Understanding Marx

Understanding Marx: A Reconstruction and Critique of Capital

Robert Paul Wolff
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 246
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztz5v
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  • Book Info
    Understanding Marx
    Book Description:

    Robert Paul Wolff explains the development of the classical theory of value from Adam Smith to Karl Marx in a form readily accessible to readers unfamiliar with anything more than high school algebra, while at the same time offering to the specialist a fundamental criticism of Marxian political economy and an original and controversial interpretation of Capital. He clarifies recent mathematical reinterpretations of classical political economy, so that philosophers, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists interested in Marx's theories can understand the modern rehabilitation of his political economy.

    Originally published in 1985.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5475-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-7)

    Marx was born in 1818, 166 years ago.¹ He died sixty-five years later in 1883, just over one century ago. During his lifetime, he and Engels wrote enough books, articles, drafts, notes, letters, and sketches to fill forty large volumes in the East German edition of their works, and—what with the additional materials since uncovered—a projected fifty volumes in the complete English edition now under way. The heart and soul of Marxʹs lifework was a massive critical analysis of the political economy of bourgeois capitalism. If we restrict ourselves to the three volumes ofCapital, the three parts...

  5. ONE THE CONCEPT OF REPRODUCTION
    (pp. 8-16)

    Human beings live by transforming nature to satisfy their needs. This act of transformation, or production, is repeated periodically in such a manner that the products or output of one period of production become the materials or input for the next period of production. In short, human beings live by a process ofreproduction. There are three moments, or modes, of reproduction.

    Material reproductionis the cyclical reproduction of the food, clothing, shelter, tools—and also the technical knowledge and craft skill—required for human life and for the continuation of the process of production. Classical political economy, arising as...

  6. TWO ADAM SMITH AND THE CONCEPT OF NATURAL PRICE
    (pp. 17-38)

    InAn Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith poses three questions, the answers to which serve to constitute or found the discipline of political economy. What, he asks, is the real nature of economic wealth—of the wealth of nations? In what way, and by what institutional processes, is wealth distributed among the several classes of society? And what are the causes of an increase in national wealth, which is to say, of economic growth? His first answer, in effect, establishes the physical quantities approach as fundamental. His second answer specifies bothwho...

  7. THREE DAVID RICARDO AND THE LABOR THEORY OF NATURAL PRICE
    (pp. 39-88)

    David Ricardoʹs first attempt at a theory of wages, rents, and profits is his 1815 ʺEssay on the Influence of a low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock, shewing the Inexpediency of restrictions on Importation: with Remarks on Mr. Malthusʹ Two Last Publications.ʺ The central idea, which Ricardo deploys with great effectiveness, is that the agricultural sector is, in effect, a miniature one-commodity economy. Workers eat corn as their wage, they plant corn as the sole capital input, and they harvest corn as the output. Since all inputs and outputs are measured in corn, the rate of profit...

  8. FOUR MARX’S THEORY OF EXPLOITATION AND SURPLUS VALUE
    (pp. 89-116)

    Our analytical narrative halted with Ricardoʹs failure to explain or account adequately for the deviations of natural prices from labor values in those cases in which the ratio of labor directly required to labor indirectly required varies from sector to sector. As we pick up the story again in volume one ofCapital, we must make sure we understand precisely the level of Marxʹs understanding of Ricardoʹs problem and the theoretical perspective with which he begins his exposition.

    First, however, we must introduce some new terminology, in order to make Marxʹs theoretical standpoint comparable with that of Ricardo. For analytical...

  9. FIVE MARX’S THEORY OF NATURAL PRICE
    (pp. 117-140)

    Marx has answered thequalitativequestion: What is profit? Profit is surplus value, extracted from the workers. But we have not yet addressed his answer to thequantitativequestion: How much profit is appropriated by the capitalists? Marxʹs answer to the first question carries with it implicitly an answer to the second. The total profit in the sort of capitalist economy we are examining in volume one ofCapitalmust be exactly equal to the total surplus value extracted from the labor inputs into production anywhere in the system.

    By way of illustration, let us return to System C in...

  10. SIX BALANCED GROWTH AND THE CONSERVATION OF SURPLUS VALUE
    (pp. 141-162)

    Before we proceed to the detailed analysis of the conditions under which the principle of the conservation of surplus value is true, let us ask why Marx thought it was true, keeping in mind that he did not have available to him the sort of analytical formalism that we have been employing throughout this book. (The technique of solving simultaneous equations was known in Marxʹs day, but it was not applied to the calculation of labor values until almost a century later.)

    Marx devotes scores of pages to detailed explorations of the ways in which the surplus value extracted from...

  11. ENVOI SOME DOUBTS ABOUT MARX’S THEORY OF VALUE AND EXPLOITATION
    (pp. 163-178)

    Our story is finished. With the precise delineation of the conditions of validity of Marxʹs principle of the conservation of surplus value, we have brought to completion the centurylong theoretical development that began with Adam Smithʹs observations about the determinants of exchange in the ʺearly and rude stateʺ preceding the appropriation of land and the accumulation of capital. But though the story is ended, its meaning remains unclear.

    For Smith and Ricardo, the deeper aim of a theory of natural price was a coherent account of the reproduction of the produced means of production, the distribution of the social surplus,...

  12. APPENDIX A A FORMAL ANALYSIS OF RICARDIAN AND MARXIAN POLITICAL ECONOMY
    (pp. 179-206)
  13. APPENDIX B AN ANALYTICAL RECONSTRUCTION OF MARX’S VALUE CATEGORIES
    (pp. 207-221)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 222-226)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 227-235)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 236-236)