The Roots of Capitalist Crisis - Part 2:
The Immanent Barrier to Market Expansion

In Part One of this text we saw how, in the capitalist process of production, the creation of surplus-value tends to grow slower than is required for its accumulation. That is the first root-cause of capitalism's historic crisis. The substitution of human labour by machines, which inevitably sets the profit-rate on a downward course, implies a continuous expansion of the scale of production. We have seen that this expansion does not neutralize the falling rate of profit. But that doesn't diminish the pressure on every capital to pursue it, if it wants to survive. The expansion of the scale of production implies a need for the market to expand accordingly. But the more it does, the more it comes into conflict with the other root cause of capitalism's crisis: the immanent barrier to its market expansion, imposed by its own relations of production.

"The production of surplus-value completes but the first act of the capitalist process of production -the direct production process. (..) Now comes the second act of the process. The entire mass of commodities, i.e., the total product, including the portion which replaces the constant and variable capital, and that representing surplus-value, must be sold. If this is not done, or done only in part, or only at prices below the prices of production, the labourer has indeed been exploited, but his exploitation is not realised as such for the capitalist. (..) The conditions of direct exploitation, and those of realising it, are not identical. They diverge not only in place and time, but also logically. The first are only limited by the productive power of society, the latter by the proportional relation of the various branches of production and the consumer power of society. But this last-named is not determined either by the absolute productive power, or by the absolute consumer power, but by the consumer power based on antagonistic conditions of distribution, which reduce the consumption of the bulk of society to a minimum varying within more or less narrow limits. It is furthermore restricted by the tendency to accumulate, the drive to expand capital and produce surplus-value on an extended scale. This is law for capitalist production, imposed by incessant revolutions in the methods of production themselves, by the depreciation of existing capital always bound up with them, by the general competitive struggle and the need to improve production and expand its scale, merely as a means of self-preservation and under penalty of ruin. The market must, therefore, be continuously extended (..) But the more productivity develops, the more it finds itself at variance with the narrow basis on which the conditions of consumption rest." (1)

This narrow basis is shaped by the income structure resulting from the relations of production. Yet this contradiction becomes manifest, not in the direct production-process, but in the process of circulation, which Marx defined as "the reproduction process of capital as a whole." The circulation-process must assure that capital obtains the necessary machinery, materials and labour-power for the next cycle of expanded production. The contradiction is thus related to, but distinct from, the other root-cause of capitalist crisis, the fall of the profit-rate, which is situated in the direct production-process. The fall of the profit-rate leads itself directly to problems in the sphere of realisation: if capitalists have not enough profit to make the necessary investments, obviously, their demand contracts and other capitalists will be unable to sell to them, and therefore unable to realise all the value contained in their own commodities, so that their own profits and thus their demand, decline too. But, as we've seen in the first part, this in itself should not impede the realisation of the bulk of the value produced, and should therefore not lead to a global crisis.

But capitalism faces another obstacle to the conversion of its commodities into new productive capital: the immanent barrier that its system imposes on consumption. The fall of the rate of profit and this barrier on consumption result from the same conditions: the capitalist relations of production and the rise of the organic composition of capital. But these lead, on one hand, to a widening gap between the quantity of surplus-value produced and the quantity of surplus-value needed for accumulation, and, on the other, a widening gap between the ever larger quantity of commodities produced and the quantity of the demand for them.

"Since the aim of capital is not to minister to certain wants, but to produce profit, and since it accomplishes this purpose by methods which adapt the mass of production to the scale of production, not vice versa, a rift must continually ensue between the limited dimensions of consumption under capitalism and a production which forever tends to exceed this immanent barrier." (2) Marxist theory must do what Marx himself intended to do but couldn't (3): integrate both fundamental contradictions in a coherent crisis-theory that gives adequate weight to both factors and explains their interaction. Insofar as there is real debate on crisis-theory amongst revolutionary Marxists (alas, very little, despite the fact that it is the linchpin of their message) each side tends to see only one contradiction and ignore the other, while both confusing the frameworks of individual capitals and capital as a whole, with inevitably disastrous results for their overall understanding of the unfolding of capitalism's historic crisis. When Marx states "production determines the market, as well as the market determines production" (4), each camp in this debate hears only half of what he's saying. One side, the Luxemburgists and others focusing exclusively on realisation-problems, can't accept the first half: that production determines the market and that, therefore, an expansion of the scale of production also brings about an expansion of the market. Contrary to what they think the immanent barrier to market expansion is not static and can't be understood without grasping the dynamics of the production process. The other side, of which Paul Mattick has been the best-known theoretician, believes that the fall of the profit-rate is the only barrier to capital accumulation, and can't therefore accept the implications of the second half of Marx’s statement, that the market determines production, and that therefore the narrow basis on which this market rests, can become an insurmountable obstacle for the accumulation of capital, which is forced by the tendential fall of the profit-rate to expand continuously.

The limits on the expansion of productive consumption

According to Mattick, "so long as capitalist accumulation meets no obstacle, there exists no realization problem." (5) This seems tautological, if you believe, with Marx, that realisation problems are themselves an obstacle to accumulation. Marx emphasized numerous times that the high rate of accumulation to which capitalism is forced must come into conflict with the relative decline of the demand for the necessities of life, which results not only from exploitation, but also from the relative decline of variable capital in the production process. But when Mattick speaks of an obstacle to accumulation, he refers only to the fall in the rate of profit. Of course he recognizes the growing rift between production and consumption in general but, to him, this rift does not cause realisation problems because the movement of capital between the different sectors of production maintains a proportionality between them so that, when overproduction lowers the profit-rate on the production of consumer goods, capital moves away from his sector to the production of constant capital, and restores the balance. The market for consumer goods shrinks relatively, but this corresponds to the faster growth rate of constant capital (and thus of the market for it) because of the rising organic composition (we will discuss this question of proportionality later). The divergence between production and consumption is for Mattick thus only a cause of crisis in the very broad sense that it shows that capitalism "is a social order antagonistic to the satisfaction of actual and potential social needs" but it does not impede accumulation. As long as there is enough surplus-value extracted, capitalism can continue to expand its constant capital and the market for consumer goods will follow pace.

