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Originally posted at palaverer.com.


One of my correspondents in the Anti-Capitalist Meetup read the series of posts I am engaged in on my own blog, and suggested I post them here on DKos.  The series is a liveblog of Marx's Grundrisse.  This is the first of the series.  I'm up to pt. 9 as I write this, about to start on pt. 10.  As per a discussion with a couple of the ACM crew, I will write summaries/distillations along the way to be posted to the group.  This series, however I'll post as-is, to my own feed.

I'd add that if this is of interest to you, by all means, be part of the discussion.

Here goes the first post:

I started reading Marx's Grundrisse yesterday, and plan to blog it.  It will talk a lot of time, and I'll just go bit by bit.  I don't have any particular expertise and certainly not any credentials, but I'm persistent and have some experience reading Marx.  So, bearing this in mind, I invite anyone else out there to read along with me.  Let me know what you think.

I will write what I write as part of my own working out of the text.  I fully expect that I will misunderstand things.  Corrections are invited.  This is in no way intended to be a comprehensive or even coherent summary of the work.  It's just me writing about what I read, because that's how I best develop my own understanding of a subject.

I haven't tackled a major work of theory in many years, and it's been a good fifteen years since I read the first volume of Capital.  I participated last year in a Marx reading group, and we got through the following:


I had had it in my head that I wanted to re-tackle Capital, v.1, but over and over again in the group I had heard of the Grundrisse, and it piqued my interest.  It seemed like it was kind of a dress-rehearsal in notebook form for Capital, and since I'd already read that I might as well dig deeper.

So, on Day One I began with the Introduction, not that of the translator, Martin Nioclaus but that of Marx himself to the series of notebooks.  I skipped the translator's preface entirely.  I had read here and there on the net that the Grundrisse had more of a philosophical bent than Capital, that Marx the dialectician was in fuller display in this work.  This struck me almost immediately.  Bear in mind that these are notebooks Marx wrote for himself to clarify the subject, i.e., capitalism and the critique of political economy.  I read the first two sections, on production and then the relationship between production, distribution, exchange, and consumption.

He begins with one of most important points Marx made in his critique of political economy, and I say this partially because I think that Marx needs to be read, open-mindedly, by people who are not Marxists, because I think they will improve their understanding of the world we actually live in if they do.  So, his point, which is really a critique not just of political economy but of the Enlightenment as a whole: the political economists, in direct proportion to the vulgarity of their understanding of their subject, took a particular historical development and considered it as a natural, eternal truth, namely the individual producer.

Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this eighteenth-century individual – the product on one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century – appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as a historic result but as history’s point of departure.

This is incisive thinking, and it's precisely this kind of clarity that makes me find value in Marx.  To this day, apologists for capital will resort to this kind of ahistorical nonsense, as if people have always acted as selfishly as they do in the modern United States.  I think this maybe makes them feel better: it can't be better than it is, so we don't have to worry about it, and don't have any responsibility either.  We can simply drink to excess.  But of course, for 95% of our history as a species, we lived in small, communal societies.  We may have had senses of self, but we were not selfish in the modern sense, and indeed I would argue we manifested our selves as part of a community.  What is, now, has not always been.  In no high school economics text will you find this truth.

Of great interest to me was not simply Marx's definition of the four categories, production, distribution, exchange, and consumption, but his dialectical demolition of the concepts, demolition, and then reassembly.  This floored me:

Production, then, is also immediately consumption, consumption is also immediately production. Each is immediately its opposite. But at the same time a mediating movement takes place between the two. Production mediates consumption; it creates the latter’s material; without it, consumption would lack an object. But consumption also mediates production, in that it alone creates for the products the subject for whom they are products.

Marx simultaneously posits the identity of two concepts, and their particularity, and a bi-directional mediating relationship between the two.  That's deep.  More importantly, though, why is it important?  It is important because one of the ways that political economy--read: "capitalist economics"--hides the actual working nature of the system from the people it enslaves is by forming distinctions, reifying distinctions, between aspects of a process as if those aspects were themselves separate, unrelated things.  People do not see their relationships to other people.  Divide, and conquer.

Beautifully, Marx expands this basic understanding to include distribution and exchange, in the broader process of circulation:

The conclusion we reach is not that production, distribution, exchange and consumption are identical, but that they all form the members of a totality, distinctions within a unity. Production predominates not only over itself, in the antithetical definition of production, but over the other moments as well. The process always returns to production to begin anew. That exchange and consumption cannot be predominant is self-evident. Likewise, distribution as distribution of products; while as distribution of the agents of production it is itself a moment of production. A definite production thus determines a definite consumption, distribution and exchange as well as definite relations between these different moments. Admittedly, however, in its one-sided form, production is itself determined by the other moments. For example if the market, i.e. the sphere of exchange, expands, then production grows in quantity and the divisions between its different branches become deeper. A change in distribution changes production, e.g. concentration of capital, different distribution of the population between town and country, etc. Finally, the needs of consumption determine production. Mutual interaction takes place between the different moments. This the case with every organic whole.

