Obscure Stuff: Value Theory And Profit Origin

“What, we should ask, are the basic stakes of the debate around the Transformation Problem [“TP”]? This question has a fairly straightforward answer: one arrives at the TP in seeking to ‘prove’ that exploitation in the labor process is the only possible source of surplus value — of profit that is also accumulation. There is in fact no other stake to the TP.” Louis-Auguste Blanqui (Facebook poster)

A very interesting statement. I would agree that is how the Transformation Problem is seen by many Marx-theorists. I would disagree with that however. For me the Transformation Problem is a technical question involved in modeling capitalist dynamics. I believe that for Bortkiewicz who formulated the transformed-form of Marx’s original question, it was a technical question and not a question of finding the origins of surplus value.

I think this questions relates quantitative and qualitative threads within Das Capital and Marx’s approach. I might imagine Marx’s political economy is more or less “stretched” between a position which saw communist revolution as a quantitative transformation changing the system distribution of production the existing framework and a position which saw communism as an absolute qualitative break.

And there is the rub. You don’t need any exact quantitative statement of the relation between labor and profit to say that profit requires labor. If communism is pure qualitative break, the exact quantitative contribution of the capitalist is irrelevant.  If we considering quantitative relations the question of origins becomes muddier. Indeed, it seems to me that a lot of theorists on both sides of the transformation debate see it as something like a “moral economy” debate. That if the profit a capitalist receives is numerically proportionate to labor power he inputs, he is shown to have a parasitic nature on the level of this “moral economy”, a level that’s not quite quantitative on the level of modeling but is crucial for a vague justice.

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