de | Thema: Theorien über kapitalistischer Krisen und Imperialismus
en |Theme: Theories on Capitalist Crises and Imperialism
fr | Théma: Théories sur des crises capitalistes et impérialisme
nl | Thema: Theorieën over kapitalistische crises en imperialisme
“Theories on Capitalist Crises and Imperialism” is a vast subject, of which only a small part (hopefully much to be extended) can be presented here. Basicly (from a proletarian perspective), two thesis have been put forward: one on the saturation of the world market, and the other on the falling rate of profit; both predicting some catastrophic collapse of capitalism.
Although both theories in themselves have proofed to be utterly false, they might lead to a new approach, based on new, further historic experience. Both were partial and also immature responses to real problems posed, a kind of Lamarckian shortcuts. Some general ideas:
- Capitalist crises and imperialism (we might also discuss “geo-political strategies and tactics”) can be studied seperately in a limited sense only; in order to get to some understanding of the whole question they need to be integrated into a broader outlook. In the Communist Left, it was held that we can speak of imperialism as a new stage of capitalism when capitalism had conquered the world (despite all massacres and bourgeois brutality in a sense a “progressive” tendency; making an end to feudal and pre-feudal societies, and introducing new technology and working methods), and when thus the world could only be “redivided” by the main capitalist powers, bringing very little “progress” any longer, but mainly destruction through rather useless, but also quite unavoidable violent wars of reequilibrying grown inconsistencies; while finally the main capitalist powers confronted each other once again on European soil and all continents; not any longer to expand with French rule capitalism at the expense of feudalism (with all its Napoleonic absurdities), but to impose one national capitalism against equaly capitalist competitors.
- There is no “automatism” in the relation between capitalist crises and proletarian mouvements; it always is a battle of which the outcome is not assured in advance. There is no economic determinism as “causes” and “effects” are not “one to one” as in simple mechanics; social relations are far more complicated; thus we rather need to discuss them in terms of opportunities seized or missed. When the young Marx talked of “determined” (“bestimmt”), later he rather spoke of “conditioned” (“bedingt”), something very different; a highly “philosophical” dispute, but not without “common sense”; it is, sorry to repeat this, about the difference between simple cause-effect relations and more complex systems with many variables, and degrees of probability rather than certainty.
- Neither can any direct causal relation be demonstrated between capitalist crises and wars: wars might be triggered by economic crises (or other causes), but they are not unavoidable or inevitable; it rather is a matter of strategic insights (from the limited perspectives of the bourgeoisie) about the subtile differences between strategic and tactical offensive, defensive or neutral policies (which represents, from a more general perspective, very much the same), first theorised by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), very ambiguous, and Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), the latter a very “dialectical” thinker, who held that periods of peace serve to prepare for the next war.
- In between, in the 19th Century there were “Ministries of War”; later, in the 20th Century, “Ministries of War and Peace”; and finally “Ministries of Defense”. For a more proletarian perspective one might want to refer to Proletarian internationalism.
- As for political economy, we need to distinguish between puntual, cyclical and structural crises.
- Punctual crises follow from the proces of production of capital (Volume I of Marx’ Capital), caused by non-economic factors, as for instance natural disasters, sudden shortages of raw materials, machinery or labour; in general hazardous and limited in seize and extend; yet natural disasters and pandemics might have worldwide consequences.
- Cyclical crisis follow from the proces of circulation of capital (Volume II of Marx’ Capital), they occur every 7-10 years and always start in the financial sector; it is a pendulum going from new investments with high profit rates to over-investment ending in low profit rates because of high competition (it is about the bipolar disorder of ‘investors’); improductive capital, which continues despite not making profits, in order to at least win back a part of constant capital (buildings, machinerie, stocks, …) holds down prices and lengthens the outcome before a new cycle can start; thus they are solved by the gradual or active destruction of improductive capital (which is why Marx spoke about the moral depreviation of capital before physical wear and tear occures), wars too can play a role.
- Structural crises follow from the capitalist proces as a whole (Volume III of Marx’ Capital); they can be detected only as a tendency in the longer turn (or even only over the whole history of capitalism), and follow from the general law of the average profitrate to fall (which is not true for cyclical crises); they last much longer than cyclical crises (a structural crisis might contains several cyclical crises), and tend to widen and deepen, and also to extend in time, but the bourgeoisie can also anticipate them; they are ‘solved’ by the preparation for generalised war, as from 1912 and 1933 onwards, with a probability of repetition today of the militarisation of the whole of society, if not stopped by popular movements in which the working class (today first of all the huge sectors of education and health, far less industry) takes the lead. One started in 1873, the next started in 1929, then one (less evident) starting in 1966, and the following starting in 2007. There is a tendency of evermore deeper and longer structural crises (ever more a sign of demice), and within that process, relatively ever less important, yet still very destructive cyclical crises (once most of all emergence crises).
- It is a Marxian axiom that in capitalism new investment drives ‘economic growth’ (whatever that is). The growth of the capitalist economy, however, depends not on ‘effective demand’ (purchasing power, Keynes , ignoring all the needs for which cannot be paid), ‘money supply’ (Austrian school ) or ‘interest rates’ (Monetarism" and the Chicago School ), but on profitability; the higher it is (real or just expected, thus very psychological), the more new investment is being made; the lower it is, the more the bourgeoisie also tends to spend the lower return on its own luxury instead of investing it (1). The Keynesian solution to the crisis, creating artificial ‘effective demand’ by excessive state-spending financed by the by ‘creation of money’ through licenses to print money (excessively made use of in Germany and Russia in the 1920s, leading to galloping inflation, at the expense of ‘savers’ and in favour of debters, like the states themselves), had some short-term effect, and came to an end in the 1970s as inflation rose without reducing stagnation any longer, ending in ‘stagflation’. The following neo-liberal politics of cheap money supply (a short-term compensation for low profitability) through state banks; initially successful in the short turn to stimulate artificial investment with little return, wore out in the beginning of the 21rst Century due to spiraling debts from the 1980s onward, ending in national bankruptcies, in which the i.m.f. and the World Bank had to interfer. Today bourgeois-economists have to admit that their ‘models’ where wrong, and they have nothing new to propose. Now a combination of these policies is tried, and it will fail. New inflation will make an end to cheap money supply, and the states are not capable any longer to create artificial ‘effective demand’ as it raises state-debts to new heights, ending in the bankruptcies of whole states. New state-debts are financed by inflation plus cheap artificial money for speculative investments, and the two don’t go well together. Today, the imagination of the bourgeois-intellectuals goes no further than Helicopter money .
- Capitalism in crises poses a double problem: a surplus of capital which cannot be invested profitably; and by consequence there also remains a surplus of labour-power which cannot be exploited any longer, thus lower wages and less spending. One might try to force the two, capital and labour, together: unprofitable investments (financed by taxes, confiscations, or whatever) and the ‘creation of jobs’ (useful or not); but the real way out has proved to be war, another redivision of the world, which hasn’t solved anything for the better for more than a century and a half or longer. Capitalism became obsolete when the world, in its great outlines, was conquered by capitalism in the beginning of the 20th Century, with subsequent endless wars of redivision.
- The slave-trade wasn’t all that profitable; it rather was a kind of Russian Roulette: you could double your capital or lose all. The great liberal writer John Locke lost all.
- Colonial investment gave a more stable revenue; yet this was consumed by a parasitic aristocracy which consumed most profit without any further investing; an economic dead-end.
Some restrictive and technical Wikipedia articles with a lot of references in the German and also Armenian lemmas:
ar | نظرية الأزمات
de | Marxistische Krisentheorie
dk | Kriseteori
en | Crisis theory
es | Crisis cíclicas
hy | Ճգնաժամային տեսություն
pt | Crise do capitalismo
The demystification of “value”
As there is a new mystification of “value” (notably by the “communisators” (2)) it is necessary to return to some basic concepts.
Marx’ first scientific publication (beyond previous polemics and political statements), Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie was published in German in 1859. In other languages often a century or more later, or never; in English as late as 1970 (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy ). The year 1859 was of some importance. Darwin’s The Origin of Species was published that year; the London sewage system was constructed, the British liberal party founded while the chimes of Big Ben rang for the first time over London.
Marx held this to be the scientific basis (very little studied), whilst in Capital (Part I, Commodities and money) it was popularised, though with some further additions (3).
The point of departure of the “classical” political economy (Adam Smith , David Ricardo and Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi , not to name all the others; the idea is much older) was the labour theory of value : the “value” of a commodity is conditioned by the “average socially necessary labour” to produce it.
Marx got beyond the “classics” in 1859 by not starting from some abstract “value” (a false generalisation he finally broke up) but from “the commodity”, and then making a distinction between “use value” and “exchange value”, which avoided at bit the false impression that these two “categories” would be specific forms of some abstract general “category” called “value” (a confused obsession of the “classics”, leading to contradictions). The two are very different phenomena, not related to each other any other than that an exchange value must be useful, or, rather, be salable as such (including the pious sermons of the priests). Yet the term “use value” remained confusing; one might also speak of “goods” which might be “useful” or not, independant of the question of them having “value” (everything found in nature is for free, but when it gets scarce and needs to be produced – implying labour – there might be a “price” to it; but fortunately there are also nice people who render services for free).
One might note that it was never formulated as a “law” of labour value (such a “law” is nowhere to be found), although it was often presented as such.
The “labour theory of value” (beyond a mere idea already developped in the 12th Century and even before) is in fact a “theoretical assumption”; a point of departure.
In the 18th Century it was openly stated to be a class position, not of the proletariat, but of the emergent (the third estate of commoners and early bourgeois, not yet massively exploiting those who had nothing) class of “independant arts and crafts”, as against the feudal position that only nature provided wealth, which corresponded to a period in which most economic transactions were “in nature”, without much money implied and in which feudal “ranks” with territorial souvereinty (which is opposed to landed property) required their part of what nature produced.
In fact, the transformation of territorial souvereinty (“noblesse oblige”) into landed property is one of the biggest and most disgusting scandals of the “primitive accumulation” of capital (4).
The idea was not much appreciated any longer by the bourgeoisie with the rise of a modern proletariat of wage-labourers. (5)
Around this a whole abstract academic debate might evolve around paradigms according to Thomas Kuhn or his critic Imre Lakatos , both hiding however the class nature of the opponents.
Some years after 1859, quite shamefully and cowardly, without any formal refutation this reasonable and also logic point of departure, was silently and dishonestly abandoned and without any argumentation replaced by a very unreasonable and mere psychological marginal utility . Ever since, bourgeois economics has remainded a pseudo-scientific psychological ideology, i.e. the Subjective theory of value .
