Critique of the book 'Dynamics, contradictions and crises of capitalism', Part 2

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Is capitalism a decadent mode of production and why? (ii)

Overproduction, a fundamental contradiction of capitalism, is linked to the existence of wage labour. This will be analysed in this second part of our article in order to reply to important questions on which we have serious disagreements with Marcel Roelandts’ book Dynamics, contradictions and crises of capitalism:[1] Why does increasing workers’ wages not resolve the problem of overproduction? Where does the demand exterior to the workers come from and what are its role and limitations? Is there a solution to the overproduction at the heart of capitalism? How to characterise those currents that propose wage increases as the solution to capitalism’s crises? Is capitalism doomed to a catastrophic collapse?

Is there a solution to the crisis at the heart of capitalism?

The nature of overproduction

Overproduction is a characteristic of capitalist crises, unlike the crises of the modes of production that preceded it, which were characterised by scarcity.

This is a product, in the first place, of the way that this mode of production exploits the workforce, wage labour, which means that the workers must always produce more than would suffice for their own needs. It is this characteristic that is basically explained in the following passage by Marx:

The mere relationship of wage-labourer and capitalist implies […] that the majority of the producers, the workers,must always be over-producers, produce over and above their needs, in order to be able to be consumers or buyers within the limits of their needs.[2]

This then presupposes the existence of demand that is exterior to that of the workers as the latter by definition can never be enough to absorb all of capitalist production.

It is forgotten that, as Malthus says, ‘the very existence of a profit upon any commodity pre-supposes a demand exterior to that of the labourer who has produced it’ and hence ‘the demand of the labourer himself can never be an adequate demand’.”[3]

It is precisely when the demand external to that of the workers is insufficient that overproduction appears: “If the demand exterior to the demand of the labourer himself disappears or shrinks up, then the collapse occurs.”[4]

The contradiction is all the more violent as, on the one hand, the workers’ wage is reduced to the minimum socially necessary to reproduce the workforce and, on the other hand, the productive forces of capitalism tend to be developed to the maximum:

The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.”[5]

Why do wage increases for the workers fail to resolve the problem of overproduction?

There are various procedures that enable the bourgeoisie to mask overproduction:

  1. By destroying excess production in order to prevent its availability on the market from lowering the selling price. This is what happened in the 1970s and 1980s in particular with agricultural production in the countries of the European Economic Community. This procedure has the disadvantage for the bourgeoisie of revealing the contradictions of the system and of arousing indignation as the produce destroyed in this way is in desperately short supply for a large part of the population.
  2. By reducing the use of productive capacity or even destroying a part of it. An example of this way of drastically reducing production was the Davignon plan set in motion in 1977 by the European Commission to carry out the industrial reconstruction of the metal industry (with tens of thousands of redundancies) in the face of the overproduction of steel internationally. It led to the destruction of a large number of blast furnace plants in several European countries and the redundancy of tens of thousands of steel workers, which produced important struggles, in particular those in France in 1978 and 1979.
  3. By increasing demand artificially, that is, generating demand that is not based on the need for investment to become more profitable but is motivated by the need to keep the productive apparatus working. This is typically the case with Keynesian measures, in which the state pays out and which therefore have repercussions on the competitive edge of the national economy which uses such measures. This is why it can only be used if conditions allow it to compensate for the loss of competivity by means of a significant increase in productivity. This kind of measure may involve either wage increases or else public works programmes which yield no immediate profit.

These three procedures, although different in form, have the same significance for capitalist development and can basically be reduced to the first and most obvious example; the deliberate destruction of production. It may seem shocking, from a workers’ point of view, to hear that wage increases that are not justified by the need to reproduce the workforce are a “waste”. It is obviously a waste from the viewpoint of capitalist logic (which has nothing to do with the well-being of the worker), according to which paying the worker more in no way increases his productivity.

MR, who thinks that the mechanism at work during the post-war boom has been understood by very few marxists,[6] has not himself understood, or does not want to understand, that according to Marx, “the aim of capital is not to minister to certain wants, but to produce profit[7] (quoted at the end of the article), whether the consumption is that of the working class or of the bourgeoisie.

We may call this wastage “regulation”, as does MR, without acknowledging that we are talking about wastage; this perhaps allows him to make his thesis more acceptable. But this by no means changes the fact that, to a large extent, the prosperity of the post-war boom is the wastage of a part of the gains of productivity used to produce for production’s sake.

Where does demand exterior to the workers come from?

For MR, and contrary to the position of Rosa Luxemburg whose theory of accumulation he criticises, the demand that does not come from the workers can quite well come from capitalism itself, and not necessarily from societies based on productive relations not yet capitalist and which have co-existed with capitalism for a long time.

According to Marx this demand does not come from the workers or from the capitalists themselves but from the markets that have not yet entered the capitalist mode of production.

In his book MR refers to Malthus’ opinion on this point: “It should be noted that this ‘demand exterior to that of the worker who has produced it’ concerns, according to Malthus, demand that is entirely within capitalism because it concerns social strata whose purchasing power comes from surplus value and not from extra-capitalist demand according to the Luxemburgist theory of accumulation”.[8] Marx, who supports Malthus on this point, states categorically that this demand cannot come from the worker: “The demand created by the productive labourer himself can never be an adequate demand, because it does not go to the full extent of what he produces. If it did, there would be no profit, consequently no motive to employ him.[9] He also states explicitly that for Malthus this demand comes from “social strata whose purchasing power comes from surplus value” but at the same time he rejects Malthus’ motivation on the defence of the interests of the “Church and State hierarchy”: “Malthus is interested not in concealing the contradictions of bourgeois production but on the contrary, in emphasising them, on the one hand, in order to prove that the poverty of the working classes is necessary (as it is, indeed, for this mode of production) and, on the other hand, to demonstrate to the capitalists the necessity for a well-fed Church and State hierarchy in order to create an adequate demand for the commodities they produce. […] Thus he emphasises the possibility of general overproduction in opposition to the view of the Ricardians.[10] So just because Malthus thinks that adequate demand may come from “social strata whose purchasing power comes from surplus value” does not mean that Marx does so too. On the contrary, the latter is very explicit on the point that adequate demand cannot come either from the workers or the capitalists: “The demand of the workers does not suffice, since profit arises precisely from the fact that the demand of the workers is smaller than the value of their product, and that it [profit] is all the greater the smaller, relatively, is this demand. The demand of the capitalists among themselves is equally insufficient.[11]

