A Note of the Class held on Thursday 16 November 2017 on Rediscovering Economics

The final class of the Autumn Term comprised a report by Jerry Jones on the work he is undertaking on a book provisionally titled Rediscovering Economics and the ensuing comments and discussion by students.

Jerry has been working on his book for a number of years and hopes to publish it 2018. As preparation for the class he had invited students to read an excerpt from Communist Review 65 (Spring 2010) ‘Turning Economics into an Objective Science? A response to David Grove’.

Jerry explained that his aim in writing his book was to develop an economic model derived from Marx’s Labour Theory of Value that had application to every society, not just mid-nineteenth century capitalism. Thus it would apply not only to capitalism in the 21st Century but would also help explain the collapse of the USSR and how we should proceed in building future socialist societies.

Key elements in Jerry’s analysis included

  • Starting the analysis not with the commodity, as did Marx in Capital, but with land and labour.
  • employing the concept of surplus labour rather than surplus value
  • the key importance of the interaction between surplus labour and economic demand
  • downplaying the significance of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (TRPF) – this being a key element in some other contemporary interpretations of Marx, e.g. the Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI) of Alan Freeman and Andrew Kliman
  • the need for regulated markets even in a socialist society
  • Treating credit, and hence the banking system, in terms of surplus labour not yet performed

In the class discussion that followed, several students spoke in support both of ‘orthodox’ Marxist economics and of TSSI. However, as Ernest Mandel had demonstrated in his book Marxist Economics, it was indeed possible to construct a comprehensive economic model based on the Labour Theory of Value without starting from an analysis the commodity. Furthermore, Marx and Engel’s reluctance to describe how a future socialist society should be structured on the grounds that to do so would be ‘idealistic’ might, however, no longer be appropriate given workers’ perception of the collapse of the USSR and the continuation of efforts to build socialism in China and Cuba.

Despite Jerry’s convincing description of the weaknesses in central planning in the USSR, some students questioned the extent to which future attempts to build socialism could rely on markets. Experience in China suggested this was possible, but, by their own admission, the CPC were only in the early stage of building socialism and success was not yet assured. The problem of black markets in an extensively planned economy in the early stages of building socialism was, however, recognised.

In conclusion, no one questioned Jerry’s right to attempt to go ‘Beyond Marx’s Capital’. The class thanked him for explaining what he was doing and looked forward to reading his book in due course.

 

                                                                                                                       

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3 comments

  1. Adrian Chan-Wyles (PhD) · · Reply

    Thank you Comrades! Constructive, dialectical debate is crucial for developing the mind and assessing and analysing material history. My view is that although a certain ideological direction should be maintained (to avoid revisionism and Trotskyism, etc), nevertheless, the mind must be exercised (in all directions) to decide appropriate action in the physical world (which is the progressive premise of the Communist University of South London). This is because the mind is conditioned by material events, and needs to fully cognise those events to remedy the inverted thinking associated with the Bourgeois State (which would have us at each other’s throats, whilst residing in a religious haze). Of course, Marx fully recognised that ‘consciousness’ and ‘matter’ are two-sides of the same dialectical coin (as did Lenin, Stalin and Mao, etc), and that material economics are inherently linked to the internal thought patterns such socio-economic policies produce in the mind. It may be that Marxist economics cannot be fully divorced from the human mind that a) observe the material world, and b) which formulate behavioural responses to that material world. Whatever the case, the Communist Party of China (CPC) does not doubt that it is ‘building Socialism’. This is a recent English translation of an official CPC Chinese language text that conveys a speech by General Secretary Xi Jinping and entitled ‘Be Vigilant Against Those who Denigrate Chinese Communism’: (https://buddhistsocialism.weebly.com/chinese-communism.html) – a short but poignant extract reads: ‘Prior to Marx, economists and sociologists were steeped in idealistic thinking, and defined ‘normal society’ from the perspective of pure fantasy. Marx abandoned this fictitious ‘generalised notion of society’, and instead dedicated himself to the study of the material conditions of existential capitalist society. In his ‘Das Kapital’ (Preface to the first edition – Volume 1) he states: ‘I want to study in this book, the capitalist mode of production, the relations of production, relations of exchange, and how these forces interact and transform one another.’ ‘The ultimate goal of this book is to reveal the economic law of motion within modern society.’ (Collected Works of Marx and Engels, Vol. 5, p. 8, 10) Marx devoted his entire life to the study of capitalism, a developmental process that was the basis for his writing of ‘Das Kapital’. He studied a literal mountain of material evidence, and analysed in considerable detail, the functionality of the law of capitalism. As Lenin pointed out, Marx reveals the development of capitalism in the law, his analysis ‘Is limited to production relations between members of society’, and ‘Marx did not use any of these relations of production factors, for anything other than to illustrate the problem.’ (Collected Works of Lenin topic · On dialectical and historical materialism, page 162). With this study, Marx thoroughly clarified the relationship between capital and labour, and reveals the fundamental contradiction that exists within capitalism.’

  2. […] The following text is my considered (albeit ‘brief’) response to a post summerising a recent lecture held at the Communist University of South London, the content of which can be read here: Rediscovering Economics […]

  3. Thank you for an interesting discussion.

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