Re: [OPE-L] Capital in General

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Mon Oct 10 2005 - 13:56:00 EDT

Dear John,
         You are destroying my resolve to absorb 
myself only in things related to Venezuela right 
now, but I can't resist this one time, though, 
because the point you pose relates to a chapter 
in a book ('Following Marx') I recently finished up for Brill. (This one time!)

At 13:09 10/10/2005, John Milios wrote:
>Michael L.,
>In support of Michael H.'s argument I would say the following:Initially Marx
>reflected on the distinction between causal determinants and forms of
>appearance [a distinction which, as you point out, Marx never abandoned] on
>the basis of the concept of "capital in general", as opposed to the
>"competition of many capitals" (whereby the latter became comprehensible as
>the form of appearance of the former). He clearly distinguished then not
>only between the hidden causal relathionships of the capitalist mode of
>production and their forms of appearance, but also between these causal
>relationships -the "laws of capitalism"- (capital in general) and THE MANY
>CAPITALS (individual capital), which he considered belonging to the forms of
>appearance. However, his analysis of the formation of the general rate of
>profit led him to an understanding of competition also as a determining
>factor of capitalist relations ("laws"). Thus, in CAPITAL he abandoned the
>notion of "capital in general" (as OPPOSED TO the many capitals) and
>formulated the concepts of SOCIAL CAPITAL (involving all causalities of the
>capital relation on the level of the whole economy, but having also
>empirical articulations, i.e. dimensions referring to empirical regularities
>-e.g. the "production prices") on the one hand, and INDIVIDUAL CAPITAL on
>the other.

But, John, what do the formation of the general 
rate of profit, profits, production prices and 
the like have to do with the inner nature of 
capital? If in CAPITAL Marx abandoned his very 
clear distinction between inner laws developed at 
the level of capital in general and the way in 
which these are executed on the surface of 
society by the many capitals (and thus the 
'externalized and prima facie irrational form..., 
a form that appears in competition'), how do you 
explain his continued distinctions between that 
inner and outer? Here is an excerpt from the 
chapter I mention (all quotes from Vol III Vintage edition):

>             Marx was quite clear about this 
> relation between the categories of the inner 
> structure and those of the surface of society. 
> Surplus value, for example, is a category of 
> the inner analysis; it does not exist at the 
> level of the surface. In contrast, profit 
> belongs in the category of outer forms; on the 
> surface of society, surplus value takes the form of profit:
>         Surplus-value and the rate of 
> surplus-value are… the invisible essence to be 
> investigated, whereas the rate of profit and 
> hence the form of     surplus-value as profit 
> are visible surface phenomena (Marx, 1981b: 134).
>             Surplus value, in short, is 
> invisible. It is essence. It is a category 
> discovered with the scientist’s instrument, the 
> power of abstraction. Profit, in contrast, is 
> ‘the form of appearance of surplus-value, and 
> the latter can be sifted out from the former 
> only by analysis’ (Marx, 1981b: 139). Only by 
> the process of proceeding from the concrete to 
> the abstract can we develop an understanding of 
> surplus value (and thus its surface form). 
> Profit, Marx noted, is ‘a transformed form of 
> surplus value, a form in which its origin and 
> the secret of its existence are veiled and obliterated.’
>             At the level of the inner, 
> exploitation as the basis for surplus value can 
> be demonstrated: ‘in surplus-value, the 
> relationship between capital and labour is laid 
> bare.’ In contrast, when we see surplus value 
> only in its form on the surface, we lose all 
> understanding of its source. ‘In the relation 
> between capital and profit, i.e. between 
> capital and surplus value as it appears,’ 
> capital appears to create a new value somehow 
> through production and circulation. ‘But how 
> this happens is now mystified, and appears to 
> derive from hidden qualities that are inherent 
> in capital itself.’ (Marx, 1981b: 139).
>             We move, in short, from the surface 
> phenomenon (profit) by analysis; and, through 
> the process of reasoning, we develop the 
> concept invisible on the surface (surplus 
> value) which allows us to understand the 
> concrete. That same distinction between inner 
> and outer applies to value and price. We 
> observe prices on the surface but their nature 
> is entirely mystified. By developing the 
> concept of value, an inner category, we can 
> grasp the link to labour and from the concept 
> of abstract labour to the nature of money. 
> Indeed, without value, how possibly could  we 
> understand the nature of money and thus capital (Marx, 1981b: 295)?
>             All the inner connections revealed 
> through the concept of value, however, are 
> obliterated when considering market prices and 
> prices of production (the ‘law’ or average 
> around which market prices gravitate); these, too, are mere forms of value:
>         The price of production is already a 
> completely externalized and prima facie 
> irrational form of commodity value, a form that 
> appears in         competition and is therefore 
> present in the consciousness of the vulgar 
> capitalist and consequently also in that of the 
> vulgar economist        (Marx, 1981b: 300).

         in solidarity,
         michael L

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Oct 21 2005 - 00:00:03 EDT