First by William Stanley Jevons , a mystic mathematician (British, 1863, thus after Zur Kritik (1959), but before Capital (1867)), then by Carl Menger (Austrian, 1871, he started studying the question in the year that Marx’ Capital was published), and finally by Marie-Esprit-Léon Walras (French, 1874, after the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune of Paris). Neither of these three heroes referred to the works by Karl Marx, although all three must have studied the first volume of Capital. They could have criticised it; they could even make an end to it; but they didn’t, because they couldn’t.
It provoked much later a very “philosophical” chaos around the question whether or not such “point of departure” needed “proof”. It is a matter of historical class perspective.
Well, there was not even the least “scientific foundation” for the quite psychological concept of “marginal utility ” (it represents nothing more than a short sighted bourgeois vision); although the argument about the “theoretical assumption” was turned with force against Karl Marx, implying the whole of “classical political economy” (which he had already abolished) behind him. In a letter of 1868 to Ludwig Kugelmann Karl Marx adressed the question as follows:
de | „Das Geschwätz über die Notwendigkeit, den Wertbegriff zu beweisen, beruht nur auf vollständigster Unwissenheit, sowohl über die Sache, um die es sich handelt, als die Methode der Wissenschaft. Daß jede Nation verrecken würde, die, ich will nicht sagen für ein Jahr, sondern für ein paar Wochen die Arbeit einstellte, weiß jedes Kind. Ebenso weiß es, daß die den verschiednen Bedürfnismassen entsprechenden Massen von Produkten verschiedne und quantitativ bestimmte Massen der gesellschaftlichen Gesamtarbeit erheischen. Daß diese Notwendigkeit der Verteilung der gesellschaftlichen Arbeit in bestimmten Proportionen durchaus nicht durch die bestimmte Form der gesellschaftlichen Produktion aufgehoben, sondern nur ihre Erscheinungsweise ändern kann, ist self-evident [selbstverständlich]. Naturgesetze können überhaupt nicht aufgehoben werden. Was sich in historisch verschiednen Zuständen ändern kann, ist nur die Form, worin jene Gesetze sich durchsetzen. Und die Form, worin sich diese proportioneile Verteilung der Arbeit durchsetzt in einem Gesellschaftszustand, worin der Zusammenhang der gesellschaftlichen Arbeit sich als Privataustausch der individuellen Arbeitsprodukte geltend macht, ist eben der Tauschwert dieser Produkte.
Die Wissenschaft besteht eben darin, zu entwickeln, wie das Wertgesetz sich durchsetzt. Wollte man also von vornherein alle dem Gesetz scheinbar widersprechenden Phänomene „erklären“, so müßte man die Wissenschaft vor der Wissenschaft liefern. Es ist grade der Fehler Ricardos, daß er in seinem ersten Kapitel über den Wert alle möglichen Kategorien, die erst entwickelt werden sollen, als gegeben voraussetzt, um ihr Adäquatsein mit dem Wertgesetz nachzuweisen.
Allerdings beweist andrerseits, wie Sie richtig unterstellt haben, die Geschichte der Theorie, daß die Auffassung des Wertverhältnisses stets dieselbe war, klarer oder unklarer, mit Illusionen verbrämter oder wissenschaftlich bestimmter. Da der Denkprozeß selbst aus den Verhältnissen herauswächst, selbst ein Naturprozeß ist, so kann das wirklich begreifende Denken immer nur dasselbe sein, und nur graduell, nach der Reife der Entwicklung, also auch des Organs, womit gedacht wird, sich unterscheiden. Alles andre ist Faselei.
Der Vulgärökonom hat nicht die geringste Ahnung davon, daß die wirklichen, täglichen Austauschverhältnisse und die Wertgrößen nicht unmittelbar identisch sein können. Der Witz der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft besteht ja eben darin, daß a priori keine bewußte gesellschaftliche Reglung der Produktion stattfindet. Das Vernünftige und Naturnotwendige setzt sich nur als blindwirkender Durchschnitt durch. Und dann glaubt der Vulgäre eine große Entdeckung zu machen, wenn er der Enthüllung des inneren Zusammenhangs gegenüber drauf pocht, daß die Sachen in der Erscheinung anders aussehn. In der Tat, er pocht drauf, daß er an dem Schein festhält und ihn als Letztes nimmt. Wozu dann überhaupt eine Wissenschaft?
Aber die Sache hat hier noch einen andren Hintergrund. Mit der Einsicht in den Zusammenhang stürzt, vor dem praktischen Zusammensturz, aller theoretische Glauben in die permanente Notwendigkeit der bestehenden Zustände. Es ist also hier absolutes Interesse der herrschenden Klassen, die gedankenlose Konfusion zu verewigen. Und wozu anders werden die sykophantischen Schwätzer bezahlt, die keinen andern wissenschaftlichen Trumpf auszuspielen wissen, als daß man in der politischen Ökonomie überhaupt nicht denken darf!
Jedoch satis superque [genug und ubergenüg]. Jedenfalls zeigt es, wie sehr diese Pfaffen der Bourgeoisie verkommen sind, daß Arbeiter und selbst Fabrikanten und Kaufleute mein Buch verstanden und sich darin zurechtgefunden haben, während diese „Schriftgelehrten(!)“ klagen, daß ich ihrem Verstand gar Ungebührliches zumute.“
(Karl Marx an Ludwig Kugelmann, 11. Juli 1868, m.e.w., Bd. 32, S. 552-554.)
en | “The chatter about the need to prove the concept of value arises only from complete ignorance both of the subject under discussion and of the method of science. Every child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish. And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.
Where science comes in is to show how the law of value asserts itself. So, if one wanted to ‘explain’ from the outset all phenomena that apparently contradict the law, one would have to provide the science before the science. It is precisely Ricardo’s mistake that in his first chapter, on value, (*) all sorts of categories that still have to be arrived at are assumed as given, in order to prove their harmony with the law of value.
On the other hand, as you correctly believe, the history of the theory of course demonstrates that the understanding of the value relation has always been the same, clearer or less clear, hedged with illusions or scientifically more precise. Since the reasoning process itself arises from the existing conditions and is itself a natural process, really comprehending thinking can always only be the same, and can vary only gradually, in accordance with the maturity of development, hence also the maturity of the organ that does the thinking. Anything else is drivel.
The vulgar economist has not the slightest idea that the actual, everyday exchange relations and the value magnitudes cannot be directly identical. The point of bourgeois society is precisely that, a priori, no conscious social regulation of production takes place. What is reasonable and necessary by nature asserts itself only as a blindly operating average. The vulgar economist thinks he has made a great discovery when, faced with the disclosure of the intrinsic interconnection, he insists that things look different in appearance. In fact, he prides himself in his clinging to appearances and believing them to be the ultimate. Why then have science at all?
But there is also something else behind it. Once interconnection has been revealed, all theoretical belief in the perpetual necessity of the existing conditions collapses, even before the collapse takes place in practice. Here, therefore, it is completely in the interests of the ruling classes to perpetuate the unthinking confusion. And for what other reason are the sycophantic babblers paid who have no other scientific trump to play except that, in political economy, one may not think at all!
But satis superque. (**) In any case, it shows the depth of degradation reached by these priests of the bourgeoisie: while workers and even manufacturers and merchants have understood my book and made sense of it, these ‘learned scribes’ (!) complain that I make excessive demands on their comprehension.”
(Letter of Karl Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann, 11 July 1868, m.e.c.w., Vol. 43, p. 68-69.)
Though not implied in the Communist Left, quite important was Rudolf Hilferding, of the “Austrian School of Marxism” initially quite close to the “Dutch School of Marxisme”, but then there were second thoughts; he is well represented in Wikipedia:
by contrast, he is poorly represented in marxists.org: de |
Although Rosa Luxemburg launched a theoretical flawed thesis (capitalism would not be able to survive without opening up ever new extra-capitalist markets as the realisation of surplus-value would not be possible without sales beyond the bounderies of existing capitalism) (6); she did have a very serious argument about the restrictions given by the constitution of the world-market (7). Other than she thougt, capitalist recessions are not caused by the saturation of markets; the saturation is a consequence of failing new investments (investments define “demand” in the middle turn; yet people without “purchasing power” might revolt).
However, the extra-economic fact that the world is round does give a limit to capitalist expansion, about which the later Anton Pannekoek, without however refering back to Luxemburg, after having criticised her, wrote:
“But the earth is a globe, of limited extent. The discovery of its finite size accompanied the rise of capitalism four centuries ago, the realization of its finite size now marks the end of capitalism.”
(The Workers’ Councils, see further on)
If the world would have been flat and infinite in all directions (the argument seriously surfaced in France, 1968), there would have been some more room, but when the centres start to lose profitability the extension cannot compensate for it in the long run. On the other hand, the world population keeps growing (since the beginning of capitalism even exponentially), which also expands the market, even when not territorially.
This also gives way to a whole very nice discussion about the mass of profits compensating for the falling rate of profit, which doesn’t work in the long run neither, and in the short run only for bigger capitals.
Great markets on the Moon and Mars (which has also been put forward as a solution, also in France, 1968) cannot be expected neither; so there is a serious problem; though somewhat different, and moreover more complicated than Rosa Luxemburg anticipated (7).
Once the world was divided between capitalist nations towards the end of the 19th Century (firing power was much more decisive than trade, although low prices are certainly compelling arguments) a serieus problem occured. And when the bourgeoisie arrises, the most profit-promising enterprises are exploited first, thus the rest is already somewhat less promising, unless some new things come up, like crude oil, or whatever new energy-sources.
In the absence of international law – which, by definition, is the law of the strongest, of course including the “rights of nations to self-determination”, “human rights” and “democracy” elsewhere, as formulated by Woodrow Wilson – (mostly turned against the own allied colonial European competitors and some others as well), and, subsequently, by Lenin (with catastrophic consequences in the Caucasus and elsewhere, and certainly in Eastern Asia), one might be interested in the view of Anton Pannekoek on the matter – as very expensive merchandises to be exported, however not even respected at home – it can only be redivided through wars; bringing ever less expansion of capitalism, but mostly destruction.
Yet two further distinctions need to be made:
- When the world market is divided between capitalist enterprises and nations, this does not imply by any means that the whole of the world population is integrated into capitalism through generalised wage labour; in fact, the great majority is not; and an ever greater part of the world population is excluded or marginalised; their original livelihoods have disappeared or are destroyed, and few alternatives come about. Masses transfer from the countryside to ever bigger cities (mega stables for humans, to express it in agricultural terms) without much perspective, and with quite catastrophic consequences.
