‘The Commodity-Form and the Dialectical Method: On the Structure of Marx’s Exposition in Chapter 1 of Capital’, Science and Society, Vol. 72, No. 3, pp. 295-318 (July 2008).

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  The Commodity- Form and the Dialectical Method: On the Structure of Marx’s Exposition in Chapter 1 of Capital GUIDO STAROSTA* ABSTRACT: A methodologically-minded critical reading of Marx's argument about the determinations of the value-form of the product of labor in the first chapter of Capital contributes to the growing literature on the dialectical structure of Marx’s cri tique of political economy by bringing out often-overlooked aspects of his argument. First, there is a crucial distinction  between the respective roles of the stages of analysis and synthesis in the dialectical inquiry and the way in which these are reflected in the dialectical  presentation. Second, the specific form   of the analytical process in the dialectical method is thematized. The paper then draws the implications of all these methodological aspects for an adequate comprehension of the structure of Marx’s discussion of abstract labor as the substance of value in the initial pages of Capital. * I would like to thank Simon Clarke, Juan Iñigo Carrera, Nicolás Grinberg and Axel Kicillof for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The usual caveat applies. IN THE PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION of Capital Marx makes evident that he was well aware of the complexity of the first steps in the critique of political economy (Marx,   2 1976a, 89). Indeed, the endless debates over the real meaning and implications of Marx's discussion of the commodity-form seem to suggest that, if anything, Marx's warning actually fell short of the real difficulties at stake. On the other hand, whether it is explicitly acknowledged or not, it is clear that the diverse readings of Marx's critique of political economy entail different political implications (Dimoulis and Milios, 2004). Although a full discussion of the question exceeds the scope of this paper, it should at least be noted that the investigation of those “minutiae” which the determinations of the commodity - form “appear to turn upon” (Marx, 1976a, 90) are of paramount importance fo r the kind of political action that the critique of political economy informs. 1  This is shown not only in Marx's insistence on the impossibility of correctly grasping the determinations of the more abstract social forms of capitalist society from the bourgeois standpoint of the science of political economy (Marx, 1976a, 174), but also in the central role these determinations played in his critique of the ideological representations of them coming from the working-class movement itself, e.g., Proudhonian socialism. 2   1 As I have argued elsewhere (see Starosta, 2003), elaboration of the connection between the specific dialectical form of Marx’s scientific method and its revolutionary content is perhaps the single most important c ontribution of Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness. A discussion of the fundamental political implications of the more abstract determinations of capital can be found in Starosta, 2005. 2 See Clarke, 1994 and Shortall, 1994 for good reconstructions of Marx's critique of Proudhonian socialism based on the latter's misunderstanding of the nature of the commodity and money-forms.   3 Thus, the gist of Marx’s critique of Gray’s proposal to preserve private commodity-production while replacing the money-form with labor-time certificates issued by a national bank, comes down to the latter’s inability to comprehend the immanent necessity of the value of commodities to take on the independent form of money (Elson, 1979, 135136). Similarly, in the Grundrisse Marx ridicules Darimon's proposal of abolishing the privilege of money (that of being directly exchangeable for all commodities) by making “by decree” all commodities directly exchangeable (Marx, 1993, 126). In all these cases, the common thread of the Marxian critique lies in the incapacity of those authors to grasp the necessary inner connection between the commodity- and money-forms. This, in turn, is underpinned by a methodological shortcoming. As I argue below, theories based on formal logic can only grasp social forms as self-subsistent entities or immediate affirmations and not as the self-negating mode of existence of a more abstract social form (i.e., the movement of contradiction). As a consequence, they are bound to represent their necessary inner connections as merely external ones.   4 Be that as it may, the central point to be argued in this paper is that the diversity in the way Marx's followers have read the ideal reproduction of the determinations of the commodity-form contained in Capital is closely connected to the varied methodological  perspectives from which those authors have attempted to grasp the latter. In other words, those different interpretations of the actual content of the first sections of Capital express different understandings of the very form of scientific knowledge unfolded in that book. The need to reconsider Marx’s presentation of the commodity -form in Chapter 1 of Capital through a reassessment of his dialectical method (in particular, its connection to Hegel’s Science of Logic) has been widely recognized by a growing number of scholars. In effect, the last 10 or 15 years have wit nessed a renewed interest in Marx’s dialectical method and its implications for value-theory (see, among others, Albritton and Simoulidis, 2003; Arthur, 2002; Moseley, 1993; Moseley and Campbell, 1997; Murray, 1988; Smith, 1990). However, despite all the light that these works have cast on the form of Marx’s argument, I think that they have been mainly focused on the synthetic aspects of Marx’s dialectical  presentation (i.e. , on the exposition of the dialectical movement from the “abstract to the concrete”). In this sense, it could be argued that this literature has glossed over two further fundamental aspects of Marx’s dialectical method. First, those works have not sufficiently thematized the peculiar role of the phase of analysis in Marx’s dialectical in vestigation generally and in his presentation in particular. Second, they have not paid sufficient attention to the specific form of the analytical process within dialectical thought. 3  My own 3 The distinction between analysis (in the sense of dissection of the “whole” into “parts” or “identification of differences”) and synthesis (in   5 contribution therefore aims at filling these gaps in the literature. 4   the sense of reconstitution of the “unity” of the whole) is not peculiar t o dialectics. As I argue below, what sets the latter apart from formallogical methodologies is the specific form taken both by the analytical and synthetic processes in dialectical thought. Zelený (1980, ch. 10) provides a concise discussion of the different meanings of analysis and synthesis in science and philosophy, which also traces back their intellectual lineage. 4 These other aspects have not been entirely absent in the literature. However, they came up in the debate among “new dialecticians” only   quite recently (Murray, 2002; Reuten, 2000). See Brown, et al., 2002, for a discussion of some of these issues through a comparison between critical realism and systematic dialectics. Also, it is our view that compared to the light thrown on the synthet ic aspects of Marx’s method of presentation, the nature of the relation between analysis and synthesis in the presentation and the way in which this relates to the formal determinations of the dialectical inquiry, have not been explored  with the same clarity.
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