MARXISM - GROSSMAN - REVIEW
Grossman and the Recovery of Marxism
Press, 2007, 352 pp, $60 hpk, $25 pbk.
ďWhen will capitalism
collapse?Ē haunted public life until the 1950s. Interest in the work
of the Polish Marxist Henryk Grossman (1881-1950) shrank as the terms of
economic debate drifted from depression to recession, from collapse to
correction. Grossman established his reputation with The
Law of Accumulation and the Collapse of the Capitalist System (also a
Theory of Crisis) published in 1929, and in Japanese by 1932. An
English translation arrived in 1992.
The audience for
Grossmanís analysis was the working-class from Moscow to Chicago.
Activists and academics without access to the 644-page book were made
aware of its analysis through the world Communist movement. Reader in
Political Science at the ANU, Rick Kuhn, notes that these accounts often
misrepresented Grossmanís politics by alleging that his proofs for
inevitability of crises denied the need for overthrowing the state.
That dispute was
pivotal because, in 1929, the Comintern recognised that capitalism had
entered a new era of crises. Months before the epiphenomenon of a
stock-market crash, Grossmanís tome endorsed the economic underpinning
of this new policy. The Cominternís rider was that the collapse was
about to regenerate revolution, during which the Social Democratic
leaders would reveal themselves again as socialist in name but fascist
Leaving the political
aspects aside, the explication of crisis provided opportunities for
honest disagreement among writers proceeding from Marxís Capital.
The key sections appear in Volume Three under the rubric of ďThe law
of the tendency of the rate of profit to fallĒ, followed by chapters
on the counter-tendencies. In broad, Marx argued that crises recurred
because of the over-production by the illogic of capital accumulation.
Each capital had to expand to survive against the twin pressures from
competition and the demands of wage-slaves for a larger share of the
surplus value they supplied. Grossman followed Marx in treating
under-consumption as an effect, not the cause. Yet, Marx had pointed out
that a crisis of excess capacity need not erupt at the point of its
generation but, perhaps, in the domain of distribution, or elsewhere in
the circuits of expansion for money capital.
Grossman deployed his
mastery of statistics to track recent rates of profit which he
integrated with the disjunctures between the production of machinery and
that of consumer items. Although the
reproduction schema that Marx set out in Volume Two became crucial
to debates over planning, Grossman did not intervene.
Grossmanís masterwork within two streams of its authorís life. The
first began with his agitational efforts among 5,000 Jewish workers
around his native Krakow and lingered through his life-long attachment
to Soviet Communism, as confirmed by his acceptance of a Chair at
Leipzig in 1948.
The second is
Grossmanís achievements as an economic historian, for instance, his
reinterpretation of Eighteenth-century trade within the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, skills put to use by the Austrian war ministry. Grossman spent
20 years with the Institute for Social Research, first in Frankfurt and
then in New York, wrestling with the Directorís cheque-book and the
spirits of Descartes and Sismondi.
The private man is
enlivened by extracts from the papers of the Australian-born novelist
Christina Stead who became a friend during his 1940s exile. What did
Grossman think of her Marxian novel set in a merchant bank during the
1930s financial crisis, House of
All Nations (1938)?
Kuhn provides a full
bibliography of Grossmanís writings, thorough documentation and a
friendly index. Kuhnís straightforward prose reveals how substantial a
contribution he has made to intellectual history. Whether anyone can
recover Marxism depends on whether Grossman was right to say that
capitalist crises are ineluctable.
Economic History Review,