It does work
Paul Demarty writes, of capitalism, “Yet the problem with their system is ultimately that it does not work, that its contradictions are primarily internal” (‘Back from the cliff edge’, December 14).
This is fundamentally wrong. Capitalism, as a system, clearly does work. If it didn’t work, then it would not have been able to thrive and grow within feudalism, and thereby supplant feudalism, by proving itself a superior system, and a higher stage of human social development; and even had it managed to achieve that, somehow, it would, in any case have collapsed long ago. Yet, that is far from being the case, and indeed, as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto:
“The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”
Capitalism clearly not only works, but works far better than any previous mode of production in human history, and far from being in danger of collapse, it has gone from strength to strength in terms of the continual revolutionising of the means of production, the accumulation of capital, and the extension of the remit of exchange-value to ever wider geographical markets, and to ever more extensive ranges of commodities, as part of what Marx describes in The Grundrisse as “the civilising mission of capital”.
Indeed, as Marx alludes to in the later chapters of Capital volume 3, and as Engels describes more fully in later writings, such as Anti-Dühring and Critique of the Erfurt programme, the natural process of capital accumulation and of the concentration and centralisation of capital leads to the fetters on the private monopoly of capital that characterised its earlier development - ie, the private ownership of means of production by individual capitalists and their families - being “burst asunder”, as this private capital is displaced by large-scale socialised capital under the control of professional managers, paid wages as with any other worker.
And, as Engels describes, the tendency of this large-scale socialised capital is to do away with the planlessness that was a major factor in promoting the crises of overproduction that characterised that private capital. The tendency of this large-scale socialised capital, and of the social-democratic state that arises as its political reflection, is to continually increase regulation and planning so as to facilitate long-term investment and capital accumulation.
But, even in respect of capitalism as a system overall, the existence of crises is not at all an indication that the system “does not work”. Crises are a fundamental aspect of the way the system does work. They are so because, as Marx says, these periodic crises are the short-term, temporary, violent means by which the system reconciles the contradictions that build up within it. And, indeed, those contradictions are themselves a reflection of the way that the system is working at peak intensity. At periods when capital is being rapidly accumulated, the kind of situation that Adam Smith described, whereby the supply of labour can be relatively used up, pushing wages higher and the rate of surplus value down, causes a squeeze on profits.
The same expansion, and the rise in wages, leads to higher levels of consumption (and not underconsumption, which others see as the basis of crises) but which then leads to increasing difficulty in realising produced surplus value, as, at these higher levels of consumption, the marginal propensity to consume declines, at least for a whole series of established consumer goods. Marx describes this in chapter 15 of Capital volume 3, and in Theories of surplus value. As Marx says, if the value of knives falls so that six knives now have the value that previously only one had, that is no reason why I will then buy six knives. At the same time that profits are being squeezed because the rate of surplus value is falling due to higher wages, so firms have to reduce market prices by ever larger amounts to sell the vastly increased quantity of commodities they have produced, so that the chance that these commodities can only be sold at prices that do not cover the cost of reproducing the capital consumed in their production increases.
The crisis arises because capitalism has both accumulated capital at a rapid rate and because this capital has expanded the production of use values at an ever more rapid rate. It has over-accumulated capital. The crisis that arises is merely a temporary crisis that resolves this contradiction. As Marx says, criticising Smith, who explained the tendency for the rate of profit to fall in terms of this more rapid accumulation of capital than labour, there are no permanent crises.
And, indeed, it is important to distinguish between one of these crises of overproduction, and a period of stagnation. A period of stagnation, such as that which existed in the 1930s, or in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is a crisis for workers who find difficulty in obtaining employment, and certainly obtaining decently paid employment, but it does not at all represent a crisis for capitalism. Far from it. During such periods, when the problem of tight labour markets has been overcome due to the introduction of new labour-saving technologies, capital is able to make hay. As these low wages result in a rise in the rate of surplus value, they bring about a reduction in the costs of materials and a sizeable moral depreciation of the existing fixed capital stock, which creates the conditions for a significant rise in the annual rate of profit, and puts in place the conditions for the next period of upswing.
