A History of Economic Thought - By: Isaak Illich Rubin

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Isaak and Polonia Rubin, 1910

[Dedicated to memories of "New School," aka 'The New School for Social Research,' and friendships thereof, including but not limited to Paul Cooney, Matt Noyes,...

I still have the books, thanx,]  

Isaak Illich Rubin (Russian: Исаа́к Ильи́ч Ру́бин; 12 June 1886, Dinaburg, now Latvia – 27 November 1937, Aktobe, now Kazakhstan) was a soviet economist and is considered to be the most important theorist of his time on the field of Karl Marx's theory of value. His main work "Essays on Marx's Theory of Value" was published in 1924. He was executed in 1937 during the course of the Great Purge, but his ideas have since been rehabilitated.

Rubin became a revolutionary during the Revolution of 1905, when he was 19 years old. He first joined the Jewish Bund and later the Mensheviks. He withdrew from politics in 1924, devoting himself to the academic study of Marxist economics, and in 1926 he joined the prestigious Marx-Engels Institute as a research assistant. The Marx-Engels Institute was headed by David Riazanov, against whom Joseph Stalin nursed a grudge.

"Essays on Marx's Theory of Value" was published in 1924. Prior to his arrest, Rubin also published books on the history of economics and contemporary economics, as well as editing an anthology of classical political economy.

Rubin's main work emphasised the importance of Marx's theory of commodity fetishism in the labor theory of value. Against those who counterposed Marx's early interest in alienation with his later economic theory, Rubin argued that Marx's mature economic work represented the culmination of his lifetime project to understand how human creative power is shaped, defined, and limited by social structures, which take on a uniquely "objective" economic form under capitalism. Significantly, Rubin is at pains to argue that simple commodity production is not a historical phenomenon that developed into capitalism, as it is often understood by both Marxists and critics of Marx; rather, it is a theoretical abstraction that explains one aspect of a fully developed capitalist economy. The concept of value, as understood by Rubin, cannot exist without the other elements of a full-blown capitalist economy: money, capital, the existence of a proletariat, and so on.

Rubin was arrested on December 23, 1930, and accused of being a member of the All-Union Bureau of Mensheviks, a fictitious secret organisation. Rubin, a trained lawyer and an economist, outwitted his first interrogators and the first charge was dropped; he was then transferred to a cell in Suzdal, where he was placed in solitary confinement and subjected to sleep deprivation.

On January 28, 1931, Rubin was brought to another cell, where he was shown another prisoner and told that if he did not confess, the prisoner would be shot. Rubin refused and the prisoner was executed before him. The process was repeated the next night. After the second shooting, Rubin negotiated a "confession" with his interrogators, who insisted that he implicate his mentor David Riazanov as a member of a secret Menshevik conspiracy.

At 1931 Menshevik Trial, Rubin refused to confirm the existence of a Menshevik organisation. Although he agreed to make false statements regarding Riazanov's correspondence with other secret Mensheviks, he claimed that this was done on the basis of "great personal trust" rather than organisational discipline. As a result of this failure to fully cooperate with his prosecutors, Rubin was sentenced to five years in prison. Although he attempted to shield Riazanov from the worst charges, Rubin emerged from the experience "morally broken, destroyed, degraded to a state of complete hopelessness".

Rubin served most of his prison term in solitary confinement, during which he continued his research as best as he could. When he fell ill with a suspected cancer, he was removed to a hospital and encouraged to make further confessions in return for favourable treatment, but declined the offer. He was released on a commuted sentence in 1934 and allowed to work in Aktyubinsk, Kazakhstan, as an economic planner. Rubin was arrested once more during the Great Purge in 1937. After this arrest he was never seen alive again.

Rubin's work was never reissued in the Soviet Union after 1928, but in 1972 Essays on Marx's Theory of Value was translated into English by Fredy Perlman and Milos Samardzija. This work became a foundation stone of the "value-form" approach to Marxist theory, exemplified by Hans-Georg Backhaus, Chris Arthur, Geert Reuten, and the "Konstanz–Sydney" group (Michael Eldred, Mike Roth, Lucia Kleiber, and Volkbert Roth). In this interpretation of Marx, "it is the development of the forms of exchange that is seen as the prime determinant of the capitalist economy rather than the content regulated by it". Capitalism is here understood as a method of regulating human labor by giving it the social form of an exchangeable commodity (the "value-form"), rather than a disguised or mystified system that is otherwise similar in content to other class-based societies.




Author’s Preface to the Second Edition

Part One- Mercantilism and its Decline

Chapter 1. The Age of Merchant Capital

Chapter 2. Merchant Capital and Mercantilist Policy in England in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Chapter 3. The General Features of Mercantilist Literature

Chapter 4. The Early English Mercantilists

Chapter 5. Mercantilist Doctrine at its Height: Thomas Mun

Chapter 6. The Reaction against Mercantilism: Dudley North

Chapter 7. The Evolution of the Theory of Value: William Petty

Chapter 8. The Evolution of the Theory of Money: David Hume

Part Two-  The Physiocrats

Chapter 9. The Economic Situation in Mid-Eighteen Century France

Chapter 10. The History of the Physiocratic School

Chapter 11. The Social Philosophy of the Physiocrats

Chapter 12. Large-scale and Small-scale Agriculture

Chapter 13. Social Classes

Chapter 14. The Net Product

Chapter 15. Quensay’s Tableau Economique

Chapter 16. Economic Policy

Chapter 17. The Theoratical Legacy of the Phsiocrats

Part Three- Adam Smith

Chapter 18. Industrial Capitalism in England during the Mid-Eighteen Century

Chapter 19. Adam Smith, the Man

Chapter 20. Smith’s Social Philosophy

Chapter 21. The Division of Labour

Chapter 22. The Theory of Value

Chapter 23. The Theory of Distribution

Chapter 24. The Theory of Capital and Productive Labour

Part Four- David Ricardo

Chapter 25. The Industrial Revolution in England

Chapter 26. Ricardo’s Biography

Chapter 27. The Philosophical and Methodological Bases of Ricardo’s Theory of Value

Chapter 28. The Theory of Value              

  • Labour Value
  • Capital and Surplus Value
  • Prices of Production

Chapter 29. Ground Rent

Chapter 30. Wages and Profits

Part Five- The Decline of the Classical School

Chapter 31. Malthus and the Law of Population

Chapter 32. The Beginning of Vulgar Economy- Say

Chapter 33. The Debate Surrounding the Ricardian Theory of Value

Chapter 34. The Wages Fund

Chapter 35. The Theory of Abstinence- Senior

Chapter 36. Harmony of Interests- Cary and Bastiat

Chapter 37. Sismondi as a critic of Capitalism

Chapter 38. The Utopian Socialists

Chapter 39. The Twilight of the Classical School- John Stuart Mill

Part Six- Conclusion: A Brief Review of the Course

Chapter 40. Brief Review of the Course

Afterword by Catherine Colliot- Thelene

Name Index

Subject Index

Diagrams       Quensay’s Description of the circulation of commodities and of money

"A History of Economic Thought" - Conclusion: A Brief Review of the Course


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