Letters

Ricardian

Michael Roberts says: “What really drives investment in modern capitalist economies, where private capital investment dominates, is the profitability of projects. Private investment has failed to deliver because profitability is too low, but even so the public sector must not interfere” (‘Capital’s wishful thinking’, December 15).

It’s certainly true that capital will not knowingly advance additional capital in some endeavour that is loss-making (though, as Marx sets out in analysing rent, it may even do that under some conditions), but the thrust of Michael’s argument here is not Marxist, but Ricardian. Michael seems to have ruled out the actual driving force of capital - to self-expand, and the need to do so due to the impulsion of competition from other capitals - and replaced it with the Ricardian notion that additional capital will only be advanced where it is incentivised to do so, by a higher rate of profit, and higher prices to effect that higher rate of profit.

In Capital volumeIII, in discussing rent, and the advance of capital, Marx makes that clear, in his critique of Ricardo’s argument. Ricardo, like Michael, argued that capital would only be incentivised to advance additional capital, if agricultural prices, and thereby the rate of agricultural profits, rose. But this is wrong.

Capital according to Marx’s analysis does not require a higher rate of profit to persuade it to advance additional capital, as Ricardo and Michael believe, but merely requires that it can make additional profit - ie, that it can increase the mass of capital realised. The condition for that is that it should believe that a market exists for the new output that will result from such an advance of additional capital. In fact, in the chapters on rent, 37 to 47 (Marx expands on this in Theories of surplus value), Marx deals in some considerable detail with the situation in which additional capital invested on the land results in a falling marginal productivity of capital, which results in a lower rate of profit on such new advances of capital.

But capital is driven to advance additional sums because its primary goal is its own self-expansion, and competition from other capitals is enough to force it to act to expand its own market share, or to not see that share fall, as the size of the market itself expands. That is particularly the case now that capital is dominated by huge socialised capitals rather than the private capitals that predominated in the early 19th century. As Marx says:

“Concentration increases simultaneously, because beyond certain limits a large capital with a small rate of profit accumulates faster than a small capital with a large rate of profit...

“The so-called plethora of capital always applies essentially to a plethora of the capital for which the fall in the rate of profit is not compensated through the mass of profit” (Capital III, Chapter 15).

And, as soon as the economy becomes dominated by these huge socialised capitals, Marx says:

“The rate of profit, ie, the relative increment of capital, is above all important to all new offshoots of capital seeking to find an independent place for themselves. And as soon as formation of capital were to fall into the hands of a few established big capitals, for which the mass of profit compensates for the falling rate of profit, the vital flame of production would be altogether extinguished. It would die out” (ibid).

Andrew Kliman is right, when he says: “Companies’ decisions about how much output to produce are based on projections of demand for the output” (The failure of capitalist production p16n).

If a largecompany sees the demand for its output rising sharply, it will increase its investment so as to be able to meet that demand, even if the rate of profit it makes in supplying this new output is lower than that it currently enjoys on its current production. It will do so, for the reasons Marx sets out above - ie, capital is concerned to expand the mass of profit it realises - and this is increasingly the case as these capitals become larger.

Arthur Bough
boffyblog.blogspot.com

Soft Stalinist

Carla Roberts’ take on Andrew Murray’s politics needed to be much more subtle to be convincing (‘A false narrative’, December 15).

It will simply not do to paint, as I feel Roberts does, Murray as some kind of unreconstructed Stalinist. Take, for example, Murray’s recent review of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin (‘Trotsky’s sins of omission’, Morning Star, October 17). Here, a much more empathetic view comes into play, albeit one still filtered through the apologetic and boring tropes of ‘soft Stalinism’. Murray says at one point: “At any event, while this book has literary and historical merit, it has much less as an actual biography of Stalin.” One suspects that the Murray of 30 years ago wouldn’t have dared to see any merit in Leon Trotsky. Murray has no thought, seemingly, of Trotsky as a traitor or any of the other absurd epithets that the ‘official communist’ movement hurled at Trotsky and refers to Stalin’s purges as a “horrifying operation”.

