An Introductory Explanation of Capitalist Economic Crises
This is an introduction to “my” version of the Marxist
theory of capitalist economic crises. (I put the “my” in quotes because I have learned it
primarily from reading Marx. However, you will also find the strands of several other,
quite different, crisis theories in Marx’s writings, and other Marxists today, following
those other strands, have very different crisis theories.) In addition to the basic theory
of economic crises put forward here, I have also included chapters on how economic crises
have changed during the imperialist era, on the Great Depression of the 1930s, and on
what I view as a long-developing new economic crisis which I predict will relatively soon
become comparable to the Great Depression itself.
What are the major tasks of Marxist political economy
today? I believe that the following list encompasses many of the most important ones:
To further defend, explicate and develop the theory of capitalist economic
crises. This continues to be of great importance because of the unfinished state
of Marx’s work on this topic, because of some new phenomena or characteristics
of capitalism and capitalist crises in the imperialist era, and because of all
the many continuing disputes in this area.
To explain why the Great Depression of the 1930s was so qualitatively more
severe than previous economic crises.
To explain how and why the Great Depression ended. (I.e., was it Keynesian
“pump-priming”, or World War II, or something else that did it?)
To explain why the Great Depression did not resume after the end of
World War II.
To explain the long post-World War II capitalist boom. (Not only did the
Depression of the 1930s not resume, but there was actually a rapid and powerful
new expansion of capitalist production during this period.)
To explain why the recessions which have occurred since World War II have
been so mild compared with the Great Depression.
To explain why the quarter-century post-World War II boom came to an end
in the early 1970s, and the long “slow down” that has continued since that
To analyze the current long-term economic crisis as it continues to develop,
and to predict, at least in rough outline, what will happen with the U.S.
and world economy over the next few decades. And to predict how this current
crisis might ultimately be resolved, or at least outline several plausible
To critique Soviet-style state monopoly capitalism. To show what it amounted
to, and to deepen the Marxist understanding of capitalism in general based on
the experience of this new form of capitalism, including our understanding of
overall capitalist economic crisis theory.
To properly sum up all this “globalization” business that we hear so much
about today. (And to examine any hypothesized claims of fundamental changes or
“new stages” to capitalism or capitalist-imperialism.)
To more thoroughly explain exactly how imperialist countries exploit the rest
of the world.
To resolve the “transformation problem” and fix any real problems (if they
truly exist) with the Labor Theory of Value.
To futher develop a genuinely Marxist political economy appropriate for
socialist society (i.e., the socialist transition period to communist society).
This essay addresses the first 8 topics, and makes a
start toward addressing the 9th. The rest of these topics will have to be
This essay will be more intelligible if you have some
familiarity with basic Marxist terminology regarding dialectical contradictions and a
few basic terms of political economy, such as ‘commodity’ and ‘productive forces’—though
I will try to briefly explain a number of terms as I go along. It is also very helpful
to already have some notion of ‘surplus value’, the most central concept in Marxist
political economy. This draft is still being worked on and is subject to further revision
and expansion. Criticisms and suggestions are welcome!
Chapter I: The Basic Contradictions Underlying Capitalist Economic Crises
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