‘Following Marx: Method, Critique and Crisis’ reviewed by Tony Mckenna

Following Marx: Method, Critique and Crisis

Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2009. xvi + 365pp., $28 pb
ISBN 9781608460335

Reviewed by Tony McKenna

About the reviewer

Tony is a novelist and philosopher, author of Art, Literature and Culture from a Marxist …


In the history books Lenin is usually portrayed as a pragmatist of a particularly vulpine type – using the chaos and confusion of events to further his ruthless, revolutionary agenda whatever the cost. And yet in 1915, as Europe was shaken to its foundations by the violence of world war, our ‘revolutionary pragmatist’ did something really rather odd. He took a year out in order to pore over the magnum opus of nineteenth century German philosopher G.W.F Hegel. When Lenin had concluded his foray into Hegelianism, he returned the single devastating verdict, ‘it impossible to fully grasp Marx’s Capital, and especially its first chapter, if you have not studied through and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic.’

If there is an overriding purpose to Michael Lebowitz’ book, Following Marx, I would say it is the attempt to validate Lenin’s words. Much of this book is concerned with explorations of Marx’s Capital through the prism of Hegel’s Logic in order to elucidate the dialectical thread which runs through both. One should note, in advance, that Lebowitz does not fall foul of the crude and all too common approach by which the categories of the Logic are grafted externally and crudely onto the structure of Capital for this would be schematic, indifferent to the inner life and organic development of the concepts and categories themselves. Lebowitz is keen to distance himself from any such account, which he naturally regards as deficient, criticising in particular the ‘Uno-Sekine construction of the theory of pure capitalism’ (323) formulated very much in this mould.

Edmund Wilson once described Marx as the ‘poet of the commodities’ which seems incongruous for where is the poetry in a dry economic form? Nevertheless the description is apposite in as much as, for Marx, the commodity is never at rest; along with the billions of economic exchanges taking place at any given moment in the world of the ordinary, the commodity form as concept is possessed of its own ghostly life; riven by inner contradiction and crystallised through a series of moments, it strives to ‘become’; the poetry, then, lies in the transfiguration of this dead lifeless ‘thing’ into a living development.

Lebowitz, therefore, focusses on two realms: on the one hand we have the movement of commodities occurring in the empirical world; on the other we have the logical necessity which underpins the concept of commodity itself. In true Hegelian fashion Lebowitz describes the first moment as ‘appearance’ and the second as ‘essence’ (in some places the same distinction is framed in terms of the One Capital and the Many). Also, in true Hegelian fashion, Lebowitz seeks to demonstrate that the two moments do not stand in a fixed and petrified opposition, but instead attain an identity in difference, realising a totality in which the ‘truth’ of the inherent logical nature of the commodity is realisable only in as much as it is manifested in and through empirical social-economic forms and processes. As Hegel remarks, ‘essence must appear’ (quoted 196)

And so the world of appearance – ‘the familiar world – a world of market prices, cost of production, long-run equilibrium prices, profits, profit rates, capital flows, interest rates, rent, etc.’ (200) must be understood by the way in which ‘the inner tendencies … are manifested through the real actions of the many capitals’(200). Consider Lebowitz’ account of money:

Simple or direct exchange of two products (i.e., barter) is not adequate to the concept of the commodity because here each seller is simultaneously a buyer – and is a seller only insofar as he is a buyer (There is a direct identity between the exchange of one’s own product and the acquisition of another’s product) Here, each seller looks at the commodity opposite her not as the expression of homogeneous abstract labour (i.e., not as indifferent to its content) – but as the expression of a particularly useful concrete labour … it is only when value has an independent existence, separate from any particular use-value – which presumes the existence of general exchange, itself a social product – that the exchange of commodities occurs.

Yet, this independent existence for value is that of a commodity as universal equivalent, as indifferent to any particular use value, or money. Thus the process of exchange of commodities, which is the becoming of the commodity form, is simultaneously the process of the formation of money. (92)

In other words, Lebowitz postulates (and note the Hegelian locution) ‘the commodity can only be for itself [my emphasis] by passing into money’. (92) Money is more than a form in which value is represented as a conceivable quantity, it is also ‘the basis for the realisation of that value in sale.’ (94) By deriving the logical movement which follows ‘from the initial determination of the commodity as a unity of use-value and value’, Lebowitz is able to show how, for Marx, the appearance of money in the empirical world as a mediation in exchange represents an externalisation of the inner logic of the commodity form at a given moment in its own ‘becoming’.

This is profoundly dialectical. It doesn’t just speak to the external behaviour of commodities – for an empirical consideration and elucidation of patterns of economic movement (i.e., economic laws) would be sufficient for this; moreover it expresses the necessity which is at work within the phenomenal appearance of socio-economic events.

Lebowitz’ consideration of the world market, for instance, is premised on the way in which capital’s inner tendencies are manifested. Capital ‘is made real only through the exchange of commodities’ (120) for it is only in exchange that its nature as self-expanding value can be realised, ‘capital, self-expanding value, in the form of money passes into the form of commodity and returns to a money form as more capital, as surplus-value in addition or original value (M-C-M’)’ (98). Implicit in the logic of capital is the ability and need to project itself outward across its own limits – ‘capital is the endless and limitless drive to go beyond its limiting barrier’ (Marx quoted 110).

