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History of Political Economy 32.1 (2000) 161-162

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Book Review

Marxian Economics, a Reappraisal: Essays on Volume III of Capital.
Volume 1: Method, Value, and Money.
Volume 2: Profit, Prices, and Dynamics

Marxian Economics, a Reappraisal: Essays on Volume III of Capital. Volume 1: Method, Value, and Money. Volume 2: Profit, Prices, and Dynamics. Edited by Riccardo Bellofiori. New York: St. Martin's Press; Houndsmills: Macmillan, 1998. Vol. 1: xxvi; 311 pp. Vol. 2: xxv; 318 pp. $79.95 for each volume.

These two volumes contain thirty-five papers presented at a conference held in 1994 to mark the centenary of the publication of Volume III of Marx's Capital. The list of authors is impressive and the average quality of the papers is high, at least when they are seen as contributions to the Marxist literature. Given the declining interest in Marx, we may not see their like again.

HOPE is a journal of intellectual history, so my review must focus on contributions that have something to say about Marx as a historical figure. From that point of view I found the collection rather disappointing. Many of the best papers here are clearly intended as contributions to modern Marxist economics and use Marx only as a starting point. There is nothing wrong with that. There is, however, something wrong with those papers, perhaps half the total, that appear to say something about Marx himself but which seem to me to fall short of the standards that we now expect in intellectual history. The introduction to the collection signals the problem: the editor considers the possibility that Marx might now "be studied with the cool distance reserved, say, for Aristotle, Machiavelli or Smith," but rejects it in favor of considering Marx as "an author whose lessons . . . are still relevant today" (xii). [End Page 161] But to establish "lessons" that are still relevant today one must test them against modern standards of theoretical rigor and empirical relevance, while rigor in intellectual history requires the opposite--to resist the temptation to import modern theories and arguments into the past, and to see past writings as they are, products of an incomplete and developing enterprise set in a specific time and place. Too many papers here combine elements from Marx with arguments added by the modern interpreter, making a compound product that is neither fish nor fowl. There are plenty of quotations from Marx, but they are commonly taken out of their historical context and treated like the blocks in a child's construction set, to be slotted together in any way they can be made to fit. The result may have some value in its own right, but it tells us little about Marx.

From the point of view of intellectual history then, the haul is slim, though there are a few papers that take the historical dimension seriously. One is the essay by Gilbert Faccarello, who identifies contradictions and tensions in Marx's conceptualization of value and traces their development through his working life. Another is by Bertram Schefold, who discusses the way Engels put Volume III together for publication, comparing it with Marx's recently published manuscripts. In a different vein, Heinz Kurz's rational reconstruction of technical change in Ricardo and Marx throws a valuable light on the issues while avoiding the temptation to claim too much. For the most part, though, this collection is for Marxists, not historians of ideas.

Anthony Brewer
University of Bristol



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pp. 161-162
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2005
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