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“Marx’s Theory of Crisis”: Simon Clarke

c7ff9-imagen-mundoPolitical Economy and the Necessity of Crisis
With every boom the apologists for capitalism claim that the tendency to crisis that has plagued the capitalist system since its very beginnings has finally been overcome. When the boom breaks, economists fall over one another to provide particularistic explanations of the crash. The crisis of the early nineteen nineties was the result of the incautious lending of the nineteen eighties. The crisis of the early nineteen eighties was the result of excessive state spending in the late nineteen seventies. The crisis of the mid nineteen seventies was the result of the oil price hike and the inflationary financing of the Vietnam war … the crisis of the nineteen thirties was the result of inappropriate banking policies … … . Every crisis has a different cause, all of which boil down to human failure, none of which are attributed to the capitalist system itself.

And yet crises have recurred periodically for the past two hundred years. Bourgeois economists have to deny that crises are inherent in the social form of capitalist production, because the whole of economic theory is built on the premise that the capitalist system is self-regulating, the principal task of the theoretical economist being to identify the minimal conditions under which such self-regulation will be maintained, so that any breakdown will be identified as the result of exceptional deviations from the norm.
Even the most apologetic of economists cannot fail to notice that recurrent crises occur, but, developing the traditions of classical political economy, the economists explain such crises as contingent phenomena. The normal operation of the forces of supply and demand ensures that there is always a tendency towards equilibrium. This means that crises can only arise as a result of external shocks, which temporarily disrupt equilibrium, or internal disturbances, which impede or subvert the processes of market equilibration.

Within the framework of general equilibrium theory capital moves between branches of production in response to variations in the rate of profit which arise from imbalances between supply and demand. This movement of capital is the means by which competition maintains proportional relations between the various branches, so that disproportionalities which might disrupt accumulation are evened out by the smooth interaction of supply and demand. Any crisis of disproportionality, such as that of the mid nineteen seventies, is then attributed to market imperfections, in this case the monopoly powers of the oil producers.

Within neo-classical theory the overall balance Within neo-classical theory the overall balance of supply and demand is maintained by the interaction of the rate of interest and the rate of profit. If there is a shortfall of investment the demand for investment funds will fall, leading to a decline in the rate of interest which will stimulate renewed investment. A stable monetary policy will ensure that equilibrium is maintained. In the classical world of the gold standard a deficit on the balance of international payments provided the prime indication of overheating, the outflow of gold and currency reserves forcing the monetary authorities to tighten monetary policy to rectify the imbalance. Similarly, the onset of recession led to an inflow to the reserves which permitted a more relaxed monetary policy. In the modern world the indicators of inflationary and deflationary pressures are more complex, but the principle remains the same. A crisis of overaccumulation, such as that which struck at the end of the nineteen eighties, is then the result of lax monetary policies which have stimulated inflationary and speculative overinvestment.

For all their mathematical sophistication, the explanations of crises offered by today’s economists are no different from those that were being put forward at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was always recognised that a large external shock, such as a war or harvest failure, might precipitate a temporary disruption in the relations between branches of production, or in the international economic relations of the national economy, but the cause of such a crisis lies outside the capitalist system, and it was assumed that stability would soon be restored by the normal processes of market adjustment. Apart from such external shocks, the principal cause of crises was traditionally identified as the discretionary intervention of the government in the regulation of the economy. In particular, if the government sought to stimulate the economy artificially by printing money to finance its excessive spending, it would promote over-investment, which would lead to an inflationary boom. Eventually the boom would collapse as unsound and speculative ventures failed, requiring a period of recession to purge the excesses from the system. The cyclical alternation of boom and bust which has marked the history of capitalism is not, therefore, inherent in the capitalist mode of production, but is the result of the folly and irresponsibility of politicians.

