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The final nail in the intellectual coffin of the Marxian exploitation theory became apparent only after the publication of the third volume of Das Kapital. In the third volume, Marx explicitly tried to prove that his fundamental principle of value does not contradict the empirically observable phenomenon of a tendency towards the equalization of the rate of profit across various economic sectors.

Here, Marx failed. Marx separated capital into two distinct parts. The first part he called variable capital. The other part he called constant capital. It is expended on capital goods such as machines as well as raw materials.

Marxian Political Economy

The proportion of surplus value to variable capital is called the rate of surplus value and is an expression of the degree of exploitation. However, what is of interest to the capitalist-entrepreneur is not the degree of exploitation per se, but rather the total rate of profit, which is given by the proportion of surplus value to total capital expenditure constant and variable. Any given productive endeavor is characterized by a certain combination of variable and constant capital which Marx referred to as the organic composition.

This organic composition, as he acknowledged, is necessarily very different from one sector of the economy to another. This implies that at any given rate of surplus value the rate of profit varies from one sector to another according to the organic composition of capital. The higher the proportion of constant capital in any given productive endeavor, the lower the rate of profit. How then, could there ever be a tendency towards the equalization of the profit rate throughout the economy?

There could not, unless one is willing to reject the fundamental premise that goods exchange for each other according to their values as measured by the labor power necessary to produce them. It simply cannot be the case that profits equalize when prices and exchange values of goods and services form in proportion to the labor power used in their production. As Marx himself wrote:. What would then be the outcome? According to the foregoing, very different rates of profit would then reign in the various spheres of production. The latter relies on the premise of labor being the only source of value.

Labor Theory of Value

Hence, in the third volume, Marx eventually has to reject the premise laid out in the first. Exploitation has a compelling emotional element that can animate the spirit of those who tend to be aghast at the very existence of a separation between a laborer and an owner of the means of production.

But despite the temptation to cling to an easy storyline, we must recognize two things: first, emotional perception of an unjust relationship between the capitalist and the recipient of wages does not itself prove the existence of this relationship. Economic analysis, which especially in the Austrian tradition focuses on the element of cause-and-effect in interpersonal relations, cannot make sense of the exploitation theory. It challenges the logical stream of analysis to deny first the subjective nature of value and second the equalization of profit rates. Exploitation theory therefore is an unjustified disregard of economic logic.

It is in this text that Marx repeatedly emphasises that he does not set out from 'value', but from the 'commodity', that is to say, 'the simplest social form in which the product of labour presents itself in contemporary society'. And it will be recalled that the first chapters of both the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and the first volume of Capital are in fact entitled The Commodity'.

In this 'Introduction'—which was not in fact published with the Critique but can be found in the edition of the Grundrisse prepared by M Nicolaus and published by Penguin Books, , pp. It must also be remembered that the texts published posthumously under the title Capital Volumes II and III and the analyses collected in the Theories of Surplus Value were, as regards essentials, already in existence before Marx wrote the first volume of Capital. On the contrary, it is on the basis of reading this latter, and more particularly Chapter 1 that certain of the questions raised in Volumes II, III and in Theories of Surplus Value can be analysed.

This does not mean that these works are not worthy of attention. On the contrary, study of them is an integral part of research-work aimed at clarifying the relations between Marx and political economy. The questions which today appear central to numerous debates relating to Marxist theory are posed from the first chapter of Capital , a chapter which, as Marx himself wrote in his Preface to the First Edition of Capital presents 'the greatest difficulty'.

However, two of the questions raised seem to us to require particular attention insofar as one led Marx to rewrite the beginning of Capital Volume I, and the other defines a certain mode of reading not only this work, but Marxist theory as well.


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The first concerns the relation between the study of value and of the forms, which it assumes. It is important firstly because the relationship between the ' value ' of a commodity and. Finally, it is this same question which is at the root of the profound reworking of Capital Volume I by Marx between the first and second editions of Capital , a reworking retained in subsequent editions. In the first edition, Chapter 1 was in fact devoted to the 'commodity' and to 'money', and was divided into three sections: The Commodity, The Process of Commodity-Exchange, Money and Commodity-Circulation.

Analysis of the forms of value was consigned to an Appendix at the end of the work, in which Marx analysed these forms systematically and in detail. The three sections became the first three chapters of subsequent editions and the appendix was reintegrated into the first of them. The second question concerns the process of abstraction. In Capital , and in the first chapter in particular, there is not one single process of abstraction, but two processes of abstraction profoundly different in character.

