Revitalizing Marxist Theory for Today's Capitalism: Volume 27


Table of contents

(16 chapters)

This chapter is a radical critique of the neoclassical growth theory, justifying ways out of mainstream economics. It has three parts. The first one analyzes growth theories from the Classical representation to the endogenous growth models. The second part demonstrates that the “new growth theory” is not a break with Solow's formalization. To prove it, we build an original Solowian endogenous growth model. Then, this neoclassical macrodynamic framework is technically, deeply critized in a third part. We show that both exogenous and endogenous neoclassical models prove to be incapable to explain growth in the long period. We concentrate on the ambiguities surrounding the hypothesis of single agent, as well as on the role of the state, in particular when it is considered as a “planner” by the neoclassicals. Endogenous growth models do not correspond to macrodynamization of the Walrasian general equilibrium, nor have solid microeconomic bases. We advocate in favor of rehabilitating state's intervention in social areas and of reactivating Marxist theoretical reflections regarding social planning and class analysis in the current time of structural crisis of the capitalist world system.

In an effort to explain the growth stagnation that hampered the United States in the period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, mainstream economists unwittingly and incompletely reinvented the concept of unproductive labor that is rooted in classical and Marxian economics. The price to pay for having ignored this concept had been unexplained economic events, inappropriate policy, and relative national economic decline. The mainstream economists' attempt to adopt this concept came at a cost to their theoretical core. The abandonment of the concept came at a cost to the real economy represented by the financial crisis of 2008.

There are two influential interpretative positions in the current debate on the crisis among Marxists. The first understands financialization as a consequence of the tendential fall of the rate of profit. The other interpretation, prevalent among those influenced by Keynesianism and Neoricardianism, refers to the tendency toward the crisis of realisation, because of the squeeze on the wage bill and the insufficiency of consumer demand. In both cases, the current crisis is the crisis of a feeble capitalism, permanently stagnationist. A Marxian interpretation of the crisis cannot be separated from the tendential fall of the rate of profit. This latter, however, cannot be accepted as it is presented by Marx, and it must be rethought as a meta-theory of the crisis, including within it the different crisis theories that can be derived from Capital. This article first provides a personal survey of Marx's crisis theories, often presented as opposed to each other. Second, it seeks to integrate the different positions into a unitary discourse, within a nonmechanical reading of the fall of the rate of profit. This discourse then mutates into an historical sketch of the long dynamic of capital: from the Great Depression of the end of the nineteenth century, to the Great Crash of the 1930s, to the Social Crisis in the immediate processes of valorisation of the 1960s–1970s (the Great Inflation). Finally, the “new” capitalism (the Great Moderation) and its recent crisis (the Great Recession) are read – integrating Marx and Minsky – as the conjunction between the real subsumption of labour to finance and the fragmentation of labour.

This chapter discusses the contradictory role and place of finance within the post-1980 US economy. A central argument advanced is that the relationship between the real and financial sides of the economy has become increasingly more complicated and contradictory. Therefore, the distinction made between “real” and “financial” problems of the economy needs to be better qualified by taking into account the dynamics between the two. The contradictory relationship is analyzed through a discussion of finance in relation to labor and households, nonfinancial corporations, speculative asset bubbles, and global imbalances. This analysis shows that finance has been in a contradictory unity with the rest of the economy. It has contributed to some of the problems in the economy, while providing solutions to them at other instances and in the process it shaped and in turn was shaped by the rest of the economy.

There have been many commentaries on Marx's economics, but those by Nikolai Sieber (1844–1888) are unique in that the most important of them were read and endorsed by Marx himself. Had Sieber lived longer and had his works been translated from Russian, he would have been widely recognized as one of the most authoritative interpreters of Marx. The article that appears in translation below was published in the journal Znanie (Knowledge) in 1874. It is an example of the profound understanding that Sieber showed of Marx's work.

The appearance of the present chapter six years after the publication of Marx's Capital and more than a year after its translation into Russian might seem somewhat untimely, if not entirely superfluous. Who in our country has not read Marx's works, or at least heard of him; who does not know that besides interesting and instructive facts, his work contains new and important socio-political truths? No doubt many have read it and heard of it, but I permit myself to doubt, and not only in an a priori fashion, but on the basis of extensive observation, whether many have gained from a reading of the book a clear and precise understanding of the topics which are treated therein. Are there many who have managed to distinguish in it what is significant from what is of small importance, who have noticed what constituted the core elements or the framework of the whole theoretical edifice as opposed to the detail, which serves only to decorate it, who have been properly aware, what Marx introduced that was new into the consciousness of his contemporaries, and what, on the contrary, did not belong to him, but to his predecessors? We repeat that from frequent observations we have become convinced of the contrary. With some very few exceptions, we have so far not managed to come across people who have understood the significance of Marx's researches in their entirety. Some – and these constitute the majority – are barred on the way to an elucidation of the essence of the matter by Marx's doctrine of the forms of value; others – by the difficult, and, if the truth be told, somewhat scholastic language in which a considerable part of the book is written; and others again are put off by the unaccustomed complexity of the subject and the ponderous argumentation encased in the impenetrable armor of Hegelian contradictions. And not only in Russia, but abroad as well Marx has fared no better. One only has to read reviews by some Baumert, Siebel or the reviewer in Bruno–Hildebrand's Jahrbücher, R. (presumably Rössler) to see at once that all these gentlemen possess one important advantage over the majority of Russian readers in that they not only could not, but also would not understand Marx's investigations. Thus, the above reviewer puts to Marx, among others, the following question: “we would like it if someone were finally to explain to us why the food which finds its way into the stomach of a worker serves as the source of the formation of surplus value, whereas food eaten by a horse or an ox lacks the same significance.” If such a “someone” were really to be found, in which the author of the review expresses serious doubt, then he would probably explain the matter in the following way: that economists and sociologists, to whose number Marx belongs, had to date the weakness to think that the chief object of their investigations was human society, and not the society of domestic animals, horned or otherwise, and therefore they are concerned with that surplus value which is produced by human beings. If, like Darwin, they studied natural science, they would probably have found something like surplus value among various other animals, for example, among different species of ant or bee. Generally speaking, not counting Lange's book on the worker question, and the reviews of some people directly involved with the practical consequences of Marx's ideas, the foreign press presents almost not a single line which would evince in its author the desire and the ability to understand the general significance of Marx's work. These deficiencies, especially the second one, are characteristic of even those writers, like Schäffle, who are quite favorably disposed towards Marx and are aware of his scientific achievements.

