[OPE-L:5269] RE: TRPF

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Mon, 16 Jun 1997 09:38:45 -0700 (PDT)

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(1) Seongjin, Mike W., Jerry, and perhaps others, have discussed whether Marx
would have moved Part III of _Capital_ III. As Mike wrote (ope-l 5167):
"That the law of the trpf is presented in Volume 3 may be taken to indicate
that it is relatively concrete, and so may perhaps be expected to issue
directly in an empirical trend. But, first, it may be argued that Marx would
not have located it there had he edited his own work for publication (see, eg,
Rosdolsky 1968, Fine, 1982)."

In at least two places, Marx indicates that Part III belongs right where it
is. Moreover, he says why it belongs there. The basic point is that it is
impossible to derive the LTFPR directly from the laws of value and
surplus-value because it is an appearance. Once, however, he shows that
competition does not alter total value or surplus-value, then the laws of
value and surplus-value can be brought to bear on the matter of the tendency
of the profit rate, and seen to lead to a falling tendency. Actually, this is
extremely obvious in light of the history of the debate, since the
"refutations" of the LTFPR rely on the "refutations" of Marx's account of the
transformation of commodity values into production prices. These passages
also create trouble for the simultaneous single-system interpretation, which
issn't able to replicate the LTFPR even though it obtains the equalities of
the transformation.

One reference is Marx's letter to Engels of April 30, 1868, in which he
explains the structure of Book III: "Further, the *altered form of
appearance* which laws of value and surplus value -- which were previously
developed and are still valid -- now adopt *after the transformation of the
values into prices of production*.

"III. *The tendency of the rate of profit to fall with progress in society*.
This is already evident from what was developed in Book I on the *alteration
in the composition of capitals with the development of the social productive
force*." [Marx's emphases]

The other was written earlier, in the manuscript of 1861-63 (MECW 33, p. 104):

"We have seen that real profit -- i.e. the current average profit and its rate
-- is different for the individual from profit, and therefore from the rate of
profit, in so far as the latter consists of the surplus value really produced
by the individual capital and the rate of profit therefore = the ratio of the
surplus value to the total amount of the capital advanced. But it was also
shown that considering the sum total of the capitals ... the TOTAL CAPITAL OF
THE CAPITALIST CLASS, the average rate of profit is nothing other than the
total surplus value related to and calculated on this total capital ....
Here, therefore, we once again stand on firm ground, where, without entering
into the competition of the many capitals, we can derive the general law
directly from the general nature of capital as so far developed. This law,
and it is the most important law of political economy, is that the RATE OF
[Marx's emphases].

(2) I thank Seongjin (ope-l 5154) for explaining the textual basis of the
interpretation that the LTFPR expresses itself as a secular trend. The
problem I see with this interpretation is that it is undialectical and static.
The whole matter seems to reduce to whether the tendency dominates over the
countertendencies or vice-versa (as in Sweezy and Robinson). This account
portrays the tendency and countertendencies as externally related to one
another. For Marx, however, they exist in a dialectical contradiction, and
thus he devotes Ch. 15 to bringing them together in their internal
contradictions. The key to this is that the "various influences" do at times
"exhibit themselves ... temporally," which means that "at certain points the
conflict of contending agencies breaks through in crises [... which] are never
more than momentary, violent solutions for the existing contradictions,
violent eruptions that re-establish the disturbed balance for the time being"
(_Capital_ III, Vintage, p. 357). Most of the chapter deals with the
appearance of the law, NOT IN SPITE OF, but THROUGH, its countertendencies, as
crisis. For instance: "the development of labour productivity involves a
law, in the form of a falling rate of profit, that at a certain point
confronts this development itself in a most hostile way and has constantly to
be overcome by way of crises" (ibid., p. 367).

Given this passage and others like it, I do not think the interpretation
according to which the tendencies dominate over the countertendencies can be
sustained. But I do agree strongly that the notion that the countertendencies
dominate over the tendencies is equally contrary to what Marx is saying.
These alternatives are two sides of the same static, undialectical, coin.
Essence MUST appear, or it isn't essence. But essence cannot appear as
essence, or essence would be appearance. Marx argues that it appears, as
mediated through its internal contradictions, in crises. Note that this may,
but need not, mean that the observed general rate of profit falls (especially
in an individual country).

However, the crisis can be *displaced* away from its source, industrial
capital, so to understnad the appearance of the law, we need to take account
of intermediate links. For instance, "if" the State creates excess credit to
prevent a crisis or to get out of a crisis, then demand and the profitability
of industrial capital may be high. But then the LTFPR "may" appear in the
forms of a fiscal crisis of the State, slow growth, and so on.

Andrew Kliman