Marx Myths and Legends. Harry Cleaver

Karl Marx: Economist or Revolutionary?

Source: Originally written for the Centennial Symposium on Marx, Schumpeter and Keynes held at the University of Colorado at Denver, August 20-22, 1983. Published in Suzanne W. Helburn and David F. Bramhall, eds., Marx, Schumpeter and Keynes: A Centenary Celebration of Dissent, Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1986, pp. 121-146. Used with permission of the author, as per Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Licence 2.0.

During the last ten years Marxism has come to occupy a substantial position within American academia.[1] This is especially true in economics where, until recently, discussion of Marx and the Marxist tradition was largely confined to courses in the history of economic thought and in the economic history of the Soviet Union.[2]

The rise of an academic Marxism has been due, I would argue, to two forces. First, the struggles of students within the context of the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s carved out time and space within which politically active students could study Marxism as apart of radical economics, insurgent sociology, and so on.[3] Second, university administrators and the business interests they generally represent have been surprisingly tolerant of the expansion of Marxist studies.[4] This reaction to student demands is not simply a case of the “repressive tolerance” Marcuse described so vividly.[5] The current tolerance is due, more importantly, to the need of business for new ideas during the present period of economic and social crisis.[6] There is a long history of the capitalist appropriation of Marxist ideas which should lend credence to this suggestion.[7] Moreover, the numerous attempts in recent years in the business press and in professional economic journals to give space to radical ideas and to evaluate current Marxist economic research demonstrates the on-going interest of business and its ideologues in the possibility of appropriating something new from Marx. Nowhere has this tolerance been more obvious than in the area of Marxist research on the theory of economic crisis."[8]

This willingness on the part of business to appropriate Marxist ideas and to use them for its own purposes has been largely ignored by Marxists working on the theory of crisis. They have, time and again, formulated their theories in ways that facilitate such appropriation.[9] Yet this is not necessary. There is a way to read Marx and to develop Marxist theory that does not lend itself to this kind of appropriation.

In this essay I do two things. First, through a series of examples, I illustrate how, in the history of Marxist work on the theory of crisis, many have forgotten the revolutionary content of Marx’s own work and thus left themselves open to the dangers of capitalist appropriation. Second, I suggest an alternative approach to the study and elaboration of Marx’s analysis of crisis that makes its political and revolutionary content explicit and thus more immune to appropriation.

Some Problems with Marxist Crisis Theory

Recognizing the obvious interest of mainstream economists and of the business press in Marxian economics, and understanding the possibilities of the capitalist appropriation of our ideas, we should recognize real shortcomings to some of the theoretical work within Marxist economics. In the process of building an alternative economic paradigm acceptable within the academic community, too many Marxist students and Marxist economists have overemphasized “economics” and lost Marx in the process (1974).

The theory of crisis has always been a central issue in Marxist theory and indeed in Marx’s own work. He was interested in both cyclical crisis, what is often called the business cycle, and fundamental secular trends undermining the long-term viability of the system. It is certainly because we are in the midst of a major crisis of the system that this aspect of Marxist research has been the one most closely followed by the business press. It is because some Marxists have formulated crisis theory in ways comparable with bourgeois theories that business can hope to gain insight and use-value from their work.

In Marx’s own research, theory and empirical studies developed together. Probably the most important single leap forward in his thinking on this subject occurred during the crisis of 1857 when, during long nights of work, he sought integrate his empirical observations through the development of a new theoretical framework. The products of that period include both his newspaper articles and the notebooks known collectively as the Grundrisse. In those articles and notebooks are found a rich variety of historical and theoretical observations on various aspects of capitalist crisis. Some of those observations Marx later integrated into Capital and Theories of Surplus Value. It is in this wealth of material that we find Marx struggling to elaborate a political analysis of crisis from which he could draw strategic lessons for the working class movement.

In the history of Marxism since Marx, however, including the present, the development of crisis theory has been disappointing. We can identify at least two striking shortcomings in this work. The first has been the tendency to focus on some narrow selection from Marx’s work. This tendency, which Peter Bell (1977) has shown to produce one-sided, monocausal theories, involved a failure to digest the full range of Marx’s work on crisis and has led to endless Marxological debates. For example, the debate between those Marxists who base themselves on Marx’s comments on underconsumption and those who base themselves on his discussion of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall has been going around in circles for over forty years and is nowhere near resolution.

The second shortcoming of Marxist work on crisis, and the one I would like to explore here, concerns the tendency to think about crisis as a subject of “economics” and to apply methods of analysis that closely parallel those of mainstream economics. This tendency not only leads Marxists to forget the political content of their categories and theories but also makes it easy for capitalist ideologues to examine and appropriate the theory for their own purposes. To illustrate this tendency I will examine a few examples from the history of Marxist crisis theory.

Case Study 1: Rosa Luxemburg’s
The Accumulation of Capital (1968)

Luxemburg was one of the most brilliant Marxists of the early twentieth century. Her revolutionary understanding of Marx made her the arch-foe of the social democrats of the Second International, and her closeness to the working class made her a severe critic of Lenin’s elitism. Yet, when she turned to the project of developing a theory of accumulation and crisis she did what so many Marxists tend to do --she left her political acumen behind and got lost in an economic reading of Capital.

As is well known, Luxemburg based her theory of crisis on Marx’s analysis of reproduction in the second volume of Capital. She focused on Marx’s schemes of expanded reproduction and, by studying their evolution through time, came to the conclusion that given realistic assumptions it was impossible for the necessary equilibrium between the two departments to be maintained because the production of commodities would outstrip the ability of the market to absorb them. Thus, she deduced both the necessity for crisis and for some “outside” sector (e.g., imperial colonies) into which the excess products could be dumped.

Her analysis constituted one moment of along debate among Marxists on the tendencies to crisis in capitalism that took as its basic analytical framework Marx’s reproduction schemes. That debate had started with Tugan-Baranowsky’s attack on underconsumptionism and his substitution of a theory of limited disproportionality between departments.[10] Luxemburg’ s work was partially an attack on Tugan-Baranowsky and partly an attempt to find a basis for both a theory of crisis and a theory of imperialism.

Luxemburg’s book was followed by arguments by Nikolai Bukharin, Otto Bauer, Henryk Grossman, and others.[11] All of these authors approached the reproduction schemes in the same manner as Luxemburg: as a basis for their reasoning about crisis, and as economists studying conditions of equilibrium. In modern terms they were reading Marx’s reproduction schemes as a two- or sometimes a three-sector growth model.[12] Luxemburg, like the others, was studying stability conditions. Many years later, after Leontief’s adaptation of those schemes had been incorporated into macroeconomic modeling, we would find capitalist planners doing something similar with multisectoral growth models. But where Luxemburg and these other Marxists were content with the observation that the model would (or would not) automatically generate contradictions and therefore that crisis was (or was not) inevitable under capitalism, the planners would use the model to help them figure out what adjustments could be made so that accumulation could proceed smoothly.

