[OPE-L:4504] In defence of Sraffa's Marxism

Alan Freema (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 03:06:28 -0800 (PST)

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I find Ajit's [4473] response refreshingly honest. For brevity I snip a
bit, I hope not distorting his point:

"When I said that Sraffa was the greatest Marxist economist, I didn't
mean that he beat his chest real hard and claimed that... My point is
that Marx was the greatest 'surplus approach' economist, and it was
Sraffa who brought the rational kernel of Marxian economics to light "

Evidently the discussion about whether Sraffa was a Marxist has been
misplaced. The substantive issue is indeed whether Marx was a Sraffian.

I do not agree with Ajit that Marx was a surplus approach economist, but
I strongly defend his right to say it. This means that I refuse to rule
Sraffa's interpretation of Marx out of order. Just as I refuse to rule
the simultaneous single-system (Fred, Chai, Bruce, perhaps Duncan)
interpretations of Marx out of order, or the temporal single-system (TSS)
interpretations (Andrew, Ted, Alejandro, myself, John, Mino, Eduardo,
Massimo, Paulo) out of order.

Just as the eighty-year long exclusion order which neoclassical economics
has passed against Marx on the false basis that he has been proved
inconsistent, should be lifted.

I refuse to accept any argument from authority, because arguments from
authority are always the basis of exclusion.

I sustain that it is irrelevant to what Ajit asks us to discuss, whether
Sraffa was a Marxist or not. If our conclusions about Marx depended on
our judgment on Sraffa, we would be obliged to settle what Marx says by
first settling who has authority to speak for him, instead of by reading
him - a doctrinaire, not a rational, approach.

I therefore agree with the following from Riccardo [4497] which IMHO
excellently summarises the basis for calling anyone a Marxist

If one - say, Sraffa; or some Sraffians - believe that between Ricardo
and Marx there is strong continuity, and that he is resolving, or
putting the premises to solve (in his own way) the difficulties present
in both Ricardo and Marx, I would accept a characterization of this guy
as Marxist, *in this sense*, even if I agree on all yours three points.
After that, I may criticize their reading of Marx, etc.

This cuts out all doctrinal crap. If someone wants to be a Marxist, or
their friends want them to be a Marxist, let them. Then let us consider
their reading of Marx and assess it using *Marx* as the evidence.

But this cuts both ways. Sraffa's interpretation of Marx cannot be
suppressed by proving Sraffa was not a Marxist. Neither can Fred's,
or Andrew's, or my interpretation of Marx be suppressed by proving that
he was. I am sure that if Ajit is prepared to accept the validity of
other readings of Marx, and if we all accept the validity of his, then we
can have a rational and fruitful discussion.

Let us put all attempts to argue from authority behind us and instead
recognise that Ajit's real assertion - that Marx was a surplus approach
economist - has a legitimate place in our discussion. And let's discuss it.