and be right about Y in 2013.”
LOL, it’s not about whether you’re *wrong*. It’s about whether you *lied*. And you did.
People who lie and then argue in bad faith: not worth engaging.
So I’m gonna cut out on this. Have fun conversing with yourself.
Liar, liar, pants on fire:
“Instead of letting Marx speak for himself, this author speaks for Marx”
Translation: exposition of Marx you agree with = “letting Marx speak for himself”
Exposition of Marx you don’t agree with = “author speaks for Marx.”
Heinrich cites not only extensively from the text, but also from MEGA manuscripts that are otherwise unavailable in English.
Your tendentiousness in defending Kliman’s beef with Heinrich’s philology isn’t the problem; it’s your dishonesty and disingenuousness.
Wow. You’re conflating the term quote with interpretation. You accused me of saying “that Heinrich doesn’t quote Marx in his _Capital_ introduction.” Of course he does. I’ve read the book, I’d never make such a silly claim. But he does have his own interpretation of Marx, which is readily obvious to anyone who reads the book, and readily apparently to anyone now reading the Heinrich – Kliman debate. This doesn’t make me a liar, it makes you a conflater.
But again, even if my review was 100% wrong, it doesn’t follow that any future comments I make on new issues (in this case the LTRPF) are therefore inherently wrong. Unless you assume people have to be infallible to be heard.
The potential does negate too much, methinks.
I am not obsessed at all with Heinrich. I didn’t even think his MR article was worth responding to. We wrote it because others were interested in our response.
“Kliman and his followers would be more honest if they would just say, ‘here’s our argument about the economy, and here’s where we think Marx is useful to our argument.’”
My reply to Mattijs and CB’s comment have addressed this already. Plagiarism is NOT honest.
“Instead, they want to have their cake and eat it too: engage in an argument about philology, while at the same time defend a very specific interpretation they have of Marx.”
I can’t make sense of this at all, since interpretation is part of philology.
“There is no Heinrich equivalent of “TSSI” to defend.”
Heinrich has no exegetical interpretation of Marx’s value theory?! You’re joking, right?
“Gosh, how convenient that the principle of charity yields an interpretation that corresponds 1-to-1 with Andrew Kliman’s!”
This admission that the TSSI is the best exegetical interpretation according to accepted standards is most welcome.
“How about this for an interpretative method: Marx, like any other major thinker, thought and wrote a lot of different things throughout the course of his life. Some of which represents a continuity, some of which represents a series of breaks. None of which can be invoked as ‘the’ Marxist position, but at best as “the position advanced by Marx in year x in text y.”
It sucks. It assumes what needs to be proven, case by case. Very bad idea to assume this in advance and, indeed, to enshrine it as a dogmatic methodological principle. Every development, additional, and revision in expression is wrongly ascribed to a “break” and is treated as evidence of such.
“Heinrich’s great sin in the eyes of the dogmatists is to point out that Marx was an extremely brilliant human being whose thinking was always developing, never static.”
Glad I’m not a dogmatist. I agree with “Marx was …” through the end, except maybe the “extremely brilliant” thing.
“Sure, with a lot of finessing and intellectual glue and twine, any disparate body of work by anybody can be made ‘coherent.’”
No, this just isn’t so, given normal standards of coherence. It’s completely wrong. Coherent renderings of big pieces of work are quite difficult to achieve.
“The question is whether the author of such a body of work intended for work to be made ‘coherent’ that the author themself might have discarded.”
This presumes that there’s only one question, which is highly dubious. And in interpretation of theoretical texts, as in many other areas, author-intentionality has a minor place—if it’s not entirely rejected. I myself don’t entirely reject it, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the coherence (or explanatory power, etc.) of the author’s theories (except insofar as authors’ intended meanings do matter when assessing the meaning and consistency of their argument, and such).
“Marx was engaged in constantly revising his work, to the point where he only even published Vol. I of Capital under pressure (he wanted to wait until the complete work was finished).”
And he did wait until it was finished; see our paper.
“With the Kliman people, however, it’s not just a matter of arguing for or against a tendential fall in the rate of profit; it’s about being able to appeal to the authority of Marx to do so.”
