the UnMaking of Marx’s Capital

Back in April the Monthly Review posted a piece by Michael Heinrich about Marx’s theorization of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Here I have attached/linked a response co-authored by Andrew Kliman, Nick Potts, Alan Freeman, Alexy Gusev and myself.

Unmaking of Marx’s Capital, final, 7-22-13-2

Michael Heinrich’s recent Monthly Review article claims that the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit (LTFRP) was not proved by Marx and cannot be proved. Heinrich also argues that Marx had doubts about the law and that, for this and other reasons, his theory of capitalist economic crisis was only provisional and more or less in continual flux.

This response shows that Heinrich’s elementary misunderstanding of the law – his belief that it is meant to predict what must inevitably happen rather than to explain what does happen – is the source of his charge that it is unproved. It then shows that a simple misreading of Marx’s text lies at the basis of Heinrich’s claim that the simplest version of the LTFRP, “the law as such,” is a failure. Marx’s argument that increases in the rate of surplus-value cannot “cancel” the fall in the rate of profit is then defended against Heinrich’s attempt to refute it. Finally, the paper presents evidence that Marx was indeed convinced that the LTFRP is correct and that he regarded the crisis theory of volume 3 of Capital as finished in a theoretical sense.


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18 Responses to the UnMaking of Marx’s Capital

  1. This is already a classic in the field:

    “Unfortunately, Marx cannot say “Heinrich has seriously misrepresented my argument,” since he
    is dead, but it is fortunate that Kliman can say this, since he is alive and one of the authors of this
    response. He did not attempt to prove that the rate of profit must fall.”

  2. Interesting letters that you cite, I didn’t know them. But didn’t Marx however say towards the end of his life that he wanted to revise volume 1? What does this say about the other volumes?

  3. xx says:


    this paper is excellent, congrats! it must have been an honor to work alongside your co-authors.

    (off-topic: where can I buy your album?)


  4. Hey Ed George has a new blog apparently… You should add it to your blogroll

  5. the “epstomological” thing would be a mathematical like estimation of the tendency to fall and the counter tendencies, listed by marx. marx is very short in claiming, that this “estimation” would give the dominance of the tendency to fall. as the state is out of regard in the capital,toawide degre, the question is much more “theoretical”, than duiscussed. everyone knows, thar thestate acts very much earlier as tolokk paasively toa run tendency against counter-tendencies. the workes have to do the same. if, like in economiss often assumed, one sees the struggles on wage etc, on fpreign markets are in a certsain sens in a situation, where is not easy to gain a further profit, because of the concurrence of foreign capital and workers, foreign states too, the argument of marx becomes clearer. we got indeed very quick wars, as now with the “arabellion” too. it is connected to the tendency of absoulte pauperization, wher marxhas a more complex view than ricardo, for whom this tendency was not to stopp, , tied to resistant class struggle against that. convincingis,that ther is no real healing mechanism of the tendency oft he falling profitrate, every counter tendency gives some, even more trouble. the higher irganic rate ofthe capital makes sabotating actions very exoprendsibve. thenecesity to reall sel the more products is against the counter tendencies of dumping wages and rising the rate of surplus. there most elegant tendency of “outsourcing” selling to foreign markets gives in practice early wars instead. we had longperiods, where the tendency of falling profit rate was quite good masked. but if we look and the immense terchnolgical revolutions, even orofits stay largely behind any “reasonable” expectation of a good system of economic distribution. the mathematical theoretical framework isprobably already doner in the former sovejet union.the had superb probability theoreticians there. evenin china of today, such theoretical things could be expected as already done. nowadays pauperism is much less accepted than as times of marx. the raise of the oragnic rate took place indeed, industrial working places are quite expensive. humabn behaviour statistical laws have to be argued outof antropological “constants”. here the anthropological “conatus” and the intelligence of the people come in as very basic. it took more than 320 yeras, corarsly, from the “ideas” of the philsophers, the technlogicalrevolution of the stam machines, to the abolishing of the real very brutal regimes of feudalism. pauperism would be compatible with falling profit rate, as an outcome of different, counter tendencies, the “path” of the real profit rate is only “predicted” on the long runs by marx law. finacial crises shows him to be right, as nowadays largley is comitted.

  6. martin says:

    Nice paper. I think it is risky to refute a ‘what did the old bearded fecker really think’ argument with more of the same but you get the balance about right: would have been tempted to emphasize more that it is a present way of explaining the world and reason for wanting to leave it.

    For a lovely anti heinrich polemic (not about the law but more generally including on his critique of substantialist conceptions of value see the gegenstandpunkt translation here>

  7. Michael says:

    for the ones who can read German: there’s a new book by Wolfgang Fritz Haug (German Prof. who did Marx lectures for decades, a bit like D. Harvey) in which he wrote a critique of Heinrichs Marx interpretation/introductory books:

  8. Wang Zisan says:

    This paper is excellent, it advances our understanding of Marx’s theory.