On this point, we should point out that MR’s intentions are not entirely honourable when, in order to give his readers the means to broaden their reflection, he reports Marx’s opinion on the need for demand other than that coming from the workers and capitalists. Otherwise how can we explain why he did not cite the following passage in which Marx explains explicitly the need for “orders from abroad”, from “foreign markets” to sell the goods produced:

How could there otherwise be a shortage of demand for the very commodities which the mass of people lack, and how would it be possible for this demand to be sought abroad, in foreign markets, to pay the labourers at home the average amount of necessities of life? This is possible only because in this specific capitalist interrelation the surplus-product assumes a form in which its owner cannot offer it for consumption, unless it first reconverts itself into capital for him. If it is finally said that the capitalists have only to exchange and consume their commodities among themselves, then the entire nature of the capitalist mode of production is lost sight of; and also forgotten is the fact that it is a matter of expanding the value of the capital, not consuming it.”[12]

This quotation does not give us details enabling us to characterise these “foreign markets” or the “orders” from abroad but it states explicitly that the demand referred to cannot come from the capitalists themselves because the aim of production is the valorisation of capital, not consumption, and nothing prevents us from reflecting on this fact. Nor can the demand in question come from some other economic agent within capitalism which lives off the surplus value extracted and redistributed by the bourgeoisie. Who is left then within capitalist society? No-one, and this is why it is necessary to have recourse to “foreign markets”, that is, those not yet integrated into the relations of capitalist production.

This is exactly what the Communist Manifesto tells us when it describes the conquest of the planet by the bourgeoisie, impelled by the need to find ever larger outlets:

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. (…) The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e. to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”[13]

Marx gives us a more detailed description of the way exchange takes place with non-capitalist mercantile societies of various kinds to make it possible for capital to benefit both from an outlet and also from a supply source that is necessary for its development: “Within its process of circulation, in which industrial capital functions either as money or as commodities, the circuit of industrial capital, whether as money-capital or as commodity-capital, crosses the commodity circulation of the most diverse modes of social production, so far as they produce commodities. No matter whether commodities are the output of production based on slavery, of peasants (Chinese, Indian ryots), of communes (Dutch East Indies), of state enterprise (such as existed in former epochs of Russian history on the basis of serfdom) or of half-savage hunting tribes, etc – as commodities and money they come face to face with the money and commodities in which the industrial capital presents itself and enter as much into its circuit as into that of the surplus-value borne in the commodity-capital, provided the surplus-value is spent as revenue; hence they enter in both branches of circulation of commodity-capital. The character of the process of production from which they originate is immaterial. They function as commodities in the market, and as commodities they enter into the circuit of industrial capital as well as into the circulation of the surplus-value incorporated in it. It is therefore the universal character of the origin of the commodities, the existence of the market as world-market, which distinguishes the process of circulation of industrial capital.[14]

Did the primitive phase of accumulation modify capital’s relationship with its external sphere?

In addition, MR also reproduces the second part of the above quotation from the Communist Manifesto, taking care however to emphasis that “all the capacity and limitations of capitalism drawn out by Marx in Capital were arrived at by simply extracting its relationship with its external non-capitalist sphere. To be exact, Marx analyses the latter solely within the framework of primitive accumulation because he chooses to deal with the other aspects of ‘the extension of the external field of production’ separately in two volumes, one of which is specifically devoted to international trade and the other to the world market”.[15]

He goes on to affirm that, for him, “foreign markets” ceased to play an important role for the development of capitalism once the primitive phase of accumulation had been completed: “However once its basis had been cemented by three centuries of primitive accumulation, capitalism operated essentially on its own foundations. As for the importance and dynamism of capitalist production, its external environment became fairly marginal to its development.[16]

Marx’s reasoning shows, as we have seen, the need for an external market. The description he gives of this external zone in the Communist Manifesto shows that it consists of commodity-producing societies that have not yet entered into capitalist relations of production. Marx obviously does not explain in detail why this sphere must be external to capitalist relations of production; however the necessity for it flows from the characteristics of capitalist production. If Marx or Engels had thought (as MR does) that there had been important changes since the first publication of the Manifesto regarding capital’s relationship to its external sphere and that the “foreign markets” had ceased to have the role that they had during primitive accumulation, we can suppose that they would have felt the need to mention it in the prefaces to the subsequent editions of the Manifesto,[17] as both of them witnessed, in different periods, the triumphal march of capitalism after the phase of primitive accumulation. Not only did they not do so but, what is more, book III was begun in 1864 and “finished” in 1875. One would think that at the time, Marx would have acquired sufficient hindsight on the question of the phase of primitive accumulation (from the end of the Middle Ages to the middle of the 19th century) and yet in this work he continues the idea contained in the Communist Manifesto by referring to “orders from abroad”, “foreign markets”.

MR persists in his thesis, claiming that it corresponds to Marx’s vision: “This is why we think, with Marx, that ‘the tendency to overproduction’ does not result from insufficient extra-capitalist markets, but rather from “the immediate relations of capital” within pure capitalism: ‘It goes without saying that we do not intend to analyse in detail here the nature of overproduction; we will just remark the tendency towards overproduction which is present in the immediate relations of capital. So here we can leave aside all that regards other possessing or consuming classes, etc, who do not produce but rather live off their revenue, that is, those who engage in exchange with capital and as such constitute an exchange point for it. We will mention them only where they are really important, that is, at the origins of capital’ (Grundrisse, chapter on capital).”[18]

What the quotation from Marx says is that, in examining overproduction, we can leave aside the role played by the possessing classes in their exchange with capitalism because, from this point of view they have no more than a marginal role. The possessing classes referred to here are those that remained  from the old feudal order. On the other hand, what the quotation does not say is exactly what MR wants to make it say; that the “foreign markets”, “orders” that arrive from “abroad” have no more than a marginal role in relation to overproduction. It is precisely this that is at the heart of the polemic.