Karl Marx - Theory of surplus value

It is therefore worth distinguishing very precisely between them, if only to avoid the very common confusion by which. Real abstraction , on the other hand, is not the result of analytical effort, but the consequence of a real process which is at the heart of bourgeois social relations—commodity-exchange. In bourgeois society, where the private division of social labour prevails, products are the result of private, isolated processes of production operating independently of one another.

It is only when production has been completed, that is to say when the labour mobilised has been objectified in a determinate good, that producers' respective acts of production encounter one another on the market, as products offered in exchange for money.


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  • And the producers will only know that their products effectively answered a social need if they succeed in exchanging them. Commodity-exchange is the social mode of recognition of the different products, and it is via this exchange that they cease to be products and become commodities, or rather that the commodity which is potential when the product is present on the market becomes real—is realised. It is thus as commodities that the different acts of labour privately carried out in separation from one another become fractions of social labour.

    But commodity-exchange is only conceivable if there exists a relation of equivalence between different commodities. From the point of view of their use-values—the physical characteristics of the products -commodities are of course different, hence non-equivalent, and it is precisely this difference, which is the motive force of exchange. But in the course of exchange, the use-value of the commodities is abstracted from, and only the social capacity of the commodities to be exchanged is recognised.

    According to Marx's terms, this 'abstraction' entails abstraction from the specific characteristics of the acts of labour objectified in the commodities. This leaves the commodities as nothing but the result of human labour, without regard to the particular form it takes, in other words of labour 'full stop'. This is abstract labour. It is because all products participate in this process of abstraction when they become commodities and are therefore recognised as fractions of abstract social labour that one can conceive of establishing a relation of equivalence between them; they belong to the same sphere.

    In order to avoid any ambiguity, it is worth emphasising that the process whereby different acts of labour are reduced to abstract labour has nothing whatever to do with the process whereby 'complex labour' is reduced to 'simple labour'. Sometimes known as the 'lost chapter' of Capital , this was written be-tween June and December and was first published in , simultaneously in German and Russian.

    It was originally planned as a transitional chapter between Volume I and Volume II of Capital , as it is not definitely known why Marx discarded it. It contains both a synthesis of the argument of Volume I, and a further development of the relations between 'value' and 'use-value' in terms of the subsumption of labour to capital.

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    Marxian Political Economy | Exploring Economics

    It completes the argument of Volume I by investigating commodities not only as the premise of the formation of capital but also as the result of capitalist production. Introduction drafted for a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Written in dated 29th August , it was first published in Die Neue Zeit, ? Although Marx did not publish this 'Introduction' on the grounds that it anticipated too much the ideas developed in the work itself, it is of fundamental importance both to understanding Marx's 'methods' and to his critique of economic analysis which began from the isolated 'individual' and considered 'production', 'distribution', 'exchange' and 'consumption' only as separate economic 'moments' not as inter-penetrating processes.

    Written in , it was first published in Berlin in under the title Zur Kritik der Politischen Okonomie.

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    The most famous section of it is the Preface, but more relevant to the question of value is the first chapter, entitled The Commodity. It is one of the few works published during his lifetime by Marx himself. Marx and Engels carried on a voluminous correspondence.


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    • The following three letters are of particular interest. It was in connection with Ricardo's theory of ground-rent that Marx, for the first time, came to make the relations between 'value' and 'price' explicit, doing so in terms very close to those used in what would later form Capital, Volume III, Part VI. This difficulty results in two kinds of development. On the one hand, the analysis of the forms of value, which manifests itself in the successive versions of Capital, I, Chapter 1 Cf.

      Besides this first formulation of the analysis of the relationship between value and price, we can see Marx's concern to establish as quickly as possible the connections between the development of theory and the practice or struggle in which he was taking part.

      2. Terms, Analysis, Conception of Economy

      In this case, it is analysis of the contradictions of a certain practical solidarity between capitalists and landed proprietors. This procedure made possible an identification of the spheres of Value' and 'exchange-value' with one another. Marx himself elsewhere criticised this identification which arises again in the problem of 'transformation'. May we repeat, however, that like all the other of Marx's texts cited here, it cannot form a key or method for the reading of Capital.