Sweezy attempts to develop a theory of crises in ‘Theory of Capitalist Development’
In “Monopoly Capital,” Sweezy (and Baran) treated crises and the industrial cycle only in passing. In contrast, in “The Theory of Capitalist Development” Sweezy examined Marxist crisis theory in considerable detail. Even today, “The Theory of Capitalist Development” can be recommended for anybody interested in the development of Marxist crisis theory in the first part of the 20th century.
In his survey, Sweezey examined the writings of such Marxists as Kautsky, Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg and Henryk Grossman. Sweezy found essentially three crisis theories among these early 20th-century Marxists.
One was put forward by Karl Kautksy around the turn of the 20th century. It involved the question of whether capitalism was evolving toward a state of chronic depression.
What is sometimes called the “Great Depression” of 1873-1896 had come to an end, and the world capitalist economy was entering a phase of rapid economic expansion. According to Kautsky, it was the existence of agrarian markets still dominated by pre-capitalist simple commodity production that explained capitalism’s continued ability to grow.
However, as capitalism continued to develop, these markets would be expected to decline in importance and the world capitalist economy would, if socialist revolution did not intervene, sink into a state of more or less permanent depression. This would mark the end of capitalism’s ability to develop the productive forces of humanity.
Therefore, according to Kautsky, the cyclical crises and their associated depressions were heralds of the approaching state of permanent depression. As such, they were reminders that capitalist production was historically limited and would inevitably give way to a higher mode of production.
Later, in 1912, Rosa Luxemburg attempted to prove Kautsky’s turn-of-the-century views in a rigorous way in her “Accumulation of Capital.” Luxemburg believed that she had indeed proven that assuming that all production is capitalist—that is, there are no more simple commodity producers—expanded capitalist reproduction would be a mathematical impossibility. And remember that according to Marx capitalism can only exist as expanded reproduction.