The accumulation theory of Rosa Luxemburg put to the test

It was Rosa Luxemburg who demonstrated that capitalist enrichment as a whole depended on goods produced within it and exchanged with pre-capitalist economies, that is, those that practice commodity exchange but which have not yet adopted the capitalist mode of production. Rosa Luxemburg simply developed Marx’s analysis and, when she felt it necessary, she also made a critique, in the Accumulation of Capital, regarding accumulation schemas, in which there were certain errors in her opinion because they do not include the intervention of extra-capitalist markets, although these are indispensable for the realisation of enlarged reproduction. She attributed this error to the fact that Capital is an unfinished work and Marx was saving the study of capital in relation to its environment for a future work.[19]

MR criticises the accumulation theory of Rosa Luxemburg. In his view Marx deliberately disregards the sphere of extra-capitalist relations when describing accumulation schemas and he also thinks that he was theoretically correct to do so: “Understanding the place that Marx assigns to this sphere in the historic development of capitalism enables us to understand why he eliminates it from his analysis in Capital: not just as a methodological hypothesis as Luxemburg thinks, but because it represents an obstacle that capitalism had to get rid of. By ignoring this analysis, Luxemburg fails to understand the deeper reasons leading Marx to disregard this sphere in Capital.”[20] On what basis does MR make such an affirmation? By using the argument which we have already rejected, that for him and for Marx, the “markets abroad” no longer played anything but a marginal role in capitalist development after its phase of primitive accumulation.

MR puts forward another three arguments which, according to him, support his critique of Rosa Luxemburg’s accumulation theory.

1)For Rosa Luxemburg, the strength of capital depends on the importance of the pre-capitalist sphere and its exhaustion is its death knell. The view held by Marx is the opposite: ‘As long as capital is weak, it still itself relies on the crutches of past modes of production, or of those which will pass with its rise. As soon as it feels strong, it throws away the crutches, and moves in accordance with its own laws.’ This sphere does not therefore constitute an area in which capitalism could nourish itself in order to expand, but a crutch that weakened it and which it had to get rid of in order to gain strength and develop according to its own laws.”[21] This conclusion is at the least hasty and forced.[22] The Manifesto contains an idea very close to that contained in the above quotation from Marx taken from Capital, but it is expressed in a way that, contrary to what MR thinks, makes it possible to assert that the pre-capitalist milieu acted as a terrain that nourished capitalism:

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.”[23]

2) The best estimates of sales towards the third world show that capitalism’s enlarged reproduction did not depend on extra-capitalist markets outside the developed countries: ‘In spite of a wide-spread view to the contrary, there has never been, in the history of the developed western world, a period in which the outlets offered by the colonies, or even of the whole of the third world, played a big role in the development of its industries. The third world does not even represent a very important outlet…, the third world absorbs an estimated 1.3%  to 1.7% of the total volume of production from the developed countries, of which only 0.6% to 0.9% from the colonies.’ (Paul Bairoch, Mythes et paradoxes de l’histoire economique, p 104-105). This percentage, which is already very small, is in fact an over-estimate as only a part of the sales to the third world are destined for the extra-capitalist sphere.[24]

We will deal with this objection more generally by taking into consideration the following: “It is those countries which have a vast colonial empire which have the lowest growth rates, although those that sell on the capitalist market have much higher rates! This is true throughout the history of capitalism , and particularly when the colonies played, or should have played, their most important role! So in the 19th century, when the colonial markets intervened most, all the un-colonised capitalist countries experienced much more rapid growth than did the colonial powers (71% faster on average – an arithmetic mean of the growth rates not weighted according to the respective populations of the countries). It is enough to take the growth rates of the GDP per inhabitant during the 25 years of imperialism (1880-1913) that Rosa Luxemburg describes as the most prosperous and dynamic period of capitalism:

  1. Colonial powers: Great Britain (1.06%), France (1.52%), Holland (0.87%), Spain (0.68%), Portugal (0.84%);
  2. Countries not or little colonised: USA (1.56%), Germany (1.85%), Sweden (1.58%), Switzerland (1.69%), Denmark (1.79%) (Annual average growth rate; source:”[25]

We can answer this in a few words. It is wrong to identify extra-capitalist markets and colonies because the extra-capitalist markets also include the internal markets that the colonies have not yet subjected to the relations of capitalist production. During the period 1880-1913, all the countries referred to above benefited at least from access to their own internal extra-capitalist market and also to that of the other industrialised countries. Moreover, because of the international division of labour, commerce with the extra-capitalist sphere was also of benefit indirectly to countries who did not actually possess colonies.

As for the United States, they are a typical example of the role played by extra-capitalist markets in economic and industrial development. Following the destruction of the slave economy of the southern states by the civil war (1861-1865), capitalism spread over the next 30 years towards the American west in a constant process that we can summarise thus: the massacre and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population; the setting up of an extra-capitalist economy by means of the sale and concession of the new territory annexed by the government to the colonisers and small scale cattle ranchers; destruction of this extra-capitalist economy through debt, fraud and violence and the extension of the capitalist economy. In 1898, a document of the American State Department explained: “It is more or less certain that each year we will be faced with an increasing overproduction of goods from our factories and workshops that will have to be placed on foreign markets if we want American workers to work all year around. Increasing foreign consumption of the foods produced in our factories and workshops has become a crucial question for the authorities of this country as it is for commerce in general.[26] It then experienced a rapid imperialist expansion: Cuba (1898), Hawaii (also 1898), Philippines (1899), the zone around the Panama canal (1903). In 1900, Albert Beveridge (one of the main defenders of American imperialist policy) stated in the senate: “The Philippines will always be ours…. And behind the Philippines there are the unlimited markets of China…. The Pacific is our ocean… Where will we find consumers for our surplus? Geography gives us the answer. China is our natural client.” We do not need “the best statistics” to prove that the trump card that made it possible for the United States to become the main world power before the end of the 19th century was the fact that it had privileged access to huge extra-capitalist markets.

3) There is another argument in the book that needs a short comment: “Reality therefore is in conformity with Marx’s vision and is the opposite of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory. This can be easily explained by various reasons that we cannot go into here. We will mention briefly that as a general rule, any sale of goods on an extra-capitalist market exits the circle of accumulation and so tends to act as a brake on the latter. The sale of goods outside capitalism may well allow individual capitalists to realise their goods but it brakes the global accumulation of capitalism because such sales represent a loss of the material means of the accumulation circle within pure capitalism.”[27]

Far from being a hindrance to accumulation, sales to extra-capitalist sectors actually benefit it. Not only do goods sold to the extra-capitalist sphere not hinder accumulation owing to the dynamism of this mode of production which, by its very nature, tends constantly to produce in excess, but in addition it makes it possible for the sphere of capitalist productive relations to receive payment (the product of the sale) which, in one way or another, increase the capital accumulated.

