Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Capital III, Introduction - Part 3

Engels then turns to the solution put forward by Dr. Conrad Schmidt. He argues that the capital laid out by the capitalist represents the socially necessary labour required for production considered from the standpoint of the capitalist. So,

“...the labour necessary for the manufacture of the surplus-product happens to be past labour accumulated in his capital, it follows that surplus-products are exchanged in proportion to the sums of capital required for their production, and not in proportion to the labour actually incorporated in them. Hence the share of each unit of capital is equal to the sum of all produced surplus-values divided by the sum of the capitals expended in production. Accordingly, equal sums of capital yield equal profits in equal time spans, and this is accomplished by adding the cost-price of the surplus-product so calculated, i.e., the average profit, to the cost-price of the paid product and by selling both the paid and unpaid product at this increased price. The average rate of profit takes shape in spite of average commodity-prices being determined, as Schmidt holds, by the law of value.” (p 12) 

The construction, says Engels, is Hegelian, “like the majority of Hegelian constructions it is not correct.” (p 12). It is not correct because it makes no difference if we are considering the paid or unpaid part of labour. It is not the socially necessary labour required only to produce the surplus product that is relevant, but the socially necessary labour required to produce the whole product – necessary and surplus. 

But, Engels also provides an interesting aside that I think is relevant to more recent debate over the Transformation Problem. He says,

“Schmidt strayed into this bypath when quite close to the solution, because he believed that he needed nothing short of a mathematical formula to demonstrate the conformance of the average price of every individual commodity with the law of value.” (p 13)

I think that is true of many of the more recent solutions, which have focussed on the desire to provide a mathematically exact and consistent solution, at the expense of analysing the reality of how exchange values were, and are, transformed, in the real world, as a process. I have written, in the past, that Marx's own explication of that process, consistent with his approach throughout Capital, is first to describe it as an historical process, and only then to reduce that to a logical structure. The historical process of the transformation of exchange values into prices of production begins long before the dominance of capitalism. According to Engels,

“Sombart, as well as Schmidt, — I mention the illustrious Loria merely as an amusing vulgar-economist foil — does not make sufficient allowance for the fact that we are dealing here not only with a purely logical process, but with a historical process, and its explanatory reflection in thought, the logical pursuance of its inner connections.” (The Law Of Value and Rate of Profit, p 895)

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