Or Capital of Marx

Marco Buti, ATACAMACHAÇA
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By BEN FINE & ALFREDO SAAD FILHO*

Authors' prefaces to the newly edited book.

Preface to the Brazilian edition

The theory of value is the core of Marxist political economy and Marx explains his theory of value in great detail in his magnum opus, The capital. There, the forms of value and the capitalist processes of production, extraction, circulation and distribution of (more) value, in all its forms, are examined. In so doing, Marx highlights the connections between different aspects of capitalism, and it is this integration that gives his political economy its analytical power and potential to explain systemic features of capitalism that other schools of thought in the social sciences have difficulty analyzing.

Marxist political economy focuses on the study of the material conditions of social reproduction under capitalism. It follows that value theory, as presented in The capital – and summarized and explained in this book – is a theory of classes, class relations and exploitation in capitalism. Examining these relations of production and exploitation, as well as the conflicts to which they inevitably give rise to, allows us to understand the contradictions of capitalism as a mode of production, shedding light on its dynamics, historical developments, crises, limitations and the possibility of transcending it.

As explained in The capital, Marx’s theory of value is necessarily dynamic and, therefore, incompatible with the concept – fundamental to the neoclassical tradition – of “equilibrium”. Rather, Marx's focus is on the intrinsic forces and tendencies of capitalism and their interaction with their corresponding counter-tendencies, from which a range of complex outcomes emerge. Marx's approach also recognizes the limits of abstract analysis and the need to incorporate historically specific materials into it, whether in relation to broad phenomena, such as the stages of capitalism, or in relation to more concrete aspects, such as the relations between industry and finance, or class conflicts specific to each country.

Because of this, Marx's political economy can help us overcome the fragmentary character of the experience of exploitation in capitalist societies, in addition to showing that capitalist production necessarily involves social conflicts in production and distribution. Marx developed the approach presented in The capital with the aim of providing subsidies for actions aimed at overcoming this production system, not only as a result of consistent theoretical work, but – and urgently – in order to articulate the possibility of human freedom, and also of the biological survival of humanity that is threatened by the rapid environmental degradation promoted by modern capitalism.

In Brazil, as elsewhere, informed, coordinated, and organized mass action is needed to tackle these and other important problems of our time, including structural unemployment, poverty amid plenty, the spread of curable diseases or controllable (whose destructive power was dramatically revealed in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic), functional illiteracy, cultural, ethnic and economic oppression. Addressing these challenges and their possible solutions, Karl Marx offers an analysis of current biases that can inspire creative solutions. We hope that this book can support this effort, fostering debate and contributing to the search for radical solutions to the challenges posed by global capitalism.

Preface to the Sixth Edition in English

Or Capital of Marx it was originally written in the early 1970s. The book was a product of its time. In Britain and elsewhere, interest in Marx's political economy had been awakened after several years of intense repression, carried out under the guise of blaming workers and left movements for the end of postwar economic expansion. This interest grew and was fueled by the evident decline of the capitalist world economy and the rejection of the then prevailing explanations of the growing economic malaise associated with stagflation. Much has changed since then, and successive editions of this book have, in their own ways, reflected transformations in the global economy and political economy.

The third edition was launched in 1989 and the fourth, published in 2004 by Pluto Press, introduced this little book to new times and a new audience. The rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s reshaped the capitalist world, expanded the dominance of global capital to nearly every corner of the planet, and – in order to support these transformations – reshaped the political system. Expectations of economic, political and social changes were reduced over time, in a process of emptying the State in the face of the reduction in strength and organization of progressive movements.

As the great mobilizations of the 1960s and 1970s were in the past, a new generation grew up with greatly reduced hopes, demands and expectations. For the first time since the mid-nineteenth century, there seemed to be no alternatives to capitalism and the exceptions, invariably marginal, could only subsist – precariously and unattractively – in the cracks of the admirable “globalized” world. The fourth edition, which made a small contribution to crafting responses to these enormous challenges, was well received by a wide audience in many countries.

The publication of the fifth and, now, the sixth edition of our book seems to have anticipated – and, it is hoped, may contribute to – a process of renaissance in political economy in general and Marxist political economy in particular. A number of factors underlie this optimistic view.

First, while orthodox economics has reinforced its exclusionary grip on the discipline – discarding heterodoxy, which, according to it, does not meet the norms of mathematical and statistical rigor – there are growing signs of dissatisfaction with orthodoxy, as well as a search for growing demand for alternatives among those who study economics and other social sciences. This manifests itself, among other things, in demands for heterodoxy, pluralism and alternatives in economics teaching.

