Marx’s Economics Revived. Introduction to Uno-Sekine Approach (Part I)
Marx’s Economics Revived
Introduction to Uno-Sekine Approach
[(1) First I would like to ask you how you originally came to economics, Marxism and Uno? Please describe the circumstances under which you first came to these things and took interest in them. Then, tell me about your graduate training in mainstream, bourgeois economics in the West. I would also like you to tell me of your interest in Hegel’s dialectic on one hand and in the general equilibrium approach to economics in the Walrasian tradition on the other, two things that do not seem to mix very well at first sight. How are they related in your Unoist view of economics?]
1a) Can you describe how you originally came to Marxism ? When and how were you politicized? Why after ten years of graduate training in mainstream, bourgeois economics, did you return to Marxian economics, and that specifically in its Unoist variation?
I entered Hitotsubashi University’s Social Science Division in 1953, hoping vaguely to study in such areas as western history, social & political thought, and the like. I was then not interested in economics in particular. But the intellectual climate that I encountered there was characterized by a sharp confrontation between bourgeois and Marxist economics, so much so that one had to decide on which side one stood, before being seriously heard. So I decided to start learning Marx’s economics towards which I felt a bit more congenial, mainly because I was not confident in my mathematics, whereas I could by then read three European languages, including German, passably well. The choice was strictly intellectual and pragmatic; it was not political or ideological. Although I (and my family) generally sympathized with left-wing politics, I never took any activist stance. So, when I began to study Marx, I was often called by my friends a “salon Marxist”. But I did not feel particularly annoyed, embarrassed or offended by that reference. In my third year, I got to know Kôzô Uno, who came to Hitotsubashi once a week to give a special lecture on Marx’s economics. I was then deeply impressed by his approach, his poise and scholarship, which motivated me to pursue further studies in Marx’s economics. But, as I learned the subject in some depth, I felt that I needed to study bourgeois economics as well, which appeared to me then to be a rival discipline, even though that idea did not excite me particularly. When I was vacillating in that regard as a graduate student still at Hitotsubashi, I got a chance to study in Canada, so I went to McGill in 1958. From then on to my Ph.D. in London in 1966, I concentrated exclusively on bourgeois economics.
After obtaining my degree, I went to teach mainstream economics (mostly in micro theory and international trade) first at Simon Fraser and then at York University in Canada. I wrote papers on international monetary adjustment, inspired by Patinkin’s “real balance effect”. But soon I was disenchanted with exercises along that line, and decided to return to my original interest in Marx’s economics under Uno’s intellectual embrace. About that time academic interest in Marx was beginning to revive in North America. I published a paper on Uno’s approach in JEL in 1975 and a translation of his short 1965-Principles into English in 1980. Thereafter, I have concentrated on the reformulation of Marx’s economics along Unoist lines. In the meantime I had friendly contacts with many Japanese Unoists, but always at a courteous distance and often indirectly. I never worked closely together with any one of them. I rather preferred to operate as a lone wolf in Canada until 1994, and similarly even after returning to Japan in that year. They have their own ideas of Uno’s work, and I have mine. Obviously, our intellectual stances have remained apart. Perhaps the Japanese Unoists are more faithful to the text of Uno’s writings, while I feel closer to his person and thought.
1b) Why, even though you greatly admire Marx, do you not like to be called a “Marxist”?
It seems to me that many, if not all, Marxists adore Marx for what he is not instead of for what he is, or to put it otherwise, for what he only superficially appears to be rather than for what he really is. Marx is usually admired for having been a great socialist and revolutionary, and volumes have been written and published on that side of Marx. But, Marx cannot be said to have been all that successful in providing consistently reliable guidelines for achieving real socialism; he may even have at times misled many of his followers. For the latter adopted very misguided political practices that produced a number of monstrous, and now thoroughly discredited, experiments. That was, of course, not his fault, as the blame must fall squarely on the shoulders of his superficial admirers, who are proud of calling themselves “Marxists”, with or without Marx’s presumed approval. It is, therefore, important to understand what really makes this towering thinker and his works so unique and valuable to us. Contrary to the conventional idea, but echoing faithfully that of my mentor, Kôzô Uno, I claim that it is because he was a (if not the) foremost economist, in the sense that no serious history of economic thought can ever be written without a very thorough reappraisal of his economics, as it is encapsulated in the immortal work, das Kapital. What is truly revolutionary is the latter, though most Marxists pay only lip-service to it without ever seriously studying it or mastering its method and object.
This claim may sound surprising to many, since the well-established conventional idea today (often shared even by Marxists!) is that the economics of das Kapital has by now become completely obsolete or outdated, and that it only survives, if at all, as a museum piece. I am fully aware and disapprove of that conventional view, which I believe is completely blind and false. I also argue that such an incorrect view has been carefully and deliberately nurtured and disseminated by the ideological superstructure of present-day society, the aim of which is to glorify and eternalize “capitalism” (as it is understood by the present power-structure) as the only rational economic base (or way of economic management or operation) of any society. Many Marxists disagree with this view. Yet they do not know how to “critique it” satisfactorily. The conventional view furthermore pretends that this vaguely (that is, only loosely and conveniently) defined idea of “capitalism” or “the market-based economy” constitutes the ultimate stronghold of freedom and democracy in human society. Marxists know that this too is false and say so. Yet, they have so far failed to convincingly expose that such a claim merely reflects bourgeois-liberal faith (ideology) and does not stand on any solid or defensible ground of scientific knowledge.
The reason for the shakiness of their opposition is due to the fact that they simply do not know what “economics” is all about. Either they have not seriously studied it, or, in the process of studying bourgeois economics exclusively, they have been mesmerized into believing that Marx’s economics can largely be reduced to mere “linear production models” of some sort. So-called Sraffian and Analytical Marxists are the most blatant and outlandish examples of this pathetic error. In both cases, they have not criticized bourgeois economics in the same thoroughgoing way as Marx “critiqued” the (bourgeois) political economy of his time, but simply set up a Marxist ideology in opposition to the modernist, i.e., bourgeois-liberal ideology, before engaging in useless “partisan” brawls. But ideological battles are futile, because the victory or defeat in such quarrels is decided only by faith and force at the level of religion or power politics (which at best has to do with the so-called “warm heart”), not by rigorous reasoning and reflection at the level of science and objective knowledge (having to do with the “cool head”). What makes Marx’s critique both remarkable and significant is that, contrary to the conventional idea, he did not wage mere ideological battles, but a scientific war in the domain of rigorous reasoning in economics. This was what distinguished Marx from the ilk of the utopian socialists. Thus, what we must do first of all is to demonstrate that Marx’s economics, unlike bourgeois economics, is not a one-sided and ideologically biased one, but that it instead constitutes truly objective (in the sense of ideology-free or trans-ideological) knowledge, if as yet in its incipient (rather than in its accomplished) form. Following Uno, I therefore describe our approach to economics as “Marxian” rather than simply “Marxist”.
1c) You seem to believe that Marxian economics is defensible as scientific (or objective) knowledge whereas bourgeois economics is not, as the latter amounts only to a religion. Is that not the exact opposite of what is generally believed? How did you arrive at your own belief?
Yes, it so happens that my view of economics is almost the exact opposite of the widely and conventionally held one, and that is what I wish to explain in the following pages. The prevailing opinion today is that Marx’s economics is now completely obsolete or outdated, and retains no more than an archeological value. This view now seems to be more or less universally shared, given that it has been carefully nurtured by the prestigious academic institutions in Western democracies. But that has only to do with how things look, or are made out to look, rather than with how they really are. One of the reasons why appearance overshadows reality in this instance is that ideologically motivated Marxists have so far failed to fundamentally criticize bourgeois economics. By shirking from that task, they have also in consequence eschewed from systematically reviewing and reformulating Marx’s economics in the fully up-do-date language of the profession. For, no one can criticize bourgeois economics from the outside, without being oneself versed in its own paradigm. I do not know how economics is taught and studied in other countries, but at the time I went to university in Japan, the study of economics was rather sharply divided into Marxist and bourgeois-modernist versions, so that those who were trained by Marxist professors were usually not adequately trained in bourgeois economics, and vice versa. When I went to Canada as a graduate student, I was made aware of that fact for the first time. Whatever I had known of bourgeois economics by then was no more than a dilettantish knowledge of it from the outside at most, and did not qualify as part of professional knowledge. I therefore had to be completely retrained in bourgeois economics, before I began my career as academic economist in the West. It was only some years thereafter that I returned to Uno’s earlier teaching in Marxian economics and came to fully recognize its unparalleled value. I thus engaged myself in reformulating his thought in a way that even bourgeois economists, so far untrained in Marx’s writings, could, if willing, readily understand and appreciate it. In other words, I tried to restate it systematically in the up-to-date language of economic analysis, rather than insisting on its original, nineteenth-century language and merely regurgitating it.
Specifically, I tried as far as possible to formulate Marxian economic theories in rigorous mathematical terms rather than being content with merely illustrating them with numerical examples. This is something that no Japanese Unoist has done. It is for this reason that I preferred to operate as a lone wolf in my own enterprise, rather than working closely with any one of the Japanese Unoists, as I have said above. Of course, it would have been much easier and nicer if I could work together with kindred spirits. Yet there were also advantages in avoiding “party talks” when solitary meditation is more effective and indispensable. (Uno himself would not have achieved what he did, had he worked with a group of friendly and strident Marxists, who may have been as cheerful as diversionary.) As I will discuss in greater detail below, the Ricardian school disintegrated as a consequence of being unable to solve the so-called transformation problem. It then became divided into two camps: the Socialists and the Harmonists, with the latter group eventually merging into the neoclassical school. In retrospect, this school both enriched and impoverished economics simultaneously, as I will elaborate below. With its faith in the virtue of the competitive market to by itself achieve what looks like the pre-established harmony of perhaps initially conflicting “monadological” interests, it confirmed economics as a religious dogma whereby to glorify the “ought” of capitalism, while it also applied systematically rigorous mathematical tools to demonstrate the capability of that same mechanism. If it impoverished economics in the first aspect, it greatly enriched it in the second. Indeed, if the mathematical tools of economic analysis explored by the neoclassical school had been available earlier to the Ricardian school, perhaps there would not have been a need for the latter to break up, nor for the labour theory of value to be abandoned, giving way to the utility theory. For, with mathematics, the so-called transformation problem would have been easily solved, and Marx’s numerical illustration of it in the third volume of Capital would not have been exposed to as much hostile animadversion. Of course, mathematics must not be applied blindly and haphazardly to Marxian economic theory, without giving due regard to its dialectical structure. For example, Marx talks of the transformation of values into prices primarily in the “dialectical sense”, whereas, after von Bortkiewicz, the same word is interpreted only in its mathematical sense of mapping one point in the value space into another in the price space, and vice versa. I have elsewhere elaborated on these two meanings of the word “transformation”. In any case, in order to benefit from cross fertilization of the two great paradigms in economics, Marxian and bourgeois, one has to study both of them with sufficient depth. In this regard, I not only had the great fortune of meeting the great Marxian economist of Uno’s calibre even while still an undergraduate, but I also had the special privilege later of coming across many competent and excellent teachers, colleagues and students in bourgeois economics, who taught to me essential tools of that paradigm, which single-handedly I would never have been able to appropriate. I remain forever grateful to them all.
Furthermore, economics is in a sense “bourgeois” by its very nature, inasmuch as it was born with modern society, the economic substructure of which is “capitalism” (using this word in the sense of Marx’s “capitalist mode of production”). From the beginning classical political economy, wherefrom Marx too learned his economics, was charged with the special mission to broadcast far and wide that capitalism was not only superior to any preceding system of society’s economic management but also the pinnacle of human achievements in the economic realm. The advent of capitalism, however, meant that the most prevalent and key use-values that the real economic life of society then needed and wanted could more readily be produced as commodities than otherwise, and that this fact entailed the predominance of the mercantile principles of capital in the operation of the whole economy. When this trend became increasingly more evident, bourgeois political economy discovered “economic theory”. For, the latter is essentially the software (or inner programme) which capital employs in running the real economic life of society in conformity to its own principles. Surely such a programme becomes the more valid and effective, as the use-values themselves become more easily adapted to the commodity-form, and so also to capital’s mercantile principle; that is to say, as they tend to become increasingly more “nominal” or “neutral” in the sense that they are distinguishable, one from another, only by their names. In other words, if A and B are no more than just different names given to the use-value of two commodities, which are thought to be quite inter-changeable one for the other in their functioning in the market, that will mean that capital will be saved from any specific trouble of handling A which it does not meet in handling B and vice versa. For example, if A were cotton yarn (a light-industry product) and B were steel rods (a heavy-industry product), yet if that difference did not matter to capital, the latter could concentrate only on the management of “use-values in general”, and not on “this or that specific use-value”. For, in that case, all use-values would be produced, circulated and consumed with equal ease in the perfectly competitive market, which would then be guided by the Invisible Hand of Providence to a “Pareto-optimal” general equilibrium, in which no one’s lot can be improved without worsening someone else’s, thus achieving a “pre-established harmony” of all possibly conflicting interests in society. As a matter of fact, no economic theory can be stated with sufficient rigour without this pivotal presupposition. Marxian economic theory too accepts it. This fundamental commonality notwithstanding, there is yet a crucial difference between the classical and the Marxian approach to economic theory. That difference follows from the distinct manner in which the abstraction of “nominalized use-values” is accepted. The classical approach accepts the nominalization of use-values simply because it is divine or beyond human experience, such that any deviation from that norm is due to human aberrations. The Marxian approach, in contrast, claims that capitalism itself at one point in its historical evolution displayed the real tendency towards self-purification or self-idealization, the mental extrapolation of which justifies the nominalization of use-values. Whereas the former approach wants to neutralize (or nominalize) the use-values subjectively on the ground of faith in the perfectibility of capitalism, the latter approach seeks to ground the same abstraction “materialistically” or “objectively”, as tending to evolve most successfully at one particular spatio-temporal point in the actual history of capitalist development itself (that is specifically in the mid-nineteenth century Britain).
