Raya Dunayevskaya, 1974

Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital

Written: 1974;
Republished: News & Letters, December 2006 - January 2007 under the title “Global capital’s structural crisis and the need to return to Marx’s Capital”;
Formatted: for Maxists Internet Archived by Damon Maxwell 2009;
Editor’s note: Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1978 analysis of the transformations in the world economy helps illuminate the nature of today’s  globalized capitalism. It was written shortly after the 1974 global recession revealed structural weaknesses in the global economy – a problem that world capitalism has still not resolved. Her essay also critiques Ernest Mandel’s Introduction to Marx’s Capital for obfuscating the liberatory content of Marx’s thought. Her essay was entitled “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital.” The original can be found in The Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, 5282. Footnotes are the author’s, except where noted. Headlines are the editors’.

THE capitalists may not be ready to “agree” with Marx that the supreme commodity, labor-power, is the only source of all value and surplus value, but they do see that there is such a decline in the rate of profit compared to what they consider necessary to keep investing for expanded production, that they are holding off – so much so that now their ideologists are saying low investment is by no means a temporary factor that the capitalists would “overcome” with the next boom. There is to be no next boom. It is this which makes them look both at the actual structural changes – overwhelming preponderance of constant capital (machinery) over variable capital (living labor employed) – as well as the world production and its interrelations...

It is the age of state-capitalism as a world phenomenon. This development has no more solved its deep economic crisis than when full state-capitalism came to a single nation, Russia, China, etc.

As for inflation, it is true that the deep recession, which was triggered by the quadrupled oil prices after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, was by no means the only reason for the double-digit inflation, any more than that “sickness in the economy” could be ascribed, as Big Capital wishes to ascribe it, to workers’ wages. The overwhelming reality is this: Just as monopoly growth inhibited national economic growth, so the oil cartel has actually lowered world economic growth...

The deep recession, in the U.S. and globally, is by no means over, though some who consider themselves Marxists like Ernest Mandel think that it has come “to an end in 1975.” The false consciousness that has permeated even economists who are revolutionaries emanates from the fact that capitalism has, in the post-World War II period, come up with ways of keeping the economy going, stopping short of the type of Great Depression, 1929-32 (actually until 1939), that led to World War II. Since this time it would lead to World War III, it is “unthinkable,” because it would, of necessity, be a nuclear war that would end civilization as we have known it.

Mandel’s Revision of Marx’s Marxism

Under these circumstances, consider the irony of a famous Trotskyist economist, Ernest Mandel, who holds that the present deep recession “has come to an end.”[1]

Under the guise of praising “the validity of parts of Marx’s Capital [which] extend also into the future,” Mandel hangs upon Marx’s shoulders his (Mandel’s) analysis of state-capitalist monstrosities as “not yet fully-fledged classless, that is socialist, societies: the USSR and the People’s Republics of Eastern Europe, China, North Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba.”[2]

That this can pass muster with Penguin Books “in association with New Left Review” which is the editor of their Pelican Marx Library speaks volumes for the sad state of today’s scholarship. Whether, in this case, the choice of Mandel has come about by virtue of his name as author of Marxist Economic Theory, or otherwise, is their problem, not ours.

Elsewhere I had already criticized that work.[3] There I have shown that, while bourgeois ideologues were enamored with Mandel’s statement that he had “strictly abstained from quoting the sacred texts,” it was not true, as The Economist claimed, that it was because Mandel replaced “Marx’s Victorian facts and statistics by contemporary empirical material.” Rather, it was because Mandel tailended the Keynesian theory of “effective demand.”

Here what concerns us is not so much Mandel’s “Marxist analysis of contemporary material” as Mandel’s utter perversion of nothing short of Marx’s monumental work, Capital.

Capitalism’s ways of containing its economic crises within recession level, rather than uncontrollable Depression, are judged by Mandel to be a “stabilizer,” even though it is precisely that type of concept that led to the collapse of the established Marxist (Second) International with the outbreak of the First World War. Where that shocking event had Lenin return to Marx’s origins in Hegel, and the dialectic of transformation into opposite, today’s Marxists plunge not only into the latest series of economic “facts” sans any dialectical rudder, but also to a violation of the dialectical structure of Marx’s Capital itself. That, too, is not “just theory,” but that which gives, or could give when ot violated, action its direction...

[It] is not just that the “investment drought” is a great deal more than just “hesitant.” What is interesting in the Foreign Affairs analysis of “The Troubled World Economy” is that it recognizes that inseparable from that pivotal “investment drought,” even when there is some growth, is the rise in energy costs which means that, along with the rising cost of automated equipment, too much value is invested, compared to labor productivity, when so little living labor is being used in production. Therefore it is telling “the West” not to be overly happy with their “petro-recyclers,” that is to say, Big Capital’s way of getting those oil billions from the fourfold increase of prices back from the Middle East potentates, and into its own hands by selling machinery and military hardware.