However the very moment in which capital seeks to realise its ‘truth’ as ‘self-expanding value’ in and through exchange – transcending its limit thereby – is also the moment in which a new limit is simultaneously created. For in order to realise itself in exchange newly produced capital must pass through circulation. However circulation is the ‘negation of production. Every moment capital existed in the sphere of circulation was ‘pure’ loss, time outside the sphere of capital … in this sense, circulation, although necessary to the production of capital, is a barrier to the production of capital.’ (107)

In circulation, then, capital encounters a necessary limit – for in the limbo of circulation it remains unrealised, inactive, imprisoned in the form of a material thing, or as Marx has it, ‘it is negated capital.’ Thus the process where capital as value self-expands by realising itself through exchange and transcending its limit, is simultaneously the process by which a new limit is called into being. Lebowitz recognises a similar dialectic at work in Hegel’s masterful account of the finite. ‘The finite … thus is self-contradictory; it cancels itself and passes away … [but] the finite in perishing has not yet perished; so far it has only become another finite, which however, in turn perishes.’ (Hegel quoted 112)

The ‘self-contradictory’ nature of capital as ‘finite’, as eternally finite, as a ‘spurious infinite’, driven to transcend its limitation while simultaneously reproducing it anew, is a truly Hegelian contradiction – not simply because of its nature as ‘finitude’ but also because ‘to identify a contradiction in the Hegelian/Marxian sense … is not to speak of a logical impossibility, an impasse, it is to indicate a source of movement, change and development.’ (110) In this case the necessity for development is posited by the limit generated by circulation. Capital as Hegelian ‘finitude’ is limited by circulation but simultaneously driven to transcend it thereby. And such transcendence can only be affected by extending the sphere of circulation itself: i.e., by expanding the market.

And so, though economic globalisation – the creation of a world market is, for us, an empirical fact achieved by the building of bridges, train-networks, telephone cables, internet hot spots, airports and the rest – it is also something ‘directly given in the concept of capital itself.’ (Marx quoted 110)

The Marxist theory of the falling rate of profit is comprehended by Lebowitz in a similar fashion – not as a statistical pattern to be generalised, but rather as a tendency developed from the manner in which the logical ‘contradiction between production and circulation of capital expresses itself, via the emergence of unsold commodities and the increase in circulation time.’ (123) Circulation time – the moment in which capital presents as ‘non-capital’ – is extended precisely because the consumption power of wage labourers is necessarily reduced by the action of particular ‘capitals’ as they are compelled to alter the organic composition of capital, increasing the element of constant capital in order to stimulate productivity. Capital transcends ‘limit’ in terms of productivity by increasing fixed capital but simultaneously generates new ‘limit’ therein – a reduced power of consumption and thus an extended period of ‘negation’ – of time spent in circulation.

For this reason, one cannot eliminate the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ from Marxism any more than one can ‘eliminate the sphere of circulation of capital’ (123), for the tendency itself is an expression of the contradiction between production and circulation which provides the ‘law of motion of capital.’ (126) Nevertheless Lebowitz does explore those factors which militate against the tendency to some degree. If, for example, the capitalist pressured to introduce more constant capital does so by choosing to ‘produce the means of production rather than to purchase these as commodities’ (239), the same capitalist is able to save significantly, rather than paying for machinery from other companies, in having his or her own workforce produce the machinery. The capitalist pockets the surplus value generated by the labour power of those workers rather than paying the full price in exchange. Here the capitalist is still altering the organic composition of capital by favouring constant capital, but they are at the same time facilitating living labour and so offsetting the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

However those who suggest such a mitigating factor could nullify the tendency of the rate of profit to fall are mistaken for they are only posing the question from the purview of the individual capitalist. This or that individual capitalist might indeed start producing their own means of production but this could not be generalised to Capital as a whole (the One capital) without implying the ‘complete removal of means of production from commodity exchange’ (239), for if each individual capital was producing its own means of production, exchange between them, with regards to commodities pertaining to means of production, would be unnecessary.

This is important. Lebowitz wants to argue that such errors flow inevitably from methodological inadequacy. Rather than concentrating on the way in which ‘essence must appear’, many intellectuals theorise ‘from the way things appear’ (4) in isolation, particularly from the standpoint of the individual. One individual capitalist might be able to produce their own means of production but capital as a whole is limited from doing so by its own inherent logic. A different individual capitalist ‘can add a mark-up to his value and therefore secure a surplus-value; however all capitalists cannot do so because they are also purchasers.’ (5) A single worker ‘with the proper combination of skill and fortune – may become an exploiter of other people’s labour, a capitalist. But, the same cannot be true for all workers at once’ for there would no longer exist ’labour to be exploited’ (6)

Lebowitz goes into clinical detail exposing just how the neo-Ricardians and the analytical Marxists remain trapped at the level of appearance. Again Lebowitz is very nuanced, very Lukácian in this respect, for he does not regard appearance as mere illusion. Rather he points out how it acquires a genuine objectivity in Marx, an objectivity which arises in and through the process by which an individual capitalist mediates necessarily the modes and forms of his social existence. ‘The first thing he must do is obtain his necessary inputs and to do everything possible to lower the costs of those necessary imputs. Paying rent for land, interest for money-capital, wages for labour are preconditions of the process of production.’(8)