I will return to this contrast a number of times below in different contexts. But it is important to understand even at this point that the classical procedure drops all the historical dimensions from capitalism. Instead of understanding capitalism as a “historical society”, that is to say, one that is historically transient, so that it comes into being at one point in human history and passes away from it at another, the classical approach lays down capitalism basically as God’s design, something that is permanent so that it has always existed and will always exist, even though humans, because of their limited intelligence, did not realize it at first and took a long time before it gradually dawned on them, in much the same way as they routinely discover a new wonder of nature. This is in tune with the bourgeois tendency to reduce the knowledge of society to the same plane as that of nature, which as I will elaborate upon later only serves the hierarchy and vested interests of the existing society, which adores “capitalism”. Indeed, if the social order were as immutable as the natural one, any attempt at modifying or “redesigning” society would amount to a sacrilege in defiance of God’s design, something that we should never dare to attempt or even think about. I do not know to what extent Adam Smith was influenced by such things as “monads” and “pre-established harmony”, the ideas which had been expounded by Leibnitz about a century before him. But, a great scholar of Smith’s calibre and a close friend of Hume could not have been totally unaware of Leibnitz’ imposing doctrines. Thus, Smith’s reference to the Invisible Hand suggests his attempt to vindicate the virtue of the capitalist market in the light of divine wisdom. But today, as the authority of theology and metaphysics has waned in the shadow of the glittering advance in the natural sciences and technology, economics tends to lean on its affinity or similitude with them in order to claim its scientific authenticity. But herein lies a big trap! For, by adorning its basically ideological or religious conclusions with a “natural-scientific” appearance, it merely serves existing societies’ establishments, rather than enlightening their populations with regard to the impending historical trend.
An economics that is not firmly grounded on the history of capitalism but only on its myth is a religion that can be easily abused by the powers that be, as I will illustrate below. I must emphasize this point, even though I keenly recognize the fact that, while Marxists in their turn busied themselves with their own ideological battles in many futile ways, ignoring Marx’s truly scientific achievement, bourgeois economics had far outpaced the Marxian counterpart in the mathematical reformulation of economic theory, going well beyond the nineteenth practice of merely illustrating it with some convenient numerical examples. Of course, the use of mathematics in Marxian economics must be undertaken with discretion in the light of its dialectical context, rather than in haphazard ways in a blind imitation of the bourgeois practice, as I mentioned earlier.
1d) When and how did you manage to come to that idiosyncratic conclusion of yours in your career in economics?
Economics curriculum in universities encompasses a wide range of specialized fields, with the consequence that most teachers are familiar with only a few of them depending on their aptitude and/or predilection. But the novice has to experiment in some or other of these many fields for various contingent reasons. As mentioned earlier, I first wanted to develop a monetary theory of international adjustment by adapting Patinkin’s real balance effect, to which my thesis works had led me. But before I could reach any definitive conclusion, I found that the academic profession was no longer interested in macro-economics in the style of Patinkin. In retrospect, this was around the time when the Chicago school was regaining the influence it had once lost to Keynes. I was disenchanted with this fickleness of bourgeois economics, and decided to return to the more solid Marxian economics which I had learned from Uno earlier. By this time, however, I was sufficiently familiar with the paradigm of bourgeois economics and its language. Since at that time I was also interested in debates in the field of the scientific method, I felt that I could explain best the nature of Uno’s approach in the light of Hegel’s dialectic combined with Walras’ general equilibrium theory. Although Uno’s rather abstruse style in Japanese is often thought to be untranslatable into English, I found encouragement in the fact that, difficult as it may have been, both Hegel and Walras had already been beautifully translated into English by such masters as Wallace and Jaffe. As I began to think about introducing, translating and refining Uno for an English speaking readership, I was inspired by their virtuosity and example. While being thus engaged in the work of reformulating the Uno-style approach to Marx’s economics, I was also deeply influenced by Karl Polanyi’s works and those of his Japanese admirer, Yoshirô Tamanoi, from whom I had much to learn. Under the latter’s guidance, I was made aware of the importance of entropy theory and ecology, the concepts that economics, both in bourgeois and Marxist tradition, had long neglected systematically, even though they have crucial bearing on today’s real economy. (On this theme further in Part II below). By this time, my research areas diverged widely from the subjects of my teaching and even from bourgeois economics in general. But I was lucky to have a tolerant, friendly and understanding academic environment around me. I was never under pressure to publish in the neoclassical field alone. After returning to Japan in 1994, I spent most of the last ten years of my active teaching at Aichi Gakuin University as a professor of international trade in its school of commerce. I quickly found that the pure theory of international trade which I was familiar with was not what a school of commerce wanted to learn or hear. So I had to prepare myself to teach in the more practical side of international trade such as GATT-treaties leading up to WTO, bilateral trade negotiations between Japan and the USA, and similar subjects. This, however, gave me a completely new outlook on the nature of US trade policy and its international strategy in the post-WWII era.
Thus, my career as economics teacher was busy and spread out across a wide range of its subfields. I also read in philosophy, the scientific method and Marxism, but not always as thoroughly as I wanted. Some I studied in relative depth while others I learned more casually and superficially. The sum total of all these things that I had managed to learn by the time I retired from my active teaching amounted to a rather amorphous jumble of many disparate bits and pieces. I was more or less confident of the pure-theory part of my reformulation of Uno’s approach to Marx’s economics, which he called genriron and which I renamed as the dialectic of capital. But, so far as it concerned his dankaïron, or the stages-theory of capitalist development, and his katoki-ron, or the theory of the transition to a new historical society beyond capitalism after WWI, which he himself hardly elaborated, I was never sure and remained largely in the dark. I formulated my idea of “ex-capitalist transition” quite early in my career — in 1972 to be precise. But, after several attempts at arguing it more convincingly, I was far from satisfied with my own explication. I thus thought that I would probably end my life as an academic economist in quite an open-ended fashion, that is, with many gaps or unsettled problems, since that seemed to me to be what most other persons do in our profession. I was therefore determined to spend the rest of my life doing things other than economics — so much so that I even donated half of my library in my university office to junior colleagues of mine, instead of carrying it home. Yet, there was one unfinished project which had been interrupted for many years and which demanded completion, since before the interruption I had troubled many persons for their well-meaning and selfless cooperation. That was a translation into English of Uno’s Keizai Seisakuron (The Types of Economic Policies under Capitalism). The work began almost as soon as my other translation of his 1965-Keizai Genron (The Principles of Political Economy) was published in 1980 by the Harvester Press. The first section on Mercantilism was completed in short order, but the remaining two sections on Liberalism and Imperialism had not even been begun, when I was swamped with other more pressing duties. I thus thought I would finish this possibly final project after my retirement.
Yet, believe it or not, it did not turn out to be that way. As I translated the book, the significance of the stages-theory mediating between the pure theory and the empirical history of capitalism became increasingly clear to me. I had long been aware that Marxists often talked of a “dialectical union of theory and history”, but that kind of empty slogan never convinced or impressed Uno or me. I had also known a few works by Japanese Unoists supposedly focussed on stages-theory. Yet these hardly related the episodes they treated in capitalist history with the pure theory of capitalism in any significant manner. Uno’s book is quite different from all these. What it shows is how each of the three stages of capitalist development (preparatory, autonomous and declining) corresponds with the production of a very specific type of use-value (such as wool, cotton and steel products) that, in each case, also involve different type of industrial technology and organization specific to a particular stage. The latter determine the dominant or representative form of capital (merchant, industrial and finance-capital), the mode of accumulation of which is in turn assisted by the types of economic policies specific to a particular stage (mercantilist, liberal and imperialist) of the bourgeois state. These are the types of economic policies that the bourgeois nation-state must undertake in order to render the accumulation of the dominant (or representative) form of capital most efficient. Thus, even though a purely capitalist society does not exist in physical reality but only in our minds, as the limiting point to which historical capitalism really did tend to approach at one point, the latter (capitalism in history) always appears in the framework of the modern nation-state, where law, politics and economics meet to make up an integrated theory of the state. The theory of the bourgeois state must, therefore, come in three types. The mercantilist state based on absolutist monarchy (or developmental dictatorship) represents the incipient or preparatory stage of capitalist development; the liberal state based on parliamentary democracy represents the autonomous stage of capitalist development; and the imperialist state based on military confrontation amongst the leading competing powers, and prone to tariff wars and colonial expansion, represents the declining stage of capitalist development. In this way, the history of capitalism is divided into the three world-historic developmental stages. After WWI, however, capitalism enters the process of its disintegration and that is also the process of disintegration of the capitalist state. It is in this way that, in Uno’s approach, the stages-theory mediates between the purely logical theory of capital (the dialectic of capital) and the empirical history of capitalism that we, as humans, have experienced collectively (notre histoire vécue). I believe that I have finally discerned, so late in my life, the full import and implications of Uno’s method of Marxian economics.
[(2) In broad terms Marx’s “economics” tends to be grouped together with others, such as the economics of Adam Smith and Ricardo, as classical. The most obvious reason is their shared commitment to some form of “the labour theory of value”, something that mainstream economics today generally sets to one side, regardless of its professed admiration for a Smith or even for a Marx. What are we to make of Marx’s appropriation of the classical bourgeois political economy? Why was Marx so intensely preoccupied with the history of political economy? What, if anything, marks Marx’s labour theory of value as distinct from that of the classical school, and thus, in some sense, scientifically valid or simply relevant?]
2a) What in brief makes Economics a science (or knowledge of objective reality) according to your Unoist view?
Economics did not exist as a systematic body of knowledge before the dawn of the modern age. Marx called the economic base (or substructure) of modern-bourgeois society “the capitalist mode of production”, which we today call “capitalism” for short. This is a bit tricky usage however, inasmuch as the same word “capitalism” originally meant no more than “being (or acting like) a capitalist”, even though it is nowadays used much more frequently, in both daily conversations and journalism, in the narrower sense of some economic institution (or social system) based on “the market” for commodity exchanges. Bourgeois economics, however, deliberately refuses to define the technical sense of this term, considering it as a sociological (as distinct from an economic) concept. I believe that Professor S. Chakravarty, for instance, held that view explicitly. The reason is that bourgeois economics does not want to admit modern (capitalist) society to be a historically transient one, which comes into being at one point in time and passes away at another. It believes modern-bourgeois or capitalist society to be eternal, or, put differently, that human society has always been capitalist (however imperfectly) and will always remain so (while increasingly perfecting itself).
What distinguishes Marx’s economics from all others is that it is free from that crippling blindfold. It accepts, from the beginning, the fact that capitalist society (which organizes its real economic life by means of the commodity-economic, or mercantile, principles of capital) is a “historical society”, in the sense that it comes into being at one point in human history and passes away at another. For Marx, therefore, economics (which was called “political economy” in his time) meant essentially a complete study of “capitalism as a historical society (rather than as an imaginary or fancied one)”, though, in his case, he almost always used the term “the capitalist mode of production” for “capitalism”. It is well known that he tried to meet this entirely new and unique challenge to economics single-handedly. In other words, he pursued economics as objective (that is to say, trans- ideological and so universally acceptable) knowledge for the first time, in defiance of the fact (of which he was fully aware) that economics was originally conceived as a tool or weapon whereby to ideologically assert the superiority of capitalist society over any pre-capitalist one. However, if that alone constituted the purpose of economics, the non-historical and one-sided (hence still ideology-laden) bourgeois-liberal approach would have sufficed, and would have proven useful enough, although economics would then not have grown into a veritable science (or objective knowledge) of society that can be universally comprehended and shared.
Yet Marx’s life was much too short for him to complete this immense task of liberating economics from the narrow confines of the bourgeois-liberal ideology with a view to rebuilding it on a truly objective (i.e., universally acceptable) ground. At the same time, the evolution of capitalism, for its part, was so rapid that it was inevitable that his followers with lesser intellectual capacity would succumb to hopeless confusion. It was most likely that Marx himself in his lifetime did not realize the full import of his own enterprise, since, soon after his death, capitalism itself entered a new stage of its development known as “imperialism”, leaving behind the stage of liberalism which had been all too familiar to Marx. It is for this reason that the true worth of Marx’s work in literally “revolutionizing” economics, and making it definitively scientific (in the sense of “free from ideology”) failed to be understood by both the Marxists and their critics in the West. That valuable intellectual legacy would have been completely lost forever, hidden behind the strident and garrulous talks on Marx and Marxism by the horde of shallow literati, were it not for the exceptionally acute penetration with which Kôzô Uno studied Marx’s economics as it is exposed in the three volumes of Capital during the interwar period, while he himself was more or less confined to virtually solitary contemplation. He was perhaps fortunate in some ways in that he could thus devote himself to this task in an intellectual space not as yet so badly contaminated by many misleading and diversionary ideological imbrolios.
2b) Can you briefly outline the main features of Marx’s economics as Uno appropriated it?
In my effort to explain to the Western audience Uno’s approach to economics, I have always found Hegel and Walras as useful references, at least in shielding it from an easy rebuff as “oriental mysticism”. Actually, these turn out to be the two essential ingredients of Unoism, as incongruous as one may appear to be with the other. In order to comprehend Uno’s theory, therefore, one need not go outside “western” intellectual traditions at all. If a marriage of Hegel and Walras seems so completely incompatible, one with the other, and hence unthinkable to conventional western wisdom, Uno has demonstrated that it is not only possible but also eminently fruitful.
Hegel’s Logic is widely known, but very poorly understood. Uno believes that its true worth cannot really be grasped, unless one has properly apprehended the meaning of Marx’s theory of capitalism or his “economics” first. (This is the exact reverse of Lenin’s celebrated counsel that one should first read Hegel’s Logic first, before trying to understand Marx’s Capital correctly.) I take this to mean that Marx’s economic theory is essentially the dialectic of capital, in exactly the same sense as Hegel’s logic was the dialectic of the Absolute. Hegel says that the content of his metaphysical logic “is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind”. Likewise, the content of the dialectic of capital (or economic theory) is the “definition of capitalism by capital itself” before people began to take an interest in economics. Indeed, the concept of capitalism can only be synthesized (i.e., defined synthetically) by the dialectic of capital, which, moreover, coincides with the economic theory of capitalism. Perhaps, another way of stating the same thing would be that the authentic economic theory which constitutes the dialectic of capital amounts to an ontological proof of the existence of capitalism. If Hegel’s dialectic was “idealist” insofar as it was the logic of divine wisdom (or Reason) before the creation of nature and humanity, Marx’s dialectic of capital (though still in its implicit form) is “materialist” inasmuch as it represents the logic of capital after the evolution of capitalism in human history and on earth.
