Thursday, April 1, 2021

My Understanding Of Marx Part IV — Robert Paul Wolff

As we begin to read Volume 1 of Capital, we must recall that half a century has passed since the publication of Ricardo’s Principles. If I may adopt a lovely trope used to such great effect by Thomas Piketty, the England of David Ricardo was Jane Austen’s England, whereas the England of Karl Marx was Charles Dickens’ England. In the intervening 50 years, factories had sprouted up not only in the north of England but in London as well and a large working class of low-paid factory workers had absorbed some but by no means all of the population that had flooded into the cities as a consequence of the enclosure of agricultural land to make way for herds of sheep.

The subtitle of the entire three volume work, Capital, is A Critique of Political Economy. It is not merely capitalism itself but the ruling theories of capitalism that are the object of Marx’s devastating criticism. Marx, who had steeped himself for almost 20 years in the economic literature written in German, French, English, Italian, and Spanish, was well aware of the theoretical problem about differing capital and labor intensities that Ricardo had failed to solve. Marx believed that he had found the solution of that problem, but nevertheless he wrote the entire text of volume 1 of Capital as though Ricardo’s theory of embodied labor was correct as stated. A puzzling decision. It was not until volume 3 that Marx would explain his solution of Ricardo’s problem. Why make so odd a choice?...
The Philosopher's Stone
Robert Paul Wolff | Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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