- And a world market for merchandises does not imply a world market for investments to be made, something which came much later, and which, moreover, was much hampered by imperialism, particularly in the form of autarkic regions (like Russia, China, India, Pakistan and parts of Africa within the Russian capitalist bloc, together representing the great majority of the human population); the narrow-mindedness of small scale solutions does not solve large scale, worldwide problems for the whole of humanity.
Also see: Rosa Luxemburg.
de | Die Akkumulation des Kapitals / Rosa Luxemburg. – Berlin SW61 : Vereinigung Internationaler Verlags-Anstalten g.m.b.h., 1923. – 520 S. – (Gesammelte Werke, Band VI)
de | Gesammelte Werke / Rosa Luxemburg, Bd. 6, 1923
de | Ökonomische Werke / Rosa Luxemburg. – Berlin [Ost] : Dietz Verlag, 1975. – 807 p. – (Gesammelte Werke ; Band 5)
en | The Accumulation of Capital / Rosa Luxemburg, translated from German by Agnes Schwarzschild, with a [highly uncritical] introduction by Joan Robinson. – London : Routledge and Kegan Paul LTD, 1951. – 475 p. – (Reprinted 1963, 1971)
fr | L’accumulation du capital (marxists.org; a source is not given, but it is from the following edition:)
fr | L’accumulation du capital / Paris : François Maspero, 1969. – (Œuvres, two volumes, downloadable in Word, pdf and rtf)
fr | L’accumulation du capital / Rosa Luxemburg.– [Marseille] : Agone/Smolny, 2019. – 768 p.
A new translation with new annotations
de | Programm der Kommunistischen Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands. – Berlin : Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands, Geschäftführender Hauptaussschuß, Januar 1924. – 47 S.
Владимир Ильич Ульянов (Lenin)
Владимир Ильич Ульянов (Lenin) made a substantiel contribution in 1915-1916 on imperialism; although he never gave any sign that he studied Marx’ Capital and did not express himself on the further questions elaborated here. We only give references here to marxist.org, where he is remarkably absent in French and Spanish.
de | Vorwort zu N. Bucharin: Imperialismus und Weltwirtschaft
en | Preface to N. Bukharin’s Pamphlet, Imperialism and the World Economy
de | Der Imperialismus und die Spaltung des Sozialismus
en | Imperialism and the Split in Socialism
it | L'imperialismo e la scissione del socialismo
de | Der Imperialismus als höchstes Stadium des Kapitalismus
en | Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
it | L'imperialismo, Fase suprema del capitalismo
nl | Het imperialisme als hoogste stadium van het kapitalisme
The Third International
On the First Congress of the III International in 1919 it was proclaimed that capitalism was, in somewhat ambiguous wordings (a “compromise” (and also a ‘shortcut’) between the Russian and the German Left, with different outlooks on fundamental questions), in its “death crisis”:
“The present period is that of the decomposition and collapse of the entire world capitalist system, and will be that of the collapse of European civilisation in general if capitalism, with its unsurmountable contradictions, is not overthrown.”
(Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International. – London : Ink Links, 1980. – p. 1)
Anton Pannekoek, in 1920, adhered to the argument, as he wrote:
nl | “Wat betekent dit alles? De Amerikaanse bankier Warburg heeft het aldus gezegd: Europa is bankroet. Hij spreekt als een kapitalist, voor wie het bankroet gaan van een collega iets heel gewoons is, waarbij het stelsel blijft; hier is het erger; het kapitalisme is bankroet. Niet in de afgezaagde zin, dat het innerlijk niet soliede is en eenmaal te gronde moet gaan, maar in de letterlijke zin; het kapitalisme als economisch stelsel staat voor zijn ineenstorting.”
en | “What does all this mean? The American banker Warburg has put it this way: Europe is bankrupt. He speaks like a capitalist, to whom the bankruptcy of a colleague is quite normal, whereby the system remains; here it is worse; capitalism is bankrupt. Not in the stale sense that it is internally not solid and must be destroyed one day, but in the literal sense; capitalism, as an economic system, faces its collapse.”
An ambiguity remained whether or not this applied to Europe alone, or to the planet as a whole.
At the Third Congress in 1921 this all too easy theory of collapse of a whole continent was abandoned and replaced by the idea that capitalism had gotten into a downward period, as expressed by Leon Trotsky in a somewhat mind-boggling reasoning (and it was not specified whether this only applied to Europe or to the planet as a whole, including, for instance, the United States of America; and, as so often, he makes false analogies with natural sciences):
de | „Der Aufstieg, der Niedergang oder die Stagnation – auf dieser Linie hat man die Fluktuation, das heißt die bessere Konjunktur, die Krise –, die sagen uns nichts davon, ob der Kapitalismus sich entwickelt oder ob er niedergeht. Diese Fluktuation ist das gleiche wie das Herzschlagen bei dem lebenden Menschen. Das Herzschlagen beweist nur, daß er lebt. Selbstverständlich ist der Kapitalismus noch nicht tot, und weil er lebt, so muß er eben einatmen und ausatmen, das heißt, es muß die Fluktuation vor sich gehen. Aber wie bei einem sterbenden Menschen das Ein- und Ausatmen anders ist als bei einem sich aufwärts entwickelnden Individuum, so auch hier.“
( Protokoll des III. Kongresses der Kommunistische Internationale, S. 73, see there for further argumentation.)
en | “Ascent, decline or stagnation – on this line you have fluctuation, that is, the economic activity , the crisis – they tell us nothing about whether capitalism is developing or whether it is going down. This fluctuation is the same as the heartbeat of the living person. The beating of the heart only proves that he is alive. Of course, capitalism is not dead yet, and because it is alive, it must breathe in and breathe out, that is, fluctuation must take place. But just as the inhalation and exhalation of a dying person is different from that of an upwardly developing individual, so here as well.”
Thus, Trotsky made a difference between a cyclical crisis and a crisis on the longer turn. There is no immediate death-crisis (an idea given up, although particularly the Essen Tendency stuck to it), but a general beginning of a long during capitalist decline, a position also Pannekoek kept defending, although he is notknown for having referred to this congress, nor, in this respect, to Trotski.
Here we will try to follow the debates, and, in time, to draw some conclusions.
„Die aus dem Weltkriege geborene Weltwirtschaftskrise mit ihren ungeheuerlichen ökonomischen und sozialen Auswirkungen, deren Gesamtbild den niederschmetternden Eindruck eines einzigen Trümmerfeldes von kolossalem Ausmaß ergibt, besagt nichts anderes, als daß die Götterdämmerung (a) der bürgerlich-kapitalistischen Weltordnung angebrochen ist (b). Nicht um eine der in periodischem Ablauf eintretenden, der kapitalistischen Produktionsweise eigentümlichen Wirtschaftskrisen handelt es sich heute, es ist die Krise des Kapitalismus selbst, was unter krampfhaften Erschütterungen des gesamten sozialen Organismus, was unter dem furchtbarsten Zusammenprall der Klassengegensätze von noch nicht dagewesener Schärfe, was als Massenelend innerhalb der breitesten Volksschichten als das Menetekel (c) der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft sich ankündigt (d). Immer deutlicher zeigt sich, daß der sich von Tag zu Tag noch verschärfende Gegensatz zwischen Ausbeutern und Ausgebeuteten, daß der auch den bisher indifferenten Schichten des Proletariats immer klarer bewußt werdende Widerspruch zwischen Kapital und Arbeit innerhalb des kapitalistischen Wirtschaftssystems nicht gelöst werden kann (e). Der Kapitalismus hat sein vollständiges Fiasko erlebt, er hat im imperialistischen Raubkriege sich selbst historisch widerlegt, er hat ein Chaos geschaffen, dessen unerträgliche Fortdauer das internationale Proletariat vor die welthistorische Alternative stellt: Rückfall in die Barbarei oder Aufbau einer sozialistischen Welt (f).“
(Programm der Kommunistischen Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands, 1920, fragment)
a. Götterdämmerung , net als Kladderadatsch , een veel misbruikt woord; de laatste vaak door August Bebel , in de Duitse Reichstag, in ironische zin.
b. De Eerste Wereldoorlog kan alleen worden verklaard uit de toename van de “geo-strategische”, imperialistische tegenstellingen die ontstonden toen de planeet in grote lijnen was verdeeld tussen de grootmachten, en niet als gevolg van een economische crisis. Het waren vooral de parasitaire koloniale aristocratieën die elkander wereldwijd bestreden, en waarin de geo-strategisch “anti-kolonialistische” Verenigde Staten van Amerika de doorslag gaven; tussendoor was er ook een conflict tussen Frankrijk en Duitsland over kolen- en ijzerertsmijnen. Sinds 1892 was er juist wereldwijde industriële opgang die een heel andere dynamiek had dan de koloniale, en die slechts werd onderbroken door de beurskrach van Wall Street in 1907 , wat bovendien vooral een Amerikaans verschijnsel bleef, terwijl de erop volgende recessie beperkt bleef in tijd en omvang (hoewel er sinds 1905 in Europa al een stagnatie was). De economische crisis in 1920 was geen gevolg van een “dalende winstvoet” of een “verzadiging van de markten”, maar vooral een direct gevolg van de oorlog, van de vernietiging van productiemiddelen, wat de gebruikelijke economische cyclus verstoorde, en tot een kunstmatige schaarste leidde, en was dus vooral een veralgemeende punctuele, een veeleer vervroegde cyclische, en in zichzelf, zuiver economisch, al helemaal geen structurele crisis, die pas in 1929 begon, 58 jaar na die van 1873. Voor de theorie van de “lange golf”, zie Kondratieffgolf . Een probleem blijft dat dit niet vooraf berekend kan worden; het gaat om speculatieve “extrapolaties” op grond van twijfelachtige selectieve cijfers (waarbij sommige “variabelen” in aanmerking worden genomen, en anderen niet); niemand weet het dus vooraf. Het helpt ook een beetje, wanneer Het Kapitaal eindelijk eens wordt gelezen als een “theoretisch model” van een complex systeem, in de taal van de “academici”.
c. Mene Tekel ; dat hoort thuis in hetzelfde literaire rijtje als Götterdämmerung en Kladderadatsch, zie boven.
d. Deze crisis nam een ongekende omvang aan, maar werd in de belangrijkste in de oorlog betrokken landen ook vrij gemakkelijk weer overkomen (ondanks 20 miljoen doden, 80 miljoen als we daar de slachtoffers van de “Spaanse griep” bij optellen), voor de bourgeoisie kwamen in de overwinnende landen (maar niet alleen, in Berlijn en elders werd er ook gefeest door sommige mensen) vervolgens de “gay twenties” op gang (vooral door het einde van de oorlogslasten, voor het proletariaat zag het er heel anders uit, net als in de verliezende landen, waarin binnen de bourgeoisie vervolgens fascisme, stalinisme en nationaal-socialisme tot ontwikkeling kwamen) totdat er een daadwerkelijke, cyclische zowel als structurele, zuiver economische, crisis begon in 1929, en die werd opgelost door massale kapitaalvernietiging in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, wat niet het doel was, maar wel het resultaat. Daarover is ook veel te doen geweest, want de bombardementen waren niet gericht op het behalen van industriële voordelen, noch kwamen ze voort uit humanitaire overwegingen; het waren vooral terreurbombardementen, gericht op de burgerbevolking, met een averechts resultaat, want die bevolking wilde overleven.
e. Dat werd het vervolgens toch, door tussenkomst van sociaal-democraten en stalinisten.
f. Een uitdrukking van Rosa Luxemburg ; verder wordt er in deze tekst geen enkel beroep gedaan op haar opvattingen; later wél, vooral door de Essen-tendens.
