Saturday, April 13, 2013

Equal Time for the Angels of Our Better Nature.......maybe

Writes Angelus on Louis Proyect's Marxmail:
Sartesian continues to ignore the central points:

1) Heinrich does not deny that the rate of profit (however one decides to calculate it) can decline in reality. It very well can. It can also rise. The point, however, is that one can in no way derive a "law" of the rate of profit to fall at the categorical level that Marx does, and this became clear to Marx himself. Sartesian seems to think that merely asserting that the fall in the rate of profit necessarily follows from Marx's categories is sufficient.

2) Since "the rate of profit" is not a category that actually exists in bourgeois statistics, one actually has to construct a method for calculating it. Not surprisingly, those who wish to argue that the rate of profit is in a state of terminal decline construct their calculations in such a way that "proves" exactly that. That's why I pointed to Doug Henwood's excellent article here as a counterweight:

I agree with Doug's statement about methodology in purporting to calculate the rate of profit:

"Everyone who plays this game does it by different rules. Many esteemed Marxist profit-watchers adjust the official stats in numerous ways, such as trying to eliminate “nonproductive” activity. While I understand the interest in jiggering the numbers, no known capitalist can see or feel the adjusted rate of profit. What they (and their shareholders) care about is the actual rate of profit, reported in cash money, relative to the amount of capital that had to be invested to gain the return."

In any case, this exchange is about as fruitful as arguing with Jehovah's Witnesses, and half as fun. The most that can be said for Sartesian's posts is that at least they're not as mindless as the one that appeared at the Kasama blog, which basically takes up the machine fragment of the Grundrisse to make its case, the very passage that Marx refuted with his concept of relative surplus-value!

Whatever. Spring has come and I'm going to go enjoy it. Anybody who wants to take the effort to construct a rigorous argument against Heinrich that takes into account the arguments that he actually makes should do so, and then maybe contact the editors at MR to see if they'll run it.

I'm done for now.
The discussion of Heinrich's essay is "raging" (excuse the hyperbole) at Libcom and Loren Goldner's Meltdown list as well as Marxmail.  I don't know if Angelus is involved in the discussion on Meltdown but he has withdrawn from the discussion at Libcom as well as his apparent disengagement on Marxmail.  

Word:  nothing is more difficult than the orderly disengagement from persistent opponents.  Just ask the historians of the US Military Assistance Command-Vietnam.  

Regarding the "points" raised by Angelus:  (1) Heinrich does not show that there is no way to derive a categorical law of the tendency of the rate of profit to decline.  He presents the mathematical representation of Marx's exposition and argues that the mathematical representation does not establish a categorical law because the mathematical presentation assumes a constant rate of surplus value.   

If the rate of surplus value increases sufficiently, that is at a rate greater than the rate of the value expansion of the constant capital engaged by the labor, then the rate of profit can rise.

Guess what?  No one is arguing that cannot happen, not even, IMO, Marx.  However, the law is not the law of the decline in the rate of profit; the law is the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to decline; that is as the mass of capital values, objectified labor,  expands,  and the mass of living labor so employed declines, the proportional increase in surplus value tends to, and trends toward insufficiency in its ability to counter even the incremental increases in the total accumulated capital. 

And why is this a tendency, a trend?  Because every increase in surplus value becomes an increase in the total objectified labor, capital,  that has itself zero new value producing ability but can only transfer portions of its existing value. Thus to offset this trend, either the means of production must be cheapened, reduced in value,  or the exploitation of labor power has to be "excessively" increased in both rate and mass. 

If the mass of capital, if the mass of the means of production loses value, that is to say is devalued, then in fact the rate of profit can rise.  Devaluing the means of production however involves a period of loss in the overall accumulation process.  Improvement in the efficiency of the means of production, reducing costs of production, involves similar loss to the already accumulated capital.  Hence, the conditions for the increase in the rate of profit are both preceded and accompanied by the very elements of crisis that are made manifest when the rate of profit declines.

Since we are talking about limits, trends, tendencies, since we are talking about the reproduction of a social relation of production, since we are talking about a process that is based in the conflict between labor and the conditions of labor, the truth is made manifest in the actual processes of the economy, where the expansion of capital becomes, calls forth, its own contraction.

That's one.

As for (2), I suggest everyone take a look at Henwood's chart on the rate of profit linked by Angelus, and look at the trend.  Henwood charts a rate of profit that peaks around 1968, staggers lower throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, stabilizes in the mid-1980s but does not exceed the previous peak, turns up sometime around 1992. reaches a high around 1996 which again does not exceed the 1968 mark, turns down again, recovers around 2002 but does not exceed the 1996 level before turning down again around 2007...etc. etc. etc.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I think Angelus is providing evidence of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall despite the offsetting efforts of capitalists everywhere. 

Angelus leaves us with "I'm done for now."  We leave him with the words "And still it falls."

