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Re: [xmca] "Rising to the concrete"

I've written a brief piece in my PhD on this very topic. As I see it, there is a movement of (1) intuition or pre-concept of the phenomenon as a whole; (2) "downward" abstraction to find the concept/cell-form/unit of analysis; (3) "upward" concretization to reconstruct the movement of the phenomenon in thought from the seed of the cell-form. This last phase is the "rise to the concrete" (whereby concrete in Hegel's terminology is the multi-determinateness of a phenomenon) 



In the Afterword to the Second Edition of the first volume of Capital, Marx distinguished between the mode of presentation or exposition and that of inquiry or investigation: 

Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development and to track down their inner connection. Only after this work has been done can the real movement be appropriately presented. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is now reflected back in the ideas, then it may appear as if we had before us an A PRIORI construction.[1] 

When Marx wrote Capital, he aimed to apprehend in thought the ensemble of capitalist relations that historically emerged in his time. Capital /was/ Marx?s mode of presentation: a logical sequence of conceptual categories and their negations.[2] This exposition was the outcome of an extended process of investigation ? a /longue durée/ of contemplation of the concepts of political economy. This inquiry led him to start his exposition not from the complex capital relation, but from the most simple political-economic concept: the commodity relation:[3] Similar to Goethe?s /Urphänomen/, and Hegel?s Concept, Marx argued that a social formation or ensemble of relations could be best understood through a conceptual development of its CELL-FORM. For the /Philosophy of Right/, the concept of private property had been the cell-form, for /Capital/, this became the commodity relation:[4] ?The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ?immense collection of commodities?; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form. Our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of the commodity.?[5]  

 Marx had already elaborated upon his method in the /Grundrisse/. Firstly, the social scientist starts from ??a chaotic conception of the whole??[6], i.e. the direct appearance of the subject matter, which is already concrete in social reality but still abstract in thought. Marx gave the example of the ?population?, which: ??appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation and conception.?[7]  Subsequently, the object should be studied in detail; the phenomenon is disassembled ??by means of further determination, [moving] analytically towards ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until [arriving] at the simplest determinations??[8]. The phase of investigation entails the process of gathering empirical data and of abstraction (generalization). The end point of the ?descending movement? of abstraction was the cell-form of a phenomenon.[9]  

 Once the cell-form had been established, the ascending movement began, in which the subject matter was conceptually ?reconstructed?, moving from the abstract to the concrete: ?From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations.?[10] The ?ascending movement? ends in a conception of the /Gestalt/, the ?totality?, or ?multi-determinateness? of a phenomenon.[11] Whereas the mode of enquiry produces the cell-form of a phenomenon, the mode of presentation rebuilds a concrete understanding of the phenomenon from the Concept. Again, the conceptual development of the concrete social formation out of the cell-form did not (necessarily)[12] reflect a historical movement. Instead, the more complex forms such as money, labor, rent, capital, production, distribution, et cetera, were developed /logically/ from the simple commodity relation ? evidently supported by the historical data that Marx?s economic investigations had produced: ?We perceive straight away the insufficiency of the simple form of value: IT IS AN EMBRYONIC FORM WHICH MUST UNDERGO A SERIES OF METAMORPHOSES BEFORE IT CAN RIPEN INTO the price-form.?[13] Through the exposition of the /Bildung/ or conceptual development of the commodity relation, i.e. the process of commodification, the originally amorphous appearance of bourgeois society was rendered concrete as the capitalist social formation.  


[1] Marx 1990: 192. Emphasis in original.   

[2] Levine 2006: 48.   

[3] Bakhurst 2007: 58.   

[4] Blunden 2010: 66; 108-12.   

[5] Marx 1990: 125.   

[6] Marx 1973: 101.   

[7] Ibid.   

[8] Ibid.   

[9] Levine 2006: 45.   

[10] Marx 1973: 101.   

[11] Levine 2006: 45.   

[12] However, in the /Grundrisse/, Marx noted that: /??the simple categories are the expressions of relations within which the less developed concrete may have already realized itself before having posited the more many-sided connection or relation which is mentally expressed in the more concrete category; while the more developed concrete preserves the same category as a subordinate relation. Money may exist, and did exist historically, before capital existed, before banks existed, before wage labour existed, etc. Thus in this respect it may be said that the simpler category can express the dominant relations of a less developed whole, or else those subordinate relations of a more developed whole which already had a historic existence before this whole developed in the direction expressed by a more concrete category. TO THAT EXTENT THE PATH OF ABSTRACT THOUGHT, RISING FROM THE SIMPLE TO THE COMBINED, WOULD CORRESPOND TO THE REAL HISTORICAL PROCESS.?/ (Marx 1973: 101-2. My emphasis.)   

[13] Marx 1990: 154. My emphasis.   

Brecht De Smet
Doctoral researcher / PhD candidate
MENARG (Middle East and North Africa Research Group) 
CTWS (Centre for Third World Studies)
Department of Social & Political Sciences
Ghent University
Universiteitsstraat 8 / 9000 Gent / Belgium
Tel: 003292649741
Mobile: 0032496784370

Quoting "Huw Lloyd" <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>:

> On 15 August 2012 05:05, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>> Greg,
>> Lenin's rising from the empirical to the universal is actually the
>> /opposite /of rising from the abstract to the concrete.
> I don't agree with this, although I haven't read Lenin.  The quote seems
> fairly self contained though.
>> This does not mean that Lenin was wrong or anything, because you will see
>> in the excerpt from the Grundrisse that I sent that Marx is pointing to a/
>> 2-phase/ movement: from the concrete of immediate perception to the
>> abstract universal, and then, by reconstructing the process in thought,
>> rising back from the abstract universal to the real concrete. Marx explains
>> this in more readable terms than you find in either Lenin's gloss of
>> Hegel's Logic or in the Logic itself.
> I think your "abstract universal" is misplaced here, it is simply abstract
> which is the same thing as an empirical observation, i.e. a measurement
> which is an abstraction of the thing being measured.
> Huw
>> Also, when you read that excerpt of the Grundrisse, don't stop at the
>> explanation of the two processes, read to the  end of the section, because
>> there is a fine rendering by Marx of his critique of Hegel there and a
>> foundation for activity theory.
>> Andy
>> Greg Thompson wrote:
>>> Still in between boxes but came across this quote from Lenin today:
>>> 'In order to understand it is necessary empirically to begin
>>> understanding,
>>> study, to rise, from empiricism to the universal. In order to learn to
>>> swim
>>> it is necessary to get into the
>>> water<http://www.marxists.org/**archive/lenin/works/1914/cons-**
>>> logic/ch03.htm#LCW38_205<http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/cons-logic/ch03.htm#LCW38_205>
>>> >
>>> '.
>>> (found at:
>>> http://www.marxists.org/**archive/pilling/works/capital/**pilling3.htm<http://www.marxists.org/archive/pilling/works/capital/pilling3.htm>
>>> )
>>> and it reminded me of one of mike's favorite statements "rising to the
>>> concrete." Yet Mike's phrase appears quite different. So Mike, if you're
>>> out there, does your "rising to the concrete" bear any significant
>>> relation
>>> to Lenin's rising to the universal? They seem like very different
>>> concepts,
>>> no?
>>> -greg
>> --
>> ------------------------------**------------------------------**
>> ------------
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>> Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts
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