[OPE-L:3036] Marx's starting point

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Sun May 07 2000 - 21:27:24 EDT

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On Sat, 6 May 2000, Steve Keen wrote:

> As somewhat of a lurker on the list, I wasn't following the debate closely
> enough to identify the motivation behind Paul M's claims. Of course, that
> puts my "answers" to the questions you posed in a completely different
> light, since I believe that Marx began with the commodity because that is
> what his dialectical insights of 1857 indicated to him was the essential
> feature of capitalism--and not because this is how classical economists
> normally started their analysis of capitalism.

Steve, I am very glad that you agree with the interpretation that Marx's
commodity in Chapter 1 is a product of capitalist production.

I agree with your comment in (3022) that one of Marx's important
discoveries while writing the Grundrisse was that the commodity should be
the starting point of his theory of capitalist production (although I
would not say it was "THE major discovery" of the Grundrisse; other
important discoveries of the Grundrisse were his theory of surplus-value
and the related distinction between constant capital and variable

The passage you quote from the end of the Grundrisse articulating this
discovery of the starting point of his theory is very important, and
widely overlooked. It makes clear once again that the commodity with
which Marx begins is the product of capitalist production:

        "The FIRST CATEGORY in which BOURGEOIS WEALTH presents itself is
        the COMMODITY." (G. 881)

A year later, Marx began his *Critique of Political Economy* with almost
exactly the sentence:

        "The wealth of BOURGEOIS society, at first sight, presents itself
        as an immense collection of commodities, its unit being a single

And of course, 8 years later, Marx began Capital with essentially the same

        "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

Plus, in the Preface to Volume 1, Marx made the following important
comment on the starting point of his theory:

        "BEGINNINGS are always important in all sciences. The
        understanding of the first chapter, especially the section that
        contains the analysis of commodities, will therefore present the
        greatest difficulties... (I)n the analysis of economic forms neither
        microscopes nor chemical reagents are of assistance. The power of
        ABSTRACTION must replace both. But for BOURGEOIS society, the
        COMMODITY-FORM of the product of labor, or the value-form of the
        commodity is the economic CELL-FORM."

Ajit and David, how do you interpret these passages? Isn't Marx saying
that the commodity with which he begins is the "elementary form" or the
"economic cell-form" of bourgeois society or the capitalist mode of

By the way, Steve, I also agree with your comment that "exegetical work on
Marx is both feasible, desirable, and to date, done extremely poorly by
Marxists." But I think it is getting better.

Thanks for your interesting comments.


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