Murray, I suspect, has gone through a similar odyssey to Kate Hudson, Left Unity leader and closet Palme Dutt groupie, through his work in Stop the War Coalition. She also left the Communist Party of Britain and started voicing a much more agnostic view of Trotsky. I suppose it does became rather difficult to hang on to otherworldly tales of the founder of the Red Army being a poisonous viper in the pay of German fascism (or British imperialism, or the Daleks, Bing Crosby or whomever) when you have to engage with John Rees and Lindsey German on a regular basis.

The CPB certainly does have more unreconstructed types in its midst. Take, for example, the oafish Nick Wright, Murray’s old comrade from Straight Left days and currently on the CPB’s executive committee. He wrote on the Socialist Unity website recently: “The assassination of Trotsky was the task of the security unit under the command of Pavel [Sudoplatov]. It was exceptionally well planned. As one would expect from professionals with long experience of combatting counterrevolution and subversion.” Thank god for ‘professionals’. (Amazingly, this doesn’t quite take the prize for stupidity in Wright’s recent output; that award must go to a recent attempt to tackle the SWP’s response to Fidel Castro’s death by quoting bigoted media potty-mouth Katie Hopkins. You couldn’t make this stuff up.) But Nick Wright is not Andrew Murray - a small mercy in these troubled times.

Also, I don’t think Murray’s joining of the Labour Party has much to do with the current struggles in Momentum, although he could end up there. There are much more pertinent things in Murray’s historical make-up (Straight Left’s inherent Labourism, for example) and in his immediate social group (Corbyn, Seamus Milne, Len McCluskey) that would have predisposed him to join Labour. There is simply no point in Murray remaining in the CPB at the present time if he wants to make an impact on serious politics and he had been drifting away from the organisation for a long time (although he will undoubtedly take a lot of its politics into Labour). Murray wrote in July on the US Jacobin website (‘Jeremy Corbyn and the battle for socialism’, Jacobin, July 2): “Can a fighting alliance between the most energetic of the new movements against imperialism and capitalist globalisation and the sturdiest organisations of the labour movement create a new opening to overturn the ruling elite and build a socialist society? Though the answer is unclear, the question seems the only one worth asking right now.” In hindsight, it was clear where he was headed.

Howard Phillips
London

Messy end

No doubt along with your other 3,000-odd online followers, in last week’s edition I read with genuine interest how Corbyn and his Labour tribe of last-gasp Keynesians are continuing with their entirely well-intentioned but also entirely hopeless tasks-in-hand.

Most particularly, I’m referring to the excellent examination and analysis provided by Carla Roberts and Eddie Ford on various aspects of this matter. Comrade Carla’s article being based around Momentum’s near-Machiavellian machinations cum antics, probably better described as their introspective nonsense and wholly unproductive crap.

Whilst I fully understand and, in fact, to a large extent share the position of the Weekly Worker and the CPGB in relation to supporting Labour (with all of its associated caveats, underlying tactical thinking plus strategic ambitions of “turning it to the left”), I think that position and policy is now wearing very thin.

In my own mind, watching Corbynism perform its role within our 21st century circumstances of globalised capitalism (along with those associated bloodfests of military-industrial brutality such as Syria, Libya and Yemen) is much like watching a furry creature from a long-gone age as it courageously but inevitably sinks deeper and deeper under the surface of the tar-pit into which it has fallen. Not a sabre-toothed tiger, you understand - more of a small to medium-sized herbivore. In any event, surely we’re witnessing a black and sticky and undoubtedly tragic situation, bringing with it nothing but a sticky and horribly wasteful end.

So where to thereafter for those beautifully decent-minded, superbly honourable and fabulously enthusiastic supporters of Corbyn and McDonnell in their generalised brand new membership of the Labour Party? Indeed, where to for proactive supporters or even just respectful followers of the Weekly Worker/CPGB policy and position in relation to Labour, such as myself?

Suggestions on a postcard please, comrades - written in clear language and using a glitzy-coloured ballpoint pen this time around, not an old pencil!

Bruno Kretzschmar
email

Phased out

Adam Buick, lead attorney for the Socialist Party of Great Britain, has closed his case (Letters, December 15). Welcome news. I cannot say I found our exchanges of any particular value. Indeed trying to get comrade Buick to seriously debate has been like trying to pin down jelly. There is nothing consistent about him, except his inconsistency.

