Martin Thomas outlines the guide he followed in compiling Crisis and Sequels, a book on the 2007-8 crash and its aftermath now out in paperback edition.
“Analysis must proceed not from a blurred outline of a ‘typical’ capitalist economy, but from the complex reality of a world economy with its own structure and within it national economies substantially different in pattern both from the global structure and from each other”.
Crisis and Sequels is built round 32 interviews with or contributions by 15 economists, organised into five chronological sections as the 20078 crash and its sequels proceeded up to 2015. In each followup interview the economist was asked to consider their earlier assessments.
Thomas contributes a long introduction, explores differences between the economists in his interviews, and follows up with an afterword and three appendices.
The questions put to the economists include the cause and trigger for the 20078 crash, and whether the crisis period marked the beginning of an end to neoliberalism, and if so in what sense.
What did the crisis and its aftermath show about the role of the USA in the global economy? Does the
USA remain the dominant force, or is it beginning to crumble? What does financialisation mean? Where
does it fit in economic development?
Martin Thomas does not offer a final judgment of his own on all those matters under discussion. He seeks to challenge himself, and the reader, to keep on thinking through these questions.
The book endeavours both to point to the value of trying to reach a common understanding, and how that might be approached through critical dialogue rather than different self-defined “Marxist theories” standing alone, protected by walls of anathema.
It also contains a challenge to the conventional popular formulae of Marxist economics inherited from the Stalinist tradition; it is a contribution to their reexamination, just as in other books Sean Matgamna has re-examined Stalinist-shaped formulas which have weighed down the history of Trotskyism.
“Many on the left...”, writes Thomas, “make elaborate plans to fight the last war. The spectre of the 1970s (and even the 1920s) still hang over much of the left. Many socialists still regard imperialism in terms of (a garbled version of) the analysis Lenin made during the First World War. They repeat a cannibalised
‘Leninist’, actually Stalinist account of imperialism”.
Appendix 3 argues for rejecting the idea of a tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a thesis with explanatory power in understanding crisis. The “tendency of the rate of profit to fall”, as it appeared in Marx’s unfinished notes later collected as volume 3 of Capital, is just one tendency, among countervailing tendencies, operating in a limited context, and excluding other variables.
It “developed traction in the early years of Stalin’s rule, as a convenient reason to abandon revolutionary agitation on the grounds that capitalism’s collapse was inevitable”.
Socialists need to become better at discussing contemporary challenges to working-class interests, in terms of Marxist political economy, and in ways that are relevant and well-informed.
This book will help us to do that.