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.