Again, why is this important?  Because this type of understanding of capitalism shows the real connections between the people trapped in it, and is therefore essential to any substantive forward historical movement.  We are not going to get anywhere worth going if we, those of us who do not sit at the commanding heights of the capitalist world economy, don't at least start by seeing that while we may sit in different spots, we are all in the same boat.

Originally posted to palaverer on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 09:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Great To See This Posted on DailyKos! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JustJennifer, NY brit expat

      Given the devastation that the capitalist economic system has caused to our planet and our lives, we need to join together to create a new economic system that serves the needs of the majority of our citizens.  

      In creating the new, it helps to fully understand the mechanisms of the old, in this case, obsolete capitalism.  Marx systematically analyzes why capitalism is so deadly to human beings.

      The Grundrisse includes many topics in Marx's analysis of capitalism, which were preparatory notes to his further develoment of those subject in his Critique of Political Economy and the three volumes of em>Capital.

      For those of us who don't have the wherewithal to purchase a copy of the Grundrisse, it is available on-line and downloadable as a PDF file from www.marxists.org, as are many other works by major Marxist writers and critics.

      Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support single-payer health care,unions, and WikiLeaks.

      by Justina on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 11:35:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Over the weekend I read (3+ / 0-)

    Terry Eagleton's new book, Why Marx Was Right. I would strongly recommend it to anybody who is looking for an overview of what Marx actually said.

  •  I agree with this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat, UnaSpenser, HugoDog
    He begins with one of most important points Marx made in his critique of political economy, and I say this partially because I think that Marx needs to be read, open-mindedly, by people who are not Marxists, because I think they will improve their understanding of the world we actually live in if they do

    I think right now, more than ever, people can see exactly what Marx wrote about Capitalism is coming true.  Capitalism as a economic system cannot sustain itself indefinitely and whether or not you agree on what needs to happen when it fails it is very important to recognize that it is failing.

    I'd rather die than give you control ~ Trent Reznor

    by JustJennifer on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 01:03:03 PM PDT

    •  do the wealthy think it's failing? or is there yet (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JustJennifer, NY brit expat

      enough critical mass willing to declare failure and abandon the capitalist ship even if the wealthy are content?

      •  Well, it is hard to say (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NY brit expat

        I think the ruling class has to see the cracks forming.  They are intellectually dishonest but I don't think they are oblivious.  However I think they also know that Capitalism can recover from a crisis, and they are hoping people don't know this and stop the recovery.  

        I'd rather die than give you control ~ Trent Reznor

        by JustJennifer on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 03:17:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  ?? (0+ / 0-)

          why would the ruling class want people to stop the recovery?

          •  No, I meant (0+ / 0-)

            the ruling class hopes people don't know how Capitalism recovers so they (us) can stop the recovery.

            I am going off old memories here, but Capitalism recovers when unemployment skyrockets and everything drops in value.  If people start to figure out a way to work outside of the system (by bartering, job shares, etc) and refuse to participate in the devaluing of assets then Capitalism can't recover (because everyone abandons the system).  

            Reduction in consumerism, refusal to accept crappy wages, etc....all things they don't want to see us doing.  Even in a crisis state Capitalism still needs us to survive.

            I'd rather die than give you control ~ Trent Reznor

            by JustJennifer on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 05:17:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  ok, I'm slow sometimes. took 3 times to get that. (0+ / 0-)

              so, what you mean is that Capitalists don't want us to know that we have the power to end the capitalist control over the economy. They don't want us to know what we can stop their recovers and build something different.

              Right?

              •  Yes, exactly (0+ / 0-)

                We do have the power to end this because Capitalism can't survive without the working class.   Not only can we stop it in its tracks right now but even if we don't do that (via something like a General Strike) we can opt out of the system slowly.  They will try their best to work around us though, so while I understand that a slow withdraw from Capitalism is more attractive to most it also leaves the door open for counter-revolutionary forces to exploit us anyway.

                I'd rather die than give you control ~ Trent Reznor

                by JustJennifer on Tue Aug 09, 2011 at 11:29:08 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Certainly the situation (0+ / 0-)

      in London would seem to underscore this.

    •  Thing is, though, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JustJennifer

      that what Marx wrote about capitalism is not what most people think Marx wrote about capitalism.  Marx was very clear that the point is not to understand the world but to change it, but I also think that understanding it, even without any action, relieves a lot of the fear that capitalism not only generates but requires to function. To me, Marx is like Buddhism, or if you like better, meditation practice.  You don't have to agree with everything to get a lot of benefit, and also to lose a lot of fear.

