Sunday, August 20, 2006


What is the Grundrisse?

The Grundrisse is a rough draft of his economic theories - of much of what was later rewritten and published as Capital, and more - written by Marx at high speed in 1857-8.
Because it's a rough draft, Marx lets his mind roam more freely, and pursues his lines of argument further into a speculative future, than in his finished works. The Grundrisse can give us pointers for a Marxist understanding of the capitalism of microelectronics, globalisation, and privatisation - a capitalism in which some of the inherent tendencies of capitalism are working themselves out further and more thoroughly than even seemed possible in Marx's day.
In the Grundrisse, we also read Marx writing more directly and freshly about some of his basic ideas than in his finished works, giving us a better idea of how he reached his conclusions. The explanation in the Grundrisse of the theory of surplus value (exploitation), for example, is much less polished and systematic than in Capital - but in some ways more vivid and gripping.
The fact that it is a rough draft also means that the Grundrisse is full of digressions, repetitions, subjects dropped and then returned to later, false starts, and unfinished arguments. For example, in some sections Marx tries to clarify his theory of profit for himself by numerical examples. He sometimes get mixed up with the arithmetic, and breaks off with comments like "This highly irksome calculation will not delay us further" (p.373) or "The devil take this wrong arithmetic" (p.377). It is possible, and probably desirable, to study the more accessible and less off-course parts of the Grundrisse while skipping all those "irksome calculations".
So our plan is not to plod through a detailed discussion of every sentence or every page in the text. Some of us will study the full text in detail; others can take part, very usefully, while reading only short excerpts.

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