transformation problem

jones/bhandari djones at
Wed Oct 4 15:36:44 MDT 1995

I sent this a few days ago, but I don't think it made it to the list.  I
wrote the reply to Jim Miller before John Ernst commented that Steedman and
modern critics do not rely on the confusion between the schemes of simple
reproduction and Marx's transformation procedure in their

Let me say again that I find Jim's clarification of the difference between
the schemes of simple reproduction and Marx's transformation procedure to
be very helpful and important.  

I think it would be helpful if there was a discussion among advanced
scholars about what the former do establish: as Jim puts it, "The schemes
indicate how circulation,which functions only in accord with the
spontaneous operation of the law of value, works to ensure a stable
equilibrium of production and consumption, so that the society can sustain
itself year after year in the absence of a plan for production." 

As for Marx's transformation procedure, Jim argues:  

> the transformation problem described how the central price,
>around with market prices of commodities fluctuated,
>shifted from labor value to price of production with
>the rise of the capitalist mode of production.

I do not want to focus on either of these parts of Marx's Capital.  My
question, without having read Jim's paper on the history of the law of
value (yet), remains whether we can establish that it is transhistorically
valid, in one form or another.  

Now, it *may* have been true that at an *early stage of capitalism* 
constant capital may have been so relatively unimportant in almost all
branches of production that commodities did exchange approximately at their
values. As Grossmann pointed out, early capitalism accumulated at constant
technique extensively through the acquisition of labor power via the slave
trade and the enclosure movement; the uniform labor intensity before the
possibilities of machino-facture may have made a  direct law of value a
reasonable approximation at that time. 

If we understand Marx's Capital as also a theory of the stages of
capitalist development, we could argue that Marx has provided an
explanation for why as capital develops through the self-expansion of
value, the substance of value is increasingly mystified by the forms of
appearance it takes.     

But this did not mean that the the law of value operated before capitalism,
only that it took much less mystifying form at its earliest stages. 

Along with Jim's essay (from a cursory reading, it is a careful and
extended criticism of John Weeks' subsection on Ronald Meek in Weeks'
Capital and Exploitation. Princeton), the following writings may also be

Robert Heilbronner, "The Problem of Value" in Behind the Veil of Economics,     
Moishe Postone, Time, Labor and Social Domination, pp. 130ff. This section is 
  entitled "Historical Specificity: value and price". 


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