Comrade Buick began his last letter by stating that he fails to understand why I seem “unable to see what the point at issue is”. Apparently it is “not whether Marx distinguished between a ‘first’ and a ‘higher’ phase of communist society, but whether these two phases were different societies, as Lenin made them.”

Well, no surprise, this is demonstrably untrue.

Things started with a number of correspondents criticising the market socialism nonsense peddled by Phil Sharpe. I readily admit that the SPGB comrades took the lead here and have, in general, done a good job. Of course, it has to be said, that comrade Sharpe is an easy target. He is a muddle head and cannot be regarded as a serious thinker.

My first letter was intended to emphasise that the first, the lower phase, of socialism/communism begins, as Marx explained, with capitalism at the point where the working class breaks through and takes state power (Letters, November 10).

Inescapably, that means beginning with money, commodity production, etc. Not that the aim should be some idealised market socialist, halfway house equilibrium, a stage envisaged, of course, by comrade Sharpe. On the contrary, the working class has a vital need to move, as rapidly as objective circumstances permit, to the higher stage of socialism/communism. Money, classes, the state itself wither away.

Nevertheless, this recognition of the two stages/phases of socialism/communism was exactly what was lacking in the first SPGB contributions.

Comrade Buick then wrote that I confused “two different transitions” (Letters, November 17). He told us that Marx, in the 1870s, did envisage the period of “revolutionary transformation of capitalist society into communist society lasting a while.” However, comrade Buick assures us that with subsequent technological developments that transformation “wouldn’t need to last very long” nowadays. He might well be right … but no matter how long is not “very long”, it is vital not to minimise the political, theoretical and practical significance of this transitionary period.

Unless we frankly admit that there will be a first, lower stage of socialism/communism, with all its inevitable shortcomings, we are in danger of merging, becoming indistinguishable from anarchism. This is indeed what I have detected in SPGB contributions attacking comrade Sharpe’s market socialism.

After the workers’ party comes to power, the first stage of socialism/communism cannot be avoided or skipped over. Nor, therefore, should it be polemically ignored or brushed aside.

Strangely, comrade Buick took issue with my claim that the distinction between a lower and a higher phase of socialism/communism was a Second International orthodoxy. Clearly my preference, following Lenin’s State and revolution, is for calling the first phase of socialism/communism ‘socialism’ and the higher phase of socialism/communism ‘communism’. This appears to have totally confused comrade Buick, though it ought not to have. Anyway he demanded proof.

In reply, I emphasised that we seemed to be in basic agreement (Letters, November 24). There will be a higher and a lower phase of socialism/communism. As to the Second International, I simply quoted from Karl Kautsky’s extended commentary on the 1891 Erfurt programme. Kautsky was not only the Second International’s ‘pope of Marxism’. He was also, let us note, a sort of ‘honorary’ Bolshevik.

Comrade Buick’s next reply claimed that my “assertion” that the Second International distinguished between a first and a higher phase of socialism/communism was “dubious” (Letters, December 1). Somewhat strangely, to uphold his ‘argument’, he quoted August Bebel and Lenin writing about the higher phase of socialism/communism. He then introduced the Stalinist writer Theodore Oizerman. Falsely, this hack philosopher maintained that the foremost representatives of the Second International “did not distinguish” between the lower and higher phases of socialism/communism. Comrade Buick imagined himself vindicated.

In my rejoinder, I insisted that Stalinism and Leninism were not, as comrade Buick claimed, indistinguishable (Letters, December 8). I then went on to cite a number of Second International writers - Bebel, Kautsky, Lenin … and Stalin - dealing with the first phase of socialism/communism.

Essentially, I maintained, and still maintain, that Lenin did nothing original in his State and revolution. True, he did give the first phase of socialism/communism the name ‘socialism’ and the higher phase of socialism/communism the name ‘communism’. But not for nothing does Lars T Lih talk of “Lenin’s aggressive unoriginality”.

In his ‘closing remarks’ comrade Buick claims that in State and revolution, what Lenin described was not the first phase of socialism/communism leading to the higher phase of socialism/communism. No, apparently what Lenin envisaged was “state capitalism”. This is, says comrade Buick, not “any phase of communist society”.

