Monday, September 27, 2010

critique of crisis theory

blog: A Critique of Crisis Theory (from a marxist perspective)

I like the approach and admire the research effort of this blog. The author, Sam Williams, has spent many years studying political economy and is systematically addressing the many and varied interpretations of Marx on crisis theory. He points out that Marx's analysis was unfinished and of course much has happened since Marx's death. His goal is to fill in some of the gaps in Marx's crisis theory as a guide to younger people who will make the future.

Read these sections for starters:
About Me and This Blog
The Problem: Marx Didn’t Leave Us a Completed Crisis Theory

These writings are built on the foundations of “Capital,” a work that at least in Germany is becoming a bestseller once again. But “Capital” itself, though it lays the foundation, is not a book about the periodic crises capitalist production goes through. Nor is there a section within “Capital” dealing with such crises, as is generally the case with works that popularize the theories of “Capital.”

Since Marx and Engels put so much emphasis on crises in the Communist Manifesto and other works, this omission at first seems surprising. Marx had planned to crown his economic work with a book on the world market, the state, competition and crises. As is well known, Marx did not have the time to write this work. It is, of course, impossible for any other person to write the work Marx might have written if he had had the time.
Of course, you will have to read a fair bit of the original Marx and probably some interpretations of his theory of value as a precursor to understanding the issues discussed on this blog.

Update (28th September): Note the Anti Duhring reference to overproduction (in The Problem: Marx Didn’t Leave Us a Completed Crisis Theory) - that markets can't keep up with continually expanding production which is compelled by the capitalist system - and Sam's implied disagreement with "Marxists" who don't grasp that overproduction is still the key to understanding crisis:
Indeed, many—perhaps today most—Marxists largely disagree with Engels and Marx as well, and deny that industrial overproduction is the essence of the cyclical economic crises that mark the concrete history of capitalism from 1825 onwards
My own study still has some way to go but I look forward to reading Sam's efforts to sort out the issue of whether the current crisis is due to overproduction or financialisation of the economy, an issue which I don't yet understand.


Steve Owens said...

Hi Bill, I think that central to Marx's crisis theory is the idea that Capitalism will collapse. This issue was delt with in the arguments between Luxemburg and Bernstein where Luxemburg described collapse as being the cornerstone of Marx's theory, certainly Marx wrote as if he expected to see Capitalism collapse.
Whether we like it or not, on the question of collapse Bernstein has been proved correct. There has been no Capitalist collapse,even the Great Depression was more due to insane policy decisions rather than due to the laws of Capital.

Bill Kerr said...

hi steve,

I think initially the problem is becoming clear about what the Marxist theory of crisis actually is. If you take a close look at Sam William's blog you will find that he says that both Bernstein and Luxemberg were wrong. I'd also refer you to Simon Clarke's book, Marx's Theory of Crisis where he systematically goes through the history of these ideas (pp. 4-47). Let me know if you are prepared to do the reading and I'm happy to discuss further with you.

Steve Owens said...

Well Bill discussing these issues may well be beyond me. When Clarke states in his conclusion
"The most fundamental conclusion is that Marx did not have a theory of crisis in the sense that such a theory has come to play a role within Marxism" My mistake has been to see the Luxemburg theory of collapse as representing the Marxist tradition.(Now Luxemburg was a revolutionary, very smart and spent a lot of time studying Marx. How could she misinterpret Marx so badly?) May be hes right although I find his other comment
about Marx and Engles to be close to libelous.
"Although Marx and Engles bolstered their revolutionary faith by appealing to the inevitable crisis, in practice they quietly abandoned the illusion that the revolution would be precipitated by a general crisis...." (They should have told Rosa)
So Clarke is stating that Marx was saying one thing in public but in private he had come to a different conclusion.
Well Clarke is an expert in Marxism and Im clearly not so I would want the opinion of some other expert rather than dispute this without facts.

Bill Kerr said...

hi steve,

Why do some people, eg. Rosa L, misinterpret Marx so badly?

Marx's theories are complex and hard to understand fully. Also his work was not finished and many of his publications did not come out until years after his death. eg. Grundrisse was not published until the 1940s and the English translation did not appear until 1973. Engels, Kautsky, Bernstein etc. all had different interpretations.

So, I think it is necessary to find a good guide to Marx, someone who has done the hard work of reading all of him and putting it together. Perhaps Simon Clarke is worth looking at further with that in mind. To be read in conjunction with the original.

wrt the Clarke quote that you find libelous. I think what he is saying is far more complex than some sort of deception on the part of Marx and Engels. (and also not accurate wrt to Engels who did keep predicting a collapse, but in a contradictory way, to his dying day, see Clarke pp. 17-18) They hoped for revolution. It didn't happen. They continued their study and investigation on that basis. Marx didn't leave us with a completed theory of crisis. He died with most of his economic writing not finished. But he did develop a method of investigation that we can learn from and hopefully apply to the current economic mess.