Modes of Production in History and Positivism

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mhou
Modes of Production in History and Positivism
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There's a lot of criticism of historical materialism applied to prior modes of production; either for being determinist, for periodizing history in that fashion, and a big one is that it is a positivist reading of history (not to mention specific criticism's of descriptions of ancient modes of production like slave society of Rome/Greece and the controversial 'Asiatic mode of production'/oriental despotism).

From Jacques Camatte's "Capital & Community":

Quote:

The importance of the definition of capital as value in process

"To develop the concept of capital it is necessary to begin not with labour but with value, and, precisely, exchange-value already developed in the movement of circulation. It is just as impossible to make the transition directly from labour to capital as it is to go from the different human races directly to the banker, or from nature to the steam engine." (Grundrisse p. 259)

The appearance of capital thus presupposes a long historical development, in the course of which we can see exchange-value progressively approaching autonomy.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/camatte/capcom/ch02.htm

Through evaluating the works by Marx not published and translated until the mid-20th century, Camatte gives a very thought provoking series of analysis. The above is the first part of the second chapter of the book.

The definition he gives of capitalism is 'social inertia', a fitting term- and the analysis of the 'lost' Chapter 6 of Capital and the Grundrisse orients these texts with the rest of Marx's work.

Does the change in modes of production, how their period of decadence becomes a transition to a new mode of production, depend on the observations quoted above? Rather than a positivist reading (that history is linear, on a path of civilization and progress), which is polemicized and debated against endlessly in history and in recent times, it suggests that the underlying economic history of humanity has been one of autonomizing the wealth creation process, its separation from the choices of human participants and a social relation that expands and develops itself; something capital accomplishes in the transition from formal to real domination (a process long considered finished in the mid 19th century, but argued by recent communists as either ongoing or happening later).

Is this a suitable refutation of positivism and critiques of positivism in Marxism (or at least the groundwork for it)?

jk1921
Is not this periodization of

Is not this periodization of history actually a carry over in many ways from Hegel (hardly a positivist)?

There is a lot of debate in the historical literature about the applicability of Marxist concepts to pre-capitalist modes of production. Is there a continuity between this period and captialism? Is there some kind of telos at work, i.e liberating man from the domination of nature; the process of rationalization, etc. Others, see captialism as a much more dramatic historical rupture with the previous periods of human history, some even arguing that there were multiple non-captialist paths to modernity that were not taken and that captialism was a very specific development in English (not Scottish or Welsh, but specifically English) rural property relationships. Meiksens-Wood has done some interesting work on that idea.

It is as you say it is mhou; there seems an endless debate on these things. But I am not convinced that the Marxist approach to history is "positivist". Teleological? Yes. Positivist? I don't see it. Marx's theory of history seems pretty close to Hegel to me. Cue those who will say that there is more than one theory of history in Marx!

 

 

mhou
I mean specifically the

I mean specifically the Stalinist ossification of Marxism (histomat, diamat). Underneath all of those deformations is the idea that it is a natural progression or evolution leading to the kind of telelogical conclusions you mention.

Some doubt is up about specific periodizations of modes of production; I've read objections that slavery was not a generalized mode of production, that the Asiatic mode of production/oriental despotism is either too general to mean anything, or cannot be specified to a particular period of time (I see some communist groups omit reference to it; speaking only of primitive communism-slavery-feudalism-capitalism).

Quote:
Others, see captialism as a much more dramatic historical rupture with the previous periods of human history, some even arguing that there were multiple non-captialist paths to modernity that were not taken and that captialism was a very specific development in English (not Scottish or Welsh, but specifically English) rural property relationships. Meiksens-Wood has done some interesting work on that idea.

That does sound interesting. But that capitalism did become the path to modernity, starting from its very small origins in those English property relations, suggests that its power is autonomous or determined by its own logic from its earliest days. Do we categorize 'ancient' modes of production according to the same criteria, that their purpose was the creation of wealth? I guess that's the kernal that struck me from Camatte's analysis of Ch.6; the idea that human social relations and modes of production over the years have a single purpose, the creation (and expansion?) of wealth, it might make understanding how ancient modes of production became decadent and their transition to the next mode of production took place easier. Is it, like Camatte/Marx describe, a history of a movement toward the autonomy of exchange-value (and the separation of the logic of the economy from human intervention)?

