[OPE-L:1954] Marx to Lassalle, 2/22/58

Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Sun, 19 Dec 1999 13:06:25 -0500 (EST)

Paul Z wrote in [OPE-L:1953]:

> I'll wait until Ajit backs up the statement that "Marx is basically
> talking Ricardian theory". It relates to the distinction between
> Ricardian and Marxist theory. It relates to what "A Critique of Political
> Economy" (subtitle of CAPITAL) might mean [e.g. "'To Criticize Political
> Economy' means to *confront* it with a new problematic and a new object:
> i.e., to question the very *object* of Political Economy"--Althusser,
> READING CAPITAL, Chp. 7, "The Object of Political Economy", first page].

In a letter to Ferdinand Lassalle dated February 22, 1858, a year before
_A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy_ was published, Marx
expressed his understanding at the time of "critique":

        "The work to which I am referring is _Critique of Political
         Economy_, or, if you like the system of bourgeois economy
         critically presented. It is at once a presentation and, thereby,
         a critique of that system." (Saul K. Padover ed. _The Letters of
         Karl Marx_, p. 423)

This seems to be a somewhat different understanding of "critique" than
what you express above. However, it is certainly possible that Marx
modified his understanding of what "critique" meant over time and _VLP_
was written 7 years after his letter to Lassalle and 6 years after the
publishing of the _Contribution to the Critique_.

In the same letter to Lassalle, Marx went on to refer to both the
6-book-plan and Ricardo:

         "The presentation, I mean the style, is entirely scientific,
          hence not repugnant to the police in the ordinary sense.
          The whole is divided essentially into six booklets. 1. Capital
          (contains some introductory chapters). 2. Landed property. 3.
          Wage labor. 4. The State. 5. International trade. 6. World
          market. [NB: no "and crisis", JL] Of course, I cannot help
          making occasionally critical comments on other economists [NB:
          Marx seems to be referring to himself here as an "economist",
          JL], specifically a polemic against Ricardo, insofar as he,
          _qua_ citizen, is compelled to commit blunders _even from a
          strictly economic viewpoint_. Altogether, however, the
          critique and history of political economy and socialism [NB:
          inclusion of "socialism", JL] is to constitute the subject of
          another work. Lastly, the brief _historical sketch_ of economic
          categories and relationships, to make a third [book]. [Thus, at
          this time Marx evidently planned to write 3 books, of which the
          "6-book-plan" was only one! Also, note that Marx clearly
          thought at this time that the theory could be presented before
          the critique (the 2nd book) and historical details (the 3rd
          book), JL] (Ibid, pp. 423-424)

Already when Marx wrote this letter, he was having misgivings about being
able to complete this project. In other parts of the letter he notes some
practical problems including:

1) "But the thing moves very slowly, because subjects one has made the
chief aim of one's studies, at the moment that one is ready for
conclusions, show new aspects and solicit rethinking".

2) "Added to that, I am not the master of my time, but rather its slave.
Only the nights are left for myself, but frequent liver attacks and
relapses disturb this night work".

(this appears to be a reason why the 6 sections should appear as
"pamphlets": "In view of all these conditions, it would be most agreeable
for me to publish the whole work in piecemeal issues [Heften]. This would
perhaps also have the advantage of more easily finding a publisher with
small working capital who would not be stuck in the enterprise". He goes
on, though, to add: "When I speak of _Heften_, I mean ones like Vischer's

3) "stormy movements from the outside are likely to interfere".

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Mon Dec 20 1999 - 07:00:03 EST