Although he denies it, this puts him squarely against Marx, for whom the barrier to the expansion of demand for the necessities of life, inevitably implies a barrier to the expansion of demand for constant capital, and thus a barrier for accumulation. So where Marx writes "constant capital is never produced for its own sake but solely because more of it is needed in spheres of production whose products go into individual consumption" (Cap, volume 3), Mattick comments that this is "either an error of judgment or unclear writing", since that would make Marx and "underconsumptionist".(6) There is, however, nothing unclear in this statement. Capitalism may behave as if the production of exchange-value is independent from use-values and it may even prosper for decades because of it, but eventually the dependence reasserts itself. If that is an "error of judgment", Marx made it many times. Such as in this famous passage:

"The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa; the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital, resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers, can also move - these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means - unconditional development of the productive forces of society - comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital." (7)

So was Marx an "under-consumptionist"? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that he believed that:

"the ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses, in face of the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit." (8)

No, because he understood that the cause of under-consumption lies in the very heart of the capitalist mode of production, in the basic mechanism of its production and circulation-process, and therefore cannot be remedied without destroying capitalism. On those who believed otherwise, and their leftists descendants who continue to hype the demagogic myth that the crisis could be solved through a transfer of purchasing power from the rich to the poor, he heaped scorn:

"It is pure tautology to say that the crises are provoked by a lack of effective demand or effective consumption. The capitalist system does not recognize any forms of consumer other than those who can pay, if we exclude the consumption of paupers and swindlers. The fact that commodities are unsaleable means no more than that no effective buyers have been found for them, i.e. no consumers. If the attempt is made to give this tautology the semblance of greater profundity, by the statement that the working class receives too small a portion of its own product, and that the evil would remedied if it received a bigger share, i.e. if its wages rose, we need only note that crises are always prepared by a period in which wages generally rise, and the working class actually does receive a greater share in the part of the annual product destined for consumption. From the standpoint of these advocates of sound and 'simple' (!) common sense, such periods should rather avert the crises. It does appear that capitalist production involves certain conditions independent of people's good or bad intentions, which permit the relative prosperity of the working class only temporarily, and moreover always as a harbinger of crisis." (9)

Marx paints with a broad brush here; his statement could be nuanced by pointing to moments when low wage-levels worsened and prolonged crises. But in general he is absolutely right. There are several reasons why crises cannot be avoided by raising the purchasing power of the working class.

First, the relative decline of human labour in the production process, and therefore the relative decline of consumer demand of the working class (its share in the total output) is synonymous with the capitalist accumulation process itself and thus beyond the reach of policy-makers.

Second: as we have seen, the cost of restoring and maintaining labour-power determines its value and price (the wage) and thus also the consumer power of the working class. The value of the labour-power above the wage-costs is the surplus-value, the source of the capitalist's profit. Giving a part of that to the working class to increase its effective demand, can therefore only reinforce the tendency of the profit-rate to fall, reduce productive investment and accelerate the crisis rather than avoid it.

Third: the working class spends more or less the totality of its wages on necessities of life (10) since the need of these determine the value of its labour-power. If it were to receive a substantial amount above that, it would spend it not on necessities but on luxury-items. That would be fine for the capitalists producing these commodities, eliminating for them all realisation-problems. But for capitalism as a whole, this increased spending would have on balance a detrimental impact on its accumulation process.

"If accumulation is to take place, part of the surplus product must be transformed into capital. But short of a miracle, only those things can be transformed into capital which are utilisable in the labour process (i.e. the means of production), and in addition such articles which are suitable for the maintenance of the worker (i.e. the means of subsistence). Consequently, part of the annual surplus labour must be applied to the production of supplementary means of subsistence, over and above the quantity that was requisite for the replacement of the capital advanced. In a word, surplus-value is only convertible into capital because the surplus product whose value it is already contains the material constituents of new capital." (11)

The smaller the share of the surplus product that consists of luxury-products and other commodities (such as military hardware) that cannot be transformed into new capital, the greater the share that goes to accumulation. Conversely, the larger the share of luxury-commodities and other "sterile" production, the less of the total surplus product can consist of new means of production and means of subsistence to hire more labourers, hence, the slower the rate of accumulation and the more pronounced the fall of the rate of profit.

The fact that an increased level of consumption of the working class cannot solve the crisis and can even aggravate it, does in no way invalidate the workers’ struggle to raise the wage-level. Apart from the fact that this struggle is usually defensive (i.e. against the lowering of their income) from a communist point of view, its ultimate significance lies not in its immediate results but in the fact that the class consciousness and organisation needed to destroy capitalism, can only develop in a movement that has the economic struggle as its starting point. But precisely because its only real gain is the development of class consciousness, communists must resolutely refuse to sell the demagogic illusion that the economic struggle can in itself halt the crisis and its resulting decline in the living standard of the working class, short of a revolution.

If the increase of consumption by the workers can bring no relief, what about increased consumption by the capitalist class? The question is more realistic, since it is the capitalist class that obtains the surplus-value, not the workers, and which therefore has the choice on how to spend it. One group who seems to think that increased consumption of the capitalist class would provide a solution, if only this class had the physical capacity to consume more, is the ICC. In its American publication Internationalism, it responds to a reader's question on the possibility of capitalist market-expansion, first by pointing out that, if wages were raised above their value, profits would decline.

"Hence, the workers as a class cannot buy the full output of their labour. Then, who will buy the fruit of capitalist production equivalent to the surplus-value? How can the capitalist class realize its profits by turning the surplus-value into money on the market? Capitalists can't do it themselves globally. They are too small as a sector of society to consume the huge supply of surplus-value congealed in the commodities produced by modern industry. Even if a capitalist buys millions of cans of soup, the soup is not consumed. It remains capital available to be resold should market conditions make this favorable. The capitalist and his children cannot eat enough soup to overcome the market glut." (12)

This may win a prize for the most original explanation of the explosive growth in the number of soup kitchens in recent decades. But as an explanation of the causes of capitalism's crisis, this soup is just hot water. Suppose that the capitalist class were suddenly afflicted by a strange disease which makes them consume enormous quantities of soup, does the ICC really think that this would lessen its economic crisis? It would be beneficial for soup-producers, of course, but for capitalism as a whole, this sudden increase of the demand for soup would inevitably imply a decrease of demand for other commodities. The capitalist class uses part of the surplus-value to accumulate (to invest in the expansion of constant and variable capital) and part for its personal use. As for the latter, how it is spend (apart from the necessities of life since the capitalist class must also maintain itself) really doesn't matter, since this surplus-value does not return as new capital in the next cycle of production and is therefore, from the point of view of capitalist accumulation, wasted. Whether spent on luxury-items or soup, it is unproductively consumed and in that sense no different from any other form of surplus-value that is "sterilized", such as armaments, and can only lessen the amount of surplus-value available for accumulation.

The requirements for proportionality in the reproduction process

From the above it is clear that terms such as ‘overproduction’ and ‘lack of demand’ must be clearly defined for a Marxist analysis. Obviously, to understand capitalist crisis, it makes no sense to use them in relation to absolute consumer demand, or actual human needs. What Marx wrote more than a century ago - "There are not too many necessities of life produced, in proportion to the existing population. Quite the reverse. Too little is produced to decently and humanely satisfy the wants of the great mass" (13) - is even more true today. But as we've seen, neither should overproduction be defined in relation to "effective demand", as Keynes or the ICC do. Since capitalist production equals production for profit, economic growth equals capitalist accumulation. For growth to occur, enough surplus-value must not only be produced and realised, but must also be consumed productively. That means not only that the whole mass of commodities must find buyers but also that the surplus product, which embodies the surplus-value, can not be wasted on sterile consumption, however effective the demand for it may be. For growth to occur, a sufficient part of it must be transformed into additional constant and variable capital. The accumulation of capital is the capitalisation of surplus-value; its transformation, first into profit and then into additional capital, leading to an ever-larger scale of production.