Consequently interests and rent and wages ‘appear to him as the elements determining the price of his commodities.’ (Marx quoted 8) One of the key achievements of this book is the clarity in which Lebowitz shows how much Neo-Ricardian and Analytical Marxism often involves the move to provide a theoretical generalisation ‘on the basis of the way things appear to the actual agents of capitalist production.’(10) From the standpoint of the individual capitalist, for instance, competition appears as the premise of his or her activity; consequently theorists often see in competition the power which calls into being the contradictions in production and circulation. Lebowitz argues that Marx saw competition as the medium in which those contradictions were realised, but it did not create them in his view. Again the misappreciation of this results from absolutising the appearance, from generalising from the standpoint of the individual, as much vaunted theorist Robert Brenner is inclined to do. ‘For Brenner, it is the intensified competition of capitals that leads to overcapacity, for Marx, the inherent tendency for overcapacity leads to the intensified competition of capitals.’ (288)

This book also contains a critical but sympathetic account of the important Marxist economist Paul Sweezy, from the famous transition debate with Maurice Dobb regarding the nature of feudalism, to the way he developed his theory of ‘monopoly’ which, toward the end of his life, was less to the fore in his work, and his incisive and prescient warnings of the danger of an economic implosion which could result from a grossly inflated sphere of finance capital.

There are a few flaws. Lebowitz is sometimes prone to confuse the method of abstraction in Marx and Hegel. He talks about ‘immediate concrete experience’ but for Hegel immediate experience is always necessarily abstract – and Lebowitz repeatedly confuses the notion of the concrete with the empirical. He asserts that Hegel associated the ‘logical order of categories with the historical order’ (83) which is inaccurate, the relation of the logical and historical in Hegel is nothing like so crude.

More significantly, Lebowitz’ overriding thesis – that the three volumes of Capital are one sided for they offer an unfolding only from the purview of capital – is not persuasive. It is true that – had Marx completed the fourth volume on wage labour, the study would have been further concretised. Nevertheless capital is itself alienated labour power – as Sean Sayers in his recent book on Marx and Alienation points out – Marx’s Capital posits the necessity of ‘the re-appropriation by working people of their work and social relations’ (Sayers 114). It is significant that there is so little discussion of the role of alienation in Following Marx.

Despite this Lebowitz’ book offers a stunning rehabilitation of Hegelian Marxism. It is a credit to Lebowitz that he is able to write about such profound themes in the lucid and engaged way of an educator. An excellent and important work.

4 June 2012


  1. To Ann:

    I think your question is interesting and, as it happens, fortuitous. For me, one of the frustrations of reviewing a book like ‘Following Marx’ is that you can never do it justice in 2000 or so words. You must inevitably privilege some elements over others. In fact there is a whole chapter in ‘Following Marx’ which I ignored in my review (with regret) and which pertains to your query about how the concept of capital has been ‘expanded’ to encompass certain cultural forms.

    In chapter 12 Michael Lebowitz dismantles the analyses of Dallas Smythe and Robert Hackett. The latter tries to argue that the components of the mass media have an explicit and clear cut capitalist character – so, for example, the audience is produced by the media capitalists (the quality of their advertising attracts a larger or smaller number); the audience, consequently, becomes a commodity in its own right which is then sold on to those who require a large amount of said commodity – i.e. the industrial capitalists seeking to sell their products to as big an audience as possible.

    Again Michael Lebowitz, correctly in my view, regards this as a kind of topsy-turvy inversion which comes from the absolutisation of the immediate, of the appearance, for the underlying movement which provides the logical premise for advertising in the first place – the production of industrial goods which can be advertised – is turned on its head – ‘Rather than as part of the process of selling the commodities of industrial capital to consumers, it necessarily appears as if the media-capitalists in competition sell consumers to industrial captial’ (Lebowitz 221)

    [continued …

  2. Just one not so minor correction. Contra Lebowitz, neither Kozo Uno nor T. Th. Sekine ever simply grafted categories from Hegel’s two works of logic onto Marx’s Capital. We do not know when Uno read Hegel’s Logic or what he made of it. His reconstruction of Capital, which yielded a much more imposing defence of Marxian value theory than Marx’s unfinished and flawed masterpiece was able to achieve, is based on sound economic reasoning and was not conceived as a project to make Marx or Capital more congenial to Hegelian scholars. Long after Uno published his Principles of Political Economy, Sekine did notice that Uno’s reconstruction of Capital did correspond in structure far more closely to Hegel’s Logic than Marx’s earlier work though, as I say, that was probably inadvertent. In noting these correspondences and in pondering as to why capital and the Absolute can only be fully comprehended in dialectical terms, Sekine has made an invaluable contribution to the development of Marxian social science; however, he would be the first to acknowledge that a simple grafting of Hegelian categories onto Marx’s imperfectly realized theory of pure capitalism would do violence to either Marx or Hegel. Others may be guilty of doing precisely what Lebowitz has charged but in this case he is dead wrong.

  3. The specific comment about grafting categories from the Logic unto Marx’s Capital comes from Tony Mckenna’s very generous review of Following Marx. I myself would describe the Uno-Sekine school (of which John Bell is a prominent spokesperson) as performing two operations. The first is to substitute for Marx’s Capital ‘the theory of a purely capitalist theory’ [TPCS], which is characterised by a neoclassical general equilibrium model (devoid of history or class struggle) in which market mechanisms ensure the reproduction of capitalism (described in my chapter as the Stepford version of capitalism.) The second operation begins with the TPCS as revealing ‘the dialectic of capital’ and concludes in Sekine’s words that ‘the exact correspondence between the dialectic of capital and Hegel’s Logic can scarcely be doubted.’ Bell also identifies two such steps, treating the first as an improvement over Marx’s flawed work and the second as an ‘invaluable contribution’ to Marxian social science. I, in contrast, described the result as a ‘peculiar combination of a general-equilibrium model and Hegelian mysticism’ and cited my earlier description which read: ‘We know capital, thus, through its works– a general equilibrium system in which the goal of capital is realised through the subjective self-seeking of individual capitals. With the revelation of an Invisible Hand, the logic of capital comes to an end.’