At first glance one might say it was a stroke of genius to figure out this way of using Marx’s schemes for the analysis of crisis. Were not these Marxists extending Marx?

Marx had developed the reproduction schemes during his work on the Grundrisse. He did so within the context of examining some of the factors that could lead to the breakdown of accumulation. He was led to them through his examination of capital’s problems of reproducing its social totality. As Mario Tronti has shown in his book Operai e Capitale (1966), the reproduction schemes constitute one approach to the examination of “social” capital, where social capital includes not merely the sum of the individual capitals but also the production and reproduction of the working class and therefore the struggles of that reproduction.[13] This view of the schemes sees them not as schemata of purely interindustrial flows but as one approach to a political totality.

This is absent in an economic reading of part 3 of volume 2. Luxemburg and the others deal with “reproduction” the way contemporary growth theorists do --in a very narrow and fetishistic “economic” way that leaves social and political relations out of account and reduces Marx’ s problem to one of abstract quantitative proportionality.

The result? I submit that this part of her analysis of crisis provides little of use to the working class other than a formal argument about the inevitability of imperialism.

Case Study 2: Paul Sweezy’s Theory of Capitalist Development (1942) and Monopoly Capital (1946)

For almost thirty years, from the 1940s to the early 1960s, Paul Sweezy was, with Paul Baran, the best known Marxist in the United States. His books and his magazine Monthly Review educated the generation of Marxist economists who grew up in the 1960s and are today teaching in universities, schools, and shop-floors across the United States.

Unlike Rosa Luxemburg, who was first and foremost a political activist and dug into Marx in the course of her political practice, Sweezy was first of all a scholar and an economist. Educated at Harvard under Alvin Hansen, one of the foremost interpreters of Keynes, Sweezy developed a theory of crisis that bears the clear marks of his profession and his background. If Marxist crisis theory today is above all a theory of economic crisis, it is partly due to Sweezy’s pervasive influence.

I want to discuss here only three parts of Sweezy’s treatment of crisis theory in his books. The first is the treatment in his Theory of Luxemburg and of the other Marxists who based their work on Marx’s schemes of reproduction. The second is his treatment and dismissal of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The third is his embrace of Marx’s comments on the limits to working-class consumption as the valid core of crisis theory.

In his Theory, when Sweezy turns to Luxemburg and the others I have mentioned, he evaluates their theory and criticizes it in its own terms. He presents the mathematics of the reproduction schemes and in good economic form sets out mathematically precise equilibrium conditions. In the case of Otto Bauer’s work, Sweezy explicitly translates it into the form of a mathematical growth model. His evaluation of their work only involves questioning either their assumptions or details of their reasoning, never the general framework of a purely economic approach. As with most economists, accumulation for Sweezy is the accumulation of capital narrowly defined in terms of growing amounts of money, means of production, mobilized labor, and commodities. It is for this reason he can work with the language and forms acceptable to Leontief or Harrod-Domar.

When Sweezy turns to Marx’s “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall,” he interprets it in a very typical economic fashion. By this I mean he assumes that the theory concerns forces acting on the actual monetary rate of profit. Secondly, when he uses the “value” categories of variable capital (v), constant capital (c), surplus value (s), the rate of exploitation (s/v), and the organic composition of capital (c/v), he treats them exactly the way an economist would treat any variables: as mathematical quantities to be manipulated formalistically. Thus he notes that if the numerator and denominator of the rate of profit s/(c+v) are both divided by v, we obtain (s/v)/[c/v)+ 1]. This he likes because the rate of profit is now expressed in terms of the two categories that Marx is concerned with: the rate of exploitation and the organic composition of capital. On the basis of this expression he argues that the “law,” is indeterminant because although c/v might rise faster than s/v, as c is substituted for v, we cannot be sure a priori because the rising productivity that accompanies the investment in constant capital lowers the value of c as well as that of v, and there is no way to predict which will fall most. Voila! So much for the “law” Marx called the most fundamental and important law of capitalist development.

As a result of Sweezy’s argument there has been an almost endless flow of articles attacking or defending him on this subject. Among those Marxists most prominent in the attack have been Paul Mattick (1969b), Mario Cogoy (1973), and David Yaffe (1972), who have all defended the centrality and validity of the law. Most of these critiques have included an attempt to restate the law in a different mathematical form in order to recuperate it. Defenses of Sweezy’s rejection have also been forthcoming from the man himself --repeatedly in the postwar period-- and from others on either theoretical (Roemer, 1978; 1979; 1981) or empirical (Weiskopf, 1979) grounds.

And what are the essential points of the debate among all these Marxists? Are they political points? Hardly, they are not even political economic points. They are mainly mathematical and formalistic. In his summary of the debate Herb Gintis, writing in OIlman and Vernoff’s (1982) book, says “in general American Marxists have carefully scrutinized the mathematical theory on which the falling-rate-of-profit prediction is based, and have concluded that there is no such tendency.”

What are we to say about this kind of Marxism? Certainly the similarity of the debate to the mainstream discussion on the same subject is striking.[14] If this is Marxian economics, then clearly the emphasis is on economics, not Marx. What we have here is a sanitized, seminar-room Marxism that has been stripped of its political content and class anger. This is a Marxism mainstream economists can understand and evaluate in their own terms. If more economists of this Marxian I. stripe are not getting tenure it can only be because either the mainstream judges f their work to be unproductive or because, like Rosa Luxemburg, their political actions in other areas are more militant than their theory.

The last aspect of Sweezy’s work that I want to examine, and one which has also generated a whole wing of contemporary Marxist crisis theory, is his interpretation of Marx’s comments on the limits to working-class consumption. Sweezy’s positive view of Marx’s comments fit easily with a Hansenian interpretation of Keynes on inadequate aggregate demand and the views of both Hansen (1938; 1941) and Steindl (1952) on capitalism’s tendencies toward stagnation.

This interpretation of Marx as an underconsumptionist is again very much within the tradition of economics. From Malthus, whom Marx studied, through Hobson in the underground, to Keynes at the center of mainstream thought, the issue of the adequacy of demand to sustain and induce growth in output has been a central subject of debate. But, where Marx studied capitalist attempts to limit working-class income and working-class demands for ever higher income (as well as less work) as one important class contradiction in the system, Sweezy finds a justification for embracing a pessimistic Keynesianism in which it is the weakness of the working class that leads to crisis. So preoccupied is Sweezy with studying the similarities and differences between Marx and Keynes that he included as an appendix to his book an essay by Tsuru that explicitly maps Marxian and Keynesian aggregate macro categories onto each other.

