Theory of a Purely Capitalist Society

  • Robert Albritton

Abstract

In the previous chapter I argued that the Uno/Sekine conceptions of ‘pure capitalism’ and ‘levels of analysis’ represent reasonable extensions of Marx’s efforts in Capital. Because Marx’s understanding of the relation between the law of value and history was not well worked out, he fell back on the use of metaphors and vague expressions and failed to achieve a determinant theoretical conceptualization. The theory of a purely capitalist society’ and ‘levels of analysis’ are determinant concepts that can solve the problems Marx was wrestling with in a way that is most in keeping with his aim to construct a scientifically adequate theory of political economy. In this chapter I shall move from the focus on the relation between the logical and historical to a focus on the law of value itself. My main concern will be to indicate some of the improvements that Uno and Sekine make on Marx’s formulation of the law of value — improvements that flow primarily from a more determinant conceptualization of the theoretical object and from a more rigorous dialectical approach.

Keywords

Depression Coherence Smoke Posit Defend 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Sekine, Dialectic of Capital, vol. I (Tokyo: Yushindo Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See especially the articles by Jairus Banaji and Chris Arthur. Banaji firmly rejects the logical-historical method and does see the logic of Marx’s Capital as dialectical, but unfortunately he has little real understanding of dialectics and he stays too close to Marx’s text rather than immersing himself in the logic of capital. Thus he sees the movement from the category commodity to the category value as a movement from ‘Being’ to ‘Essence’; whereas as Sekine convincingly demonstrates the category ‘commodity’ comes first only to locate the totality being theorized so that we move immediately to the basic contradiction inherent in the commodity which is between value and use-value and this parallels Hegel’s ‘Being’ versus ‘Nothing’. Furthermore, the Doctrine of Circulation parallels Hegel’s Doctrine of Being, the Doctrine of Production parallels the Doctrine of Essence and the Doctrine of Distribution parallels the Doctrine of Notion. The circulation-forms are all unmediated as are Hegel’s categories in the Doctrine of Being. Mediated categories only develop in the Doctrine of Production which is centred on the capital-labour production relation. Finally it is incorrect to describe the dialectical logic of capital as a continual oscillation between appearance and essence since these categories are only characteristic of the Doctrine of Production. Arthur tries to develop differences between formal logic and dialectical logic in interpreting value-form theory, but he does not actually develop the very close connection between the logic of the value-form and sections of Hegel’s Doctrine of Being, nor does he explain the sense in which the logic of value-form theory is ‘the logic of the concrete’. See Diane Elson (ed.), Value: The Representation of Labour in Capitalism (London: CSE Books, 1979).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    David Levine understands that ‘The opposition of value and use-value is the driving force which underlies the development of the entire system of economic relations’ [Economic Theory, vol. I (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978) p. 76]. Also he understands that ‘Systematicity is not imposed upon the subject-matter but exists already implicit within it as its determining principle’ [Economic Studies (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977) p. 15]. But Levine’s reconstruction of Marx’s Capital, though dialectical in many ways, falls short of being a self-conscious rigorously constructed dialectic. Furthermore, though his interpretation of value as ‘the inner reflection, within the commodity, of the system of economic relations as a whole’ is essentially accurate, he does not see that the labour theory of value can and should be made consistent with this conception of value. Instead he confines the labour theory of value to essentially its Ricardian form which sees value determined completely within the production process and treats circulation as superficial and epiphenomenal (Economy Theory, p. 5). Instead of trying to reformulate the labour theory of value to integrate circulation as an important constraint on value formation and augmentation, he abandons it, but this then runs the danger of placing too much emphasis on circulation since there is no counterweight. And this over emphasis on circulation could lead to a sort of Left version of Keynesian underconsumptionism.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Sekine, Dialectic of Capital, vol. I, unpublished manuscript (1982) f. 4.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Marx, Capital, vol. I (Progress) pp. 18–19; see also K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress, 1955) p. 177.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Sekine, Dialectic of Capital, ‘Introduction’, unpublished manuscript (1982) f. 18.Google Scholar
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    Sekine, Dialectic of Capital, vol. I, unpublished manuscript (1982) f. 4.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    See Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    See R. L. Meek, ‘Karl Marx’s Economic Method’, in M. C. Howard and J. E. King (eds), The Economics of Marx (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976) pp. 114–28.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Sekine, Dialectic of Capital, vol. I, unpublished manuscript (1982) f. 19.Google Scholar
  11. 35.
    Sekine, Dialectic of Capital, vol. II, unpublished manuscript (1982) f. 212.Google Scholar
  12. 36.
    Rosdolsky, The Making of Marx’s ‘Capital’, ch. 30; Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: New Left Books, 1975) ch. 1.Google Scholar
  13. 42.
