Book Review: ‘Marx’s Capital’

Marx’s economics

‘Marx’s Capital’, by Ben Fine, Macmillan, Third Edition, 1988.

Harold Wilson’s comment that he couldn’t get past the footnote on the first page of Marx’s Capital echoes a concern felt by some newcomers to Marx that they really do find this work daunting.

This is probably in part due to some of the genuinely difficult economic analysis involved, but no doubt also to the sheer bulk of the thousands of pages which comprise the three volumes. However, this problem should be seen in a proper perspective. If you think Marxian economics is difficult, you should see what orthodox economics is like. Replete with its own technical jargon and mathematical formulae, bewildering to all but the initiated, orthodox economics tries desperately to pass itself off as a science. But it isn’t; it’s an ideology in which economists (“hired prize-fighters” Marx called them) defend the claims of capital against the claims of Capital.

There are easier ways into Marx. For instance, his own Value, Price and Profit is fairly clear and concise. But for those who want to know what he is saying in Capital itself there is this book by Ben Fine. In a substantially revised and expanded edition of a work first published in 1973, Fine sets out to give an introductory account of Capital in a remarkably short space (102 pages).

Overall he succeeds in this attempt although the sheer brevity in itself causes some problems. With only a few pages devoted to each, there are chapters on Marx’s method, commodity production, the labour theory of value, capital accumulation, exploitation, the transition to capitalism, crises, and more besides. For this new edition there are new chapters on controversial issues such as the transformation problem and the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. These, in addition to the new and longer chapters on interest-bearing capital and rent theory, will, as Fine admits, require careful reading.

Marx’s theory of inflation is not mentioned at all. There is also a passing reference (on page 4) to Marx holding that in a socialist society “classes would eventually disappear”. Eventually? Surely socialism is the abolition of class society. Despite these, Fine’s treatment of Marxian economics is true to Marx. It should help many to prepare for tackling the real thing.

Lew Higgins

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