  •  Beautifully done palaverer (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    UnaSpenser, JustJennifer

    thank you for this ... one thing that we need to understand about the capitalist system is the interrelatedness of production, consumption, exchange and distribution; the circular nature of the process and how these things condition and influence each other, they are interdependent; but it is production and the manner in which production occurs that then conditions distribution and exchange and hence consumption of output.

    I am wondering if it is necessary to define these things or terms as people may not know exactly what they are in the context of the capitalist system. Production is obvious, it is the production of intermediate goods and final commodities which is conditioned by the ownership of means of production, distribution is the distribution of the social product between wages, profits and rents, exchange is the sale of goods for profit, and consumption relates to the consumption of goods. In marx, these things are based in a social context from which they are inseparable; there are historical and social conditions which affect all levels of the processes that we are discussing.

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 01:26:29 PM PDT

    •  I appreciate the definitions. ;-) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat

      I don't quite understand this:

      distribution is the distribution of the social product between wages, profits and rents,

      social product?

      •  when we use the term distribution (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JustJennifer, UnaSpenser

        what we are discussing is how the output produced each year (or each production period) is divided; how much goes to wages, how much goes to profits and how much goes to rents. In the case of Marx, workers wages are an historically and socially determined level at their base/floor. The surplus product, that is the product over and above what is needed to cover workers and replace capital used up in the production process (and cover the depreciation of fixed capital) is then divided between surplus portions of wages (if they exist, this depends on the strength of worker's organisations and the level of class struggle), profits  and whatever payments to the owners of land used in production as rents. Now, marx discusses the determination of these things in detail, this is just a simple definition.

        so as an example, how does this interrelate? workers consume different products than capitalists and landlords and they do not consume intermediate goods. An increase in wages means that the goods produced for workers' consumption have to be increased due to the increased demand for these goods, this changes both the product produced both as final goods and intermediate goods which are needed to produce these goods. I am doing this statically at the moment as clearly the workers' consumption bundle changes over time and differ between countries. does that make any sense?

        "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

        by NY brit expat on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 02:23:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  does it make sense? kinda, sorta. is only (0+ / 0-)

          production facilities which consume intermediate goods?

          and what do capitalists and landlords consume? (don't they also eat food and buy clothing just like workers? albeit more expensive versions?)

          •  Well, (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Geminijen

            not to jumble it up, but consumption is the other side of the coin of production.  A factory produces cars, but it consumes steel.  A laborer produces value, but consumes a wage.  The point here is that when you talk about any of these things, for Marx, like production, and then you're talking about something like consumption, you're not talking about two different things, but of two aspects of the same process.  This is important, because if we look at things we get disconnection.  If we look at a process, we are connected.

            •  iT IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND HOW MARX (0+ / 0-)

              SEES PRODUCTION AS THE PRIMARY ASPECT -- NEOCLASSICAL CAPITALIST ECONOMICS TOTALLY IGNORE PRODUCTION AND ANALYZE EVERYTHING IN TERMS OF EXCHANGE IN THE MARKET. oF COURSE YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH CONSUMPTION, BUT TO START WITH THAT, WHEN EVERYTHING WE HAVE BEEN TOLD IN THE CAPITALIST ANALYSIS EMPHASIZES EXCHANGE AND CONSUMPTION IN ORDER TO NEGATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORKER'S VALUE IN THE PRODUCTION PROCESS, WE HAVE TO BE VERY CAREFUL HOW WE APPROACH THIS ISSUE.

  •  something that strikes me: production is the (3+ / 0-)

    lynchpin, yes? there is no economy without production. Nothing to distribute and nothing to consume. Demand may be there without production and production may be there without demand, but there is nothing to exchange if there is no production, right?

    Doesn't this make the worker the lynchpin? If so, shouldn't the worker be of utmost importance? Or am I oversimplifying?

    I remember watching a friend of mine who owned a business. He took care of himself first and in grander fashion than his employees. In fact, he paid himself quite well while not paying his staff what would be a living wage in Boston. He didn't provide healthcare insurance. He was a stickler about holidays and paid sick days. He was shocked when every attempt at "partnering" fell apart, even though he always had this list that justified to him why no one else was of equal worth to him. I watched many very disgruntled employees walk out the door and at least two partnerships where the other person was moonlighting - since he couldn't get full value for his role in my friend's business.

    I had a business downstairs. My employees got to know his employees. I always heard stories of his employees' extreme disgruntlement.

    When I became sick and unable to run my business, it ran itself for over a year, until I realized I wasn't going to get better soon enough to keep at it. People even volunteered to help out and to this day ask me if I'll open it again.

