[OPE-L:747] Competition & production & distribution of surplus value

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Sun, 17 Dec 1995 11:39:22 -0800

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Fred wrote [745]:

> According to Marx's method of abstraction, Marx in Chapter 1 is not
> analyzing exchange actual, concrete capitalist economies, with market
> imprefections, etc. Instead, Marx is analyzing a very abstract view of
> exchange in capitalist economies - considering only the fact that each
> commodity is in principle exchangble with all other commodities in a
> mutually consistent way. Market imperfections in actual capitalist
> economics may make exchange not intransitive. But, according to Marx's
> method of abstraction, market imprefections affect the distribution of
> surplus-value, and the distribution of surplus-value can be analyzed only
> after the production of surplus-value (i.e. the determination of the total
> amount of surplus-value). Thus, Marx abstracts from market imperfections in
> Chapter 1 (i.e. assumes there are none). This is not meant to be a
> realistic assumption, but is rather Marx's method of explaining a very
> complicated capitalist reality. One cannot explain everything at once.
Indeed, one can't explain everything at once. I agree with Fred that Marx
abstracted from "market imperfections" in Ch. 1, *yet* I want to
challenge Fred on his assertion that such "imperfections" only affect the
distribution of surplus value.

In Volume 1, Marx does not really deal with competition. Such
an analysis can only be undertaken at the more concrete level of
determination when we consider "capitalist production as a whole." What
grounds is there for asserting that altered forms of competition,
brought about by the centralization and concentration of capital, have
no effect on the *production* of surplus value? It would seem to me that
when we discuss highly concentrated markets and oligopolies, one could
argue that the traditional form of competition is modified and that this
*could* affect the production of s, in particular, *relative surplus
value*. *If* there are periods of time in contemporary capitalism
(during the expansion?) when capitalist firms in most branches of
production avoid technological change (and also price competition),
doesn't this retard the growth of relative surplus value (the main way
in which surplus value is generated under the "real subsumption of
labour under capital")?

Recent history, though, suggests that while technological change that
increases the social productivity of labor can be avoided in many
branches of production during the "boom", the more traditional form of
capitalist rivalry can reassert itself during periods of crisis and
increased international competition within those branches. *However*, to
the extent that the prior conduct of firms (when they are emphasizing
product differentiation, marketing, advertising, etc.) can impact the
production of relative surplus value, this can affect the total level of
surplus value produced and not just the distribution of the existing
surplus value.

Am I way off-base?

In OPE-L Solidarity,