The point is that the recession is so deep, so internal, as well as so linked with the WORLD market, that the highly industrialized countries are not programming great expenditures for new plants and equipment. This is at a time when profits are high, and so shaky are European economies and so great the fear of revolutions (or at least “Communists in government”), that the U.S. has become a magnet for foreign capital investment even as Europe was that magnet for U.S. Big Capital’s investment going abroad in the 1950s.

Finally, even bourgeois economists understand that the centerpiece, the nerve, the muscle as well as the soul of all capitalist production is labor – the extraction from living labor of all the unpaid hours of labor that is the surplus value, the profits – and that, therefore, neither the market, nor political manipulation by the state, nor control of that crucial commodity AT THIS MOMENT – oil – can go on endlessly without its relationship to the life-and-death commodity: labor-power. Foreign Affairs concludes: “cartels don’t have infinite lives... and thus will one day narrow the conditions between prices of energy and cost of production.”[4]

Permanent Economic Crisis

One would think that so erudite an economist as Mandel knows the relationship of value to price, and I do not doubt that abstractly he does. But watch what he does as he hits out at Marxists who have criticized him for attaching too much importance to the market. He lectures them thusly:

“. . . the capitalist mode is the production of commodities . . . this production in no way implies the automatic sale of the commodities produced . . . the sale of commodities at prices yielding the average rate of profit . . . in the final analysis.”[5]

As if this vulgarization of Marx’s analysis of the dialectical relationship between production and its reflection in the market crisis were not far enough a distance from Marxian “economics,” Mandel reaches for Marx’s most crucial analysis of the unemployed army as “The Absolute General Law” of capitalist production. Here is how he strips the “absolute general law” to fit, in answer to the monetarist Prof. Karl Brunner’s bourgeois defense of the need to lower inflation, even though its “price is unemployment”:

“There can be no better confirmation of the analysis of Karl Marx made in Capital, more than a century ago: in the long run capitalism cannot survive without an industrial reserve army. . .”

Though one acquainted with Mandel’s economist specialization should be accustomed to the many ways he has of turning Marx upside down, this is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. Far from saying that capitalism “cannot survive without an industrial reserve army,” Marx says “The Absolute General Law of Capitalist Accumulation” – the unemployed army “and the dead weight of pauperism” – would bring capitalism down. The antagonistic character of capitalist accumulation sounds “the knell of capitalist private property. The expropriators are expropriated” (p. 929).

Now it isn’t that Mandel doesn’t “know” such ABC’s of Marxism. It is that a pragmatist’s ideology is as blinding as the “science” of today’s myriad market transactions, and one extra moment’s look at the market, away from irreconcilable class contradiction at the point of production, and the inescapable turns out to be the violation of the Marxism of Marx! It is high time to turn to Marx’s methodology in his greatest theoretical work, Capital. It was no accident, whatever, why, precisely why, Marx refused to deal with the market until after – some 850 pages after – he dealt dialectically and from every possible angle with the process of production. It is time we took a deeper look at Mandel, away from the market, as “pure” theoretician and revolutionary.

As we showed before, Mandel, from the very first section of his Introduction to Capital – “The Purpose of Capital” – tries to hang on Marx a 20th-century epigone’s contention that Russia is “socialist.” By the end of that section, Mandel has separated Marx’s “scientific....cornerstone” by still another restatement about capitalism creating “the economic, material and social preconditions for a society of associated producers” (p. 17). Such “rock-like foundation of scientific truth” left out but a single word – “freely” (my emphasis). Freely is the specific word, concept, living reality that was the determinate of Marx’s “objective and strictly scientific way” not only of distinguishing his analyses from all others, but characterizing his WHOLE life. Marx’s own words read:

“Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common....The veil is not removed from the countenance of the social life-process, i.e., the process of material production, until it becomes production by freely associated men, and stands under their conscious and planned control” (pp. 171, 173).

Marx’s sentence is from that greatest and most concise of all sections in Capital, on the dialectical method. Though dialectics is not only method, but the dialectics of liberation, the last section of Chapter 1 of Capital – “The Fetishism of Commodities” – makes no entrance in Mandel’s section entitled “The Method of Capital.” In Marxism and Freedom, I have gone into great detail on the relationship of the historic experience of the Paris Commune to Marx’s dialectical concept of the “fetishism” of the commodity-form. Here it is sufficient to point to the fact that neither friends nor enemies, no matter how “new” and “independent” they thought their own philosophy to be (as, for instance, Sartre’s Existentialism[6], has denied the pivotal role of that section to any comprehension of Marx’s Capital, especially its dialectics.