Alf
dialectics vs positivism

 

This article from the first volume on communism does try to deal with the charge that marxism is a form of positivism, by contrasting the dialectical view of history with the linear, positivist view of the bourgeoisie. For example:  

We can see plainly that, contrary to many would-be radical critics of marxism, Marx's recognition of capital's "civilising influence" was never an apologia for capital. The historical process in which man has separated himself from the rest of nature is also the chronicle of man's self-estrangement, and this has reached its apogee, or nadir, in bourgeois society, in the wage labour relation which the Grundrisse defines as "the most extreme form of alienation" (p 515). It's this which can indeed often make it seem as though capitalist 'progress', which ruthlessly subordinates all human needs to the ceaseless expansion of production, is more like a regression in comparison to previous epochs:

"Thus the old view, in which the human being appears as the aim of production, regardless of his limited national, religious, political character, seems to be very lofty when contrasted to the modern world, where production appears as the aim of mankind and wealth as the aim of production ... In bourgeois economics - and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds - this complete working out of the human content appears as a complete emptying out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing-down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end" (Grundrisse, p 487-8). 

And yet this final triumph of alienation also means the advent of the conditions for the full realisation of humanity's creative powers, freed both from the inhumanity of capital and the restrictive limitations of pre-capitalist social relations:

"In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc....? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity's own nature? The absolute working out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, ie the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?" (ibid).

This dialectical view of history  remains a puzzle and a scandal to all defenders of the bourgeois standpoint, which is forever stuck in an 'either-or' dilemma between a blanket apology for 'progress' and a nostalgic longing for an idealized past:

"In earlier stages of development the single individual seems to be developed more fully, because he has not yet worked out his relationships in their fullness, or erected them as independent social powers and relations opposite himself. It is as ridiculous to yearn for a return to this original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill. The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond this antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and therefore the latter will accompany it as its legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end" (Grundrisse p 162).

https://en.internationalism.org/ir/075_commy_07.html

 

There are a lot more points raised in mhou's post. But the above passage is relevant to the question of a key difference between capitalism and previous modes of productionI would say that capitalism, unlike previous modes of production, aims to create a purely abstract form of wealth, which is why it is the highest form of alienation.  

jk1921
Good Point

Alf wrote:

I would say that capitalism, unlike previous modes of production, aims to create a purely abstract form of wealth, which is why it is the highest form of alienation.  

Good point, Alf.

Fred
mhou wrote: Is it, like

mhou wrote:
Is it, like Camatte/Marx describe, a history of a movement toward the autonomy of exchange-value (and the separation of the logic of the economy from human intervention?)

Good point mhou. The logic of the economy posits the end of an environment friendly to humanity, the triumph of barbarism, and the potential distruction of humankind.

Fred
the terrifying logic of the economy

Fred wrote:
mhou wrote:
Is it, like Camatte/Marx describe, a history of a movement toward the autonomy of exchange-value (and the separation of the logic of the economy from human intervention?)

Good point mhou. The logic of the economy posits the end of an environment friendly to humanity, the triumph of barbarism, and the potential distruction of humankind.

It's a dismal prospect mhou. Did Marx always know in his heart of hearts that it would all end up a disaster? Apart of course from "human intervention"? I suppose this means the democrats in the States, the labour party in the UK, socialists in France etc? Because they want to intervene in the economy, don't they? But will the inexorable logic of the economy allow them? It's all a bit like the sorcerer's apprentice, where the magic that made filling the buckets with water automatic, thus rendering unecessary the work of the apprentice, (and cutting down the sorecerer's expenditure, like austerity budgets are supposed to do) caused a large and dangerous flood: like we have in Italy and Greece and parts of S.East Asia - nobody cares about S.East Asia though, where environmental disasters are becoming the order of the day - right at this very moment.

In fact, the inexorable logic of the economy seems to match climate change very well: both are speeding up; both are frightening and threaten human life.

