Sunday, July 17, 2011

I have Marx in my bones

From Joan Robinson's Open letter from a Keynesian to a Marxist, 1953
When I say I understand Marx better than you, I don’t mean to say that I know the text better than you do. If you start throwing quotations at me you will have me baffled in no time. In fact, I refuse to play before you begin.

What I mean is that I have Marx in my bones and you have him in your mouth. To take an example – the idea that constant capital is an embodiment of labour power expended in the past. To you this is something that has to be proved with a lot of Hegelian stuff and nonsense. Whereas I say (though I do not use such pompous terminology): ‘Naturally – what else did you think it could be? ...

Again, suppose we each want to recall some tricky point in Capital, for instance the schema at the end of Volume II. What do you do? You take down the volume and look it up. What do I do? I take the back of an envelope and work it out.

Now I am going to say something still worse. Suppose that, just as a matter of interest, I do look it up, and I find that the answer on my old envelope is not the one that is actually in the book. What do I do? I check my working, and if I cannot find any error in it, I look for an error in the book. ...

Now, suppose I say to a Marxist: ‘Look at this bit – does he mean the stock or the flow?’ The Marxist says: ‘C means constant capital,’ and he gives me a little lecture about the philosophical meaning of constant capital. I say: ‘Never mind about constant capital, hasn’t he mistaken the stock for the flow?’ The the Marxist says: ‘How could he make a mistake? Don’t you know that he was a genius?’ And he gives me a little lecture on Marx’s genius. I think to myself: This man may be a Marxist, but he doesn’t know much about geniuses. Your plodding mind goes step by step, and has time to be careful and avoids slips. Your genius wears seven-league boots, and goes striding along, leaving a paper-chase of little mistakes behind him (and who cares?). I say: ‘Never mind about Marx’s genius. Is this the stock or is it the flow?’ Then the Marxist gets rather huffy and changes the subject. And I think to myself: This man may be a Marxist, but he doesn’t know much about riding a bicycle.

(via none other than Tyler Cowen)

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