An examination of MR’s “arguments” for affirming that the existence of a substantial extra-capitalist sector did not constitute the condition for a significant development of capitalism, shows that they are not consistent. But obviously we are willing to consider any critique of the method that we have used in our own critique.

The limits of the market exterior to capitalism

The abundance of extra-capitalist markets in the colonies made it possible, up until the first world war, to sell off the excess production of the main industrial countries. But within these countries in this period there were still extra-capitalist markets, more or less important (Great Britain was the first industrial power to exhaust them), that served as an outlet for capitalist production. During this phase in the life of capitalism the crises were less violent. “However different they were in many ways, all of these crises had one thing in common: they represented a relatively brief interruption in the gigantic ascendant movement which on the whole can be considered as continuous.[28]

But the extra-capitalist markets were not limitless, as Marx emphasised: “the market is limited externally in the geographical sense, the internal market is limited as compared with a market that is both internal and external, the latter in turn is limited as compared with the world market, which however is, in turn, limited at each moment of time.”[29] It was Germany that was the first to demonstrate this reality.

The phase of rapid industrial development experienced by this country took place in a period in which the division of the world’s riches was more or less completed and the possibility of new imperialist openings was increasingly rare. In fact, this nation state arrived on the world market at a time in which the territory formerly free of European domination had been almost completely divided up and reduced to the rank of colonies or semi-colonies of these older industrial states, which were its most formidable competitors. Overproduction and the need to export at all cost were the factors that oriented German foreign policy from the beginning of the 20th century (on this point see the developments in Conflict of the Century, pp.51, 53 and 151 in the French edition). The reduced access to extra-capitalist markets was a consequence of their transformation by the big colonial powers into protected hunting grounds. This was to such an extent that the dawn of the 20th century was marked by the increase in international tensions borne from imperialist expansion, which led to world war in 1914 when Germany initiated a war to re-divide the world and its markets.

MR mentions the great disparity of analysis within the revolutionary vanguard to explain the onset of decadence marked by the outbreak of the first world war: “Although this historic sentence (capitalism’s entrance into a spiral of crises and wars) was generally shared within the communist movement, the factors put forward to explain it found much less agreement”.[30] He omits, however, to mention the remarkable level of agreement between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin on the analysis of a war to repartition the world. Lenin expresses it in this way: “…the characteristic feature of this period is the final partition of the globe – not in the sense that a new partition is impossible – on the contrary, new partitions are possible and inevitable – but in the sense that the colonial policy of the capitalist countries has completed the seizure of the unoccupied territories on our planet. For the first time the world is completely divided up, so that in the future only re-division is possible; territories can only pass from one ‘owner’ to another, instead of passing as unowned territory to an ‘owner’.[31]

To talk of the need for countries endowed with fewer colonies to re-divide the world, is not the same as saying that there is a lack of extra-capitalist markets relative to the needs of production. An identification between the two has too often been made. In fact at the beginning of the 20th century there were still plenty of extra-capitalist markets (in the colonies and even within the industrialised countries), the exploitation of which was still able to produce leaps forward in capitalist development. This is the point that Rosa Luxemburg put forward in 1907 in her Introduction to Political Economy: “With each step that it takes in its development, capitalist production inevitably nears the period in which it must develop more and more slowly and with increasing difficulty. The development of capitalism in itself has a long road ahead of it because capitalist production as such is no more than a tiny part of world production. Even in the oldest industrial countries in Europe there still exist, side by side with large-scale industrial businesses, lots of little, backward, artisan enterprises; the greater part of agricultural produce, peasant production, is not capitalist. Besides that, in Europe there are entire countries in which large-scale industry has hardly developed, where local production is of a peasant or artisan character. On the other continents, with the exception of North America, capitalist enterprises form no more than small scattered islands in the midst of huge regions that have not yet gone over even to production with simple trading. (…) The capitalist mode of production has room for enormous expansion if it must drive out backward forms of production everywhere. Its evolution is moving in this direction.[32]

It was the 1929 crisis that gave warning of the lack of substantial extra-capitalist markets, not in absolute terms but relative to the need for capitalism to export goods in increasingly large quantities. These markets were by no means exhausted. The developments in industrialisation and the means of transport made in the capitalist metropoles made it possible to better exploit the existing markets, to the extent that they could still play a role in the 1950s as a factor in the prosperity of the post war boom.

However at this stage, according to Rosa Luxemburg, the question of the very impossibility of capitalism was raised: “Thus, this evolution traps capitalism in a fundamental contradiction: the more that capitalist production replaces more backward modes of production, the more narrow become the limits to the market created by the search for profit, in relation to the expansion of existing capitalist enterprises. This becomes quite clear if we try to imagine for a moment that the development of capitalism has advanced to such an extent that, over the whole face of the globe, everything is produced in a capitalist way, that is, exclusively by private capitalist entrepreneurs, in large factories, with modern wage workers. Now the impossibility of capitalism leaps to view.”[33] How was this impossibility overcome? We will come back to this later when examining the question of the catastrophic collapse of capitalism.

There is no solution to overproduction within capitalism

The fact that it is not possible under capitalism to resolve the crises of overproduction by increasing workers’ wages or by constantly increasing the solvent demand that does not come from the workers, means that overproduction cannot be overcome within capitalism. In fact this can only be done by abolishing wage labour and replacing capitalism by a society of freely associated producers.

MR cannot reconcile himself to this implacable and unavoidable logic for capitalism and its reformers. In fact he has amply quoted Marx in various ways around the theme “the worker cannot provide adequate demand” and has then rapidly forgotten it and contradicted the fundamental idea that “if the ‘demand exterior to the demand of the labourer himself’ disappears or shrinks up, then the collapse occurs.” So he makes it seem that the crisis of overproduction is a result of the diminution of the mass of wages, which is none other than a recycling of the Malthusian concepts that Marx fought against: “the mass of wages in the developed countries increases by an average of two thirds of the total revenue and has always been a large component of the final demand. Its diminution restricts the markets and results in a slump which is the basis of the crises of overproduction. This reduction in consumption directly affects wages but it also indirectly affects businesses because demand is restricted. In fact the corresponding increase in profits and the consumption of the capitalists only manages in a very partial way to compensate for the relative reduction in wage demand. It is even less the case as reinvestment of profits is limited by the general contraction of the markets.[34]

It is undeniable that the reduction in wages, as well as the development of unemployment, has a negative effect on the economic activity of businesses producing consumer goods, in the first place those producing the necessaries for the reproduction of the work force. But it is not the compression of wages that causes the crisis. The reverse is the case. It is because of the crisis that the state or the bosses are led to sack workers or reduce wages.