It is this spiral of growth which is the object of study in the second volume of Capital. With monk-like precision, Marx analyses this process, following the transformation process of capital, from the sphere of production to circulation and back, from money capital to productive capital to commodity capital and back; from the point of view of the individual capitalist and finally, for capital as a whole. The aim of volume 2 is not to provide an analysis of capitalist crisis. Before you can explain crisis, you must be able to explain prosperity. Before you can account for stagnation, you must know how growth occurs. Before you can analyse devalorisation, you must understand valorisation. That's why volume 1 unveiled the basic mechanisms of capitalist production while volume 2 reveals how the circulation of capital makes accumulation possible. This is, after all, not obvious. How can a system, in which economic decision-making dispersed over millions of players (capitalists) who each can see only part of the global picture, assure the presence of the necessary material elements for further production and growth?

According to classic bourgeois economists (‘Say's law’), the ‘magic of the free market’ solves this problem spontaneously. Production "automatically" creates the markets that correspond exactly to the needs of its own reproduction and expansion. Marx rejected this facile pseudo-solution and set out to unveil the conditions that are required from the relations between production and consumption, for accumulation to be possible. In the third part of volume 2 he did this with the help of illustrative schema's that show how the exchange of value between the sector which produces the means of production (‘Department I’) and the sector which produces consumer goods (‘Department II’) can assure the reproduction and expansion of both, provided that certain conditions are respected. These conditions are essentially these: First, the exchange-value of goods sold by Department I to Department II must be equal to the value of goods sold by Department II to Department I, otherwise there is an unsaleable surplus. Second, the use-value of the commodities brought to the market must correspond to the mutual needs (of reproduction and expansion) of both departments. The production process, therefore, must generate a structure of demand that corresponds to the structure of commodity-value created in the production process and that creates a proportional division of the surplus product into the use-values required for its expansion. The latter condition is essential but easily overlooked. For, as Marx explained, when you're analyzing individual capitals, the particular use-value of the commodities produced is irrelevant, as long as you assume that there exists an effective demand for it.

"But this purely formal manner of presentation is no longer sufficient once we consider the total social capital and the value of its product. The transformation of one portion of the product's value back into capital, the entry of another part into the individual consumption of the capitalist and working classes, forms a movement within the value of the product in which the total capital has resulted; and this movement is not only a replacement of values, but a replacement of materials, and is therefore conditioned not just by the mutual relations of the value components of the social product but equally by their use-values, their material shape." (14)

Such a set of precarious balances is not automatically achieved by market forces. Obviously, they tend towards it, otherwise accumulation would not be possible. But "the proportionality of the individual branches of production springs as a continual process from disproportionality, because the cohesion of the aggregate production imposes itself as a blind law upon the agents of production" (15) This ‘blind law’, (which we'll discuss further) must over time, through shocks and crises, lead to the mutual cancellation of imbalances. But there is no guarantee, since a number of factors can turn "conditions for the normal course of reproduction (..) into an equal number of conditions for an abnormal course, possibilities of crisis, since, on the basis of the spontaneous pattern of this production, this balance is itself an accident." (16)

The next question is: if the proportionality between the sectors of production is only tendential, achieved ‘by accident’, how does this process play out over time with the growth of accumulation? Do the distortions produce only temporary imbalances, corrected over time or do they lead to a structural imbalance, impeding accumulation? This question fell beyond the scope of volume 2. To answer it, Marx had to explain first how capitalism's ‘laws of motion’ impacted capital as a whole, which was the subject of the third volume of Capital. In volume 2 he consciously ignored the rising organic composition of capital and rate of exploitation, competition, the tendency of equalisation of the rate of profit and the tendential fall of the profit-rate, in order to isolate and thereby reveal fundamental mechanisms of capital's circulation.

The reproduction schemas were therefore not intended as a portrayal of reality. They were only a conceptual tool, an extreme simplification. The choice of the two departments was itself somewhat artificial. Quite a few commodities, such as building materials, diamonds, motors, gasoline, electricity, etc, are produced both as means of production and for individual consumption, and in today's decentralised workplace, a single commodity like a computer can have a foot in both departments. In theory, Marx could have made any other division in the total production, for instance calling Department I the production of shoes and Department II all the rest. Although that would not have been very handy to build a schema upon, and less clarifying since almost all exchanges would take place within the same department, the same conditions of proportionality would apply. In other words, the exchange-value of the output of the shoe-department has to be equal to the exchange-value of the machinery, raw materials and consumer goods for the shoe-capitalists and shoe-workers, that it obtains from the rest of the economy. Also, in use-value, the output of the shoe-department must correspond to the needs of the expanding number of producers and their families in the rest of the economy, while from the rest of the economy it must receive enough to replace its machinery and raw materials, sustain its workforce and expand at the level that is required by the overall growth of the economy. This example makes clear that there is not just one proportionality that must be achieved (between the expanding departments of consumers and production goods) but a whole series. The recycling and growth of value is dependent on a complex network of precarious balances, in which only so much can be wasted or distorted without upsetting the whole.

Marx could also have used more than two departments (in Grundrisse he used four, splitting Department I into raw materials and machinery and Department II into necessities of life and luxury-goods), possibly even thousands. That would have made his schemas closer to reality, if still a simplification, but also unnecessarily complicated. When using more than two departments, the conditions of proportionality between them no longer apply but remain imperative for the total sum of proportions between them. The choice he made of the two departments is the most logical, because it makes his schemas simple enough to bring out the underlying requirements of the circulation process, and because it is realistic in the sense that it corresponds to the components in the capitalist production process (constant and variable capital) and to production in general, which always requires tools and means of subsistence. In that sense, the division is not arbitrary at all. It allowed Marx to show how capital, through the exchange of value between its branches of production could grow, "creating its own market by conquering it with its commodities." "The limits of consumption are extended by the exertions of the reproduction process itself. On the one hand, this increases the consumption of revenue on the part of labourers and capitalists, on the other hand, it is identical with an exertion of productive consumption." (17) But in no way did he intend his schemas to be understood as a description of accumulation in real life.

Rosa Luxemburg's false solution

But that's exactly how it was understood by the likes of Tugan-Baranovsky and Hilferding, who set out to attack revolutionary Marxism with its own theoretical weapons. While Marx had explicitly excluded elements fundamental for the analysis of capitalist crisis from his analysis of the circulation process, because he esteemed it necessary to clarify the fundamental conditions of circulation before explaining capitalism's laws of motion (volume 3), Tugan-Baranovsky took the schemas of volume 2 as a "proof" of the possibility of limitless expansion of capital, as long as the conditions of proportionality are respected. That this conclusion totally contradicted volume 1 and especially volume 3 of Capital, was explained by Tugan-Baranovsky by the fact that Marx supposedly worked last on the manuscripts for volume 2 and that in this final labour, the "mature Marx" had discovered that his earlier analyses were mistaken. This nonsense fitted perfectly with the evolution of social-democracy around the turn of the century, which, while still officially "Marxist", was quickly degenerating into a party of and for capital and which proclaimed, in the words of its leader, Eduard Bernstein, that the era of crisis-free capitalism had arrived. Against this trend, and against the impotent reaction to it of Kautsky's ‘orthodox Marxism’, Rosa Luxemburg was one of the most fierce and coherent defenders of Marxism's revolutionary core. "If one admits with Bernstein," she wrote in "Social reform or Revolution", "that capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, than socialism ceases to be objectively necessary."