According to comrade Buick, the first and the higher phases of socialism/communism are the “same” because they are both phases of a “classless, stateless, wageless society, with production directly for use.”

I fundamentally disagree. Here, once again, I unashamedly take my stand on Marx … and in particular his Critique of the Gotha programme (1875). Marx writes about the “inevitable” defects of the first phase of communist society. This first phase (socialism) cannot but have many of the features of capitalist society, because, at its outset, it has “just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society”.

Does comrade Buick really imagine that on day one of socialism we shall immediately do away with classes, the state and wages and immediately introduce production directly for use? If he does, this amounts to an SPGB version of anarchism.

No, because socialism emerges from really existing capitalism, we shall begin with wage labour, the market and classes. Yes, we shall expropriate big capital and put the commanding heights of the economy into state hands … into the hands of the armed working class (aka the dictatorship of the proletariat).

But the state, albeit a semi-state, will still be needed. We must fend off counterrevolution at home and abroad. We must also oversee a mixed economy.

There will still be, even in a country like Britain, the middle classes, including the petty bourgeoisie. Eg, on day one we shall not nationalise every fish and chip shop. Nor shall we stop the petty bourgeoisie employing people.

Showing how close to anarchism he is, comrade Buick closes by extensively quoting the Stalin of 1905 on the higher phase of socialism/communism. Yes, the higher phase of socialism/communism will “have no classes”, no “buying or selling”, etc.

But that is not what is at issue. What is at issue is the lower phase of socialism/communism.

Jack Conrad
London

Skid Row

What on earth is Phil Sharpe going on about? He claims that I “ignore the importance of class struggle for Marxism” and that “without successful class struggle in the form of proletarian revolution it will not be possible to create a socialist economy” (Letters, December 15). But I don’t ignore the importance of class struggle at all. On the contrary, it was central to my whole argument that the revolutionary struggle of the class-for-itself was crucial to the establishment of socialism and that this revolutionary struggle arises out of class struggles of the class-in-itself.

Phil continues with his silly line of argument that it is “dogmatic” to maintain that “support for market socialism makes a person a confused defender of the capitalist society we are aiming to abolish”. He promptly shoots himself in the foot in the very next sentence by arguing that “market socialism is based on the understanding that important aspects of capitalism will have to be integrated into the future society” and that “these aspects include the role of prices, markets and wages”. But Phil - don’t you understand that these very aspects you speak of are what makes capitalism, capitalism? They are the core generic features that define capitalism. How can you propose to “abolish” capitalism while at the same wanting, in effect, to keep it essentially intact?

If you were a Marxist and not the confused defender of capitalist society in the guise of so-called “market socialism” that you unquestionably are, you would understand this. You would understand why Marx urged that workers ought to “inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the wages system!’”(Value, price and profit) - the very wages system you wish to retain! - and why the Communist Manifesto could speak of the “communistic abolition of buying and selling”.

If you were a Marxist you would certainly not be joining forces with the anarcho-capitalist oddballs and other assorted rightwing groupies in the Ludwig von Mises fan club in calling for the perpetuation of the buying and selling system. You would certainly not be coming with this preposterous claim of yours - also propounded by those consummate spin doctors of capitalism, the economics profession - that “people can make the most optimum rational decision about their needs if goods are distributed in terms of the role of the market, or as a result of the utilisation of the price mechanism.”

The hell they can! Ask anyone on Skid Row and you will soon enough discover that human needs fall under the radar as far as this system is concerned. It is not human needs that the profit system is designed to respond to but “effective demand” - that is, demand backed up by purchasing power, to the extent that it can be profitably satisfied.

Robin Cox
SPGB

Syrian revolution

I have always admired Yassamine Mather’s sharp analytical ability in her comments on the Middle East, and her rejection of the silly and dangerous notion, so common among the “geopolitical left” nowadays, that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” But her article on Syria (‘Reaping the harvest’, December 15) left me perplexed.

Yassamine seems to argue - obliquely, but still - that the Syrian uprising against the Assad tyranny was almost nothing else but a US, Saudi, and Qatari regime change scheme and had very little in common with the Arab Spring in other countries of the Arab world, Egypt in particular. She dismisses socialists who support the “Syrian revolution” (her quote marks in both), and seems to put an equality sign between solidarity with the Syrian democrats and revolutionaries and a call for (more) Western intervention.

