[OPE-L:4420] Sraffa: a Marxist economist?

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 18 Mar 1997 04:52:32 -0800 (PST)

[ show plain text ]

Ajit wrote in [OPE-L:4419]:

> In any
> case, for your information, Sraffa was a Marxist! The greatest Marxist
> economist of the 20th century without any doubt.

(1) Certainly Steedman and many others from the "surplus approach" school
consider themselves to be Marxists, but I don't see any convincing evidence
that Sraffa himself considered himself to be a Marxist. He never said that
he was as far as I know (although he was a friend of Gramsci and supported
various campaigns organized by the Communist Party). If you read his
writings (which after all, aren't that many), there is no indication that
he was attempting to develop a Marxist analysis.

(2) It's true that he was considered to be an expert on Marx at Cambridge
and his _Production of commodities by means of commodities_ was praised by
some Marxists such as Dobb and Meek. Yet, to be an "expert" on Marx back
in the early 1930's at Cambridge was not saying a whole lot [see Potier:
51]. Also, his interest was more in the history of economic thought (and
especially Ricardo) and critiquing marginalism. Further, he seems to have
been largely unaware of a lot of the Marxist literature on political
economy written during the 20's and 30's in continental Europe and

(3) So I think that the claim that Sraffa was the "greatest Marxist
economist of the twentieth century without any doubt" is, at best,
hyperbole. The XX Century has, after all, seen many important
contributions to Marxist political economy. What of all of the rest? I
won't even bother here to list some of the important figures in Marxist
economics in this century as the point I am making should be obvious. The
foregoing should not be read to imply that one can not be a Marxist if one
was heavily influenced by Sraffa, but that would get us into the whole
murky question of what is Marxist and what is non-Marxist.

In solidarity, Jerry


Jean-Pierre Potier _Piero Sraffa: Unorthodox Economist (1898-1983): a
biographical essay_, London, Routledge, 1991