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Das Capital

Debt, Money and Marx

David Graeber’s much talked of Debt: The First 5,000 Years is what the title suggests –a history of debt since ancient times. Debt, that is, in the broadest sense, since Graeber discusses theological conceptions of debt as something humans owe to gods or to God or to society, which is rather remote from the more usual sense of owing money.

The myth of barter

Graeber sets out to refute the idea put forward by Adam Smith and followed by others that money arose out of barter. Smith argued that all humans had a “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another”and so that barter would have been the original way in which they exchanged the products of their different trades. As barter has the inconvenience that those wanting to exchange have to have what each wants, at some stage money is invented as something that can be exchanged for anything.

Marx’s Financial Articles

In the critique of political economy which became his life work Marx set out, as he put it in the Preface to the first German edition of Capital, to "lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society". One of his conclusions was that the expansion of production under capitalism did not proceed at a smooth, steady pace, but was "a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, overproduction, crisis and stagnation" (Capital Vol I, Pelican, p.58), in which the long-term trend was nevertheless upwards.

The crisis which marked the end of the period of boom took the form of a financial crash—that is, a collapse of credit and a strong demand to be paid in cash. This gave rise to the illusion that the crisis was simply a monetary question whereas in fact the monetary crisis was a reflection of the real overproduction that had taken place.

The Centenary of Marx

Into the midst of the greatest slaughter the world has ever known obtrudes one of those arbitrary divisions of time called a century, in this case marked off by an event of great interest for the working class.

On the 5th of May, 1818, at the old German town of Treves, was born a boy whose discoveries, research, arid propaganda were to mark an epoch in human knowledge and progress, and who stands out as an intellectual giant in a century noted for its number of great intellects. This boy was Karl Marx.

After the customary school course and attendance at the universities both of Bonn and of Berlin, Marx wished to take up a lectureship in philosophy, but was advised not to do so by his friend, Bruno Bauer.

At 24 years of age Marx was offered the editorship of a new paper called the "Journal of the Rhine" (Rheinsche Zeitung), run by a radical section of the growing commercial class.

An Economist on Marx

HISTORIC MATERIALISM AND THE ECONOMICS OF MARX, by Benedicto Croce. Geo. Allen & Unwin, Ltd. 5s. nett.

One of the advantages of being a University Professor, or a Lecturer at a College, is that one may write arrant nonsense and pass it off for great wisdom on the uncritical reader.

The net result of the various essays forming the above volume is to leave the student with the conviction that the elder Weller's statement can still be applied with force when he asked whether "it was worth while going through so much to learn so little." Words, words, words, my masters, but little of real ideas or thoughts represented by these words and still less of any real criticism of Marx's works.

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