Unibg International -Archive : Reading the Grundrisse
Unibg International

Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods

Reading the Grundrisse

Area bacheca: 820&

l) Geert Reuten (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands) & Peter Thomas (Historical Materialism)
From the 'fall of the rate of profit' in the Grundrisse to the cyclical development of the profit rate in Capital: a fundamental change in Marx's notion of the capitalist mode of production

Karl Marx's notion of "the tendency of the rate of profit to fall" has long constituted one of the most controversial elements of Marx's and marxian theory. This paper will examine the role played by this concept in the development of Marx's notion of the capitalist mode of production. Our thesis is that Marx's views on the "law" or "tendency" of the rate of profit to fall developed from a law about the historical destination of the capitalist system as tending towards breakdown, to a theory about the functioning of the capitalist mode of production as a (potentially) reproductive system.

We analyse the transformation of Marx's thought on this issue in texts from the period of the notebooks published as the Grundrisse to the drafts for Capital Volume III. We will argue that Marx's analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall in the Grundrisse, as in his earlier economic writings from the 1840s, remains indebted in many key respects to the conceptual matrix in which this theme had been previously developed in classical political economy, particularly in Smith and Ricardo. As his research project develops, Marx's texts begin to display a development away from a notion of an "empirical" trend fall in the rate of profit, and towards a notion of tendency as operative power, which results in a notion of the cyclical variation of the rate of profit in an economic system founded upon capital. On the basis of this textual analysis, we will attempt to indicate some of the theoretical and political reasons that may have encouraged Marx to undertake this development.

In conclusion, we outline some themes for future research that arise from this understanding of Marx's intellectual development, including a reassessment of the relative weight of Marx's debts to classical political economy, on the one hand, and Hegel's thought, on the other; the relationship between politics and economics in Marx's mature critique of political economy; and the implications of this analysis for contemporary debates regarding both the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the status of marxian-inspired research as social theory.