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Crisis and ‘law of motion’ in economics: a critique of positivist Marxism

Listed author(s):
  • Freeman, Alan

This is a prepublication version of the paper published in Review of Political Economy Volume 26, 2010 ( It should be cited as Freeman, A. (2010). ‘Crisis and “law of motion” in economics: a critique of positivist Marxism’, Review of Political Economy Volume 26, 2010, pp 211-250. This paper restores the concepts of freedom, consciousness, and choice to our understanding of ‘economic laws’, so we may discuss how to respond to economic crisis. These are absent from orthodox economics which presents ‘globalisation’ or ‘the markets’ as the outcome of unstoppable forces outside human control. They were integral to the emancipatory political economy of Karl Marx but have been lost to Marxism, which appears as the inspiration for mechanical, fatalistic determinism. This confusion arises from Marxism’s absorption of the idea, originating in French positivism, that social laws are automatic and inevitable. The article contests the organizing principle of this view: that economic laws are predictive, telling us what must happen. Marx’s laws are relational, not predictive, laying bare the connection between two apparently distinct forms of appearance of the same thing, such as labour and price. Such laws open the door to democracy and choice, but do not unambiguously predict the future because what happens depends on our actions. The commodity form conceals these laws, disguising the true social and class relations of society. Accumulation, however, undermines the circumstances that permit the commodity to play this role. The result is crisis, defined in this paper as the point when the blind laws of the commodity form are suspended and open political forces come into play. In past crises, capitalism has restored the rate of profit through such destructive interventions as imperialism, war, and fascism. Economic laws, properly defined, offer society the real choice of alternative outcomes from crisis.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 48619.

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Date of creation: 02 Jun 2010
Date of revision: 05 Jul 2010
Publication status: Published in Research in Political Economy 26 (2010): pp. 211-250
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:48619
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  1. Andrew J. Kliman, 2002. "The law of value and laws of statistics: sectoral values and prices in the US economy, 1977--97," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 299-311, May.
  2. Freeman, Alan, 2003. "When Things Go Wrong: the Political Economy of Market Breakdown," MPRA Paper 5586, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Lefteris Tsoulfidis, 2002. "Values, prices of production and market prices: some more evidence from the Greek economy," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 26(3), pages 359-369, May.
  4. W. Paul Cockshott & Allin Cottrell, 2005. "Robust correlations between prices and labour values: a comment," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(2), pages 309-316, March.
  5. Bagchi,Amiya Kumar, 1982. "The Political Economy of Underdevelopment," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521284042, December.
  6. Wesley Clair Mitchell, 1927. "Business Cycles: The Problem and Its Setting," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number mitc27-1.
  7. Freeman, Alan, 1998. "The indeterminacy of price-value correlations: a comment on papers by Simo Mohun and Anwar Shaikh," MPRA Paper 2040, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 1998.
  8. Freeman, Alan & Kagarlitsky, Boris, 2004. "World Empire - or a world of Empires?," MPRA Paper 52543, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 27 Dec 2013.
  9. Andrew J. Kliman, 2005. "Reply to Cockshott and Cottrell," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(2), pages 317-323, March.
  10. Freeman, Alan, 2009. "Investing In Civilization," MPRA Paper 26807, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 15 Feb 2009.
  11. Wesley Clair Mitchell, 1927. "Introductory pages to "Business Cycles: The Problem and Its Setting"," NBER Chapters,in: Business Cycles: The Problem and Its Setting, pages -23 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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