Twenty years later, when Sweezy published Monopoly Capital, the book he had written with Paul Baran, he still embraced essentially the same position. But by this time Marxism provided little more than a rhetorical gloss on what might otherwise have been taken as the work of a liberal mainstream economist in the tradition of the neoclassical synthesis. In Monopoly Capital the analytical core of Sweezy and Baran’s reasoning was a mixture of neoclassical firm theory and Keynesian macro theory. The title pointed to their central concern with defining the current stage of capitalism in terms of the structure of capitalist markets --monopoly as opposed to an earlier competitive state. Their discussion of the “absorption of the surplus” amounted to a twist on the Keynesian problem of adequate aggregate demand. Gone almost completely from their analysis were Marx’s theoretical categories based on the labor theory of value. In the place of surplus value, we found surplus; in the place of the problem of extracting surplus value, we found the problem of disposing of it. Whereas The Theory of Capitalist Development had at least the form of Marxian theory, Monopoly Capital adopted both the form and content (albeit with the authors’ own critical approach) of mainstream economics. Only in the concluding chapters when they set aside economics and draw on Critical Theory’s concepts of historical reason and capitalist irrationality did they retain much of the Marxian tradition --and the aspects they did retain derive more from Hegel than from Marx.

When other Marxists began to attack Sweezy, his abandonment of Marx and his embrace of a Keynesian crisis theory of inadequate demand was one of their first points of departure. (See Mattick, 1969b; Cogoy, 1973; Yaffe, 1972.) In his responses to these attacks Sweezy (1974) back-pedalled and recast his underconsumptionism once more in Marxian theoretical terms. But it is not the details of that debate that interest me here. It is rather the way in which Sweezy’s views, and a whole subsequent literature, formulated Marx’s thoughts in the language and framework of economics. How can we be surprised when, in the late 1960s, many radical economists considered their real problem to be the discovery of how to adapt mainstream economics to the analysis of the subjects that concerned them? Many considered the legacy of Marx (whom most had not yet studied) to lie more in the identification of problems that were ignored by the mainstream than as a source of different theoretical tools. And when they did return to Marx, after having been raised on Baran and Sweezy and having followed Marxist debates on crisis that resembled in form, and even to some degree content, the debates of mainstream economics, should we be too shocked that they read Marx as an economist? I think not. Nor do I think we should be shocked that much of the contemporary Marxist crisis theory continues in the same vein.

Case Study 3: The “Relative Shares” Literature

The “relative shares” literature includes most prominently the work of Glyn and Sutcliffe (1972) and followers in England, and that of Boddy and Crotty (1975) and followers in the United States (Crotty and Rapping, 1975). Briefly put, this is a brand of Marxist crisis theory that draws explicitly or implicitly on Marx’s work on the role of the wage in crisis. This work includes the discussion in volume 1, chapter 25, of Capital, and Marx’s analysis in Wages, Prices and Profit. At its core is the idea that workers, through their struggles, can and have pushed up income to the point where it undermines capitalist profits or the capitalist share of national output. Sometimes this argument is formulated in terms of wages, sometimes more broadly in terms of all income (wages plus benefits, plus government services, etc.). In most cases the theory is backed up by empirical studies that show that this has in fact occurred during the current crisis.

Unlike the theories mentioned earlier, this one has an explicit political moment of class struggle. Underconsumptionism has an implicit moment of class struggle --the capitalist attempt to hold down wages-- although it is rather one-sided in its usual interpretation. But in the relative shares literature, for almost the first time in the history of academic Marxism, the class struggle has been recognized and has found a place among economic models and mathematical formalisms. This clearly constitutes a refreshing departure from the kinds of economic crisis theories we have discussed so far.

And yet, there are two problems that persist within this literature. The first is the tendency to confine the analysis of crisis to the sphere of circulation without recognizing how the demand for higher wages and income has complemented a simultaneous attack on the structuring of life around work. In short, the relative shares theorists have mostly failed to analyze the revolt against work and the crisis in production. Where the revolt against work has been recognized it has been interpreted as a rebellion against the degrading conditions of work within capitalism, but there has been no grasp of the way people’s growing refusal to be reduced to mere workers has constituted a fundamental undermining of the capitalist order.

Second, by confining the analysis of crisis to the struggle over the division of output, the relative shares theorists formulate the problematic of crisis in a way very similar to mainstream economic discussions of income distribution. This is a very old reformist terrain of discourse in which one debates the division of output but eschews discussion of overthrowing the wage system itself. Within this discourse conservative, pro-capitalist economists and commentators (such as those associated with the Reagan administration) respond to the decline in capitalist shares by calling for a redressing of shares --an attack on wages and social services. Liberal, pro-capitalist economists (such as neoliberals like Thurow) call for an incomes policy to stabilize shares in a proportion favorable to capital, yet not totally destructive of working-class standards of living. The radical critics are willing to grant the necessity of a social surplus for investment and growth but want a larger role for workers in determining the course of such investment. They want greater “economic democracy"--a slogan and a policy which has become the clarion cry of today’s social democrats.

Thus, this relative shares version of Marxian crisis theory also falls within the scope of mainstream debates, albeit at the socialist fringe.

Is this the best Marxism has to offer? Are these theories of crisis, formulated in the language and style of economics, all that can be gotten from Marx? Is Marxism, after all, just a subdivision of economics? Fortunately, the answer is no, this is not all there is --not even in the area of crisis theory, let alone other aspects of Marxism. There is an alternative way of reading Marx and Marx’s theories of crisis that leads to quite different results.

Marx the Revolutionary

The alternative to the economic interpretation of Marx that I find the most useful is the reading of his concepts and theories as moments of his political analysis of capitalism as class struggle. This is what I call a political reading of Marx. The roots and development of this kind of political reading I have sketched in the introduction to my book Reading Capital Politically (1979). Among the best-known writers associated with this approach are C. L. R. James, Raya Duneyevskaya, Martin Glaberman, Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lafort (in the 1950s), Ranerio Panzieri, Mario Tronti (in the 1960s), Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, and Antonio Negri.[15] This approach explicitly rejects any “economic” or “political economic” analysis that sees Marx’s work as focused on the economy, where economy is conceived in the usual sense of the spheres of production, circulation, and distribution. This approach insists that what is usually called the economic sphere is made up of moments of a political whole: the class struggle.

Basic to this approach is the position that the object of Marx’s study, and the only proper object for any revolutionary, is the class struggle. Let us be clear, this position denies the autonomy of the political --there is no economic sphere here and political sphere over there. The position argues that from the point of view of workers who want to overthrow capitalism there can be one and only one subject of study: the structures of their power relations with capital. Everything must be interpreted in terms of its relation to this central political issue.

It is not that the class struggle is being elevated to a new centrality in theory, or, in the case of, “crisis theory,” , that class struggle is seen to be the “cause” of crisis. Class struggle is neither a cause nor an effect. It is the whole, and Marx’s analysis is seen to be concerned with the exploration of the forces at work within that whole.

