Grundrisse

(1857–1858)
   Consisting of seven notebooks intended as a discrete work, the writing of the Grundrisse was stimulated by the general economic crisis of 1857 and borne on the failure of the European revolutions in 1848–50. Not intended for publication, the notebooks are essentially a clarification of scientific socialism, specifically a commentary upon the contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production in preparation for Critique of Political Economy and Capital and was described by Karl Marx as the “result of fifteen years of research, thus the best period of my life.” The title was given when the Marx–Engels–Lenin Institute published the books in 1939, as were the chapter names and breaks. The Grundrisse is a difficult read because of its very nature as Marx’s personal notes and not as a publishable work. It does, however, give the reader great insight into Marx’s methodology and the influence of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel upon it. In a letter to Friedrich Engels during the writing, Marx comments upon how Hegel’s Logic contributed to his theory of profit being subordinate to surplus value in the dialectic of exploitation, but the extensive Hegelian terminology that appears here is discarded and the method less apparent in Capital.
   The dialectical movement within money and capital, and the opposition and relation between the two is the essence of Grundrisse. Marx uses “The Chapter on Money” to uncover the secrets of capital and his method of historical materialism is extremely clear in the uncovering of the contradictions of money and exposing the sociohistorical importance. In expanding and systematizing his earlier works, Marx illustrates the oppression of man by the alien power he creates, but does so in terms of the superstructure relation of bourgeois morality, religion, law and economics, which, as a result of their derivation from the contradictory base, are each one-sided spheres attempting to form a totality. Money is social, and its superstructural significance will inevitably change. Marx penetrates the surface phenomenon that is money in order to study its underlying contradiction, capital: the exchange of labor as commodity.
   As in other works, Marx confronts classical political economy while simultaneously developing his own theory. As well as a critique of the inherently contradictory labor theory of value in terms of the vicissitudes of wage labor, Marx expands his earlier theory of alienation to scientific categories, yet retains its humanism. The key antithesis of use value and exchange value is first identified in the Grundrisse. Contrary to classical political economy, Marx believes the capitalist purchases labor for its exchange value and obtains its use value, thus consuming labor. Labor power is a living thing and surplus value can be extracted from it; labor can be exploited, therefore the worker cannot be enriched, only the antithesis of the worker, capital, is nourished by wage labor. Capital is a process, which at first appears static but is a one-sided unity of contradictions, i.e., the surface phenomenon of money is the object of “the law of equivalence” yet capital is the object of the law of exploitation.
   The contradictions of capital are also fundamental to the theory of revolution. The highest development of productive power and the greatest expansion of existing wealth cause not only the degradation of the worker but the depreciation of capital. This contradiction causes ever-worsening economic crises which, juxtaposed with the inevitability of the “absolute impoverishment” of the worker, will ineluctably result in the violent overthrow of bourgeois rule.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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