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

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Fri Apr 15 2005 - 09:50:55 EDT

> 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.

Hello Michael H,

If it is a matter of content, then what is the content of "Marxist
Political Economy"?

As for what research questions will or will not follow from an
alternative designation, it's hard to say because I  don't remember you
suggesting an alternative to "Marxist Economics" and "Marxist
Political Economy".   As you recall,  Cde. Ranganayakamma began this
discussion by suggesting  that it was "necessary to call Marx's theory
of economics with a different name."   So, what is that name,

If the subject is _only_ "Critique of Political Economy" then we have
defined the subject  only _negatively_.   Are we merely "Critics of
Economics"?   If we accepted that designation, this  might lead one to a
critical  review of the existing literature,  but what else?

> 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).

Let us take a basic category like value.   In seeking to explain that
category, he does not begin with the way in which it is conceived by
political economy.  Rather, he begins his presentation in _Capital_:  "The
wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails
appears  as an 'immense accumulation of commodities'; the individual
commodity appears as its elementary form.  Our investigation therefore
begins with the analysis of the commodity."   Clearly, then, the subject
matter is capitalism (not merely critique of political economy) and the
starting  point is the commodity (rather than a particular conception -- an
idea -- of  political economy: this is an important point from his
materialist perspective, as he points out in _Marginal Notes on Wagner_).
This is not to say that critique of political  economy has no place in
Marx's project.  No indeed!  It has a major part!  But, it is not itself the

Marx very clearly states what the subject is:  "What I have to examine in
this work is the capitalist mode of production and the relations of
production and forms of intercourse [Verkehrsverhaltnisse] that correspond
to it" ("Preface to the First Edition" of Vol. 1, Penguin ed., p. 90).
Notice that there is no mention of critique of p.e. -- even though it is
clear from what else Marx wrote that critique of p.e. had a role in this

I sometimes wonder what some Marxists think Marx wanted to do in
_Capital_.  Clearly, he saw it -- as you say -- partially as a "scientific
work."    Clearly, he was not an "economist".    To be able to
systematically unfold the essential character of capitalism, though, he
had to critique existing thought on that subject.  Of course, I understand
that by critique Marx means something more than a simple critical
literature review.    But, his revolutionary project extended far _beyond_
critique of political economy.

Who do you think Marx was writing _Capital_ for, i.e. what was his
intended audience?   What percentage of workers of his time or ours
would recognize the names Adam Smith, David Ricardo, R. T.
Malthus, etc.?  Wasn't a knowledge of political economy limited to
a very small number of political economists and intellectuals?  What
would 'critique of political economy' _alone_ accomplish from a
revolutionary perspective?   On the other hand, if the *subject* of
analysis is capitalism, then an understanding of _that_ subject has
important revolutionary implications for the working class.

_That_ subject (capitalism) can not be fully comprehended via critique
of political economy.    How, for instance, can "the conclusion" be
grasped from a critique of political economy?  ("The world market,
the conclusion, in which production is posited as a totality together
with all its movements, but within which, at the same time, all
contradictions come into play.  The world market, then, again,
forms the presupposition of the whole as well as its substratum.  Crises
are then the general intimation which points beyond the presupposition,
and the urge which drives towards the adoption of a new historic
form" -- _Grundrisse_, Penguin ed., pp. 227-228).

In solidarity, Jerry

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