    The critical arguments center on the point that the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit (LTFRP) is to “predict what must inevitably happen” or to “explain what does happen.” I am convinvced that “what must inevitably happen” is Heinrich’s misconception, it is actute contrast between “what must inevitably happen” and “ what does happen.” But I have a little doubt about contrasting between “predict” and “explain.”, it seems that 《capita》l’s theory, LTFRP、crisis theory, can explain the facts, but it can not predict what will(not must) happen. I think the scientifical theory not only can explain the facts, but also predict what will happen. Basing on 《capital》’s theory, we can assure that the periodrically economical crises will happen in capitalism.

  9. CB says:

    Not all scientific theory does in fact, nor is it meant to, predict. Oftentimes explanation is all it can do. Think about the relationship between astronomy, cosmology, evolutionary theory, paleontology, geology. etc, and painting a picture of the development of life, the earth, and their cosmic evolution.

    The theory as to how the moon got to be where it is, says nothing about the moons future. Nor do we ask that it should, to deem it scientific.

  10. Wang Zisan says:

    Hi CB, thanks for your reply.

    The method of Marx’s 《Capital》is dialectical logic which inquires the movements and changes of the reality. The theory using dialectics does not only explain the present facts, it also explains the future becoming.

    The scientific theory with explanatory power needs to be logically consistent and evidentially correct, it also allows us to predict the repetition of the movement as long as the premises of the theory are unchanged.

    The premises of《capital》’s theory, LTFRP、crisis theory are production relations of capitalism, so we can assure that the periodrically LTFRP、economical crises will happen in capitalism.

  11. CB says:

    I don’t actually think dialectics has any success as a future predicting science, and I don’t know of any non-vulgar Marxist who would claim it does.

    Yes Marx is a dialectical thinker, but he’s also a scientific thinker too. The two are not mutually exclusive if one’s a materialist.

  12. Wang Zisan says:

    Allow me to quote Guglielmo Carchedi’s book:《Behind the Crisis—Marx’s Dialectics of Value and Knowledge》(Historical Materialism Book Series Volume 26)

    「This allows us to forecast the repetition of the movement in its characteristic features as long as the premises of the theory are unchanged. This answers the objection that it is impossible to know that an event will recur in the future simply because it has taken place in the past. This position makes forecasts impossible.」(p. 48)

    「Our daily routine is based on the assumption that certain premises will not change. If I plan to go to my work tomorrow, I do it on the assumption that I will not have been fired, that the means of transportation taking me there will work, that the sun will have risen, etc. To hold that, for example, we cannot assume that rate of profit will fall in the future on the basis that it has fallen in the past is equivalent to me staying home rather than going to my work simply because I cannot rigorously assume that I have not been fired. 」 (p. 48, note 105)

    The opinions of Carchedi are that forecasts are possible and we can assume that rate of profit will fall in the future.

  13. CB says:

    This is just an appeal to authority.

    I’ve read his book, and I somewhat disagree with Carchedi.

    I could just quote Roy Bhaskar – the philosopher on dialectics and materialism I’m more inclined to support.

    Anyway the problem with your quote is that it starts at the conclusion, and you haven’t given me the premises.

  14. Wang Zisan says:

    My early response has given the premises:
    「The premises of《capital》’s theory, LTFRP、crisis theory are production relations of capitalism, so we can assure that the periodrically LTFRP、economical crises will happen in capitalism.」

    To quote Guglielmo Carchedi’s book is response to your saying:
    「 I don’t know of any non-vulgar Marxist who would claim it does.」

    Ithink Carchedi is a serious Marxist thinker.

  15. CB says:

    Your first post just said that dialectics can make predictions. It did not give an argument as to how.

    Your second post just quoted Carchedi’s conclusion that dialectics can make predictions – again it did not give Carchedi’s premises as to why this conclusion is valid.

    Again, in this post, you do not offer a reason as to why dialectics is capable of predictions….

  16. Wang Zisan says:

    about Marx’s theorization of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall whether it only explains the present facts or it also predicts the future becoming, the paper〈A Critique of Heinrich’s, ‘Crisis Theory, the Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall, and Marx’s Studies in the 1870s’〉by Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts posted at the Monthly Review December 2013, it criticized〈 The Unmaking of Marx’s Capital〉’s arguments:

    「Their law can only explain. But a law that cannot predict is a strange law indeed.」

    「Kliman and his co-authors’ problem is not only that they accept Heinrich’s standpoint that the law cannot predict the inevitability of the tendential fall in the ROP; not only that their argument is theoretically inadequate; not only that their prediction is vacuous; but also that their position is harmful for the working class and its fight against capital.」

    Carchedi has the same opinion with me:

    「 It is our opinion that the law does predict the inevitability of the tendential fall of the ROP in the future. This is why the system will inevitably keep generating crises, i.e. will keep trying to supersede itself rather than reproducing itself in a state of, or tending towards, equilibrium. And this is what gives labour’s fight a solid, objective basis.」

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