holism in Marx's theory

Fred B. Moseley fmoseley at mhc.mtholyoke.edu
Mon Oct 31 08:55:45 MST 1994

I appreciate and generally agree with Bhandari's recent post on Paul
Mattick's interpretation of Marx's "holistic" theory.  But there is
one point of terminology that I would like to clarify.

Bhandari refers to my interpretation of Marx's logical method as that of
"successive approximations", and that is definitely not the case,
as least as that term is usually understood, e.g. by Sweezy.
According to the "successive approximations" interpretation, Volume 1
of Capital makes the simplifying assumptions that the prices of
individual commodities are equal (or proportional) to their values and
the compositions of capital in all industries are equal.  Then in
Volume 3, unequal compositions of capital are introduced and a more
realistic theory of prices is developed.  The rate of profit is also
determined simultaneously with prices in this Volume 3 analysis,
similar to the neo-Ricardian interpretation of Marx's method.

However, according to Marx's distinction between capital in general and
competition, the Volume 1 analysis of capital in general
disregards altogether the prices of individual commodities and the
compositions of individual capitals.  No assumption is made about the
equality of individual compositions of capital, because individual
capitals do not yet enter into the analysis.  Further, the logical
transition to Volume 3 is not marked by a change of assumption with
regard to the composition of individual capitals, but is instead
marked by a shift in the level of abstraction from capital in general
to competition, in which individual phenomena, such as the composition
of individual capitals, is considered for the first time.  Finally, the total
amount of profit and the general rate of profit are taken
as given in the Volume 3 analysis of the distribution of surplus-value
and the determination of individual prices, not determined
simultaneously with individual prices.

>From Bhandari's comments, I think he understands these features of
Marx's holistic method.  He just has the wrong label, or is using the
label "successive approximations" in a different way.

Fred Moseley


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