Therefore Marx’s theory of crisis, like the theory of accumulation more generally, is a theory of the dynamics of the class struggle. When Marx says in Capital that accumulation is first and foremost the accumulation of the classes, we must recognize that this necessarily means the accumulation of the class relations of conflict and struggle. Accumulation certainly includes the expanded reproduction of money capital, commodity capital, productive capital, and so on, but these are understood to be, not things, but moments of the basic class relationship .

This political reading of Marx is an interpretation that takes seriously his repeated admonition that capital is above all a social relation. It also takes seriously the Ilth Thesis on Feuerbach: that the point is to transform the world, and therefore any theory worth the title Marxist must not only embody the class relations but also playa self-conscious and explicit role in the struggle for transformation.[16]

Part of what differentiates this approach from most other versions of Marxism is its way of looking at capital. For most Marxists, orthodox or revisionist, “capital” is the totality of the capitalists and their capital. Its dynamic is derived from what they like to call its “internal logic.” The driving force of this “capitalogic,” according to them, is competition among capitalists. Within this framework, workers appear as outside factors capable of resisting the logic of capital, and even, in principle, of overthrowing it, but their struggles are reactive and only have the effect of throwing up barriers to capital’s self-propelled development.

By reviewing the examples of crisis theory I have examined, one can see that the above characterization applies universally. Luxemburg, Sweezy, their supporters and detractors, and even the relative shares theorists see capitalism developing through its own “internal laws of motion.” Whether we look at the dynamics of underconsumption, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, or the profit squeeze, we see working-class struggle as external to capital’s own logic. Underconsumption assumes at its core a limit to workers’ ability to raise wages. In the case of the falling rate of profit, the drive to raise the organic composition of capital is usually taken to flow from competition. And in the case of the relative shares argument, the working-class struggle that undercuts accumulation appears as an exogenous threat to capitalist development.

Within the alternative framework that I present here, to speak of crisis is to speak of a crisis of the class relation. In general, a capitalist crisis is therefore a crisis of capitalist control over the working class. Therefore, the so-called internal laws of motion of capital must be understood to be the general characteristics of the class struggle. Similarly, the categories of Marx’s labor theory of value are concepts designed to lay bare the patterns and logic of that struggle.

Within this framework, Marx is seen to be, above all, a militant theoretician of the subject, or more precisely, of two political and historical class subjects: the capitalist and working class. The “laws of motion” Marx describes are the regularities capital is able to impose in the face of the struggles of an antagonistic opponent. The two historical subjects are fundamentally different in character, and that difference forms the core of their antagonism.

Capital is a particular way of organizing the lives of human beings. Within capitalist society most people are members of the working class. They are under an endless and artificial compulsion to work, producing a surplus which capitalists either consume or, more importantly, reinvest to create ever more work. The capitalists, whether of the coupon-clipping leisure class or the modern corporate managerial hierarchy, are essentially what Marx called “functionaries” of capital as a way of organizing society. That is to say, their work, to the degree that they work, is the work of organizing the process of the accumulation of capital, whether in the sphere of production, circulation, or reproduction. Capital is self-reproducing, as orthodox Marxists often say, but only in the sense that it recreates the social conditions within which most people are forced to sell their labor power in order to survive. This is why the work ethic is central to capitalist ideology- because it justifies the life sentences of hard labor that capital would like to impose on all of us.

But the working class, those upon whom work is imposed, repeatedly breaks free of capitalist ideological and social controls and struggles against that imposition. As an historical subject workers form a true class for itself, in Marx’s terms, only when they engage in such battles.

Yet, there is something else even more fundamental that differentiates the working-class subject and explains the antagonism that permeates every moment of capital and every category in Marx. It is the fundamental quality of creativity and change that workers have as human beings and that they struggle to liberate. This is what might be called the positive side of workers’ struggle. Not only do they oppose the subordination of their lives to capitalist-imposed work, but they fight for their own autonomous development, or self-valorization, as Toni Negri (1984) calls it. And because that development is autonomous and refuses all outside coercion, it tends to escape capital’s efforts to bind it within its own forms. It is in this sense that capital, as one particular way of life, is frozen or dead, as Marx said. It only knows its own circuits. It only knows how to repeat the same forms and impose the same content, over and over again. Vampire-like, it can only draw its energy and life from others. It seeks to harness the spontaneous energy and creativity of human beings by limiting their autonomy and by turning them into workers in its factories and offices and into functionaries of its own existence.

Critical Theorists grasped this truth. Their failure lay in not seeing how Marx’s work contained elements of something they were unable to either conceive or construct on their own: a theory of working-class autonomy against capital and for its own self-development.[17]

Most Marxists working on the theory of crisis see neither the autonomy of the working class nor the capitalist need to harness it. They read Marx’s categories as they read the variables of mainstream economics, and they play the same games with them. But we do not have to do this. We can, instead, take those categories, slowly, one by one, and then in combination, and discover how they constitute categories of the class relations of struggle. We can give them a “political reading” to discover their meaning for each class. And by doing this we can recuperate Marx’s work on crisis, and maybe even some of the work done by our Marxist economists.

This is a project that is already underway. Its historical and political origins I have sketched in the introduction to my book Reading Capital Politically. There I undertook a reinterpretation of the basic categories of Marx’s labor theory of value to show how they could be read as categories of the class struggle over the organization of society around work. A more recent effort contains a first, systematic interpretation of Marx’s writings on crisis as observations and theories of how working-class struggles rupture the processes of accumulation (Cleaver and Bell, 1982). Other recent materials and references to work on crisis carried out within this framework can be found in the journals Zerowork and Midnight Notes as well as in Red Notes (1980), Semiotext(e) (1980), and Negri (1984).[18]

For the purposes of this essay I will restrict myself to the discussion of two aspects of this approach to Marxian crisis theory. The first concerns its ability to offer an alternative interpretation of those concepts of Marx which have been given an economic interpretation and used as the basis of theories of economic crisis. The second concerns the reduced susceptibility of this kind of interpretation of Marx to the kind of capitalist instrumentalization warned against above.

The Schemes of Reproduction and Class Struggle

As mentioned previously, Tronti has provided the basis for an alternative reading of Marx’s reproduction schemes. His rethinking of the material in volume 2 of Capital led him to see that the schemes provided one approach to the analysis of the total “social capital” where social capital must be understood to involve not only the sphere of production but also that of reproduction. Tronti recognized that Department II of the schemes, which produces the means of subsistence, is providing not only for the reproduction of the workers in the industries of departments I and II but also for all others, including those in the reserve army whether active or latent. The concept of “department” therefore must be conceived more broadly than a mere aggregation of factories. Department II refers to the sphere of working-class self-reproduction which includes the industries producing the means of subsistence but is not limited to them.

