This will not be a post about a specific chapter or even about Capital itself. Instead I want to contribute a few passages from Althusser's Reading Capital that might help or at least provoke the ongoing discussion about history in Marx that Max has mentioned in his posts.
Is Marx an empiricist, how can he access history, how does see the relationship between the present and past, how does he envision the passage of time and movements through it?
I recently finished the first of Althusser's essays, entitled "From Capital to Marx's Philosophy." Although I have heard/read that Althusser will say more about this in other essays - he seems very concerned with history in his philosophy - I can only provide a few passages from this latest one. The following do not seem unrelated to what Max has written about:
And while we are here, let us be clear: Marxism cannot for one moment discover or rediscover itself along the path of this empiricism, whether it claims to be materialist or sublimates itself in an idealism of the ante-predicative, of the 'original ground' or of 'praxis' -- in this idealism and in the concepts it has manufactured to play the star roles in its theatre. The concepts of origin, 'original ground', genesis and mediation should be regarded as suspect a priori : not only because they always more or less induce the ideology which has produced them, but because, produced solely for the use of this ideology, they are its nomads, always more or less carrying it with them. It is no accident that Sartre, and all those with none of his ability who feel a need to fill in the emptiness between 'abstract ' categories and the 'concrete ', abuse the terms origin, genesis and mediations so much. The function of the concept of origin, as in original sin, is to summarize in one word what has not to be thought in order to be able to think what one wants to think. The concept of genesis is charged with taking charge of, and masking, a production or mutation whose recognition would threaten the vital continuity of the empiricist schema of history. The concept of mediation is invested with one last role: the magical provision of post-stations in the empty space between theoretical principles and the 'concrete', as bricklayers make a chain to pass bricks. In every case, the functions are those of masks and theoretical impostures -- functions which may witness both to a real embarrassment and a real good will, and to the desire not to lose theoretical control over events, but even in the best of cases, these functions are more or less dangerous theoretical fictions. Applied to our question, these concepts ensure us a cheap solution on every occasion: they make a chain between an original knowledge effect and current knowledge effects -- giving us the mere posing, or rather non-posing of the problem as its solution. (63)Eat up.
When Marx studied modern bourgeois society, he adopted a paradoxical attitude. He first conceived that existing society as a historical result, i.e., as a result produced by a history. Naturally, this seems to commit us to a Hegelian conception in which the result is conceived as a result inseparable from its genesis, to the point where it is necessary to conceive it as 'the result of its becoming'. In fact, at the same time Marx takes a quite different direction! 'It is not a matter of the connexion established historically between the economic relations in the succession of different forms of society. Still less of their order of succession "in the Idea " (Proudhon ) (a nebulous conception of historical movement ). But of their articulated combination (Gliederung) within modern bourgeois society ' (Grundrisse, p. 28). The same idea was already rigorously expressed in The Poverty of Philosophy : 'How, indeed, could the single logical formula of movement, of sequence, of time, explain the body of society, in which all relations coexist simultaneously (gleichzeitig) and support one another ' (The Poverty of Philosophy, New York, 1963, pp. 110-11). The object of Marx's study is therefore contemporary bourgeois society, which is thought as a historical result : but the understanding of this society, far from being obtained from the theory of the genesis of this result, is, on the contrary, obtained exclusively from the theory of the 'body ', i.e., of the contemporary structure of society, without its genesis intervening in any way whatsoever. This attitude may be paradoxical, but Marx insists on it in categorical terms as the absolute condition of possibility of his theory of history; it reveals the existence of two problems, distinct in their disjoint unity. There is a theoretical problem which must be posed and resolved in order to explain the mechanism by which history has produced as its result the contemporary capitalist mode of production. But at the same time there is another absolutely distinct problem which must be posed and resolved, in order to understand that this result is indeed a social mode of production, that this result is precisely a form of social existence and not just any form of existence: this second problem is the object of the theory in Capital -- and not for one moment is it ever confused with the first problem. (64 to 65)