[OPE-L:3062] Re: Marx's starting point

From: Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Date: Tue May 09 2000 - 07:54:07 EDT

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Fred B. Moseley wrote:

> 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
> capital).
> 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
> commodity."
> And of course, 8 years later, Marx began Capital with essentially the same
> sentence:
> "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."
> 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
> production?
> 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.


Fred, do you know that Steve believes that Marx's value theory has
to do with the
use-value aspect of the commodity, and that labor theory of value
is all phony
baloney? So look where it can take you with beginning CAPITAL with
commodity. I'm
generally opposed to the practice of quoting from *Grundrisse* or
even *A
Contribution to the Critique* in interpreting *Capital*. I think
during 1861-63,
Marx's thinking about the problem went through a subtle but
change--this could have been because of a close reading of
Ricardo, which Marx
did during this period. A lot of problem which we face now in
*Capital* appears to be due to Marx's attempt to maintain a
continuity with his
earlier book, *A Contribution*. The first part of *Capital* vol.1
is largely an
abridged version of *A Contribution*. The new book *Capital*
actually begins from
part 2.

As far as your first three quotations are concerned. I think they
are just not
important. In all those quotations 'commodity' is defined as
elementary unit or
form of "bourgeois wealth". But nowhere in *Capital* we are told,
nor I think you
hold the opinion, that the subject matter of *Capital* is
"bourgeois wealth". Do
you think that the subject matter of *Capital* is an analysis of
"wealth"? If
not, then what do these quotations tell you? For the last
quotation, I think you
will find Althusser's lengthy commentary interesting. I think the
problem of
beginning has two aspects. One is the beginning of the
"thing-itself", i.e. the
question of origin. I think the question of origin is essentially
a religious
question. The other aspect of the beginning is the problem of
presentation and
beginning of an investigation. I think the kind of problem of
beginning Marx is
struggling with is the problem of presentation. Now, it is obvious
that Marx must
have thought that to begin with commodity makes sense, since
that's how the book
begins. Thus any quotation in favor of such a presentation from
Marx will not
solve any problem for people who think that there is some problem
with such a
beginning. Cheers, ajit sinha

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