  4. Rob Albritton and I (in my 2009 book generously reviewed on this site) among others have each cited a number of instances where Marx tells the reader that in theorizing the capitalist mode of production or in reproducing the logic which capital employs in its attempt to manage material economic life the laws of capitalism must necessarily appear in their pure form although in historical capitalisms these laws are reduced to tendencies of varying force due to the presence of collective human (i.e. class struggle) and the intractable resistance of heavier and more complex use-values. Our list of the many supporting citations from Marx is far from exhaustive. In any case, it is impossible to reproduce the dialectical logic that capital employs in its attempt to regulate economic life and to simultaneously account for all the forms of resistance that may contingently arise to frustrate and eventually undermine the logic of capital. You cannot do justice to both at the same level of analysis. That is why Unoists employ a levels- of-analysis approach. I note that in McKenna’s generous review he, nevertheless, points out that you fail to understand the movement from abstract to concrete in Hegel– and, thus, in Marx’s Capital. I take it that is why you conflate necessarily different levels of analysis. In the Unoist stages theory of historical capitalism’s development and decline and in manifold empirical studies informed by pure and stages, Unoists give plenty of attention to class struggle. Indeed, there are even some Unoists (e.g. Sekine and I) who think that capitalism has been moribund for much of the last century precisely because the logic of capital cannot overcome collective human and intractable use-value resistance with any bourgeois i.e. market supporting policies. Thus, we hardly ignore class struggle.
    Contra Lebowitz, Sekine has published several formidable critiques of the Walras influenced neoclassical general equilibrium theory and has advanced a substantially different theory. Owl of Minerva Press will be republishing one of these papers in a collection of Sekine’ essays appearing shortly so readers can see for themselves whether Lebowitz’s claims have merit.

  5. I haven’t read Michael’s book, but just the interesting review by Tony McKenna. This is a kind of irrelevant question re the line of thought of the book, but rather on Marx’s concept of capital and whether Michael thinks it is consistent with the use that Bourdieu and others put it to, by expanding it to include the concept of human capital, cultural capital, intellectual capital, and even sexual capital. It seems to me these metaphorical extensions of the term cannot be Marxist, because they can’t really show how in these social exchanges we could speak of a process where these types of capital are invested such a social surplus is generated that those who own the capital can then exploit for themselves. Rather, they can only mean that one owns a resource that can be exchanged in ways that benefits oneself. Any responses?

  6. Second part:

    Of course the section of Following Marx which deals with the imposition of the scientific category of capital on mass communications is a criticism levelled at Hackett in particular and not the notions of cultural capital, human capital or whatever else is in the same vein. In my review of ‘Following Marx’ I clearly misinterpreted Micheal Lebowitz when I described him as regarding the Uno-Sekine school as being essentially schematic, as ‘grafting’ the categories of the Logic onto Marx. I apologise to both parties. I won’t be so quick to ventriloquize Michael in future.

    But though I can’t speak for him, my own opinion is that these concepts – ‘cultural capital’, ‘human capital’ or whatever else – essentially suffer from the same defect and remain trapped at the level of immediacy. I’ve just wikipediaed this guy Bordieu – and they summarise his notion of cultural capital as follows: ‘forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person has, which give them a higher status in society. Parents provide their children with cultural capital by transmitting the attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the current educational system.’

    Nothing wrong with any of that, mind you. It sounds quite interesting and I’d like to know a little more about it. But what is absolutely clear is that it has little in common with Marx’s own dialectical unravelling of the Notion of capital because Bordieu’s definition (and that’s all it is, a mere definition) is trans-historical – there are many epochs in which people can take advantage of ‘cultural capital’ by providing their kids with the intellectual know how to get ahead, but the majority of them are not capitalist epochs. Marx’s own analysis stands or falls because it is inexorably bound up with a specific mode of production – i.e. the capitalist one. Generalised commodity exchange and the self- expansion of value as realised capital or not, cannot stand separate from capitalism; rather it is capitalism, or at least it’s most fundamental economic rhythm.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that the commodity form doesn’t exert an inevitable and irresistible pull on culture more generally. Think about a dating agency. Here people present themselves as things in as much as they are reducible to a single set of quantified properties – ‘I have a good sense of humour, I have a good body’ etc. In pre-capitalist times I think this kind of thing would prove baffling; personal connections were formed organically through the community and the social class one belonged to. The development of a relationship could not be adduced in advance. The dating agency is an example of a cultural form which is very much determined by the logic of capitalism – the reification which Lukacs so persuasively describes – which reduces the living relationship to a thing or an exchange of things.

    But if I were to go one step further and say, for instance, that the people who sign up for dating agencies have themselves become ‘commodities’, I would be making a rather vulgar commitment. That those people who sign up for the dating agency present themselves as ‘things’ does not change the fact that they are anything but. Their commodity status has not been determined by the socially necessary labour time invested in bringing them to the market. It is true that they exhibit the appearance of commodities in as much as they are partaking in the modus operandus of exchange value. But the appearance here is the expression of the essence; it cannot be reduced to it; the two things cannot be made identical, or at least not abstractly so. I suspect, though I have almost no knowledge of Bordieu, that this is his cardinal error.

