“Abstraction versus Contradiction: Observations on Chris Arthur’s The New Dialectic and Marx’s ‘Capital’”: Roberto Finelli
This intervention concerns the different statute of abstraction in Marx’s work. By means of a critical confrontation with Chris Arthur’s work, Finelli presents his thesis of the presence of a double theory and fuction of abstraction in Marx’s work. In the early Marx, until the German Ideology, abstraction is, in accordance with the traditional meaning of this term, a product of the mind, an unreal spectre. More exactly, it consists in negating the common essence belonging to labouring humanity and projecting it, as alienated universal, into the idea of philosophy, into the state of politics and into the money of the market. In the later Marx, the nature of abstraction is, rather than mental, practical. It is directly related to the quantity without quality of capitalist labour, and it is the product of the systemic connection of machines to labour-power. In contrast to Arthur, Finelli maintains that practical abstraction in the Marx of Capital is not located in the zone of exchange and the market, where there is the mediation of money. On the contrary, it is located in the zone of production, which, for Marx, is a social ensemble not mediated by money but by relations of technological domination.
abstraction, formal determination, presupposed-posited, opposition-contradiction, abstractionemptying out, dissimulation. The New Dialectic and Marx’s ‘Capital
1. Die Formbestimmung: a new category of a new Marxism
‘From the simple to the complex’: this motto synthesises the evolutionism with which Engels conceived his vision of history and the method of knowledge that follows from it. Chris Arthur correctly defi nes this as a ‘linear’ typology, because history, for Engels, is constituted on the basis of something elementary which, in the course of diff erent social epochs, is progressively modifi ed and rendered more complex, but without ever being annulled and negated, despite development occurring through dialectical contradictions. It is easy to hear the echo of the evolution dear to positivism and of an empiricist epistemology linked to the natural sciences in this historicist continuity. For Engels, one of its clearest examples is to be found, as we know, in the law of value. In his opinion, its validity as measure of exchange reigns from the natural peasant economies of primitive communities until the fi fteenth century. It is valid, that is, for that entire great historical period during which – since the worker was proprietor of the means of production, and given the very minor scale of production and commerce – anyone had direct experience of the time of necessary labour, often while making a product, as a (single and simple) element, themselves, Th is historical period of ‘simple commodity production’ in which the measure of value is visibly the time of labour – since ‘[L]abour and labour alone: to replace tools, to produce raw material, and to process it’ is seen and perceived as a factor of production – progressively gives way, with the establishment of the capitalist economy, to money as the decisive measure and calculus of the value of commodities. Thus we know that, for Engels, commodity→value→labour→money→capital is an historical progression which is mirrored in the logical progression, of the same order with which Marx supposedly constructed Capital by employing a simplistically materialist gnoseology, based on the refl ection of the real in the logical-mental. Thus the expository structure of Marx’s Capital, its logical method, is ‘nothing else but the historical method, only stripped from disturbing fortuities’.
Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 61–74