In this vein, we can see that the very division of the economy into two departments producing means of production and means of subsistence corresponds to the class division in capitalist society. The means of production, after , all, constitute that part of production that is of most direct interest to capitalists. When they fight to maximize surplus value and investment they are, in effect, fighting to shift the distribution of workers’ labor away from the products that directly interest workers (the means of subsistence) and toward the production of means of production. Conversely, Department II, which includes the production of means of subsistence, is of most direct concern to workers, and their struggles to raise wages and benefits at least partly tend to maximize the role of this department. Furthermore, the attempt by workers to reduce the amount of work they must give up to acquire the means of subsistence amounts to an attempt to subordinate the role of production in reproduction to the expansion of the time available for reproduction and self-valorization.

From a working-class political point of view, these must be counted among the most essential characteristics of this part of Marx’s analysis. This class perspective on the basic categories of the schemes of reproduction gives us away of looking at them in which they appear as determinations of the class relations of struggle.

From a capitalist point of view, the relations between the departments are ones that must be managed, either by the price mechanism or by direct planning or by some combination of the two. The capitalists must expand output in Department I if they are to expand their investment in fixed capital and expand the imposition of work to new generations of workers-especially since part of that investment is labor displacing. At the same time, they must try to manage workers’ demands for wages and the means of subsistence so that the working class can reproduce itself, but also limit Department II production so that it does not cut into Department I’s share of inputs and share of output.

Once we see that the distribution of resources across departments is something capital must fight for and try to manage in order to guarantee its own expanded reproduction, then the interest of capitalist economists in elaborating the schemes into input-output tables and multisectoral growth models is obvious. Whether the schemes be studied as a two-sector growth model or be elaborated into Leontief’s giant one-hundred-plus-sector models of contemporary economies, the object is clear enough.

But why should Marxists do this? Marx certainly did not do it. Was it just because he didn’t have time? Or was it because there is no need?

We have seen what the capitalists gain: it helps them clarify the dimension of a problem they face. They want to see what is required to achieve accumulation. Since we are not seeking to spur accumulation but to rupture it, there is no reason to think that we need the same kind of information.

Sometimes, it does help to understand what capital is trying to do in order to be able to anticipate and undermine it. But it is not clear that growth models provide that kind of information. And to the degree that they do, we can get the information from the models that are being used to plan. That is certainly one reason why we need to study mainstream economics --to spy on capitalist planning.

But what, if any thing, do we gain from the elaboration of Marx’s reproduction schemes? If the work of Marxist economists to date is any indication, we don’t gain much. Their debates on the inevitability of crisis have gone round in circles, with the conclusions derived depending on the assumptions made at the outset --as in any model. So far, after some eighty years of debate, it seems to me very little has been accomplished. For the future the burden is on those who would seek to use Marxian reproduction schemes beyond the use to which Marx put them --one way of clarifying some aspects of the class relation.

The Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall and Class Struggle

If the debate over crisis that has turned around the reproduction schemes must be judged rather fruitless, then so too has been the debate over the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Within this second debate many valid criticisms have been leveled against one or another argument. But, from the perspective of an interpretation of Marx that insists that his theories be read politically, the most basic criticism of the whole debate is that all of its participants think that the subject under discussion is the monetary rate of profit. Whether the position taken leads to the demand for empirical verification of the theory by examining the actual evolution of some average rate of profit, or whether it leads to an insistence on the theory’s status as a statement of tendency that cannot be falsified because the actual rate of profit may be under the influence of other forces, there is never any doubt that it is the monetary rate of profit whose behavior is under study.[19] It is partly for this reason that the so-called transformation problem has been so important to these Marxists. Since they want to analyze the tendency of the rate of profit to fall at the level of money profits, they must be preoccupied with whether or not the monetary form of aggregate surplus value accurately expresses the behavior of the value category.[20]

This is the universal position, despite the fact that Marx carries on his whole analysis in value terms. His expression for the rate of profit is the ratio of surplus value extracted to value invested, that is, the ratio of surplus labor time extracted to the sum of the labor time embodied in the means of production and the labor time that is embodied in the final product but returned to the workers for their subsistence. In short, what s/(c+v) represents is one measure of the degree of ease or difficulty of extracting surplus labor.

Marx (1981, chap. 9), however, is at pains to point out that his analysis is at the level of the entire social capital. As we have seen with reference to the reproduction schemes, social capital is more than the sum of the individual capitals. Therefore, his analysis of the rate of profit is at the level of class relations, not at the level of the firm or even of the industrial sector of the economy.

This becomes even clearer when we focus on the two determinants of the rate of profit that he uses to analyze its evolutionary tendencies: the rate of exploitation (s/v) and the organic composition of capital (c/v). We have seen how Sweezy (and many others) have treated these categories pretty much the same way mainstream economists treat the rate of return on investment and the capital-labor ratio: as quantitative mathematical variables that can be manipulated formalistically. We have also seen how many Marxists view their determination: as by-products of competition. Leaving aside the question of the direction of change of the organic composition of capital, we know that the substitution of capital for labor within technological change is generally thought to be the result of competition among firms who seek to undercut each other’s prices by lowering costs. Similarly, the rise of c/v is seen by most economists working in this area as a by-product of just this same relative surplus value strategy component of competition. The evolution of s/v and of c/v thus appear as by-products of what Negri (1984) has aptly called the “sordid family quarrels of capital.” This is why the debate over the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a result of the tendency of the organic composition to rise has been confined, on the whole, to the realm of “capitalogic” and has been devoid of any political class content.

Once again, this is by no means necessary. A political reading of volume 1 of Capital reveals that both the rate of exploitation and the organic composition of capital are imminently political categories. Right from the start in Marx’s discussion of absolute surplus value, the determination of length of the working day, and hence of s/v, is the result of class struggle which Marx sketches in chapter 10.

Next, in his discussion of relative surplus value Marx states quite plainly that it becomes capital’s central strategy because of the success of the working class in forcing down the length of the working day (1977: chap. 15). Thereafter, with respect to the continued rapid development of machinery and modern industry, he argues that “It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working class revolt” (1977: 563). And why does capital need such technological weapons that are embodied in arising c/v? Obviously because of the constant spur of such revolt. More generally we can show, as Raniero Panzieri (1976) has done at length, that the tendency of the organic composition of capital to rise occurs as one part of capital’s ever renewed efforts to plan its control over labor power. We can also learn to read this concept of Marx’s from a worker’s viewpoint and see that not only is the organic composition of capital based on the technical composition, that is, the particular combination of labor power and means of production in use, but it also implies a certain structure of power relations between the working class and capital.[21] It is the working-class recomposition of those power relations that forces capital to substitute constant for all-too-variable capital.

From this perspective we can see how to reinterpret Marxist economists’ central concept of competition. We can agree that competition is a phenomenon “internal” to capital, but capital conceived as the class relation. We can recognize it as one mechanism through which capital rewards its best managers --those who can get the most work and creativity from their workers-- and gets rid of those who are least capable of controlling the working class.

Having now seen how the basic determinants of the rate of profit, and the changes in them, are themselves moments of the class struggle, we can see that the law of the tendency is itself a characteristic of the evolution of the class war. But what does the law tell us if not that the class struggle tends to result in a fall in the monetary rate of profit?