  7. I’m sure that everyone recognises that John Bell and I have diametrically opposed views on the merits of the Uno-Sekine school which he follows. Given, though, that Tony’s reference (which provoked the exchange) was a clause in one sentence in his lengthy review and my chapter of the book consisted of 6 pages out of 370, I think extended focus here detracts from other, more fruitful, lines of enquiry. I am more interested (now that Bell has grasped at this point) in Tony’s comments about flaws in my discussion of the abstract and concrete in Hegel. He says, for example, that my assertion that Hegel associated the logical order with the historical order is ‘inaccurate’. If I am wrong on this, then I am in good company: it is , after all, the point that Marx made in the Introduction to the Grundrisse about Hegel’s ‘error’ (which I was citing on p. 74) and I noted (83-4), too, that Lukacs’ called this Marx’s ‘methodologically decisive criticism of Hegel’. So, are we all wrong, then? I’d like Tony to clarify this or to point me in the right direction. Another question relates to ‘levels of analysis’. For the Unoists, class struggle does not belong in the ‘theory of the purely capitalist economy’ [TPCS] and thus it is purged from Capital (goodbye to the struggle over the workday!) land exiled to the level of stage theory where contingency rules. They are not alone, however, in treating class struggle theoretically as contingent rather than necessary. If you look, for example, at Ben Fine’s critique of my argument in Beyond CAPITAL about the need to introduce a variable reflecting class struggle (which I called the degree of separation of workers) once you relax Marx’s assumption of a given standard of necessity (which was to be removed in ‘wage-labour’), you will see that he criticises the idea of introducing class struggle at the level of the inner rather than in the world of competition (the outer). (See Fine in Historical Materialism, 2009, 16:3.) As I responded, though, the effect is to treat capital’s tendency to separate workers in order to defeat them as contingent rather than as necessary. The point is obscured by the assumption of a given standard of necessity (which by assumption means that workers can not secure the fruits of productivity gain— ie., the concept of relative surplus value by assumption). The assumption, though, is a Ricardian assumption, which is why my response (HM, 2010,18.1) to Ben was called ‘Trapped in a Box’ (by which I meant a ‘Ricardian box’). I suggest that there could be a fruitful discussion of what is necessary and what is contingent (ie., inner and outer levels of analysis) in Marx’s Capital (not to be confused with the TPCS). I’ll respond to Ann’s question separately.

  8. Part 3:

    A brief afterthought; If there is anyone out there who wonders why I was so keen to ascribe to Michael the idea that the Uno-Sekine school had ‘grafted’ the categories of Hegel’s logic onto Capital, the impulse came from page 323 in ‘Following Marx’ where Michael Lebowitz provides the quote he has already reiterated in the second comment on this thread. There he quotes –‘the exact correspondence between the dialectic of capital and Hegel’s Logic can scarcely be doubted.’ I took that quote further – without referring to Michael Lebowitz or the material of the Uno-Sekine school itself – I adduced that any account which discerned an exact parallel between Hegel’s logic and Marx’s capital, must inevitably be a schematic one – partially because, though I believe the movement from quality to quantity as it occurs in the Logic is also visible in Capital, and that the overall movement of the negation of the negation, or absolute negation, as Hegel will have it, is essential to any interpretation of Capital – an argument the editor of this particular site has drawn attention to with great clarity, I nevertheless believe that Marx unfurled those truths through a Hegelian method rather than Hegelian results. Or to put it as the big man himself might have done – where there is identity, there must also must be difference.

  9. Okay Michael I will try to address your concerns briefly. We Brits like to have a drink on Friday night, this one in particular, so I hope you will forgive me if my comments are somewhat sketchy. If you care to reply them, I will respond in more depth tomorrow.

    Briefly, without looking at the pages or references you cite, I will make a few preliminary comments. I remember from your book that you cited Lukacs in your assertion that Hegel conflated the logical order of things with the historical. I was surprised by that (ie by Lukacs) but didn’t bother to look at your reference.

    But perhaps I didn’t fully grasp what you mean to say. Quickly, off the top of my head, I would note the following – in talking about the philosophy of the empiricists, for example, even a critical empiricist like Hume; I suspect, though I am willing to be corrected on this, that Hegel would (and did) despite his appreciation of the importance of such philosophers in the modern epoch, nevertheless assign to them a consciousness which corresponded to the level of sense certainty. Hegel loved Newton, for instance, but he nevertheless realised that Newton’s profundity remained trapped in Notional ‘objectivity’ rather than the organic movement of the Notion itself.
    However sophisticated, Hume absolutised what was immediately materially given, at least according to our George. Now certainly such a phase had to first manifest temporally in the early activities and thought of man as a an almost pure and immediate consumer, as a hunter gatherer, though I think such terms would have been alien to Hegel, but what I really want to say is merely this; the stages of the phenomenology of mind clearly don’t correspond to the lectures in the history of philosophy. Hume is, in Hegel’s opinion, far less refined than Plato.

    And in the same vein you might know how much Hegel values Aristotle as realising and revealing dialectically the unity of subject and object but he criticises Kant for the very fact that with him the same two terms stand in inexorable contradiction (noumenal and phenomenal). This, in my opinion, is vital to understand the potential nature of the proletariat – as something more than a mere moral entity which socialists might believe should take power.