Hegel’s dialectic and the dialectic of capital thus possess exactly the same structure; they are indeed “homomorphic” to each other. The dialectic of capital (which coincides with economic theory) is the only materialist counterpart of Hegel’s idealist logic (“which coincides with metaphysics”). In contrast, the “dialectic of nature or of matter” is a complete non-starter, a will-o’-the-wisp of dreamy philosophers. I will have more to say on related matters below. About Walras, I personally confirmed early on with Uno himself that “production-prices” meant for him (and Marx) the same thing as what most economists understand today by the term “general equilibrium prices” (in the Walrasian sense). In this connection, it is interesting that Morishima who shares the same view recognizes Marx to have been the first “general equilibrium theorist” because his work antedated Walras’. Since Marx is known to have worked on the relation between “the general rate of profit and production-prices” during the 1860s, whereas the first edition of Walras’ Elements of Pure Political Economy was published in 1874, what Morishima says may be correct. Perhaps, I should add as an aside that it is highly unlikely that Uno, who concentrated on Marx so single-mindedly, had an in-depth knowledge of Walras’ works in economics (though he must have heard of them often enough), whereas he was quite aware of Hegel’s Logic (even though he rather chose to keep that fact to himself, instead of broadcasting it).
2c) How did Marx inherit the labour theory of value from the classical school of economics? In what way is his version of the theory different from the classical one?
Classical political economy (represented by Smith and Ricardo) adopts a labour theory of value, but only haphazardly (in fact, it turns out to be only a labour theory of prices), whereas Marx’s labour theory of value is much more thorough and genuine, even though his formulations of it do at times display some shakiness as the consequence of the lingering influence of the classical school. Adam Smith famously said that the word “value” sometimes means “value in use” and sometimes “value in exchange” as well; and Ricardo quotes this exact statement at the very outset of his Principles. It, therefore, seems as though Marx, too, merely repeats the same idea by stating, at the beginning of Capital, that the commodity is value on one hand and a use-value on the other. That appearance, however, is misleading. Whereas the classical economists do not see any “contradiction” in Hegel’s sense between value and use-value, Marx does. And this fact is crucially important.
Commodities are, on one hand, “material and heterogeneous” as use-values (meaning that they are qualitatively distinct from one another, even though they may be measured as quantitatively equal, say, in weight, length, etc.); but they are also, on the other hand, “uniform and homogeneous” as value (meaning that they are qualitatively the same though quantitatively different). Use-value then represents the real-economic side of the commodity, whereas value represents its commodity-economic (or mercantile) side. There is, according to Marx’s view, a Hegelian “contradiction” between them in the sense that they do not obey the same principle (logic or rule) at all. Indeed, if there were no gap (discrepancy, incongruity, cleavage, tension, disparity, conflict or difference) between the real-economic and the commodity-economic, the two would always be the same (and would follow the same rule or logic), in the sense that one could not exist or work without the other doing so at the same time (one could not do things that the other does not). But, if so, that would imply that capitalism (the all-embracing and radical commodity-economy) would be eternal (and so must exist for ever). That would be incompatible with Marx’s presupposition that capitalism is a historically transient economic system, which comes into being at one time in history and passes away at another. Indeed, capitalism comes into being only when the commodity-economic can prevail over the real-economic, and ceases to exist when that relation is broken. Thus, for Marx, “value” is not just “exchange-value” (or price) as it is for the classical school. Rather, it is that which makes all commodities comparable in prices and thus also makes capitalism cohere and hang together, as it tends to produce all commodities in just the right quantities as they are socially demanded. Capitalism, as a radical commodity-economy (one in which even labour-power is turned into a commodity), must possess the unifying principle of value which renders all commodities both uniform and homogeneous, i.e., “qualitatively the same and different only in quantitative terms”. It is precisely for this reason that all capitalistically produced commodities, as abstract-general wealth, are in possession of value, and can thus be made exchangeable, one for another, in the open market. It also means that they can all be offered for sale by being “priced” in money.
In money, value figures explicitly so that it can directly buy all other commodities, whereas, in ordinary commodities, value (being tied to a specific use-value) remains immanent or implicit, in the sense that they must first be sold for money to prove themselves to have been value-objects (objects in possession of value). If, in this sense, money that can buy all commodities is an explicit form of value, what can its substance be? The labour theory of value claims that “socially necessary labour” forms the substance of value, because labour can produce all commodities (just as money can buy all commodities). Socially necessary labour here means the quantity of homogeneous productive labour required, directly or indirectly, for (and so allocated, directly or indirectly, to) the production in the equilibrium (or socially necessary or desired) quantity of the commodity. All factors of production (often broadly trichotomized into labour, land and capital) produce use-values, but only labour can produce value. This is because only productive labour is “dual” in being “concrete-useful labour (which produces a specific use-value)” and, at the same time, “abstract-human labour (which could have produced any other use-value)”. The same waged worker, who currently produces a piece of cloth could have been digging coal under different circumstances. If labour is simplified so that the cost of shifting from one form of concrete-useful labour to another becomes negligible, the abstract-human side of productive labour is all the more enhanced. That is why we say that only labour can produce value (meaning, can produce any use-value indifferently) just as money can buy any commodity (as use-value).
But this property is obviously quite unique to productive labour and does not apply to any other factor of production. There is clearly no such thing as “abstract-spatial land” apart from the concrete-specific kind, nor are there “abstract-material capital-goods” apart from concrete-useful ones, in any economically meaningful sense. For example, citrus fruits cannot be grown in the arctic zone, nor can a printing-machine be used to produce wine. To produce a specific use-value, a specific set of land resources and of material means of production are needed. Only bourgeois economists, obsessed with their “production function”, fail to see this patent fact (so evident even to a child) because they have never been taught to distinguish between the production of value (abstract-general wealth) and the production of use-values (concrete-useful wealth), the two being always mixed up and thus indistinguishable in their minds. At this point, it must be acknowledged that there is nothing mysterious about the labour theory of value. It most emphatically does not connote any moral or ethical presupposition (or “value judgment”) to privilege or endorse labour above other factors of production, contrary to the persistent campaign to the contrary by the neoclassical economists who are ignorant of the concept of value as distinct from that of price.
2d) How did the Labour Theory of Value, once so prominent in Classical Political Economy and Marx, fail to be inherited by Neoclassical Economics? What is the significance of that fact, according to you?
The classical political economy which Marx “critiqued” found its highest expression in Ricardo. But almost as soon as the latter’s economic theory was formulated, it began its “disintegration”, because it failed to explain adequately why (and how) the equilibrium prices that ensure equal profit-rates in all industries must diverge from the equilibrium prices that its labour theory of value dictates. This posed the so-called transformation problem. The reason why the Ricardian school could not solve this problem was that its labour theory of value was a haphazard one. Instead of explaining why, under general equilibrium in the capitalist market, all resources, including abstract-human labour, are optimally allocated to all branches of industry, the classical labour theory of value merely asserted that equilibrium prices must remain proportional to the amount of labour directly and indirectly spent for (that is, allocated to) the production of all commodities in their equilibrium quantities. This was obviously a false theory, which I have already called “the labour theory of prices”. If the labour theory of value is correctly grasped, the transformation problem can in principle be easily solved. Marx knew that, and so did Uno. But the trouble was that they did not explicitly prove the solution to this problem in rigorous mathematical terms, i.e., how equilibrium prices of commodities must diverge from the quantities of optimally allocated direct and indirect labour for their production. Instead, they resorted to the old-fashioned method of merely “illustrating in numerical terms” how the theory worked, which was bound to remain inconclusive. Thus, for example, Marx’s numerical illustration in Capital III has always been criticized for explaining the mechanics of the divergence of production-prices from values only at the output level, while assuming no such divergence occurs at the input level. Today, that sort of problem can be easily settled with relatively simple mathematics. Unfortunately, the mathematization of economic theory came too late to save the classical school from disintegration. Besides, it turns out that classical political economy by that time had long outlived its initial, historical mission anyway, inasmuch as capitalism itself had by then entered the phase of autonomous development, and needed no further doctrinal support to prove its superiority over the pre-capitalist forms of the economy.
Thus, classical political economy was then split into two groups, the Ricardian Socialists and the Smithian Harmonists. While the former, faithful to Ricardo’s distribution theory, retained the labour theory of value (though with little success), the latter abandoned it for a utility theory of value, which had been explored by Condillac and Say. But, it was only when this approach was joined with the application of marginal (i.e., differential) calculus, in the hands of Menger, Walras and Jevons, at the beginning of the 1870s, that a breakthrough (later called the Marginalist Revolution) occurred, which ushered in the neoclassical school. Over the following forty years or so, leading up to the First World War, many gifted members of this new school contributed towards mathematical reformulations of classical economic theory. There were, however, two sides to this achievement. On one hand, as the case of the transformation problem just mentioned has shown, it liberated economic theory from the narrow confines circumscribed by the traditional practice of its numerical illustration, and gave a strong impetus to its new development. On the other hand, neoclassical economic theory, which abandoned the objective theory of (labour) values for the subjective theory of (utility) values along Harmonist lines, became a powerful agent (persistent peddler) of the bourgeois-liberal ideology, as the latter-day apologetic of capitalism. For, the Hegelian contradiction between use-value and value, between the real-economic and the commodity-economic was skilfully evaded by the false image of the Invisible Hand of Providence, which could now be shown to lead us with mathematical certainty to the pre-established harmony of all conflicting (monadological) interests. Thus, the adoption of mathematics to economic analysis that the neoclassical school promoted had both the positive and the negative side. It both enriched (technically) and impoverished (content-wise) economics at the same time.
[(3) Today “bourgeois” economics seems to have attained paradigmatic legitimacy by being “naturalized” as an objective science, however, imperfect. With regard to the claim to objective knowledge generated by Marxian understanding of economics and specifically by its Unoist variation, what sort of knowledge does it produce? Is it of the same order as that of bourgeois economics, or something quite different? Does it turn on Uno’s conception of capitalism as rooted in a particular form of social relations and, if so, how?]
3a) Given your view that economics is essentially the study of capitalism, a historical society, what sort of “objective knowledge” can it claim?
We must ask ourselves what type of knowledge we should and can expect from economics. From what has been said above, it must be clear that economics was born with capitalism, and that the latter, for its part, arose when the key use-values which society demanded on a large scale could be far more easily produced as commodities than otherwise. In other words, capitalism evolved as if to follow a natural course of events, when the real economic life of society was historically ready and willing to follow, or be subsumed under, the commodity-economic (mercantile) laws of capital. When capitalism was still in its early phase of development, the role assigned to economics (then called political economy) was to explain the advantages of operating society’s real economic life in accordance with the commodity-economic (mercantile) logic of capital, rather than otherwise (that is, by simply following authoritative commands or traditional customs, for example), and that thought increasingly convinced and motivated classical political economy. It was, moreover, very much in the interest of the rising bourgeoisie to promote capitalism in opposition to the existing hierarchy and vested interests surrounding the absolute monarchy, known then as the ancien régime. Under the circumstances, the best strategy for the bourgeoisie (and for the economics that it promoted) was not to clearly distinguish the real from the mercantile side of the economy, and to pretend that what was good for one was also good for the other (and this not just then but always and forever). The bourgeoisie would thenceforward thrive with this soothing game of dubious prestidigitation. It is for that reason that the classical approach has systematically equivocated on the difference between the two aspects of the economy and passes freely and easily from one to the other. This being the case, even the word (or the concept of) the “economy” meant to the classical economist sometimes the “real economy” and sometimes the “commodity-economy”. However, such a practice effaces the true concept of capitalism altogether, given the fact that the latter, correctly, consists of a temporary (that is, historical) union of the two sides. It gives only an ambivalent idea of capitalism, which further leads one to its one-sided idealization. To promote the economics that teaches such a falsely idealized image of capitalism was in the interest of the bourgeoisie, then called the “middle class”, which benefitted from its further evolution. That is why bourgeois-liberal-and-modernist ideology is, from the beginning, irrevocably ingrained in the economics of the bourgeois tradition, so much so that, if one studies it unprotected by an antidote, one will more or less automatically be led to become a “liberal” ideologue.
The only reason why Marx alone, quite exceptionally, did not succumb to a disabling “infection” of that kind with the bourgeois-liberal ideology while learning economics was that he used “historical materialism” (or the materialistic conception of history) as a guiding thread to his study of economics, and that indeed turned out to be an effective “antidote”. Thus, Marx’s approach to economics (as the study of capitalism) is fundamentally different from the bourgeois-classical approach in that it (the former) begins with the sharp distinction (indeed Hegelian contradiction) between the real-economic and the commodity-economic (or mercantile) aspect of capitalism, respectively represented by use-value and value in the commodity-form. Historical materialism, however, is not by itself a science (or objective knowledge) of society, but merely an ideological (if hypothetical) statement just as subjective as bourgeois liberalism. Yet it did serve as effective antidote to save Marx’s economics from infection by the virus of bourgeois-liberal ideology. In studying a social science such as economics, we must carefully distinguish between what is “subjective (or ideological)” and what is “objective (in the sense of “ideology-free and hence universally acceptable)”. The many Marxists who carelessly mix historical materialism with their economics of capitalism are just as blind as the bourgeois economists who mistake the mission of economics for merely extolling and worshipping the heavenly virtues of capitalism. Thus, the first question to be answered is how economics can establish a truly objective knowledge of capitalism, “objective” here meaning free from any ideological bias, i.e., trans-ideological and (pace Lenin) “non-partisan”. Apart from Uno, I know of no Marxist who has gone even so far as to pose this problem.
3b) What are the fundamental characteristics of Marx’s (or “Marxian” as distinct from “Marxist”) economics? Why should it be “dialectical”?
The fact that Marx began his economics (as the study of capitalism), by positing the contradiction (in the Hegelian sense) between value and use-values (between the commodity-economic and the real-economic) makes it certain that his economic theory must unfold in a dialectical fashion, that is to say, as the “dialectic of capital”. For, in the latter, capital itself defines (or specifies in full) what capitalism is all about, by overcoming this recurring contradiction that appears and reappears in different forms at all levels of the economy, until, finally, value has demonstrated its capacity to prevail over all the contingencies emanating from the use-value side. Marx, in other words, had to show the process by which capital enforces its logic in all the contexts in which the contradiction between value and use-values keeps reappearing in different modes, so that it may in the end subsume completely the real substance of economic life common to all societies (in the sense that real-economic life occurs in one way or another in all societies) under the historically unique, commodity-economic (mercantile) form of operation. This “theoretical definition” (or better “logical synthesis”) of capitalism constitutes economic theory, and its structure is bound to be homomorphic to that of Hegel’s dialectic of the Absolute. Indeed, just as the latter shows the way in which “divine wisdom” will overrule all (human) “contingencies” in this world, so must the dialectic of capital demonstrate how the logic of value (as abstract-general wealth) may eventually conquer (or prevail over) all the contingencies emanating from use-values (as concrete-specific and material forms of wealth) in the purely capitalist society.
