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An Essay on Marxian Economics by Joan Robinson

It would be wrong to conclude from all this that Marxists do not work politically and practically on the politics of daily life or in the sphere of value realization. I meet such people all over the place all the time, involved in, say, anti-gentrification struggles and fights over the provision of health care and education as well as in right to the city movements. The Marxist critique of education under capitalism has been profound (Bowles and Gintis, 1977). This is a realm where Marxist practices often go well beyond the theoretical content (a gap which I as well as other Marxist geographers like Neil Smith (1992, 2003) and, from a somewhat different angle, Gibson-Graham (2006) have attempted to close). But it is also clear to me that many people working politically on these daily life questions do not care about Marxism or anarchism ideologically but simply engage in radical practices that often converge onto anti-capitalist politics for contingent rather than ideological reasons. This is the kind of world of non-ideological collective action that Paul Hawken (2007) writes so enthusiastically about. I have met workers in recuperated factories in Argentina whose primary interest was nothing more than having a job and activists within solidarity economies in Brazil who are simply concerned with improving daily life. Sure, most of those involved will praise horizontalism when asked, but for most of them that was not what spurred them into action (Sitrin and Azzelini, 2014). Those working in such contexts seize on any literature and any concepts that seem relevant to their cause no matter whether articulated by anarchists, Marxists or whoever.

An Essay on Marxian Economics is a 1942 book about Karl Marx by the economist Joan Robinson

An Essay on Marxian Economics by Joan Robinson, …

Shortly after I got interested in Marx and Marxism in the early 1970s, I figured that part of my mission might be to help Marxists be better geographers. I have frequently joked since that it proved much easier to bring Marxist perspectives into geography than to get Marxists to take geographical questions seriously. Bringing Marxist perspectives into geography meant taking up themes on space, place making and environment and embedding them in a broad understanding of “the laws of motion of capital” as Marx understood them. Most social anarchists I know (as Springer admits) find the Marxist critical exposé and theoretical account of how capital circulates and accumulates in space and time and through environmental transformations helpful. To the degree that I was able, and continue to work on, how to make Marx’s critique of capital more relevant and more easily understood, particularly in relation to topics such as urbanization, landscape formation, place- making, rental extractions, ecological transformations and uneven geographical developments, I would hope that social anarchists might appreciate and not disparage the effort. The contributions of Marxism in general and Marxist political economy in particular are foundational to anti-capitalist struggle. They define more clearly what the struggle has to be about and against and why.

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The radicalism that remained in the discipline (after many of my erstwhile colleagues had run for the neoliberal hills or, in the British case, to seek their knighthood) was thereafter dominated by the postmodern turn, Foucault, post- structuralism (Deleuze and Guattari along with Spinoza clearly displacing Marx), postcolonial theory, various shades of environmentalism and sophisticated forms of identity politics around race, gender, sexual orientation, queer theory, to say nothing of theories of non-representation and affect. During the 1990s, before the rise of the alter-globalization movement, there was little interest in Marxian political economy or Marxism more generally within the discipline or without. As always there were some islands of resistance in various departments. With the exception of The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) – which stood out as a pillar of resistance within Marxist thinking to postmodern trends and which elicited fierce criticism from radical, particularly feminist, quarters within and without geography (as at the AAG in 1990) – most of my really “influential writings” have come out over the last ten years. Springer’s bowdlerized history of Marxism in radical geographical thought suggests he is simply concerned to build a fantasy narrative of anarchism in geography as victimized by Marxism to support his central objective, which is to polarize matters at this particular historical moment (for reasons I do not understand). Sadly, this comes not only at a time when the conjuncture is right for a revival of interest in Marxist political economy, but it also coincides with a political moment when others are beginning to explore new ways of doing politics that involve putting the best of different radical and critical traditions (including but not confined to Marxism and anarchism) together in a new configuration for anti- capitalist struggle.

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So what are the main differences and difficulties that separate my supposed (but often suspect) Marxism from Springer’s anarchism? On this I find Springer’s discussion less than helpful. He caricatures all Marxists as functionalist historians peddling a stages theory of history, besotted with a crude concept of a global proletarian class who believe in the teleology of a vanguard party that will inevitably establish a dictatorship of the proletariat in the form of a communist state that will supposedly wither away as communism approaches its steady state to end history. Now it is undeniable that some communists and in some instances communist parties at certain historical periods have asserted something along those lines as party dogma (though rarely in so crude a form). But I have not personally encountered any geographer with Marxist leanings who thinks that way and there are a mass of authors in the Marxist tradition who come nowhere near representing anything of this sort (start with Lukacs, Gramsci and then go to E. P. Thompson, Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton). And much of contemporary Marxist political economy is so busy trying to figure out what is going on with the crisis tendencies of contemporary capital to bother with such nonsense. But all we Marxists do, Springer asserts, is re-hash tired old themes which he (rather than any geographer with Marxist inclinations) has selectively identified and which have been so obviously disproven by historical events. Furthermore, when we Marxists look at anarchists the only thing we apparently see are people who are against the state as the unique and only enemy, thus denying that anarchists are anti-capitalist too. All of this is pure caricature if not paranoid nonsense. It crams all the actual and intricate complexity of the relation between the two traditions into an ideological framework defined at best by the fight between Marx and Bakunin in 1872, which occurred at a time when the bitter defeat of the Paris Commune poisoned the political atmosphere. Strange that Springer, the open-minded freedom-loving anarchist, should seek to foreclose on the intellectual and political possibilities open to us at this time in this way.

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There are, of course, many anarchisms and many Marxisms. The identity of anarchism in particular is very hard to pin down. There is frequently as much bad blood between factions within these traditions (if such they are) as there is between them. By the same token, there are as many commonalities between factions across traditions as there are differences. These commonalities prefigure the potentiality for a new left force, maybe of the sort that Bookchin envisages and which I, too, find interesting to explore. For example, I share with Bookchin as I do with Erich Fromm and Terry Eagleton a deep commitment to the humanist perspective as opposed to the scientism that dominates the Althusserian and scientific communism traditions. I also share with Bookchin a dialectical approach (which I think he learned during his early years in the Marxist corner and which he does not always stick to) rather than positivist, empiricist or analytical methods and interpretations. Our attitude is, for lack of a better term, historical and geographical (which is why I often refer to historical-geographical materialism as my foundational frame of reference). From his dialectical humanist perspective, Bookchin was hostile (in ways that only Bookchin could be) to the anarchist primitivists and deep ecologists as well as to those anarchists who he scathingly referred to as “lifestyle anarchists” (he would be appalled by crimethInc; see ). He was sympathetic to but also suspicious of the anarcho-syndicalism that was so dominant in Barcelona during the 1930s. Bookchin’s favored anarchism was resolutely social and ecological but it also incorporated some features that elicited numerous attacks from fellow social anarchists in the 1990s.