So she set out to answer the distorters of Marxism, to prove that capitalism's economic breakdown, and therefore its replacement by a new social order, is an objective necessity. Unfortunately, she accepted Tugan-Baranovsky's claim that the implications of volume 2 contradicted volume 3 and made only limited use of the crisis-analysis in volume 3 to respond to TuganBaranovsky and his kind. For her, sufficient production of surplus-value occurred automatically, just like for her critics the conversion of surplus-value into profit happens automatically. She accepted the terrain on which Tugan & Co had pulled the debate on capitalism's crisis: the sphere of realisation, exclusively. So to come up with an alternative theory to what the schemas of volume 2 supposedly proved, the automatic self-expansion of capital, allowing for limitless growth, she had to embark on a misguided critique of these schemas, reproducing Tugan-Baranovsky's misunderstanding of their purpose. This critique contained several points. These are the main ones:

In the framework of this text, it seems best not waste to much space on this schema business. They can be valuable tools to illustrate a limited point, as Marx used them. But they are all based to various degrees on arbitrary assumptions and quantities and can in no way be considered as proofs that accumulation evolves in this or that way. What the schemas of Luxemburg, of her critics Bauer and Grossmann, and of numerous academic Marxists after them have in common is that they all ‘prove’ what their authors believed in the first place. The thesis of Rosa Luxemburg stands or falls very well without it. It is quite simple. The workers cannot buy the surplus product containing their own surplus-value, or they wouldn't be exploited and there would be no profit. But the capitalist class can't either - or it would be buying its own commodities with its own money and "then the heaping up of profits which is accumulation must be impossible for the class of capitalists as a whole." (Anti-Critique) In Marx’s schema, of course, the capitalist class is doing exactly that - buying its own commodities with its own money - and it can do so and make a profit which it can reinvest in accumulation, because capitalism doesn't enrich itself in the circulation process (although individual capitalists do) but in production through the extraction of surplus-value. As for the source of additional demand, it flows from the accumulation process itself, the need to expand production. But then, "we're clearly running in circles", responds Luxemburg. Department I expands its production, and who needs the additional means of production? According to Marx’s schema, Department II, to produce more consumer goods. Who needs those additional consumer goods? Department I, because it now employs more workers. And so on. This "empty merry-go-round " makes no sense, according to Luxemburg. It would mean that "commodities are produced for the pleasure of producing, which from a capitalist point of view is a pure absurdity." That the means and the goal are the same: production is expanded for no other reason than to expand production. There must be a motivating force, an inducement to accumulate, which can only come from demand from outside this closed circle.

"Internal capitalist trade can at best realise only certain quantities of value contained in the social product: the constant capital that has been used up, the variable capital, and the consumed part of the surplus-value. That part of the surplus-value, however, which is earmarked for capitalisation, must be realised elsewhere." (18)

Hence the crucial role of the extra-capitalist market. But

"although this non-capitalist milieu is indispensable for accumulation, capital proceeds at the cost of this medium nevertheless, by eating it up. Historically, the accumulation of capital is a kind of metabolism between capitalist economy and those pre-capitalist methods of production without which it cannot go on and which, in this light, it corrodes and assimilates. Thus, capital cannot accumulate without the aid of non-capitalist organisations, nor can it tolerate their continued existence side by side with itself." (19)

The outcome is inevitable: the scarcer the non-capitalist territories become, the more bitter the inter-imperialist struggle over them. Wars, crises and revolution break out, even before the disappearance of extra-capitalist demand has brought accumulation to a complete and irreversible halt.

She illustrates her thesis with an excellent analysis of capitalism's penetration of the pre-capitalist world. This historic overview, which takes most of the third section of "The Accumulation of Capital", is quite valuable in itself. In fact it's so well done, that the reader tends not to notice that most of her historical examples do not support her thesis. She describes land robbery and other theft of resources in India, North Africa, South Africa. She shows how American farmers, through taxation, were separated from their soil (20). She explains the use of slavery in the southern US, forced labour in Peruvian rubber plantations, extreme exploitation in South African mines, forced labour of Egyptian and Turkish serfs and so on. It is not difficult to see how the first cheapened elements of the constant capital and how the latter provided extremely cheap variable capital for capitalism; thereby counter-acting the fall of the profit-rate, as we argued in the first part of this text. But it is difficult to see how they solve the riddle of realisation.

For Rosa Luxemburg, the fall in the profit-rate was not a factor impeding accumulation. As we have seen in the first part , she mistakenly thought that the fall in the rate of profit is arrested by the cheapening of the components of production so that "the sun would burn out" before the fall of the profit-rate threatened accumulation. Not a shortage of surplus-value, but the difficulty of realising it was in her view the crucial problem. But most of her examples show how capitalism grabbed more surplus-value, rather than selling the surplus product produced at home (though there are examples of that too, of course). For the capitalist, it makes no fundamental difference whether he steals labour-power from "free" workers, serfs of slaves. They all yield surplus labour, hence surplus-value. Luxemburg conceded as much:

"There is no a priori reason why rubber plantations, say, run on capitalist lines, such as have been laid out in India, might not serve the ends of capitalist production just as well. (But) primitive conditions allow of a greater drive and of far more ruthless measures than could be tolerated under purely capitalist social conditions. It is quite different with the realisation of the surplus-value. Here, outside consumers qua other-than-capitalist are really essential." (21)

The first part of this quote is certainly true, although the qualification that the exploitation of slaves and forced labourers yields more surplus-value no longer holds. As for the last part, she simply hasn't demonstrated her case. And even if shehad, that wouldn't have solved her problem. She stops her reasoning halfway. She sees an excess of production appear in Department II that can't go back into Department I and gets rid of it with her "outside consumers qua other-than-capitalist". But that is just a detour leading back to the same problem. The extra-capitalist buyer is also a seller, otherwise the excess might as well have been unproductively consumed. Luxemburg fails to show what happens in the cycle of expanded reproduction with the commodities supplied by the extra-capitalist producers. Why should these restore the proportionality between the departments of production, rather than creating a new excess?

The idea that extra-capitalist buyers realised the surplus-value needed for accumulation had a certain plausibility in Luxemburg's time, when most of the world still lived under the formal domination of capital and the economic interactions between capitalist and non-capitalist production still played a vital role. As Marx said:

"as long as capital is weak, it seeks to support itself on the crutches of a disappeared or disappearing mode of production; as soon as it feels strong, it gets rid of these crutches and moves comfortably according to its own laws."