At this point, I must explain why “capital” can generate its own dialectic (or logic of synthesis) just as Hegel’s Absolute (God, Reason or divine wisdom) could. Key to the answer to that question lies in Feuerbach’s thesis of anthropomorphism. According to him, God did not create us, human beings, in His image, but rather we, human beings, have created God in our image, by the process of rendering our own virtues “infinite” or “absolute” (that is to say, by extrapolating them beyond our finite limits). If that is the case, we can also likewise render “infinite” and “absolute” our rational pursuit of “maximizing gains and minimizing losses” (that is to say, “optimizing” our economic behaviour) beyond human finiteness to obtain “capital”. To some extent, the Economic Man of Adam Smith also incarnates capital in this sense. Capital, thus derived from the human spirit of “maximizing gains and minimizing losses”, has become God-like in the sense of becoming supra-human, and so can generate a dialectical logic that synthesizes pure capitalism in the same way as the Absolute could generate a logic of Reason that synthesizes the world of metaphysical categories (Kant’s noumenal world), even though capitalism that exists in our history may not be as transcendent or beyond us as the world of things-in-themselves. In both cases, that which generates a dialectic (be it of capital or of the Absolute) is always a Subject-Object, and so it cannot be made to belong exclusively to one side or the other. But what it synthesizes through its own logic does not admit any external subjectivity such as is rooted in an individual ideology to interfere with it. Thus, capitalism which capital itself defines or synthesizes dialectically is “objective (or applies universally)”, and, in this sense, it is ideology-free. It is in that sense that I claim the objectivity of capitalism that capital itself defines, which is quite different from a subjectively and so arbitrarily constructed “model” (ideal type, or any other image or picture-representation) of capitalism saturated and replete with a bourgeois-liberal or other ideology. Such a subjective model may, of course, be constructed as a mathematically flawless system dependent on axioms, but that in no way guarantees its objectivity. It only means that the model is closed in terms of its formal (i.e., axiomatic and tautological) logic, while its conclusion depends entirely on its axioms and postulates upon which it is erected (as, for example, the Euclidean theorem that the three inner angles of a triangle add up to a straight line is equivalent to the axiom of parallel straight lines), and these axioms may already be ideologically tainted.
Capitalism can thus be dialectically synthesized since it is ultimately our own (human) creation, and so its knowledge must be “grey” in the sense of Hegel. Recall his metaphor of the Owl of Minerva. True knowledge of our own experience is attained only with the coming of dusk. “Only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over against the real and that the ideal apprehends this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itself into the shape of an intellectual realm” (Hegel). Capitalism arrives first as something “real” involving all of us during a particular period of our history, but we comprehend it in its synthetic definition, or as the “dialectic of capital”, only when it is mature so that we all have experienced it fully. This kind of knowledge is not susceptible of any technical application for our practical purposes, because it is different from natural-scientific knowledge which is bound to be “predictive, prescriptive and prospective”. Perhaps we should say, in contrast, that our knowledge of capitalism is “post-dictive, descriptive and retrospective”, since Hegel’s “grey” implies all these characteristics. It is for this reason that the truly objective knowledge of capitalism (the dialectic of capital) does not enable its technical application to serve our arbitrary needs. Le fait étant déjà accompli, it is too late for us to change what has occurred; all we can do is to know how it really has been. Thus, there is no happy marriage or partnership of science and technology so far as the knowledge of society is concerned, simply because society does not stand “out there” and “over against us” as nature does in its immutability.
The dialectical knowledge of capitalism is objective, but not in the same sense as the knowledge of natural science is objective. Nature is objective simply because it stands out there confronting us as something ready-made and independent of our will. It is beyond us humans in that we cannot change it to fit our needs; we should instead conform (or adapt) to, piggyback on (make use of), and live in it. In contrast, capitalism is what we do (i.e., we “live it” in the sense of experiencing it rather than merely “living with it” side by side). Yet, we have been doing it unconsciously or unknowingly. We must know what we, as human beings, have been doing objectively, in order to deal with it correctly. In other words, we seek an objective knowledge of capitalism, the reality of which we have already “lived” (or experienced), so that our own “lived” experience will not be wasted without enlightening us on our own past and present. It is in this sense that we seek an “ontological proof of the existence of capitalism”. In the absence of this search, we would have lived through capitalism with no enlightenment, i.e., only as animals. In this context, what we seek is the knowledge of ourselves as “social beings” and not of nature (or that which surrounds us as physical environment existing independently of ourselves) that we seek, and so its objectivity must perforce be of a different kind from that of the knowledge of nature. We say that our knowledge of ourselves is “objective”, when it is ideology-free or trans-ideological, meaning that it is “universal” in the sense of Hegel, i.e., acceptable, as compelling or convincing to all human beings regardless of their “particular” or “individual” faith, belief, parti pris or likes and dislikes.
3c) Why did Uno insist on the “purification of capitalism” in history? While admitting that such thing as “pure capitalism” which never actually, or concrete-empirically, exists in history, why did he as “materialist” insist on the importance of such concept?
That is an important question. Uno believed that capitalism in Britain, in the middle of the 19th century, that is, somewhere during the decade of 1860s, tended in fact to largely “purify itself”, meaning that it manifested a real tendency to approximate its ideal or pure theoretical image, namely, to approach the purely capitalist society that the theory contemplates. According to him, it was this fact that assisted (and ensured) the completion, or self-closure, of the dialectic of capital (or of the pure economic theory of capitalism). As I said before, that also amounted to performing an ontological proof of the existence of capitalism. In other words, Uno claims in this way the unity of the cognition (epistemology) and the being (ontology) of capitalism. This argument regarding the “being” (that is “ontology”) of capitalism is, however, not confined to the sphere of metaphysics, since Uno’s capitalism is real and historical, that is to say factual. This indeed is what makes his dialectic, or the dialectic of capital, “materialist” rather than idealist. In previous sections, I have outlined the three world-historic stages of development of capitalism. The age of mercantilism, which prepared the ground for the Industrial Revolution, represented the preparatory, or incipient, stage of capitalism, whereas the imperialist stage already manifested signs of its aging and decay. Only during the stage of liberalism did capitalism manifest a self-approximation to its own ideal (that is theoretical) image, or did it tend to “purify itself”. This means that the real economic life of society most readily lent itself to (conformed to) its mercantile management by capital during the liberal era or, in other words, that the “use-value condition” of society’s economic life was then turning out to be the historically best fit for the operation of an economy by means of the commodity-economic (mercantile) logic of capital. Yet the prevailing use-value condition could hardly have stayed put in a given state forever; nor could it be reasonably expected that the capitalist production of commodities might eventually be freed from all use-value restrictions, as human history progressed creatively. Since capitalism, too, is a “historical society”, it was not destined to last forever.
As I will explain presently, we already know that, with the advent of heavy industries and the “bulking large of fixed capital” consequent upon it, the management of the real economy by the method of the commodity-economy (by the mercantile logic of capital) became more difficult than before, though still feasible. The self-purifying tendency of capitalism then ceased to operate and was even reversed. After the First World War (WWI), as the centre of commodity production shifted from Europe to North America, where the new mode of production often referred to as Fordism became prevalent, even the feasibility of capitalism became quite suspect. Therefore, we must consider the very real possibility that capitalism had by that time entered the process of its “disintegration”. Yet, the fact that capitalism enjoyed its halcyon days during the age of liberalism, in Great Britain of the mid-19th century, suggests that it then manifested a tendency to approach its theoretically ideal image in which use-values may be viewed as becoming “neutralized” or “nominalized”, even though this tendency was never fully consummated.
Perhaps, one way to account for this connection is to think of a “growth curve” of capitalism, which has the usual cubic shape on the Cartesian coordinate system, the horizontal axis measuring time and the vertical axis the extent of capitalist growth (i.e., the extent to which the economy is operated capitalistically). In the initial phase of this curve, the speed with which the capitalist economy expands is still rather low, though beginning to rise. Then, there comes the middle phase in which the speed of capitalist growth, measured by a straight line tangential to the curve, begins to increase until it passes the saddle point, at which it reaches the maximum. Past this point, however, the speed of capitalist growth begins to slow down, though it is still considerable. In the third phase of the curve, its slope declines more and more, until it eventually becomes almost horizontal, indicating the slowing down of capitalist expansion (that is, the increasing difficulty of managing the economy by the “mercantile” logic of capital). I wish to draw attention to the very fact that such a growth curve always passes through the saddle point, at which the rate (or speed) of capitalist growth is at its maximum. Though the curve passes through this point only momentarily, its existence is significant, because it enables us to see what would have occurred if capitalism had stayed at that point forever, namely what would have occurred if the best use-value condition observed there “at a split second” had lasted as long as capitalism wanted. In that case, capitalism in its pure form could have been realized. This is what Uno calls the “purification of capitalism in history”. It does not mean that capitalism in history actually purified itself completely. In fact, it never did; yet it did point to such a state, the image of which we can copy in the dialectic of capital or economic theory.
This is entirely consistent with the materialist “copy theory”. This theory suggests that our mind which copies the real movement may go one step further than it empirically does in history. Economists do not invent the pure theory of capitalism (or the dialectic of capital) out of the blue in their subjective imaginations. They copy the real movement of capitalism in history which tends to self-purify. Their subjective (or mental) abstraction in theory must be guided by the real abstraction of the object of study, even though the latter does not consummate its self-abstraction due to circumstances affecting the use-value conditions mentioned above. The mental abstraction of capitalism, however, need not be detained by that; it can always go one step beyond real capacity for abstraction. This is in the nature of thought in general. The fact that we can always draw a “more perfect” (in the sense of nearer to the perfect image of) triangle than the one we did before is that which enables us to conceive of a theoretically perfect (in this case, mathematically defined) triangle, even though all we can actually draw remains always an imperfect approximation to it. This is the reason why a purely capitalist society is mentally conceivable, even though it never actually comes into existence. Heuristically, I call this a “miracle of levitation”. The human body never actually levitates because of a positive body weight. But if the saintliness of the person makes his body weight sufficiently irrelevant, the next thing conceivable or imaginable is that he “levitates” aloft in the air. Likewise, a purely capitalist society never occurs historically because use-values never really become “nominal”; yet, economic theory cannot be stated in its pure form without supposing them to be nominal, i.e., without letting use-values “levitate”. How can use-values otherwise become “neutral or nominal” in our mind, and make us believe that perfect competition will eventually lead to a state of general equilibrium, even though no one has yet actually confirmed such a state as empirically existent? The reason why the dialectic of capital (or the pure theory of capitalism) is not a mere figment of the imagination, but a “copy of the real movement” is that real (historical) capitalism passes through the saddle-point of its growth curve. It is on this fact that Uno first laid his finger.
This is quite different from such a haphazard statement as: “It is beyond question that mechanics was a copy of real motions of moderate velocity, while the new physics is a copy of real motions of enormous velocity” (Lenin). Whether the theory of physics is in fact a copy of real motions or not need not concern us here. The important point of methodology for us here is that, since economic theory has to do with the definition (i.e., logical synthesis) of capitalism, it must be grounded on its tendency for self-purification. In other words, economic theory is justified by the necessary self-abstraction of capitalism itself and not by our subjective (and so arbitrary) abstraction independent of the real motion. This must be what Marx had in mind, when he said: “In the analysis of economic forms, the force of abstraction must replace both microscopes and chemical agents”, although it would have been better if he said “the force of mental abstraction guided by real abstraction” of the object of study rather than just “the force of abstraction”. It may also be useful to point out here that Karl Polanyi’s all too famous view that “the economy tends to dis-embed itself from society and nature”, as the self-regulating market absorbs the (real) economy is in close resonance of Uno’s claim that capitalism purifies itself. For, Uno’s purely capitalist society is where the completely self-regulating capitalist market rules, i.e., where the economy is exclusively governed by the logic of capital without any regard to human priorities and concerns.
3d) How do you understand the knowledge of bourgeois economics in contrast to the dialectical knowledge of capitalism that you have just described?
Bourgeois economics, in contrast, does not (wish to) seek enlightenment on the nature and definition of capitalism from that which the latter’s own historical evolution itself reveals to us, having already decided that capitalism is the only (presumably God-given) choice we have, that is to say, believing that we have always lived and will always live with some form of capitalism as we do with nature. From that point of view, we cannot do much more than just accept what capitalism does without bothering to consult with us, in much the same way as an immutable and external nature does to us. Thus, bourgeois economics cannot logically do otherwise than to seek to, as you might say, “naturalize itself as an objective science, however, imperfect” and to guess what capitalism will do to us next. This amounts to saying that it seeks a natural-scientific knowledge of capitalism, which will have to be “predictive, prescriptive and prospective”. The question, first of all, is whether that is really a feasible proposition (rather than a pious hope or just wishful thinking), and, secondly, whether it will not end in mere (groundless) worshipping of capitalism, in hopes that it might possess some animistic power to do us good.
As I will elaborate further in my answer to your other questions, neoclassical economics first developed during the forty years or so spanning the Franco-Prussian war and WWI, when capitalism was in its final stage of imperialism. During that period, capitalism in history lost any tendency to converge to the pre-established harmony of what were initially conflicting interests, or what was later to be called a Pareto-optimal general equilibrium of the competitive economy (in which no one’s lot can be improved without worsening someone else’s). The wide gap between the actual history and the imagined theory of capitalism became quite obvious. Yet, the neoclassical school demonstrated unbelievable fortitude in ignoring all such factual matter (if perceived as aberrant), and unswervingly concentrated on the work of “mathematizing” classical economic theories. Only the unflagging faith in the Invisible Hand of Providence, which would lead us to a pre-established harmony of conflicting interests, can explain that heroic episode. The religious zeal must have gotten firmer as the mathematization of economic analysis proceeded. For, as the economists learned to speak the same language as the physicists, the more confident they became of the wished-for “(natural-) scientific objectivity” of their knowledge. They must have believed with fervent faith that, however depraved the aberrant and fallen world of humans might be, the mathematical laws of heaven would ultimately prevail.
Much as I admire their unfaltering determination, I must confess that these scholars were most profoundly misguided. When physicists and other natural scientists construct a hypothetical or conjectural theory (or model) pertaining to nature, they expect an “empirical test” of some kind to verify its validity before recognizing it as a proper explanation of reality. Yet, practically all economic theories proffered by neoclassical economics have so far remained obstinately hypothetical and “untested”; we are not even told how these models are supposed to be tested. It turns out that, during the first forty years or so of its life, when neoclassical economics single-mindedly concentrated on the mathematization of economic analysis, it gave little thought to the question of empirically testing its theories. Despite the storm and stress of the imperialist age, the world economy presumably still appeared to more or less preserve the predictable, imperialist order until WWI, so that, in the mind of the Parnassian economists, the capitalist economy should be left to its own devices, and the practical application of economic theory for an active management of the real economy was a matter of little concern, that being relevant, if at all, only to backward nations wanting to industrialize themselves more rapidly than would occur naturally. Perhaps, this traditional, non-positivist approach to economics was the more orthodox (and appropriate) one at the time. For very few persons were interested in economics anyway whether in universities, governments, banks or businesses. However, after the Great Depression of the 1930s, the cause of which practically no neoclassical economist could convincingly explain, the situation had to change radically. Bourgeois economics then willy-nilly had to adopt a “positivist” stance so as to promote economics as an “empirical” science.
