[OPE-L:1642] Re: wages, cycles, and crises

Subject: [OPE-L:1642] Re: wages, cycles, and crises
From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Sat Nov 06 1999 - 21:59:56 EST

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 07 Nov 1999 03:20:01 +0100
From: Jurriaan Bendien <djjb99@worldonline.nl>

Hi Jerry

I cannot comment fully here in response to your questions, which are good
questions. I'll just make a few brief comments about crises. There is a
huge Marxian literature on crises, but in that literature a lot of
different questions are being asked about crises, which are often confused
or tangled up with each other. That is why the discussion often gets so
difficult, and why authors are so often at loggerheads with each other for
very strange reasons. In addition many Marxists without good economic
background wish to contribute to the debate for political or academic
purposes (I am a case in point, I wasn't schooled as economist, and just
did (uncompleted) research on one long recession in one country.

Therefore we should I think analytically distinguish at least between:
(a) the specificity of economic crises within capitalist society as
distinguished from economic crises in pre-capitalist and post-capitalist
(b) what exactly makes capitalist crises possible
(c) the necessity and inevitability of capitalist crises
(d) the basic causal forces involved in capitalist crises
(e) the appearance-form of capitalist crises
(f) the internal logic of economic cycles (sequence of events) from boom to
(g) the periodicity of capitalist crises
(h) the objective function of crises within capitalism
(i) the "detonators" of capitalist crises and state policy in regard to crises
(j) the distinction between types of crises: the downturn in the ordinary
business cycle (frequently called recessions these days) versus great
systemic crises (at the end of a "long wave of economic growth")
(j) historic ("epochal") modifications in the mode of functioning and
impact of capitalist crises, as result of new technologies, international
concentration of capital, and the development of the world market
(k) How to explain a specific capitalist crisis
(l) the meaning of capitalist crises from a working class point of view
(m) How to explain capitalist crises to the working class vanguard and to
workers generally (including what sort of language to use !)
(n) Conditions for the total economic collapse of the capitalist system

The best theoretical developments in this regard that I personally came
across in my studies in 1985-90 were by the Uno/Itoh school in Japan,
Mandel/Durand school in Europe, and A. Shaikh/F. Moseley school in the USA.
I say "best" in the sense of coming closest to the overall intention, if
not the letter, of Marx, in my opinion. These schools have the advantage of
being able to distinguish between the above questions, with varying degrees
of success. But many other Marxian or semi-Marxian authors could be
mentioned of course, and indeed a number of works by non-Marxian authors
are also excellent contributions to the debate.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we can build a "model" of capitalist
crises to analyse the different forces at work, and indicate the steps for
analysis and orient research. But in the real world, the same forces
identified by the model may interact in different ways, in different
periods of history, and in different countries.

How would Marx have presented or built his theory of crises ? I think the
answer must be that he would have empirically analysed the crises of his
time much more than he did, and abstracted from there the crucial elements
involved. As I have said, Marx did not really have sufficient data to do
that anyway, simply because the data did not exist at that time. I think
Marx would have agreed absolutely with Mandel that "single factor" theories
of crises are wrong, and multi-causal approaches are correct, but Marx's
exposition might have been better, more subtle and more systematic, if not
altogether more "dialectical". Marx's real research programme in regard to
crises is indicated in a quote from TSV 2, p. 510: "The world trade crises
must be regarded as the real concentration and forcible adjustment of all
the contradictions of bourgeois economy. The individual factors which are
condensed in these crises must therefore emerge and must be described in
each sphere of the bourgeois economy and the further we advance in our
examination of the latter, the more aspects of this conflict must be traced
on the one hand, and on the other hand it must be shown that its more
abstract forms are recurring and are contained in the more concrete forms".
This is difficult to do, it requires a lot of empirical knowledge and
strong powers of historical abstraction.

As regards your question about wages falling below the value of
labour-power and hence raising the rate of profit, this would for Marx be a
special case of a rise in the rate of surplus-value. I think Marx assumed
in his analysis that in a "normally functioning", developed capitalist
economy wages cannot usually be driven below the value of labour power,
certainly not for any length of time, because of the consequences that has
for social stability, productivity of labour, class conflict and effective
demand. But of course this phenomenon does happen in several obvious cases:
always at least as a marginal phenomenon in any capitalist society; in the
case of super-exploitation in the so-called underdeveloped countries; in
the case of fascist economy; and (currently) in the slow but steady
formation of a "dual society" within the imperialist countries themselves
(splitting the working class).

In Solidarity


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