The theory of Luxemburg is very much imprinted by the conditions of the phase of formal domination of capital. Under the conditions of real domination, it loses all credibility. Not just because of the awesome growth of the mass of surplus-value that would have to be realised on the extra-capitalist market but also because of the growing gap in the technical methods of production (and therefore in the material form of commodities) between pre-capitalist production and capitalist production which, under real domination, operates with a specifically capitalist technology. As the review Communisme ou Civilisation remarks:

"It is hard to imagine how, in the phase of real domination, a growing portion of the social product (the surplus-value) can take a material form appropriate for consumption by pre-capitalist forms of production, while these pre-capitalist forms of production would have to form the material elements of a capitalist accumulation based on an advanced technology." (22)

Imagine, if you can, that the lost continent of Atlantis suddenly re-emerges from the ocean, inhabited by a pre-capitalist society not unlike India at the onset of colonisation. Could anybody even for a moment entertain the idea that such a miracle would solve capitalism's accumulation problems? What could it possibly have to exchange for the surplus product of the capitalist world? It may have a population ready to be exploited, but there's no shortage of that. It may have minerals and arable land, but sub-Saharan Africa has both in great quantities (in fact it has the largest reserves of arable land in the world) and yet its participation in world trade amounts to less than 3 % (in money, that is). Only tourism might profit from this miracle.

By situating the cause of capitalist crisis outside the production process, Luxemburg came up with a theory that is incapable of explaining the cycle of valorisation-devalorisation. Regardless of the phase of production, according to her theory, there could be no crisis as long as there are enough extra-capitalist buyers (despite the severe crises of the 19th century) and there could be no way out of the crisis, once the extra-capitalist market is gone. Despite her claims to the contrary, that makes her theory contradict the dialectical process of history. And it created for her thesis an acid, fool-proof test: As soon as capital would have established "the exclusive and universal domination of capitalist production in all countries and for all branches of industry" (she believed this would never actually happen, although it now clearly has) "accumulation must come to a stop. The realisation and capitalisation of surplus-value becomes impossible to accomplish. Just as soon as reality begins to conform to Marx’s diagram of enlarged reproduction, the end of accumulation is in sight, it has reached its limits, and capitalist production is in extremis. For capital, the standstill of accumulation means that the development of the productive forces is arrested, and the collapse of capitalism follows inevitably, as an objective historical necessity." (23)

Of course, capitalism can always find or create ‘third buyers’ within its own system. But Luxemburg herself discarded this subterfuge, since these third buyers (state functionaries etc) are unproductive consumers, whose source of income is derived from the surplus-value or the workers' wages (24). She left herself one escape-route, in the form of armaments production but she should have rejected this on the same grounds.

The test of history was not about to come soon, in her eyes. In 1913 she wrote, in her Introduction to Political Economy, that "capitalist development had still a long road in front of it, because capitalist production as such represents only a very small fraction of the world's production." She pointed to the fact that even in industrialized Europe, most of agricultural production remained non-capitalist, and a lot of production had an artisan character, while in other European countries, not to mention the rest of the world, artisan- and peasant-production still dominated. Nevertheless, according to most of her contemporary followers, such as the ICC, only one year later (in 1914) capitalist decadence began, because of the lack of extra-capitalist markets. Eighty years later, the mass of surplus-value that goes into accumulation has grown tremendously. If Rosa Luxemburg's theory held any truth, the extra-capitalist market should have grown accordingly, to make this possible. Manifestly it hasn't and, understandably, today's Luxemburgians can't come up with a credible explanation for this strange phenomenon. They point to the market provided by reconstruction after the world wars but forget that in Luxemburg's theory, the need for extra-capitalist consumers is independent of the scale of production. Smaller capitals need to accumulate just like bigger ones and since the surplus-value for this purpose can only be realised outside capitalism, it doesn't matter if a war reduces the scale of production from 100 to 10 once the extra-capitalist market is gone.

They further point to the expanded use of credit to keep the production cycle going, precisely the kind of argument that Luxemburg's critics such as Bukharin used against her. But credit, like money, doesn't create anything. Its expansion is bound by the expansion of the extracted and realised surplus-value. In other words, it can only expand without causing a financial crisis, if the surplus-value is realised and accumulation proceeds at a sufficient rate. If the realisation of surplus-value keeps pace with the expansion of credit, the expansion of demand must have kept pace with it too which, in Luxemburg's view, would mean that the extra-capitalist market has expanded proportionally. Since it has - to the contrary - enormously shrunk, the extra-demand generated with credit must have its source in the surplus-value produced within capitalism . The credit argument should therefore be rejected on the same grounds as those on which Luxemburg rejected the false solution of the demand of third buyers within the system. In contrast to those epigones, Luxemburg at least understood that, if capital cannot realize the surplus-value, it cannot continue to exist. It cannot choose whether to accumulate or not, and the incontestable fact that accumulation occurs, and at times at a fast rate, proves that surplus-value is being realised and that therefore, its realisation is not dependent on an extra-capitalist market.

But that's too hard to understand for the ICC. Faced with the question how to explain the enormous expansion of capitalism since World War II, it has nothing better to say than that "any minimally serious Marxist has to reject this 'fabulous growth' as a bluff and conclude that it is a question of doped and fraudulent growth", masking "the paralysis and mortal illness of accumulation throughout capitalist decadence", because it consists, in the ICC's view, mainly of "unproductive expenditures". (25) While it is true that unproductive consumption has grown tremendously in the last century, the ICC doesn't realise that its "solution" makes the question only more difficult to answer. If capitalism has no longer access to (extra-capitalist) markets to realise the surplus-value needed for accumulation, how can it realise the surplus-value needed to finance all this unproductive consumption? It's one thing to claim that the awesome growth of capitalist production in this century (26) is merely "doped growth", value that is wasted without creating any new surplus-value, but "any minimally serious Marxist" would still have to explain where this wasted value comes from. Its only possible source is surplus-value but where is this surplus-value realised? The ICC claims this "doped growth" is financed with debt and inflation, but as we explained in regard to credit, this offers not even a temporary solution, if the possibility to realise surplus-value no longer exists.

There can be no doubt that Luxemburg's theory has failed the test of history. In a non-dogmatic revolutionary movement, the discussion on her theory should focus on where she went wrong and what remained valid in the questions she posed, even if her answers are not adequate. That this isn't the case, that groups in this movement still defend her thesis as if nothing had happened to disprove it, shows that their dogmas are dearer to them than the truth. But a revolutionary group that has lost the capacity to question, to seek theoretical clarity, has no reason to exist, unless for its own sake. Undoubtedly, those groups will go on spouting inanities about the mythical extra-capitalist market, ignoring all facts and critiques (this one included) because of this theory's (unintended) demagogic strength: you can't dream up a simpler formula to explain capitalism's crisis. But that doesn't make it true. We were once convinced by it too, which is one reason why we devote so much space to it. But not the only one. The social upheavals which can open the way to a new society, will have an economic breakdown as their starting point. When the conditions are right for their message to be heard, economic questions will be among the first which revolutionaries will have to answer convincingly: why and how does this happen, can capitalism overcome it, etc. Hopefully, we will have something more profound to say than that the extra-capitalist market has disappeared so that the capitalist market is saturated.