Second, after two decades of postmodernism, and especially neoliberalism, dominance in setting intellectual agendas in the social sciences, we now see a backlash against the extremes of their worst excesses, both in theory and in practice. Critical thinking has turned to understanding the nature of contemporary capitalism, something that is reflected, among other things, in the rise of concepts such as neoliberalism, financialization, globalization and social capital. This inevitably promotes reflection on economic issues outside the discipline of economics itself, which in turn encourages the search for guidance in political economy.

Third, interest in political economy has been promoted by a number of recent material developments. These include the growing realization that environmental degradation, primarily through global warming, is closely related to capitalism; the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the recognition that capitalism did not provide a progressive alternative, even on its own narrow terms; and the eruption of wars and occupations that, even when waged in the name of anti-terrorism or human rights, do not hide their imperial character.

Fourth, the long period of relative stagnation after the collapse of the tree The postwar period and the rise of postmodernism and neoliberalism had the paradoxical effect of allowing, despite low growth, the capitalist economy to be seen as minimally successful. The eruption of financial crises over the past decade – in particular, and most dramatically, the global crisis that began in mid-2007 – has shaken this outlook. It brought to light the central role played by finance in contemporary capitalism. The systemic relationships between finance, industry and the rest of the economy must occupy a prominent place in the subject of political economy. Capitalism has clearly failed on its own terms, even under exceptionally favorable conditions. For this very reason, the defense of socialism needs to be promoted as never before. And that defense must be grounded in a Marxist analysis, both for its critique of capitalism and for the light it sheds on the potential for alternatives.

Each of these issues is analyzed to a greater or lesser extent in this new edition. But the main aim of the book remains to provide as simple and concise an exposition of Marx's political economy as the complexity of his ideas allows. Because we designed a short book, the arguments are condensed but presented simply; it is important to emphasize, however, that some of the material will require careful reading, particularly in the final chapters. It is not surprising that, over its various editions, the text has grown considerably. Its original length of 25.000 words has more than doubled as new topics have been added, drawing both on Marx's political economy and its contemporary relevance.

In addition, over time, new excerpts were included with the aim of highlighting, in each chapter, the controversies and debates that permeated the reception of Marx's work, in addition to presenting suggestions for additional readings that will offer guidance to those interested in texts more academic. Unfortunately, this has caused successive editions to lose some of the simplicity of earlier ones (although, for readability, footnotes continue to be omitted). These difficulties (which we hope are not of great importance) are perhaps compounded by occasional references to the differences between Marx's political economy and orthodox economics, which can make reading a little difficult for non-Economists. But these complexities can be overlooked when necessary – in addition to offering, if persisted with, some insights compensators.

This carefully revised sixth edition arrives at a particularly challenging time. Neoliberal capitalism is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, which has not only revealed the limits of “liberalized” finance, but, more significantly, has put the global neoliberal project on the defensive for the first time – even though it appears to be extraordinarily resilient.

It is now possible for the general public to openly question the coherence and sustainability of neoliberalism, and even the desirability of capitalism itself. These emerging debates and the simultaneous, albeit painfully slow, growth of radical social movements and organizations have been supported by the gradual realization that capitalism has fundamentally destabilized the planet's environment, and that it poses an immediate threat to the survival of countless species. , including ours.

Or Capital of Marx it is not a book about the environment, nor about neoliberalism, although it does include a brief section on the former and an updated chapter on the global financial crisis. His aims are narrower, and at the same time more abstract and ambitious: he analyzes and explains crucial elements of the most sustained, consistent, and uncompromising critique ever made of capitalism. as a system – which was originally developed by Karl Marx.

As capitalism struggles to contain its most recent crises, the relevance and urgency of Marx's writings – and also its popularity – grows. They are now highly ranked on various bestseller lists and many different editions can be found even in major bookstores, notwithstanding the fact that Marx's works are also widely available on the internet where they can be downloaded for free.

We hope you will make use of these works. Or Capital of Marx does not intend to replace the original work; rather, our aim is to facilitate your reading of Marx's economic writings by providing a structured overview of his main themes and conclusions. We hope that this book supports your own attempt to understand capitalism, its strengths and weaknesses, and that it supports your struggles against it. We would like to thank and encourage those who continue to seriously study and teach Marxist economics at a time when doing so has been extraordinarily difficult.

ben fine is professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)-University of London. Author, among other books, of Microeconomics: A Critical Companion (PlutoPress).

*Alfredo Saad Filho is a professor in the Department of International Development at King's College London. Author, among other books, of Marx's value (Unicamp).

Reference


Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad Filho. Marx's "Capital". Translation: Bruno Höfig, Guilherme Leite Gonçalves, Renato Gomes and Leonardo Paes Müller. São Paulo, Countercurrent, 2021, 216 pages.

 

 

 

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