    A good example of this is D. J. Harris’s book, Capital Accumulation and Income Distribution (Stanford University Press, 1978). To Harris’s credit he recognizes the importance of value categories at a time when many theorists are rejecting them and he cautions us against ‘attributing too much significance to the scheme itself in its purely formal aspect’ (p. 250). However, Harris does go ahead and use the reproduction schema as his central tool of analysis by developing them into an equilibrium model in order to explore possible sources of disturbance and disequilibrium. The theory remains completely agnostic about what actually causes capitalist crises, and instead sees any potential disturbance as a possible cause of crisis. But, as I have argued, most disequilibriums are overcome by the price mechanism and it is only the commodities, fixed capital and labour-power that the price mechanism cannot so easily regulate that give rise to crises. Harris also recognizes the importance of supplementing his work with more concrete and historical analysis, but he leaps from the abstract to the concrete without any sense of levels of analysis so that he indiscriminately makes the following list of social and historical factors which may cause shifts in the all-important investment function: ‘any change in method of production, as well as the accelerator-multiplier effect of investment itself and the effect of wars, but also the social mechanisms determining entry and mobility within the capitalist class, various methods of “primitive” accumulation, and the role of the state’ (p. 268). On the one hand we have a highly formalistic and agnostic theory about the causes of capitalist crises, and on the other we have a ‘grab-bag’ of more concrete considerations. A more fruitful approach, as this book argues, is to clarify the necessary causes of capitalist crises in a purely capitalist society and then develop a more concrete analysis by considering the typical predominant modes of capital accumulation and state policies in the major world-historic stages of capitalist development, and finally move to a more empirical/conjunctural level where very specific political, economic and ideological factors can be taken into account.Google Scholar
  14. 52.
    M. Lippi, Value and Naturalism in Marx (London: New Left Books, 1979) p. xx.Google Scholar
  15. 54.
    I. Steedman, (ed.), The Value Controversy (London: New Left Books, 1981), p. 11.Google Scholar
  16. 56.
    For example, see G. Pilling, Marx’s ‘Capital’ (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980). Anwar Shaikh’s ‘reiterative’ method of solving the transformation problem is perhaps the most successful defence of the transformation problem as it stands in Marx’s Capital. SeeGoogle Scholar
  17. A. Shaikh, ‘Marx’s Theory of Value and the Transformation Problem’, in J. Schwartz (ed.), The Subtle Anatomy of Capitalism (Santa Monica, California: Goodyear, 1977).Google Scholar
  18. 68.
    G. Hodgson, ‘The Theory of the Falling Rate of Profit’, New Left Review, no. 84 (Mar.–Apr. 1974), is a good example of the position that argues that the rate of profit has no more tendency to rise than to fall. Itoh notes in Value and Crisis that a long-run tendency like the falling rate of profit cannot explain the periodicity of crisis (p. 127). John Weeks, in Capital and Exploitation (Princeton University Press, 1981), realizes that the theory of crisis must be rooted in the theory of accumulation and cannot depend entirely on the falling rate of profit taken by itself, and he also sees that it must have something to do with fixed capital. But his analysis runs aground because he fails to grasp the widening and deepening phases of accumulation and instead sees a continual investment in fixed capital and technical change that must devalue the old fixed capital so that The crisis was caused by the fall in the rate of profit, resulting from the implicit devaluation of means of production by technical change’ (p. 212). But this conceptualization of crisis is inadequate so that he falls back on formulations that sound good but are actually quite empty such as: ‘Crisis results from the uneven development of capital … capital as a whole comes into conflict with the mutual interaction of its decentralized parts’ (p. 214).Google Scholar
  19. 69.
    E. O. Wright, in Class, Crisis, and the State (London: New Left Books, 1978), takes the first steps towards relating crisis theory to the stages of capitalist development. These are steps in the right direction, but his periodization of capitalist development is not rigorously posed or convincing, and at the level of stage theory political factors must be accounted for. Thus though it is accurate to argue that in the stage of imperialism capitalist crisis becomes more underconsumptionist, one has to go beyond this and investigate how crises themselves change in this stage and how their inability to solve certain problems solved by crisis in pure theory builds pressures towards imperialist war. Wright inadvertently falls into the economism of the logical-historical method when he tries to smooth the debate between the various interpretations of crisis theory by saying that the falling rate of profit theory is most applicable to the mid-nineteenth century, underconsumptionism is more applicable to the stage of imperialism and profit-squeeze is most applicable to the post-World War II period. This kind of application of economic models directly to history produces economism, and he still avoids answering the question of which account of crisis best fits the theory of a purely capitalist society. Also he really does not consider the possibility that the fundamental nature of crises may change in different stages of capitalist development.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert Albritton 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Albritton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceYork UniversityCanada

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