Let us look at the rate of profit once again. I have already said that it is a ratio of the surplus labor extracted to the labor invested. It is therefore one measure of the difficulty of imposing surplus labor. If, therefore, there is a tendency for this rate to fall, then there is a tendency for it to become more and more difficult for capital to impose surplus labor. And if it is increasingly difficult to impose surplus labor, then it becomes equally difficult to impose labor at all.

Here at last is an explanation of why Marx considered the law of the tendency to be the most important law of capitalist development, an explanation that links it to the most fundamental defining character of capitalism. It reveals that working class struggle and the capitalist response of substituting machinery for workers tends to undermine the foundation of the capitalist order: its universal imposition of work.[22]

We can conclude this recasting of the falling rate of profit theory by pointing out some implications of our reasoning. First, if workers’ struggles for more income and less work drive capital to expand the use of labor-displacing machinery, then evidence that the workings of this law are undermining capitalist accumulation is not to be found in time series of monetary profit rates, a la Feldstein and Nordhaus, but rather in secular declines in the proportion of the labor force employed in the profitable production of goods and services. While a decline in the secular growth of productivity might indicate a crisis in the relative surplus value strategy of raising c/v, it is only at the level of capital’s ability to impose work that the law of the tendency applies.

Second, what Marx’s reasoning shows is the absolute centrality of workers’ struggle against work in the effort to undermine and overthrow capital. This can be arrived at directly by observing the way capital builds its civilization on the imposition of work, but Marx’s law tells us something more. It shows how “progressive,” that is, productivity-raising, capitalist responses to workers’ demands ultimately reinforce the direction of workers’ struggles. His analysis also implies that not only should we refuse both the Luddite attack on productivity-increasing new technology and the recourse to “appropriate” (labor-intensive) technology, but we must focus rather on how to appropriate the time set free. Marx not only understood this, he saw beyond the crisis of capitalist control to the possibility of a postcapitalist world in which not labor but “disposable time” becomes the measure of value (1973: 708).

Underconsumptionism and Class Struggle

There can be no doubt that Marx saw the limits to working-class income as constituting a limit to the ability of Department II to expand, and thus indirectly a limit to the expansion of Department I as well. But the effort to elevate this contradiction to the status of the core of crisis theory comes up sorely lacking. It can be said that Keynes has done as much with the idea as anyone by generalizing it to the problem of inadequate aggregate demand. But that is a capitalist appropriation of a concept if ever there was one. Baran and Sweezy’s analysis in Monopoly Capital is limited mainly to commentaries on the effectiveness with which capital is able to generate sufficient demand, either through the state or through private markets.[23] This is a subject of an almost endless mainstream macroeconomic literature.

What of the class content of this theory? At its core, in Marx, is the contradiction between capitalist needs to expand productivity and production under the prod of working-class struggle and the limits on the ability of Department II producers to dispose of that increased production. Capital has tried to cope with this problem, first privately in the high wage strategy of Henry Ford and then through the state in the Keynesian attempt to harness rising wages to induce capitalist growth.

Marxist understanding of the working-class use of these strategies has been sadly disappointing. As we have seen, Baran and Sweezy, like many of their generation of Marxists, considered those workers who succeeded in forcing capital to have recourse to a productivity deal, to be bought off, even participants in the imperial order.[24] In the case of Critical Theories of consumerist society, this increased consumption appears only as a means of domination.

We, on the other hand, can recognize that while rising wages do not necessarily rupture capitalist accumulation, they do raise the absolute level of working-class consumption and strengthen it in its struggles. And there are neither theoretical nor historical reasons to think that those struggles, in the aggregate, ever cease or can always be harnessed. As a political category, from the standpoint of capital, the wage (or income more generally) does not define exploitation, it hides it. From the standpoint of workers the wage is first and foremost a weapon and a measure of working-class power. In these terms Marx’s comments on the limits to workers’ wages is a commentary on the limits to their power. In these terms, relative surplus value strategies and the Keynesian productivity deals are reflections of the ability of workers to expand that power.

The saddest part of Marxist underconsumptionist theory is its insistence on focusing on the limits to workers’ power rather than on its absolute and relative extent. This is a criticism to which Marx was partially, but only partially, open. His theory of relative surplus value and its recognition of the way workers can successfully expand their wage and their power balances his remarks on the limits to consumption and helps us to keep them in perspective. In the wake of Ford and Keynes, Marx would have no problem recognizing the institutionalization of relative surplus value and analyzing its implications. The failure of contemporary underconsumptionist Marxists to do this is a striking limitation to their work. The analysis of the absolute rise in working class income leads to an understanding of how the struggle for wages, while perhaps bound for a while within capitalist accumulation, can create, and indeed has created, a sufficient base to break free of those constraints and rupture both relative surplus value and accumulation in such a manner as to precipitate crisis. Because they recognize this, the relative shares theorists constitute a decided advance over the class myopia of the under-consumptionists.

Relative Shares and Class Struggle

Underconsumptionism’s dismal view of workers’ ability to raise their share of value derives, at least in part, from Marx himself. Although his theory of relative surplus value allowed for increases in the standard of living of the working class, his discussion in chapter 25 of Capital and in Wages, Prices and Profit was explicit in arguing that any time workers were able to raise wages enough to undermine profits, capitalists could successfully use crisis and expanded unemployment to force wages down again. While pessimistic, this argument was clearly based on Marx’s observations of nineteenth-century business cycles and the downward flexibility of wages. There is nothing in Marx’s theory that precludes workers achieving enough power to impose downward inflexibility of wages as they did after the Great Depression.

As was noted in the last section, Marx’s theory of relative surplus value certainly allows for the possibility of state management of a link between wage growth and productivity growth-a characteristic of the Keynesian solution to the rise of militant industrial unionism and the social conflicts of the 1930s.

One can also imagine that Marx would not have been surprised to observe that workers, by the late 1960s, after two decades of rising wages, were able through their political recomposition both within and without the factory to mobilize enough power to rupture the Keynesian productivity deal and throw capital into crisis. Although he did not foresee such developments, there is, again, nothing in his theory that precludes them, and there is much that helps us analyze these developments politically.

In the first place, what is called a “profits squeeze” in the relative shares literature takes the form, in Marxian terms, of a fall in the rate of relative surplus value-a clear sign, as the relative shares theorists recognize, of an increase in working-class power in the class struggle.

But two criticisms could be addressed to the profits squeeze theorists. First, although they focused on the factory labor force, their emphasis on accelerating wage growth was not accompanied by an analysis of the other side of the break-down of the productivity deal: the crisis in productivity. This neglect perhaps flowed from their emphasis on the sphere of circulation and their failure to explore the crisis in the sphere of production. Second, their focus on the factory meant that they failed to develop an analysis of working-class recomposition at the level of social capital, that is, an analysis that took account of struggles in the sphere of reproduction and their impact on struggles in the sphere of production.