It is true that the left is confused, and support for the Syrian revolution cannot, due to circumstances, be mostly but a Platonic affair. But I think that progressive US groups such as the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Solidarity (Against the Current), and the International Socialist Organisation have taken quite sensible stands on Syria. CPD distributed a statement by a group of Syrian intellectuals, which called for solidarity with the Syrian revolution but explicitly condemned all outside interventions (www.cpdweb.org/news/war-tyranny-Syria.shtml).

As to the ‘no-fly zone’, it is one thing to oppose it (correctly in my mind) and another to understand why people living under Russia’s and Assad’s bombs might think that it’s not so bad an idea.

I recommend reading Burning country: Syrians in revolution and war by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami (2016). I had no previous knowledge of the writers but their reporting seems to be honest and their own comments interesting. The book gives a voice to the Syrians, so much suppressed in the on-going geopolitical gangster warfare, whose victims they are right now.

 

Hannu Reime
Helsinki

Sorry saga

Eddie Ford (‘Protecting the guilty’, December 8) calls this whole sorry, sad, disgusting narrative of the sexual and physical abuse of the weak by the powerful in its correct terms.

This is the legendary/mythical droit de seigneur writ large. Men in positions of power can take their sexual gratification where and when they like. Their victims, trapped within a power-relationship, are silent sufferers who remain ineffably damaged.

Unfortunately, it has ever been thus. William Gladstone introduced the ‘age of consent’ (16 years) for sexual activity in an attempt to stamp out the child prostitution rampant in late 19th century Britain.

It will also ever be thus - sexual predators will still try to get their cake (eat it, keep it and save it up for a rainy day) well beyond the day of the revolution.

Robert Leslie
email

Solidarity

As terror attacks in Turkey continue and the death toll grows, so does the polarisation of communities along ethnic and religious lines.

On December 10, two terror attacks in Istanbul resulted in the death of 46 people and injured 166. On December 17, another terror attack took place, this time in the city of Kayseri, killing 14 people and injuring a further 56. Whilst the relatives of the deceased and the injured were still recovering from the trauma, opposition forces were subject to political smearing by the pro-government media and the government, which accused democratic forces of being complicit in terrorism. President Erdogan also called on all citizens to mobilise against opposition parties and act as informants within their communities. This has only served to heighten tensions within an already polarised country. Opposition parties such as HDP and EMEP have had their offices attacked (including arson attacks), as well as the lynching of young members of CHP by pro-government/nationalist forces.

Prior to the terror attacks in Turkey and following the consensus between AKP and the nationalist party MHP, formal proceedings to introduce an executive presidential system in Turkey have been presented to parliament. The proposed changes seek to give the president extended executive powers while abolishing the prime ministry.

A delegation of representatives, including PEN International, Morning Star and Solidarity with the People of Turkey (SPOT), travelled to Turkey last week to observe the trial of two Evrensel journalists (Cemil Ugur and Halil Ibrahim Polat), who faced 15 years in prison and were accused of being members of terrorist organisations following their reporting of a rally in Diyarbakir earlier this year. The charges brought against the journalists were unfounded. Whilst the state of emergency continues, many journalists and activists remain in prison based on fabricated charges.

However, the presence of this delegation, organised by SPOT, was an expression of international solidarity and served to increase pressure on the Turkish courts to obey the rule of law. Thanks to the struggle of domestic forces and through strong international pressure, both journalists were found not guilty. Steve Sweeney of the Morning Star also joined the delegation and has provided his observations here: www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-c602-Victory-for-freedom-of-expression.

SPOT will be sending a further delegation to Turkey on January 11-14. The aim of this delegation is to: meet with prominent progressive individuals and organisations in Turkey; observe the effects of the ongoing state of emergency; create wider public awareness in the UK; and report back to the UK using real lived experiences and case studies collected as evidence.

The delegation will visit as many opposition groups and organisations as possible in Turkey, including opposition political parties such as the HDP, LGBT groups, trade unions, journalists and writers. There are currently 10 representatives who will be joining the delegation to Turkey.

 

Solidarity with the People of Turkey (SPOT)
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