Radical Political Economics

Paddy Quick,

St. Francis College (Emeritus), and Member of the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE)

URPE welcomes as members all who are willing to take up the fight for justice and to develop and propagate economic analysis that contributes to this. We are not just “in favor of a better society”.  We are “radical” in the sense that we seek to identify the roots of the political-economic system within which the peoples of the world work and live. The following constitutes one such theoretical approach and does not pretend to be representative of the theoretical perspective of URPE members as a whole.

Radical Political Economics takes as its starting point an understanding that capitalism, like all class societies, constitutes a system of ARMED ROBBERY.

The “ROBBERY” consists of the expropriation by the non-laboring ruling class of a portion of the household- and wage-labored production of the women, men, and children of the laboring class, the ”surplus,”  with the goal of leaving the laboring class with only what is necessary for its maintenance from day to day and generation to generation.

This requires the use of force, hence “ARMED” robbery, carried out in all class societies by a state which is under the control of the ruling class. It takes place both nationally and internationally in the forms of  both actual and threatened police violence, mass incarceration and war.

Radical political economics recognizes the (unjust) division of income, but sees capitalism as rooted in WEALTH, more specifically, the private ownership by capitalists of an overwhelming and growing proportion of society’s means of production.

The ability of capital to exploit wage laborers is based on the inability of workers to use their limited ownership of the means of production to support themselves. The continual existence of UNEMPLOYMENT AND ITS ASSOCIATED POVERTY constitutes the pre-requisite for the payment of wages that are barely sufficient  for the maintenance and generational reproduction of the working class.

Capitalism is a system of CAPITAL ACCUMULATION, ever-expanding production that has no end-goal other than the continuation of that process.  It serves neither to meet the needs of workers nor to fully satisfy the lifestyle aspirations of individual capitalists. Instead, capitalists are driven, primarily through the force of inter-capitalist competition, to accumulate. In doing so, capitalism is threatening to bring catastrophic devastation to our planet.

Capitalism also requires the development and propagation of a system of ideas, an IDEOLOGY, that portrays this armed robbery as not only “just” but inevitable. We, as economists, are expected to play a role in this, but it is a role which we actively resist. Thus, we not only criticize the ideological constructs of mainstream economics, but develop an understanding of the actual workings of the capitalist mode of production.

In 1823, Thomas Hodgskin, a pre-Marxist socialist wrote:

“Men had better be without education that be educated by their rulers; for then education is but the mere breaking in of the steer to the yoke; the mere discipline of the hunting dog, which, by dint of severity, is made to forego the strongest impulse of his nature, and instead of devouring his prey, to bring it to the feet of his master.” 

Instead of the propagation of the ideology contained in mainstream economic theory, the following guiding principle can guide our work as economists:

“[I]f the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realize all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present—I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be.” Karl Marx, 1842

[For additional information on the Radical Political Economics approach to the discipline, see “The Principles of Radical Political Economics,” published in this issue and online at www.urpe.org.]