underconsumption again--and Luxemburg

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Fri Jan 27 00:07:15 MST 1995


Well, I'm moving on in my studies on imperialism (actually this is a
collective effort--so a number of eager minds want to know)...

and am still confused about underconsumption.  I have added Luxemburg's
_Accumulation of Capital_ to my theoretical arsenal, in the mean time,
and, in conjunction with Brewer _Marxist Theories of Imperialism,
(citation--I remember someone asked--2nd Ed. NY: Routledge, 1990) have a
fair number of questions:

i. I am still interested in refutations, proof or consensus on
underconsumption--basically, Luxemburg's contention (echoing Marx in the
_Grundrisse_) that there's a fundamental contradiction between the
extraction of surplus value and the realization of capital--in other
words, that, *by definition* precisely because surplus value is surplus
to variable capital (the wage bill) there is always an insufficient
"home" market for capitalist commodities.

  Brewer states categorically that this is untrue--"the whole system
expands together" (63).  This assertion, however, seems to be based upon
the premise of a continually expanding labour market, which seems
unlikely to me.  Admittedly, however, Luxemburg emphasises expansion of
capitalism over its intensification or other ways in which contradictions
can be ameliorated (growth of speculation etc.).  However, I want to know
if economists reckon underconsumption to be the tendency that leads to the
formation of the world market (I regard this as some kind of middle
position) or not.

  While I think Doug's description of the obstacles and inhibitions
capitalist firms have in moving abroad interesting, I'm not sure if this
in itself counters the underconsumptionist thesis (if it does, do tell)
because this only concerns trade/marketization, no?  Luxemburg does also
suggest that a proletarianization and capitalization of other areas is a
necessary consequence of this process (and that this happens under the
command of foreign capital), but that seems a separate argument (one that
concerns the contradictions around capitalization of suplus value), one I
don't want to enter for the moment (it seems to be the one about
dependency theory, but I'm not sure).  Whatever, a world market can be
achieved without capitalist relocation.

  Markets, on the other hand, are not specific to capitalism.  After all,
imperialism itself is not only a capitalist phenomenon either.  Luxemburg
seems to think that the fact that capitalism has historically promoted
the destruction of previous modes of existence proves her theory.  Yet
the Roman or other empires were equally disruptive--no?

  Hmmm... that seems enough for now!  More questions later, I strongly
suspect.  Oh, and I'm also intrigued about the political implications (or
not) of the foundationalism argument... but maybe I'll ask that anon.

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/~spoons

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