[Marxism] Marginal Notes on Marx's 'Method of Political Economy'

shaun may mnwps at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 10 13:49:41 MST 2013

Marginal Notes on Marx's 'Method of Political Economy' [1]
Marx is searching for a beginning for his writing of Capital. And beginnings, of course, are always problematic. Marx and Engels could clearly see this from a study of the beginning of Hegel's Science of Logic. The notoriously problematic transition from 'Being' to 'Becoming' via (literally) 'Nothing' was noted by Engels. Marx writes... 

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, [....] with e.g. the population, (p.100)
But 'population' turns out to be an abstract beginning because it leaves out a whole series of sub-determinations. In other words, population is an abstract determination with which to commence because it contains within it a whole series of determinations and relations which need to be developed and connected before we arrive at a characterisation of population as a determined category. If Marx begins with 'population', he must 'move analytically towards ever more simple concepts' and 'ever thinner abstractions' until arriving at the 'simplest determinations'. By reversing and 'retracing' the exposition, we would arrive at 'population' once more 'as a rich totality of many determinations and relations'. The 'economists of the seventeenth century' proceeded from this 'living whole' and concluded with a 'small number of determinant, abstract, general relations such as division of labour, money, value, etc'. This process of analysis starting with the living whole and moving towards the establishment of simpler determinations becomes a necessary, historical moment in the evolution of the method of political economy itself. Subsequent to this development, 'economic systems' can 'ascend' from the simplest determinations to the 'level of the state, exchange between nations and the world market' (p.101). Marx writes that this latter 'is obviously the scientifically correct method'.

Any object that faces us in observation is the outcome of its entire history, the fullness and complexity of that development. We face the object as a totality of inexhaustible relations, bottomless in its complexity and determinations. In rerum natura, our conception can only approximate this 'rich totality of many determinations and relations'. Our appropriation is always, necessarily, 'limited in its actuality, but unlimited in its potential' (Engels). 
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