Eco 357k, Introduction to Marxist Economics
Fall 1995, Professor Harry Cleaver


Answer 4 of the following questions —one, but no more than one, from each part.

Part I: Relative Surplus Value

1. Within Marx's discussion of relative surplus value in part IV there is considerable analysis of the division of labor (at several levels). How is his discussion related to his distinction between the formal and real subordination of labor to capital? Which such divisions may be related to Marx's discussion of the technical, value and organic compositions of capital? Explain what the concepts of class composition, political recomposition and decomposition add to the analysis. How can such analysis be extended to the sphere of reproduction?

2. In the discussion of relative surplus value, for the first time Marx allows the "intensity" of labor to vary. Why does he do this and what are the consequences for our understanding of relative surplus value and of value itself? Do you think there is a long term trend to the movment of intensity, akin to those of the length of the working day, or of productivity? If so, what is it? If not, why not? What might be the consequences for surplus value of dramatically increased intensity in the work of reproducing labor power?

3. Explain how Marx's analysis of relative surplus value, when understood as the basis of long term, secular trends within capitalism, can lead to his theory of the "tendency of the rate of profit to fall." Cleaver's interpretation of this theory sees it as an analysis of how the class contradictions of capitalism produce changes that make it increasingly difficult for the capitalists to impose work. Explain this interpretation and then discuss what empirical evidence could validate or falsify this theory.

Part II: Wages and the Wage Form

4. Peasants in the Third World and small farmers in the United States do not earn their income primarily in the form of wages (though they may do part time work off their land for wages —say during harvest time). Rather, their primary income derives from the sale of their products on the market (whether an open market or to government purchasers). As a result those agricultural producers, as well as many academics who write about them, think of them as small businesspeople or petty commodity producers. Yet some Marxist theoreticians and some small farmers, at various point in time, have argued that such producers can usefully be thought of as part of the working class. a) What arguments can be put forward as to why such a view should be taken seriously? b)What are the political implications of accepting such a view for working class strategy?

5. a) Explain the argument that grades given to students in school are proxy wages or IOU's on future income. b) Construct a counter-argument, i.e., one that disagrees with this analysis. c) Evaluate both perspectives in the light of your own university program of schoolwork. To What degree does the first argument apply to you? To what degree does it not? Give concrete evidence both ways as well as theoretical reasons.

Part III: Accumulation and Crisis

6. Examine the following passage from p. 27 in the February 19, 1990 issue of BusinessWeek:

a) In what sense and to what degree would you interpret the above information as evidence of a "crisis" in the accumulation of American capital? b) What circumstances might you expect, on theoretical grounds, to have been responsible for such a lackluster productivity performance? c) How do those theoretical expectations fit with what you know about the evolution of class relations and capitalist accumulation strategies in the 1980s in the U.S.?

7. In chapter 25 of Vol. I of Capital, Marx presents a theory of crisis which resembles a theory of the business cycle. As we have also seen, he also has a theory of crisis which concerns the long run "tendency of the rate of profit to fall" which grew out of his analysis of the class dynamics of relative surplus value and was further developed in Volume III. a) What empirical evidence do you think would [or has] tend to confirm the insights of each of these theories? b) How can the two theories be interpreted as complementary.

Part IV: Beyond Capitalism

8. Among the documents of the Zapatistas are those which discuss the transformation of Mexican society, beginning with democractic organization and legel forms (e.g., grassroots organization of a national dialogue about new forms of democacy and changing the constitution) but also specifying the directions of change being demanded by the indigenous peoples whom the Zapatistas represent. Discuss some of those direction of change and evaluate to what degree, and in what ways, are they compatible with Marx's own views on the revolutionary transcendence of capitalism.

9. In his essay "Anarchist Communism" written in 1887 the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin wrote: "As to the method followed by the anarchist thinker, it entirely differs from that followed by the utopists. . . . He studies society and tries to discover its tendencies, past and present, its growing needs, intellectual and economics, and in his ideal he merely points out in which direction evolution [of human society] goes." Examine this passage and explain whether Kropotkin's position is consistent or inconsistent with that of Marx —who died four years before this was written— and with that of the Zapatistas writing 97 years later. What, if any "tendencies" did Marx identify within capitalism which might be taken by Kropotkin (or someone sharing his views) as indicating the directions of the future evolution of society? What about the Zapatistas writing today?

10. Benedetto Croce (kroh’-chay) (1866-1952) was an independently wealthy, Italian intellectual and major figure in the struggle by European liberalism against Marxism. (There are 116 cites of his works in the UT online catalog.) For over 50 years Croce attacked Marx and Soviet socialism and developed a philosophical defense of Western liberal values. One of his recurrent themes was the negativity of the concept of "communism" and its inability to posit any real, humanly attractive alternative to capitalism. "What communism really denies," he wrote, "is the autonomy or the positiveness of the subject. . . [Marx] said that capitalism was giving birth to and educating its own ‘gravediggers’ in the working masses. But gravediggers are not, as we know, the creators of a new life, nor are they a destructive force which is also a constructive one." [Quoted from B.Croce, "The History of Communism as a Political Reality," (1945) in B. Croce, Essays on Marx and Russia, 1966.] Using Cleaver's interpretation of Marx’s analysis of self-valorization and crisis, construct a response to Croce’s argument. Discuss whether, and to what degree, Zapatista politics could be said to be founded on indigenous projects of self-valorization.