transformation problem

James Miller jamiller at igc.apc.org
Tue Sep 26 14:16:58 MDT 1995


This is a response to a message posted by Rakesh
a couple of days ago. It refers to the question of
how the law of value operated in pre-capitalist
commodity markets.

   Rakesh states: "...the commodity which Marx is
dealing with in Vol. I does indeed sell at its
value ...and this commodity does sell at its value
not because it was once subject to the laws of
simple commodity exchange. This commodity in fact
did not even exist at the time of simple commodity
exchange. Of course, this commodity is labor power."

   In Vol. I of _Capital_, Marx did indeed speak of
labor power. But he spoke of other commodities as
well, of "the world of commodities." Labor power
could itself become a commodity only after a long
period of historical development.

   The commodity form has its roots in barter
carried on between primitive communes. The money
commodity develops out of this, eventually taking
as its material repository the precious metals,
silver and gold.

  Artisans and handicraft workers became commodity
producers in ancient society when they regularly
produced for exchange. The exchange of the products
of handicraft industry was organized on an inter-
national scale with the development of world trade
among the Mediterranean communities more than four
thousand years ago.

   There are many references to the history of
simple commodity production in _Capital_ and in
_Grundrisse_. The law of value is the inner logic
of this history.

   At a certain historical point, there is a shift
in the manner of operation of the law of value.
This is related to the rise of capitalism and the
formation of an average rate of profit.

   The point is this: the law of value has been
functioning in society for thousands of years. It
expresses the logic of development of the commodity
form, both during simple commodity production and
during the domination of capital.

   For further explanation of this point, see my
paper, "History and the Law of Value," which is
posted in the archives of the Progressive
Sociologists Network at csf.colorado.edu.

   For those who may be interested in further
discussion of the transformation problem, I am
prepared to provide a fuller critique of the
1907 article by Bortkiewicz, as well as a review
of Anwar Shaikh's attempt to apply the method
of Bortkiewicz.

   Thanks to Louis Proyect and Chris Burford for
the interest they showed in this problem in their
remarks posted in this forum.

   In the near future I hope to be able to post
some comments on Murray E.G. Smith's handling
of the debate on the tendency of the rate of
profit to fall.

Jim Miller
Seattle



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