[OPE-L:6504] Re: Non-Capital and Variable Capital

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Fri, 24 Apr 1998 12:45:35 +0200

Jerry writes:

even though terms like "market structure",
> "market power", "entry barriers", and "oligopolies" were developed by
> neoclassical economists, this does not mean that we should not use these
> terms.

I fully agree with Jerry in this. Marx himself said that he contributed
very little that was really new to political economy beyond some crucial
conceptual innovations such as the distinction between labour and labour
power, abstract and concrete labour, the reduction of profit, rent and
interest to the general category surplus-value, and a consistent idea of
the equalisation of the rate of profit. That is to say, Marx took the
concepts of "bourgeois" political economy and through critique and
synethesis put them together in a different and more consistent way,
showing that this led to conclusions intolerable to the bourgeois thinkers
themselves, which is why they lapsed into ideological apology.

That was the whole strength of Marx's method - he didn't "intuit" his
concepts as a Weberian sociologist might do in devising some fairly
arbitrary "ideal type" typology, rather Marx started out from the real
world: he used the concepts and categories that were ACTUALLY USED in
business, politics and popular discussion, and critically inspected them,
to give them their proper place in the theory of bourgeois (market)
society. And in Capital he was even very careful to insert footnotes to
show "who said it first". Marx's Capital was thus built on very solid
theoretical and historical foundations, on the whole history of political
economy, hence impossible to refute decisively.

Curiously though there is a whole school of Marxist thought which, under
the guise of "orthodoxy" wants to deny socialists the right to develop
Marx's theoretical legacy critically, in response to the widely used
concepts and categories OF TODAY, which DIFFER in many respects from Marx's
time. This is an approach which I think goes against Marx's own approach -
the sort of thing that led him to say "I am not a Marxist".

For example, Paul Mattick (in Crisis and Crisis Theories) accuses fellow
Marxist Prof. Ernest Mandel of introducing concepts of "bourgeois
economics" into Marxism. In other words, Marx was allowed to innovate and
criticise, but nobody else is allowed to do that - the bible has already
been written, as it were ! This sort of criticism seems to me facile,
contrary to Marx's method, and indeed to ignore that non-Marxist economists
since Marx's time have made valid and pertinent contributions to
understanding economic life. Now you might argue some of Prof. Mandel's
innovations are not really consistent with Marx's theory, or wrong, but
that is another story. The least that can be said for Mandel is that he did
make a major attempt to integrate the modern economic facts and concepts in
Marxist theory, rather than simply deny their reality in a doctrinaire or
Stalinist manner.

Admittedly many latter-day "innovations" aren't really innovations, but
mistakes or things which were already said before. It's a funny thing to
read for example in Howard & King's two-volume dismissal of Marxist
"orthodoxies" so many elementary schoolboy errors of interpretation of
Marx's theory. Nevertheless innovation is essential, and we get nowhere
with pretending capitalism today is the same as it was a hundred years ago.

Real mastery of Marx's method means not dismissing concepts such as "market
structure", "product differentiation", or "entry barriers" and so forth as
being "unMarxist", "bourgeois", "neoclassical" etc., but rather showing
where they DO fit into the framework of Marx's critique of bourgeois
economic conceptions - to be sure, on the foundation of a real
understanding of Marx's own argument, as Jerry might say. That is the only
way the Marxist critique of class society can stay alive and relevant.


Jurriaan Bendien