CHAPTER FOUR

Mirror and irony:
Marx's critique

Redefinition and re-presentation

The first book of Capital is, in many respects, a work puzzling to the modern reader. Why, for example, was Marx so interested in 'the commodity' and its 'value'? Why did he not simply 'do economics' and deal with prices? 1 In this chapter I shall argue that the opening chapters of Capital make better sense if they are read as the work of a student of natural philosophy, 2 logic, history, and political economy, rather than as a work of'economics', Marxist or otherwise. 'Marx's economics' seems to me a misnomer. I suggest instead that Marx aimed to re-present the economic theory of his day in order to reveal the constituent conceptions of capitalist society, and to rid the theory of logical and historical confusions, using arguments from natural philosophy. Though his distinctions were ingenious, the enterprise fails in certain respects, so I argue, because he relied on Ricardian propositions about value and labour that were and are adventitious to capitalist society, and because his use of natural philosophy to build on political economy was not persuasive in his own time, and is even less so now. Hence he came to conclusions about the meaning of value, and the nature of labour, that neither conform to constitutive understandings of those terms in everyday use, nor produce an extrinsic account that has been very effective intellectually or politically.

Marx's projected multi-volume study Capital (Das Kapital) was subtitled 'Critique of Political Economy' (Kritik der politischen Ökonomie),

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