New Heinrich Article on Crisis.

This Month’s issue of the Monthly Review has a new article by Michael Heinrich on Marx’s crisis theory:

In Marx’s work, no final presentation of his theory of crisis can be found. Instead, there are various approaches to explain crises. In the twentieth century, the starting point for Marxist debates on crisis theory was the third volume of Capital, the manuscript of which was written in 1864–1865. Later, attention was directed towards the theoretical considerations on crisis in the Theories of Surplus-Value, written in the period between 1861 and 1863. Finally, the Grundrisse of 1857–1858 also came into view, which today plays a central role in the understanding of Marx’s crisis theory for numerous authors. Thus, starting with Capital, the debate gradually shifted its attention to earlier texts. With the Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), all of the economic texts written by Marx between the late 1860s and the late 1870s are now available. Along with his letters, these texts allow for an insight into the development of Marx’s theoretical considerations on crisis after 1865.

Read the rest.

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11 Responses to New Heinrich Article on Crisis.

  1. CB says:

    I subscribe to MR, so I had already read this before you linked it – but I’m glad you’re spreading the word. It seems to be that ultimately Heinrich is claiming that the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was no mostly rejected by Marx, or at least seen by Marx as obsolete. But, Capital Vol III was published with the law intact giving us the illusion that Marx believed this theory to be true up until the day he died. Now what’s odd to me is that I know a few Marxist economist have been able to employ the law with great success (See Kliman’s failure of capitalist production – a fantastic book). Is it possible that the law happens to operate, albeit Marx thought it didn’t?

    • HR says:

      Interesting question. I would say two things:

      (1) It seems to me that Heinrich’s criticizes the law on the grounds of its ability for predict the future. I have not read Kliman, but in my understanding, his account is based on an empirical investigation of recent economic history where he argues that the rate of profit fell. So on these grounds you could saw that the rate of profit fell during a historical period, but that it is not a law of capitalist valorisation.

      (2) However, I believe that Heinrich, Mattick and others criticize Kliman’s account because of how he translates Marx’s categories into statistical categories. For instance, Mattick argues that Kliman can calculate national or local rates of profit as he does since Marx’s analysis is based on an account of a global rate of profit which would be calculated differently.

  2. CB says:

    In regards to 1) my understanding -having not read Vol III- is that Marx puts in approximately 6 other variables that can offset the tendency. Kliman points out that when the profit rate isn’t falling in certain periods, some of these variables are in play. Of course you’re right, he uses it as an explanatory tool, and not one that can make precise prediction. But if the explanation is correct, certain conclusions must follow, e.g., if we don’t surmount the underlining problem that is causing a fall in the rate of profit, we’ll continue to have finance bubbles and recessions.

    2) I think Kliman acknowledges this and says it’s the best he can do given the available data. It’s not a machination, but working with what you’ve got; and since governments, corporations, and think tanks don’t translate economic data into proper Marxian categories, it’s always a work in progress.

  3. Doug Henwood has made the point before (in the link before, and in other places) that the problem with all these attempts to empirically track the rate of profit is that everybody has a different method of calculating it, because “rate of profit” is not really a category of most official statistics.

    So in this article, Henwood actually charts a rise in the rate of profit.

    http://lbo-news.com/2012/06/26/profitability-high-and-maybe-past-its-peak/

    I think this aligns with Heinrich’s point, which is that it’s kind of meaningless to refer to something like a “law” when you hedge it with so many countervailing factors that can be operating at any given time. The “law” says that the rate of profit will tend to fall, except when it doesn’t. That’s totally meaningless.

  4. CB says:

    That’s not quite what it says, and it’s certainly not meaningless to apply variables that make a law express itself differently. This is actually the norm in all science…..Laws are isolated and understood in closed systems (narrow experiements), but generally operate in open systems where numerous variables impact their functioning.

    The law of gravity says things will fall in the direction of the object with the most mass, unless of course they don’t (because we put rockets on them). Therefore it’s totally meaningless – by your logic.

  5. I think the comparison with the natural sciences is strained. In a natural science context, you can strip away variables to observe a phenomenon operating in a more or less “pure” form. You can see the law of gravity operating, again and again and again, and it will keep operating *until* you put a rocket on something.

    In a context of social phenomena with multiple complex determinations, what does it mean to speak of a “law”? You can’t strip away the various complex determinations that constitute the capitalist totality, because those determinations *are* the totality. (I’m probably revealing my incorrigible “Althusserianism” here).

  6. CB says:

    Negative Potential,
    It may be strained but ultimately I think it’s exactly the type of process Marx is putting forth. In every section of Capital Vol I-III, he always takes some idea (e.g., wages, profits, costs), and attempts to discuss them in a pure form. And then he’ll slowly add in more external factors, and place the concept back into an open system (the totality). All of Capital I is about production independent of credit, the capitalist cycle, etc. I mean we all know the old criticism that Marx predicted an absolute decline in wages, and an increase in worker misery – as being false – is only a correct claim if you ignore how he set up the chapter; which was to present wages in their ‘pure’ form, before adding rockets, and other variables to them.

    Of course we all know too that Marx did not think any of his laws of capital were laws like gravity, hence why the law is really a ‘tendency.’

    I’ve been reading a lot of Althusser lately, and I don’t see a contradiction between how Marx analyzes concepts in Capital, and the cross over to science.

  7. CB says:

    p.s. I asked HR this earlier, but who are the best contemporary Althusserian’s currently active in academia? I find his theory of overdetermination and ideology to be fascinating, albeit I dislike his anti-humanism…

  8. CB, I disagree with you about Marx’s methodology, so that might be the source of our disagreement.

    I don’t think Marx’s presentation is intended to be something like positivist science, basically isolating bits and pieces that are coherent in and of themselves, and then simply adding further factors that complicate the picture.

    Rather, if the meaning of the word “dialectical” with regard to Marx’s presentation has any meaning, it consists in precisely the fact that none of the phenomena that Marx treats in the course of his account exists for itself. Each category presupposes the other category. Starting with the simplest categories of value and abstract labor in Chapter One, which are not “base” categories from which others are simply “derived”, but which are rather obtain their efficacy and coherence from the more “complex” categories that follow.

    On your second question regarding “Althusserians”, well I meant that as sort of a joke, since I kind of hate these artificial “Hegelian/Spinozan, Adornian/Althusserian, humanist/anti-humanist” dichotomies, but in terms of thinkers influenced by Althusser, I like Jannis Milios.

  9. CB says:

    I should not have used the word pure, which is probably leading to your positivist assumption. I have no disagreement with your dialectical analysis. What I meant by isolation was that capitalism is always in motion and flux. In order to elucidate certain aspects of capitalism, Marx has to somewhat makes things stationary momentarily during certain points of analysis. This is not to deny that any definition is always referencing back to a totality though, but much of Marx’s analysis is frequently ceteris paribus.

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