[OPE-L:3822] Marx on the non-capitalist world

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 10:44:08 -0800 (PST)

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Since there are a lot of OPE-Lers who are not also members of PEN-L
(Progressive Economists Network, moderated by our own Michael P), I
thought you might be interested in this post./In solidarity, Jerry

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 1996 09:32:19 -0800 (PST)
From: "David N. Smith" <emerald@lark.cc.ukans.edu>
Subject: [PEN-L:7865] Marx on the non-capitalist world

Dear friends,

I'm writing to call your attention to a newly pending publication which
may be of some interest to list members. This is the English-language
edition of Marx's so-called "ethnological notebooks," which will appear
next year, or perhaps 1998, under the title *Patriarchy and Property.*
These notebooks -- systematic annotations of major ethnological works by
Morgan, Maine, Phear, and Lubbock -- formed the basis for Engels' famed
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, but go far beyond
Engels in terms of the richness of what they say about non-capitalist
cultures, both in premodern times and in the non-Western world of the
late nineteenth century.

I'll say more about the substance of this book in a moment, but first,
I'd like to ask list members who are interested in Marx's notebooks to
let me know. As editor, I'm in the midst of delicate negotiations with
the publisher over a variety of issues (the press run, total pages, the
font size, etc.) and it would help me greatly to be able to report that
there is lively interest among potential readers, reviewers, and so on.
Hence, if you'd seriously consider reading or reviewing Patriarchy and
Property, or perhaps assigning it to your students, I would greatly ap-
preciate hearing from you. Just send me a private reply to this note,
okay? (With your name, position, affiliation, address, and any other
pertinent data, e.g. friends who should hear about this, courses you
may assign this to, etc.) Many thanks, in advance, for your support!

Marx's views, of course, are not the last word on any of the subjects
he discusses, and they fall outside the purview of economics narrowly
construed, but they are also richer and quite a bit more complex than
many people suppose. The ethnological notes in particular are valuable
for the light they shed on Marx's perception of African, Asian, American
and ancient European cultures, which interested Marx, in the twilight of
his life, in connection with his continuing work on Capital. When Marx
wrote his voluminous notes on Morgan, Maine et al. in the years 1879-82,
he was steeped in work on the concluding section of what we now know as
Capital Vol. 2, where, for the first time, Marx began to systematically
inspect the question of the global spread and sway of capital (under the
rubric of the "expanded" accumulation and reproduction of capital). This
led Marx to consider carefully the character of the cultures that capital
was encountering. An epochal collision was underway, between capitalist
Europe & North America, on the one hand, and a world of cultures that
antedated and, to varying degrees, posed obstacles to capital.

Marx *could* have simply posited the "solvent" power of money, and left
it at that. But by 1879 he was well aware that cultures have powers of
resistance that cannot be discounted. To grasp the specificity of these
powers, Marx needed to put capital in context on a world scale. That,
briefly, is what he began to do in the ethnological notebooks. And the
result is a cornucopia of valuable data on Marx's views on myriad issues,
including, e.g., the transition from the Mughals to the British in Bengal,
the nature of the village commune in India, clan culture and structure in
Africa and the Americas, matriliny and marriage, totem and taboo, etc.

Marx's notebooks don't mark a fundamental departure from classical
Marxian themes (capital, class, value) but they do represent the
start of an effort to extend and contextualize these notions.
(Rosa Luxemburg made a similar effort, also on the basis of
Capital Vol. 2, in her Accumulation of Capital.)

Closer attention to Marx's notebooks won't resolve any currently debated
issues, but will, I think, help us to see Marx's views on the relations
between capital and non-capitalist cultures in a slightly different light.
And much of what Marx has to say in these notebooks is unfamiliar (partly
because Engels gave the notebooks a very skewed and selective reading,
stressing the ancient European past at the expense of Marx's far greater
concern, the non-Western world in his own day). Together with related
works, e.g., his notes on Kovalevsky's study of empire and land tenure
(1879), which are appended to Lawrence Krader's book on The Asiatic Mode
of Production, Marx's ethnological notes have something genuine to offer.
My hope is that the English-language edition of these notes will make
this clear.

Thanks again, and I'll look forward to hearing from anyone with a further
interest in this project.

David Smith

David N. Smith
Department of Sociology
University of Kansas
Lawrence KS 66045

PH (913) 864-4111
FAX (9913) 864-5280