Inicio > Economía marxista > “Hostile brothers: Marx’s theory of the distribution of surplus-value in volume 3 of Capital”: Fred Moseley

“Hostile brothers: Marx’s theory of the distribution of surplus-value in volume 3 of Capital”: Fred Moseley

It is argued in this paper that the overall main subject of Volume 3 of Capital is the distribution of surplus-value, i.e. the division of the total amount of surplus-value into individual component parts, first into equal rates of profit across branches of production and then the further division of surplus-value into commercial profit, interest, and rent. This subject of Volume 3 is clearly stated in the various quotations at the beginning of this paper and in the many subsequent quotations presented throughout the paper.

The paper argues further that Marx’s analysis of the distribution of surplus-value is based on the fundamental premise that the total amount of surplus-value has already been determined by the prior analysis in Volume 1.i The main question addressed in Volume 3 is how this predetermined total amount of surplus-value is divided up into its component parts. The division of the total surplus-value into individual parts does not in any way affect the magnitude of the total surplus-value, since this total surplus-value is taken as a predetermined given in the analysis of its division. We will see that this key premise is explicitly stated and emphasized many times in Volume 3 and in the earlier drafts of Volume 3, especially in the important concluding Part 7 on “Revenue and its Sources”. (Marx’s discussions of this key premise in the earlier drafts of Capital are examined more extensively in Moseley 1997.ii) I argue that this distinction between the determination of the total amount of surplusvalue in Volume 1 and the distribution of surplus-value in Volume 3 is closely related to Marx’s distinction between “capital in general” and “competition” (or “many capitals”). Capital in general refers to the essential properties that all capitals have in common. The most important common property of capitals is their capacity for self-expansion, i.e. their ability to produce surplus-value. Since this common property is shared by all capitals, the analysis of capital in general is necessarily an analysis of all the capitals taken together, that is of the total social capital. Therefore, the main question addressed in the analysis of capital in general is the determination of the total amount of surplus-value produced in the capitalist economy as a whole. Competition refers to the relations among individuals capitals, and, in particular, to the distribution of surplus-value among capitals.

Marx’s theory of the production of surplus-value in Volume 1 is often presented in terms of an individual capital. However, Marx’s theory in Volume 1 is not just about the surplus-value produced by a single capital. Rather, it is about what all capitals have in common: the production of surplus-value. Therefore, any given individual capital is analyzed as a representative of all capitals and hence of the total social capital. The determination of the amount of surplus-value produced by one capital is representative of determination of the amount of surplus-value produced by all capitals together, and hence the determination of the total surplus-value produced by the total social capital. Marx expressed this representative nature of the analysis of individual capitals in Volume 1 in an important outline at the end of the Manuscript of 1861-63, as follows:

“In capitalist production [i.e. in Volume 1; FM], each capital is assumed to be a unit, an aliquot part of the total social capital.” (TSV.I: 416; emphasis added)

Marx’s theory of the distribution of surplus-value in Volume 3 explains the individual parts of  surplus-value – equal rates of profit, industrial profit, merchant profit, interest, and rent – as the necessary “forms of appearance” of the unifying substance of surplus-value, which is produced by the unpaid labor of workers. These different forms of surplus-value appear to the agents of capitalist production – and in general also to economists – to originate from separate and independent sources (e.g. interest from capital, rent from land, etc.). But Marx’s theory demonstrates that these forms of surplus-value are all derived from the same source: the surplus labor of workers. In other words, Marx’s theory demonstrates the “inner connection” of the different forms of appearance of surplus-value. Furthermore, Marx’s theory explains how the illusion that these individual parts of surplus-value come from separate and independent sources is a “necessary appearance,” i.e. an appearance that, although false, necessarily arises on the basis of capitalist production.v Therefore, another purpose of Volume 3 is to explain, not only these important phenomena related to the distribution of surplus-value, but also why these phenomena appear differently to the agents of capitalist production (and to economists). Marx announced his intention to explain these more concrete forms of appearance in the first paragraph of Volume 3:

“Our concern is rather to discover and present the concrete forms which grow out of the process of capital’s movement as a whole… The configurations of capital, as developed in this book, thus approach step by step the form in which they appear on the surface of society, in the action of different capitals on one another; i.e. in competition, and in the everyday consciousness of the agents of production themselves”. (C.III. 117)

Hostile brothers: Marx’s theory of the distribution of surplus-value in volume 3 of Capital

October 2000

  1. 13/07/2012 a las 04:02

    I thank Fred Moseley effort collecting a good deal of selected textual evidence about Marx because that requires a lot of effort. He concludes: “it is hoped that this paper will stimulate further research and discussion of Marx´s logical method in Capital ….(so) …we should then be able to move beyond Capital and to further Marx´s theory toward more concrete levels of abstraction.” After reading it, I think understood better Marx’s methodologic problem.
    I will write soon a short mini-paper (4 or 5 pages)
    based in this Moseley’s text to share my point of view on the main logical mistake made by Marx about the relationship between parts (sectors) and total profit rates distribution. Thanks, Emilio.

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