ABSTRACT OF PAPER

Title: Peter Fireman, winner of F. Engels' “Prize Essay Competition”
Author: ALCOUFFE Alain


The publication of Howard and King’s two-volume history of Marxian economics in 1989 has highlighted many early debates on the theory of value, especially those writings submitted as entries to “Prize Essay Competition” launched by Engels in his preface to Capital, volume II (1884). . Twenty years after the publication of Howard and King’s first volume dealing with the period between the publication of volume II and III, much more details are known on some of the participants to this competition, W. Lexis, C. Schmidt, P. Fireman, J. Wolf, A. Loria, J. Lehr. Nevertheless the winner, Peter Fireman who was credited to have arrived very close to the Marxian solution is still largely unknown. Peter Fireman’s life is amazing. He was a Russian Jew born Odessa in 1864. He emigrated to the USA in the 1884’s to found an utopian community called New Odessa (a "kibboutz" before the name was coined)). After New Odessa broke, he came back into Europe and prepared a PhD in chemistry in Zurich where he met his wife, Ernestine Weitz, who was among the first women with a PhD in sciences. He became a friend of Conrad Schmitt whose classes in economics he attended. As far as we know, his solution to the transformation problem as his unique contribution to economics. After he went back in the US to teach chemistry and he only published a paper in defence of German social democracy in the 1890’s. After a while, he took some patents and founded his own business. In the 1920’s he was reasonably rich and could finance a journal, "the new freeman". Eventually between the 1930' and his death in 1963 (he was 99) he published several booklets devoted to various topics belonging to psychology or philosophy. Besides this amazing character, there are other reasons to study the context in which he published his article on the theory of value and the microclimate of the University of Zurich where we find three participants to the Engels’ prize, Schmidt, Wolf and Fireman whose relationships it is interesting to disentangle if you are to understand the prehistory of the transformation problem (see Alcouffe, Quaas & Quaas 2009). References : Alcouffe, A, Quaas, F. & Quaas G, “La préhistoire du problème de la transformation” in A. Alcouffe & C. Diebolt ed., La pensée économique allemande, preface par B. Schefold, Economica, Paris, 2009. M.C. Howard ; J.E. King A History of Marxian Economics: Volume I, 1883-1929, Princeton: Princeton University Press,

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