April 13, 2013


  1. "Word: nothing is more difficult than the orderly disengagement from persistent opponents. Just ask the historians of the US Military Assistance Command-Vietnam."

    LOL. More evidence that Marxist politics is basically Dungeons and Dragons for a certain type of nerd.

    Michel Foucault: What is tiresome in ideological arguments is that one is
    necessarily swept away by the "model of war." That is to say that when you
    find yourself facing someone with ideas different from your own, you are
    always led to identify that person as an enemy (of your class, your
    society, etc.). And we know that it is necessary to wage combat against the
    enemy until triumphing over him. This grand theme of ideological struggle
    has really disturbed me. First of all because the theoretical coordinates
    of each of us are often, no, always, confused and fluctuating, especially
    if they are observed in their genesis.

    Furthermore: might not this "struggle" that one tries to wage against the
    "enemy" only be a way of making a petty dispute without much importance
    seem more serious than it really is? I mean, don't certain intellectuals
    hope to lend themselves greater political weight with their "ideological
    struggle" than they really have? A book is consumed very quickly, you know.
    An article, well.... What is more serious: acting out a struggle against
    the "enemy," or investigating, together or perhaps divergently, the
    important problems that are posed? And then I'll tell you: I find this
    "model of war" not only a bit ridiculous but also rather dangerous. Because
    by virtue of saying or thinking "I'm fighting against the enemy," if one
    day you found yourself in a position of strength, and in a situation of
    real war, in front of this blasted "enemy," wouldn't you actually treat him
    as one? Taking that route leads directly to oppression, no matter who takes
    it: that's the real danger. I understand how pleasing it can be for some
    intellectuals to try to be taken seriously by a party or a society by
    acting out a "war" against an ideological adversary: but that is disturbing
    above all because of what it could provoke. Wouldn't it be much better
    instead to think that those with whom you disagree are perhaps mistaken; or
    perhaps that you haven't understood what they intended to say?

  2. Wonder what Foucault has to say about those "using the model of religion" in characterizing the arguments of those with whom you disagree?

    Actually not. But good point, I think. The allusions to combat as a proxy for conflict are probably best excised from discussions.

    No, I don't consider Angelus, or Heinrich enemies, and I would not actually treat either as one.

    I actually made an effort to reduce my tendency towards vehemence when considering the issue. It may not look that way, but those who have seen or read me at my sarcastic best/worst, will recognize the effort

    And yes, I may simply not understand what either or both have intended... which is kind of why I went through the text of Heinrich and the comments by Angelus in a bit more detail.

    But one thing I need to make clear: I would never qualify as an intellectual. I simply do not know enough about enough things to come close to being an intellectual.

  3. Not a sheep5:58 PM

    In his Monthly Review essay, Heinrich does not state his explanation, nor cite one, for inevitable crises under capitalism once it enters the industrial phase. He just thrashes through Marx's texts knocking down anything that is not a complete explanation. Did Marx give us scientific tools so that we can explain crises? Heinrich's negative tone steers the reader away from even thinking about that.

    1. Not a..

      That's true, but I don't think it's incumbent on Heinrich to provide such an explanation, since his argument is that Marx was dissatisfied with his own explanations and had not developed sufficiently his critique of the different facets of capitalism to advance a "theory of crises."

      OK, that's interesting, but it doesn't get us very far... in fact it might even get us further away if... 1)the actual history of debates about the causes of capitalist crisis are misapprehended and mis categorized as I believe Heinrich does misapprehend and mis-categorize them 2) if the object is to dispute a particular, or series of particular, analyses of capital's direction and motion as inadequate to the task NOT on the basis of the concrete explanation offered in those analyses, when in fact the evidence, data developed by those concrete analyses confirm the foundations, expectations, and conclusions of the theory itself.

      If Heinrich wanted to say-- you know, Marx didn't provide a fully worked out "crisis theory"-- and there seem to be elements in theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall that need to be accounted for more thoroughly-- like circulation time, like the growth of fixed assets, like the cheapening of the means of production, like the limits to the expansion of surplus value-- that would be just fine and jim dandy.

      But call me a cynical jaded New Yorker, I think Heinrich has a bigger agenda than that, and I think that agenda might even converge with MR's "objections" to the labor theory of value and to the enduring importance of the notion of class, of labor process, of the objectified conditions of labor to Marx's critique.

      Maybe that's just my paranoia, but hey just 'cause you're paranoid, doesn't mean you're wrong.

  4. Not a sheep8:18 PM

    Arguing what an author believed at one time then another from his texts is rarely helpful. There will always be many schools of thought and no new life to resolve differences. To be sure, the approach can be useful as part of biography. What someone did, including what he wrote, is the basis for a materialist examination and summary of his life.

    The materialist approach to crisis is to offer an explanation of it - concepts in motion supported by facts over time. Sifting one thinker's contribution in order to get slong wth an explanation would be fine. This seems to be the last thing Heinrich cares about.