Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 8 February 2021


 Let us look more closely at the delusion under which the Western Left has belaboured by mistaking cultural critique with the real political coercion that is the essence of capitalism. Here is the classic statement of this delusion:

Marx did not only show that human relations were veiled by relations between things, but rather that, in the commodity economy, social production relations inevitably took the form of things and could not be expressed except through things. The structure of the commodity economy causes things to play a particular and highly important social role and thus to acquire particular social properties. Marx discovered the objective economic bases which govern commodity fetishism. Illusion and error in men's minds transform reified economic categories into "objective forms" (of thought) of production relations of a given, historically determined mode of production—commodity production (C., I, p. 72). (I.I. Rubin, Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value, p.6.)

If we consider the statement that “Marx discovered the objective economic bases which govern commodity fetishism”, then it is obvious that because fetishism is based on “illusion and error” it cannot ever be founded on “objective economic bases” of any kind whatsoever! An error is just that – an error! It cannot ever be founded on objective bases; it can only be the result of illusion and error! Illusions and errors can never have “objective bases” of any shape or form because they are simply illusions and errors that must be dispelled and corrected. Only “appearances”, based on our sensory perceptions, can have an objective basis: but then they are not illusions or errors, they are just what they are – appearances based on sensory perceptions. And whereas it is possible to trace a scientific path from appearances or sensory perceptions to scientific objectivity (indeed, scientific objectivity must be founded on human perceptions, on experiences known as experiments), it is not, and it will never be, possible to arrive at scientific objectivity by starting from illusions and errors – except serendipitously, accidentally. In other words, whereas appearance and science belong in the same practical continuum being different aspects of reality, illusion and error can have nothing to do with reality. – Which is why commodity fetishism, an illusion and error, will never be able to account for the political reality of Value. 

The converse is also true: reality is inevitably made up of different aspects or appearances or perceptions; but it can never lead to illusion and error which are quite simply human mental fantasies. Consequently, Rubin’s conclusion quoted above is literally a non-sense, because “illusion and error in men’s minds” will never be able transform anything into anything other than more illusions and errors wholly unconnected with any reality, let alone “’objective forms’ of thought of production relations”. If Value in capitalism is merely an “objective form of thought”, then it is purely a nonsense – because no “form of thought” will ever be found to be objective if the word “objective” means something corresponding to but not identical with thought! Rubin here is attempting the impossible, which is, first, to distinguish between objectively-given forms of reality that exist independently of thought and phenomenological human thoughts that are mere illusions and errors, not appearances and perceptions - and then seeking an even more impossible path to their epistemological and ontological reconciliation so that illusions and errors can be based on objective reality and (perish the thought!) even explain that reality! Rubin is not satisfied with the nonsense that an objective reality independent of thought can ever explain an illusion and error; he also insists that from illusion and error we can work our way back not just to human perceptions of reality, but to objective reality itself!

As incredible as this piece of mental gymnastics may seem, made all the more disconcerting by the sheepish uncritical adherence it has received from the greatest minds in Western Marxism, but one to which they ought to have been alerted by Rubin’s twisted contorted syntax, it is corroborated further by Rubin’s crude scientistic or deterministic distinction between objective “forces of production” and their causal determination of “social relations of production”. This is almost too absurd to be believed, but here is Rubin to confirm our accusation:

The capitalist economy represents a union of the material-technological process and its social forms, i.e. the totality of production relations among people. The concrete activities of people in the material-technical production process presuppose concrete production relations among them, and vice versa. The ultimate goal of science is to understand the capitalist economy as a whole, as a specific system of productive forces and production relations among people. But to approach this ultimate goal, science must first of all separate, by means of abstraction, two different aspects of the capitalist economy: the technical and the social-economic, the material-technical process of production and its social form, the material productive forces and die social production relations. Each of these two aspects of the economic process is the subject of a separate science. The science of social engineering—still in embryonic state—must make the subject of its analysis the productive forces of society as they interact with the production relations. On the other hand, theoretical political economy deals with production relations specific to the capitalist econ

1 Hilferding, R. "Bohm-Bawerks Marx-Kritik, " Marx-Studien, Wien, 1904. 2 ESSAYS ON MARX'S THEORY OF VALUE 

omy as they interact with the productive forces of society. Each of these two sciences, dealing only with one aspect of the whole process of production, presupposes the presence of the other aspect of the production process in the form of an assumption which underlies its research. In other words, even though political economy deals with production relations, it always presupposes their unbreakable connection with the material-technical process of production, and in its research assumes a concrete stage and process of change of the material-productive forces.

So, first Rubin invites us to treat the capitalist mode of production as the scientific unity of “material-technological” forces of production and of “social relations”. Then, in the same breath, with temerary disregard of logic, he tells us point-blank that forces of production and social relations are subject to two distinct and separate “sciences”, indeed the former is even capable of sprouting a brave new science – and God forbid, world! – of “social engineering”! The prosecution rests.

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