Weltkrise und Klassenkampf. – [Berlin] : Verlag der k.a.p.d. [Verlag der k.a.p.d., Berlin NO, Landsbergerstraße 6; Druck: Richard Lantzsch, Berlin S 14], . – 16 S. – (Kleine Flugschriften der Kommunistischen Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands ; Nr. 4)
„Die ungeheuerste Krise der kapitalistische Weltwirtschaft ist hereingebrochen. Der Weltkrieg war nur ein Symptom, ein besonders hervorragendes Anzeichen für den Anfang dieses letzten, endgültigen Zusammenbruches.“
Enwicklungstendenzen im Weltkapitalismus. – In: Proletarier, Zeitschrift für Kommunismus, [Jahrgang 1], 1921, Nr. 9-10
Die Todeskrise des Kapitalismus. – In: Proletarier, Zeitschrift für Kommunismus, [Jahrgang 2], [1921-1922], [Heft 2], Februar 1922
de | Der Imperialismus, der Weltkrieg und die Sozial-Demokratie / Herman Gorter, übersetzung aus dem Holländischen. – Amsterdam : Herausgegeben von der Sozial-Demokratischen Partei Hollands (s.d.p.), 1915. – 152 p. – (Original Dutch title: Het imperialisme, de wereldoorlog en de sociaal-democratie)
- Vorbemerkung des verfassers
- I. Der Imperialismus, p. 1
- II. Der Weltkrieg, p. 5
- III. Das Proletariat, Weltkapital gegen Weltarbeit, p. 10
- IV. Der nationalismus des Proletariats, p. 18
- V. Das Beispiel Deutschlands. Die Gründe des Nationalismus des Proletariats. Widerlegung dieser Gründe, p. 23
- VI. Die Ursachen des Nationalismus im Proletariat [I], p. 54
- a. Die Unkenntniss über den Imperialismus, p. 54
- b. Der Reformismus, p. 54
- VII. Die Nationale Massenaktion, p. 73
- VIII. Die Ursachen des Nationalismus im Proletariat [II], p. 78
- c. Die Radikalen. Kautsky
- IX. Die Marxistische Richtung. Die Nationale und Internationale Massenaktion, p. 108
- X. Die Zukunft, p. 119
- XI. Die Neue Internationale, p. 148
nl | Het imperialisme, de wereldoorlog en de sociaal-democratie / H[erman]. Gorter. – Vierde druk [Vijfde gewijzigde druk]. – Amsterdam : J.J. Bos, 1920 – 148 p. – (Het Communisme ; VII)
Omslag, p. 1-17 p. 18-43 p. 44-69 p. 70-95 p. 96-121 p. 122-141
“Capitalism is now approaching its decline. Socialism is near.”
“The decrepit condition of capitalism is now evidenced very plainly by the decay of the bourgeois parties, so that the practical work of the socialist party is in itself sufficient to attract every one who has an independent turn of mind and a capacity for deep feeling.”
The Position and Significance of J. Dietzgen’s Philosophical Works / Anton Pannekoek, 1906
de | Werttheorie / A[nton]. P[annekoek].
In: Zeitungskorrespondenz, Nr. 40, 31. Oktober 1908
Die Ursache der Krisen / A[nton]. P[annekoek].
In: Zeitungskorrespondenz, Nr. 3, 15. Februar 1908
Die Krisen und der Sozialismus / A[nton]. P[annekoek].
In: Zeitungskorrespondenz, Nr. 285, 26. Juli 1913
Literarische Rundschau (Rudolf Goldscheid, Verelendungs- oder Meliorationstheorie? 1906, Verlag der „Sozialistische Monatshefte“. 54 S.) / A[nton]. Pannekoek. – In: Die Neue Zeit, 25. Jg. (1906-1907), 1. Bd., Nr. 5, 31. Oktober 1906, S. 174-176
Herrn Tugan-Baranowskys Marx-Kritik [1-3] / Ant[on]. Pannekoek
1. Wie Herr Tugan rechnet
2. Die steigende Profitrate
3. Die Zusammenbruch
In: Die Neue Zeit, 28. Jg. (1909-1910), 1. Bd., Nr. 22, 25. Februar 1910, S. 772-783
Rosa Luxemburg, Die Akkumulation des Kapitals : Ein Beitrag zur ökonomischen Erklärung des Imperialismus / Anton Pannekoek
In: Bremer Bürger-Zeitung, 29-30. Januar 1913, Feuilleton, Nr. 24-25
Reprinted in : Proletarier, Zeitschrift für Kommunismus, [Jahrgang 2/3?], , [Nr. 2?]
Compare Dutch, De Nieuwe Tijd, 1916
Quelle: i.i.s.g. , Amsterdam
Theoretisches zur Ursache der Krisen [1-4] / Ant[on]. Pannekoek
1. Die Periodizität der Produktion
2. Die Reproduktion des Kapitals
3. Der Einfluß der einfachen Warenproduktion
4. Die Ursachen des Konjunkturwechsels
In: Die Neue Zeit, 31. Jg. (1912-1913), 1. Bd., Nr. 22, 28 Februar 1913, S. 780-792
nl | Een theoretisch vraagstuk over de oorzaak van de crises / Ant[on]. Pannekoek, 2016
De crississen en het socialisme (Ekonomische Kroniek) / A[nton]. P[annekoek].
In: De Tribune, soc[iaal].-dem[ocratisch]. weekblad, 6e jg. (1912-1913), nr. 44 (2 augustus 1913)
De ekonomische noodzakelijkheid van het imperialisme / A[nton]. Pannekoek
In: De Nieuwe Tijd, 21e Jg. (1916), no. 5 (5 mei), p. 268-285
De economische noodzakelijkheid van het imperialisme / A[nton]. P[annekoek].
In: De Tribune, Rev[olutionair]. Soc[ialistisch]. Volksblad, 9e Jg. (1915-1916), nr. 73 (10 mei 1916)
“Wij geven hierbij het slot van Pannekoek’s artikel in de “Nieuwe Tijd”.”
Wereld krisis / Ant[on]. Pannekoek
In: De Nieuwe Tijd, 25e Jg. (1920) nr. 1, p. 7-11
The Universal Crisis / Anton Pannekoek
In: The Call, 5 February 1920 [translated from Esperanto]; original Dutch edition Wereld krisis, in De Nieuwe Tijd, 1920, from there much shortened; a new edition is needed.
de | Die Zusammenbruchstheorie des Kapitalismus
el | Η Θεωρία Κατάρρευσης του Καπιταλισμού
en | The theory of the collapse of capitalism
fr | La théorie de l’écroulement du capitalisme
nl | De ineenstortingstheorie van het kapitalisme
sv | Teorin om kapitalismens sammanbrott
Anton Pannekoek an Paul Mattick, 10. Dezember 1934:
«Über die Grossmann’sche Sachen war es nicht nötig weiter zu schreiben; ich sah mit Vergnügen, dass Sie in einer späteren Nr. unserer Korrespondenz die Sache von ihrem Standpunkte dargelegt haben, so dass die Leser sich nun selbst weiter ihr Urteil bilden können. Ich habe keine wesentliche Argumente in ihrem Aufsatz gefunden, die meine Ansicht umändern konnten; und offenbar sind Sie auch von meiner Darlegung nicht überzeugt worden. Immerhin, die Hauptsache war für mich eine Warnung, dass man nicht kritiklos die Lehre, dass dies nun die Endkrise sei, annehmen sollte und darauf seine ganze Propaganda gründen.»
«Ich gehe aus von diesem Gedanken: Der Kampf der Massen, der Arbeiterklasse, ist das einzige wesentliche, das wichtigste, auf dem alles ankommt, und aus dem alles fliesst. Sie kommt nicht in Bewegung, wenn wir, oder eine Gruppe, eine Partei ihr sagt: dies ist das Ende, es kommt nie wieder Prosperität; nur Untergang droht; also wehrt euch. Das rührt sie nicht, das hört sie nicht einmal. Eine Klasse macht keine Revolution, weil einige Leute ihr etwas sagen. Sie kommt in Bewegung, wenn sie selbst so tief das Elend fühlt, dass sie kämpfen muss, dabei dann noch gewisse grosse Weltumstände oder Ereignisse mitspielen, die man nicht abwägen sondern nur nachher verstehen kann. Daher wäre eine Theorie der Endkatastrophe für mich nicht sehr wichtig: hochstens für meine persönliche Erwartung, aber nicht für das tatsächliche Geschehen.»
«Eine grosse Partei kommt leicht dazu, zu sagen: folgt mir, und sich als Führer, Herrscher der Klasse zu entwickeln. Wir sind der Meinung, dass nur, indem das Selbsthandeln der Massen als Ziel gesehen, und dazu Aufklärung und Kenntnisse in sie gebracht werden, die Revolution gefördert wird.»
«Wie gut wäre es, wenn die Erfahrung früherer Arbeiterkämpfe klar zusammengestellt, ihnen übermittelt wurde, so der vielen Massenstreiks in Europa, so der ersten Jahren der russischen Revolution, so der Arbeiterkämpfe in Amerika, damit sie Kraft un Schwäche an beiden Seiten, Ursachen von Siegen und Niederlagen daraus erkennen.»
«Es will mir oft nützlicher erscheinen an die junge Arbeitergenerationen heranzukommen mit neuer Propaganda, als zu versuchen, die alten Generationen von Revolutionären von ihren alteingefussenen Vorurteilen zu befreien zu suchen.»