The source of money

So far, we have shown the inadequacy of Luxemburg's theory mainly with empirical arguments. We now have to investigate on a more theoretical level where her mistakes originated.

First, let's deal with the money-question. It isn't the core of the matter but it's leading towards it. And there is a lot of confusion about this aspect. There are not only Luxemburg's confusions on the matter, but also her critics' confusions about what her confusions were; and their own confusions on top of that. The debate is bewildering. In the framework of this text, it seems neither necessary nor possible to try to disentangle it all. Let's focus on the main point.

As we have noted earlier, Luxemburg criticized the way Marx had answered the question where the additional money comes from to realise the surplus-value that is earmarked for accumulation. If a given amount of money circulates (at a given velocity) a given quantity of value, then naturally this amount must increase when the quantity of value increases, when the social product swells with surplus-value. Where does this additional amount of money come from? In his analysis of expanded reproduction of total capital, Marx made gold production the sole source of new money. This solution didn't satisfy Luxemburg. Actually, Marx wasn't too happy with it either:

"If the circulation process(..) were conceived as rectilinear - which would be incorrect, since, with few exceptions, it always consists of mutually opposing movements - then we would have to begin with the gold (or silver) producer, who buys without selling, and assume that all others sell to him. The total social surplus product (the repository of the entire surplus-value) would therefore be transferred to him (..) The surplus-value of the gold producer, produced in gold, would then be the only fund from which all the other capitalist drew the material with which to realize their surplus product." (27)

Marx called this assumption "absurd" but added that the difficulty is only apparent. The absurdity results primarily from the limitations which he had imposed on his analytical framework. He consciously ignored money capital (investment capital) outside the sphere of production, equated money circulation with "metallic circulation in its simplest, most primitive form", and further assumed that all income, generated in the production process, is spent on the commodities produced. These assumptions were necessary to investigate the conditions of proportionality, the recycling and growth of value in its most simple form. But they also implied that he could not investigate simultaneously the role of financial capital, commercial capital and credit. So in this schema, the only source of additional money to realise the surplus-value, had to be additional gold production, plus money that had been previously set aside (hoarded) by industrial capital and later thrown back into circulation. Within the limits of his abstract schema, for the purpose that it served, that sufficed.

Earlier in volume 2 he had posed the same question, in dealing with the circulation of surplus-value. Where does the additional money come from to realise the surplus-value? After investigating the issue from various angles, Marx concludes that the problem does not exist, or at least not for the surplus-value specifically. As he further summarizes:

"The only assumption required here is that there should be always sufficient money to convert the various elements of the commodity mass (..) This is in no way affected by the fact that a part of the commodity value consists of surplus-value." (28)

Nor does it matter "whether the mass of commodities is produced under capitalist conditions or not", he adds elsewhere (29). Whether the commodities contain a lot of surplus-value or none at all, the money-problem is the same: there must be enough of it to make their circulation possible. So the question is not: where does the money to realise the surplus-value come from, but where does all the money come from? Or, formulated differently, what is the value of money? Is the total value of money equal to the total value that goes into the production of its material form?

In earlier times, the value of money was indeed based on the value of its commodity-form: mainly gold and silver. But it's obvious that this can't be true for developed capitalism: its accumulation would be sharply curtailed. There would be growth or depression, according to the amount of precious metals produced. And indeed, because of money's historical origins in the commodity-value of precious metals, the transfer of a sufficient quantity of them by the Spanish conquistadors from America to Europe, was a precondition for capitalist accumulation. "Hence, the increased supply of precious metals from the sixteen century onwards was a decisive moment in the historical development of capitalist production." But it's also worth noting that it gave Europe its first wave of inflation, thereby revealing that the real value of money is not determined by the intrinsic value of gold itself (for which the demand is, in principle, unlimited) but by the relation of its quantity to the quantity of the value of the total mass of commodities of a country, which it circulates. And by something more:

"The capitalist mode of production (..) can develop on a large scale and penetrate deeply only when there is a quantity of money in the country in question sufficient for circulation and for the hoard formation (reserve fund, etc) conditioned by this circulation." (30)

What does the latter mean for the size of that hoard formation? How big can it be, and, consequently, how big can the amount of money be? Its growth-rate is determined by the level of profit and the rate of accumulation of the country in question. In other words, by the amount of surplus-value that is being produced and realised on an ongoing basis. If that amount grows fast, so too must the amount of money; if it grows slowly, the money-supply must too. If the money supply grows faster than the surplus-value (31), the penalty is inflation; if it grows too slow, a deflationary contraction will result.

The more capitalism develops, the more money capital develops too. The dialectical interaction between it and productive capital, between money and commodities in general, is analysed extensively in volume 2. Marx emphasizes that capitalist reproduction requires the prior existence of money capital in the hands of the capitalist class over and above the value of the total production (32), that "besides the sum of money required for direct circulation, there is always a certain quantity in a latent and non-producing [i.e. non-producing - Sander]state, which can come out and function on a given impulse." (33)

Only a part of the total social capital is continuously engaged in production. This implies also a relative autonomy of money capital from the sphere of production. While capital in the form of commodities must transform into money (in other words: its value must be realized on the market) or become worthless, money capital is not under the same absolute obligation to transform into commodities, i.e. to be invested in production. That is an essential factor in the realisation problem and in the crisis mechanism, completely neglected by Mattick et al. We shall come back to it later. Here we want to emphasize that, besides the conditions of proportionality that Marx brought out in his schemas, there is another set of proportionalities that is equally vital: between the quantity of money and the quantity of value in circulation, between circulating money capital and circulating income from the production process, between circulating money and hoarded money and within the latter category, between money that can be directly invested in production and the rest. These must be taken into account, to understand how the accumulation of capital can proceed, as well as how it is disrupted. As we said, we come back to this later.

How is this money capital outside the sphere of production formed? Apart from the capital formation in primitive accumulation, which begin with commercial and banking capital in the Middle Ages (there was capital before there was capitalism) there is a continuous flight, so to speak, of capital from the production process. This occurs particularly, in the sphere of circulation: "When one commodity replaces another, the money commodity always sticks to the hands of some third person. Circulation sweats money from every pore." (34) (The source of this "sweat", like of all capital, is real sweat, surplus-value from the sphere of production. Profits are made, but no value is created in circulation). Money capital comes also out of the sphere of production directly. Industrial capitalists must for example maintain a reserve fund for long-term investments, such as the replacement of their plant-infrastructure, which require large amounts of money, but only after a considerable period of time. In the meantime, they don't keep this money under the mattress, but make it available for banking capital which use it for loans, etc. Furthermore, money capital will tend to leave the productive sphere all together, when the rate of profit becomes too low (see further).

