holism in Marx's theory

Fred B. Moseley fmoseley at mhc.mtholyoke.edu
Tue Oct 25 22:28:37 MDT 1994

I found Bhandari's recent post on Steve Cullenberg's new book on
the falling rate of profit to be very interesting.  I haven't had
the time to read Cullenberg's book yet, but it looks very interesting
and stimulating, even if I think I will disagree with its main

Just a few comments on the "holistic" interpretation of Marx's theory,
especially the relation between the whole and the parts.  This
relation is a crucial issue, not only in the interpretation of the
falling rate of profit, but also in the interpretation of the
"transformation problem".  I have argued that Marx's theory of the
production and distribution of surplus-value is based on the
fundamental methodological premise that the total amount of surplus
value is determined prior to and independent of the division of this
total amount into individual parts.  The individual parts of surplus
value are then determined at a subsequent stage of the analysis, with
the predetermined total amount of surplus-value taken as a given
magnitude.  With respect to the "transformation problem" and Marx's
theory of prices of production, this means that the rate of profit is
determined at the prior level of abstraction of capital in general and
then taken as given in the theory of prices of production.

The currently dominant neo-Ricardian interpretation of Marx's theory
does not recognize this premise of Marx's theory and argues instead
that the rate of profit is determined simultaneously with the prices
of individual commodities.  From this neo-Ricardian interpretation of
Marx's logic, it follows that Marx made a "logical error" in his
theory of prices of production.  This error has been considered the
achilles heel of Marx's theory ever since Bortkiewicz.

However, if Marx's premise of the prior determination of the aggregate
amount of surplus-value and of the general rate of profit is followed,
then there is no logical error in Marx's theory of prices of produc-
tion and the long-standing neo-Ricardian criticism of Marx's theory is
not valid.

The paper in which I develop this argument is "Marx's Logical Method
and the Transformation Problem" in my edited book Marx's Logic in
Capital:  A Reexamination (1993, Humanities Press).

Therefore, I am very eager to read Bhandari's forthcoming post which
will explain further his interpretation of the relation between the
whole and the parts in Marx's theory.  Anybody else have other
thoughts on this relation in Marx's theory?

Thanks for your attention.

Fred Moseley


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