Sunday, April 6, 2014

Beyond What, Exactly?

The prefaces of Marx Beyond Marx, set a high bar—lauding the book as “one of the most crucial documents in European Marxism since…well, since maybe never” (p. vii). While I did find myself buying into many of the critiques and expansions Negri offers, I’ve retrospectively come to realize that this is more likely due to my academic background and preferences than Negri’s incisive interpretations of pure Marx himself.

Negri is certainly not the first to balance arguments on differences between Capital and the Grundrisse. Scholars hold up one work’s interpretation over the other as they seek to extend Marx’s thoughts in a way useful to their own political ends. I do find the seeming flippancy with which Negri dismisses other interpretations troubling. He suggests, for example, that Vygodskij “fails to go beyond” or “fully grasp the importance of” surplus value (p. 8). His “new look” is “imposed by the class struggle in the USSR” (p. 16). Rosdolsky, on the other hand is “limited by the ideology of the communist left in the interwar period” (p. 17). Negri’s preface between the prisoner and the free man offers one attempt to situate himself as an author in a specific location and time, this perspective is not adequately represented throughout the lectures.

More specifically, I initially found Negri’s way of dismissing those who read the Grundrisse through Captial as objectivist to be somewhat frustrating. It might have proven more useful to consider the work or Vydodski, Rosdolsky, Grossman, and others within a subjective/objective dialectic, rather than accusing these thinkers of reducing one term to the other. Stemming from a thinker who so heavily emphasized the dialectical, to fling this accusation seemed to offer an easy way out, of sorts

Negri’s seems to disregard Capital altogether in some places, ignoring key theoretical developments that might influence the formation of his own theory. For example, when discussion the theory of wages, Negri argues that wages must be treated alone—that they appear as an “independent variable” in Capital, expanding on “a number of themes explicitly launched in Grundisse.” In Capital, however, (if my notes are to be trusted), Marx notes quite explicitly that wages are dependent relative to the accumulation of capital (see p. 770).

There are other examples, but for the sake of space and sanity, I’ll let this stand as exemplar. I realize that this post doesn’t so much make an argument as serve as a bit of a vent and a place to sort thoughts. I like much of what Negri proposes, however am frustrated by his insistence concerning a correct reading. Perhaps, rather than moving beyond Marx, Negri instead advances elements of Marxist thinking a theoretically useful way. I suppose  that that’s not quite as catchy of a title, though. 

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