Anton Pannekoek an Paul Mattick, 22. November 1935:
“Es handelt sich bei dieser Krise um etwas Anders als die vielen früheren; in dieser Wucht und Dauer ist sie, wenn auch keine ‘Endkrise’ doch eine Niedergangskrise, ein Zeichen dass die kapitalistische Ökonomie in unertrennbaren Niedergang gerät. Sie wissen, dass ich den Grossmann’schen Versuch, die Notwendigkeit einer Endkrise zu beweisen, für völlig verfehlt halte. So einfach ist die Sache nicht, dass ein simples Rechnungsbeispiel eine innere Unmöglichkeit des Weiterbestehens beweisen könne. In diesem Versuch ist Rosa gescheitert, und Grossmann ebenso; es lässt sich eben so nicht beweisen, weil mit Rechnungsbeispielen nur hervortritt, dass der Kapitalismus gleichsam ewig bestehen kann. Der notwendige Untergang liegt in den sekundären Faktoren, in die Trägheit des immer wieder Anpassens auf neuer Grundlage, die schliesslich infolge der steigenden clumsiness und Riesenhaftigkeit der Organisation die ganze Anpassung nahezu unmöglich, d.h. erst nach schwerster Depression so wie so möglich macht. Marx’ Theorie der Widersprüche in dem Fallen der Profitrate gibt die Grundlage, aber sie muss wohl sehr auf den modernen Weltproduktionsapparat erweitert werden.”
From The Workers’ Councils, 1950 (1947)
Source: The Workers’ Councils / Anton Pannekoek
Part 1. The Task
In the present and coming times, now that Europe is devastated and mankind is impoverished by world war, it impends upon the workers of the world to organise industry, in order to free themselves from want and exploitation. It will be their task to take into their own hands the management of the production of goods. To accomplish this great and difficult work, it will be necessary to fully recognise the present character of labor. The better their knowledge of society and of the position of labor in it, the less difficulties, disappointments and setbacks they will encounter in this striving.
The basis of society is the production of all goods necessary to life. This production, for the most important part, takes place by means of highly developed technics in large factories and plants by complicated machines. This development of technics, from small tools that could be handled by one man, to big machines handled by large collectives of workers of different kind, took place in the last centuries. Though small tools are still used as accessories, and small shops are still numerous, they hardly play a role in the bulk of the production.
Each factory is an organisation carefully adapted to its aims; an organisation of dead as well as of living forces, of instruments and workers. The forms and the character of this organisation are determined by the aims it has to serve. What are these aims?
In the present time, production is dominated by capital. The capitalist, possessor of money, founded the factory, bought the machines and the raw materials, hires the workers and makes them produce goods that can be sold. That is, he buys the labor power of the workers, to be spent in their daily task, and he pays to them its value, the wages by which they can procure what they need to live and to continually restore their labor power. The value a worker creates in his daily work in adding it to the value of the raw materials, is larger than what he needs for his living and receives for his labor power. The difference that the capitalist gets in his hands when the product is sold, the surplus-value, forms his profit, which in so far as it is not consumed, is accumulated into new capital. The labor power of the working class thus may be compared with an ore mine, that in exploitation gives out a produce exceeding the cost bestowed on it. Hence the term exploitation of labor by capital. Capital itself is the product of labor; its bulk is accumulated surplus-value.
Capital is master of production; it has the factory, the machines, the produced goods; the workers work at its command; its aims dominate the work and determine the character of the organisation. The aim of capital is to make profit. The capitalist is not driven by the desire to provide his fellow-men with the necessities of life; he is driven by the necessity of making money. If he has a shoe factory he is not animated by compassion for the painful feet of other people; he is animated by the knowledge that his enterprise must yield profit and that he will go bankrupt if his profits are insufficient. Of course, the normal way to make profit is to produce goods that can be sold at a good price, and they can be sold, normally, only when they are necessary and practical consumption-goods for the buyers. So the shoe-maker, to produce profits for himself, has to produce well-fitting shoes, better or cheaper shoes than others make. Thus, normally, capitalist production succeeds in what should be the aim of production, to provide mankind with its life necessities. But the many cases, where it is more profitable to produce superfluous luxuries for the rich or trash for the poor, or to sell the whole plant to a competitor who may close it, show that the primary object of present production is profit for the capital.
This object determines the character of the organisation of the work in the shop. First it establishes the command by one absolute master. If he is the owner himself, he has to take care that he does not lose his capital; on the contrary he must increase it. His interest dominates the work; the workers are his “hands,” and they have to obey. It determines his part and his function in the work. Should the workers complain of their long hours and fatiguing work, he points to his task and his solicitudes that keep him busy till late in the night after they have gone home without concerning themselves any more. He forgets to tell, what he hardly understands himself, that all his often strenuous work, all his worry that keeps him awake at night, serves only the profit, not the production itself. It deals with the problems of how to sell his products, how to outrival his competitors, how to bring the largest possible part of the total surplus-value into his own coffers. His work is not a productive work; his exertions in fighting his competitors are useless for society. But he is the master and his aims direct the shop.
If he is an appointed director he knows that he is appointed to produce profit for the shareholders. If he does not manage to do so, he is dismissed and replaced by another man. Of course, he must be a good expert, he must understand the technics of his branch, to be able to direct the work of production. But still more he must be expert in profit-making. In the first place he must understand the technics of increasing the net-profit, by finding out how to produce at least cost, how to sell with most success and how to beat his rivals. This every director knows. It determines the management of business. It also determines the organisation within the shop.
The organisation of the production within the shop is conducted along two lines, of technical and of commercial organisation. The rapid development of technics in the last century, based upon a wonderful growth of science, has improved the methods of work in every branch. Better technics is the best weapon in competition, because it secures extra profit at the cost of the rivals. This development increased the productivity of labor, it made the goods for use and consumption cheaper, more abundant and more varied, it increased the means of comfort, and, by lowering the cost of living, i.e., the value of labor power, enormously raised the profit of capital. This high stage of technical development brought into the factory a rapidly increasing number of experts, engineers, chemists, physicists, well versed by their training at universities and laboratories in science. They are necessary to direct the intricate technical processes, and to improve them by regular application of new scientific discoveries. Under their supervision act skilled technicians and workers. So the technical organisation shows a carefully regulated collaboration of various kinds of workers, a small number of university-trained specialists, a larger number of qualified professionals and skilled workers, besides a great mass of unskilled workers to do the manual work. Their combined efforts are needed to run the machines and to produce the goods.
The commercial organisation has to conduct the sale of the product. It studies markets and prices, it advertises, it trains agents to stimulate buying. It includes the so-called scientific management, to cut down costs by distributing men and means; it devises incentives to stimulate the workers to more strenuous efforts; it turns advertising into a kind of science taught even at universities. It is not less, it is even more important than technics to the capitalist masters; it is the chief weapon in their mutual fight. From the view-point of providing society with its life necessities, however, it is an entirely useless waste of capacities.
But also the forms of technical organisation are determined by the same motive of profit. Hence the strict limitation of the better paid scientific experts to a small number, combined with a mass of cheap unskilled labor. Hence the structure of society at large, with its low pay and poor education for the masses, with its higher pay – so much as higher education demands for the constant filling of the ranks – for a scientifically trained minority.
These technical officials have not only the care of the technical processes of production. Under capitalism they have also to act as taskmasters of the workers. Because under capitalism production of goods is inseparably connected with production of profit, both being one and the same action, the two characters of the shop-officials, of a scientific leader of production and of a commanding helper of exploitation, are intimately combined. So their position is ambiguous. On the one hand they are the collaborators of the manual workers, by their scientific knowledge directing the process of transformation of the materials, by their skill increasing the profits; they also are exploited by capital. On the other hand they are the underlings of capital, appointed to hustle the workers and to assist the capitalist in exploiting them.
It may seem that not everywhere the workers are thus exploited by capital. In public-utility enterprises, for instance, or in co-operative factories. Even if we leave aside the fact that the former, by their profit, often must contribute to the public funds, thus relieving the taxes of the propertied class, the difference with other business is not essential. As a rule co-operatives have to compete with private enterprises; and public utilities are controlled by the capitalist public by attentive criticism. The usually borrowed capital needed in the business demands its interest, out of the profits. As in other enterprises there is the personal command of a director and the forcing up of the tempo of the work. There is the same exploitation as in every capitalist enterprise. There may be a difference in degree; part of what otherwise is profit may be used to increase the wages and to improve the conditions of labor. But a limit is soon reached. In this respect they may be compared with private model enterprises where sensible broad-minded directors try to attach the workers by better treatment, by giving them the impression of a privileged position, and so are rewarded by a better output and increased profit. But it is out of the question that the workers here, or in public utilities or co-operatives, should consider themselves as servants of a community, to which to devote all their energy. Directors and workers are living in the social surroundings and the feelings of their respective classes. Labor has here the same capitalist character as elsewhere; it constitutes its deeper essential nature under the superficial differences of somewhat better or worse conditions.
Labor under capitalism in its essential nature is a system of squeezing. The workers must be driven to the utmost exertion of their powers, either by hard constraint or by the kinder arts of persuasion. Capital itself is in a constraint; if it cannot compete, if the profits are inadequate, the business will collapse. Against this pressure the workers defend themselves by a continual instinctive resistance. If not, if they willingly should give way, more than their daily labor power would be taken from them. It would be an encroaching upon their funds of bodily power, their vital power would be exhausted before its time, as to some extent is the case now; degeneration, annihilation of health and strength, of themselves and their offspring, would be the result. So resist they must. Thus every shop, every enterprise, even outside the times of sharp conflict, of strikes or wage reductions, is the scene of a constant silent war, of a perpetual struggle, of pressure and counter-pressure. Rising and falling under its influence, a certain norm of wages, hours and tempo of labor establishes itself, keeping them just at the limit of what is tolerable and intolerable [if intolerable the total of production is effected]. Hence the two classes, workers and capitalists, while having to put up with each other in the daily course of work, in deepest essence, by their opposite interests, are implacable foes, living, when not fighting, in a kind of armed peace.
Labor in itself is not repulsive. Labor for the supplying of his needs is a necessity imposed on man by nature. Like all other living beings, man has to exert his forces to provide for his food. Nature has given them bodily organs and mental powers, muscles, nerves and brains, to conform to this necessity. Their wants and their means are harmoniously adapted to one another in the regular living of their life. So labor, as the normal use of their limbs and capacities, is a normal impulse for man and animal alike. In the necessity of providing food and shelter there is, to be sure, an element of constraint. Free spontaneousness in the use of muscles and nerves, all in their turn, in following every whim, in work or play, lies at the bottom of human nature. The constraint of his needs compels man to regular work, to suppression of the impulse of the moment, to exertion of his powers, to patient perseverance and self-restraint. But this self-restraint, necessary as it is for the preservation of oneself, of the family, of the community, affords the satisfaction of vanquishing impediments in himself or the surrounding world, and gives the proud feeling of reaching self-imposed aims. Fixed by its social character, by practice and custom in family, tribe or village, the habit of regular work grows into a new nature itself, into a natural mode of life, a harmonious unity of needs and powers, of duties and disposition. Thus in farming the surrounding nature is transformed into a safe home through a lifelong heavy or placid toil. Thus in every people, each in its individual way, the old handicraft gave to the artisans the joy of applying their skill and phantasy in the making of good and beautiful things for use.