    Or you know something else? – I remember the wonderful philosopher priest Cobblestone critising Hegel for his stuff on antiquity – Hegel puts Heraclitus after Parmenides in his lectures whereas Heraclitus was earlier historically. Again, it’s because the logic of Heraclitus – the mediation of pure being and non being as becoming – is a richer logical form, than the very important proposition of Parmenides’ pure being. For Hegel it didn’t matter who came first temporally.

  10. I agree that Tony made a logical inference from the quote he cites. My initial reference to the citation in his review was not meant as a criticismof him but (being an opportunist) a chance to note that my critique of the Uno-Sekinists went beyond that. I agree with his response to Ann’s question, too. Being an economist by training, the only dimension that I have explored specifically is with respect to the concept of human capital— and that simply to contrast it with the concept of human capacity, which I have written about extensively. I made the point explicitly in a paper I presented at the 2004 Conference on Marx in Havana, ‘The Rich Human Being: Marx’s Concept of Real Human Development’ (available online). That paper ended with this paragraph: ‘If we share Marx’s vision of rich human beings, we need to promote his concept of human capacity rather than speak about human capital, which obscures the nature of capital as a social relation based upon exploitation. Further, we face two challenges— that of working to develop measures which reflect this concept of human capacity and, especially, that of working to create the conditions which permit the self-development of those rich social beings.’ Immediately after this presentation, I was approached in succession by several Cuban economists who recognised (and agreed with) this as a critique of Fidel’s use of the concept of ‘human capital’ and with the point of my last sentence.

  11. Now briefly to the question of the abstract and the concrete which I will say a few things about. I think, like most great questions of philosophy, this is something which has been developed though not resolved. Michael – you tend to talk about the ‘real word’ in your book. Marx often does the same thing. There is the real world – ‘i.e.’ the external one, and in contradistinction to it, the internal world – the one which the mind photographs and reproduces – a mere undialectical relation between materiality and conceptuality. I remember, I think, that somewhere in the philosophical notebooks Lenin uses the expression ‘living perception’ instead of real world. I immediately had a sense of his philosophical ingenuity

    I don’t know if you find that distinction pedantic or unimportant, but for me this is entirely Hegelian. Hegel knew about Greek pre-socratic philosophy. He would never describe the ‘real word’ as the empirical or external one. What was real was also thought. Marx also knew the pre-socratics. I think he only described the ‘real word’ as the material world because he was battling against the crude idealists. It’s the same as when Marxists say the economy is everything and when they say that – everyone turns round and says – ‘how stupid and mechanical is that?’ – but the point is that they are arguing against a really equally crude perspective – and they need to be one sided in order to refute the other. Dialectics must proceed from immediacy and then negation and then the negation of that.

    Too many people dismiss Hegel as an idealist without having any idea of what that means.They think that idealism really just means that the world is run by ideas. Its partially true, but it has no bearing on Hegel. I would say that Hegel’s beautiful quote about the owl of Minerva – reveals him, in his own words, as an objective idealist – the ideas only take flight when premised on some fundamental structural existence (albeit one which is fundamentally misconstrued) – which is why Marx is so important. Not because Hegel is an idealist and Marx is a materialist and one turns the other on his head, but because the same truely objective forms of social existence become historically evident to Marx, which remained non-existent and invisible to Hegel.

    Anyway – I can’t attempt to answer the question about the path from the abstract to the concrete simply because i dont have the answer. I will say this. I think the best book on the question comes from Illyenkov – a great figure who tragically committed suicide and who has been a profound inspiration to me. But, as Hegel asked – What is abstraction? The maestro himself begins from pure being but he only does so because he has developed a philosophical method which requires him, like Descartes, to shore away all particularity, and this requires in itself a particular method.. Hegel says that he begins from pure immediacy but this, according to the great one, is simultanously mediated by the fact that it is pure. Immediacy cannot live on its own without being mediated as a purity.

    But if that wasnt complicated enough, abstraction in Hegel also has another meaning – it means to snatch a category from’ living perception’ and to absolutise it. HE IS A MUGGER, HE IS A ROBBER, HE IS A TERRIBLE REVIEWER OF MICHEAL’S BOOK. This is an immediacy but it is an immediacy which is different from the Hegelian focus on pure being. As an awful review of Micheal Lebowit’z book I represent a different immediacy from my pure being.

    Incidentally – I wouldn’t expect any book to resolve this kind of question – not Michael’s, nor marx nor hegel. It remains open ended. My criticism of Michael now stands on the fact that he expects me to do so. He uses an off the cuff reference to Lukacs. As I said, at the start of this comment, I haven’t checked Michaels reference to Lukacs. But Michael, above all people, should know, given the quality of ‘Following Marx’, that what a theorist says in a sentence is not all important. It might, for example, represent pure appeance. The methodology, the logic of their position, is what counts. Or in Lebowitz’ terms – we shouldn’t absolutise the appearanece over the essence

  12. Re: “The Rich Human Being” — Human beings are rich when they learn to value each other. That’s what I see after 30+ years of reflection on value in Marx, Hegel, Aristotle. Reified value and its self-augmentative movement obscure the truth of this simple phenomenon. So we remain blind, unknowingly in need of a phenomenological revolution.

