24 March 2008

Political Economy

The “ghost”, or “spectre”, or “distance learning” course on Capital Volume 1 that we have been running in weekly instalments this year will break into actual or “contact” discussions from 6 May 2008 for six sessions covering the demanding central core of Karl Marx's book, Chapters 7 to 11.

We have already passed Chapter 6. Therein we discovered the mechanism of surplus-value in the buying and selling of labour power, by which the overall, but unequal, increase in wealth, or accumulation, that takes place under capitalism is effected.

We now have an opportunity to reprise the material we have covered so far during the 5 weeks available between now and 6 May. The 11 sessions that we have covered have accordingly been reduced to five for this purpose, and they are:

1. Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy, Marx, 1857 (linked below)
2. Capital V1, C1 and 2, Commodities and Exchange, 1867
3. Capital V1, C3, Money, 1867
4. Capital V1, C4, 5 and 6, Capital and Labour Power, 1867
5. Value, Price & Profit, abridged, Marx, 1865

Today’s text reminds us that Capital, Volume 1, our main study, is fully named “A Critique of Political Economy”. This “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” was written in 1857. It precedes a work called “
A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” that was published two years later, and which itself precedes Capital Volume 1 (the full “critique”) by ten years.

First and foremost, today’s text reminds us that none of these works of Marx’s are comparable to economics. On the contrary, they expose economics as a false and fraudulent discipline. They deal with political economy, or in other words, with the real relations between actual classes of people.

Marx begins by clearly differentiating his argument from that of the romantic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and also from Adam Smith and David Ricardo, upon whom in other respects Marx relies quite heavily. It is worth quoting this passage at some length:
“The solitary and isolated hunter or fisherman, who serves Adam Smith and Ricardo as a starting point, is one of the unimaginative fantasies of eighteenth-century romances a la Robinson Crusoe; and despite the assertions of social historians, these by no means signify simply a reaction against over-refinement and reversion to a misconceived natural life. No more is Rousseau's contrat social, which by means of a contract establishes a relationship and connection between subjects that are by nature independent, based on this kind of naturalism. This is an illusion and nothing but the aesthetic illusion of the small and big Robinsonades. It is, on the contrary, the anticipation of "bourgeois society", which began to evolve in the sixteenth century and in the eighteenth century made giant strides towards maturity. The individual in this society of free competition seems to be rid of natural ties, etc., which made him an appurtenance of a particular, limited aggregation of human beings in previous historical epochs. The prophets of the eighteenth century, on whose shoulders Adam Smith and Ricardo were still wholly standing, envisaged this 18th-century individual -- a product of the dissolution of feudal society on the one hand and of the new productive forces evolved since the sixteenth century on the other -- as an ideal whose existence belonged to the past. They saw this individual not as an historical result, but as the starting point of history; not as something evolving in the course of history, but posited by nature, because for them this individual was in conformity with nature, in keeping with their idea of human nature.”

A little later on, Marx writes:
“But all this is not really what the economists are concerned about in the general part. It is rather -- see for example Mill -- that production, as distinct from distribution, etc., is to be presented as governed by eternal natural laws which are independent of history, and at the same time bourgeois relations are clandestinely passed off as irrefutable natural laws of society in abstracto. This is the more or less conscious purpose of the whole procedure.”

The entire text is worth reading. It is helpful towards understanding Capital Volume 1, as well as towards understanding the politics of today’s massive price rises, which are invariably, and falsely, presented in our bourgeois media as “governed by eternal natural laws which are independent of history”!

The cartoon is by Tenniel, from the London magazine “Punch”, from the time when Karl Marx was working in London on his critiques of political economy. It illustrates the bourgeois turn from protectionism to “free trade” (now called “globalisation”). This affected Britain approximately a century before the USA.

Click on these links:

Reprise 01, Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy, Marx, 1857

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