Unequal Exchange: A Riposte

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Jan 31 19:47:41 MST 1995

In a very provocative post, Sudeep wrote:

>It seems fairly clear though, that Marx's conception of the logic of
>capital is precisely a refusal to accept some linear, non-discontinuous
>smooth operation of the logic of capital.Capital works through the
>contradictions that are inherent in the tension between, on the one hand,
>profit maximization (the best input-output equation) and on the other,
>competition between producers (this being brought into question in some
>quarters by the growth of multinational capital).
>Coming at this from a different angle, Capital has to work through
>difference, not by abolishing it. (cf.Stuart Hall's essays on Ethnicities)
>Hence, one could argue that the disturbances and dislocations effected by
>capital are not the first signs of its collapse, but offer instead the
>very conditions of possibility for its expansion.

Sudeep, please elaborate. About how "a suitable boy" became interested in
Marxism.  Just kidding.  But do explain:  what does it mean for Capital to
work through difference (and where can this Stuart Hall essay be found).

Implicitly you are arguing against any automatic breakdown theory. So did
Mattick (in each and every one of his works) and  Grossmann (see his
December 1943 essay for the Journal of Political Economy and the
translation in the Summer 1994 History of Political Economy, as did
Grossmann's other student William J Blake in his 1939 textbook).  I have
done not much to correct the misrepresentation of these thinkers as
automatic breakdown theorists.   There is no substitute for reading  their
many works.  (There is however an implicit and perhaps successful critique
of their position in Postone's monograph which I am finding takes time to
assimilate; this I hope someone will want to explore with me).

Each of these thinkers (along with  many others)have emphasized that the
crisis-induced devaluation of capital is essential to the resumption of
accumulation: "Perhaps the most grotesque and irrational aspect of
capital's inner nature is that periods of deprivation for the masses of the
population provide the mechanism to reenergize capital. Out of the ashes of
unemployment, unsold commodities, and idle productive forces, capital
arises to repeat the accumulation-crisis cycle. (John Weeks, Capital and
Exploitation, p. 214-5; the most sophisticated recent analysis of this
process that I know is section 6 of G Reuten's 1991 Cambridge Journal of
Economics Piece on "the conditions of existence of the contradiction of the
TRPF: stratification and devalorization.)

 What I hope the more advanced theorists on this line will develop is the
dialectical, not cyclical nature, of such a violent and forcible resolution
to capitalist contradictions.  A dialectical, not cyclical, understanding
of this resolution would be in line with Sudeep's rejection of the logic of
capital as a smooth, linear, non-discontinuous one. (All this of course
assumes a successful critique of the Althusserian rejection of any logic or
essence of capital,but I think this has been accomplished by Postone and
Julius Sensat, Jr in "Methodological Individualism and Marxism" Economics
and Philosophy 4 1988).

That is, this process does not simply repeat itself like a Nietzschean
eternal recurrence of being: the conditions and requirements for such
resolution change as capital accumulates.   Weeks concludes the previously
cited work with such a consideration.  Does anyone have any thoughts about

ps through private correspondence I have been informed that there is a
forthcoming volume Marx and Non-equilibrium Economics, ed. A Freeman and G
Carchedi, Edward Elgar.  In this context, Andrew Kliman's "A
Value-Theoretic critique of the Okishio Theorm" is quite helpful, while I
think providing a bridge between Mattick's critique of economics and
Postone's phenomologically richer social theory.


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