question from a novice
djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Wed Jan 25 01:49:18 MST 1995
To Austin from TX:
>From a novice to a novice (I have been reading in Marxism independently for
the last three years too, and have found the following most helpful):
To my mind, the two best short, introductory theoretical works are Geoffrey
KAY's The Political Economy of the Working Class and Christopher PINES'
False Consciousness and Ideology: Marx and His Historical Progenitors.
Tom KEMP's short The Climax of Capitalism: the US Economy in the Twentienth
Century skillfully interweaves Marxian theory with an analysis of the
changing structure of US capitalism (though much more could be said about
the role of US imperialism, for example what role the export of capital has
played after World War II--Kemp is actually most capable of conducting such
The Biographical Dictionary of Marxism and the Biographical Dictionary of
Neo-Marxism, both edited by Robert GORMAN, are useful; many of the
theorists mentioned by Alex Trotter in his unsurprisingly stimulating post
are introduced in those volumes (e.g.Bordiga, Castordias, Rubel, Pannekoek,
Mattick, KORSCH whose 1939 Karl Marx remains helpful, esp. important are
his treatment of commodity fetishism and the principle of historical
specificity, which has recently been developed in Derek SAYER's Violence of
Abstraction, Paul MATTICK, Jr.'s SOCIAL KNOWLEDGE and Patrick MURRAY's
Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge).
William J BLAKE's Marxian Economic Theory and Its Criticism (1939) still
includes the most comprehensive bibliography of Marxist works before WWII.
Nothing similar to it has been since produced, to the best of my knowledge.
And John EATON's Political Economy is as lucid and concise statement of
orthodox Marxism as can be found, I believe. For a defense of Maoism as a
development of Marxism, see two short books by George THOMSON: The Rise and
Fall of Commodity Production and From Marx to Mao.
My two favorite classic works are II RUBIN's Marx's Theory of Value and
Henryk GROSSMANN's Law of Accumulation and the Breakdown of the Capitalist
System. In the early issues of Capital and Class, there was an archive
section in which important pieces by Rubin and Grossmann were reprinted.
Also of significance are Grossmann's 1943 essays which appeared in the last
two issues of the 1943 Journal of Political Economy (Frank FUREDI in his
many writings often refers back to them).
The two post World War II theorists who developed Grossmann's and Rubin's
analyses most profoundly were in my opinion Paul MATTICK (Marx and Keynes)
and Roman ROSDOLSKY (The Making of Marx's Capital, but see John MEPHAM's
review in Issues in Marxist Philosophy, vol I, ed. by D-H Ruben and
Also important are Sydney COONTZ's work in population and accumulation
theory, Marc LINDER's two volume Anti-Samuelson and Geoffrey PILLING's
Crisis of Keynesianism--A Marxist View.
Of other recent works (last ten years), I have learned much from the
Moishe POSTONE's Time, Labor and Social Domination--a reinterpretation of
Marx's critical theory;
Fred MOSELEY, ed. Marx's Method in Capital: A Reexamination;
Guglielmo CARCHEDI's Frontiers of Political Economy;
Kevin BRIEN, Marx, Reason and the Art of Freedom
Daniel LITTLE's The Scientific Marx (which deemphasizes value theory).
The last work is a lucid, albeit eminently contestable, exposition, as well
as partial critique, of what has come to be known as Analytical Marxism,
and the other works include careful critiques of traditional Marxism
(Sweezy, Mandel and Dobb), of Sraffa and neo-Ricardianism, of the theory of
unequal exchange, of Althusser and Luckas and many others.
You may also want to check out Dipentdra MUKHERJEE, ed. Marxian Theory and
the Third World and Ashok RUDRA's ruminations on Non-Eurocentric Marxism.
These works are very different, with Postone's monograph the richest work
in contemporary social theory that I have yet come across. Most of the
works which I have mentioned include excellent bibiographies.
As you may note, none of these works are fundamentally mathematical. For
the pitfalls of the mathematicization of economics, see Philip MIROWSKI's
Against Mechanism, esp the essay on Morishima.
A final note: One way to "test" interpretations of Marx is to see if they
have grasped Marx's emphasis on the duality of labor, which he emphasized
many times was his fundamental discovery, "the pivot on which a clear
understanding of Poltical Economy turns. "(Sect 2, Ch 1 of Capital, vol I)
By this "test," Postone's reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory is
without comparison. Before him, it was Grossmann and Mattick (as far as I
can tell) who best explained why Marx highlighted this discovery; Postone
has obviously studied their work carefully, though he breaks from it in
some important ways. Of course by this test, it may turn out that very few
of us Marxists have understood Marx.
And one final note: Albert Nzula's 1933 Forced Labor in Colonial Africa
reveals how little has been added by way of theory to an understanding of
imperial processes in Africa in particular. I have recently picked up
Chibuzo NWOKE's Third World Minerals and Global Pricing, but have not yet
had a chance to read it. However, it is clear that we cannot escape
Luxemburg's alternatives: socialism or barbarism.
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