The argument for socialism is not that capitalism does not work, but that it has now done the necessary work in developing the forces of production required for socialism, and that socialism, by building upon that work, by developing on a more rational and systemic basis the planning and regulation of the economy that capitalism itself is led to introduce, can now develop those productive forces even more effectively.
Even if only in terms of their parliamentary-focused ambitions, it’s perfectly clear to me that Corbyn’s Labour Party has missed a trick by not adopting a policy of outright reversal of the Brexit referendum result. By not running a full-scale campaign to remain wholesale and unaffected within the European Union.
Having seen the über-hypocritical chicanery and outright lies of the case for leaving the EU progressively laid bare, there’s a strong sniff in the air that many of the UK electorate who originally voted to leave are now changing their mind. Put that together with the fact that most youngsters never went along with these things in the first place, nowadays there is probably no overall majority support for ‘taking back’ control of our borders or regaining our so-called sovereignty - or any of the rest of that Little England/xenophobic garbage, that primitivist crap!
Given these circumstances, surely Weekly Worker/CPGB also should evolve their position and likewise proactively call for the UK to remain in the European Union. As I suggested in a previous letter (July 20), although our continued EU membership will not provide a perfect scenario with any absolute advantages, at least it will constitute that small step along the way to a future of genuine internationalism. Certainly, that is the case insofar as it will allow continued free movement of working citizenry - most specifically those of whatever skills level or educational status. In the meantime, the EU will be providing all communists with the “immediately useful ‘stepping stone’ of their semi-progressive egalitarianism; something which can be utilised as an equivalently helpful ‘leapfrog’ quasi-democracy”, is how I expressed things back then.
Laughably zig-zagging developments as well as the normal passing of time have only reinforced that perspective of mine. So, let’s now bite the bullet of accepting a revitalisation of our ideas and a revamp of our previous policies, and ‘let’s effing go for it’ would be my message to all UK communists.
Bloody hell, comrades - surely, it’s better than going round and round in ever decreasing circles whilst trying to combat those ‘rulebook-waving’ obsessive-compulsives on the rightwing of Labour’s NEC. Of course, those being folk who are equally obedient to Zionism and the state of Israel, possibly as well to MI5? In fact, obedient to the point of goddamn supplicant, it could well be said.
It is sad that Gerry Downing (‘Zionist Jewry’ December 14) is now parroting what Bebel termed the “socialism of fools”, Gerry isn’t a fool though he gives every appearance of being one.
No Gerry, we are not interested in destroying Socialist Fight - all five members. We really have better things to do!
It is irrelevant that the Jerusalem Post said that 51 out of the 100 most influential people in the world were Jewish or that 48 out of the richest top 100 in the United States are Jewish. Leaving aside how you determine who is most powerful and how the latter is calculated, so what?
Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept these figures, what do they mean? Are rich Jewish people acting in concert to effect changes in policy towards Israel? If so then this is a Jewish conspiracy and it begs a number of questions, such as why their non-Jewish counterparts stand for it. Gerry decries comparisons with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Norman Cohn rightly described as a “warrant for genocide”, but his arguments lead in that direction.
Of course Gerry recoils at the implications of what he is saying. The only effect of Jewish ethnic lobbying by the ultra-rich is at the margins, on questions such as Iran and Jerusalem. It must have an effect, he says, and to refuse to acknowledge his thesis is a “capitulation” to “anti-Semitic” Zionist propaganda. Truly this is garbage.
US policy on Iran is not marginal. It is, or should be, obvious that there is a serious difference in the US ruling class, even within Trump’s administration. The fact that Zionists are to be found mostly in the anti-Iran section is no surprise but this has nothing with them being Jewish. Indeed the majority of US Jews have consistently supported Obama’s agreement with Iran.