MR has turned reality on its head. His reasoning becomes “if the demand of the labourer himself shrinks up, then the collapse occurs.” He therefore thinks that the cause of the last stock exchange crash that took place immediately before the book was written (4th quarter 2010) lies in the compression of wage demand: “The best proof is the dynamic that led to the last stock exchange crash: as wage demand was drastically compressed, growth was obtained only by boosting consumption (graph 6.6) through an increase in debt (which began in 1982: graph 6.5), a reduction in the level of savings (which also began in 1982: graph 6.4) and an increase in patrimonial income.[35] This more or less attributes the present level of debt to the compression in wage demand.

From that to the idea that the crisis is the product of the rapacity of the capitalists is a small step.

As we will show, and as is quite clear to anyone who approaches this question seriously and honestly, MR defends an analysis of the basic causes of the economic crises of capitalism that is different from that defended by Marx and Engels in their time. This is well within his rights, and even his responsibility if he thinks it necessary. In fact, whatever the value and the depth of the considerable contribution that Marx brought to proletarian theory, he was not infallible and his writings should not be treated like holy texts. This would be a religious approach that is totally foreign to marxism and also to any scientific method. Marx’s writings should also be subjected to the critical marxist method. This is the approach adopted by Rosa Luxemburg in the The Accumulation of Capital (1913) when she brings out the contradictions contained in Book II of Capital. Having said this, when one questions a part of Marx’s writings, political and scientific honesty requires one to follow this trajectory explicitly and clearly. This is what Rosa Luxemburg did in her book and it produced a huge outcry from the “orthodox marxists” who were scandalised that she could openly criticise the writings of Marx. Unfortunately, this is not what MR does when he discards Marx’s analysis while pretending to remain faithful to it. For our part, we defend Marx’s analyses on this point because we think that they are correct and that they reflect the real life of capitalism.

In particular, we completely defend the revolutionary vision that they contain and we resolutely close the door against a reformist vision. Unfortunately this is not the case with MR, who declares his faithfulness to Marx’s texts and then does a bit of fast footwork to smuggle in a reformist vision “gently”. This, without doubt, is the most deplorable aspect of his book.

How can we characterise the currents who propose to resolve the capitalist crisis by means of wage increases?

Marx defended the need for the struggle for reforms but he energetically denounced the reformist tendencies that tried to imprison the working class and who “saw in the wage struggle only the wage struggle” and not a school for struggle in which the class forges the weapons of its definitive emancipation. In fact Marx criticised Proudhon for seeing “in misery only misery” and the trade-unions who “fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system”.[36] When capitalism’s entry into decadence put the proletarian revolution on the agenda and made any real reformist policy within the system impossible, there was a huge mystification trying to derail the proletariat from its historic goal by getting it to believe that it could still eke out a place for itself within the system, in particular by bringing to power good teams, good people, generally those belonging to the left or extreme left of the political apparatus of capital. For this reason, once the proletarian revolution is historically on the agenda, the defence of the struggle for reforms is no longer an opportunist side-track within the workers’ movement, it is openly counter-revolutionary. This is why it is a responsibility of revolutionaries to combat any illusions spread about by the left of capital that try to make the reform of capitalism seem credible, while encouraging the resistance struggles of the working class against the degradation of its living conditions within capitalism. These struggles are indispensable in preventing it from being ground down by the constant encroachments of capitalism in crisis and are an indispensable preparation for the confrontation with the capitalist state.

In this respect it is worthwhile showing, as we have already done, how MR’s theory offers gaping holes for reformism. His book mentions his political commitment. Permit us to doubt this somewhat given his dealings with representatives of “marxism”, who are also politically committed but very clearly in the defence of reformist theses. This is why we think it necessary to underline the homage he pays to the contribution of “certain marxist economists”: “too little attention is given to the evolution of the rate of surplus value, the problems of re-distribution, the state of the class struggle and the development of the proportion of wages. It is only because of the work of certain marxist economists (Jacques Gouverneur, Michel Husson, Alain Bihr, etc) that these concerns are coming a little to the fore. We agree with them and hope that they will be followed by others”. [37] The first of these, Jacques Gouverneur, who “provided” MR with “numerous indications for deepening Capital[38] is the author of a “working document[39] with a revealing title, “Which economic policy against crisis and unemployment?”, in which he pleads against neo-liberal policies and for a return to an assortment of Keynesian policies that are “alternative policies” (increase in public levies – essentially on profits – to finance socially useful production…”). As for Michel Husson, a member of the scientific council of Attac, who “has taught much” to MR “through the rigour and enormous richness of his analyses”,[40] let’s hear his reflections on struggling against unemployment and precarious work: “So we must examine the left’s proposals on labour questions. On this point, the programme of the Socialist Party is very weak, even if it contains some interesting proposals (as do all programmes) […] rather than increasing wealth, we should change its re-distribution. In other words, we cannot count on growth and especially not on changing its content, which is absolutely impossible with the present re-distribution of income. This means, in the first place, the need to deflate financial taxes and seriously review the fiscal laws on capital revenue.[41] And finally, Alain Bihr, who is less well-known than his reformist predecessors: although less right-wing than Husson, he is not backward in making his contribution to the campaign aiming to attribute the ravages of capitalism to liberalism: “The adoption of neo-liberal policies, their being carried out resolutely and followed methodically for more than thirty years has had the effect of creating the conditions for a crisis of overproduction by compressing wages too much: in brief, a crisis of overproduction because of under-consumption related to wages.” All of these people have taught MR, if he did not already know it, that the root of capitalist crises is to be found, not in its insurmountable contradictions, but in its neo-liberal policies, a bad division of wealth and consequently the state must be called upon to put into practice Keynesian policies, tax the revenues of capital, increase wages, in a word: try to regulate the economy.

