Radical Political Economy: Explorations in Alternative Economic Analysis

By Victor D. Lippit | Go to book overview

17
Marxian Crisis Theory and the Contradictions of Late Twentieth-Century Capitalism

Thomas E. Weisskopf

In this paper I raise the following question: does Marxian crisis theory provide a useful framework within which to analyze late twentieth-century capitalism? My answer, baldly put, is no. Not that contemporary capitalism is free of any crisis tendencies; quite the contrary. But the kind of crisis tendencies on which Marxian crisis theory has focused attention are, I believe, becoming less and less relevant to contemporary capitalist societies, while different sources of capitalist crisis are becoming increasingly significant. Indeed, I will argue that to gain an understanding of the type of generalized crisis to which the advanced capitalist nations are likely to become increasingly vulnerable in the future, we must look not to Karl Marx but to David Ricardo and to Karl Polanyi.

I begin in section 1 with a review of Marxian crisis theory in its various formulations, drawing both on Marx's own writings and on the writings of contemporary Marxian scholars. In section 2, I address two key questions: is late twentieth-century capitalism significantly different than the capitalism that developed in the early decades following World War II, and is it possible that the world capitalist system is now emerging from the generalized economic crisis which plagued it in the 1970s and at least the early 1980s? Tentatively affirmative answers to these questions lead me in section 3 to suggest that changes in the internal character and external environment of the capitalist system have rendered Marxian crisis theory increasingly irrelevant as a basis for analyzing the

____________________
This paper was originally presented at the conference "Marxism Now: Traditions and Difference," 30 November-2 December 1989, at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. I am grateful to Sam Bowles, David Gordon, Ron Caplan, and Bruce Norton for their constructive comments on an earlier draft, but I remain solely responsible for this final version. Reprinted with permission from Rethinking Marxism, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Winter 1991).

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