I have been struggling for more than a week to write the paper I am to deliver in April at a Duke Political Theory Working Group annual conference. My difficulty arises from the fact that I am attempting to summarize, in few enough pages to require no more than forty five minutes, an intellectual engagement with the writings of Karl Marx on which I have been engaged for almost forty years. Out of frustration at the manifest impossibility of the task, I have decided to write what I wish to say for this blog, taking as many days and employing as many words as are necessary to complete the task adequately. When I am done, there will be time enough to decide what to do about the conference. [I am reminded of a young Derek Parfitt, who, when asked to write a twenty page paper for a seminar I was teaching at Columbia in the 60's, responded with a one hundred ten page defense of Act Utilitarianism. I thought at the time that there was a certain admirable bravado about the performance. It was, needless to say, a quite good paper.]
The work I shall attempt to integrate into a single coherent narrative has found expression in a number of books and journal articles, as well as in several unpublished essays. Here is a list culled from the Bibliography of my curriculum vitae:
1985. UNDERSTANDING MARX: A Reconstruction and Critique of CAPITAL, Hardcover and Paperback Editions, Princeton University Press.
1988. MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY: On The Literary Structure Of CAPITAL, Hardcover and Paperback Editions, University of Massachusetts Press.
"How to Read DAS KAPITAL, MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW, Winter, 1980, 739‑765.
"A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value, PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, Spring, 1981, 89‑120.
"Piero Sraffa and the Rehabilitation of Classical Political Economy," SOCIAL RESEARCH, Spring, 1982, 209‑238.
"The Analytics of the Labor Theory of Value in David Ricardo and Adam Smith," MIDWEST STUDIES IN PHILOSOPHY, 1982, 301‑319.
"A Reply to Roemer," PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, Winter, 1983, 84‑88.
"The Rehabilitation of Karl Marx," JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, 1983, 713‑719.
"The Resurrection of Karl Marx, Political Economist," SOCIAL RESEARCH, 1986, 475‑512.
"Absolute Fruit and Abstract Labor; Remarks on Marx's Use of the Concept of Inversion," in KNOWLEDGE AND POLITICS: Case Studies in the Relationship Between Epistemology and Political Philosophy, edited by Marcelo Dascal and Ora Gruengard, Westview Press, 1989, 171‑187
"Narrative Time: On the Inherently Perspectival Structure of the Social World," in MIDWEST STUDIES IN PHILOSOPHY, XV , 210‑223.
"Methodological Individualism and Marx: Some Remarks on Jon Elster, Game Theory, and Other Things," CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, Vol. 20, Number 4 [Dec., 1990], 469‑486.
"The Future of Socialism"
"The Indexing Problem"
I grew up in a home that paid homage, or at least lip-service, to my grandfather's lifelong commitment to the cause of socialism, so I was inclined from the crib to be favorably disposed toward the thought of Karl Marx, but neither at home, nor in college, did I actually encounter any of Marx's writings. My first serious exposure to Marx's thought was in 1960, when, in preparation for a Social Studies Sophomore Tutorial that Barrington Moore, Jr. and I were teaching at Harvard, I read Volume One of CAPITAL. I read it very quickly, and made little or nothing of it. In the next ten years I read, and then taught, some of Marx's early writings, most notably The Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, which were then much in vogue. I even placed a standing order with Blackwell's Bookstore in Oxford for each volume, as it appeared, of the magnificent edition of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels then being produced by a group of German scholars in East Berlin. The lovely hardcovered volumes, with elaborate indices and appendices, cost roughly three or four dollars apiece -- priced so that working men and women could afford them. They now adorn the shelves of my Paris apartment.
In the Fall of 1977, I offered a graduate seminar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on "Classics of Critical Social Theory." [Fifteen students took the seminar, only two of whom were Philosophy students. Those were the days when I was effectively closed out of the graduate Philosophy program by colleagues who thought what I did was, in their scornful expression, "not Philosophy."] The seminar was devoted to the thought of Marl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Mannheim. In preparation for the seminar, I re-read Volume One of CAPITAL, and this time, the experience was a revelation.