This chapter attempts to theorize the role of knowledge in the determination of the value of commodities. This draws from the South Korean controversy on the value and price of information commodities such as computer software and digital music. One group of writers has argued that the value of software copies (=commodities) is contributed by the labor time expended to produce the source code (=knowledge) in a piecemeal fashion. For another group, the source code has nothing to do with the production of the value of copies given that the source code is unnecessary for the (re)production of copies, and thus the value of software copies is approximately zero and its price is a high monopoly price. Both approaches are flawed. In the case of the former, no value can actually be transferred from the source code to copies because no changes are made to the source code before or after the production of copies. In case of the latter, knowledge is viewed as having nothing to do with value production. On the basis of this critique, an alternative view is put forward, in which knowledge plays an important role in value production by determining the productivity and/or complexity of labor. Knowledge “virtually intensifies” labor. It is also argued that intellectual property rights should be theorized in a way to refine and reproduce the role of knowledge – the virtual intensification of labor – at more complex and concrete levels of analysis.

This chapter attempts an evaluation of Lenin's economic thought from a Marxian standpoint. This chapter argues that Lenin's reading of Marx's Capital in Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899) was biased toward Ricardian or logic-historical interpretation of value, disproportionality theory of crisis as well as economic determinism, characteristic of the Second International Marxism. While admitting that Lenin overcame economic determinism and reformist politics of the Second International Marxism in his Imperialism (1917), this chapter shows that some essential elements, such as thesis of progressiveness of capitalism, stagiest or typologist conceptions of capitalism, still persisted within and after Imperialism. Moreover, this chapter argues that Lenin's Imperialism cannot be considered as a successful concretization of three latter parts of Marx's plan of critique of political economy in Grundrisse (1857), that is, State (Part 4), Foreign Trade (Part 5), and World Market Crisis (Part 6). This chapter also argues that the ambivalence of Lenin's economic thoughts and incomplete break with the Second International Marxism unexpectedly led to Stalinist thesis of state monopoly capitalism, market socialist ideas, and reformist conception of “varieties of capitalisms.”

From the moment that capital is no longer satisfied to remain commercial or interest-bearing capital, but begins a production process to exploit labor power, i.e., from the moment capital functions as a relation of production and as a relation of classes, immobilization of a part of the means of production (means of work and objects of work) as use-values becomes necessary, even though they by themselves produce no surplus value. Marx aptly refers to the capital thus immobilized as “constant capital.”

In the 2010 volume of Research in Political Economy, Alan Freeman put forth the intriguing and original hypothesis that “capitalism's inner laws express themselves in … different ways during booms and during crises” (Freeman, 2010, p. 217). When the business cycle is in an upswing, Freeman argues, the tensions and contradictions that will eventually interrupt the process of capital accumulation are camouflaged by the commodity form, and so appear as natural laws of motion. With the onset of a crisis, however, these tensions erupt into overt class conflict and so become transparent. The open political struggle represents an opportunity for transformative progressive action. While Freeman's development of this hypothesis is in many respects illuminating, his analysis is marred by a gratuitous methodological argument that has little bearing on what he wants to say about crises. His remarks on method would be merely distracting if they were accurate. But they are in fact misleading and therefore stand in the way of productive discussion of the essay's many useful observations.

Gary Mongiovi accurately cites my thesis, presented in Freeman (2010a) (henceforth referred to as Positivist Marxism and abbreviated to PM), that “capitalism's inner laws express themselves in … different ways during booms and during crises” and that “When the business cycle is in an upswing … the tensions and contradictions that will eventually interrupt the process of capital accumulation are camouflaged by the commodity form, and so appear as natural laws of motion.” He also expresses general agreement with this thesis, but complains that the way I present it is “marred by a gratuitous methodological argument” which is “misleading and therefore stand[s] in the way of productive discussion.” The methodological argument in question is that no theory based on the method of static equilibrium can provide an explanation of endogenous capitalist crisis; this is the main issue I address in this response. PM applies this argument in order to examine a theoretical current that dominates Western, academic, Marxism. This current interprets Marx's theory as a variant of general equilibrium. In this response I refer to it as simultaneist Marxism (SM).

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Research in Political Economy
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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