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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The epistemology of the transformation problem in Marx’s Capital Nelson, Malcolm MacKinnon


This thesis introduces the arguments of the new French "Structuralist" school of Marxism led by Louis Althusser, and attempts to test the validity of their proposals by applying them to a traditional economic problem in "Capital"; that of the transformation problem. The first chapter outlines the structuralist perspective, it's uniqueness, and it's effect on a reading of Marx, by comparing it to the more popular theoretical traditions within Marxism of historicism and humanism. The conclusions of this discussion, especially its epistemological ramifications, are then extended in a re-examination of Engels' relationship to Marx, and the determinate role which he (Engels) played in "interpreting" historical materialism. Working from Engels' understanding of the transformation problem (the transition from volume I to volume, III in "Capital"), the extant literature surrounding the debate Is introduced in chapter three, and special attention is paid to how the basic premises of this problem have re-surfaced in recent neo-Ricardian debates. In other words, an attempt is made to construct a continuum between the early criticisms of Marx, — Bohm-Bawerk, Bortkiewitz, etc. — and the rationale of Pierro Sraffa's work as it has been employed by Maurice Dobb and Ronald Meek. Following this discussion, the early theoretical roots of the labour theory of value — i. e., Adam Smith and David Ricardo — are developed so as to provide a basis for understanding Marx's theoretical "break" with the traditional object of political economy. Here, the emphasis is placed on the dissimilarity of Marx's problematic from that of classical political economy, and how this dissimilarity is due to his new epistemological presuppositions. The intent of this study is to illustrate that, by following the structuralist interpretation of "Capital", the "transformation problem" is, and never was, an obstacle in the logic of Marx's discourse; secondly, that the "issue" of the "transformation problem has had it's roots in a series of epistemological misconceptions over the real nature of Marx's problematic in "Capital". In short, this thesis attempts to identify a new object in Marx's work according to the structuralist reading.

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