Both of these aspects of crisis were analyzed by Marxists working within the alternative framework proposed here. Analyses of the way in which class struggle had ruptured accumulation in both production and reproduction was developed by Italian Marxists of the “autonomy” school in the late 1960s and by American Marxists associated with Zerowork in the early 1970s. The first issue of Zerowork containing detailed arguments along these lines appeared in December 1975. The arguments contained in the articles of that issue were historically grounded in case studies of private (auto, coal mining) and public (post office, welfare programs) sectors, of production and reproduction (education, community). In case after case the articles showed how workers’ struggles had grown, circulated, and ruptured accumulation, forcing crisis on capital. Finally, they showed how these struggles created crisis for capital not only at the national but also at the international level. Comparable recognition of the importance of the interrelationship between struggles in production and reproduction later found its way into the writing of the American wing of the relative shares school (Gintis and Bowles, 1982; Piven and Cloward, 1982).

Today, considerable work has been done within the framework of this approach that has undoubtedly contributed to our understanding of the present crisis. To date, however, only the work of the Marxists in the alternative interpretation I have been exploring have rooted their work on the present crisis in a reinterpretation of the theoretical categories of Marx. Whether the relative shares authors will follow their lead remains to be seen.


To end this essay let us return now to the problem of appropriation raised in the beginning and ask whether, or to what degree, the alternative interpretation of Marxian crisis theory represented here is subject to the same criticism I have leveled at the theories of Marxist economists.

In the formulation and discussion of a political reading of Marx, I have sought a transparent language to discuss the various aspects of class struggles. By adopting a transparent language that makes the political class content of every concept and theory explicit, this kind of exposition would seem to make the material as accessible to capitalist ideologues as to the working class. Does not the form of this interpretation leave it even more open to capitalist appropriation than the jargon of Marxist economists? As far as the choice of language and style is concerned, I think the answer must be positive.

The content of this interpretation, however, is not likely to be of any use to capital. Capitalist ideologues and planners know there is a class struggle. They don’t talk about it because they try to hide its existence. Indeed they have developed their own obfuscating languages to keep it hidden. The working class become “labor” or “human capital.” Class relations are replaced by those between individuals and decision makers. In macro theory the class struggle is reduced to the union bargaining of labor economics. And so on. Therefore, even if they agree with the basic thrust of this analysis, and I think that in their own way some do, they are not going to adopt any of these formulations precisely because they are too transparent!

Capitalist economists know that there are problems in orchestrating the distribution of resources among spheres of production. They have, as we have seen, developed planning models to help them intervene where their micro theory or their experience indicates that market forces are inadequate. Nothing has been said, or is likely to be said, in this approach to Marx that would facilitate that process.

They also know that workers’ struggles push capitalists into the development of new technologies and the reorganization of production. The economists among them may only discuss this in terms of relative prices and marginal rates of technical substitution, but that is just their jargon for analyzing the issue. Industrial engineers, industrial sociologists, and labor-relations experts are all hard at work grappling with the problem and trying to help business manage such change. I do not believe that my formulation of the tendency of the organic composition of capital to rise can teach them anything useful about how to deal with the problem.

Similarly, mainstream economists concerned with macro policies of employment, micro policies of manpower planning, or corporate-level negotiations over job displacement and retraining are all too aware of the problem of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, even though they don’t call it that. As early as 1930 Keynes (1931) had realized the importance of this phenomenon. He spoke of the “new disease” of technological unemployment, of “unemployment due to our discovery of means of economizing the use of labor outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses of labor.” He even saw, as Marx had before him, the possibility of postcapitalist freedom from work. Unlike Marx, of course, he spent the rest of his life trying to preserve capitalism rather than trying to overthrow it.

Later, the acceleration of automation in the late 1950s produced another moment of capitalist, and worker, awareness of this tendency. The solution that emerged was the rise of a more labor-intensive service sector which has absorbed a rising percentage of the labor force and has provided most of the jobs for new entrants during the last twenty years.

More recently, spurred by the rapid advances in automation and robotization, economists and a variety of futurologists have become terribly worried about not being able to find jobs for either the present or the emerging labor force. Although not all of the problems of un- and underemployment can be attributed to labor-displacing technological change, enough are to warrant growing alarm among capitalist planners. These worries, and our opportunities, are particularly great because the new forms of automation are being extended to the service sector as well as to manufacturing.[25]

In short, this reinterpretation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a tendency of class struggle to undermine capital’s ability to impose work offers no help to capital because they are already aware of the problem. It does clarify for us about the importance and implications of the struggle against work, and it identifies the misdirections and obfuscations of some Marxist crisis theories.

As to the theory of underconsumption, when we interpret it as one aspect of the contradictions of capitalist accumulation and of the limits to workers’ power, it provides us with a useful argument for justifying wage and benefit increases to provide a spur to “economic” growth. At the same time, it provides nothing new to capital, which long ago absorbed the concept and, through Keynes, discovered how to put it to good use.

As to the considerations of the meaning of rising absolute wages to which the theory of underconsumption can lead, we can draw conclusions quite different from those of either Marxist economists or Critical Theorists. While rising income provides markets for capitalist realization and possible cultural mechanisms of domination, it also leads, even in the case of productivity deals, to changes in the content of workers’ desires for wealth and leisure and to changes in their ability to fight for what they want. Rising wealth leads to increased desire for the time to put it to use. Simultaneously, this improvement of material condition helps workers undercut the relative surplus value strategies of capital. This is a problem capital is again aware of, but one to which too many Marxists have been blind. Once again it points to the centrality of the struggle against work as a Daslc element or worKlng-class strategy.

In the case of the relative shares theory of crisis, I have already pointed out some of its merits as well as some of its limitations. Probably the most important of the latter concerns the failure to ground the theory in the kind of reinterpretation of Marxian theoretical categories I have outlined here. Especially serious is the failure to recognize that the social struggles that have ruptured the productivity deal and brought on the current crisis have had as a central concern the struggle against work and for self-development. Among the social democratic wing of the relative shares theorists this is probably inevitable because there is no evidence that they understand the central function of work in structuring capitalist society, and therefore they do not conceive of the transition to socialism as involving the liberation of human beings from imposed work. They are more inclined to embrace the traditional perspective that socialism is defined in terms of workers controlling work rather than abolishing it. This naturally leads to their preoccupation with “workers’ control” and “economic democracy” (Carnoy and Shearer, 1980; Espinoza and Zimbalist, 1978). This is one reason their politics are social democratic rather than revolutionary. It also illustrates one way capital can use a Marxist crisis theory based on class struggle. If that theory fails to identify and clarify some fundamentally antagonistic quality of the struggle, such as the struggle against work, then it will not escape instrumentalization.

