[OPE-L:4263] the analytical significance of production periods

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 28 Feb 1997 07:23:57 -0800 (PST)

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Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:4262]:

> Yes the historical process of development of political economy
> starting with physiocracy, a reflection on agriculture which does
> have a seasonal production period.

You have made this assertion that the concept of a production period is
merely a carry-over from physiocracy several times before. OK, let's
discuss that question.

I agree with you that the *abstraction* of yearly production periods is
problematic when modeling the production process in most branches of
production from an _empirical_ standpoint. I also agree that the concept
of a production period has its antecedents in pysiocratic thought. The
significance of a production period in Marx, though, is not the same
as in physiocratic thought.

Let's consider the _analytical_ significance of this abstraction:

To begin with, the element of the separation in time (and place) of
production and circulation becomes apparent as one considers the circuit
M-C-M' [or expressing this somewhat differently, when one considers the
three figures of the circuit: 1) M-C...P...C'-M'; 2) P...Tc...P; 3)
Tc....P (C')]. In other words, it becomes _conceptually_ important to
understand that the different phases of production and circulation have a
temporal component. While on an empirical level the production and
circulation of commodities take place simultaneously, the significance of
the separation of production and sale has important correlaries (e.g. the
rejection of Say's Law).

It is also true as you suggest that the concept of a 1 year time period
is an abstraction that has less relevance from the standpoint of
considering the function of elements of capital empirically.
Yet, the analytical distinction between fluid capital and fixed capital
has a very real significance for understanding the processes of
capitalist production and circulation. In order to define and
differentiate fluid and fixed capital and constant circulating and
constant fixed capital some arbitrary assumption regarding the length of
a production period is required -- even though it remains an abstraction.
Had Marx assumed that a production period last 6 months or 2 years is
besides the point. What was important, simply, is that *some* arbitrary
assumption about production periods was necessary from the standpoint of
further understanding the turnover time of different elements of capital
and the period of the reproduction of the total capital. Had Marx not
made these assumptions, then how would he have been able to model the
reproduction and accumulation processes?

In solidarity, Jerry