Yet, even after WWII, with all the efforts to explore ways to adapt the wealth of statistical data on economic activities to the now mathematically formulated theories, bourgeois economics has not been able to convincingly achieve the status of a “positive science” in the same sense as in the natural sciences. One of the obvious reasons why economics cannot easily become an empirical science is that it hardly ever produces a testable hypothesis in its predictive form. As I have already suggested, we cannot in principle know all of nature, since it is already made by some power well beyond us and exclusive of our participation. All we can know is a causal relation that forms only a very small part of what nature does, when that causal relation is expressed in its predictive form as (a, b, c, …, n) → x, which should read: “if conditions a, b, c, …, n materialize, then phenomenon x will ensue”. Natural phenomena are always studied in this way, and that is what the famous thesis of Kant that “nature does not divulge to us its Ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself)” must mean. This also means that our knowledge of nature is bound to be partial and never total, and that our partial knowledge always takes only a “predictive, prescriptive and prospective” form. In contrast, if our knowledge of capitalism had to remain partial because economics failed to reveal the thing-in-itself of capitalism, such knowledge would be completely useless. I have already said that our knowledge of capitalism is quite unlike that of nature, in being “total”, in the sense of bringing its thing-in-itself into the open, and hence that it has to be “grey” in the sense of Hegel, in being “post-dictive, descriptive and retrospective”. If economics fails to become a positive science, there is nothing to be deplored. For, that is only to be expected of social science which has to do with “ourselves in society”, not with the physical world that lies outside us. The failure of bourgeois economics to understand this fact only reveals its misguided and restricted vision. It is the clearest and thus unmistakable sign that it constitutes a false knowledge.
[(4) Uno understands imperialism to be the last stage of capitalism coming on the heels as it did of mercantilism and liberalism. How are we to understand the present, neoliberal state of affairs within this rubric? Relatedly, to what extent is the category of imperialism valuable? And even if it is valuable or necessary, can it be used to describe capitalism as unchanged since 1914 (or 1917)? Are not categories such as “Fordism” or “neoliberalism” necessary to describe subsequent phases of capitalist “development”?]
4a) Will you explain the general nature of the stages-theory that Uno has advanced? How does it mediate between the (pure) theory and (empirical) history of capitalism?
Uno distinguishes the three levels of abstraction at which economics as the study of capitalism must be undertaken. First, at the most abstract level, the pure theory of capitalism (or what he calls genriron) must be studied strictly logically in the process of overcoming, or surmounting, the basic contradiction between value and use-values; then the three world-historic stages of capitalist development (viz., mercantilism, liberalism and imperialism) must be studied as three distinct types of capitalism at the level of stages-theory (Uno calls this dankaïron); finally, the economic history of capitalisms, past and present, in different countries and in the world, must be studied in their fully concrete-empirical details (he calls this genjô-bunseki). What is both interesting and important here is that, in Uno’s view, the theory (logic) and history (reality) of capitalism cannot be directly related, united or synthesized, “dialectically” or otherwise; they must instead be mediated by the mid-range theory of the stages of the world-historic development of capitalism.
The dialectic of capital (or pure economic theory), the nature of which I explained in the previous section as constituting the “definition of capitalism by capital itself”, belongs to the most abstract level. At this level, use-values are treated quite neutrally or “nominally”, meaning that, e.g., cotton and coal are just “different things” for use or consumption, and so bearing different names. Some use-values are, in reality, more easily commodifiable (convertible into a commodity) than others; but we shall not worry about that in pure economic theory. In other words, we visualize pure capitalism (or a purely capitalist society) when there is no palpable difficulty in handling any use-value as a commodity, so that all use-values may be regarded as more easily commodifiable than they actually are. In contrast, at the level of economic history, use-values are as they appear in our actual life. They are, therefore, immensely variegated and manifold and serve our economic life in a great many specific ways. There are those, which can be mass-produced, while others are more likely to be tailor-made under contract. They should all be studied in full concrete-empirical detail in relation to the historical evolution of our real-economic life. In between, however, the different types of use-values do matter at the level of stages-theory. The use-values that were prevailing and important at one stage of capitalist development are different from the ones that characterized another stage. Because society’s level of productivity is accordingly different, the technology to produce leading commodities is also different. So are the industrial organization, the relation between capital and the state, the mode of accumulation by the representative (or dominant) form of capital, the international relation (i.e., international division of labour) between the centre-nation(s) and the periphery. These different aspects are encapsulated in the different types of economic policies practiced at the three world-historic stages of capitalist development, viz., mercantilism, liberalism and imperialism.
Specifically, the woollen and worsted goods, which were domestically produced under the so-called putting-out system in cottages spread out over Britain’s farming villages in the 17th and the 18th century (free from guild regulations in cities), were quite important in characterizing the stage of mercantilism. The production and marketing of similar types of goods were often promoted and protected by the powers of the absolute monarchy. But, after the Industrial Revolution, cotton goods were massively produced in small British factories operated by a great many individual capitalists in free competition, and traded by them very widely in international markets. Capitalism, during this stage of liberalism, soon came of age and became perfectly autonomous, so that it revoked earlier mercantilist protections and restrictions and promoted free trade. Finally, in the 1870s, the centre of commodity production shifted from Britain to such newly industrialized countries as Germany and the United States, as heavy industries, like iron and steel, became crucial to the last stage of capitalist development known as imperialism. Because of the “bulking large of fixed capital” (Uno’s expression) which heavy industries called for, industrial organization changed from that based on free competition among many small capitalist firms to the division of the market by monopoly organizations such as cartels, syndicates and trusts. Not that light industries and free competition disappeared altogether, but the monopolized sector, which produced coal, iron and steel, prevailed over dispersed small-and-medium sized commodity-producers and called the tune. This implied a dual economy consisting of a small number of large monopoly firms with up-to-date technology operating side by side with a large number of small ones operating with more traditional, if not antiquated, technology. Uneven development of different industrial sectors rather than balanced growth of the whole economy became the salient feature of capitalism at this stage. Thus, the three distinct types of capitalism (mercantilism, liberalism and imperialism) must be differentiated as types, each representing, respectively, capitalism’s nascent and preparatory stage, its stage of autonomous and self-propelled development, and its final stage of aging and decline.
In each of these stages of capitalism’s world-historic development, the principal actor was the representative (or dominant) form of capital which manifested different styles of accumulation, or the conversion of surplus value into additional capital. In the mercantilist era, it was merchant capital, which ran the cottage industry, producing mainly woollen goods. The logical specification of merchant capital is already given at the level of pure theory, but in stages-theory it must be far more concretely described as the British wool industry in the 17th to 18th century, operated in farming villages away from city guilds. Likewise, in the liberal era, it was industrial capital that played the leading role in accumulation. Its logical specification is again already given at the purely theoretical level, but in stages-theory it was the British cotton industry in the 19th century that embodied the more concrete behaviour of industrial capital. What is described in the section called “the development of capitalist method of production” in pure theory now turns out to be a drastic abstraction of the British cotton industry in the 19th century. Finally, in the era of imperialism, the dominant form of capital was finance-capital. What corresponds to finance-capital in pure theory is interest-bearing capital; but this form of capital is strictly “notional” in theory, in that it does not actually operate in a purely capitalist economy, whereas finance-capital at the stage of imperialism actually plays the leading role in concentrating idle funds scattered over all the nooks and corners of society and converting them into real capital so to invest them in heavy industries as if these funds all belonged to it. This also requires that large industrial firms should be organized as joint-stock companies, the equity of which may be traded in the “capital market”, which developed at this stage in close contact with the previously existing “money market”.
4b) In what way is the stage of imperialism important? How does it relate to our understanding of capitalism today?
Imperialism is the last and the highest stage of capitalist development. It is, however, also the stage of capitalism’s aging and decline. Real economic life at this stage was unquestionably more “advanced” (in technological terms) than at the previous stages. Nevertheless, capitalism in the previous stage of liberalism was closer to its ideal image than was capitalism in the stage of imperialism. This means that capitalism based on such heavy industries as iron and steel was more difficult to handle commodity- economically (i.e., as a mercantile system) than one based on light industries such as cotton and other textiles. For one thing, the “bulking large of fixed capital” in heavy industries implies that its finance and management can readily exceed the capacity of individual capitals, which naturally leads to the incorporation of firms as joint stock companies and the formation by these industrial firms of monopoly organizations in close cooperation with large banks. Finance-capital in Germany, which invented investment banking, soon succeeded in fully controlling the domestic market for the products of heavy industry, by ensuring that their producers earned “monopoly profits” in the domestic market; but it was, at the same time, stuck with excess funds which could not easily be converted into real capital domestically. In Britain, however, this problem had long since been solved by the so-called merchant banking that had developed in the City of London, and which routinely exported excess funds overseas to be capitalized within its colonies and spheres of influence. Thus, the rivalry in the “export of capital” between the newly emerging capitalist nations, represented by Germany, and the older capitalist nations, represented by Great Britain, had to lead to severe international confrontation, which was destined to end in the “imperialist war” of 1914-17.
These circumstances show the fact that the stage of imperialism, as the final stage of capitalist development, involved certain elements that exceeded the strictly theoretical specification of capitalism, i.e., the dialectic of capital. This point is frequently overlooked by those who do not possess, or who are not even aware that they do not possess, the theoretical (i.e., adequately synthetic) definition of capitalism. Imperialism marked the stage of capitalist development, in which the contradiction between value and use-values was intensified, and thus became more difficult to surmount than ever before. This fact was to become evident in the aftermath of WWI, the total war that truly devastated Europe, which had been the unchallenged centre up to that time of commodity-production and, hence, of capitalism. It was for this reason that Uno concluded his study of The Types of Economic Policies under Capitalism (Keizai- Seisakuron) with the First World War. After some hesitation he realized that there could be no fourth stage of capitalist “development” after the imperialist war of 1914-17, and that, thereafter, the world economy had entered a transition phase to another historical society. I would, therefore, refer to this phase or process as that of “capitalism in disintegration”, or of “ex-capitalist transition”. In other words, “developments” such as “Fordism” or “neo-liberalism” cannot, in my view, be explained adequately as manifestations of capitalism in its imperialist stage of development, or of any other stage of capitalist development. This is perhaps an appropriate place for me to warn you that, in our discourses, the same word is often used both as a technical jargon and as an ordinary instrument of daily communications. Since this cannot be avoided in dealing with economics and other social sciences, we must be careful all the more when to read the same word such as “development” in its technical sense (in reference to Uno’s dankaïron) and when more broadly and loosely as an ordinary word, the usage of which must follow the customary rules of the language. The same considerations apply to so fundamental a term as “capitalism”. For us its meaning is precisely defined by the dialectic of capital. But, we are not for that reason in a position to prohibit others from using it in a less precise and loose sense, when the same word is used in daily conversations and journalism. Thus, in relation to such more recent “developments” as Fordism and neo-liberalism, I wish to elaborate on the significance of such matters further down in Part II of this Q&A, where I will deal more systematically with the nature of the disintegration of capitalism rather than with its stages-theoretic “development”. But before concluding this Part, I would like you to think about why we must have a “stages-theory” between the pure theory and empirical history, while neither bourgeois nor conventional Marxist economics appear to be all that much concerned with it.
4c) You have just referred to Uno’s important book: Keizai-Seisakuron, in which he relates different stages of capitalist development with different types of economic policies under capitalism. Why should different economic policies mark the different stages of capitalist development?
Marx talked about such themes as “the state as the epitome of bourgeois society” and “the international relation of production” as possibly his own research projects to work on in future, though he never had the time to get that far, and thus to elaborate on them systematically in a written form. Uno seems to believe, however, that these are themes that the economist should not lightly overlook. Maybe he found in Marx’s passing references the germs of stages-theory in Marx. Even though these themes cannot be studied at the strictly logical level of abstraction (i.e., as part of his genriron), yet their real meaning cannot be adequately comprehended either, according to Uno, if they are studied simply as disparate episodes of economic history in the fully concrete-empirical manner, (that is to say, as part of his genjô-–bunseki)”. It follows that these are precisely the subjects that must concern the economist at the level of the stages-theory of capitalist development (or in the context of his dankaïron). This insight derives from the fact that Uno began his academic career as an assistant professor of economic policy, at about the time when the influence of the policy-oriented German school of economics was receding quickly in Japanese universities. Uno, fresh back to Japan from his two-year studies in Berlin, where he had attended lectures given by professors of the late historical school, searched for his own method of expounding “the economic policies under capitalism” in a manner consistent with what he was then learning with uncommon penetration from Marx’s Capital. Indeed, Keizai-Seisakuron originated from his lecture notes over ten years at Tôhoku Imperial University, where he started his academic career.
Real capitalism, as opposed to its purely theoretical definition, always came into being in the process of industrialization of a nation-state, which turned out to be the bourgeois nation-state. As agricultural productivity rose in medieval societies, commercial activities tended to be activated, which led to the growth of cities, and that, in turn, ended by eroding the old system of medieval governance, which had federated in one way or another dispersed principalities, based largely on locally self-sufficient manors. A period of internecine wars amongst belligerent lords and princes then followed, until one of them proved ascendant over the others in unifying a wider territory under his sway. The primus inter pares, who thus became the king of the newly conquered territory, asserted himself as the “absolute monarch” of the now unified nation-state. But, the absolute monarch invariably accomplished this work of “national unification” in alliance with the rising class of the bourgeoisie, so that the real builder of the nation-state may well have been the bourgeoisie itself, which wanted to operate in the national (or home) market, un-interfered with by the many barriers set up by petty local powers. In other words, the nation-state formed itself by abolishing all local tollgates and centralized the collection of all tolls and customs as its exclusive right. Thus, “the state as the epitome of bourgeois society” meant that only in this national context could capitalism as a historical society actually evolve. If so, the purpose of the bourgeois state must, from the beginning, have been to serve as the carapace within which to ensure the development of capitalism.