In conclusion, I have tried to demonstrate that while the bulk of Marxist crisis theory has been cast more in the language of economics than in the political language of class struggle, it is still possible to develop an interpretation of Marx wherein his work retains its revolutionary content. It is this approach that holds the only hope of escaping the easily appropriated confines of “economics” and gives us at least a chance to develop Marxist theory as a working-class weapon within the crisis.


1. So pervasive has the rise of Marxism been in American universities that OIlman and Vernoff have called it a “cultural revolution.’ and documented it in their book The Left Academy (1982). In terms of Thomas Kuhn’s analysis of emerging paradigms, the last few years have seen Marxism achieve all the trappings of recognized academic legitimacy: specialized journals, professional organizations, tenured professors, and credited courses of study.

2. Economists long ago abandoned serious discussion of Marx’s labor theory of value --the theoretical core of most of his work in “economics.” At the threshold of the Marxist “cultural revolution, in the early 1960s, there was only one well-known, tenured Marxist professor of economics in the United States: Paul Baran at Stanford, who died in 1964. As a result, the present generation of Marxists is largely self-taught.

3. When Ollman and Vernoff say, in their introduction to The Left Academy (p. 2), that “a space opened up within the university for critical thinking” we need to remember that we were the ones who carved out that space through our struggles. When the struggle is abandoned the space often closes down dramatically. What has not yet been written in the history of Marxist studies is a serious evaluation of both the strategies that were successful in opening up space and those that were not.

4. The influence of business on the structure and content of American education has been one of the phenomena most thoroughly studied by the new radical Marxist students and professors. See Bowles and Gintis (1975), Spring (1972), and Carnoy (1974). It is the omnipresence of that influence that should make us ask why business would tolerate overtly anti-capitalist Marxist teaching in the university.

5. Marcuse’s analysis of “repressive tolerance” involves the idea that the establishment tolerates difference in order to domesticate and neutralize it, to keep it off the streets and safely tucked away in the cloister of academia (Wolf, Moore, and Marcuse, 1965).

6. The need for new ideas has stemmed from the crisis of theory that has been part of the current economic and social crisis of the system. In economics this has mainly concerned the crisis of the Keynesian paradigm which dominated policy making and academic textbooks for almost thirty years.

7. One important attempt to use Marx to help plan capitalist accumulation was during the 1920s when Soviet economists drew on Marx’s schemes of expanded reproduction to develop models to guide Soviet policy makers. One such attempt by Feldman was interesting enough to draw the attention of Evsey Domar (1957), the well-known Western growth theorist. In the West there has been a parallel history of building on Marx. The seminal moment of this history was the development of input/output analysis by Wassily Leontief, who based himself partly on Marx’ s work. For some assessment of the history and import of this appropriation of Marx see Leontief (1938), the essays in Horowitz (1968), and Kuhne (1979).

8. From about 1970 on the American Economic Association made space in its annual meetings for papers by radical economists or for discussions of the development of Marxist economics. The curious reader has only to peruse the annual May issue of the American Economic Review, which contains the proceedings of the annual meetings, to verify this radical presence. Also see Bronfenbrenner (1970) and the debate around Gurley (1971). Two surveys of Marxist work in the business press are BusinessWeek (1975) and Wall Street Journal (1975).

9. There are two aspects of a theory that influence the facility of its appropriation by capital: its content and its form. If the content of a theory is focused on the same problems as bourgeois theories, if the theory defines its subject the same way bourgeois writers do, comparison and evaluation come easily. If the focus and problematic are different, however, the relevance is not so apparent. Similarly, if the form of analysis is the same, if the language and methods are the same, then even if some core theoretical concepts are different (say, the concept of value), it is easy for mainstream observers to follow the arguments and to look for new insights that might inform their own work.

10. See Sweezy’s summary of Tugan’s position in Sweezy (1942).

11. See Sweezy’s outline of the debate in Sweezy (1942).

12. Fe1dman’s model is reformulated and examined by Evsey Domar (1957: chap. 9). This article, also referred to in note 7 above, is paradigmatic for seeing how bourgeois economists sometimes try to learn from Marxists. “It seems to me,” Domar writes, “worth while to explore a growth model constructed on a Marxist foundation, even if modified, and to show its relation to a corresponding Keynesian one. may be o fuse in unraveling a few puzzles in Soviet economic development and in achieving abetter understanding of Soviet economic thinking. It also raises some questions regarding economic development in general” (p. 228).

13. The key part of Tronti ( 1966) that concerns the interpretation of the schemes of reproduction was translated and published in English (Tronti, 1973).

14. See, for example, Okun and Perry (1970) and Nordhaus (1974).

15. For further references to the writers and works associated with this approach to Marxism see the footnotes to the introduction of Cleaver (1979).

16. The 11th Thesis on Feuerbach reads: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world “ differently, the point is, to change it.”

17. This critique of Critical Theory is elaborated at greater length in Cleaver (1979).

18. Red Notes (1980) and Semiotext(e) (1980) are both collections of translated articles from the “autonomist” wing of Italian Marxism. Negri (1984) is a translation of Negri’s book Marx Oltre Marx, which consists of a series of lectures on the Grundrisse.

19. See in addition to previous references Sweezy (1942; 1974), Alberro and Persky (1979), and Hunt (1983).

20. The whole enormous literature of the “transformation problem"--the problem of transforming Marx’s value quantities into prices-- stems from two sources. The first is the one here: the perception that the theory of the tendency refers to monetary rates of profit. The second is the perception that Marxian “economics” should be able to do all that mainstream economics does, especially explain relative prices. The long debate on this issue is rendered irrelevant if we recognize that Marx’s theory has a totally different object from that of mainstream economics. While mainstream economics is designed to provide necessary information to the capitalist and policy maker about the operation of the system, e.g., market prices, Marxian theory was designed to help overthrow the system as a whole. For such different objectives one needs quite different theories. The one should not be judged by the criteria of the other.

21. Much debate has taken place concerning the meaning of the “organic composition of capital and it has had considerable influence on the debate over the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In Capital, however, in both volumes 1 and 3, Marx is explicit that the organic composition is the value composition insofar as it reflects the technical composition-that is, insofar as changes in the organic composition reflect changes in the concrete relations of labor and machinery. See, for example, Marx (1977: chap. 25). Therefore the organic composition rises always and only when capital introduces new machinery to raise productivity. For a discussion of the impact of this on the composition of power relations among workers and between workers and capital see Cleaver (1979: 112-14).

22. Marx’s most vivid and clear statement of this process can be found in the Grundrisse (Marx, 1973: 699-715).

23. In the jargon of macroeconomics, which they sometimes use, they are discussing the limits to raising the consumption function, the investment function, and the government expenditure function in order to increase aggregate demand. See Baran and Sweezy : ; (1964).

24. Among the most vivid of their condemnations can be found in Baran (1957).

25. The literature on the current wave of automation is enormous, but for an overview see the special issue of Scientific American (1982) on “the mechanization of work.”


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