Marx’s theory of crisis

Marx’s Theory of Crisis 1
Simon Clarke…1

Introduction: Marxism and the Theory of Crisis …5
Political Economy and the Necessity of Crisis… 5
Marxist Theories of Crisis… 7
The Impasse of Contemporary Marxism… 9
Marx and the Marxist Theory of Crisis… 10
The Theory of Crisis in the Second International… 13
The Marxist Heritage: Engels’s Theory of Crisis …15
Kautsky and the Historical Tendencies of Capitalist Accumulation …18
Kautsky’s Theory of Secular Overproduction …20
Kautsky’s Theory of Crisis …21
Bernstein’s Challenge –- Reform or Revolution …24
Tugan-Baranowsky and the Necessity of Crisis …26
Hilferding and the Disproportionality Theory of Crisis …30
Competition and the investment cycle …32
The investment cycle and the crisis …35
Stabilisation and the necessity of crisis …37
Rosa Luxemburg’s Underconsumptionist Theory of Crisis …41
Crises Associated with the Falling Rate of Profit …44
The Reformulation of Marxist Crisis Theory in the 1970s …47
Class struggle and capitalist crisis …48
Crisis and the law of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall …49
Class Struggle and the Rate of Profit… 52
Is There a Marxist Theory of Crisis? …54
Engels’s Theory of Crisis …57
Marx’s Early Development of Engels’s Analysis …59
The Dynamics of Capitalist Production and the Tendency to Crisis …61
The Theory of Crisis in the Communist Manifesto …66
The Early Theory of Overproduction and Crisis …67
Production, Circulation and Global Crisis after 1848 …68
The Politics and Theory of Crisis after the 1848 Revolutions …68
The Historical Development of Capitalist Crises …70
Money, Credit and Crisis in the Notebooks of 1851 …73
The Theory of Crisis in 1853… 79
Revolutionary Hopes and the Crisis of 1857 …81
Production and Circulation …86
Money, Crisis and Currency Reform …88
The Money Form and the Possibility of Crisis …90
The Transition from Money to Capital …91
The Self-Expansion of Capital and Overproduction …93
Production and Realisation …94
Marx’s Theory of Crisis: One Theory or Three? …96
Disproportionate Production and General Overproduction …98
Competition and Disproportionality …99
Underconsumption and the Tendency to Crisis …101
Disproportionality and the Valorisation of Capital …105
The Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall …111
The tendency for the composition of capital to rise …111
The composition of capital and the formation of a relative surplus population… 112
The composition of capital and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall …113
The tendency for the tate of profit to fall and the tendency to crisis… 115
The Dynamics of Capitalism and the Tendency to Crisis… 117
The Methodology of the Grundrisse and the Theory of Crisis… 121
Underconsumption Theories: Malthus and Sismondi… 126
Overproduction and Crisis: Say and Ricardo …130
The production of surplus value and the possibility of crisis …130
Disproportionality and general overproduction …132
The tendency to crisis and the critique of political economy …134
The contradictions of capital and the possibility of crisis… 136
Money, credit and the possibility of crisis …138
Capitalist production and the possibility of crisis …139
Capitalist Reproduction, Disproportionality and Crisis …140
The Falling Rate of Profit and the Tendency to Crisis …144
The Critique of Political Economy and the Falling Rate of Profit… 145
Is There a Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall? …147
The tendency for the composition of capital to rise… 148
The rate of exploitation and the rate of profit …149
The Falling Rate of Profit and Relative Surplus Population …152
The Concentration of Capital, the Rate of Profit and Crisis …155
Internal Contradictions of the Law… 157
The mass of profit, the rate of profit and the tendency to crisis …158
The rate of profit, crisis and the depreciation of capital…160
The falling rate of profit and the absolute overaccumulation of capital… 162
Overaccumulation and crisis… 163
What is the significance of FROP?… 166
The Theory of Crisis in Capital …169
Politics and the Theory of Crisis …170
The Theory of Crisis in the First Volume of Capital… 171
The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation …172
Labour shortage, wages and crisis …173
Crises and the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation …175
The Necessity of Crisis and the Periodicity of the Cycle …178
Fixed Capital and the Periodicity of the Cycle …179
Fixed Capital and the Problem of Reproduction …184
Credit and the Investment Cycle …187
Conclusion… 191
Bibliography …197

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