[OPE-L:2795] CONCEPTION DAY: Part 2: Proposal for outline on p.e.

glevy@pratt.ed (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 01:28:23 -0700 (PDT)

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I left my apartment headed for the "Strand Bookstore" (a used bookstore
located a short walk away). As I was walking, I thought about the comments
I made in my previous post on "Value and wages" and decided - with great
excitement and anticipation - to write the following post. Less than 50
minutes after I sent the "Value and wages" post, I hurredly sent off the
post that set in motion the events that ultimately brought you to this


Date: Sun, 6 Aug 1995 12:41:20 -0400 (EDT)
From: glevy@acnet
To: marxism@jefferson.village.virginia.edu
Cc: marxism@jefferson.village.virginia.edu
Subject: Proposal for outline on p.e.

For as long as I have been a Marxist (over 25 years, but I'm only 41), I
have heard Marxists repeat over and over again how Marx's analysis of
capitalism was incomplete and how we need to further the work on
political economy that Marx began. Yet, in my view, Marxist economists
spend far more time defending Marx from attack, then advancing his analysis.

Putting aside the question why this has been the case for the moment, let
us ask: what would be the *first step* towards advancing Marxist economic

Let me suggest the following:

Let's start with what Marx wrote about his original plan for _Capital_
(which is discussed in Rosdolsky's _The Making of Marx's 'Capital'_), and
see whether we can develop an *outline* that attempts to trace logically
the topics that remain to be studied in greater depth and their sequence
(say beginning with Book 3, Part IV).

I don't think that we will be able to come to an agreement about a single
such outline (given our different understandings of value and method),
but why can't we attempt to form such an outline even if it means that we
might generate a number of separate outlines?

Perhaps this task could be undertaken as a sub-project by different
groups of like-minded people. Whether sub-groups attempt to initiate
the generation of such an outline or whether it should be a list
activity, I think there are *many* list members who would view such a
project as a worthwhile endeavor.

Perhaps, the above procedure is too simple. Yet, in my view, it is better
than letting the current state of inertia continue. If anyone likes my
idea and would like to discuss more concretely how we could initiate this
task, please send a message to me directly. I will then see if we can
jointly develop a workable plan for how to proceed.



A couple of points are worth stressing at this time:

(1) In the months beforehand, a number of people on the marxism list had
the experience of communicating with each other in a positive manner. This
group included Rakesh, Paul C, John, Steve K, Paul Z, and myself.
[Alan also participated in a thread earlier in the summer, but was
unavailable at the time the above post was written]. Although we discussed
many topics, I believe the threads on "productive and unproductive labor"
and "value and exchange value" were key since we discovered in the course
of discussion that not only could we have a positive, meaningful, and
respectful dialogue ... but also that we could admit errors in formulation
and theory and learn from each other. All of the above were also on PEN-L
and we also had the experience of communicating with Michael P (who was
mostly a "lurker" on the marxism list), Jim Devine, and Gil (and others
like Andrew and Riccardo who, like Alan, were on vacation at the time).
These developments had two important consequences in terms of my decision
to write the above post. Firstly, it lead me to believe that my "proposal"
would be taken seriously by the group. Secondly, it lead me to believe
that it was possible for us to work together in good faith on a
collaborative project. Without that fellowship I don't think I would have
had the nerve to make this proposal.

(2) As I have suggested, the above proposal was written on the spur of
the moment and spontaneously. It was spontaneous in the sense that until
8/6 I had not thought of this idea and _did not discuss the idea with
anyone before posting_. As the time sequence shows, I also wrote the post
in a great hurry (this is also evidenced by the awkward sentence
constructions in the post). In other words, I sent out that post on a wish
and a prayer and had _no_ idea whether anyone would support the proposal!
Amazing, isn't it? The next day, in a message to volunteers, I admitted
that I:

"perhaps too boldly and quickly, wrote the proposal post to
'marxism.' As incredible as it seems, this [the fact that the
thought only occurred to me as I was writing the 'Value and wages'
post, JL] is the case. At first blush my idea sounds a little like
one of those old 'B' movies with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney -
'Let's put on a play and ....' Yet, the more I think of it, the
more I realize that it is possible."

I should add here a few words of clarification about the proposal:

(a) Some were to later ask me: why mention Rosdolsky? Answer: I did not
suggest that we take Rosdolsky as the starting point, only that we take
the description of Marx's plans - in Marx's words - as a starting point,
i.e. that we examine Marx's plans *critically*, discuss what topics need
to be addressed relating to understanding capitalism (rather than
_Capital_) from *our* perspective, and then see whether we could develop
an outline that attempts to place each of these topics in a logical

(b) Another frequently asked question (FAQ) was: why start with Book III,
Part IV? Answer (from 8/7):

"As for the specific starting point in _Capital_, I have no strong
feelings. My selection of Book III, Part IV was entirely arbitrary.
If there was a reasoning behind that suggestion it would be the
following: *if* we can say that there are no major flaws before
Part IV of _Capital_, then we pick as our starting point where
Marx's analysis needs to be completely reformulated. We could begin
after Part IV, if we believe that the essentials of that section
are correct, or, we could begin before Part IV if we feel that the
presentation needs to be modified at a previous level of
abstraction. (Note that I am *not* saying that Part IV is
fundamentally flawed)."

(c) A third FAQ was: what do you mean by an "outline"? This was a question
that took some time and effort to answer. Essentially, I was referring to
a logical "shell" in an outline format in which different topics related
to understanding capitalism could be placed. I will gladly expand upon
this if others are interested.

After I sent my proposal, I wondered: Did I make a mistake? Will anyone
support the proposal? I was beginning to get nervous and I waited to see
who - if anyone - would respond.

Check out the next post in this series to see what happened next.

In OPE-L Solidarity,