  13. ‘If we share Marx’s vision of rich human beings, we need to promote his concept of human capacity rather than speak about human capital, which obscures the nature of capital as a social relation based upon exploitation.’ — this, to my mind, is an interesting, apt formulation. I agree that it is entirely misleading to speak of “human capital”, and that “human capacity” (menschliches Vermögen) is more appropriate. Capital is the self-augmentative movement of reified value. whereas human capacity refers to ‘live’ human abilities, power, potential. This brings us back to Aristotle’s ontology of movement, which is an ontology of productive power (_dynamis_). Among sociating human beings, however, it is an exchange of (the exercise of) powers, capacities that is pertinent. When human potentials are set to work, this is their energy, their _en-erg-eia_ (lit. at-work-ness), a word coined by Aristotle himself, with far-reaching consequences to the present day. A human potential at work is energy, i.e. movement. In exchange with each other, humans realize their potentials, and also mutually estimate and esteem, i.e. value, them to their mutual benefit..

  14. I confess that I’m a bit dazed by Tony’s responses (6 July) on the abstract and the concrete. It’s been a while since I dug into Hegel (and if I had once aspired to climb the heights, now find myself falling over backward after a few steps up the ladder). Since the essays in ‘Following Marx’ (some reprinted, some reconstructed from lecture notes from my pre-university-retirement days, and some newly conceived), I’ve been more occupied with working in Venezuela, writing ‘The Socialist Alternative’ (reviewed here by John Gregson) and ‘Contradictions of “Real Socialism”: the Conductor and the Conductor’ (due out later this month from Monthly Review Press–though an excerpt, ‘the Overture’, was published a few days ago on LINKS; none of this predisposes one to think much about Hegel (except perhaps re the ‘bad infinity’). I can, however, make amends for my fleeting reference to Lukacs’s comment (which I had cited in the essay written specifically for the volume, ‘Following Hegel: the Science of Marx’). The source was his ‘Ontology of Social Being: Marx’, published by Merlin (1978) and is from the 4th chapter of part 1 of ‘Toward the Ontology of Social Being’. In that work, he stresses and traces the consistent distinction that Marx made between social being and the method of comprehending that in thought (ie. ‘between the ontological process of being and development and the epistemologically necessary process of comprehension’ [8]). This, of course, is the point that Marx made in the Introduction to the Grundrisse where he spoke of how ‘Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself’ and noted that the method of ‘rising from the abstract to the concrete’ is not how the concrete comes into being but, rather, the way the ‘thinking head… appropriates the world in the only way it can’ (Penguin, 1973: 101). Lukacs cites this, indicating this (as I noted) to be Marx’s ‘methodologically decisive criticism of Hegel’ (109) Very significantly, he goes on to note Engels’ statement that the ‘logical method of treatment’ is ‘nothing but the historical method, only divested of its historical form and disturbing fortuities. The chain of thought must begin with the same thing with which this history begins…’ and to describe it (correctly, in my view) as ‘Engels’ retreat to Hegel’ (109-10). I’m sure that I am not alone in considering Engels’ reading as a source of misinterpretation of Capital (in particular, confusing Marx’s epistemological journey with the process by which the process came into being). I can’t say more about Tony’s comments but wish that I had been able to join him at the pub last night.

  15. Michael.
    You are unfair to Hegel on the matter of logic and history. Look at para 32 of his Philosophy of Right where he firmly repudiates the notion that the logical order is the historical order (and indeed this is obvious by looking at the chapter order in the book). So in 1857 Marx simply repeats Hegel on this. But what about the historical process through which the logic is itself brought to perfection? In his History of Philosophy Intro. Hegel asserts that the system of philosophy is identical with the history of philosophy.
    This point about history should not be confused with Marx’s other point that the real is not the product of thought concretising itself; that process can be given a logical reading distinct from an historical one.
    The claim that the method of rising from abstract to concrete cannot have relevance to how the concrete comes into being is put in question by the fact that in exchange a practical abstraction occurs; the system is founded on this abstract form. Sekine has the great merit of seeing that capital ‘self-abstracts’ when it throws commodities on the market unmarked by the concrete context of their production. So, after all, our reality could be read as the process through which the abstract concretises itself, and of course conversely.

  16. To Michael Lebowitz:

    First off let me apologise for such a rambling and inadequate response to the very interesting concerns you raise. Thank you also for replying with such consideration and good humour. To say the least, I really need to pick more carefully the time when I chose to write.

    I have done what I should have done in the first place and looked at the reference to Lukacs you made. But before I get to that, I would like to make some more general comments.
    Usually in a review like the above, I try to show how certain methodological errors on the part of the thinker inexorably generate certain weaknesses in the conclusions. I think criticism is most useful and effective when formulated in this way. In Hegelian terms it is actualised in and through the body of the authors’ own work.

    For empty criticism remains indifferent to its object, unable to pierce its methodological heart, dripping off it like water from a ducks back. To give an example – person ‘A’ criticises Marx for his opening line in the first chapter of The Manifesto of the Communist Party – they say – ‘in fact the history of all hitherto society is not the history of class struggle at all! The majority of human history involved societies where there were no classes.’

    As it goes, this important and true but it has no bearing on Marxist methodology more generally; it only speaks to the individual Marx and his particular knowledge of anthropology which was very much curtailed by its time. It is, therefore, a critique of Marx – but not Marxism as it cannot show how this specific error on Marx’ part inexorably flows into his method creating fundamental fissures more broadly.

    I have criticised Michael’s use of the phrase ‘real world.’ But I was unable to relate this to any errors in the overall project of the book. That is why I devoted relatively little time to it. My criticism, or at least my dislike of the phrase ‘real world’, comes from the philosophical implications it holds within itself and which have consequences for theory which fall outside of the remit of Michael’s work in ‘Following Marx’. I would like to say a few things about this use of the ‘real world’ as a stand in for ‘empirical reality’ and why should all be wary about the conflation of the two. My criticism here has little bearing on Michael’s methodology which I regard as exemplary, but speaks to issues in our discipline more generally……..