All this has perished since capital became master of labor. In production for the market, for sale, the goods are commodities which besides their utility for the buyer, have exchange-value, embodying the labor implemented; this exchange-value determines the money they bring. Formerly a worker in moderate hours – leaving room for occasional strong exertion – could produce enough for his living. But the profit of capital consists in what the worker can produce in surplus to his living. The more value he produces and the less the value of what he consumes, the larger is the surplus-value seized by capital. Hence his life-necessities are reduced, his standard of life is lowered as much as possible, his hours are increased, the tempo of his work is accelerated. Now labor loses entirely its old character of pleasant use of body and limbs. Now labor turns into a curse and an outrage. And this remains its true character, however mitigated by social laws and by trade-union action, both results of the desperate resistance of the workers against their unbearable degradation. What they may attain is to turn capitalism from a rude abuse into a normal exploitation. Still then labor, being labor under capitalism, keeps its innermost character of inhuman toil : the workers, compelled by the threat of hunger to strain their forces at foreign command, for foreign profit, without genuine interest, in the monotonous fabrication of uninteresting or bad things, driven to the utmost of what the overworked body can sustain, are used up at an early age. Ignorant economists, unacquainted with the nature of capitalism, seeing the strong aversion of the workers from their work, conclude that productive work, by its very nature, is repulsive to man, and must be imposed on unwilling mankind by strong means of constraint.
Of course, this character of their work is not always consciously felt by the workers. Sometimes the original nature of work, as an impulsive eagerness of action, giving contentment, asserts itself. Especially in young people, kept ignorant of capitalism and full of ambition to show their capacities as fully-qualified workers, feeling themselves moreover possessor of an inexhaustible labor-power. Capitalism has its well-advised ways of exploiting this disposition. Afterwards, with the growing solicitudes and duties for the family, the worker feels caught between the pressure of the constraint and the limit of his powers, as in tightening fetters he is unable to throw off. And at last, feeling his forces decay at an age that for middle-class man is the time of full and matured power, he has to suffer exploitation in tacit resignation, in continuous fear of being thrown away as a worn-out tool.
Bad and damnable as work under capitalism may be, still worse is the lack of work. Like every commodity, labor-power sometimes finds no buyer. The problematic liberty of the worker to choose his master goes hand in hand with the liberty of the capitalist to engage or to dismiss his workers. In the continuous development of capitalism, in the founding of new enterprises and the decline or collapse of old ones, the workers are driven to and fro, are accumulated here, dismissed there. So they must consider it good luck even, when they are allowed to let themselves be exploited. Then they perceive that they are at the mercy of capital. That only with the consent of the masters they have access to the machines that wait for their handling.
Unemployment is the worst scourge of the working class under capitalism. It is inherent in capitalism. As an ever returning feature it accompanies the periodical crises and depressions, which during the entire reign of capitalism ravaged society at regular intervals. They are a consequence of the anarchy of capitalist production. Each capitalist as an independent master of his enterprise is free to manage it at his will, to produce what he thinks profitable or to close the shop when profits are failing. Contrary to the careful organisation within the factory there is a complete lack of organisation in the totality of social production. The rapid increase of capital through the accumulated profits, the necessity to find profits also for the new capital, urges a rapid increase of production flooding the market with unsaleable goods. Then comes the collapse, reducing not only the profits and destroying the superfluous capital, but also turning the accumulated hosts of workers out of the factories, throwing them upon their own resources or on meagre charity. Then wages are lowered, strikes are ineffective, the mass of the unemployed presses as a heavy weight upon the working conditions. What has been gained by hard fight in times of prosperity is often lost in times
of depression. Unemployment was always the chief impediment to a continuous raising of the life standard of the working class.
There have been economists alleging that by the modern development of big business this pernicious alternation of crises and prosperity would disappear. They expected that cartels and trusts, monopolising as they do large branches of industry, would bring a certain amount of organisation into the anarchy of production and smooth its irregularities. They did not take into account that the primary cause, the yearning for profit, remains, driving the organised groups into a fiercer competition, now with mightier forces. The incapacity of modern capitalism to cope with its anarchy was shown in a grim light by the world crisis of 1930. During a number of long years production seemed to have definitely collapsed. Over the whole world millions of workers, of farmers, even of intellectuals were reduced to living on the doles, which the governments by necessity, had to provide: From this crisis of production the present war crisis took its origin.
In this crisis the true character of capitalism and the impossibility to maintain it, was shown to mankind as in a searchlight. There were the millions of people lacking the means to provide for their life necessities. There were the millions of workers with strong arms, eager to work; there were the machines in thousands of shops, ready to whirl and to produce an abundance of goods. But it was not allowed. The capitalist ownership of the means of production stood between the workers and the machines. This ownership, affirmed if necessary by the power of police and State, forbade the workers to touch the machines and to produce all that they themselves and society needed for their existence. The machines had to stand and rust, the workers had to hang around and suffer want. Why? Because capitalism is unable to manage the mighty technical and productive powers of mankind to conform to their original aim, to provide for the needs of society.
To be sure, capitalism now is trying to introduce some sort of organisation and planned production. Its insatiable profit-hunger cannot be satisfied within the old realms; it is driven to expand over the world, to seize the riches, to open the markets, to subject the peoples of other continents. In a fierce competition each of the capitalist groups must try to conquer or to keep to themselves the richest portions of the world. Whereas the capitalist class in England, France, Holland made easy profits by the exploitation of rich colonies, conquered in former wars, German capitalism with its energy, its capacities, its rapid development, that had come too late in the division of the colonial world, could only get its share by striving for world-power, by preparing for world war. It had to be the aggressor, the others were the defenders. So it was the first to put into action and to organise all the powers of society for this purpose; and then the others had to follow its example.
In this struggle for life between the big capitalist powers the inefficiency of private capitalism could no longer be allowed to persist. Unemployment now was a foolish, nay, a criminal waste of badly needed manpower. A strict and careful organisation had to secure the full use of all the labor power and the fighting power of the nation. Now the untenability of capitalism showed itself just as grimly from another side. Unemployment was now turned into its opposite, into compulsory labor. Compulsory toil and fighting at the frontiers where the millions of strong young men, by the most refined means of destruction mutilate, kill, exterminate, “wipe out” each other, for the world-power of their capitalist masters. Compulsory labor in the factories where all the rest, women and children included, are assiduously producing ever more of these engines of murder, whereas the production of the life necessities is constricted to the utmost minimum. Shortage and want in everything needed for life and the falling back to the poorest and ugliest barbarism is the outcome of the highest development of science and technics, is the glorious fruit of the thinking and working of so many generations! Why? Because notwithstanding all delusive talk about community and fellowship, organised capitalism, too, is unable to handle the rich productive powers of mankind to their true purpose, using them instead for destruction.
Thus the working class is confronted with the necessity of itself taking the production in hand. The mastery over the machines, over the means of production, must be taken out of the unworthy hands that abuse them. This is the common cause of all producers, of all who do the real productive work in
society, the workers, the technicians, the farmers. But it is the workers, chief and permanent sufferers from the capitalist system, and, moreover, majority of the population, on whom it impends to free themselves and the world from this scourge. They must [manage] the means of production. They must be masters of the factories, masters of their own labor, to conduct it at their own will. Then the machines will be put to their true use, the production of abundance of goods to provide for the life necessities of all.
This is the task of the workers in the days to come. This is the only road to freedom. This is the revolution for which society is ripening. By such a revolution the character of production is entirely reversed; new principles will form the basis of society. First, because the exploitation ceases. The produce of the common labor [will belong to] all those who take part in the work. No surplus-value to capital any more; ended is the claim of superfluous capitalists to a part of the produce.
More important still than the cessation of their share in the produce is the cessation of their command over the production. Once the workers are masters over the shops the capitalists lose their power of leaving in disuse the machines, these riches of mankind, precious product of the mental and manual exertion of so many generations of workers and thinkers. With the capitalists disappears their power to dictate what superfluous luxuries or what rubbish shall be produced. When the workers have command over the machines they will apply them for the production of all that the life of society requires.
This will be possible only by combining all the factories, as the separate members of one body, into a well organised system of production. The connection that under capitalism is the fortuitous outcome of blind competition and marketing, depending on purchase and sale, is then the object of conscious planning. Then, instead of the partial and imperfect attempts at organisation of modern capitalism, that only lead to fiercer fight and destruction, comes the perfect organisation of production, growing into a world-wide system of collaboration. For the producing classes cannot be competitors, only collaborators.
These three characteristics of the new production mean a new world. The cessation of the profit for capital, the cessation of unemployment of machines and men, the conscious adequate regulation of production, the increase of the produce through efficient organisation give to each worker a larger quantity of product with less labor. Now the way is opened for a further development of productivity. By the application of all technical progress the produce will increase in such a degree that abundance for all will be joined to the disappearance of toil.
Fritz Sternberg was an “epigone” of Rosa Luxemburg, in a failed attempt to recuperate her for social-democracy; and although he was in contact with the Communist Left, he never was a part of it; he rendered the confusions of Rosa Luxemburg even more confuse, yet he was strong in presenting “facts” and “statistics”; his influence was mainly restricted to Germany and to France much later. His reply to Henryk Grossman might be interesting, but it is hard to find, and Henryk Grossman replied (see below).
ar | Fritz Sternberg
ca | Fritz Sternberg
de | Fritz Sternberg
en | Fritz Sternberg
fr | Fritz Sternberg
ru | Фриц Штернберг
On marxists.org nothing for German, English, Spanish, French, Italian or Dutch (2020)
de | Der Imperialismus / Fritz Sternberg. – Berlin : Malik-Verlag, 1926, – 614 S. – (Reprinted 1971)
de | [First chapter only, 100 p.] Der Imperialismus und seine Kritiker / Fritz Sternberg. – Berlin : Soziologische Verlagsanstalt, 1929. – 231 S.
Quelle: pdf received from the editors of: Archiv Karl Roche and: Barrikade
de | Eine Umwälzung der Wissenschaft? : Kritik des Buches von Henryk Großmann: Das Akkumulations- und Zusammenbruchgesetz des kapitalistischen Systems : Zugleich eine positive Analyse des Imperialismus / Fritz Sterberg. – Berlin : R.L.Prager, 1930. – 143 S.
fr | Le conflit du siècle : Capitalisme et socialisme à l’épreuve de l’histoire / Fritz Sternberg, traduit de l’allemand par Joseph Rovan (1918-2004). – Paris : Editions du Seuil, 1951. – 669 p. – (Les collection Esprit). – (Reprint 1958)
His main work is not yet known for having been translated into other languages, other works of his were.
