Re: [OPE-L] on the political economy of the working class

From: Michael Heinrich (m.heinrich@PROKLA.DE)
Date: Thu Apr 14 2005 - 21:15:54 EDT

michael a. lebowitz schrieb:

> Rather than dismissing the Inaugural Address as 'a propaganda text', I
> think that if you are going to talk about these matters, you should
> demonstrate your point that Capital is a critique of all political
> economy and not of simply the political economy of capital. Since I've
> written what I consider not to be a propaganda text (though, of course,
> we need such texts)--- one that finds imminent in Capital  an argument
> which supports the distinction Marx (the propagandist) made in the
> Inaugural Address between the political economy of capital and the
> political economy of the working class, perhaps you should look at that
> work before presenting your results.
>         michael

Again, I don't want to "dismiss" the Inaugural Address, but a carefull
reading has to recognize the character of a text. A text like the
Inaugural Address, which wants to intervene in a special situation has
to take into account not only the special audience it wants to reach, it
also has to integrate different political tendencies, which build a
coalition and all this must be done with very limited space (eleven
pages in the case of the Address), I suppose everyone, who takes part in
political movements knows such problems. It is rather obvious, that such
a text has a different status than a scientific text like the three
volumes of "Capital".
The simplifications of the Inaugural Address become clear even with one
of the "victories" of the "political economy of the working class": the
Ten Hours Bill is not only a victory of the political economy of the
working class it is also a victory of the political economy of capital.
Without this and similar bills capital would loose the human material of
exploitation. This becomes clear in "Capital", but not in the "Inaugural
I doubt, that one can take the "Inaugural Address" as a key for
understanding "Capital", especially when that, what shall be the
important notion "political economy of the working class" is not used in
  "Capital" (may be I am wrong, but I cannot remember that Marx used
this phrase in "Capital", can you?). Even when Marx tried to
characterize the specifity of his own approach, he didn't speak about a
"political economy of the working class". See for example the Postface
to the Second Edition: there Marx confronts political economy (in a
scientific  and in a vulgar shape) with its "critique".
Of course you can find in "Capital" a lot of issues you can gather under
the titel "political economy of the working class" but I doubt, that
with this you can catch the specifity of Marx's approach. Such a
"political economy of the working class" you can also find in the
writings of the left Ricardians. But what is the difference between
"Capital" and the left Ricardians? I think the critique, not of
theories, but of the fundamental categories of political economy.

Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM schrieb:
 > What is needed, amongst much else, is to *keep the subject matter in
 > focus*.  The subject, which we attempt to reconstruct in thought, is
 > not economics _or_ the critique thereof _or_ Marx.  The subject, the
 > same subject that Marx attempted to systematically grasp, is
 > *capitalism*.
 > I may be mistaken but it seems to me as if  the project of almost
 > every contemporary Marxist who emphasizes 'critique of political
 > economy' is basically  interpreting Marx.  I would agree that this is
 > a worthwhile field of inquiry, but our focus must be on understanding
 > capitalism, imho.
 > Of course,  I recognize that a grasp of Marx's perspective, i.e. a
 > critique *of* Marx's understanding of capitalism, can aid in the
 > formulation of
 > our own perspectives on capitalism.  But, I think that a good way of
 > measuring the vitality of different research projects is by examining
 > the breadth of the questions that they ask and where they lead.  One
 > can see above what some of Simon's questions are and in what direction
 > they point in terms of further research.  Suppose -- for the sake of
 > argument -- that we all agreed to abandon the expressions "Marxist
 > Political Economy" and "Marxist Economics", then what?  Where would
 > that get us?  What research questions -- especially what questions
 > beyond just interpreting Marx -- would that lead us into asking?

May be there are some Marxists, who only "interpret" Marx. But this
cannot be a reason to construct such a difference like interpreting Marx
or analysing capitalism. When someone analyses capitalism with Marx's
notions than at the same time he or she always interprets Marx. May be
this isn't done explicitly, but this only means that this someone takes
his or her interpretation for granted.
Different research questions don't follow, if we abandon an expression
like "Marxist Political Economy" or not. It is not a question of
expressions, but of the content, which is expressed.
Let us take a basic category like value. If we only consider the first
pages of "Capital" finding that only "socially necessary labour" is
produdicing value, than we only reach a point, where Marx is giving a
more precise shape to what was already articulated by Adam Smith. The
"critical" content of this category we can find in the distinction
between abstract and concrete labour and especially in value-form
analysis. The last issue, which was neglected, I think, in the biggest
part of marxist tradition at least until the 1970ies leads to a
different understanding of the relation between value and money: Marxian
  value theory as a critique of pre-monetary value theory (approaches,
which presuppose that one can conceive value without money, what was the
perspective of Smith and Ricardo, the Marginalists and also a big part
of  the Marxist tradition). Further we can find a different relation
between capital and credit (credit not as kind of something, which is
add to capital), which also has consequences for the theory of crises.
(All these points I tried to show in my book "Die Wissenschaft vom
Wert", which appeared in 1991, a second enlarged edition in 1999).


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