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APROPOS THE FRONT MATTER TO CAPITAL,
VOL. I

My copy of Marx's Capital, Vol. I, is truly a mess. It is the International Publishers paperback.1

The cover has been scotch-taped together on numerous occasions, and many of the chapters have been ripped out, stapled and re-inserted, for ease in carrying to and from classes. The text is filled with underlining and marginal notations, and these are like a paleontological record: I can tell what I was looking for at various times in the past, and also which parts I found boring (they are very clean, of course).

In this essay I will draw some themes from Capital's front matter: the Prefaces and Afterwords written by Marx or Engels at various times. These reward re -- reading, and I hope my comments will inspire new readers to experience them for the first time. Here I use them to elucidate four topics: textualism, value, socialism, and class.

I have applied the "textualism" label to a long-present but recently resurgent trend in Marx scholarship: to treat his texts as sources of ultimate truth, rather than as moments in a process of scientific inquiry.2

A current exemplar is the new book by Enrique Dussel, Towards an Unknown Marx: A Commentary on the Manuscripts of 1861-63 (Routledge, 2001). Dussel, an Argentinian descent now living and teaching in Mexico, has produced a remarkable body of Marx scholarship in Spanish. Here he studies the 1861 -- 63 material for clues to the conceptual path leading to Capital, and shows how Marx fought for clarity as his categories evolved. Stages progressing from the Grundrisse to the Contribution to 1861 -- 63, 1863 -- 65, and, finally, to Capital, are identified.

Dussell however, does not actually discover an unknown Marx he repeatedly reveals the earlier manuscripts to be imperfect precursors of what he takes to be their final embodiment in Capital. For Dussel, and any number of other Marx scholars of similar orientation, all roads lead in teleological fashion to 1867 -- and apparently stop there.3

By contrast, consider the following, from Engels' Preface to the Third German Edition (p. 23):

It was Marx's original intention to re -- write a great part of the text of Volume I, to formulate many theoretical points more exactly, insert new ones and bring historical and statistical materials up to date. But his ailing condition and the urgent need to do the final editing of Volume II induced him to give up this scheme. (Italics added.)

But if the project did not take final form in 1867, then all subsequent Marxist work on value, price, exploitation, profit, production accumulation, crisis, etc. represents legitimate and at least potentially valid extension of Marx's legacy: reformulation, removal of errors, incorporation of new discoveries and techniques, and articulation with new and changing realities. The marxologists, by contrast, are tied to a methodological dualism, in which on the one hand the real work of the movement initiated by Marx, including the practical construction of post-capitalist societies in the 20th century, is subjected to scathing and absolutizing criticism, while the texts of Marx are elevated -- in practice, if not always explicitly -- to the status of holy scripture.

Turning now to the theory of value, we again find our marxologists hard at work; this time conflating value in general with its historically specific forms that emerge with capitalism. This confounding of capitalism with markets as such is attributed to Marx. It implies that the passage to communism requires "abolition of the law of value," which in turn suggests more-or-less immediate disappearance of all phenomena associated with markets: prices, money, wages, etc. On the historical side of this position, there are two possibilities. One can argue that systematic market institutions do not evolve until, say, the 17th century in Europe (an extremely dubious view in light of massive evidence to the contrary). Or one can hyperextend the "capitalist world system" back 5-6,000 years, after the fashion of Andre Gunder Frank. It is easy to then use this perspective to denounce "existing socialism," which of course failed to accomplish the millennial transformation disposing of all forms of market relations. Interestingly, this conception dovetails nicely with the "free market" orthodoxy of mainstream economics; "capitalism," from this orthodox standpoint, is after all nothing other than the embodiment of rational individual action and freedom of choice in competitive markets.

And once again, we find remarkable clarity in the front matter to Capital. In his own Preface to the First German Edition, Marx writes (pp. 7-8):

That which concerns . . . the analysis of the substance of value and the magnitude of value, I have, as much as it was possible, popularised. The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2,000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it, whilst on the other hand, in the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms, there has been at least an approximation.

Thus, we find two millennia of analysis of the value-form, derived of course from much more than two millennia of experience with it, long prior to the bourgeois epoch, and to anything that can reasonably be called "capitalism," whether at the level of a world system or in more locally isolated venues. Socialism, then, whatever else it does, does not "abolish" the law of value, any more than it "abolishes" the state. This is, of course, the central message: we must look deeper to determine what socialism actually does, and is.

This segues nicely into item #3, the role of theory in visualizing socialism. Laurence G. Wolf, a reader from Cincinnati, Ohio, writes, in comment on the S&S Special Issue, "Building Socialism Theoretically: Alternatives to Capitalism and the Invisible Hand" (Spring 2002):

What is not at all clear is how capitalist are to be transformed into socialist modes of production. There is no new mode of production and no new relations of production emerging within capitalist political economics which are so materially attractive as to undermine capitalist relations and modes.

Note Mr. Wolf's point: no new mode of production emerges within the old. Unlike the bourgeoisie, whose actual economic relations and activity evolved spontaneously and acquired reality within precapitalist political structures, and were subsequently validated in political revolutions,4 the socialist revolution must precede socialist construction. The working class, in the words of the Manifesto, "has nothing of its own to secure and fortify."

Here I will quote the front matter in a different way. The relevant text is Marx's Afterword to the Second German Edition, where we read, in a review of reviews of the First German Edition:

. . . the Paris Revue Positiviste reproaches me in that, on the one hand, I treat economics metaphysically, and on the other hand -- imagine! -- confine myself to the mere critical analysis of actual facts, instead of writing {recipes) [? -- "receipts" in the original] (Comtist ones?) for the cook -- shops of the future.

The French, of course, "always impatient to come to a conclusion" (Preface to the French Edition, p. 21), would be the ones to raise the question, Why don't you tell us now where all this is heading?

Remarkably, following the quoted extract Marx goes on to address the first question at length, reproducing a long passage from a reviewer for the St. Petersburg European Messenger. He never directly returns to the second Parisian reproach. This may have been an oversight, or Marx may have felt that the Russian writer's paraphrase of his dialectical method constituted an implicit answer to the question, If socialism must be constructed ab ovo, then surely it must be theorized? How can this be done without succumbing to utopian temptations?

Unfortunately, no answer will be found in Marx's Afterword, and -- so far as I am aware -- the question is not addressed explicitly in any other text. This, then, points to the difference between a textualist and a scientific reading of Marx: we simply must tackle the unresolved or unaddressed problems ourselves. To quote reader Wolf once more: "With all the discussion about correctly interpreting Marx, and theories about a Marxist future, I await a theory that correctly interprets public political and economic psychology realistically and shows, in practice, evidence of the emergence of a democratic, socialist future."

The final topic in this survey is the nature of social class, and in particular of the ruling class in capitalist society. A Conference entitled "How Class Works" was held at the State University of New York/Stony Brook, June 5-9, 2002, at which 140 presenters, from academia and the labor movement, from around the United States and a number of other countries, addressed various aspects of the conference theme. Typical session titles: "The Mosaic of Class, Race, and Gender"; "Class and Public Policy"; "Images of Labor"; "Seeing Through Workers' Eyes: The Unseen America Project"; "Class and Education"; "Class and the Politics of Reform." The conference was a major achievement in bringing left scholars and activists together; a second one is planned for next year. Nothing in the considerations that follow should be construed as in any way belittling or deprecating this new departure for left scholarship, which owes a great deal to the visionary work of Prof. Michael Zweig of SUNY/Stony Brook.

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