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“Essays on Marx’s theory of money of I.I.Rubin”: Susumu Takenaga

The name of Rubin (Исаак Ильич Рубин,1886–1937) and a few of his works were known in Japan to a certain extent from the time preceding the Second World War by the literature related to the value debate going on in the Soviet Union at that time, translated and published about 1930 almost in real time. After the war, a negative image seems to have been enrooted for certain of those who were under the influence of the official disapproving view on Rubin and his followers adopted by the Soviet authority after the 1930s. Such a view was repeated and popularized in the textbooks of Marxist economics written by Russian researchers and translated and widely diffused in Japan1 after 1945 with the rise of Marxist economics in the post-war period. Resonance of such an influence has not totally disappeared even today.

In 1973, in the midst of the value controversy waged after 1968 among a few Marxist economists in the West, where the Marxist economics, a non negligible part of which was under a great influence of Soviet academy, had never been so important in the profession as in Japan, the masterpiece of Rubin, Essays on Marx’s theory of value (hereinafter Essays on value for short) was translated into English2, a book left and remained in oblivion for almost half a century. Rubin’s name and his works were thus rediscovered in the corner of the Western academic world, and his original interpretation of Marx’s theory of value gave a certain enduring impact on the then ongoing value debate3. Probably prompted by such a situation, the German and French versions (retranslations) of this work of Rubin were successively published, and also some of the original documents related to the value debate during the last years of 1920s, to begin with a few other works of Rubin himself, were translated and published, which contributed to make known something about this debate on the basis of its original resource materials. But, the pros and cons discussions at that and subsequent times about Rubin’s theory in the debate in the West were in many cases based solely on the English translation (and German and French retranslations) of his book given above, the other related literature not being referred to nor made use of. In addition, in these translations were omitted all the important supplementary materials originally annexed to the third edition of Essays on value published in 19284, which served as the exemplar to the translation: three articles of controversy (replies of Rubin to the criticisms by Dashkovskij, Shabs, Kon) newly added to this edition as ‘Replies to critics’, and ‘Appendices’ (author’s explanation of some of the keywords used in his book) showing Rubin as philologist and useful for understanding the text of Essays on value. This omission made hardly perceivable the controversial context where this book was found itself at the time of its publication.

In contrast to the above evolution observed in a part of the Western academic world during the years from 1970s to 1980s, in that of Japan with a preponderance of the Marxist economics since the end of the war, a Japanese translation did not appear following the German and French ones just as they had followed the English translation, and Rubin was not actively referred to nor became object of discussion in the value debate flourished at that time in succession to the value form debate between Kuruma and Uno, although a few paid attention to the English translation of Rubin and to the debate about this book in the West. Such a contrastive reception of Rubin in West and in Japan may perhaps be explained by something like an antipathy devoid of clear foundation persistent among a part of the Japanese Marxist economists from the time just after the war against the participants in the Soviet value debate in the 1920s.

Essays on value has been considered to have come to an end with its third edition of 1928 by the fact that this book of Rubin was translated into English taking as exemplar this third edition, and also by the fact that the value debate during the last years of 1920s about this edition was forcefully quelled by the intervention of the authority at the end of 1929, the year following its appearance. But, in the late 1980s, a copy of its forth edition5 was accidentally discovered from among the Ichiro Nakayama collection in the university library of Hitotsubashi, probably one among the books Nakayama had eagerly bought during his stay for studies in European countries before the War. On the recommendation of Yoshihiro Takasuka, the discoverer, professor of the Institute of Economic Research of Hitotsubashi University at that time, I was to translate this book into Japanese, and its entire translation was published from Hosei University Publishing House in Tokyo in 1993 with a detailed introductory essay of the translator on the basis of a documentation of primary resource materials of the 1920s. The copy of the fourth edition I took as the exemplar of my translation was among those published in 1930, but in fact the first some thousand copies of this edition had already been released in 1929, and together with those of 1930 the total printing may have been about 10,000. The only one difference of this edition from the third edition of 1928 consists in the addition of the fourth article to ‘Replies to critics’ responding to the critique of Bessonov (reproduction of a review article published at the beginning of 1929), all the rest remaining the same as the third edition. Rubin may have published the fourth edition in this way in 1929, the year following that of the third edition, probably because he intended to supply somehow last additional copies of his Essays on value, noticing the symptoms of oppression which were appearing in various places in 1929, the year of the ‘great transformation’ with the establishment of dictatorship of Stalin launching the first five year planning of economy. But, how many of the above number of the copies of the fourth edition published at such a time actually circulated? As far as I have surveyed the related articles published in principal theoretical reviews in Soviet Union after 1930, there are very few examples of mention of the fourth edition. It seems a fortiori that outside Soviet Union even the existence itself of this edition hardly came to be known. This last edition may have thus been so to say a ‘phantom edition’. Even for the contemporary Russian economists familiar with the Soviet and Russian history of economic thought, the appearance of a Japanese translation of Essays on value as many as twenty years ago realized on the basis of its fourth edition may be surprising.

During the several years when I was occupied with this translation work, the former ‘socialist’ regime which existed during about two thirds of the 20th century in Soviet and Eastern countries and the communist (labour) parties of these countries which dominated this regime collapsed beginning with the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and at the same time the Marxism (or Marxism=Leninism) as the pillar of the regime and its organization was discredited ideologically and theoretically, the interest in every scientific field relating to Marx, Marxist economics first of all, was rapidly lost. In such conditions of the time, unfortunately my translation work could hardly draw attention in Japan, and in foreign countries it did not become known because of the language barrier of the Japanese. But at the same time the collapse of the Soviet Union brought with it an unexpected by-product for the study of the history of economic thought in the former Soviet: the writings of the thinkers and theorists oppressed, purged and expelled as heretics during the Soviet time had been enclosed in archives and forbidden to be lent out till the beginning of the 1990s, and it was impossible to get access to these documents from abroad, but with the restoration of honour given to most of them after the collapse of Soviet Union many of such documents became available through various channels. In translating Rubin’s book I tried at the same time to obtain from domestic university libraries etc. the related materials as the sources for writing the translator’s introductory essay, but as the materials conserved in Japan were naturally limited, I was obliged to begin writing this essay and the translator’s notes in abandoning to procure some important resources and so leaving them unread.


Articulo completo en pdf: Takenaga Susumi: Rubin on Marx’s Theory of Money

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