The mercantilist state thus aimed primarily at installing and promoting the mercantile activities of “national” capitals, by bestowing privileges on them while repelling foreign interference. It also promoted the creation of the class of property-less workers. The promotion of industry went side by side with the building-up of strong armed forces to defend national territories. The policies of the mercantilist state were thus initially quite aggressive externally and repressive internally. However, as the production of woolen goods in Britain established itself as the national industry, and as conditions for the Industrial Revolution matured gradually, the state power shifted from the absolute monarchy to parliament, where the bourgeoisie too could be represented. Thus, the policies of the bourgeois state were also focussed less on the defense of the national territory and more on the promotion of international trade. At the purely theoretical level, it is of course not possible to distinguish between commodity exchanges inside and outside of national borders, since the logic of capital does not recognize such a division. It is for that reason, moreover, that Marx himself recommended the mental procedure of translating foreign trade into the domestic restructuring of production, by counting imports as additional to domestic production, and exports as a subtraction from it. But, at the stages-theoretic level, capitalism must be understood primarily as evolving within the nation-state, so that external as distinct from internal trade becomes the first consideration of economic policies. Therefore, even in the liberal stage of its development, when, having already become fully autonomous, capitalism no longer needed to rely on the power of the state to protect its industry, the only policy issue that then remained was to promote the “internationalization of the free-trade movement” that had originated in Great Britain. To that end, commercial treaties that included the so-called “most-favoured nation clause” were made use of as the main instruments of economic policy. Ideally, capitalism operated so as to efface the distinction between domestic and foreign markets. Yet, nation-states always existed, wherever capitalism actually developed. Moreover, the pursuit of such an ideal was short-lived, as, after the Great Depression of the 1870s, the world-historic development of capitalism ushered the new stage of imperialism in. As heavy industries such as iron and steel became more central than light industries such as cotton and other textiles, international competition and conflict amongst the industrial and industrializing countries intensified, as the imperialist bourgeois states vied with each other in raising tariff walls, and in dividing the world market into colonies and satellites. Not only were the bourgeois states busy with external policies, but they also had to shelter and help monopolized “national” capitals inside and outside their borders, as the production of commodities became more complex than before due to the “bulking large of fixed capital”.
Thus, in correspondence with the preparatory, autonomous and declining stages of capitalist development, the policies of the bourgeois state were respectively mercantilist, liberal and imperialist. In all these cases, however, the economic policies under capitalism always sought to activate the capitalist market for commodities by the method of “internalizing externalities”, so that the accumulation of capital could proceed smoothly in the private sector. In other words, the economic policy of the bourgeois state was always limited to “setting the stage” upon which capital could play its own game soundly. The state never came out on the theatre-stage itself to play its game jointly with capital. Put differently, the typical economic policy under capitalism was basically a tax-subsidy combination that assisted the “micro” functioning of the self-regulating market for some welfare effects, and so quite different from the “macro” policies that had to be introduced after the Great Depression of the 1930s. (About the nature of the latter type of policies, I will have more to say in Part II of this Q&A.)
Uno seems to believe that the study of economic policies in the above sense constitutes the key to the stages theory of capitalist development (or his dankaïron). However, the scope of the latter must not be limited to that alone. An in-depth study of economic policies naturally leads to that of public finance, where economics meets with politics and law, thus enabling us to look into a more synthetic study of the bourgeois nation-state. In this way, economics has the opportunity to intellectually communicate and cross-fertilize with the other branches of social science at the level of the stages-theory. It is not possible for economics to relate with other social sciences at the level of pure theory where the logic of capital unquestionably prevails, nor should the economics of pure theory seek to relate without preparation with other branches of social science, which focus on the level of concrete-empirical history, where highly specific problems appear in a jumble of disparate perspectives. The intercourse of economics with other branches of social science can, therefore, be achieved most fruitfully at the level of the stages-theory of capitalism, and the study of economic policies may be regarded as the best entry point to it.
4d) Why do the Unoists in particular insist on the importance of the stages-theory, which neither bourgeois nor conventional-Marxist economics appear to be so concerned with?
That is because what bourgeois economics calls “the real world” is a fake. It is, in other words, only a make-believe story which has nothing to do with any real facet or episode of economic history, but only with anecdotes or parables that bourgeois economists make up in order to illustrate their fanciful theory. In other words, they already believe (as a matter of faith) that rational economic life must operate in the “real world” as their economic theory tells them it does, regardless of the nature of the prevailing use-values that real economic life of the society in question involves. What they pretend to be the “real world” is thus no more than an edifying fable that they have invented to plausibly illustrate how their (preconceived) theory would work in reality. The typical example is the celebrated story recounted by Adam Smith of the happy encounter one day of the beaver trapper and the deer hunter who are supposed to negotiate the terms of trade between samples of their respective game. We know that it is a pure fiction which has nothing to do with whatever actually happened in economic history between any pair of commodity traders (though that sort of thing may be “parabolized” to have occurred in the exchange of toys between John and Mary in their children’s playroom). From this it is quite apparent that bourgeois economics has no intention of seriously relating its theory with empirical/historical reality. The theory is “ahistorical” anyway, having proudly set itself free from any suspicion of “historicism”. Theory should dictate history rather than the other way round (or, alternatively, history should illustrate theory, rather than theory learning anything from history).
Interestingly, the same procedure is adopted by conventional Marxist economics, the method of which is identical with that which is employed by its bourgeois opponents. Generally speaking, it is not necessary for any ideology-based economics to relate itself with reality in earnest; for reality is already preselected and interpreted ideologically by their pundits (regardless of the historical level of industrial technology and of real economic life thereby constrained in concrete-empirical terms). For bourgeois economics, reality should be a world that incarnates the pre-established harmony of whatever conflicting interests that may conceivably exist. Therefore, from the varied reality of actual life in capitalism, bourgeois economics extracts only such picture-perfect episodes as best fit their wonderful image of what capitalism ought to be. For Marxist economics, in contrast, it should be the infernal world infested with abhorrent instances of exploitation and repression. Therefore, from the many scenes of our capitalist life, it carefully selects the most outrageous, repugnant and disgusting ones to illustrate their theory of exploitation and abuse. In both cases, their “selective” real world is more “manufactured” or “concocted” than realistic, in the sense of being already biased, if not distorted, by the ideology that the theory is supposed to promote. Clearly, an ideologically motivated economics is not interested in mediating theory and reality (logic and history) in any objective fashion. All it needs is a stirring anecdote to illustrate its theory – whether Marxist or bourgeois. I do not need to repeat that anecdotal illustration of a theory does not constitute its empirical corroboration.
Sometimes one gets the false impression that an econometric or cliometric study can test the validity of an economic theory with statistical data which are collected in some archives of economic history. I do not deny the fact that a properly executed study that uses an econometric or cliometric method can furnish valuable information. However, what econometrics or cliometrics does is not an empirical testing of the theory, but the application of the theory already believed to be correct to explain (or interpret) past or present reality. Theory, which is already regarded as valid, is applied to explain how reality should have worked; in other words, the validity of the (ideological) theory is never tested in the light of controlled experiments or observations, as is supposed to be the case in natural science. It is a false pretense to orchestrate as “empirically defensible” a dogmatically manufactured theory based on a religious view of the world; for, this entails asserting that theory (which describes heaven) is divine even though the human world frequently proves to be aberrant. Often an econometrician correlates one time-series with another, but these time-series give only ex post data, so that a good correlation cannot validate or invalidate an economic theory involving a set of ex ante behaviours. If the two time-series are definitionally related, as in the case of the quantity theory of money, the correlation is bound to be near perfect (for, otherwise, the statisticians must have been remiss). For instance, if the money supply correlates well over time with the absolute level of prices, that is only to be expected given the method of collecting and preparing the statistics. This only shows that the statisticians did a proper job; it does not show that the quantity theory has been empirically tested and shown to be valid or invalid. Perhaps, the monetarists were overly confident because of some “empirical studies” of inflation, promoted by Milton Friedman and his group. Today, under deflation, even they should be learning that the money supply cannot be used as a policy variable since no matter how much base money is pumped into the banking system by the Fed under repeated QE policies, the supply of active (as opposed to idle) money does not respond to it, because commercial banks refuse to correspondingly step up their loans (credit creation) for very understandable reasons. If two time series are related behaviourally rather than definitionally, the parameters that correlate them can of course be estimated. If the correlation is statistically meaningful, we can say that, in that particular instance, the economic behaviour was as theory had predicted. However, unless the correlation is confirmed “repeatably” between any set of similar time series, we cannot say that the underlying theory has successfully withstood an empirical test. And only in that case can the model be used to numerically simulate possible effects of a proposed policy. I will come back to this issue in Part II.
In the previous section I have already explained the reason why social science, including economics, does not normally lend itself to generating “repeatably” testable hypotheses. In most cases, an econometric or cliometric model illustrates the theory only in a once-for-all instance. If one economic model is illustrated with an excellent “fit” with regard to a set of data pertaining to one instance, the same is not usually expected with regard to another set of data pertaining to another similar case. The test that works well in one case does not always “repeatably” guarantee a similar success. This is because, as we all know, human history does not repeat itself with the same constancy as would a natural phenomenon. In other words, econometric study is not meant to test a hypothesis in economics, in the same manner as controlled observation or experiment is used to test a natural scientific hypothesis. Therefore, the pious hope to make economics grow into an empirico-positive science in the same sense as a natural science is bound to fail, regardless of how much economic theory may be refined or polished by way of its mathematical reformulations. But, that is just another way of saying that the test of truth or objectivity in economics cannot be obtained in the same way as in natural science. If that is the case, I must conclude that the pretense of both bourgeois and conventionally Marxist economics to be scientific, in the sense of being capable of meaningfully explaining reality is groundless. Their theories do not tell any objective truths, they are merely spinning their ideological stories.
[(5) Your argument so far suggests that Uno has learned from Marx the method of critiquing classical political economy, and that, by using that method, Uno discovered in effect the “rational kernel” of the dialectic within the “mystical shell” of Hegel’s idealist philosophy. Moreover, having thus established the “materialist” dialectic of capital at the core of Marxism, Uno proceeded then to completely “invert” the conventional version of Marxism. What are the salient features of Uno’s critique of conventional Marxism? Uno, furthermore, seems to have discovered the sense in which knowledge of human society may be judged to be “objective”. But that is in quite a different sense from that in which a natural scientific knowledge is usually thought to be “objective”. Furthermore, Uno’s implicit Hegelianism has enabled him to refute the modern philosophical tradition of the dichotomy between physical and spiritual, and the scientific impossibility of penetrating the thing-in-itself. Uno also seems to believe that social science must always begin with “capitalism” (a particular case), before arriving at a more general idea (or norm) of “human society”, rather than the other way round. Will you elaborate on these peculiarities of Uno’s thought?]
5a) What do you think is the most important lesson that Uno learned from Marx? In what way is Uno’s learning different from that of other Marxists?
What Uno learned from Marx was primarily the latter’s method of “critiquing” bourgeois political economy, that is to say, Marx’s method of eventually reformulating the economic theory of the classical school as the “dialectic of capital”. Even though Marx himself only half achieved that goal, there is no doubt that he made a decisive first step towards it. Uno, for his part, saw in this method the real import of Marx’s unfinished project, and endeavoured to complete it in the form of his own genriron, or the economic theory of a purely capitalist society. Real capitalism, however, is a historical society, which occurs only once in human history, so that it must have a beginning and an end. How can such a once-and-for-all historical process (historische Einmaligkeit) be accounted for in a logical fashion? Surely the formal and axiomatic, hence tautological, logic cannot be up to the task. That is where the dialectic as the logic of synthesis (rather than of analysis) must intervene. Indeed, at the limiting point of its own “purifying” or self-idealizing process (which, in fact, became quite apparent during the liberal stage of its own development), capitalism reveals to us its own definition in the form of a dialectically reformulated economic theory (in which all use-values are presumed to be “nominalized”). This definition amounts to what makes capitalism what it is, namely, its inner logic or programme (what, in today’s language, one might say capitalism’s operating “software”). It is the dialectical synthesis of capitalism not only in reality but also in our mind in the sense that this is where one must arrive, at the end-point of Marx’s so-called “ascending method of exposition” of the capitalist mode of production. It is in this sense that I claim that the discovery of the dialectic of capital (or the definition of capitalism by capital itself) amounts to the ontological proof of the existence of capitalism. That is equivalent to saying that the dialectic of synthesis, which is at work in this process is identical in form (or homomorphic) to that which is exhibited in Hegel Logic (and which Chris Arthur more recently named “systematic” as opposed to “historical” dialectic). Uno tried to explain this fact, which he believed was of great importance not only to the economist in search of what capitalism is all about, but also to the philosopher who should be concerned with the method of social science. Yet his repeated efforts fell largely on deaf ears, mainly because the conventional views of the dialectic shared by both Marxists and non-Marxists alike (and based invariably on a haphazard comprehension of it) were widely different from Uno’s.
Indeed, most Marxists are brought up to believe that the fundamental principle of Marxist philosophy is laid down by “dialectical materialism” as it was expounded by Engels and Lenin, in their writings such as Anti-Dühring, The Dialectic of Nature, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and the like, although Marx himself had never elaborated anything systematic or convincing on a cosmological application of the dialectic as laws of the universe or of the physical world (nature). These works of Engels and Lenin must have been written with well-meaning intentions, and may indeed have served quite well as handy primers with which to promote Marxism as an ideology. But they have also served to divert attention from the more solid and important scientific accomplishments of Marx in economics. In the same manner, the so-called “materialistic conception of history (or historical materialism)” which only served as the “guiding thread” to Marx’s in-depth study of economics (then called political economy) has been magnified far out of proportion as Marx’s “social theory”, as if it by itself constituted Marx’s scientific contribution to the knowledge of human society in general. Actually, what Marx wrote on this “conception” is also brief and concise, and certainly in a much more modest vein, amounting to nothing more than a set of ideological hypotheses. The latter consist of the three main principles of substructure, correspondence and class-antagonism. The first principle states that, in all societies, the set of production- relations constitutes their material or economic base (or substructure), upon which is erected the whole edifice of their ideological (legal, political, ethical, religious, educational, cultural, and so forth) superstructure; the second principle states that the set of production-relations specific to any society reflects the level of the general productive powers at its disposal; and the third principle states that with the overcoming of capitalism the class-antagonism which characterized all previous human societies should end. None of these principles are by themselves meant to be a scientific proposition subject to corroboration by some generally acceptable criteria as applicable to all human societies. Conventional Marxism, however, accepts historical materialism as being a specific application to the history of humankind of the more general principles of dialectical materialism that have in some way or other already been established as true, in much the same way as it accepts Marx’s “economics of capitalism” as being a mere application of the aforementioned three principles of historical materialism specifically to the case of capitalist society.
