Apart from minor improvements in style and a sprinkling of footnotes – enclosed in square brackets – Parts 1 and 2 of this edition have been left as first published. Part 3 is wholly new.
Lund December 1969
Political economy is booming. A few writers are once again trying to see how capitalism works as a system. The interest is fairly recent and the output small. It is still far from being in the mainstream of economic thought, a position it lost a century or so ago. But it is there, likely to grow – and this essay is part of it.
The essay shares with the other contributions an impatience with national preoccupations and peculiarities except as indications of a general trend. Less happily, it shares a haphazard sense of proportion and a summary way with qualification, reservation and restraint – but this is inescapable when writing without the resources of orthodoxy. It also shares many debts, some acknowledged, to many people. Where it claims a little distinction is in its presuppositions, almost wholly implicit:
Only one of these – the second – needs elaboration. Except in Chapter 3, where it is stripped down to essentials, no attempt is made to place western capitalism in a context of the system as a whole. In particular, no mention is made of the west’s contribution to sustaining the conservative, class-ridden state-capitalisms of ‘the east’, or in perpetuating the desperation of the backward world. No judgement is intended in the omissions. It is demonstrable that the malignancy of the west’s intervention grafted a like malignancy on post-revolutionary Russia, the consequences of which are still embedded in Cold War. It is equally demonstrable that the societies maimed and shattered by the imperialist explosion of the last century are again being maimed and shattered – by the growing economic isolationism of the west (an imperialist implosion as it were) as well as by some of the consequences of Cold War. But so important are these demonstrations, they had best be treated separately, not as minor themes in the present essay. What is important here is to show that even under the exceptionally favourable external circumstances that have existed since the war, western capitalism is deeply unstable, as any system of conflict must be.
The essay has grown out of small beginnings not all of which are fully outgrown. That it has been able to do so is due to the critical support of Tony Godwin and Nina Kidron; to the critical criticism of Nigel Harris and a number of other friends who read the manuscript; to the generous help of my colleagues at the University of Hull; and to the patience and efficiency of the University’s librarians. Except in details, the manuscript was completed in March 1967.
Chapter Three has appeared in an earlier form in the quarterly International Socialism, a journal in which many of the ideas presented here were first exercised.
Lund, E. Yorks. December 1967
Last updated on 12.2.2005