Theory of a Purely Capitalist Society

  • Robert Albritton


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.


Depression Coherence Smoke Posit Defend 


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    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
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    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
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    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

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© Robert Albritton 1986

Authors and Affiliations

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

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