This is just plain false. I challenge you to find even ONE instance in which I appeal to the “authority” of Marx to argue for a tendential fall in the rate of profit. If you can’t do so, please retract the falsehood.
“Hence all the weird attacks on the MEGA2 project; hence all the uninhibited ad hominem attacks on Heinrich in the comments section of Michael Roberts’ blog.”
Suddenly I’m responsible for what some wackos write on that blog? Afraid not. I only glanced at that discussion, which was quite unilluminating. Brendan Cooney had an important comment, though, on interpretive method, which others ignored, if I remember. … And I’m not aware of any attacks on the MEGA2 project. I personally support the publication of the complete writings of Marx and Engels.
I must admit that I can’t help thinking all comments against the work by Kliman et al. are inspired by jealousy. For TSSI now is not only logically consistent, but actually has Marx on its side, complete Marx, from young to old! I mean, what if, for the sake of argument, TSSI was not what Marx would write at any period of his life, if he had an ability to write in clear English? What if Heinrich is right? Well, it by no means discredit TSSI. Even if Heinrich’s Marx is ‘true’, and TSSI Marx is true only for some period of time at Marx’s life, say, Marx of ‘Capital’, this does not make Heinrich’s Marxism more ‘true’.
For Jordi Gali need not to have to have Keynes on his side to write Keynesianism (it seemed that Harrod actually had Keynes himself on his side and that does not stop post-Keynesians). Gali does not need to engage into interpretation in a sense you did. Those guys argue theories, not what Marx or Keynes or Smith ‘really’ meant, or whether his writings have internal coherence. Well, it is good, if they do, but if they do not, at least you theory does have it.
Putting an effort into establihing your theory not only logically consistent, but being ‘the’ only logically consistent interpretation of Marx’s writing might be rewarding within Marxist community. Outside that community it make no sense. At all. For no one cares. Instead, it ressures priors of Marxists being exegetic.
I’m afraid that with Heinrich defeated you might win the battle, but lose in the war.
Daniel, I’ve responded to some of this in my reply to Matthijs (see link at end of his post). The short version is: “It’s not reasonable to ask people to produce theory and analysis while blithely ignoring the fact that there’s a concerted effort to eliminate the foundations that the theory and analyses are based on. It’s like asking a jockey to just concentrate on winning the race and ignore the fact that opponents are trying to poison his horse. Unless and until space is made and resources are given to serious study of Marx’s own
work and research based on it, such research will continue to go nowhere.”
As for the rest, the TSSI is an exegetical interpretation of Marx’s value theory, not a theory in its own right. I don’t know if it’s the only logically consistent interpretation of his value theory, I kind of doubt it, but it’s the only existing one that eliminates the alleged internal inconsistencies in the theory. I don’t care if no one cares; it still needs to be said, and the consequences still need to be drawn from our demonstrations of this, because the internal inconsistency allegations are a main pillar of the “concerted effort to eliminate the foundations that [our own efforts to do] theory and analyses are based on.” In other words, it’s for OUR benefit. This is a main thing that people don’t like about the TSSI. It’s not about them.
negative potential wrote:
” There is no Heinrich equivalent of “TSSI” to defend.”
This claim is false. Heinrich does have his own equivalent of the TSSI to defend. It’s called the “monetary theory of value” and has been hotly debated in Germany.
Heinrich’s interpretation goes back to the 1980s when he was working on his doctoral dissertation (later published as “Die Wissenschaft vom Wert”, The Science of Value). Heinrich accepted the Bortkiewicz-Steedman critique and so he thought there was a grave inconsistency in Marx’s theory. In his mind, the foundations of the critique of political economy needed to be reconstructed and improved, so as to get rid of the transformation problem (and some other things as well, e.g. the money commodity).
In his attempt to reconstruct Marx’s theory, he claimed to have found “ambivalences” in “Capital”. According to Heinrich, Marx’s economic writings are a mixture of two “discourses”, one being a new “science”, the “monetary theory of value”, the other being classical political economy in its Ricardian variant.
