Ernest Mandel on overproduction and overaccumulation

Jurriaan Bendien J.Bendien at
Tue Jan 14 11:22:52 MST 2003

The question of determining whether according to Marx, a crisis of
overproduction is first of all a crisis of overproduction of commodities or
a crisis of overproduction of capital is really meaningless in the framework
of Marx's economic analysis. The mass of commodities is but one specific
form of capital, commodity capital. Under capitalism, which is generalised
commodity production, no overproduction is possible which is not
simultaneously overproduction of commodities and overproduction of capital

Likewise, the question to know whether the crisis 'centres' on the sphere of
production or the sphere of circulation is largely meaningless. The crisis
is a disturbance (interruption) of the process of enlarged reproduction; and
according to Marx, the process of reproduction is precisely a
(contradictory) unity of production and circulation. For capitalists, both
individually (as separate firms) and as the sum total of firms it is
irrelevant whether more surplus-value has actually been produced in the
process of production, if that surplus-value cannot be totally realised in
the process of circulation. Contrary to many economists, academic and
marxist alike, Marx explicitly rejected any Say-like illusion that
production more or less automatically finds is own market.

It is correct that in the last analysis, capitalist crises of overproduction
result from a downslide of the average rate of profit. But this does not
represent a variant of the 'monocausal' explanation of crises. It means
that, under capitalism, the fluctuations of the average rate of profit are
in a sense the seismograph of what happens in the system as a whole. So that
formula just refers back to the sum-total of partially independent
variables, whose interplay causes the fluctuations of the average rate of

- from the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics.


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