MR also seems to sympathise with the idea, dear to Alan Bihr, that the proletariat is in crisis because of the capitalist crisis and that de-unionisation is a demonstration of this so-called crisis in the working class,[42] when he writes: “the fear of losing one’s job destroys workers’ solidarity and the percentage unionised has diminished to begin a rapid decline from 1978-79. A significant aspect of this is the isolation of the long struggle of the British miners in 1984-85.[43] This is no mean contribution to the bourgeoisie’s discourse, when we consider that the main factor in the isolation and defeat of the British miners was the union and the illusions that persisted in the working class regarding its radical version, “base unionism”.

Is capitalism condemned to a catastrophic collapse?

Now that it has reached a certain stage in its history, capitalism can only cast society into greater and greater convulsions, destroying the progress that it had previously ushered in. It is within this context that the class struggle of the proletariat unfolds with the perspective of overthrowing capitalism and bringing about a new society. If the proletariat does not manage to raise its struggle to the highest level of consciousness and organisation necessary, capitalism’s contradictions will make a new society impossible and will lead to “the common ruin of the contending classes”, as was the case with certain class societies in the past: “oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.[44]

Within this context it is important to understand whether, over and above the increasing barbarism inherent to the decadence of capitalism, the economic characteristics of the crisis must of necessity make it impossible at a given moment for the system to go on functioning according to its own laws, so making accumulation impossible.[45] This is essentially the view of a number of marxists and we share it.[46] So, for Rosa Luxemburg, “The impossibility of capitalism leaps to view” once “the development of capitalism has advanced to such an extent that, over the whole face of the globe, everything is produced in a capitalist way” (see the preceding quotations from the Introduction to Political Economy).[47] Even so, Rosa Luxemburg makes the following precision: “This is not to say that capitalist development must be actually driven to this extreme: the mere tendency towards imperialism of itself takes forms which make the final phase of capitalism a period of catastrophe.”[48]

Likewise Paul Mattick,[49] who also thinks that the system’s contradictions must lead to economic collapse, although he thinks that these contradictions are basically expressed in the form of a fall in the rate of profit and not in the saturation of the markets, recalls how this question has been approached historically: “The discussion around Marx’s theory of accumulation and crisis led to the development of two antithetical views, each giving rise to several variants. One insisted that the accumulation of capital has absolute limits and that an economic breakdown of the system is inevitable. The other held this to be absurd, maintaining that the system would not disappear from economic causes. It goes without saying that the reformists, if only to justify themselves, adopted the latter position. But even ultra-leftists – Anton Pannekoek, for example – saw the idea that the breakdown of capitalism would be a ‘purely economic’ process as a falsification of historical materialist theory. [] He thought the shortcomings of the capitalist system as Marx described them and the concrete phenomenon of crisis, produced by the anarchy of the economy, were sufficient to provoke the development of revolutionary consciousness among the proletariat and thus to lead to proletarian revolution.[50]

MR does not share this view of capitalism condemned by its fundamental contradictions (saturation of the markets, fall in the rate of profit) to a catastrophic crisis. On the contrary, he sees it like this: “In fact, there is no material point alpha at which capitalism will collapse, whether this be percentage X of the rate of profit or a quantity Y of outlets or a number Z of extra-capitalist markets. As Lenin says in Imperialism the highest stage: ‘there is no situation from which capitalism cannot find a way out’!”[51]

MR explains his vision thus: “The limits to modes of production are above all social, a product of their internal contradictions and by the collision between relations that have become obsolete and the productive forces. This means that it is the proletariat which will abolish capitalism and that the latter will not die out of its own accord because of its ‘objective’ limits. This is the method put forward by Marx: ‘Capitalist production tends constantly to over-reach its inherent limits (editor’s note: the periodic depreciation of constant capital accompanying crises in the production process); it manages to do so only by means that once more raise barriers before it but on a scale that is even more forbidding, and then again on an even greater scale, the same barriers rise up again before it.’ (Le Capital, 1032. La Pleiade Economie II  [our translation from the French]). This is by no means a catastrophic vision, but rather sees the growing contradictions of capitalism raising the stakes to an ever higher level. However, it is clear that even if capitalism will not sink of its own accord, it will not however escape its destructive antagonisms.[52]

It is hard to see how the proletariat could overthrow capitalism if, as MR persists in trying to prove in his book, the whole history of this system since the second half of the 20th century has been exerting itself against the reality of impediments to the development of the productive forces.

Having said this, although it is right to say that only the proletariat can abolish capitalism, this in no way means that capitalism cannot collapse under the weight of its basic contradictions, which obviously is by no means the same as its revolutionary replacement by the proletariat. Nowhere in his text does MR formally demonstrate that this is impossible. Instead of this he tacks onto the crisis of the decadent period, the characteristics of the crises as they were manifested in the period of Marx. Moreover, in describing the latter he does not base his analysis on the quotations of Marx about the saturation of the markets, such as this one, for example: “…in the cycle through which capital passes during its reproduction - a cycle in which it is not simply reproduced but reproduced on an extended scale, in which it describes not a circle but a spiral – there comes a moment at which the market manifests itself as too narrow for production. This occurs at the end of the cycle. But it merely means: the market is glutted. Over-production is manifest. If the expansion of the market had kept pace with the expansion of production there would be no glut of the market, no overproduction..[53] MR prefers those passages in which Marx deals only with the problem of the rate of profit. This allows him to claim that capitalism can always recover from its crises while covering himself with the authority of Marx. In fact, within this framework the devaluation of capital wrought by the crisis is often the condition for the recovery of a rate of profit that makes it possible for accumulation to take off again at a higher level. The only problem is that to attribute the present crisis first and foremost to the contradiction “fall in the rate of profit” is to side-step the reality that has produced the level of debt that we have today. There is another problem with this approach and one which confronts MR with the contradictions of his speculative constructions; that is, elsewhere he actually says: “It is completely incongruous to affirm – as is too often done – that the perpetuation of the crisis since the 1980s is due to the tendency for the rate of profit to fall.[54]

In fact even prior to the first world war the development of capitalism made it impossible to characterise the crises as a cyclical phenomenon. Engels referred to this development in a note within Capital, in which he says: “The acute form of the periodic process with its former ten-year cycle, appears to have given way to a more chronic, long drawn out, alternation […] Thus every factor, which works against a repetition of the old crises, carries within itself the germ of a far more powerful future crisis.[55] This description from Engels of the beginning of the open crisis shows us a precursor of the crisis of capitalist decadence, which is violent, generalised and deep and is by no means cyclical. It is rather prepared by a whole accumulation of contradictions, as witnessed by the occurrence of two world wars, the 1929 crisis and the 30s, and the present phase of the crisis that began at the end of the 1960s.