  17. Second Part:

    If there is a ‘real world’ –i.e. the external, sensuous and truly genuine reality, then consciousness is in some way fundamentally reduced; it becomes little more than a metaphysical mirror which passively seeks to reflect its ‘object’ as faithfully as possible. It seems to me that this undialectical opposition (when it remains unmediated) has clear political implications too.

    Some Marxists, for instance, argue that that the proletariat has an objective existence which can be adduced in advance. This is the ‘truth’ of the class, if you like; a truth which is obfuscated by the distorting veil cast by capitalist social relations. Such Marxists then go further – they argue that the task is for the class to become consciousness of its ‘truth’; when it becomes so – it is then aware of its own power and capable of affecting the revolutionary transformation thereby.

    This seems to be a typical ‘materialist’ proposition; the objective social thing as reflected in consciousness; a reflection which provides the basis for revolutionary action. But this is not fully Marxist. What is vital about Marx’ logic is that, the proletariat in the very act of becoming conscious of its ‘truth’ – simultaneously calls that ‘truth’ into being. It is only when the proletariat becomes conscious of its necessity – the necessity to transcend its objective social position through a revolutionary transformation of the social relations more generally – it is only in the act of becoming conscious of such necessity, that the necessity itself truly becomes.

    Engels says somewhere that ‘freedom is the appreciation of necessity’ but that statement remains trapped in subject-object dualism; it is not simply that the proletariat arrives to a point whereby it is able to ‘appreciate’ its own inner ‘necessity’ and thus render its freedom. Rather the ‘appreciation’ of necessity is at the same time the creation of it.

    We can hypothesize, for example, a situation in which the proletariat never became aware of the (latent) necessity within in it (compulsion toward revolutionary transformation as a result of the intensification of social contradictions). Such a hypothetical at once implies the paradox that if the ‘necessity’ is never realised consciously, it simultaneously ceases to be necessary – for the fact it is has not been realised. It is not realised – precisely because it lacks necessity.

    Necessity, therefore, is more than the premise of freedom – i.e. more than something that freedom ‘appreciates’ retrospectively ; it is not simply something which the present recognises in the past as an existential fact which must be raised or reproduced in consciousness. Necessity is not simply the premise of freedom, but rather freedom’s own product; it is what freedom itself creates.

    Likewise consciousness (concrete proletarian consciousness) isn’t a mere afterthought produced by the object itself (proletariat). Rather the proletariat is itself this self-comprehension; for such comprehension (consciousness) calls into being the true nature of the proletariat as a social object.

    And so the understanding of the proletariat’s objective nature on the part of the proletariat is in one and the same moment the creation of that nature. The seemingly axiomatic statement ‘social being is determined by social consciousness’ ceases to apply in quite the same way at this level of historical concreteness– instead the moment of social consciousness for the proletariat (the flashpoint when it goes from being a class in itself to a class for itself) is simultaneously a moment of social being. Being and thought are fused, here, in a concrete identity.

    I don’t mean to dispute the importance of Marx’ ‘social being determines consciousness, rather than consciousness determining social being’. There has to be an empirical proletariat (for wont of a better phrase); a physical group of people created out of wreckage of feudalism in which an increasing number of peasants were severed from their land, craftsman from their tools….producers from their means of production. For this reason ‘social being’ is logically and historically prior to social consciousness; a class must first be constituted as a group who stand in a certain relation to the means of production before they can be conscious of what that social relationship implies and the historical ramifications which flow from it.

    In other words the separation between social being and consciousness which is mediated in thought as an absolute separation between ontology and epistemology is a necessary separation which first occurs at the level of practical existence; it is an abstraction which history itself posits. At the point of its genesis the proletariat is a historically produced ‘thing’ – so to say; it is the largely passive product of historical process where the remnants of a shattered world are gathered under the umbrella of a new class formation.

    Those who understand the proletariat as an ‘objective thing’ whose structural-empirical qualities should be accurately reflected in consciousness are not wrong in the narrow sense of the word. The division between subject and object, consciousness and class, is one which occurs in historical practise and is required for the proletariat to enter the historical field in the first place. The error of such an approach is that it absolutises the practical abstraction history has made in calling the proletariat into being – for it does not understand that the truth of the proletariat is not simply that of historical ‘product’ but also historical process. The proletariat is to be, ultimately, understood as a process which culminates in a concrete identity of subject-object/freedom-necessity – in the Hegelian mould. Although it must be posited by external circumstance which give to it its purely empirical form, if it is to attain genuine freedom (and realise its true nature) the proletariat must come to posit itself. It must freely create its own necessity through the revolutionary act. Its awareness of its process is the process itself.

    When this identity of subject/object, freedom/necessity which is the culmination of the process by which the proletariat truly becomes proletariat – i.e. for itself – when this identity falls asunder, collapsing into an earlier form in which the subject and object are held apart, a series of antinomies mushroom out proliferating across the political discourse. We find, for example, that there is the class on one hand, and the leadership on the other; the former to be inspired and directed by the latter. Or we find that the October Revolution of 1917 was in every sense a subjective aberration; a coup in which the subjective moment was drawn into irreconcilable contradiction with the objective – the Menshevik line about the bourgeoisie stage of capitalism not having sufficiently developed. All these formulations are inspired by, in the last analysis, the separation of the subject and object. The separation is not an incorrect one. What is important is that it must be overcome.

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