[OPE-L:3282] Re: Two prefaces

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Mon May 22 2000 - 10:03:56 EDT

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On Fri, 12 May 2000 Asfilho@aol.com wrote:

> Dear all,
> I hope this is not a trivial question.
> We have all surely read the preface to Marx's 'Contribution' (1859) many
> times. We have also read many times the preface to the 'Grundrisse'. In the
> Contribution, Marx argues that he is leaving out a (long) preface which he
> had already written - presumably the Grundrisse's? This seems to imply that
> the content of the (omitted) preface still holds good in his own mind.
> Yet, prima facie these two prefaces could hardly be more different.
> My question is, what is the relationship between them, ie, is it possible to
> integrate the 'mechanistic' succession of modes of production in CCPE with
> the 'Hegelian' analysis in the Grundrisee?
> alfredo.

This is a belated response to Alfredo's interesting question a week ago
about the contrast between Marx's Preface to the Contribution and the
Introduction to the Grundrisse.

I think the explanation for the contrast between these two introductions
is that they are about two entirely different subjects, not that Marx
changed his mind in any significant way (Alfredo, is the latter what you
were wondering about?).

1. The Introduction to the Grundrisse is about the logical method in used
by Marx in his theory of the capitalist mode of production. The two main
aspects discussed by Marx in the Introduction are:

a. the appropriate STARTING-POINT for a theory of capitalism (the most
abstract element of the totality of the capitalist mode of
production). Since Marx was starting to write down his theory, it is not
surprising that he would begin with this question of the appropriate

b. the ORDER or sequence of the categories in his theory (a logical
order, not an historical order). Nicky has quoted for us one very clear
passage from this Introduction on this subject: the order of the
categories is determined by "their relation to one another in modern
bourgeois society."

This introduction is obviously very relevant to our recent OPEL discussion
on Marx's starting-point and whether or not Marx's theory is about
capitalist production from the very beginning. I think it provides strong
evidence of the "commodity-in-capitalism" interpretation of Chapter 1.

2. On the other hand, the Preface to the Contribution is not about the
logical method of Marx's economic theory at all. Rather, it is about
Marx's "course of his study" over the last 15 years (prior to 1859),
apparently in order to demonstrate that no matter how little his ideas
conform to the "interested prejudices of the ruling classes," they are
nonetheless the result of many years of hard scholarly work. The
highlight of this review is Marx's brief sketch of his theory of society
(economic base / superstructure) and his theory of history, and especially
his theory of revolutions and historical change. I don't think the
"mechanistic succession" of modes of production is very important. Rather
the main point is that revolutions happen during times of economic and
social crisis. But none of this has anything to do with the logical
method for his ECONOMIC theory.

I think it is too bad that Marx omitted the Introduction to the
Grundrisse. It was obviously more relevant to the Contribution (the
starting-point of Marx's theory) than the review of his studies. Marx
said he omitted the introduction because "on further consideration it
seems to me confusing to anticipate results which still have to be
substantiated." But I think it would have been more helpful to explain in
advance what logical method he intended to use to construct his
theory. No doubt Marx thought that few would understand what he was
trying to say anyway. But it sure would have been more helpful to Marxist
scholars ever since. Maybe there would have been less misunderstanding
about Marx's starting-point.

On the other hand, as we have discussed recently, in the Preface to Volume
1 of Capital, Marx did discuss briefly the starting-point of his theory
("the economic cell-form of modern bourgeois society"). And also in the
first sentence of Chapter 1 and many other places, so perhaps there should
not have been so much misunderstanding.

Paul, a question about Althusser: did Althusser ever discuss this
Introduction to the Grundrisse? Did he ever argue that Marx rejected the
aspects of his logical method as outlined here (which seem very Hegelian,
as Alfredo said)? Was this supposed to be part of Marx's "epistemological
break"? If not, then what was the "epistemological break" about with
respect to Marx's ECONOMIC theory? Or was it instead mostly about his
theory of society or history (as discussed in the Preface to the

I would of course welcome any and all comments, criticisms, etc. on these


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