[OPE-L:6527] Re: * poll: who has advanced political economy since Marx? *

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Thu Feb 07 2002 - 09:31:09 EST

In [6517] Steve K asks:

> (a) why is the non-neoclassical progress in the development of economic
> analysis still so scant?; and
> (b) why those who explicitly call themselves Marxists have not dominated
> what progress has occurred?

The lack of progress in the development of political economy by heterodox
economists can be attributable to a number of factors including (but not
limited to):

*  the hegemony of  marginalism in the profession: this has meant that
    graduate schools are in general unlikely and hostile breeding grounds
    for heterodox studies (this has tended to diminish the amount of
    people becoming heterodox economists and their prospects for
    getting jobs).  In addition, the resources (e.g. grants) available for
    research are often not  available for heterodox research projects.
    Moreover, if heterodox  economists do get jobs in the profession,
    they generally  work in isolation and have to fulfill job-related
    requirements for  re-appointment and promotion  which are often
    determined by the dominant school of thought (the neo-neo-classicals).

* Outside of academia, there are few job prospects that most radical
    economists feel comfortable with. E.g. who wants to work in the
    research departments of large corporations or pro-business 'think
    tanks'? And, even if they did, they would find little time to pursue
    their own studies and research in political economy.  The same is
    true for jobs in government agencies.  Trade unions hire some
    economists but only a small # and they have very little time also
    for research on more abstract questions in political economy.

* Of course, one can get a job not as an economist but as a factory
   or office worker. In that case,  there is so little time off from work
   that few workers would have time to conduct serious research in
   political economy (and after a long, hard day at work in the
   factory or the office most would not have the energy to conduct
   that research and study).  On the other hand,  members of the
   industrial  reserve army might have time to conduct such research
   (a classic dilemma for workers:  wages but no time off or time off
   but no  wages).

*  An explosion of interest in Marxist economics (and radical economics
   in general) is often a by-product of a  working-class and/or
   student radicalization.  Thus, many of those on this list were
   stimulated initially into activism and radical studies by the
   student radicalization of the late 60's and early 70's.  So long as
   that radicalization continued, it was possible for economics
   departments dominated by Marxians to exist (e.g. at  Amherst and
   the New School). With the decline of that radicalization the demand
   for courses in heterodox economics eventually diminished.

* The most interest in Marxian economics has often been generated
   in countries where there were mass working-class political parties.
   Thus, in Germany the pre-WWI SPD had "party schools"  where
   Marxist political economy was taught to young cadre who were
   selected by party leaders.  Rosa Luxemburg was a famous teacher
   at one of these schools; Karl Radek was a student.  Because they
   were mass political parties, they also had the resources for these

  I think, in general, that it is more possible to create an atmosphere
  where political economy can be advanced where there are a
  *group* of students or scholars working together (as was the case
  at the NSSR, Amherst, and the above mentioned party school).
  In some countries, most notably Germany in the 1970's, there is a
  tradition of small groups of like-minded radicals doing collaborative
  research and writing and this produced quite a number of  books +
  articles (e.g. in the defunct journal _Mehrwert_) during that period.
  In contrast,  working in isolation is a more difficult environment to
  create original work in political economy.  The Internet, however,
  to a great extent  now allows for scholarly exchanges and research
  by Marxian and heterodox economists and this is very much one of
  the purposes and benefits of OPE-L: the types of exchanges that we
  are having today would not have been possible 10 years ago.

* Of course, political parties and groupings which are revolutionary
   socialist continue to exist but in most countries today they are not
   mass parties and often are separated from working-class political
   struggles. In some of those organizations, though, studying _Capital_
   is encouraged and there might even be study groups of party
   members (a small group based in Detroit in the 1970's called the
   Revolutionary Marxist Committee did this and produced a bunch
   of people who were very knowledgeable about Marx and political
   economy as well as some interesting pamphlets on p.e.; of course
   other examples in other countries exist -- perhaps Paul B or David
   Y could comment on this?).  In other political parties, studying
   _Capital_ seriously was actively discouraged (it gets in the way of
   being a party activist, it was claimed!) and if members wanted to
   study p.e. seriously then they were on their own and isolated (in one
   case that I am familiar with, Bob Langston, an economist working in
   academia who belonged to the SWP [US], was very actively
   discouraged  by the SWP party leadership from expending any intellectual
   energy on research in  political economy -- this was the same Bob
   Langston  whom Ernest  Mandel and Alan F dedicated _Ricardo, Marx,
   Sraffa_ to --   an additional reason for discouragement was because he
   was  not a  member of the internal tendency/faction that was supported
   by the  SWP  leadership).  The sectarian and dogmatic nature of many
   Marxist sects  today is not likely to be the breeding ground for any real
   creative work in heterodox  political economy -- they often breed
   conformism and respect for authority (Marx, 'the classics' and party
   leaders)  more than critical thought and anti-authoritarianism.

So, in summary, there have been a number of material conditions which
have conspired to retard the advancement of heterodox and Marxian
political economy. NONETHELESS,  a very major reason imo for that lack
of progress is (as I suggested previously) that so few Marxians have even
attempted to extend our understanding of capitalism beyond Marx.

In solidarity, Jerry

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