Money capital, and in particular the banking system with the central banks at the top of the pyramid, regulates the money quantity and assures that there are enough technical means of exchange for the realisation of all the value in circulation, the ever-swelling mass of surplus-value included. So the source of the additional money to realise surplus-value is, like that of all capital, nothing but surplus-value, that is already in possession of the capitalist class. There is no specific problem. But it's a problem that can't be solved without considering the role of money capital outside the direct sphere of production, because it is the veritable motor of accumulation. "Money capital is the original form and final purpose of the whole devilish undertaking." (35) Today more than ever. Every day, hundreds of billions of dollars move around, in a never ending search for a higher yield. Industrial capital must compete for this capital company against company, country against country, but also against non-productive forms of capital-employment, which may yield a higher return than the average profit-rate. Remember that all non-productive forms of capital, too, originated as surplus-value in the sphere of production. Some are absolutely necessary within the context of capitalist society, while others can be considered as a hoard, from which capital can flow back into the sphere of production, like capital from the sphere of production can flow back into it, depending on the rate of profit compared with other capital-yields. In this way, money capital is constantly pushing industrial capital to provide higher profits, by lowering its production costs under the social average or by marketing new products; forcing it therefore, to accumulate.

So after establishing that it comes from surplus-value "already in the hands of the capitalist class" and that accumulation just means that is employed differently, Marx' final answer to the vexing question on the source of the additional money to realise the surplus-value is, for Rosa Luxemburg, disappointingly technical:

"The additional money required for the circulation of this increased commodity mass of a greater value must be created either by a more economic use of the quantity of money in circulation (..) or alternatively by the transformation of money from the hoard form into the circulation form (..) To the extent that all these means together are not enough, there must be additional production of gold." (36)

For Luxemburg, that just means that

"this increasing amount of money must be found somehow or other. All this is, no doubt, plausible and correct as far as it goes, but our problem is not solved, it is merely wished away." (37)

For her, the distinction between surplus-value and merely recycled value gets lost, if the problem is reduced to the observation that an increased bulk of value requires an increased quantity of money. Then it's easy to answer the question of the source of money with "Marx’s recipe: from the gold mines." (38) Marx can't find a satisfying answer to his question, Luxemburg continues, because it has been the wrong question all along.

"No intelligent purpose can be served by asking for the source of the money needed to realise the surplus-value. The question is rather where the demand can arise - to find an effective demand for the surplus-value."

But it is she who poses the wrong question. Her question makes no sense, at least not in the way she puts it:

"On the basis of simple reproduction (39), the matter is easy enough: since all surplus-value is consumed by the capitalists, they themselves are the buyers and provide the full demand for the social surplus-value, and by the same token they must also have the requisite cash in hand for circulation of the surplus-value. But on this showing it is quite evident that under conditions of accumulation, i.e. of capitalisation of part of the surplus-value, it cannot, ex hypothesis, be the capitalists themselves who buy the entire surplus-value, that they cannot possibly realise it. True, if the capitalised surplus-value is to be realised at all, money must be forthcoming in adequate quantities for its realisation. But is quite impossible that this money should come from the purse of the capitalist class itself. Just because accumulation is postulated, the capitalist class cannot buy their surplus-value themselves, even though they might, in abstract, have the money to do so. But who else could provide the demand for the commodities incorporating the capitalized surplus-value?" (40)

Why, the extra-capitalist market of course.

Individual and total capital

Here we are at the heart of Luxemburg's argument -and at the heart of her mistake. Compared to the capitalist in simple reproduction, she reasons, the capitalist in expanded reproduction must consume less, in order to accumulate. But the accumulating capitalist is not consuming less. He is only consuming differently. Instead of consuming all his surplus-value unproductively, he is now consuming it in part productively. In both cases, the capitalist has surplus-value from past production in his hands - and spends it. "It is simply its application that differs", as Marx explained (41). In terms of how this affects the proportions of demand, accumulation makes the demand for Department I (means of production) increase and the demand for Department II (consumer goods) decrease, as is required for the development of capitalist society, but it doesn't diminish the overall demand. Therefore, no additional source of demand is needed and no additional source of income, since:

"the surplus product in which the surplus-value is represented costs the capitalist class nothing. As a class, it possesses it and enjoys it free of charge, and the monetary circulation cannot alter this in any way. The change that this brings about simply consists in the fact that each capitalist, instead of consuming his own surplus product in kind, for which in most cases it would not be suitable, withdraws commodities of all kinds from the total stock to the total amount of the surplus-value he appropriated, and appropriates these." (42)

Of course when he "appropriates these", the individual capitalist pays, for machines etc. under expanded reproduction, as well as for consumer goods under simple reproduction. It is the same circuit: the capitalist transforms his commodities into money and thus his surplus-value into profit, and with this profit he buys other commodities. Because he pays every time, the cost-free nature of the surplus product he appropriates is not apparent. But the surplus-value is not embodied by a specific part of the total social production; it does not come to the market as "the surplus product", that must be realised after the commodities containing the transferred value of constant and variable capital are sold. Every single commodity contains a part of the advanced and transferred capital and a part of the surplus-value. They are realised (or not realised) together. The surplus product is free of charge for the capitalist in the sense that his surplus-value (his profit) gives him the cost-free means to buy with it either consumer goods or means of production.

So when Rosa Luxemburg incredulously mocks the notion that the capitalist class "buys its own surplus product with its own money", she hits the nail on its head. For the individual capitalist such a thing would be an absurdity. He couldn't accumulate if he did. He must find an outside buyer, not just to realise his surplus-value but to recoup his production costs. But if you analyse the matter from the standpoint of the total capital, it is different. The need for an outside buyer disappears and the distinction between the free surplus product and the production replacing the constant and variable capital, lost in the transactions of the individual capitalist, becomes clear. That is Luxemburg's fundamental mistake: she has confused the analytical frameworks of the individual capitalist and of total capital; and has transposed the need to find an outside buyer from the former to the latter, for whom it does not exist (43).

So there doesn't have to be a demonstrable pre-existing additional demand out there to set the accumulation process in motion. With money capital in the driver's seat, accumulation is forced upon the industrial capitalists. Every capital must join the process or go under and all these strivings combined produce the growth of the total capital, as Luxemburg was well aware of:

"Capitalist methods of production do more than awaken in the capitalist this thirst for surplus-value whereby he is impelled to ceaseless expansion of reproduction. Expansion becomes in truth a coercive law, an economic condition of existence for the individual capitalist (..) as soon as a few capitalist enterprises have been enlarged, competition itself forces all others to expand likewise. Expansion becomes a condition of existence. A growing tendency towards reproduction at a progressively increasing scale thus ensues, which spreads automatically like a tidal wave over ever larger surfaces of reproduction." (44)

Whether this tidal wave results in overproduction or not, can only be observed after the fact. But if an excessive rate of accumulation creates overproduction, it is not the fastest accumulating capitalists who suffer first, but those who can't keep up the pace of investment. So the incentive to accumulate remains in place, even in the face of overproduction. The accumulation of capital goes hand in hand with the destruction of capital with a lower organic composition.

This ‘coercive law’ to accumulate means that accumulation is a blind, unplanned process which even in the best times inevitably leads to some degree of overproduction. The quantity of value realised is virtually always smaller than the quantity of value produced (as Marx said, a complete balance is only achieved "by accident"). In highly developed capitalism this becomes increasingly apparent because the overproduced segment of total production grows in bulk, even when it does not in value. The question is whether this tendency leads to marginal overproduction, temporary imbalances restored through the movements of capital between sectors and the elimination of less productive capital, or to structural, chronic overproduction, preventing the conversion of the value contained in commodities into money-capital, thereby blocking their return into the productive process, causing the latter to collapse.

