[OPE-L:4515] Re: Sraffa: a Marxist economist?

riccardo bellofior (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Tue, 25 Mar 1997 00:39:24 -0800 (PST)

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At 12:29 22-03-1997, Gerald Levy wrote:
>I sent a post to the "Post-Keynesian Thought" list asking for information
>regarding this question. David Andrews sent the following response to me
>which he has since given me permission to forward to this list.
> In Solidarity, Jerry
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Sat, 22 Mar 1997 11:26:29 +0000
>From: "Andrews, David R" <XANDREWS@maple.lemoyne.edu>
>To: Gerald Levy <glevy@pratt.edu>
>Subject: Sraffa a Marxist? Almost certainly yes.
>Which list has been discussing this? I'd be very interested as I've done
>a lot of work on Sraffa. It's unlikely that he would have said he was a
>Marxist to anyone outside of a very close circle even if he were. He
>chose to keep a very low profile and didn't say much. I believe John
>Straight or someone similar named him as a secret member of the CP in
>Cambridge. I could probably find the reference if you were
>interested. There is some textual evidence that he considered himself a
>marxist in his communications with Gramsci. The fact that he served as a
>main liason between Gramsci and the leadership of the Italian CP while G.
>was in prison. In a letter to Keynes in the 1920's he said he had never
>been a member of any political party.
>Here is an excerpt from a paper I've written:
>"Sraffa wrote in a 1924 letter to Gramsci:
>My political opinions are unchanged -- or worse still, I have become
>fixed in them; just as up till 1917, I was fixed in the pacifist
>socialism of 1914-1915 -- which I was shaken out of by the discovery,
>made after Caporetto and the Russian Revolution of November, that the
>guns were precisely in the hands of the worker-soldiers (Gramsci, 1978,
>p. 229).
>There may be alternative readings of this, but the obvious reading is
>that armed workers shook Sraffa out of his pacifism and into a more
>revolutionary socialism. This was clearly Gramsci's conclusion. The
>focus of the letter was the role of the Communist Party in opposition to
>fascism. Sraffa disagreed with Gramsci over when communism would be
>relevant: "I accept a great deal of what you write to me, but as
>solutions to problems which will arise after the fall of fascism . . .
>And I can only conclude that the Communist Party, today, can do nothing
>or almost nothing positive" (Gramsci, 1978, p. 229). Sraffa said that he
>thought this opinion was not incompatible "with being a Communist"
>(Gramsci, 1978, p. 230).
> From this, Gramsci drew the conclusions that Sraffa "has faith in
>our party and considers it the only one capable of permanently resolving
>the problems posed and the situation created by fascism" (Gramsci, 1978,
>p. 231); and that
>"[Sraffa] has remained isolated since the contacts he had with us in
>Turin, he has never worked among workers, but he is certainly still a
>Marxist. It will only be necessary to keep in contact once again in
>order to resuscitate him and make him an active element of our party"
>(Gramsci, 1978, p. 218)."
>[end of excerpt]
>S. and Gramsci had been quite close and G. was therefore in a position to
>Hope this is helpful.
>David Andrews

All the thing is quite correct.

Let me underline this passage: "It's unlikely that he would have said he was a
>Marxist to anyone outside of a very close circle even if he were. He
>chose to keep a very low profile and didn't say much." This aptly
>characterizes Sraffa's aptitude.

I may add, for the delight of many here, that (I think on the same
occasion, a letter by Gramsci to the comrades of the communist party in
1924) Gramsci wrote: "Our friend S. Has not yet succeeded in destroying in
himself all the ideological traces of his democratic-liberal intellectual
formation, normative and Kantian rather than dialectical and Marxist". I
agree with this Gramsci's jugdegment.

Moreover, there has been since at least 15 years in Italy a hard debate
about the role of Sraffa during Gramsci's detention in jail: to somebody,
the party was not happy to have Gramsci free in the 30s, and in some
awkward way they acted so that Gramsci remained in jail. Sraffa, according
to these critics, has been seen as someone who acted more in the interest
of the International than of his friend. I repeat: this are "suspects"
hotly debated as you may imagine. The "suspect", in its first and weak
form, started from a letter full of bitter tones of the sister of Gramsci's
wife to Sraffa.


Riccardo Bellofiore
Department of Economics
Piazza Rosate, 2
I-24129 Bergamo, Italy
e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
tel: (39) 35 277505 (office)
(39) 35 277501 (dept.)
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