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The law of value and the analysis of underdevelopment

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image of Historical Materialism

Karl Marx entitled his first major work on the theory of capitalism an Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, not, it should be stressed, An Introduction to … Political Economy. The inclusion of the crucial ‘the critique of provides the key to Marx's break with classical political economy. As much as he respected the contribution of bourgeois writers, especially Ricardo, he did not consider himself a radical member of the political economy school. That the political economy school's most outstanding members focused upon class relations did not save them from an analysis that, in Marx's judgement, was ‘vulgar', in that it focused upon the appearance of phenomena rather than their underlying causes. Political economy focused on relations of exchange, rather than on class relations among human beings. As he wrote famously in an oftquoted letter, for at least a generation before him bourgeois writers had recognised both class divisions in capitalism and that the basis of profit was exploitation; were these the central elements of his work, his contribution would have been trivial.


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