[OPE-L:2858] the starting point in classical theory and Marx

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Sun Apr 16 2000 - 09:32:28 EDT

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Former listmember Paul Mattick Jr wrote:

"The starting point of Marx's critique, accordingly, must be the category
that is most elementary with respect to capitalist society *as theorized
by classical theory*: the commodity ("Marx's Dialectic" in Fred Moseley
ed. _Marx's Method in Capital_, p. 124, *emphasis in original*).

This is consistent with an interpretation that focuses on *critique of
political economy* as Marx's primary purpose in _Capital_.It is also
consistent with Paul M's attempt to downplay the influence of Hegel on
Marx's method (thus he refers on at least two separate occasions to Marx's
use of "rhetoric" that comes from Hegel [p. 128 & p. 131]).

Thus, according to Paul M's interpretation, Marx started with the
commodity because that formed the starting point of classical theory.

But, did it? Let's take a look at some *evidence*:

* ADAM SMITH in _The Wealth of Nations_ began not with the commodity but
  with the *DIVISION OF LABOUR*. This is a starting point consistent with
  a perspective that sees the economy as natural and eternal.

* DAVID RICARDO in _The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation_
  began with *VALUE*. [Curiously, in a note at the end of his article,
  Paul M refers to the "Notes on Wagner" and includes quotes from that
  source where Marx wrote that "I do not start out from the 'concept of
  value'" but from "the simplest social form in which the labour-product
  is presented in capitalist society" (ibid, p. 132). Yet, note well, that
  Marx did NOT say that he starts with the commodity because it is the
  most elementary category as theorized by classical theory (Paul's
  claim). Rather, Marx asserts a *different* reason for why he started
  with the commodity than that claimed by Paul M.

* JAMES MILL in _Elements of Political Economy_ (3rd edition, revised and
  corrected) began with *PRODUCTION*.

* JOHN STUART MILL began _Principles of Political Economy_ with the


If then it is claimed that Marx began with the commodity because it forms
the simplest starting point of classical theory's attempt to understand
modern society (RATHER THAN what Marx tells us why he chose that starting
point), this not only contradicts what Marx wrote but also does not make
much sense in term of the evidence from classical theory in terms of the
starting points (note PLURAL) of those theories.

In solidarity, Jerry

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