Karl Marx did not compile his theory of crises in any discrete manner but proposed it throughout his major works, notably Theories on Surplus Value (1861–1879), the Grundrisse (1857–1858), and Capital (volume I, 1867). Crises are an expression of “all contradictions of bourgeois production.” Revolutions in production caused by advancing technology, and the great expansion of existing capital, necessitate expansion of the market. The surface phenomenon appears as an opposition of overproduction and underconsumption, a conflict that can only be resolved in an economic crisis. The underlying incongruity is actually the expression of the contradiction between the social character of production and the mode of capitalist accumulation. Bourgeois production necessarily creates an antagonism between use value and exchange value; commodities, including labor, exchange at prices of production and not at their value, thus, the theory is derivative of the transformation of surplus value into profit. In consequence, this contradiction cannot be resolved by market manipulation; “the circulation of capital has no limits” but a market has precise limits.
   The separation of purchase and sale, and each entering into contradiction with the other is the precondition for the possibility of crises. The existence of money allows for surplus value and, therefore purchase and sale, but “labor as commodity” makes crisis inevitable. The division of labor creates a concentration of production and fosters increasing interdependence. Labor is set against capital, its antithesis, and production separates into two industries, that for the means of production (constant capital) and production for consumption (variable capital). This “growing organic composition of capital” develops unequally and results in the intensification of the contradiction of production and consumption. Capital exceeds the relations of production and credit accelerates the contradiction, which must be resolved as momentary crisis. However, the root cause remains and the crisis merely creates new expressions of the contradiction that must be resolved. Increasingly severe crises are inevitable in bourgeois production; there is a tendency to the absolute impoverishment of the worker and the degradation of capital with the decline of the rate of profit. The attempts of the market to correct itself by credit and cartels will fail and the contradictions of capitalism will result in ever-growing surplus labor and the violent overthrow of bourgeois rule. However, whether this is a purely economic analysis by Marx or an integral facet of his revolutionary theory remains an enigma.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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