Chris Harman


In defence of Marx

(September 1982)

From Socialist Review, 15 September-12 October 1981: 8, p.35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Theories of the Capitalist Economy
Ben Fine
Edward Arnold £5.95

Ben Fine has authored or part-authored some useful expositions of Marx’s method of economic analysis, defending it against both bourgeois critics and Marxists who would cut out crucial elements. The difficulty is they are written at a level of abstraction which makes them difficult to follow (especially for those trying to understand Marx for the first time) and which does not make it easy to see what their implications are for understanding the world today.

Thus Fine defends Marx’s theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. He points out that the tendencies to counteract this – seized on with such enthusiasm by revisers of Marx – can only take effect through cyclical crises which tear society apart. But he never asks whether crisis can always be successful in offsetting the decline in the rate of profit. And he never considers what happens if each component unit of the system becomes so large as to prevent crises resolving themselves.

He is therefore left with room to adopt the method of revising Marx preached by the more hardline elements in the CP – the contention that a radical version of the Alternative Economic Strategy from a ‘new sort’ of left wing government could get Britain out of the crisis.

Yet there is no doubt Fine stands on the extreme left of what passes for academic Marxist economics in Britain today. And what he writes is useful for those who want no truck with reformism at all.

This book is concerned with the history of economic thought. It points to certain problems that beset the classic bourgeois economists, Smith and Ricardo. Marx, Fine argues, was able to resolve these problems. By contrast the schools which have dominated academic economics from the 1870s onwards have been completely unable to, and instead have tried to ignore them. This has meant they could provide no real explanation of the most important features of the capitalist economy.

It is a pity the style of the book necessarily restricts its readership to a small academic audience and will make it inaccessible to those who want to change the world as well as philosophise about it.

Last updated on 17 May 2010