Piero Sraffa (1898-1983)
WITH the death of Piero Sraffa—Marxist scholar and distinguished economic theorist—on September 3, 1983, we have lost one of those intellectuals that shared and shaped the experiences of a generation which lived through a swift and tumultuous history—years of savage open rivalries among capitalist nations culminating in fascism, and the outbreaks of two world wars, the rise and subsiding of militant working class movements in Europe, the surging tide of socialism, the victory of the first socialist revolution, and the anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World. To a Marxist thinker, particularly, these were years of challenge, of hopes, of fears and frustrations. At an intellectual plane, to be an uncompromising, relentless pusuer of basic tenets—'foundations that may hold'—for political economy, the battle was to steadfastly anchor theory in essential principles, to steer clear of the many obfusca-tions, of deviant directions that apologetic theory took and to mount a sturdy, single-minded attack on the 'neo-classical5 orthodoxy that had come to deminate theory. This battle, Sraffa waged silently, sometimes ploughing a lonely furrow over years.
Born on August 5, 1898, at Turin, the only child of a noted jurist, Angelo Sraffa, Piero Sraffa had a rather exclusive upbringing. As a child, he was already conversant with French, German and English, apart, naturally, from Italian, his mother tongue. He had his schooling at Turin and took his doctorate at the early age of 22 in 1920, when he was still m uniform, having had to serve the Italian army, like all Italian youths, by law. Already, however, Sraffa's political predilections were well formed. During 1919-1920 he came into active association with V Or dine Nuovo, writing anonymous pieces and political commentaries remarkable for their lucidity, brevity and directness. In 1921, when he first met Keynes, the Cambridge economist, the latter was impressed by his discussion on hedging of the forward exchanges. Sraffa's doctoral dissertation was on the Italian banking system ("Monetary Inflation in Italy during and after War) and Keynes commissioned him to write a piece for the Manchester Guardian Reconstruction Supplement which was published in 1922. The sharp critical remarks of Sraffa
^Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru Xjniversity, Nev^ Delhi