To read this content please select one of the options below:

Consumption demand in Marx and in the current crisis

The National Question and the Question of Crisis

ISBN: 978-0-85724-493-2, eISBN: 978-0-85724-494-9

Publication date: 8 November 2010


This chapter challenges the denial of “underconsumption” – the role of consumption demand in capitalist reproduction and its paucity in crises – in contemporary Marxism. At stake are better understandings not only of crisis theory but also, inter alia, of imperialism, “reformism,” and Marx's intellectual legacy. The chapter shows how the centrality of consumption demand is underlined in the three volumes of Capital and the Grundrisse, and goes on to discuss the origins, weaknesses, and persistence of this denial. The chapter also shows that Marx did not regard underconsumption as a moralistic argument about unfulfilled need. The denial originates not in Marx but in productionism, the idea that capitalism is a system of “production for production's sake.”

Originating in the overkill of Tugan Baranowski's refutation of the Russian populists’ view that capitalist development was impossible in Russia due to lack of a home market, productionism is based on his attempt to force Marxism into the marginalist and the general equilibrium framework. Despite its antipathy with Marxism, most contemporary Marxist economics are based on it. Inevitably its adherence to Say's Law – the denial of the possibility of gluts in the market – infects the tendency to assume that capitalism's contradictions do not lie in circulation. Productionism's denial of the importance of consumption demand also rests on nonsequiturs, nondialectical thinking, and an underestimation of the contradictions in capitalism Marx identified, other than the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The chapter ends by showing the centrality of demand in the recent historical evolution of capitalism as reconstructed by Robert Brenner, followed by a discussion of whether underconsumption is “reformist.”


Desai, R. (2010), "Consumption demand in Marx and in the current crisis", Zarembka, P. (Ed.) The National Question and the Question of Crisis (Research in Political Economy, Vol. 26), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 101-143.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited