Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thoughts on "Grundrisse"

Thoughts on Marx’s Grundrisse:
Chandler (though I am working from his draft) questioned the profundity of Marx’s analysis of the moments of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption. I was a little surprised by his question, because I found this section so illuminating. Chandler is right to point out the obviously Hegelian dialectic nature of Marx’s analysis of the relationship between these four moments, but making this analysis doesn’t seem to me as obvious as he claims. When we think of “the economy” we don’t think of what we on a daily basis as being “production of human beings”—we call ourselves “consumers” (and I my understanding is that this was true in Marx’s mid-19th century as well). Therefore, showing the dialectic relationship between production and consumption—that in fact, via negation, only the other completes them—helps us see how complex a seemingly straightforward concept like “the forces of production” really are. If all production is in fact both immediately consumption and mediates consumption then it is, after all, the determining base to the determined superstructure. This section seems to me to be working very hard to establish the grounds for the “materialist conception of history” that we read about in the Marx’s polemic against Feuerbach.
            What puzzles me here is although he argues that production is the “point of departure for realization and hence also its predominant moment”, he has to admit at the end of the section that “[m]utual interaction takes place between the different moments. This is the case with every organic whole.” (95,100). So, if things are interacting mutually, organically, always already determined, (as with the social distribution of the means of production, or the concepts which create the “assemblages” of available materials) then what is it about production that makes it so special? Traditionally, it was desire—a lack, a negative reality—which was understood to drive production. Marx seems to want to make production rather more self-propelling and less linked to Geist. To say that the production is the first thing seems to ignore the fact, raised earlier, that to produce anything is always social—always comes with a history, is always being put to a social use. This is clearly covered when Marx talks about man as a zoon politikon, and the social nature of language. But he seems to drop social (and ideal) determination when he ends up talking about social production as if it were immanent and changeable by individuals, I think this is what is at issue on 101, when he talks about “thought appropriating the concrete.” It seems like Marx wants to isolate the “concrete substratum” from any meaningful relationships which could create what we could properly call a “world”. He seems to want to have it both ways—a socially produced world and a preexisting world (I’m indebted to Bruno Latour for that argument) Am I reading that correctly? Does Marx deal with these questions better than I have understood?

            I don’t think that my quibble invalidates his critique of the methods of political economy, or his ideology critique of the bourgeois de-historicizing of the category of capital. The notes on page 108 seem to break down our capitalist society in a quite reasonable way, and like I said, I found all of this a very illuminating way to think about economies—but I was still a bit confused by what struck me as inconsistencies.

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