NOTE 22: The falling rate of profit and the collapse of production on the basis of exchange value
In part 2 of his 2013 essay, Crisis Theory, the Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall, and Marx’s Studies in the 1870s, Heinrich argues Marx makes a far-reaching assertion that is impossible to demonstrate empirically: in the long term the rate of profit must fall. As Heinrich points out the very nature of the law — that it only points to a tendency — implies past historical data cannot simply be projected indefinitely into the future. The rate of profit may well have fallen in the past or it may have risen, but this does not mean a given historical trend will continue in the future.
The argument Heinrich makes in this section appears to challenge a long-standing Marxist assumption that there is at least an indirect link between capitalist crisis and social revolution. For some Marxists — notably, Andrew Kliman and company — the crisis produced by the falling rate of profit is a theoretically necessary assumption, because such a crisis is thought to be the material force that ultimately triggers a working class social revolution. Without the crisis, and the deepening poverty and political discontent it creates, many Marxists have no ready explanation for why the working class would overthrow capital. Thus, if we accept Heinrich’s argument about the falling rate of profit, what are we left with as a trigger for the social revolution?