To investigate this, we must first establish how the movement of capital affects the rate of accumulation, the organic composition, the rate of profit and therefore also the ‘effective demand’ of the different sectors of capitalist production. For this purpose, the analytical framework of total capital that Luxemburg adopted (following Marx) isn't adequate. This framework is absolutely necessary to analyse the underlying dynamics of the sphere of production and the organic relations between the sphere of production and the sphere of circulation, because it removes the surface-distortions created by competition. Competition turns reality on its head but it does not forge the laws of capital. It, however, realises them. Therefore, to take the investigation further into the mechanisms of realisation, to understand how capitalism's market-contradiction takes shape and interacts with the decline of the rate of profit, we have to integrate the framework of the total capital, where there is no competition, with that of ‘many capitals’, where there is. Luxemburg never did so.



Part 1 - The Inevitable Fall in the Rate of Profit

Part 2 - The Immanent Barrier to Market Expansion

Part 3 - From Decline to Collapse

Part 4 - The Impasse of Globalization

Part 5 - The Law of Value of the World Market


1 Marx, Capital volume III, (New World Paperbacks), p. 244-245

2 ibid, p. 256.

3 In his original plan, Marx intended to devote a final volume of Capital to a full treatment of the world market and crisis.

4 Marx, op. cit. p 191.

5 Paul Mattick, Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory (Sharpe, White Plains 1981) p 63.

6 ibid. p. 67.

7 Marx, op. cit. p. 250.

8 ibid. p. 484.

9 Marx, Capital Volume II, Penguin edition, p. 486-487.

10 What these are of, course, can vary a great deal with the development and complexity of capitalist society, which greatly affect the living conditions and therefore the needs of the working class. Furthermore, there is the impact of the stupendous productivity of capitalist production. One of its consequences is the cheapening, diversifying and improving of all commodities. So what a worker's wage can buy has, over time, substantially increased even if the exploitation-rate (the ratio of unpaid/paid labour-power) has increased too. The price of labour is naturally also subject to fluctuations in demand and supply. In periods of rapid accumulation, when the demand for labour is high and the penalty for a shortage of labour (because of strikes or whatever reason) is severe, the price of labour-power tends to rise too. In periods of stagnation and crisis, the opposite occurs. Today, the vast majority of workers obtain fewer necessities for their wages than 10 years ago and many earn less than the subsistence-level. Increasingly, workers’ households need two incomes, or three incomes (with one of the family-members holding two jobs, or with the help of child-labour) to get by. For a small minority of the working class (in certain high-tech sectors) the opposite is true: their skills are so much in demand that they can command very high wages, clearly above what normally determines the value of a wage. The fact that they receive a fraction of the surplus-value however, does not make them capitalists. First, this benefit can quickly disappear when the shortage of labourers with their skills diminishes. Second, they still are, like other workers, dependent of the sale of their labour-power to survive. Only if they earn so much (which occurs in rare instances) that they become able to transform a significant part of their income into capital, can they no longer be considered part of the working class. But as we said, these are rare occurrences. For the bulk of the working class, the elasticity of the social concept of ‘the necessity of life’ has meant in the last quarter of the century, a steadily decreasing living standard.

11 Marx, Capital volume I Everyman edition, p. 638.

12 Internationalism 64, May 1989, p. 12.

13 Marx, Capital volume III p. 257.

14 Marx, Capital volume II, p. 470.

15 Marx, Capital volume III p. 257.

16 Marx, Capital volume II, p. 571.

17 Marx, Capital volume III, p. 482.

18 Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital op. cit. p 366.
19 ibid, p. 416.
20 Marx also talks about this in the last chapter of Capital, volume 1. In the US, Australia etc, the abundance of the land actually transformed proletarians, imported from England etc, into extra-capitalist producers. Rather than working for a boss, most immigrants soon choose to farm for themselves. This created a shortage in the labour-market, driving up wage-costs. Therefore, subsistence-farmers had to be separated from their soil to make them proletarians again, while the massive size of new waves of immigrants acted in the same direction.

22 Communisme ou Civilisation, # 14, Oct. 1983, p. 48.

23 Luxemburg, op. cit. p. 417.

24 Ibid, p 134-135.

25 "Theories of Capitalism's Historic Crisis," in International Review # 83, p. 22.

26 According to P. Barioch, industrial production grew from 1900 = 100 to 3041.6 in 1980 (Journal of European Economic History 11, 1982, p. 273).

27 Marx, Capital volume II, p. 567.

28 ibid, p. 549.

29 ibid, p. 407.

30 ibid. p. 418.
31 Excluding here, international transactions from the analysis.

32 ibid. p. 548-549.

33 ibid. p. 553.

34 ibid. p. 416.

35 Ernest Mandel, Introduction to Capital volume II, (Penguin ed.) p 18.

36 Marx, Capital volume II, p. 419-420.

37 Luxemburg, op. cit. p 164.

38 Idem. It is worth noting that Marx, despite the crucial role he gave to the gold producer in his reproduction schemas, held no illusions on the dependency of money from the value of its commodity-form. After concluding his answer on the source of additional money to realise surplus-value, he continues:

The gold-standard was probably historically inevitable but that doesn't make it necessary. Given its limitations and expense, capitalism had to get rid of it. With the development of banking and credit hand in hand with the development of industrial capital, commodity-money was gradually marginalised by symbolic monetary instruments. Today, huge amounts of money never even take on a material form, except as figures on computer screens.

39 Reproduction without accumulation, i.e. after a cycle of production, the capitalist replaces his constant capital on the same scale as before, hires then also the same amount of workers as before and keeps all his profit for his personal use.

40 Luxemburg, op. cit. p 165.

41 Marx Capital volume II, op. cit. p 418.

42 ibid. p. 550.

43 Communisme ou Civilisation arrives at the same conclusion following a somewhat different route."The fundamental error of Rosa Luxemburg is not to have seen well the qualitative jump that occurs in the circuit of capital, when you leave the point of view of the individual capitalist for that of the total capital." Comparing the circuits of individual and total capital, Communisme ou Civilisation shows that the circuit of total capital does not follow like individual capital the sequence M-C-C'-M' (money capital (M) is transformed into the commodities constituting the productive capital (C) which, in production increases in value (C') -and is again transformed -provided outside buyers are found- into M' which is greater than M, the money invested) but "a succession of cycles M-C, in which money is always the motor of the movement, and in which the goal remains the surplus-value, the search for exchange-value for the exchange-value. Also, if it's possible for total capital to accomplish the movement C'-M' [the transformation of the produced commodities in an increased quantity of money -Sander], it is because the capitalist class accomplishes the movement M'-C'. The realisation of value takes place because there is a conversion of money in productive capital and labour-power." (See Communisme ou Civilisation, op. cit. p. 34-37).

44 Luxemburg, op. cit. p. 40-41.

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