Henryk Grossman, too, once was in contact with the Communist Left, without ever having participated in it; he tried to make a university-carreer first in Germany, then in the United States, which failed; then he opted for a carreer in East-Germany, which was short lived, as he, curiously, died soon afterwards. He was important for the Communist Left in the sense that he rendered Marx’ Capital somewhat more accessible, but Anton Pannekoek was not impressed.
Hardly anyone has read his unfortunately mostly untranslated works, and his works became object of a nice controversy between “believers” and “disbelievers”. He explains very well the law of the general tendency of the average rate of profit to fall (related to the growing organic composition of capital; ever more technology and ever less labour force, easy to understand); he expands much on the counter-tendencies (somewhat more complicated); yet he forgot (and regretted this) to write a chapter about how the counter-tendencies become ever less effective (and thus, the “tendency” only becomes visible at the “surface” in the long run – Rosa Luxemburg even held that we might have to wait for it “until the sun extinguishes”) – moreover Grossman never even tried to demonstrate his thesis by presenting empirical facts or statistics.
It remained a mechanical-determinist “theory” (or rather “hypothesis”), which, however, might be further developed and verified; and then the whole problem of the constitution of the world market and imperialism (see particularly some ideas of Anton Pannekoek and Rosa Luxemburg) might be integrated.
The “law” of the general tendency of the average rate of profit to fall is to be understood as a permanent downward pressure on the rate of profit, which needs to be compensated for by other upward pressures, which gradually get exhausted, and thus the “tendency” could hardly be demonstrated in the 1930s, and no efforts to do so are known.
Since, it can be demonstrated at the hand of g.d.p.-growth of the “developed” countries for the period of 1949-present: 1949-1974 (period of reconstruction) 4-6%, 1974-2007 (stagnation and neo-liberal recovery): 2-4%; since (global recession) 0-2%. It does not end in “collapse” but in ever longer periods of stagnation and decline.
The 2020 punctual Corona-crises expedited and deepened a new cyclical recession which was already in the making and which came after twelve years of hardly any recovery, thus indicating a third structural crisis since 2007 (or since 1996, after those of 1873 and 1929).
Long before, capitalism already became obsolete through World Wars and the incapacity to provide, proportionally, some wealth to the whole of the rapidly growing human population (from a proletarian perspective: education and healthcare to start with, not even to talk of wages, housing and the rest).
At the end of the cyclical crisis we also see a fall of the rate of profit, but this is a wholly different phenomenon with causes not directly related to the organic composition of capital, and it was not the object of Grossman’s book, even when Grossman might have thought differently as he made no distinction between cyclical and structural crises.
de | Henryk Grossmann
de | Zusammenbruchstheorie
en | Henryk Grossman
es | Henryk Grossman
fr | Henryk Grossmann
it | Henryk Grossman
no | Henryk Grossmann
pl | Henryk Grossmann
ru | Генрик Гроссман
tr | Henryk Grossman
en | Henryk Grossman (1881-1950)
de | Henryk Grossman (1881-1950)
nl | Henryk Grossmann (1881-1950)
Nothing in French, Italian or Spanish (2020)
en | Collected Works in four volumes at Brill, three of them are to come:
Volume I, 2018, x, 696 p., €215.00 / $258.00 / paperback $36.00
de | Das Akkumulations- und Zusammenbruchsgesetz des kapitalistischen Systems / Henryk Grossmann. – Leipzig : C.L. Hirschfeld. 1929. – 628 S.
de | Eine neue Theorie über Imperialismus und die soziale Revolution [Fritz Sternberg, Der Imperialismus, 1926] / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, Bd. 14 (1929)
de | Die Änderung des ursprünglichen Aufbauplans des Marxschens Kapital und ihre Ursachen / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, Bd. 15 (1929)
de | Die Wert-Preis-Transformation bei Marx und das Krisenproblem / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung , Jg. 1 (1932), Heft 1/2
de | Rezenzion. Bordaz, Robert, La loi de Marx sur les capitaux à la lumière des événements contemporains, L.&nbsolRodstein, Paris 1933 / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung , Jg. 3 (1934), Heft 2
de | Die gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen dere mechanistischen Philosophie und der Manufaktur / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung , Jg. 4 (1935), Heft 2
en | Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System, being also a theory of crises / Henryk Grossmann; translated and abridged by Jairus Banaji; foreword and introduction by Tony Kennedy. – London : Pluto Press, 1992. – 240 p.
de | Marx, die klassische Nationalökonomie und das Problem der Dynamik / Henryk Grossmann. – Frankfurt am Main : Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1969. – 133 S.
Includes: Briefe Henryk Grossmans an Paul Mattick über die Akkumulation (1931-1937), p. 85-113
nl | Marx en de klassieke politieke ekonomie / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Te Elfder Ure, (1973?), p. 308-333. – (Marxisme II, Kritiek op de burgerlijke ekonomie)
fr | Marx, l’économie politique classique et le problème de la dynamique / Henryk Grossmann ; préface de Paul Mattick ; [trad. de l’allemand par Charles Goldblum]. – Paris : Champ Libre, 1975. – 169 p. – (Original title: Marx, die klassische Nationalökonomie und das Problem der Dynamik)
de | Aufsätze zur Krisentheorie / Henryk Grossmann. – Frankfurt am Main : Verlag Neue Kritik, 1971. – 213 S.
- Die Änderung des ursprünglichen Aufbauplans des Marxschen “Kapital” und ihre Ursachen
- Die Wert-Preise-Transformation bei Marx und das Krisenproblem
- Die Goldproduktion im Reproduktionsschema von Marx und Rosa Luxemburg
- Eine neue Theorie über Imperialismus und soziale Revolution [Fritz Sternberg]
- Die evolutionistische Revolte gegen die klassische Ökonomie
en | Capitalism’s Contradictions: Studies of Economic Thought Before and After Marx / Henryk Grossman, translated by Ian Birchall, Rick Kuhn and Einde O’Callaghan, edited and introduced by Rick Kuhn. – Chicago, Illinois : Haymarket Books, 2017. – 304 p.
en | Henryk Grossman and the Recovery of Marxism / Rick Kuhn. – [Chicago] : University of Illinois Press, 2006. – 352 p.
en | Henryk Grossman bibliography / Rick Kuhn, 2006
The law of the general tendency of the average rate of profit to fall (some further references)
This “law” was first published in German in 1894, in the third volume of Marx’ Capital; a first English translation came as late as 1959 (Progress, Moscow); in other languages even later or never; something which did not facilitate an international debate on the matter.
The first to react was Tugan-Baranowsky (9):
Theoretische Grundlagen des Marxismus / von Dr. Michael Tugan-Baranowsky. – Leipzig : Verlag von Duncker & Humblot, 1905. – 239 S.
He got a reply not by Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding or Rosa Luxemburg, but by Anton Pannekoek, in 1910.
The general formula for the rate of profit (mostly misrepresented and without comprehension; yet some nerds and geeks might expand on it, and help us to move forward) is:
c + v
▸ p = profit; p' = profit rate; s = surplus value; C = total capital; c = constant capital; v = variabel capital.
▸ The rate of profit is surplus value (s) divided by total capital (C); we can split up total capital (C) into c + v (constant plus variable capital); then, when we divide the numerator and denominator by v (which is a purely mathematical manipulation), we get to the final formula.
▸ s : v is the rate of exploitation; c : v is the organic composition of capital; so, in the end, if the organic composition of capital goes up, in compensation, the rate of exploitation needs go up as well (since 1981 no more “partition” of the gains in productivity any longer as in the period of reconstruction); yet there are many other factors, like the cheapening of the elements of constant capital (a main factor which cannot be left out of the equation) and the rise in cost for education and care to maintain at a minimum a qualified stock of instructed labourers in the centers of capitalism (the “workers’ aristocracy”). At “the surface”, high-tech companies (which have a competitive advantage) take most of the profits and thus can pay a highly instructed labour-force somewhat attractive salaries, while the lower-tech companies can only compete through low wages. On the whole, in sectors where the “labour factor” inevitably remains high (like education and care) the wages will be very low, also because the “reproduction costs” of such labour remains relatively low (more than enough human resources without much alternatives available). Of course, the combination of high-tech and low wages can also exist for labour for which little education is necessary, until it is replaced by cheaper and surer robots.
▸ Although Karl Marx was very close in wordings, the mathematical formula was constructed much later; it is unlikely to have existed in 1929 as Henryk Grossman would certainly have made use of it, but it did exist in the early 1970s; nobody seems to know who was the first to have made it public.
The tendency cannot be confirmed or rejected (verified or falsified, a criterium which existed in natural sciences long before Karl Popper , and it doesn’t apply as such to complex systems) by simple mathematical manipulation as for instance Tuhan-Baranovskyi seems to have thought (a later cynic even talked of the “Law of the whether or not falling rate of profit” – purely mathematically you can do with it whatever you want; and Henryk Grossman gave no more than an arithmic exemple). It is a logical argument: ever more labour goes into the development of new means of production and ever less in actual production; labour is replaced by machines until machines make, and even design, new machines, with ever less labour implied. And the argument needs empirical historical data, which were not available when the controversy erupted (the little there is today, in 2020, is still highly contested, while ever more profits are made in ‘services’ and ‘research and development’, not in actual (10) ‘production’.
Source: Michael Roberts blog : Blogging from a Marxist economist (given as exemple only as the figures are of very restricted significance)
This is the most likely reason why Anton Pannekoek never tried to develop the question any further, although he made some great contributions, dug up here from the archives. Thus in 1913 he wrote:
de | „Wir lassen die Frage, ob auch eine Senkung der Profitrate als Wirkung steigender organischer Zusammensetzung des Kapitals hinzukommt, deren Beantwortung einige Schwierigkeiten mit sich bringt, hier beiseite.“
Theoretisches zur Ursache der Krisen / Anton Pannekoek, 1913 (11).
en | “We leave aside the question of whether there is also a fall of the rate of profit as an effect of the increasing organic composition of capital, the answer to which brings with it some difficulties.”
He concluded that in the proces of circulation of capital the profit rate fell before a crisis erupted, and wondered if the increasing organic composition of capital would be a supplementary factor on the longer run.
