Hats and Men: Marx's Faulty Symmetry

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1410 .... May 8, 2017

Hats and Men: Marx's Faulty Symmetry

It is 150 years since Karl Marx published the first volume of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy in 1867, with the two subsequent volumes coming out under the editorship of Friedrich Engels over the next decades. Capital is a masterful appraisal of the ‘vulgar’ defences of capitalism focused on exchange and markets and the more ‘scientific’ accounts of classical political economy highlighting the distribution of the new value produced between the social classes. From its initial publication, Marx's Capital steadily gained prominence within the broad socialist movement as the indispensable point of departure for penetrating the inner workings of the capitalist system, its modes of exploitation and appropriation of the economic product produced by the working classes. Capital's themes remain central to understanding... the social divisions of contemporary capitalism – the struggle over the workday and precarious work, the level of wages and the social reproduction of the working class family, the continual drive toward technological change, the production of global armies of surplus labour, the destructive impact of ceaseless competitive pressures to accumulate on the natural ecology, and the social forces polarizing the accumulation of wealth on the one side and poverty on the other.

Yet Capital was only the first part of the six-volume plan Marx early envisioned to explore capitalism fully. In his Deutscher Prize-winning book, Beyond CAPITAL, Michael Lebowitz argued that the unwritten volume on wage labour would have introduced class struggle into the model in a way that would challenge teleological or mechanical interpretations of the text. Here, Lebowitz argues that Volume I of Capital itself is the source of serious problems because of its asymmetry of the determination of the workday by class struggle and the standard of necessity through acceptance of the assumption of classical political economy. The article is published here to contribute to discussions of Capital on the occasion of its 150th anniversary.

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