Swans Commentary » swans.com February 14, 2011  



Four Theses On Marx's "Method Of Political Economy"


by Maxwell Clark





(Swans - February 14, 2011)  


The passage from Marx in question occurs near the end of Marx's introduction to his Grundrisse. I recommend a preliminary reading or rereading of it in full. (1)

I select this passage because of its consequences for theory in general. I intend to abstract these consequences in what follows. Marx's method of political economy is to become a method of thinking in general. I do not believe this is an offense against reason. I believe it to be the essence of reason itself.

Confessed, this is to move from what is already abstract unto an even more intense plane of abstraction. It is not to rise from the abstract to the concrete, as Marx does within the historical field of economics. But this is because the historical field of theory, inherited from philosophy, theology, poetry, and myth, among others, is not yet even settled on its first principles, its "commodity form."

Our contemporary "thought of thought" is not even sure that such a first principle of its field is possible. I insist, largely as a reader of Aristotle, that all our thinking depends upon some such principle, or historical genealogy of principles.


I am thus rubbing Marx's conceptual "block" against Aristotle's.

Let us return to Marx's central argument for materialism then, for it is essentially a paraphrase from Aristotle's Metaphysics: only when society has produced a surplus, or gets beyond necessity -- if only for the few, does theory proper become possible. All ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.

Insofar as the working class engages in theory, and theory is nothing to do with the utilitarian dictates of its enslavement, it then participates in rule. This is not a pedagogy. It is an index of military organization.

The thought of thought is an index of class forces. Only, participation in this indexing is itself an object of class struggle.

The revolution is thus the "idealization" of the workers as against their thoughtless "materialization" as objects. Theory already serves as a material force for the capitalists.

In truth, we, the species-being, only ever get what we think is right. It is not that communist forces of production do not already exist, as they do, it is that the ideological relations of production remain capitalist. Deep down we still believe capitalism is best.


Thought both rises from the abstract to the concrete and descends from the concrete to the abstract. Theory, the thought of thought, has not yet completed its initial labor of descending unto its "simplest determinations." There is reason to wonder whether it will ever accomplish this task.

Marx's "Method of Political Economy" is suggestive with regards to this problem, however:

As a rule, the most general abstractions arise only in the midst of the richest possible concrete development, where one thing appears as common to many, to all. Then it ceases to be thinkable in a particular form alone.

With this the end-goal of a theoretical "commodity-form" is thus, at least, within sight. (2)

To repeat, the thought of thought, or theory, is an end goal of the universal-proletarian revolution. If communist relations do indeed proffer "the richest possible concrete development," and thus also "the most general abstractions," then perhaps their achievement will also entail the discovery of thought's own "simplest determinations," and then the most comprehensive labor yet of rising to the concrete inaugurated.


In the succession of the economic categories, as in any other historical, social science, it must not be forgotten that their subject -- here, modern bourgeois society -- is always what is given, in the head as well as in reality, and that these categories therefore express the forms of being, the characteristics of existence, and often only individual sides of this specific society, this subject, and that therefore this society by no means begins only at the point where one can speak of it as such; this holds for science as well.

Society does not begin only wherein we give it words. The "commodity-form" is, in end, only a symbolic beginning, middling somewhere between the imaginary and the real. Although Marx does indeed rise from the absolute ground of our economic being, he also expresses it only through the historical lens of bourgeois society.

Thought does not begin only wherein we give it words. The absolute ground of theoretical science, as Aristotle and Marx were well aware, is surplus. Access to surplus is being beyond necessity, i.e., freedom.

Theory is not useful, as such. Theory is waste. Revolutionary theory is not useful to the proletariat. The proletarian participation in useless theorization is revolutionary.


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About the Author

Maxwell Clark is a writer living in New Haven, Connecticut. He is also a digital musician working under the moniker Smojphace (http://soundcloud.com/smojphace).   (back)


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1.  http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch01.htm  (back)

2.  If a revolutionary "relation of production" is precisely what is needed for real revolution to commence (the productive forces having already long been in place), furthermore, then this indicates that all past revolutionary "relations of production", or theories, have been erroneous, even Marx's -- and, this, by his own standard.  (back)


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Published February 14, 2011