This interpretation led Heinrich to discard Marx’s transformation procedure as part of a “Ricardian problematic”. In the “monetary theory of value”, there is no question of some branches of industry systematically selling their commodities at prices above or below their values because “value” and “price” are concepts on different levels of abstraction and can’t be quantitatively compared. Marx’s calculations are just examples of him being stuck on Ricardo’s “theoretical terrain” and not carrying his scientific revolution far enough.
Generally, Heinrich is sceptical towards all forms of “quantitative Marxism”. In his opinion, Marx’s innovations were the “qualitative” aspects of his theories (e.g. the “fetishism of commodities, money and capital”).
So, Heinrich’s interpretation enables him to discard some aspects of Marx’s theory (or theories) as remnants of classical political economy. His Marx philology is in part, I think, an attempt to safeguard this interpretation by saying: Look, there is no such thing as “Marx’s theory” or “Marx’s Marxism” – Marx wrote a lot of different things and often changed his mind. You can’t challenge the “monetary theory of value” by saying that it is inconsistent with a lot of what Marx wrote. Heinrich’s philology isn’t disinterested but serves to fend off critics of the “monetary theory of value”.
And there is indeed a certain tension between his interpretation and the TSSI. The TSSI shows that the allegations of internal inconsistency can be refuted. The critics, from Bortkiewicz to Steedman, were wrong after all. But this criticism, this alleged inconsistency was a large part of what motivated Heinrich’s efforts to reconstruct Marx’s critique of political economy as a “monetary theory of value”. If Marx’s theory wasn’t inconsistent in the first place, the reconstruction wasn’t really necessary. For Heinrich, to accept the TSSI would mean to accept that a part of his work was done in vain.
So much for background. I can’t comment on the profit rate controversy itself as I haven’t yet read the relevant papers.
Thanks for that summary of Heinrich’s value theory.
The concept of the “monetary theory of value” goes back to the work of Hans-Georg Backhaus, it does not originate with Heinrich, although I agree Heinrich expanded upon Backhaus substantially.
P.S. I’m not sure if I agree about the alleged tension between TSSI and the monetary theory of value. While it’s probably true that most adherents of TSSI probably *also* adhere to a substantialist theory of value (Carchedi explicitly does), there is really nothing in principle that precludes one from being convinced by both. Backhaus’s (and Heinrich’s) arguments for MTV are primarily focused upon the problematic of the value-form analysis in Chapter One, and some indications in various manuscripts (the so-called “Urtext”, the first published edition of Capital, the revision manuscripts for Vol. I, the published French edition of Vol. I etc.), and not necessarily with with the problematic of Vol. III.
What Heinrich *does* argue is indeed that there is no need to “solve” the transformation problem as presented in Vol. III, since from the perspective of the MTV, there **is no transformation problem**. The “inconsistency” to which Heinrich refers is an inconsistency between a Marxian and Ricardian perspective Marx’s work. This is not the **same** inconsistency alleged by those that Kliman criticizes.
Also, my impression just from skimming Facebook is that a lot of adherents of TSSI are also rediscovering and positively reevaluating I.I. Rubin, which would definitely put them more in the Backhaus/Heinrich camp of an anti-substantialist value theory.
Just in order to clarify: I was thinking about Heinrich’s 1988 essay “Was ist die Werttheorie noch wert? Zur neueren Debatte um das Transformationsproblem und die Marxsche Werttheorie”
PROKLA 72, 18. Jg., Nr. 3, September 1988, S.15-38 (it’s on Heinrich’s website, oekonomiekritik.de, but afaik there’s no English translation). In 1988 Heinrich was already working on what would become “The Science of Value”. The problematic of Vol. III was clearly relevant to his project.
In this essay, Heinrich accepts the critique that Marx’s transformation procedure was faulty (which implies that Marx’s theory was inconsistent) and he offers the “monetary theory of value” as a way to circumvent that problem (or to leave it behind). He does this by saying that Marx’s “Capital” is inconsistent in a different sense: There are remnants of Ricardo’s value theory or “paradigm” in “Capital” and the “transformation problem” is one of them. His interpretation alleges that Marx, in 1865, tried to grapple with a problem he inherited from Ricardo using the means of a “pre-monetary theory of value”. Obviously, the TSSI of Marx’s theory is totally different.