The Fetishism of Commodities

Fetishism contained Marx’s very original dialectic, which, though rooted, as is all dialectics, in the Hegelian, has a live, concrete, revolutionary subject – the proletariat. This is not “a political conclusion” tacked onto economics. Rather, it is the “variable capital” in its live form of the wage worker who, at the point of production, is so infuriated at the attempt to transform him into “an appendage” to a machine, that he rises up – from strikes to outright revolutions – to uproot the old society and create totally new, truly human relations as freely associated men. Mandel, however, as we saw not only makes no mention of the section on Fetishism[7], but perverts the whole concept of freedom by reducing “reely associated men” to just “a society of associated producers.” And so proud is he of his interpretation that that phrase becomes, literally, the final word of the whole Introduction (p. 86).

Marx, on the other hand, after devoting a lifetime to completing Vol. I of Capital in 1867, did not feel satisfied with his concretization of “the fetishism” of the commodity-FORM. It was only after the Paris Commune, as he worked out the French edition of Capital, 1872-75, that he reworked the section yet once again, and called attention to it and other changes by asking all to read that edition as “it possesses a scientific value independent of the original and should be consulted even by readers familiar with the German” (p. 105)...

Marx never tired of repeating that his original contribution was the split in the category of labor – abstract and concrete labor; labor as activity and labor-power as commodity; labor as not only the source of all value which includes surplus value, but the subject who would uproot it. So “single purpose” a revolutionary theoretician was Marx in all his multitudinous and basic discoveries that, though he devoted some 850 pages in Vol. I to that, he no sooner started Vol. II than he repeated: “The peculiar characteristic is not that the commodity labor-power is saleable, but that labor-power appears in the shape of a commodity.”[8]...

We must begin at the beginning, when Marx first projected, in the crucial, famous, irreversible French edition, 1872-75, the idea that the law of concentration and centralization of capital would reach its ultimate when “the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company” (p. 779)...

Far from “ownership” alone determining the class relationship, Marx, from his first break with bourgeois society in 1843, through his leadership in the Workingmen’s (First) International Association in 1864, to his death in 1883, never varied from “dead labor dominating living labor” as the determinant of capitalism.

The point is that, even if one didn’t wish to accept our analysis of state-capitalism as THE total contradiction, absolute antagonism in which is concentrated nothing short of revolution, and counter-revolution, one would have to admit that the totality of the contradictions compels a total philosophic outlook.

Today’s dialectics is not just philosophy, but dialectics of liberation, of self-emancipation by all forces of revolution – proletariat, Black, women, youth. The beginning and end of all revolves around labor.

Therein is the genius of Marx, who, though he wrote during a “free enterprise, private property, competitive capitalistic era,” saw that, instead of plan vs. market chaos being the absolute opposites, the chaos in the market was, in fact, the expression of the hierarchic, despotic plan of capital at the point of production. “Materialism” without dialectics is “idealism,” bourgeois idealism of the state-capitalist age. As I pointed out in my critique of Mandel’s Marxist Economic Theory:

“No wonder that the bourgeois reviewers were so pleased with Mandel’s view of the market mechanisms acting as ‘stabilizers.’ Mandel wanted to synthesize the overproduction, underconsumption disproportionality theories of crises with Marx’s, which is related strictly to the law of value and surplus value. But as Marx said of Proudhon, ‘He wishes to be a synthesis, he is a composite error.’”[9]


1. Ernest Mandel’s Introduction to the Pelican Marx Library edition of Vol. I of Marx’s Capital, p. 16. All other references to the Introduction and to Vol. I will include the pagination directly in my text. [The Pelican edition corresponds to the Vintage edition, published in the U.S.] – RD.

2. See “‘True Rebirth’ or Wholesale Revision of Marxism?” News & Letters, May and June-July, 1970. – RD.

3. “‘True Rebirth’ or Wholesale Revision of Marxism?”, News & Letters, May and June-July, 1970.

4 Foreign Affairs, January, 1977, “A Troubled World Economy.” – RD.

5. Ernest Mandel, “A Hesitant, Uneven, and Inflationary Upturn,” Intercontinental Press, Nov. 29, 1976. – RD.

6. See Jean-Paul Sartre’s Search For A Method (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), and Critique de la raison dialectique (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1960). See also my critique “Jean-Paul Sartre: Outsider Looking In,” Chapter 6, Philosophy and Revolution (New York: Delacorte Press, 1973), pp. 188-210. – RD.

7. By no accident whatever, Mandel’s half-sentence reference (p. 74) to the existence of the section on “Fetishism of Commodities” is in what could be called the sales section of his Introduction, “Marx’s Theory of Money.” – RD.

8. Capital, Vol. II (New York: Vintage, 1978), p. 37.90.

9. Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy(Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1906), p. 228; Collected Works, 6:178. – RD.