In this introduction to the special feature Rob Sewell gives a general view of the meaning of the present turbulence in the markets and explains why we say these are just the first tremors of a coming slump.

Michael Roberts, ecomics editor of Socialist Appeal, explains the immediate causes of the present crash of the markets: the currency crisis in South East Asia and how these economies, which were supposed to be models of capitalist development suddenly collapsed.

In this major article, Ted Grant provides us with a general analysis of the present state of capitalism. With chapters on the nature of the boom/slump cycle, the peculiarities of the present "boom", the claim that Information Technology has solved the problems of capitalism, the crisis of overproduction, the situation in South East Asia, the consecuences that the coming slump will have and the tasks in front of Marxists at this particular juncture.

"Flat on its back for years and showing few signs of life, Japan's economy was nonetheless still in the world of the living. When we last checked, that is. Reports of its imminent demise are now coming thick and fast. A world that had grown bored with the 'Japan isn't growing' story is suddenly paying attention to the new 'Japan will collapse and take the rest of us with it' story." The Economist, 11/4/98. Phil Mitchinson analyses the reasons behind.

"False Dawn", by LSE professor John Gray, takes us on a world tour of the social devastation being left in capitalism's wake. Fascinating for its factual and statistical data alone, it is perhaps Gray's conclusions which make the deepest impression. The free market he argues will cause disaster, war, ethnic conflict, environmental destruction and impoverish millions. Yet throughout a lucid and empirically remarkable work, Gray offers no hope, proposes no reform and predicts the gloomiest of futures. In essence he argues that the global market economy is fatally flawed and incapable of reform.

Here's a prediction. The US economy is heading for slump. By the end of this year, that reality will start to emerge behind the smoke and mirrors of stock market exuberance and big business bluster. Since 1945, all world slumps have started in the US. This time will be no exception. Europe is just beginning to pick up steam. Its budding boom will be cut off by the frost of the American recession. Japan and Asia are already freezing. Before the millennium is reached, the world will be ice.

The world is heading for a major slump in the next 12- 18 months. All the signs are there. On the surface, all seems reasonably rosy. The world's stock markets have recovered from their autumn crash and the 'real economy' of developed capitalism also performed reasonably well in 1998. Only Japan continued to dive by nearly 3%. But so-called emerging Asia suffered the worst slump in a lifetime, while Russia entered yet another horrific downturn as the rouble collapsed. Latin America is now sliding into recession. Overall, the capitalist world grew about 1.5%, hardly enough to compensate for population growth. And 1998 was a relatively good year. The neon signs of a deep slump ahead are flashing.

There's a saying among girls in the slums of Bangladesh: if you're lucky, you'll be a prostitute - if you're unlucky, you'll be a garment worker. The fashion industry is big business. It makes a lot of money - but over the world, textile and clothing workers are poor. Yet they work hard. They say nobody ever got rich though hard work. But it's not true. The people who work hard never got rich through working hard. But the rich got rich by getting other people like us to work hard for them. That's the way of the world under capitalism. Mick Brooks explains how surplus value is generated in the fashion industry.

The US stock market has reached new highs. By any definition it is fantastically valued. Michael Roberts looks at the reasons behind the speculative fever and its relations with the real economy and concludes that a total eclipse is not far away.

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