    When the economy slid and my friend couldn't pay himself as much, he started laying off people in order to maintain his lifestyle - even though it would be extreme hardship for them to find another job in the waning job market. No one was pining as that business closed it's doors - which happened to be within a month of mine closing it's doors.

    Now, to be sure, I had flaws as a boss. I don't really like to "boss". I like to co-work. That confuses people in our society. They have no idea how to be co-creative, co-responsible and co-accountable, as we've all been trained to be "employees" waiting for "leaders" to tell us what to do and bear the brunt of all the responsibility.

    Still, even with that, people are disgruntled. They recognize that they are being exploited, as those who become "leaders" are usually just self-serving bullies. And they feel no loss when a particular business goes down, because it was "just a job" with "just another boss". The demise of our economy lies in there. If we don't value workers as equal to "managers" and "executives" (I really don't like those words) - we lose the soul of a business enterprise - which is the shared experience of working together co-respectfully. If people don't feel that, they have no inner motivation to help figure out how to sustain the business for the sake of all.

    •  you are not simplifying, that is exactly correct (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JustJennifer, UnaSpenser

      the workers are the lynchpin, production is the lynchpin ... we do not own the means of production, but the economy cannot work, deliberate production cannot exist without labour, human ideas, human creative abilities; w/o workers there is no economy

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Mon Aug 08, 2011 at 02:52:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  so then, labor should be the mostly highly valued (0+ / 0-)

        commodity.

        yet, it isn't? how did laborers come to accept being the lowest valued piece of the economy? and why don't they understand their power position?

        I ask, as someone who has always refused to work for someone who disrespected me. I would simply leave the job. (which is probably why I had my own business off and on.) It baffles me that as we watch bankers and other wealthy elite continue to get richer while the cost of living becomes unsustainable for most of us, that workers don't simply turn to one another and say, "we're done with this!" and lay down their tools and walk out until there is a leveling. It's so rare. Relatively speaking. And, yet, those elites could not accumulate wealth without the workers, so in reality the wealthy are more vulnerable. The working class can support one another by bartering skills and goods made. The wealthy just have wealth on paper, but most lack skills to survive on their own. Yet, the workers operate under more fear.

        Mortgage holders can't foreclose without police to enforce. If the police side with the people, the mortgage holder is left standing with a piece of paper. People need to unite and right the imbalanced distribution of wealth and own their place as the most valuable aspect of the economy.

    •  For someone who doesn't understand , you got the (0+ / 0-)

      main point exactly right.  The critical importance of production and of the worker in the production process. That is what the capitalist boss does not want us to see.  That we are critcal part in creating the goods society (that's us workers again) need to live.  
      The big change between feudal production and capitalist production is that, under capitalism, production was separated from the distribution and funneled through the intermediary of a Capitalist who owns the means of production separate from the worker.  On a family farm and even a feudal manor, you see who produces the goods and how they are distributed among the workers (and the boss or feudal lord).
      In capitalism, the worker is separated from the the owner's production process. the value of what the worker produces is only interpreted through the money he/she gets paid in wages, wages which do not necessarily reflect how much value the worker actually produced. The discussion of the worker's worth is only evaluated in terms of exchange for money in the market (how much he/she can ask for in wages, not the amount of value or product he/she actually produces).  This understanding is critical for the later understanding of the dynamics  of profit accumulation under capitalism.

    •  production is the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Geminijen
      lynchpin, yes? there is no economy without production. Nothing to distribute and nothing to consume. Demand may be there without production and production may be there without demand, but there is nothing to exchange if there is no production, right?

      Doesn't this make the worker the lynchpin? If so, shouldn't the worker be of utmost importance? Or am I oversimplifying?

      Well, from the perspective of capitalism, value is the lynchpin, and labor produces value.  That value derives not from production per se (like, in a factory) but from circulation, meaning production-exchange-consumption/production.  Labor takes place all through that process, and workers make the whole circuit happen.  So, we don't want to imagine that production is more or less important than any part of the process.  One of the problems with the USSR is that they did precisely that.

      •  aCCORDING TO WHAT i KNOW IT SEEMS YOU JUST (0+ / 0-)

        EQUATED LABOR VALUE WITH WAGES.  T I THOUGHT THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT MARX WAS TRYING TO AVOID.

        •  I don't understand (0+ / 0-)

          where I said that.  Are you referring to my earlier comment?

          A laborer produces value, but consumes a wage.

          Maybe I was inexact in my choice of words, but the point I was trying to make is that to Marx nothing is only one thing.  Production is simultaneously consumption, for example.  The example of the wage just was off the top of my head to point out what the laborer under capitalism gets in return for producing value.  There is an exchange there, though, you're right, not in the sense you mean of it an equation.

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