[OPE-L:1676] Definitions and subject matter

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Wed, 3 Apr 1996 18:37:24 -0800

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In our discussions, a number of questions seem to be suggested:

(1) Simple commodity production

Some seem to believe that the category of simple commodity production
describes an actual stage in pre-capitalist development that is analyzed
with Marx's "logical-historical" method. I believe instead that it is a
logical construction in Marx's argument and is not intended to be a
description of an actual mode of production prior to the advent of
capitalism or a kind of pre-capitalism. The first interpretation, I
believe, goes back to Engels and was popularized by Kautsky and others.

(2) national vs. international

Many Marxists have _de facto_ or explicitly argued that the categories in
_Capital_ can be used to analyze national economic developments, i.e.
they view the subject matter of _Capital_ as an *individual* economy
rather than capital as a world system without distinction regarding
individual capitalist nations. It is true that Marx *alludes* to foreign
trade and differences in national economies in different parts of
_Capital_. I don't believe, though, that he intended to systematically
develop our understanding of that subject within the work. Here too
Marxists historically have been divided regarding this interpretation.
Most of the German Social Democrats (excluding Luxemburg, for instance)
and most of the Bolsheviks (particularly Lenin) seemed to view _Capital_
as a work which could be applied to the understanding of differences
among individual economies.

(3) historical sections

There are clearly many historical sections of _Capital_. What is their
significance analytically? My belief is that those sections are not
*required* analytically and that the form of presentation could have been
altered to not include these "digressions." So why were they included?
Two likely answers would be the following: a) Marx wanted to show that
his theory mirrored actual historical developments, i.e. that his analysis
was rooted in social reality and was not an idealistic construction; b)
for political reasons, Marx wanted to include historical sections. On that
last point, clearly Marx intended _Capital_ to be a popular work which
would be widely-read. The historical sections, it seems, had particular
relevance politically (e.g. struggles over the length of the working day;
original accumulation). While, for instance, the discussion on original
accumulation could be dispensed with logically, it nonetheless represents
a potent indictment of capitalism and a direct challenge to the
"apologists" of capitalism. Note, for instance, that it is advanced after
Ch. 25, which could be seen partially as a critique of Malthusianism -- a
subject that had important relevance in Marx's time.

My sense is that many of the above issues regarding interpretation divide
us. To what extent do others agree or disagree?

In OPE-L Solidarity,