To say, as does MR, on the basis of quotations from Marx always dealing with the fall in the rate of profit and taken out of context: “The very mechanism of capitalist production therefore removes the obstacles that it creates[56] can only contribute to minimising the depth of the contradictions that undermine capitalism in its decadent phase. This can only lead to underestimating the seriousness of the present phase of the crisis, in particular, by relegating to second place the contradictions in question and talking twaddle about how capitalism can be regulated.

The objection could be made that Rosa Luxemburg’s predictions have been shown to be inexact because the drying up of the last extra-capitalist markets in the 1950s did not lead to the “impossibility” of capitalism. In fact, it is clearly the case that capitalism did not collapse at that moment. However it could go on developing only by mortgaging its future through the injection of higher and higher doses of credit that can never be re-paid. The insoluble problem confronting the bourgeoisie now is that whatever austerity cures it inflicts on society, it is unable to reduce the level of debt. On the one hand, payment defaults and the bankruptcy of some of the economic players, including nation states, mean that this same situation infects their partners as well, thus aggravating conditions leading to the collapse of the house of cards. On the other hand, being unable to kick-start the economy adequately by means of new debts or printing money, capitalism cannot avoid a dive into recession. Contrary to the magic formulas spouted in this book, this dive is not preparing a future resurgence through the devaluation of capital that comes with it. However, it is preparing the ground for the revolution.

Silvio 12/11


[1]. Éditions Contradictions, Brussels, 2010.

[2]. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, Chapter XVII, “Ricardo’s theory of accumulation and a critique of it (The very nature of capital leads to crises)”, Section 12 “Contradictions between production and consumption under conditions of capitalism, over production of the principal consumer goods becomes general overproduction.”.

[3]. Marx, Grundrisse, chapter on Capital notebook IV, p.420 (Penguin).

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Marx. Capital. Volume III, Part V: “Division of Profit into Interest and Profit of Enterprise. Interest-Bearing Capital”, Chapter 30: “Money-Capital and Real Capital”.

[6]. “This analysis of the basis of Keynsian-Fordist regulation has rarely been understood in the marxist camp. As far as we know, it was only in 1959 that a coherent understanding of the post-war boom was developed for the first time.” (p.74). MR then reproduces an extract of an article published in October 1959 in the internal bulletin of the group Socialisme ou Barbarie. In fact the group Socialisme ou Barbarie understood the post-war boom so well that the 1950s boom caused it to stumble and, in confusion, to cast doubt on the basis of marxist theory. On this point, see the article “The post-war boom did not reverse the decline of capitalism” in International Review n° 147, Paul Mattick is also cited by MR for developing an understanding of the phenomenon of the post-war boom. We really do not think that the author agrees with the following passage from Mattick: “Since the economists do not distinguish between economy in general and the capitalist economy, it is impossible for them to see that “productive” and “capitalistically productive” means two different things and that public, like private investments are capitalistically productive only if they create surplus value not because they supply material goods or amenities” .(Crisis and crisis theory, chapter 4, “Splendour and miseries of the mixed economy”, our emphasis). In other words, Keynesian measures do not produce surplus value and result in the sterilisation of capital.

[7]. Capital. Volume III, Part III, “The law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”,  Chapter 15, “Exposition of the internal contradictions of the law.”

[8]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.27.

[9]. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, Chapter 19, 12. ‘The Social Essence of Malthus’s Polemic against Riccardo. Malthus’s Distortion of Sismondi’s Views on the Contradictions in Bourgeois Production’.

[10]. Marx, ibid..

[11]. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part 2, Chapter XVI, “Ricardo’s theory of profit”, Section 3 “Law of the diminishing rate of profit”; (e) “Ricardo’s Explanation for the Fall in the Rate of Profit and Its Connection with His Theory of Rent.”

[12]. Marx, Capital, Volume III, Part III: “The Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall”, Chapter XV “Exposition of the Internal Contradictions of the Law”, III “Excess Capital and Excess Population”.

[13]. Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party, “Bourgeois and Proletarians”.

[14]. Marx, Capital Volume II, Part II, Book One: “The Process of Circulation of Capital”, Chapter 4: “The Three Formulas of the Circuit”.

[15]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.36 (our emphasis).

[16]. Ibid., p.38.

[17]. As they did in the preface to the 1872 edition when they pointed out the inadequacies laid bare by the experience of the Paris Commune and as Engels did in the 1890 edition where he shows the evolution made by the working class since the first edition of the Manifesto.

[18]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.38. Marx passage translated by us from the French

[19]. On these questions we recommend the articles “Rosa Luxemburg and the Limits to Capitalist Expansion”, and “The Comintern and the virus of ‘Luxemburgism’ in 1924” in International Review n°s 142 and 145.

[20]. Roelandts, Op Cit.p.36.

[21]. Ibid.

[22]. We reproduce in full the quotation from Marx in its context, which is to deal with the relationship between capitalism and free competition: “The predominance of capital is the presupposition of free competition, just as the despotism of the Roman Caesars was the presupposition of the free Roman 'private law'. As long as capital is weak, it still itself relies on the crutches of past modes of production, or of those which will pass with its rise. As soon as it feels strong, it throws away the crutches, and moves in accordance with its own laws. As soon as it begins to sense itself and become conscious of itself as a barrier to development, it seeks refuge in forms which, by restricting free competition, seem to make the rule of capital more perfect, but are at the same time the heralds of its dissolution and of the dissolution of the mode of production resting on it..”(Grunndrisse, Chapter on Capital, Fixed and Circulating Capital, Competition.

[23]. Marx. Manifesto of the Communist Party, “Bourgeois and proletarians”, our emphasis.

[24]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p 39.

[25]. Ibid., pp.39-40.

[26]. Quoted by Howard Zinn, A Popular History of the United States, p. 344, Agone edition, 2002 (in French).

