[OPE-L:2425] How many periods?

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Thu, 30 May 1996 06:21:01 -0700

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Re Fred's #2397, #2021

Hi Fred

You're right: I did not get #2021. I seem to have lost more
than one post around this time and I'll have to go back to the
archives and see what else is gone. Apologies to anyone else
who posted anything to me that didn't get a response around 27-
30 April.

This is a really unfortunate accident because as you guessed I
was waiting on a response before going further in the
discussion, which is why you haven't got the reply you asked
for. I'll try to make up for this with a quick reply to start
the ball rolling again.

The problem is this, I now realise: you actually define
transformation to exclude change over time. It is, as far as I
can make out, a part of your definition of transformation. In
this case it is of course no surprise that a sequential
approach cannot comply because change over time is what we are
all about. But I also think this is also what Marx is all

This means we should not be discussing whether we complete
Marx's transformation or not. We need to discuss what Marx's
transformation actually *is*. So we've probably been having the
wrong discussion.

As far as I can see, your objection to our reading of Marx's
procedure can be expressed in a less loaded form (one which
does not claim that yours is the only legitimate reading) as

"My objection to the TSS interpretation is that it does not
STOP from one period to the next, assuming technology remains
constant and commodities sell at their prices of production."

Effectively, you've added two extra clauses to Marx's
transformation: prices must be constant, and the profit rate
must be constant. It's no longer enough show how

(1) a general profit rate is formed (which is what Marx does)

or that

(2) profit is merely transformed surplus value (which is what
Marx does);

in addition

(3) this general rate must be static in time and
(4) so must prices.

But this isn't what Marx does. The extra clauses don't come
from him. They come from Bortkiewicz.

Moreover the argument that profit and prices cannot change if
technology remains constant, obviously means that technology
uniquely determines profit and prices.

But this idea doesn't come from Marx either. It comes from

Note that this discussion isn't about the separate and more
complex issue of replacement cost, but a much simpler
proposition: does Marx assume constant prices and a constant
profit rate? I fail to see any supporting textual evidence for
this. Moreover these extra Sraffa-Bortkiewicz clauses make the
rest of Volume III impossible:

(1)how can the rate of profit fall if it's constant?

(2)how can rent arise - or monopoly profit, interest, or
taxes? These are flatly incompatible with constant prices.
They comprise redistributions of surplus (and hence changes
in prices) arising independent of technology. Just take the
simplest question: how can Marx, burdened with your clauses,
analyse the effect on prices of an interest rate change?

(3)How can the capitalists accumulate? If they do this they
will change the magnitude of advanced capital, even if
everything else stays constant as you request, and the rate
of profit will change. Are you seriously proposing that
Marx's transformation requires the capitalists not to invest
a single penny of their earnings?

There is a deeper problem. In effect, I get the feeling that
what you would really like to do is to define transformation in
the absence of change. You think the way to do this is to
define transformation to *mean* the absence of change - to
eliminate change a priori by incorporating its absence into the
definition of transformation. But there is no reason to do this
- certainly not in Marx. It is of course true that on the basis
of such a definition, no solution involving change can possibly
be a solution to the transformation problem. But then no
solution of *Marx's* can possibly be a solution to the
transformation problem.

I think the compulsion to discuss transformation in the absence
of change arises from a totally different source than Marx's
texts. I think it arises from a defensive response to the
attacks made on Marx by his detractors, who saddled Marx's
transformation with all manner of 'simplifications',
simplifications he never made in his dreams. In seeking a truly
general and dynamic paradigm, all we are trying to do is free
Marx from the dead hand of these unwarranted intrusions on his
method, intrusions arising from an alien theory.

Actually, I don't particularly care whether or not you accept
my particular solution, or Andrew's, or Ted's, or Paulo's, or
Mino's. I am concerned, and I do want to know, why you insist
so strongly on imposing on Marx's transformation conditions
and simplifications that were invented by his enemies.

Let's look at ways out of this *other* than you simply
accepting what we have to say.

You list a total of four assumptions;

(a) constant technology
(b) goods sell at prices of production
(c) constant profit rate
(d) constant prices

If I understand you right, you are saying that (a) and (b) come
from K/M and, you claim, (c) and (d) follow from them.

All these assumptions come from Bortkiewicz; I can show you,
word for word where he puts them in. Marx never makes anything
like them, with the sole exception that constant technology is
assumed in most of Volume II (discussing reproduction, not
transformation) and the first three chapters only of Volume

Assumptions like (a) and (b) are introduced in presentations
such as the much-debated K&M, only because *you* guys keep
asking for them. Personally I think it's well past time to
throw them back in the dustbin of history.

So I have another question: who needs them? What say we discuss
the *general* case with changing technology and goods selling
at a variety of prices?

What happens to Marx's transformation then, in your opinion? My
view is very simple: it still holds. I've proved it. Is that a
useful result, or isn't it? Do you think that Marx's
transformation breaks down when these 'simplifying' assumptions
(of Bortkiewicz - not Marx) are dropped, or that the
transformation still holds? Is your aim to show the
transformation works under Bortkiewicz's assumptions, or Marx's

The underlying issue for me is this: what is the function of
Marx's transformation? Is it a kind of throwaway towel to wipe
up the mess caused by sale at values, or is it the foundation
of the rest of the work?

I think it is the latter; I'd like some clarification on what
you think.

I think Marx's transformation establishes that, on the basis of
fully capitalist production, all profit is a transformed form
of surplus value, all revenues are transformed forms of the
value added by labour, and all capital is the monetary form of
dead labour. I think that's what it's for: to establish in the
completely general, dynamic case, the connection between money
and abstract labour.

By enriching the determinations already established in the
Volume I Chapter V argument it lays the groundwork for
analysing every single money payment out of profits, be it
rent, commercial profit, interest, monopoly profit, tax, or
whatever, into a redistribution of the original pool of surplus-
value created in production by the labourer. It moreover
establishes the basis on which the stock form of these income
flows - capital as such - functions in the accumulation
process. From this we have the springboard to discuss class
struggle, crisis, unequal exchange, the state, trade, in short,
the capitalist mode of production.

That's what it's for. That's why it matters.

As far as I can see your definition, with the two Bortkiewicz
clauses added, excludes all this a priori. And I think that's
why Bortkiewicz invented these clauses: so as to ensure that
for a hundred years the marxists would tie themselves in knots
discussing in the name of Marx a problem Marx never had, to the
complete exclusion of the real problems he *did* have. It's
been one of the most successful wrecking operations in history.

Marx requires a solution to the transformation problem which
*stays in place* when the conventional simplifications -
introduced by his enemies - are dropped. Without this, he is I
think little more than an appendix to Bortkiewicz. I don't
think we do him any favours by saddling him with this

What do *you* think becomes of Marx's transformation procedure
when all these simplifications are dropped?