Only a proletarian intervention might be able to stop the logic of the economy playing itself out, but there's no sign of that is there? Not a soviet, or it's modern replacement to be seen. Is it too late anyway?

mhou
Quote:It's a dismal prospect

Quote:
It's a dismal prospect mhou. Did Marx always know in his heart of hearts that it would all end up a disaster? Apart of course from "human intervention"? I suppose this means the democrats in the States, the labour party in the UK, socialists in France etc? Because they want to intervene in the economy, don't they? But will the inexorable logic of the economy allow them? It's all a bit like the sorcerer's apprentice, where the magic that made filling the buckets with water automatic, thus rendering unecessary the work of the apprentice, (and cutting down the sorecerer's expenditure, like austerity budgets are supposed to do) caused a large and dangerous flood: like we have in Italy and Greece and parts of S.East Asia - nobody cares about S.East Asia though, where environmental disasters are becoming the order of the day - right at this very moment.

Well, since it's still a social relation, it's a series of trillions of human acts every second that embody capitalism in motion- but I mean, it seems that in the days of Feudalism, the agency of the merchants gave rise to primitive capitalism, room for expansion (of the productive forces, of new social relationships): but under capitalism, there is no escape from a structual inertia that is underway everywhere on Earth, in all aspects of life- even the most powerful or wealthy individual bourgeoisie cannot 'change' that, only the working-class by nature of its place at the point of production. I think Marx was much more structuralist than moral when developing historical materialism. The world must've seemed pretty dire to the average slave or serf in the past- but conditions changed.

Quote:
Is it too late anyway?

I don't think so at all. The development of capitalism has without doubt prepared the material conditions for communism, and has developed in ways that were unforeseen 30 or 40 years ago, into more aspects of life, speeding up the accumulation process, reducing to a blink of an eye 'moral depreciation' of equipment, implementation of just-in-time as a generalized practice, etc. If we look backward, I don't think catastrophism is historically grounded. If ancient modes of production became a fetter on development or couldn't contain their internal contradictions, and the movement toward autonomization of exchange-value is an underlying theme of the origin and growth of 'civilization', I think decadence theory does much better standing up as a theory against Trotsky's "capital accumulation will come to a halt because of capital's internal contradiction" ideas- that this period we and the past few generations have lived through is a necessary stage before a transition to communism.

mhou
Fred- I was reading on my

Fred- I was reading on my lunch break and found this analysis that says what I haven't been articulating as well:

Quote:
In capitalist society the relations are inverted – the social relations between individuals are made into social relations between things. “The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his pocket” (Grundrisse), i.e. in his possession of money. As Marx said, what at first seems to be a paradox is that the epoch which produces the standpoint of the “isolated individual” (Grundrisse) – such as it appears in political economy and in our spontaneous everyday way of thinking – is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social relations. Here, the individuals are subjected to social production, which exists “outside of them as their fate” (Grundrisse).

This historically determined individual freedom is at the same time “the most complete subjugation of individuality under social conditions which assume the form of objective powers, even of overpowering objects – of things independent of the relations among individuals themselves” (Grundrisse). However, these “overpowering objects” are produced by the individuals, but are out of their control and so establish “a world for themselves, quite independent of and divorced from” them (The German ideology). Capital is a “sensuous–super-sensuous thing” (Capital I) and individuals are “ruled by abstractions” (Grundrisse). The individual is dependent upon the entire world for the satisfaction of his needs, today far more so than in 1846. It is precisely because capitalism as class society determines its individual members as specific members, as “average individuals”, that class assumes an “independent existence as against the individuals”; their individual development is determined by their class-belonging and they are “subsumed” under this belonging (The German ideology).

It is, as Marx wrote in the Grundrisse, “impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome [these external relations] en masse without destroying them”. Under very specific circumstances, the individual may arrive on top of these external relations, “but the mass of those under their rule cannot, since their mere existence expresses subordination, the necessary subordination of the mass of individuals”.

 

http://riff-raff.se/texts/en/marcel-crusoe-s-ex-communists-in-intermundia