Karl Marx: "Pamphlet No. 1 ends with the statement: 'Wealth is nothing but disposable time'"
No, it doesn't.
The pamphlet Marx cited was The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. The phrase, "wealth... is disposable time, and nothing more," appeared on page 5 of the 40-page pamphlet. On page 6, the pamphlet's author asked,
"Why then is it that no existing society, nor society that ever had existence, has arrived at this point of time, considering that in all times, and in all societies, excepting only the very barbarous, a few years would naturally have led to it?
The subsequent 34 pages were dedicated to solving that riddle -- or at least illuminating it. In chapter 21 of Theories of Surplus Value and in the "fragment on machines" in the Grundrisse Marx wrote almost as many words misunderstanding the anonymously published pamphlet as its author, Charles Wentworth Dilke, had used to compose it. There were parts Marx obviously liked very, very much and there were others that he didn't mention.
Marx's most glaring omission had to do with a calculation by Dilke of an unnamed quantity that one might describe as "socially necessary labour time." It wasn't the same socially necessary labour time that Marx would come up with some 40 years later.
To arrive at "a rude guess" of capitalist exploitation, Dilke was compelled to "reason from a plain levelling principle." The rationale for such an assumption was unmistakably from William Godwin, whose ideas Dilke paraphrased liberally throughout the pamphlet -- including the "fine statement" that wealth is disposable time, or, as Godwin had written, "the real wealth of man is leisure."
Marx's comment that the pamphlet's author "stands rather on Ricardian ground," revealed what might be called an Oedipal blindness about the paternity of his radical intellectual project. In a notebook from the 1840s, Marx had written, "The theory of exploitation owes its further development in England to Godwin, and especially to Bentham... Godwin’s Political Justice was written during the terror..."
In The condition of the working class in England, Friedrich Engels acknowledged,
...two great practical philosophers of latest date, Bentham and Godwin, are, especially the latter, almost exclusively the property of the proletariat... The proletariat has formed upon this basis a literature, which consists chiefly of journals and pamphlets, and is far in advance of the whole bourgeois literature in intrinsic worth. On this point more later.
Engels did not return to that point.
Remarkably, in a comment at the beginning of chapter 7 of Theories of Surplus Value, Marx explicitly excluded Godwin, by name, from consideration in the work:
In accordance with the plan of my work socialist and communist writers are entirely excluded from the historical reviews. These reviews are only intended to show on the one hand in what form the political economists criticized each other, and on the other hand the historically determining forms in which the laws of political economy were first stated and further developed. In dealing with surplus-value I therefore exclude such eighteenth century writers as Brissot, Godwin and the like, and likewise the nineteenth-century socialists and communists. The few socialist writers whom I shall come to speak of in this survey either themselves adopt the standpoint of bourgeois economy or contest it from its own standpoint.
Yeah, please try not to think of an elephant. Especially not the one that ends with the fine statement, "wealth is disposable time."
I am working on a critique of Marx's category of socially necessary labour time and I am astonished that no one has thought to examine its history. They call it historical materialism, don't they? Do all these Marxists really just assume that socially necessary labour time sprung like Athena from the head of Zeus?
Toward the end of Time, Labor and Social Domination, Moishe Postone wrote,
The trajectory of capitalist production as presented by Marx can be viewed, then, in terms of the development of the social division of time-from socially necessary (individually necessary and surplus), through socially necessary and superfluous, to the possibility of socially necessary and disposable (which would entail overcoming the older form of necessity). This trajectory expresses the dialectical development of capitalism, of an alienated form of society constituted as a richly developed totality at the expense of the individuals, which gives rise to the possibility of its own negation, a new form of society in which people, singly and collectively, can appropriate the species-general capacities that had been constituted in alienated form as attributes of the Subject.But Dilke had already asked, two hundred years ago, "Why is it that no existing society, nor society that ever had existence, has arrived at this point of time?"
Index to all posts on socially necessary labour time.