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History versus Theory: A Commentary on Marx’s Method in Capital

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Abstract The gap between Marx’s theoretical writings on political economy (for example, the three volumes of Capital) and his historical writings (such as The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and The Civil War in France) arises out of certain limitations that Marx placed upon his political-economic enquiries. These limitations are outlined in the Grundrisse where Marx distinguishes between the universality of the metabolic relation to nature, the generality of the laws of motion of capital, the particularities of distribution and exchange, and the singularities of consumption. What an analysis of the content of Capital shows is that Marx largely confined his efforts to identifying the law-like character of production to the exclusion of all else. While this allowed him to identify certain laws of motion of capital within any form of the capitalist mode of production, it did not and could not constitute a total theory of a capitalist mode of production. A better understanding of what it is that Marx can do for us through his identification of the general laws of motion leads to a far better appreciation of what it is that we have to do for ourselves in order to make Marx’s theoretical findings applicable to particular conjunctural conditions, such as those that have arisen throughout the economic crisis that began in 2007.

Affiliations: 1: City University of New York


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