This type of popular and haphazard introduction to conventional Marxism inveigles those who do not take serious interest in Marx’s economics and so do not wish to study it in any reasonable depth, into developing a variety of completely arbitrary and dubious interpretations of Marxism, depending on what they subjectively want to read in Marx. A prodigious display of “unnecessary originalities” concocted by middle-class professors blossoms and flourishes, while the real Marx is increasingly circumvented, dismissed and forgotten. That sort of approach may at best be used to serve the semblance of academic freedom in Western democracies, but the same dogmatism (“poverty of philosophy”) could, and did, at worst feed the official ideologies of repressive regimes under a self-styled communist dictatorship, a far cry from what Marx himself aspired to. Uno’s method, in contrast, reverses the whole approach to Marxism. It does not believe in “dialectical materialism”, which is a travesty of both the dialectic and materialism and is presumed to constitute a cosmological logic that governs the universe. Even the validity of “historical materialism”, Uno accepts only partially in its “epitome” pertaining to capitalism or capitalist society in particular. For, only in that limited context, does the self-conclusiveness of genriron (or the dialectic of capital) demonstrate that the substructure of capitalism is indeed separable from (can therefore be disengaged from) its ideological superstructure. The dialectic of capital also shows that the accumulation of capital occurs cyclically as it regularly adopts a new and more advanced productive technology, thus confirming the fact that a new value-relation (i.e., production-relation within capitalism) is formed as a new set of productive techniques is adopted (raising the society’s productive powers) under capitalism. The dialectic of capital furthermore shows that the class antagonism that remains under capitalism already excludes all types of extra-economic coercion in principle, and thus tacitly points to a classless society. In other words, for Uno, it is the completion of economic theory as a closed (self-contained) dialectical system under capitalism that gives credence to the materialistic conception of history, and not the other way round.
However, the majority of conventional Marxists have always exhibited a knee-jerk reaction against Uno’s approach. In response, Uno offered to explain the importance of distinguishing between the levels of abstraction, when one talks of the necessity of capitalist crisis, that of imperialist war and that of socialist revolution. For, it is the mark of vulgar Marxism to play with the word “necessity (Notwendigkeit)” without distinguishing whether it means a purely logical (i.e., dialectical) necessity or merely what may be regarded as historically inevitable. Engels is largely responsible for having taught generations of Marxists the so-called “logical-historical method” which, in effect, claims that “whatever is logical is historical and whatever is historical is logical”, presumably echoing Hegel’s famous dictum that “whatever is actual (wirklich) is reasonable (vernünftig) and vice versa”. Such a doctrine trivializes Marxism to the religious dogma of historical determinism, which believes that capitalism, since it is in itself a contradictory system, must of necessity be replaced by socialism which is free from contradiction. That would be most convenient for Marxism as a political ideology, but it also reduces the true import of Marx’s scientific work to mere “scholasticism”, since its conclusion is already given and foregone. However, scholasticism may be glorified or repressed, as the case may be, depending on the whims of the authoritarian and self-righteous powers that constitute the existing State or Party. Uno offers to block such vulgarization and impoverishment of Marxism by claiming that the dialectic of capital (or the economics of capitalism) confirms the necessity of capitalist crises at the strictly logical level, whereas the necessity of imperialist war must be shown at the level of the stages-theory of imperialism, as consequent upon the fact that the imperialist bourgeois state is compelled to assist the accumulation of “national” finance-capital on the international scene. As far as the necessity of socialist revolution is concerned, it depends on so many contingent factors of history that when and where it actually occurs can never be reliably specified or facilely predicted.
The poverty of conventional Marxism originates in the unwarranted and unfounded belief (dogma gullibly accepted on the basis of blind faith) in the veracity of dialectical materialism, which clearly lacks any serious philosophical content. By merely brandishing references to some dialectical laws such as “the negation of the negation”, “the transformation of quantity into quality”, “the interpenetration of the opposites” and the like, arbitrarily selected from Hegel’s Logic, and applied for the purpose of advancing a few unreliable interpretations of natural phenomena, one derives no proofs that would assist Marxists in “extracting the rational kernel of the dialectic from within the mystical shell” of Hegelian idealism. If, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the authority of, and the trust in, “dialectical materialism” fell to the ground quickly, that was only to be expected. However, the sudden fall from grace of the once prestigious dogma does not imply that its emptiness has been sufficiently exposed. It only gave more credence to “western Marxism”, which took historical rather than dialectical materialism as its starting point. As already explained, this does not change the fact that historical materialism itself is no more than a set of ideological hypotheses, and the latter cannot be accepted as unshakeable truth to start with. As Uno taught, it is the economics of capitalism that grounds historical materialism in its epitome pertaining to capitalism, and not the other way round. For the mere claim that the economic base of society supports the whole of its ideological superstructure cannot be established except in the case of capitalism (and in it alone), because the latter’s economic substructure alone can be adequately defined by the logical closure of the dialectic of capital, namely by the completion of the economic theory of capitalism. It is precisely this fact that vindicates the claim to the effect that, only under capitalism, can the “economy” (as substructure) be defined separately from “society” (as superstructure), and that it is only to the extent that the former may be seen to “dis-embed itself” from the latter. Neither western Marxism nor even Polanyi himself (and his admirers) have really understood the full import of this fact, since neither comprehended Marx’s real work in economics, as Uno did.
5b) In what sense do you think that Uno’s inversion of Marxism opens a way to “objective” social science?
The upshot of the argument so far is to say that Uno’s approach to Marxism completely reverses (or turns upside down) the conventional one. It does not begin with “dialectical materialism” which it considers to be a false dogma. It, in other words, does not believe that “the rational kernel of the dialectic within the mystical shell of Hegelian idealism” can be found in the Engels-Lenin version of dialectical materialism. The correct place to find it is in the dialectic of capital, as extension of Marx’s critique of bourgeois political economy. Nor does Uno’s approach begin with historical materialism, or the materialist conception of history, consisting of the three main principles as described above. For, the three hypotheses or principles of historical materialism cannot be directly verified as applicable to the history of humankind in general, even though, as Uno claims, they can be shown to be true insofar as they pertain to capitalism in particular as a historical society. In other words, historical materialism with its three aforementioned principles can be upheld (in its epitome as it pertains to capitalism) only after the dialectic of capital as the economic theory of capitalism is discovered. Under the circumstances, the most that historical materialism can do even before one undertakes to study economic theory is to act as an antidote (“anti-ideology”) to protect one from unwanted infection with the virus of the bourgeois-liberal ideology, while learning bourgeois economics (such as the economics of the classical school). I have already described above how difficult it is to study economics (which is genuinely an offspring of the modern and bourgeois civilization) without being unconsciously lured into believing in liberal ideology at the same time. Indeed, bourgeois economics never divulges the fact that capitalism is a historical society, which arises at one time in the course of human history and passes away at another. Thus, all things considered, the dialectic of capital is the alpha and omega of Marxism, as Uno claimed. It unambiguously establishes a materialistic dialectic in the form of economic theory (as the theory of a factual science) to replace Hegel’s idealistic dialectic (as the logic that “coincides with metaphysics”). From this it follows that capitalism occupies a pivotal place as a referent in the study of human societies. Surely Uno’s approach turns conventional Marxism upside down. It will also turn out to be the only way to salvage Marxism from its present state of bankruptcy and to restore it to the honourable place due to it of being the first discoverer of objectivity in social science.
Interestingly, of all the prominent German idealist philosophers after Kant, Hegel was quite unique in being perfectly enlightened on the writings of Scottish moral philosophers, including the economics of Adam Smith. While others were perhaps more aware of progress in the science of the physical world within the rigid Cartesian tradition of the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical, Hegel alone had deep insight into economic and social matters, as can be readily fathomed from his Philosophy of Right. This may perhaps be the reason why Hegel, far more than Kant, inspired Feuerbach and Marx, who explored the space lying between the physical and the metaphysical. Feuerbach, for example, was first to advance the celebrated thesis of anthropomorphism whereby to explain that humans create God (the Infinite) in their image rather than the other way round as religion typically teaches. As for Marx, had circumstances worked only a little differently in such a way as to assist him more solicitously in his scholarly journey, he could have accomplished a similar feat in the field of social science to that which Feuerbach had accomplished in that of religion. Given the circumstances, however, it would of course be far too much to expect such a parallel to have actually occurred. For, by the time Marx studied economics in earnest after 1845, he had already “settled accounts with his former philosophical conscience” and laid aside in particular Hegel’s philosophy, under the influence of which he had intellectually grown up, even though he never succeeded in blotting out the Hegelian traces from his thought. This is perhaps the reason why Marx failed to recognize the fact that Hegel, while himself believing to be exploring the dialectic of the Absolute, was in fact “unconsciously” dealing with that of capital. By the time Marx was engrossed in his own critique of bourgeois political economy, he was, on his part, unaware of the fact that he too was “subconsciously” guided by Hegel, while trying not to remember him and his philosophy. Is this not a true irony of history (over which one cannot help recalling Marx’s favourite citation from Shakespeare: “The course of true love never doeth run smooth”)? As for Engels, who later edited Marx’s voluminous work-notes in economics into the three volumes of Capital, he never realized that the latter had already contained the germs of all the required ingredients for the dialectic of capital. Yet the fact remains that Marx’s project of critiquing the political economy of the classical school and reformulating it correctly as the “definition of capitalism by capital itself” could never be brought to completion except in a way homomorphic to that of Hegel’s logic. We can see all that only retrospectively, after having arrived at the dialectic of capital, thanks to the guide-posts that Uno left on his trail, as he worked on his own genriron, intending it as a restatement and completion of the economics of Capital.
What is truly remarkable is that the dialectic of capital is a translation of the logic of the metaphysical world into the theory of a factual science called economics, that is, into the logic of capitalism which exists objectively, and not merely in our imagination, while nonetheless preserving the dialectic itself (which constitutes the rational kernel in both) unchanged. Had this result been known earlier and its meaning duly understood and appreciated, I am inclined to suspect that the whole history of philosophy and of science after Hegel could have been a bit different. Neither would it have, to put it more bluntly, so carelessly abandoned Hegel’s rational philosophy for investigations in search of “the dark, meaningless impulse and will, understood as the primal ground of reality”. It is certainly not becoming for philosophy to try to pursue such a meaningless theme, for obviously it has no legitimate light to shed on it. By pursuing such meaninglessness, philosophy itself becomes meaningless and eventually becomes incapable of resisting the tyranny of the natural sciences and technology over all other forms of knowledge. Metaphysics cannot be so simply discarded, following the shallow counsels of the logical positivists and others of that ilk. Instead, the “rational kernel” in Hegel’s dialectic must be made “materialist”, that is to say, “translated into the theory of a factual science”. For, that can be done in the form of the pure theory of a factual science known as economics. This enlightenment that Uno first provided us with, as he was inspired by Marx, vigorously blocks and arrests the vulgarization of Marxism. Yet, its import has so far been scarcely noticed.
It was perhaps the overwhelming influence of Kant that had restricted the intellectual vision to the dichotomy of the “noumenal” and the “phenomenal” world, where the latter excluded the knowledge of thing-in-itself. It was perhaps a “Copernican revolution” to the extent that it could liberate physics (the study of nature) from the tyranny of metaphysics. Yet it also led to the complete oversight of the space lying between the “metaphysical” and the “physical”, the “spiritual” and the “natural”. The omission of that space easily lent itself to the false and contradictory idea of “reductionism”, which asserts that a “social science” may become “scientific” only to the extent that it becomes a natural science. By the time the neo-Kantians discovered Kulturwissenschaft at the very end of the 19th century, it was much too late to save the “philosophy of science” from this desperate “poverty of philosophy”. Yet, at the same time, it was by then no longer possible to return to Marx and to resume the hidden Hegelian path afresh without prejudice, as Marxism, having become quickly politicized and sectarian soon afterwards, erected an imposing structure to ideologically stifle any such move.
From my point of view it is important to avoid the usage of such poorly defined, catchall terms as Kulturwissenschaften or sciences humaines in which the social sciences are often mixed up with humanities. Uno seems to have preferred to talk of “social science” in the singular rather than of “the social sciences” in the plural, perhaps because he did not know how inclusive the latter should be. To him, however, the social had to do with “how humans are and what they do in society”, that is to say, not in isolation or individually, but in association and together with others. In other words, social science is a study of “human beings in society”. Yet, in order to posit such an object of study, it is necessary to find a proper entry point. From the Unoist point of view, it is undoubtedly capitalism, as the economic substructure of modern society. For only with the arrival of modern society, in which capital intervened between nature and the direct producers, did the latter become human as “wage-workers”. Previously, they were part of the land to which they belonged like its fauna and flora. In other words, social science cannot begin before the arrival of modern society of which the substructure is capitalism, and the study of capitalism is economics. Moreover, as stated above, economics must be studied at three distinct levels of abstraction, and it can relate, and cross-fertilize, with other branches of social science such as law and politics only at the level of stages-theory. For only within the carapace of the bourgeois nation-state can capitalism historically, that is, factually evolve. In other words, social science developed originally as studies of the various aspects of the modern nation-state. This explains why economics occupies the central place in the social sciences. Moreover, only economics as the study of capitalism can set itself free from the bourgeois-liberal ideology. For, its theory must be couched in the Hegelian dialectic, which automatically excludes ideology.
5c) You claim that Uno’s Marxian economics is a science in the sense of providing us with objective knowledge. Surely, you do not mean that it is “objective” in the same sense that natural scientific knowledge is objective. In what sense do you then claim objectivity in social science?
The meaning of “objectivity” in social science cannot be the same as that in natural science. This is due to the fact that our knowledge of nature must be, and is, of a different kind from that of society. As I have already stated, nature is not created by us, but by some power well beyond us and before our evolution, so that we humans never participated in, nor were we ever consulted with, in its making. For that reason, we can never know its original design or its “blue print” in full. Our knowledge of nature must, therefore, be limited. It must be partial and not total, which means that our knowledge of it should of necessity be from outside it. That, indeed, is precisely what Kant meant when he claimed that we can only know its surface “phenomena” and not its “thing-in-itself” (from the inside out). That is why I have always claimed that our knowledge of nature must always be couched in a “predictive, prescriptive or prospective” fashion. All that the natural scientist can do, in other words, is to propose a hypothesis or conjecture as to what nature would do in its micro behaviour under certain specified circumstances, i.e., if we focus on a microscopic facet or aspect of nature, arbitrarily clipped out of its unknown whole. Such a hypothesis or conjecture can best be formulated, as remarked before, in a statement such as “if conditions a, b, c, … , n occur, then event x will ensue”. In an axiomatic or tautological system such as mathematics, this is how all the theorems are couched, and such propositions are accepted as true, unless or until “disproved” by a counter example. In the factual space, a similarly formulated hypothesis or conjecture must be empirically tested by way of “controlled experiments or observations”, and it is accepted as true tentatively for the moment until and unless it is refuted, or “falsified” by counter evidence. Thus, what is called true is not absolute truth, but only “so-far-so-good truth”, i.e., truth relative to the present state of our knowledge and open to revision in future.
