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Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods

Re-reading Marx - New Perspectives after the Critical Edition

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Riccardo Bellofiore, University of Bergamo - Lost in translation? The beginning of Capital as a problem

The paper will discuss again the conceptual beginning of Capital, especially chapter 1-5 of the Volume I. The aim is to put the interpretation I have given recently in the chapter included in Bellofiore (2004) in a wider and more precise exegetical context.

That interpretation was based on the following ideas: (i) in chapter 1-3 the link between value and abstract labour is predicated by Marx at the intersection of the immediate production with the final exchange of produced commodities; (ii) an essential moment in this argument is the view of money as a commodity; (iii) this latter argument, which appears to be strong when the reasoning does not yet address explicitely capitalist production as such, as a process in becoming, becomes however problematic with the transformation of money into capital and the consideration of the valorization process, i. e. in ch. 4-5; (iv) a full-fledged analysis of capital needs to consider money as essentially bank credit to finance the capitalist production of commodities, i.e. as non-commodity money; (v) in chapter 1-3 Marx stresses the exhibition of value in final commodity circulation as being at the same time a movement of outer expression, with money as universal equivalent as 'passive'; (vi) though this argument cannot be accepted as it stands without qualification, this movement can be maintained in a reconstruction of Marxian theory where bank credit as finance to production is thought of as an ante-validation of valorization, giving a form-imprinting 'ex ante' to labour extraction as capitalist exploitation; (vii) this general procedure may be seen as a positing of presupposition, with the categories of abstract labour, value, money, to be read backwards, with the real subsumption of labour to capital integrated as the central moment of the monetary constitution of (surplus)value, and with the totality of capital seen as structurally built on class antagonism over labour time and on conflict between fractions of capital.

The beginning of capital will now be tested taking into account some old and new interpretations, broadly belonging to a value form approach, but very different among them: Rubin, Backhaus, Reuten (and his discussion with Moseley), Arthur. Some new material in the MEGA 2 will be considered, especially part of "Ergänzungen und Veränderungen zum ersten Band des Kapitals" (Dezember 1871 - Januar 1872)" (II/6: 1-54), made partially available in Italian thanks to the precious work of Roberto Fineschi. It will also be shown that translations in English seriously misrepresent Marx's chain of reasoning.

So, actually, the question is to understand if, how, and how much, the crucial connection between value and abstract labour through money has been 'lost in translation' in all these years: in the translation in English, but also in the translation in the value-form approach. Or even, may be, by Marx himself not being able to effectively 'close' his monetary analysis with a convincing theory of (endogenous bank-) money as finance.