Unibg International -Archive : Reading the Grundrisse
Unibg International

Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods

Reading the Grundrisse

Area bacheca: 820&

n) Riccardo Bellofiore (University of Bergamo, Italy)
The Grundrisse after Capital, or how to re-read Marx backwards

The paper presents a novel reading of the Grundrisse and its ambiguities. The main thrust of the argument is that a continuity from the 1844 Manuscripts to Capital can be reasonably put forward, but reading Marx 'backwards'. The Grundrisse is a watershed in Marx because of the divide between 'natural' and 'historical' situations as defined in the "Precapitalist forms of production". At the same time, it is in the Grundrisse that the 'universality' of labour is recognized as a peculiar potentiality starting with capitalist production: the theme will be pursued in Capital's inquiry about cooperation, the division of labour, and machines. A most rich and ambiguous theme in the Grundrisse is the one concerning 'labour': a term interchangeably used by Marx both for capacity to labour as well as living labour, and also the bearers of labour-power, i.e. workers. These ambiguities will disappear in Capital. Another rich and ambiguous theme is 'money': here money starts with a symbolic view, stressing money as 'command'; a second deduction is convergent to subsequent Marxian deductions of money as a commodity, leading to Capital's first section of Volume 1. These ambiguitities have allowed for interpretative serious distortions, which however have also been instrumental in revealing new sides of Marx's argument in the same Capital. Two intriguing arguments of the Grundrisse are the presentation of 'abstract labour' (this time linked to the capitalist social situation as well as generalized commodity exchange) and 'crisis theory' (in 1857-8 Marx connects relative surplus value extraction, disproportionalities, and overproduction of commodities: this organic unit is either absent or implicit in later works). Capitalist development and crises lead however to a tendential fall in the rate of profits which looks rather mechanical, though another (positive) ambiguity is that the Grundrisse are open to a quite different accent on struggles over living labour as the source of new value. The "Fragment on machines" is interpreted against this background.