In an earlier post I took notes on this, with an eye toward using it as a metaphor which I could use to open up questions about the understanding of politics in Marx(ism). The metaphor then is that there is an equation perhaps in Marx and certainly in his translators into English of “political economy” with “national economy” and that this equation is parallel to an equation that can be seen perhaps in Marx and certainly in the translators of Marxism into different political contexts, an equation of the political with the national. In other words, the issue being a way in which the Marxist tradition repeats the figure of the people over and over and thus figures politics as state-like. I leave that aside for now, to dwell on matters marxological.
In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Translated by Martin Milligan. Published by Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY,1988) the translator writes in a footnote (#3 on page 24)
“the phrase “economic sytem” has been used to render the German term Nationalökonomie – the term used by Marx in these manuscripts for “Political Economy.” Here, and occasonally elsewhere, Marx seems to use Nationalökonomie to stand not simply for Political Economy as body of theory, but for the economic system, the developing industrial capitalist system, portrayed and championed by the classical political economists.” (Ranciere comments on the latter point in his contribution to Reading Capital, that the early Marx does not distinguish between the economy and the capitalist/pro-capitalist discourse on the economy.)
Thus, for example, when Marx writes in the beginning of the 1844 Manuscripts that “For this reason it will be found that the interconnection between political economy and the state, law, ethics, civil life, etc., is touched on in the present work only to the extent to which political economy itself ex professo touches on these subjects,” the term translated as “political economy” would be more literally rendered as “national economy.” (In German: “Man findet aus diesem Grunde in der vorliegenden Schrift den Zusammenhang der Nationalökonomie mit Staat, Recht, Moral, bürgerlichem Leben etc. grade nur soweit berührt,
als die Nationalökonomie selbst ex professo diese Gegenstände berührt.” From here.)
The same term, Nationalökonomie, also appears in the title of an 1843 work by Engels. That work is “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy,” the original German title is “Umrisse zu einer Kritik de Nationalökonomie.” Marx spoke very highly of this work in the introduction to his – that is, Marx’s – 1859 work “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.” Interestingly enough (or not), that work’s original title is “Zur Kritik der Politischen Ekonomie.” The English translations don’t reflect this terminological shift. All of this might be trivial, such that I’m getting stuck in something which my initial interest took solely as a metaphor I wanted to use for little more than a rhetorical flourish. It may instead be a marxological point (still trivial, but differently so).
I ran across another reference to this national economy stuff tonight which is I think less trivial than the others. It’s in Marx’s 1844 text “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.” (The text is also online in German here.)
Marx writes “The relation of industry, of the world of wealth generally, to the political world is one of the major problems of modern times. (…) Whereas the problem in France and England is: Political economy, or the rule of society over wealth; in Germany, it is: National economy, or the mastery of private property over nationality.”
“Das Verhältnis der Industrie, überhaupt der Welt des Reichtums, zu der politischen Welt ist ein Hauptproblem der modernen Zeit. (…) Während das Problem in Frankreich und Endland lautet: Politische Ökonomie oder Herrschaft der Sozietät über den Reichtum, lautet es in Deutschland: National-Ökonomie oder Herrschaft des Privateigentums über die Nationalität.”
What’s interesting here is that Marx contrasts political economy with national economy. The former is more progressive or historically advanced than the latter. (Marx spends a lot of time in this piece discussing German backwardness. He calls the Germany of the day an anachronism, especially compared with France and England.) It might be that what Marx and Engels are talking about in their 1843-44 works where they criticize “National-Ökonomie” is the particularly backward or reactionary German variant of political economy at the time. The distinction seems to have dropped out by the 1859 “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” but I’m not entirely sure. It may also be that Marx just had other targets in that work.
The term comes back in 1877 or so. Duhring wrote a book with the term in the title, Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie, which Marx took notes on and attacked, in a manuscript called Randnoten zu Dührings Kritische Geschichte der National. This is referenced in the second preface to Engels’ work Anti-Duhring and in footnotes to that work here and here. Engels also says that this chapter was written by Marx, being a section of Marx’s Randnoten manuscript which Engels’ edited for inclusion in the Anti-Duhring.