The same criterion of truth or objectivity, however, cannot be extended to social science without trapping us in obvious contradictions. It is unreasonable for us to believe that society is created by some power beyond us, such as God, so that we are not responsible for (or powerless in altering) its functioning, and that we must always accept the given social order as absolute and immutable. Whether we are conscious of it or not, any (human) society is of our own making, so that it is up to us to change the existing social order. Indeed, the history of human beings may be viewed as a chronicle of our efforts in search of a new and hopefully better society. Those who deny this obvious fact are usually the ones who belong to the hierarchy of the existing society and are therefore the main beneficiaries of its vested interests. We know how blatantly self-serving it was once for absolute monarchy to propagate the doctrine of the “divine rights of kings”. Unless an ideal society has already been reached, in which no permanent hierarchy exists and vested interests are equally distributed to all, there will remain inequalities and class divisions that must be removed. We may not arrive there in one fell swoop, but only as and to the extent that the available productive technology allows us to get there. Apparently, Marx always had in mind the emancipation of humans from poverty and repression, physical and mental, as the goal of any society. Sometimes we feel we are very far away from that ideal, sometimes we feel that it is within our reach. Regardless of our estimation, however, it is always necessary to have the eventual goal of the good society in mind, for in the final analysis it is nothing else but “what we are and do in it”. It is unlike nature in that it does not stand over against us as something already made as given by some power beyond us. From this argument, it is easy to understand that, by pretending that social science too can be “scientific” only to the extent that it becomes more like natural science, one is only campaigning for perpetuation of the existing social order, that is to say, propagating a false doctrine that is equivalent to the “divine rights of kings”.
In natural science “objectivity” means “ultimately beyond our own comprehension and control”. If, by stating “(a, b) → x”, we understand that a and b are the proximate causes of x, we do not at the same time understand what the proximate causes of a or of b are. If in search of the ultimate cause of any natural phenomenon, we seek to know “(a1,a2) → a” by retracing the step backward in the search of the proximate causes of a proximate cause, such the process will only diverge and will become endless taking us nowhere. Therefore, the ultimate cause of x is never to be found. It is indeed “unknowable” as Kant taught us long ago. This is the true meaning of “objectivity” in natural science. In social science, however such a procedure is meaningless. For, we do not seek only proximate causes of a surface (micro) phenomenon; we seek the macro design of the existing society. If so, the meaning of truth and objectivity with regard to human society cannot be the same as that with regard to nature. We must seek a completely different methodology and epistemology in social science, and comprehend what we mean by truth and objectivity in social science. No one has so far seriously enquired into that question except Marx, and Uno under his influence. We must emulate them in seeking more enlightenment on that matter. The right place to begin our enquiry is “historical materialism in its epitome as it pertains to capitalism”, which constitutes the material base of modern society. Since the bourgeois nation-state is the necessary carapace within which we may expect capitalism to evolve factually and in history, it was in the process of transforming the absolute monarchy into civil society that social science arose, and the latter was always inspired by the bourgeois-liberal ideology. Thus, in the beginning all branches of social science, including economics, were steeped in that ideology. However, since capitalism itself subsequently underwent the process of self-purification, that process enabled economics to grow out of its ideological supports, and enabled it to become ideology-free, that is to say, “trans-ideological and objective”. In other words, as the logic of capital manifested itself increasingly autonomously, it became comprehensible in the end separately from, and independently of, the bourgeois-liberal ideology. The fact that the logic of capital can be synthesized dialectically in the same way as Hegel’s logic of the Absolute confirms this contention. This privilege (or special status), however, is not shared by other branches of social science, as they all unquestionably relate to the ideological superstructure of modern society.
Uno was frequently embarrassed when he had to explain that “only economics possesses a pure theory”, which the other fields of social science do not and cannot, because that sounded as though he wanted to unduly patronize his own pet subject at the expense of others. It turns out, however, that his claim had nothing to do with his self-conceit. For, a “pure theory” of law or of politics is not conceivable, since no legal or political process has an inherent tendency to purify itself. In other words, these processes cannot divest themselves of their ideological supports even in capitalist society. Thus, in all societies, law and politics undoubtedly belong to their ideological superstructure, which is understandable given the fact that any society, including the capitalist one, is our own creation, not something given to us irrevocably by any power beyond or outside us. Yet, for the first time in capitalist society, law and politics have become separate disciplines (objects of studies) apart and distinct from economics, due to the fact that the economic substructure of modern society becomes transparent and separable from its ideological superstructure. These considerations lead us to the conclusion that, since society is not only “how we are and what we do in it”, but also “how we want to be and what we want to do in it”, it is neither possible nor desirable for us to be ideologically indifferent to it. This, moreover, signifies that if we approach social science directly, that is to say without confirming the pivotal importance (or centrality) of capitalism, the definition of which has been shown to be objective in the sense of ideology-free, above-ideology or trans-ideological, we will surely be led astray and thus unable to overcome our arbitrary subjectivities. In other words, social science that aims at comprehending “human society in general” in a direct (trans-historical) way, circumventing capitalist society, is destined to fail. Just as the anatomy of the human body sheds light on that of animal bodies, we can learn about human society in general only through capitalist society in particular. Uno frequently refers to the relation between the general norms of real economic life which all societies must satisfy and the mercantile laws that satisfy them in capitalist society specifically. Economics can teach the former only through the latter, not the other way round.
5d) You seem to be saying that most statements in social science are bound to be ideology-laden, yet economics alone, as the study of capitalism, can be “objective” in the sense of being “above ideology”. What is the point of that tortuous argument? Why do you have to stress such subtlety that sounds to most people rather bizarre and pointless?
By telling you so many new and unfamiliar stories, I may have baffled or puzzled you unduly. The best way not to confuse you any further is to get straight on to the conclusion here, and relate it to what I have been saying so far. I claim that all arguments in social science unlike their counterparts in natural science are by nature “ideological”, since we are ourselves the creator of our own society and we have each a different view (value judgment) on how it should be organized. In order to create a new society, we need an ideology to work for it. If society exists already, it requires an ideology to approve its presence in order to stabilize it. When a society is in crisis, a conservative ideology which intends to safeguard it and a progressive one which rejects it for a better replacement confront and battle each other. Under normal circumstances, the existing society is generally supported by the majority, and its ideology is institutionalized not only in laws and politics but also in its educational systems and cultural activities, in its information collection and propagation networks. In this case, the dominant ideology often fails to be recognized as such, having become so natural as to blend into people’s everyday life and psyche, and hence into their commonsense. Only the minority opinions which are critical of the existing social order and so must assert themselves more vociferously tend to be recognized as “ideological”. In principle, any society has its ideological superstructure and it must be institutionalized to become the source of dominant conventional wisdom “as a matter of course”. Thus, for example, if your son or daughter is admitted to a prestigious school of law or business, of economics and political science, associated with some famous, “elitist” universities, you are bound to be happy and reassured, because his or her future access to a bright, privileged career is more or less guaranteed. In all societies, an educational system is suitably designed and ranked so as to regularly reproduce “well-trained” individuals in all echelons, that is to say, properly educated leaders and guardians of the existing social order at all levels. No one can deny that this is an essential feature of most human society. Yet, if that is all there is to it, we might as well forget about social science in the sense of “the knowledge of society which is objective and true, so that anyone can and must accept it regardless of his or her personal ideology”. However, as I said above, it is only with the evolution of modern society, the economic substructure (or material base) of which is capitalism, that social science found a solid rock to stand on, something “true and objective”. For, the existence of capitalism is not imagined; it is true and objective and can be recognized as such, because its thing-in-itself is laid bare. Therefore, to the extent that our knowledge of society is built on reality and objective knowledge of capitalism, or linked to them, it must have something more solid and dependable than mere ideological assertions which reflect one’s likes and dislikes of (or value judgment on) this or that society. But it is this crucial point that is entirely neglected by both bourgeois and Marxist economics, while only the Unoist approach to Marxian economics takes that point seriously. To neglect that crucial point in economics is equivalent to forgetting about the logic in Hegel’s philosophical system.
Most Marxists are accustomed to believe that one can readily separate Hegel’s dialectic from his philosophical system, so that the former which is “rational” should be carefully preserved while the latter which is “idealist and reactionary” should be summarily rejected. I believe that this view is neither correct nor sensible. Hegel’s philosophical system, consisting of the logic and the philosophies of nature and of finite spirit, is meant to precede all other forms of knowledge, including empiricist and/or positivist natural science. The logic that “coincides with metaphysics” deals with “pure thoughts” which automatically hang together or cohere (dialectically synthesize themselves) into a consistent (logical) whole, or Reason. In the philosophy of nature, it is confirmed that Reason asserts itself, despite the unavoidable natural irregularities (distortions and deformities). Likewise, in the philosophy of finite spirit, the extent to which the same is preserved, despite the unavoidable human errors and aberrancies, will be confirmed. Thus, according to Hegel, we must be aware of the precedence of Reason over the arbitrariness (of necessity over contingencies) before we undertake to study nature and the human spirit in their factual context, thus going beyond philosophy. Now, it is easy to detect a parallel in Uno’s idea that “economics must be studied at three different levels of abstraction”. The theory of the purely capitalist society, or Uno’s genriron, corresponds to Hegel’s logic; the stages-theory of capitalist development, or his dankaïron, corresponds to Hegel’s philosophies of nature and the finite spirit. What might correspond to Uno’s economic history of capitalisms (genjô-bunseki) will be Hegel’s non-philosophical (i.e., factual) studies of nature and human spirit.
Hegel’s logic, which is said to “coincide with metaphysics”, is composed of pure thoughts, where “pure” means without any sensuous connotation. For instance, the thought of “dogs in general”, rather than of this or that dog, is not yet “pure” because it retains a considerable measure of sensuous connotations, so that the dog-lover and the dog-hater would not share the same thought of dogs. In the thought of “quadrupeds” or “animals”, however, the sensuous connotation is considerably attenuated, though not entirely eliminated. If one proceeds further to the thought of “life or mortality”, it no longer retains a sensuous association to speak of. In this way, as thought progresses from the empirically-concrete to the abstract-general, it becomes increasingly “pure” in the sense of freeing itself from sensuous connotation or association. As the thought becomes “pure” in this sense, it enters the metaphysical world. That is why “logic coincided with metaphysics” in the mind of Hegel. Now this parallels exactly with Uno’s contention that the economic theory of capitalism synthesizes itself automatically (in a dialectical fashion), only when use-values are completely “nominalized”, in the sense that this use-value and that use-value are different only in name, and not in substance. Yet, that also means that pure capitalism which can be logically reconstructed can no longer exist in history, while real capitalism that we know exists only in historical time. In order, therefore, to relate or bridge the theory (thing-in-itself) and reality (phenomenal) of capitalism, we need something like the philosophies of nature and of finite spirit in Hegel’s case, which constitute the crucially important part of his philosophical system. In Uno’s case, it is in the stages-theory of capitalist development, where use-values are introduced as types that mediate between theory and reality. A stage of capitalist development is distinguished from one another as mercantilist, liberal and imperialist in terms of such typical use-values as wool, cotton and steel goods. This mid-range theory is crucial in relating the theory of capitalism (the software) with the history of capitalisms (the hardware) in just the same way as the philosophies of nature and of finite spirit in Hegel’s system are crucial in mediating his logic with the pursuit of factual knowledge.
The purpose of the mid-range philosophies in Hegel’s case is to show how pure Reason eventually prevails even though it may be impeded by the deformities of nature and the aberrancies of the human spirit. In just the same way, Uno also explains how the laws of capitalism assert themselves, even though in each stage of development the typical use-values create stage-specific problems that the mercantilist, liberal and imperialist bourgeois state must face in order to ensure and promote the accumulation of the dominant form of capital in each case. Indeed, Uno has shown, in his Keizai-seisakuron (the book on the Types of Economic Policies under Capitalism), that the bourgeois state, by means of trial and error, eventually adopted and enforced the policies that were the most appropriate for enhancing or furthering the accumulation of the dominant form of capital in that stage of capitalist development, rather than the ones that were eagerly proposed by the diverse interest groups to serve their private ends. This means that whatever might have been the ideological aspirations that motivated various policy proposals, the working of the laws of capitalism that prevailed over them were securely preserved. Thus, under capitalism, its objective laws eventually overrule the subjective ideologies. It is because of this ability of capitalist society to broadly control its economy by the mercantile principle of capital undisturbed by the elements of arbitrary ideologies that enables us to see how, in order to exist at all, any society must first satisfy the general norms of economic life. For example, no society can survive without being able to reproduce its labour-power. Productive resources must be allocated near-optimally to all spheres of economic activity according to the desired pattern of social demand in order not to waste them. The rate of growth of the sector that produces the means of production dictates the rate of growth in the sector that produces the articles of consumption. These are only a few examples, but they are enough to illustrate how capitalism holds the mirror up to all human societies, in the same way as “the anatomy of humans guides that of the ape”. Non-capitalist society too has an economic life, but it can be comprehended only in the light of that in capitalist society. The same idea can be extended to some extent to law, politics, and other branches of social science. For only in the light of how the economy, law, politics and other aspects of social life performed in capitalist society can we see their significance in other societies.
It may not be easy to accept this claim immediately, especially because it has been outlined here only in broad outlines. Yet, even then, if one compares it with other claims such, for instance, as Max Weber’s doctrine of Idealtypen, with no hint at all on the question of the truth and objectivity of knowledge in social science, one can at the least see how much richer and more promising Uno’s approach in fact is. In the second part of this introduction, I intend to dwell more in depth on the present state of bourgeois and Marxist economics. It will then become apparent how misleading and fruitless the ideologically unconscionable approach to social science is, where the word “unconscionable” in this context means wholly lacking any linkage with the only objective referent available in social science, which is the dialectical theory of capitalism. Purely ideological arguments are no more than empty and self-serving talks based on individual value judgments. Since any argument on “society” has a natural tendency to be “ideological”, one should make all the more certain how it might in the final analysis connect (or be linked) with “capitalism”, the only objective core in social science.