Inicio > Economía marxista > “The four levels of abstraction of Marx’s concept of ‘Capital'”: Roberto Fineschi

“The four levels of abstraction of Marx’s concept of ‘Capital'”: Roberto Fineschi

1. Introduction
Marx began to work out his own theory of capital in the fifties and particularly in the Manuscripts of 1857/58 (generally known as Grundrisse). Philological results have shown that, before, his analysis was still linked to Ricardo’s – in the Misery of Philosophy although already with important exceptions1 – or only faced problems at the “surface” – he studied e.g. different monetarist schools at the beginning of the fifties – but without coming to an independent organic outline of the matter. The process of research continued in the Manuscripts of 1857/58 as well, but there, it went together with the beginning of the exposition, or presentation.

While writing this manuscript, Marx defined progressively the structure of the whole “capital”, setting out a process that, however, did not finish with the Grundrisse. Relevant parts of the theory were changed or improved in Manuscripts of 1861/63, above all as regards the central concepts of market values and production prices, and in Manuscripts of 1863/65, where we have the only extensive exposition of credit and bank system. Moreover we could consider as well, that a proper terminological and conceptual distinction among value, use value, and value form as part of the framework representing the real starting point of his theory – the commodity – is reached only in the second German edition of Capital Book I (1872), even if this had been latently present since the Manuscripts of 1857/58.
Otherwise, it is broadly accepted that Marx’s concept of “capital” is linked to Hegel’s concept of “concept”, or with that of “spirit”; important studies on this subject tried to demonstrate this legacy, focussing mainly on a couple of points that successively delimitated the research field: 1. the concept of value in the simple circulation (for a long time misinterpreted as simple commodity production)6 and its relation with that of capital; 2. the concept of “capital in general” and its relation with competition.
Rosdolky’s famous inquiry was generally accepted as last word on this stuff. In his view, capital in general was only a sort of methodological ladder that was useful while setting up the conceptual framework of the whole to show the central role of industrial capital; which however could be dropped when the real exposition developed to the more concrete levels of competition and credit; these were included within the theory to avoid a double exposition of an essential part and its repetition in the inessential one. Capital in general would be this way abandoned to its destiny and the new structure would not include it.

This position was approached in the German debate in two important studies by Müller and Schwarz, even if their conclusions were different in relevant points. Their criticism was that capital in general was not abandoned at all, but was simply redefined because its relation with competition and the other more concrete parts of the theory changed; even though a few concrete categories were included within the framework of generality, this did not mean that the concept of generality as such was abandoned. We have only to show why a few parts got included and how this was justified. I can’t gohere into their analysis, but my paper is an attempt to answer those questions in a different way; my starting point is Schwarz’s conclusion: capital in general still works after Manuscripts of 1861/63, although it is almost never explicitly mentioned, and we have to explain why and how above all accumulation was included within the framework of generality.

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