Karl Marx - The Grundrisse (1857-1858)

The Grundrisse (1857-1858)

The Manuscripts of 1844 represent an initial foray into economic criticism by the young Marx. They do not have the polish or incisiveness of the later Cap­ital. But in the ensuing years, Marx perfected the tools of analysis that he in­herited from the classical economists. By 1858 he had accumulated a number of manuscripts that collectively might be considered an outline and draft ver­sion of the technical arguments later used in Capital. This collection of papers, only recently brought to light and published during World War II, bears the title Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Okonomie (Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy). Only fragments of the Grundrisse have been translated into English, but they reveal some things that are not included in Capital, such as a discussion of precapitalist systems and a study of the interrelations of the component parts of capitalism (e.g., production, distribution, exchange, and consumption).

Marx criticized his predecessors in economics for their basically ahistorical view of pr&duction. In the Grundrisse, he sought to relate the process of pro­duction to the stage of social development in society. He particularly took is- sue with Mill's position that production—as opposed to distribution—is subject to immutable laws independent of history (see Chapter 8). His own view, of course, was that production takes place within a social context and can be un­dertaken only by social individuals and at a certain stage of social development. Moreover, every form of production creates its own legal relations and forms of government. Marx concluded that the so-called general conditions of production espoused by the classical economists were nothing more than abstract concepts that together did not make up any real stage in the history of production.

These abstract concepts make it possible, in Marx's view, for economics to deal with the true nature of capitalist production. The true nature of capitalist production involves the study of labor as basic to production, the analysis of the historical bases of capitalist production, and examination of the fundamen­tal conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat. In the Grundrisse, Marx be­gan to weave together these ideas. He perfected the labor theory of value and the theories of surplus value and of money. The following year, in A Contri­bution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx developed the thesis that the conflict between the development of the productive forces and the rela­tions of production provides the driving force of social revolutions. Thus by 1860, the foundation was set for Marx's crowning achievement, the first vol­ume of which appeared in 1867.