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History of Political Economy 35.2 (2003) 356-358

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Towards an Unknown Marx: A Commentary on the Manuscripts of 1861–63. By Enrique Dussel. Translated by Yolanda Angulo. London: Routledge, 2001. xl; 273 pp. $115.00.

This work, originally written in Spanish, is the first analysis of Marx's voluminous notebooks written between 1861 and 1863. These notebooks contain the well-known Theories of Surplus Value, a second draft (after the Grundrisse) of parts 2–4 of the first volume of Capital, and a first draft of most of volume 3 of Capital.

Few people write in such a way that their notebooks, intended as a preparation for future work, will have much value for readers more than a century later. Marx stands out as an important exception. One can see both backward and forward in these notebooks. Looking backward, they reveal how Marx developed his theory between the time that he worked on the Grundrisse and the later period when he was finishing the first volume of Capital. Looking forward—and this direction is very important for Dussel—the notebooks suggest how Marxist theory and politics can progress in the future, especially in Latin America.

Dussel, the author of more than forty books, is eminently qualified for this project. His training leads him to emphasize philosophical, rather than technical, economic analysis. I do not mean that he exhibits any particular deficiency in his analysis, but that a fair portion of his efforts, especially in the sections regarding Marx's [End Page 356] understanding of what constitutes scientific theory, concentrates on Marx's relationship to philosophy.

Dussel is especially effective in showing Marx's growing analytical maturity and sophistication. Dussel's ability in this regard is particularly evident when he tracks Marx's rapidly growing mastery of the subject of political economy.

In addition, the notebooks cast some light on how Marx viewed his own work at this stage in his development. In particular, they reveal Marx in the process of forging his analytical categories. For Dussel, the breakthrough in Marx's research came when Marx encountered Rodbertus's writings, occasioned when the owner of a borrowed copy of the book asked Marx to return it. Although Rodbertus's work is not particularly important in itself, Dussel proposes that it suggested the future direction of Marx's work by suggesting that values and prices could diverge and that this divergence could explain absolute rent. In the process, Marx developed for the first time his analysis of the redistribution of surplus value into profits, interest, and rent, while recognizing that the redistribution does not affect the total surplus value.

Actually, Marx read Rodbertus at a time when he was already deeply interested in such questions. Some time ago, I speculated that much of Marx's intensive investigation of the theory of rent was a response to an appalling upsurge in poverty and suffering—both social and personal. The cotton famine, caused by the Civil War in the United States, brought industry to a standstill, creating a staggering level of unemployment, and it almost caused Engels to go bankrupt, at the same time that Marx lost his employment with the New York Tribune.

Prior to that time, Marx had taken the problem of resources relatively lightly. Suddenly, access to raw materials became a matter of the utmost importance. Marx wanted to solve the puzzle of scarcity without ceding too much ground to the Malthusians (Perelman 1987, chap. 2). The hint from Rodbertus pointed him in a direction that allowed him to pursue that research successfully.

For my part, I regard the most exciting parts of the Grundrisse to be the remarkable insights found in Marx's digressions, which never made it to Capital. Dussel, however, emphasizes how this stage in Marx's work represented by the notebooks moved him toward his more mature theory, except where Marx's remarks tend to support dependency theory.

Dussel is particularly interested in showing how Marx is a dependency theorist at heart. So, after completing his review of the notebooks, Dussel...


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pp. 356-358
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Archived 2005
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