[27]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.40.

[28]. Fritz Sternberg, The Conflict of the Century. p.75. Éditions du Seuil (in French).

[29]. Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter XVII, “Ricardo’s theory of accumulation and a critique of it (The very nature of capital leads to crises)”, Section 13 “The expansion of the market does not keep in step with the expansion of production. The Ricardian conception that an unlimited expansion of consumption and production is impossible.”

[30]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.47.

[31]. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, “The Division of the World among the Big Powers”.

[32]. Rosa Luxemburg, Introduction to Political Economy, “The Tendencies in the World Economy” ( (in French).

[33]. Following on from the previous quotation taken from the Introduction to Political Economy.

[34]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.14.

[35]. Ibid., p.106.

[36]. Marx. Value, Price and Profit, “The Struggle between Capital and Labour and its Results”.

[37]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.86. Michel Husson is, according to Wikipedia, an old militant of the Parti socialiste unifié (PSU, social-democratic), of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR, Trotskist), of which he is a member of the central committee. He is a member of the scientific council of Attac and supported the candidature of José Bové (alternative-worldist) to the French presidential election of 2007. Alain Bihr, also according to the same source, espouses libertarian communism and is known as a specialist of the French extreme right (in particular the National Front) and of negationism.

[38]. Ibid., p.8.


[40]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.8.

[41]. Chronique, 6 May 2001 (

[42]. An idea that we have already criticised in an article in our International Review n° 74, “The Proletariat is still the revolutionary class” (

[43]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.84.

[44]. Marx: Manifesto of the Communist Party, “Bourgeois and Proletarians.

[45]. On this question see the article “For revolutionaries, the Great Depression confirms the obsolescence of capitalism”, International Review n°144 (

[46]. MR puts forward the idea that the objective impossibility of capitalism inherent in Luxemburg’s vision is responsible for the immediatism evident in the 3rd Congress of the Communist International in which “the KAPD (an oppositional split from the German Communist Party) defended a theory of an offensive at all costs based on the Luxemburgist vision stating that the proletariat would be confronted with “the objective economic impossibility of capitalism” and confronted with “the inevitable economic collapse of capitalism…” (Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital)”. (Roelandts Op. Cit., p.54). When Rosa Luxemburg defends the idea of the effective impossibility of capitalism, this perspective cannot be applied to the near future. But we find that the author, or those close to him, defend a fraudulent vision by attributing to Rosa Luxemburg such a perspective in the short term, given the inadequacy of the extra-capitalist markets relative to the needs of production. This will be explained in a subsequent note. For a clearer understanding of the causes of immediatism as manifested in the workers’ movement in relation to the perspective, we refer the reader to the article “The Decadence of Capitalism: the Age of Catastrophes”: International Review n° 143 (

[47]. “For a good explanation and critique of Rosa Luxemburg’s accumulation theory” (p.36); MR directs us to the following article: “Théorie des crises Marx – Luxemburg (I)” ( From the site recommended by him, we have read the article “L’accumulation du capital au XXe siècle – I” ( and we were surprised to learn that, according to Rosa Luxemburg in her work The Accumulation of Capitalcapitalism reached ‘the ultimate phase of its historic career: imperialism’” because “the field for expansion offered to it was minimal compared to the high level attained by the development of capitalist productive forces…”. Unable to believe our eyes, we went back to the work referred to and found that the reality was quite different. What is minimal for Rosa Luxemburg (compared to the high level reached by the development of the productive forces of capitalism), is not, as the article says, the field for expansion offered to capitalism but the last non-capitalist territories still free in the world. The difference is important because at the time the colonies contained a significant proportion of extra-capitalist markets that were either virgin or not yet exhausted whereas such markets were much rarer outside of the colonies and the industrialised countries. Re-establishing what Rosa Luxemburg really said shows the fast footwork of MR’s friends. In this quotation we have emphasised what is stated in the incriminated article and we have highlighted an important idea that is disregarded by the author of the article: “Imperialism is the political expression of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment. Still the largest part of the world in terms of geography, this remaining field for the expansion of capital is yet insignificant as against the high level of development already attained by the productive forces of capital.(The Accumulation of Capital, III: “The historic conditions of accumulation”, 31: “Protective tariffs and accumulation” (

[48]. The Accumulation of Capital, III:  “The historic conditions of accumulation”, 31: “Protective tariffs and accumulation”.

[49]. For more information on the political positions of Paul Mattick read the article “For revolutionaries, the Great Depression confirms the obsolescence of capitalism” in International Review n° 146,

[50]. Paul Mattick. Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory, Chapter 3, “The Epigones”.

[51]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., pp.117-118. This passage from Lenin is missing from the version on-line on of Imperialism the highest stage. But there is one very like it in Lenin’s Report on the International Situation and the Fundamental Tasks of the CI:There is no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” ( However it is not referring to the economic crisis but to the revolutionary crisis.

[52]. Ibid., p.53.

[53]. Theories of Surplus Value, Part Two, Chapter xvii, “Ricardo’s theory of accumulation and a critique of it (The very nature of capital leads to crises)”; “[13. The expansion of the market does not keep in step with the expansion of production. The Ricardian conception that an unlimited expansion of production and of the internal market is possible]”.

[54]. Roelandts, Op. Cit., p.82.

[55]. Engels note to Capital, Volume III, Section V “Division of profit into interest and profit of enterprise, interest-bearing capital”, chapter 30, “Money-capital and real capital I”.

[56]. The reference made by MR is the following, Capital, book I, 4th German edition, Editions Sociales 1983, p.694. It does not give enough detail about what section of the book is being referred to. There is no obvious equivalent to this sentence in French on However there is a passage of Marx that contains the same idea as that quoted, almost word for word, in Volume I of Capital. This is it, “The mechanism of the process of capitalist production removes the very obstacles that it temporarily creates (Book 1, Part VII “The Accumulation of Capital”, Chapter 25 “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation”, Section 1 “The Increased Demand for Labour Power that Accompanies Accumulation, the Composition of Capital Remaining the Same”). It is at this precise point in Capital that MR has turned to feed his idea, where the omission of a “sometimes”, both in the Éditions sociales and in the transcription of a passage from it by MR, is wonderfully convenient in serving the theme of his book, to present capitalism as always able to be born again out of its crises.


General and theoretical questions: 


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