With every boom the apologists for capitalism claim that the tendency to crisis that has plagued the capitalist system since its very beginnings has finally been overcome. When the boom breaks, economists fall over one another to provide particularistic explanations of the crash. The crisis of the early nineteen nineties was the result of the incautious lending of the nineteen eighties. The crisis of the early nineteen eighties was the result of excessive state spending in the late nineteen seventies. The crisis of the mid nineteen seventies was the result of the oil price hike and the inflationary financing of the Vietnam war … the crisis of the nineteen thirties was the result of inappropriate banking policies … … . Every crisis has a different cause, all of which boil down to human failure, none of which are attributed to the capitalist system itself. And yet crises have recurred periodically for the past two hundred years.
During the last ten years Marxism has come to occupy a substantial position within American academia. This is especially true in economics where, until recently, discussion of Marx and the Marxist tradition was largely confined to courses in the history of economic thought and in the economic history of the Soviet Union. The rise of an academic Marxism has been due, I would argue, to two forces. First, the struggles of students within the context of the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s carved out time and space within which politically active students could study Marxism as apart of radical economics, insurgent sociology, and so on. Second, university administrators and the business interests they generally represent have been surprisingly tolerant of the expansion of Marxist studies. This reaction to student demands is not simply a case of the “repressive tolerance” Marcuse described so vividly. The current tolerance is due, more importantly, to the need of business for new ideas during the present period of economic and social crisis. There is a long history of the capitalist appropriation of Marxist ideas which should lend credence to this suggestion. Moreover, the numerous attempts in recent years in the business press and in professional economic journals to give space to radical ideas and to evaluate current Marxist economic research demonstrates the on-going interest of business and its ideologues in the possibility of appropriating something new from Marx. Nowhere has this tolerance been more obvious than in the area of Marxist research on the theory of economic crisis." This willingness on the part of business to appropriate Marxist ideas and to use them for its own purposes has been largely ignored by Marxists working on the theory of crisis. They have, time and again, formulated their theories in ways that facilitate such appropriation. Yet this is not necessary. There is a way to read Marx and to develop Marxist theory that does not lend itself to this kind of appropriation. In this essay I do two things. First, through a series of examples, I illustrate how, in the history of Marxist work on the theory of crisis, many have forgotten the revolutionary content of Marx’s own work and thus left themselves open to the dangers of capitalist appropriation. Second, I suggest an alternative approach to the study and elaboration of Marx’s analysis of crisis that makes its political and revolutionary content explicit and thus more immune to appropriation.
[An edited extract from the English translation of the late author's L'Horreur Economique. Viviane Forrester, a co-founder of ATTAC, died in April 2013.] We are living in the midst of a deception, where artificial policies claim to perpetuate a world that has in fact gone for ever. Millions of human lives are devastated and annihilated by this anachronism, which asserts the immutability of our most sacred concept: work.