Wikipedia, with an interesting article in German (with many references; it also shows the weakness of Weakipedia, certainly not a platform for scientific debate; in general, handbooks and encyclopediæ are decades behind research; yet it has the advantage of not easily falling into the illusions of the day):
de | Gesetz des tendenziellen Falls der Profitrate
en | Tendency of the rate of profit to fall
es | Tendencia decreciente de la tasa de ganancia
fr | Baisse tendancielle du taux de profit
nl | Wet van de dalende winstvoet
Die ökonomische Krise, Pressedienst der g.i.k., Nr. 15, November 1929
Ein wichtiges Buch (Henryk Grossmann, “Das Akkumulations- und Zusammenbruchsgesetz des kapitalistischen Systems”, Leipzig : Verlag Hirschfeld, 1929), Pressedienst der g.i.k., Nr. 2, Februar 1930
De beweging van het kapitalistisch bedrijfsleven / [Herman de Beer]. – [Amsterdam] : g.i.c., 1932. – 38 p.
Also see: Paul Mattick, (1904-1981)
Zur Marxschen Akkumulations- und Zusammenbruchstheorie : In Erwiderung des Artikels: „Die Zusammenbruchstheorie des Kapitalismus“ [von Anton Pannekoek] in Nummer 1 der „Rätekorrespondenz“ / Paul Mattick.
In: Rätekorrespondenz, 1934, Nr. 4
de | Krisen und Krisentheorien / Paul Mattick. – Frankfurt am Main : Fischer Verlag, 1974
en | Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory / Paul Mattick. – White Plains (N.Y.) : Sharpe, 1981 : London : Merlin Press, 1981
fr | Crises et théories des crises / Paul Mattick. – Paris : Editions Champ Libre, 1976 (first chapter only, also see: version pdf ; Bataille socialiste )
Some academic studies
In general boring to read, with no clear conclusions, but with a lot of references, and a lot of “considerations” – mostly in idle view of some “career”. Yet, when we have the distinction between punctual, cyclical and structural crises in mind, sometimes it becomes interesting again.
Krise und Kapitalismus bei Marx. – Frankfurt am Main : Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1975. – 486 S. – (Zwei Bände)
Verelendung und Proletariat bei Karl Marx / Günther Herre. – Düsseldorf : Droste Verlag, © 1973. – 200 S.
Mehrwert : Beiträge zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. – Westberlin und Bremen : Politladen Erlangen, 1973-
- Mehrwert; Beiträge zur Kritik der politischen ökonomie, Nr. 5, Zur Struktur des Krisenproblems bei Karl Marx / Dieter Freiburghaus, Hans Peter Müller
Some links for further studying
For the moment, only a few external references, given with precaution and to be evaluated:
- Dieter Wolf ; Dieterwolf.net ; very“academic”; not really on crisis-theories and imperialism; very “philosophic” on basic concepts; yet very interesting and highly critical in relation to the different “schools” of “Marxology” in Germany.
- Michael Roberts Blog; blogging from a marxist economist ; with a trotskyist background and stuck in bourgeois leftism; a lot of econometrist statistics on the falling rate of profit and a lot of polemics with other empiricist leftists (whom, in general, consider that only the “private” sector is “capitalist”, in contrast to the “public” sector – implying a defense of the Russian and Chinese and other states (see for instance Socialist economic development – a review ) – and who do not even try to clarify the difference between corporate profits before and after taxation); Michael Roberts knows of the Communist Left no more than some of Paul Mattick’s works; his work is accompanied by many references for further studying; for a hard to understand reaction from within the Communist Left, see: Some Clarifications on Roberts’ Idea of the Falling Rate of Profit / FD, 2020 (International Communist Tendency, with replies by Michael Roberts); from the same source: Is Capitalism Past its Sell-by Date? Review of Michael Roberts “The Long Depression” / Jock, 2016. This blog by Roberts is somewhat interesting for the figures (one might however question their validity), not really for the theory behind it, and a lot of reinventing of the wheel is done as sources in German are not being made use of. His pious social-democrat illusions and phantasms about a prosperous and peaceful world-capitalism with a “real” united nations are quite irrelevant; while Marx wrote a “critic of political economy”, Michael Roberts writes a “marxist economy”, quite something else, and something we cannot condone.
- The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession / Andrew Kliman , London : Pluto Press, 2011; source pdf: Libcom ; equally with a trostkyist background; cureously no reference whatsoever to Henryk Grossman or Paul Mattick sr.; a lot of very pretentious academic plagiarism with little new.
- Some historic s.p.g.b.-articles, which argue (based on the second volume of Capital, the third hadn’t yet been published in English):
- Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse ; 1932, there is no economic flaw in the workings of the capitalist economic system that will eventually lead to the final collapse of the system, its breakdown (no reference is made to Grossman).
- Crises, Catastrophe and Mr. Strachey ; 1957, that crises are caused basically by “disproportionality” as one key sector of the economy expands too fast for its market, the resulting cutback in production having a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy.
- Further Reflections on Crises ; 1957, that slump conditions eventually lead to a restoration of the rate of profit and a recovery which will eventually lead to another period of expansion, leading to another crisis and slump; and so on in a repeating cycle of booms and slumps. The trend of capital accumulation is upward but in fits and starts.
- The Falling Rate of Profit / Edgar Hardcastle, 1960; an inconclusive reply to John Strachey.
- Since 1960 the s.p.g.b. seems to have produced nothing noteworthy on the subject.
The disadvantage of narrow “economistic” approaches consists in the exclusion from the analysis of whole other “punctual” factors, like ecological disasters, civil wars, revolutions, world wars and pandemics; disturbing the usual cyclical crises – which anyhow are hardly ever seen in a “pure” form; and they do not consider, as a general rule, structural crises neither.
1. It would be interesting to study once again 18th Century colonialism and the slave trade (which was a kind of Russian Roulette, you could double your capital or lose all; the great liberal thinker John Locke lost all in such a deal as the ship didn’t come back). The returns in term were relatively low, and merely served to preserve a parasitic aristocracy which didn’t invest the gains, but lived by it. Furthermore, beyond looking at real profit rates, a lot is about possible or desired future profit rates, thus about speculation and inside information. Anticipation is too complex to be fully integrated into economic models. The big money in Amsterdam was not made by the companies working on Asia or the Americas, but with trade on the East-Sea (mostly fur and timber, quite stable with relatively little risc), particularly Sweden, Finland, the Baltic states and Russia.
2. See: Marx’s Critique of Socialist Labor-Money Schemes and the Myth of Council Communism’s Proudhonism / David Adam, 2013; also in fr.
3. For a discussion of the problem, see: Karl Marx, Das Kapital, I.5, Die Wertform : Drucke - Manuskripte / Editorische Bearbeitung und Kommentierung Rolf Hecker und Ingo Stützle. – Berlin : Karl Dietz Verlag, 2018. – 223 S.
4. Marx’ notes on landed property for the third volume of Capital are completely insufficient or even false; later Marx studied the question much more in depth, but most of his notes on the question have never even been published; Marx, initially, made no distinction between political sovereinty over a territory and landed property, and, even stranger for a lawyer, he made no distinction between property and ownership. When I rent a house, I own it, it is in my posession, but it is not my property. A related discussion is about authority/control, quite confused notions.
5. The class-narrative is very clear in two quotes, one of 1848 and the other of 1859:
▸ “Mr. Ricardo’s system is one of discords. [...] [He aims to sow] hostility among classes [and nations]. [...] His book is the true manual of the demagogue, who seeks power by means of agrarianism, war, and plunder.” (The Past, the Present and the Future / H. Carey. – Philadelphia : Carey & Hat, 1848. – p. 74-75; German according to Henryk Grossman: “Das System Ricardos ist eines der Zweitracht [...] Er hat die Tendenz zur Erzeugung von Feindschaft zwischen Klassen [...] Sein Buch ist das richtige Handbuch des Demagogen, der nach Macht streift durch Bodenkonfiskation (Agrarianism), Krieg und Plünderung.” ( Marx und die klassische Nationalökonomie / Henryk Grossmann. S. 29, Armerkung 78); Dutch: “Het systeem van Ricardo is er een van tweedracht [...] Het is er op uit vijandschap tussen de klassen te zaaien [...] Zijn boek is hét aangewezen handboek van de demagoog, die naar macht streeft door confiscatie van de grond (agrarianism), oorlog en plundering.” (Marx en de klassieke politieke economie / Henryk Grossmann. – In: Te Elfder Ure, p. 328).
▸ Letter by Auguste Walras to his son Léon of 6 February 1859: “Une chose qui me plaît parfaitement dans le plan de ton travail, c’est le projet que tu as et que j’approuve de tous points, de te maintenir dans les limites les plus inoffensives à l’égard de M.M. les propriétaires. Cela est très sage et très facile à observer. Il faut faire de l’économie politique comme on ferait de l’acoustique ou de la mécanique.” Compare L. Modeste Leroy, Auguste Walras, sa vie son œuvre, Paris, 1923, p. 289); quoted in: Marx und die klassische Nationökonomie / Henryk Grossman, ibidem, p. 30); tentative translation: “One thing pleases me wholeheartedly in the design of your thesis, that is the intention you have and which I approve on all levels, to remain within the least offensive limits in relation to the misters owners. That is very wise and easy to maintain. We have to deal with political economy like we do with accoustics or mechanics.”
Thus, the bourgeois-academics of political economy, claiming universal science, start from the bourgeois preoccupations and prejudices of the past; while the non-academic Marxians, while openly stating to start from a restrictive class narritive, develop a universal science for the future.
6. For a beginning of a somewhat more extended critic in French: Théorie des crises : Marx - Luxemburg I / J. Johanson, C. Mcl, M. Luca, Vico, 2010; also translated into Spanish ; a follow up was never written because of divergencies between the authors; this also explains the absence of translations into German, English and Dutch, which were intended. It contains some beginnings of critical thinking, and also speculative nonsense.
7. Compare: “There is no denying that bourgeois society has for the second time experienced its 16th century, a 16th century which, I hope, will sound its death knell just as the first ushered it into the world. The proper task of bourgeois society is the creation of the world market, at least in outline, and of the production based on that market. Since the world is round, the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan would seem to have completed this process. For us, the difficult question is this: on the Continent revolution is imminent and will, moreover, instantly assume a socialist character. Will it not necessarily be crushed in this little corner of the earth, since the movement of bourgeois society is still in the ascendant over a far greater area?” (Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 8 October 1858, m.e.c.w., Vol. 40, p. 346-347).
8. The 1968 arguments, however interesting they are, have not yet been attested (most probably they came from “situationists”).
9. Of course there were earlier critics, yet not on this subject. See: Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk for earlier critics: students of his were Joseph Schumpeter, Ludwig von Mises, Henryk Grossman.
10. See: Economic sector , and: Three-sector model .
11. The not so ridiculous idea (it is however not much more than just that) that the crises become longer and deeper, while the ressurgences get shorter and weaker, is slowly being confirmed by statistics.
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