The United States ruling class, almost in its entirety, supports the Israeli state. Where is the cleavage between its Jewish and non-Jewish counterparts in the bourgeoisie? It is the Dick Cheneys, the George Bushes and the Donald Trumps who are the most fervent supporters of Israel. It is the Christian Baptists and fundamentalists, if anyone, who constitute the most potent Zionist lobby in the United States. Indeed the more anti-Jewish the politics, the more pro-Israel it is. It is not for nothing that Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi founder of the alt-Right, declares himself to be a White Zionist.
It may have escaped Gerry’s attention but the Jewish population of the United States is becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Israeli state, not least because Reform Judaism is treated with contempt in Israel. We should welcome groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace and IfNotNow, not bleat about the Jewish nature of support for Israel in the bourgeoisie.
The tragedy is that Gerry has swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the nonsense of Ian Donovan, who is a supporter of Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon not only questions whether Auschwitz is a death camp but describes Israel Shamir, a man who argues that Auschwitz was an internment camp, as a ‘unique and advanced thinker’. The same Gilad Atzmon who argues that it is Jewish behaviour over the centuries, now evidenced in how Israel behaves, that caused the same Holocaust that he sometimes denies. Donovan’s defence of Atzmon is on a par with his crackpot theories that the Israeli Right of Return provides a materialist basis for the Jewish billionaires of the United States to support Israel.
Yes of course Zionism is the dominant ideology amongst Jews today but it isn’t as dominant as Gerry believes. 59% of British Jews declare themselves to be Zionist and 31% do not. We should welcome that instead of engaging in conspiracy theories. It is noticeable that, like Atzmon, Donovan attacks Jewish anti-Zionists for daring to organise.
In his rambling letter Gerry condemns the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which argues that attacks on Zionism are no different from attacks on Jews. I agree, this is a product of their pro-imperialist politics. So why do their work for them and confirm that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are the same thing? It is baffling, but this is one reason why socialists should keep their distance from Socialist Fight.
Role of Jews
Having once been a member of the tiny ‘Trotskyite’ US group COFI (and later expelled - fortunately, in view of their later stands on Ukraine and Syria), I then had the pleasure to work together with many Jewish communists from the USA, among them the LRP/COFI’s founder and leader, the late Sy Landy.
I’m not going to argue with all the points made both in the recent article of Tony Greenstein (‘Anti-Semites not welcome’, December 14) nor of the letter from Gerry Downing (December 14). But, let me point to some positions taken by comrade Landy on the matter. If I remember well, he said that what constitutes ‘Jews’ in the modern world as a sort of ethnicity is neither race nor language nor culture nor religion (and, of course, neither common ideology or psyche) but the experience of being oppressed, and even murdered, because they were regarded as being Jews by non-Jews, in short a common historical experience.
And as for the role of Jews in the USA, he said that the role of the Zionist part of them (a political position taken at least by the majority of the Jewish members of the big bourgeoisie of the country) was so important because it served US geopolitical and economic interests in the Middle East. He was sure that widespread anti-Semitism would raise its head as soon as US imperialism found Israel to be objectively opposed to those interests. In other words: US imperialism instrumentalises Zionism and not the other way around.
To me, as a German but not having lived in the USA, it seems that the role of Jews in American popular culture (Hollywood, composers such as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, etc) also has played its part in bringing Jews and the liberal parts of US society emotionally closer together, not least during the times of the civil rights movement. And, of course, an organisation supporting Gilad Atzmon (whom I regard highly as jazz musician) and therefore of necessity anti-Semitic, ought not be a member of any truly anti-Zionist political formation.
Win the battle
I completely endorse Simon Wells’ suggestion (Letters, December 14) that the left, including the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party, should be encouraged to join Labour to strengthen the left inside Labour, but also to win the battle outside Labour.
However, the question is not simply one of strengthening the left inside and outside Labour by promoting the policy of the united front of the left. The most important question facing the left is not only the united front. Related to this latter question is that of overcoming the contradiction between Marxism and democratic socialism and the development of a form of socialism which rejects the dictatorship advocated by people like Marx and Lenin. Marxism is the anti-democratic form of socialism which prevents the left from developing a form of socialism compatible with modern society.