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Colin Barker

Capital and Class

(May 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 98, May 1977, p. 29.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Capital and Class, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1977
Conference of Socialist Economists, £1

IN the last few years, there has been a rush of new socialist theoretical journals and issue-organisations. To name but a few: Radical Philosophy, History Workshop, Critique, Radical Science Journal, Kapitalistate, Insurgent Sociologist, Telos, Radical Criminology, Critique of Anthropology. The growth of these journals has both reflected and contributed to the revival of Marxism in academic circles. To illustrate: a large proportion of the professional papers offered at the 1977 conference of the British Sociological Association are either directly concerned with, or are informed more or less by, the language and problems of Marxism.

There is an element of ‘band-wagoning’ in this, of course. As Marxist discourse has become ‘respectable’, by comparison with the period of the 1950s, all manner of people have – to maintain some level of contact with their students, perhaps – started writing and talking in the most general terms about ‘capitalism’, ‘mode of production’, ‘class struggle’, and the like. Some of these, we have good reason to suspect, will be found wanting in any general crisis.

At the same time, the growth of interest in the problems of analysis of capitalism, in the rediscovery of the complexity of Marxist ideas – after the theoretical winter induced by Stalinism, with its mechanical ordering of concepts, its subordination of all scientific questions to the pressing needs of capital accumulation and state terror – is a very welcome phenomenon. In Britain, as well as the USA and Western and Eastern Europe, the sprouting of socialist theory is a very yeasty sediment left by the international student revolt of the late 1960s.

On the whole, the characteristic stance of these new journals and issue-organisations is non-sectarian. They do not present a homogeneous political line, indeed they generally distance themselves from immediate tactical questions in the socialist and working-class movements.

In this context, a welcome should be accorded by the readers of IS to Capital and Class. The Conference of Socialist Economists was founded in 1970, initially as a discussion forum for socialist economists wishing to confront bourgeois economics more adequately. Until now, its publications – beyond a couple of useful pamphlets (still available from Stage 1, or from Bookmarks) – have consisted of a duplicated internal discussion bulletin. Capital and Class is a new venture, a public journal. It is due to appear three times a year, and is available to subscribers – who thereby gain membership of the CSE, and newsletters about activities, discussion groups, conferences, etc. – for £2.50 a year (students and unemployed £2.00).

The early issues of the old Bulletin of the CSE were, by and large, more devoted to theoretical-technical issues in Marxist economic theory. While this element continues – in particular, a running engagement between ‘orthodox’ Marxist economics and ‘Sraffian’ conceptions of Marxism – the CSE, and its new journal, have widened their focus to ‘the beginnings of the materialist analysis of capitalism as a whole’ (Editorial). Comrades less versed in the intricacies of debate on productive and unproductive labour, the transformation problem, the question of the rate of profit, complex and simple labour, and the like, will now find more in the journal that will engage their attention. Similarly, the many discussion groups that have sprouted unevenly around the country are now concerned with a much broader set of theoretical questions than the CSE title might suggest.

The first issue of the journal is, naturally, uneven in its composition. Probably the most immediately accessible article is a fascinating account, by Penny Summerfield, of Women Workers in Wartime Britain. The debate on the labour process in capitalism, whose rediscovery as an issue must above all be credited to the work of the late Harry Braverman (Labor and Monopoly Capital, now available from Monthly Review Press in paperback) is carried forward in two articles, one from a group project in Brighton, and the other from Andy Friedman. An old piece by Anton Pannekoek, arguing against simple capitalist breakdown theories, is reprinted. There is a rather unsatisfactory, though interesting, attempt to characterise Russian and East European societies by Mark Rakovski. And – I confess to my incomprehension – there is a discussion of the reduction of complex to simple labour by R. Tortajada. No, this journal will not set the world on fire, but it is useful, and all readers will gain from acquaintance with it.

A final publicity note. The old CSE Bulletin cost £6.00 a year, the new journal at £2.50 (and £2.00 for those on low incomes) is a bargain. How appropriate for a contribution to socialist economics! Subscriptions should be addressed to CSE c/o Economics Dept, Birkbeck College, 7–15 Gresse Street, London W1P 1PA.

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Last updated: 16 April 2015