Paul B Smith, in his letter (April 26) taking issue with my view that capitalism is not in decline, provides no facts to back up his argument, no logical argument to counter the view I have given, and instead relies on his confused, half-understood interpretation of Marxist ideas, and a dogmatic assertion of Lenin’s theory of imperialism (his version) from 90 years ago, as though it was applicable today.
On top of that, his argument against me (aside from the gratuitous comments querying whether I am a Marxist!) relies on establishing a series of straw men to be knocked down, and some of the worst misrepresentation of an opponent’s views I have ever seen. Because there is so much wrong in his presentation of Marxist economic theory, such as his interpretation of the law of value, I will leave this aside, maybe to be dealt with elsewhere, at some other time. Instead I will deal with only the point at hand - ie, whether capitalism is in decline.
1. Comrade Smith says that the test of whether capitalism is in decline is whether there “is a weakening of the hold that the value form has over social relations. It is marked by a growth of forms of capital and labour-power unproductive of value and surplus value, and a disintegration of the source of value - abstract labour.”
The last sentence is economically illiterate in Marxist terms for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one is that there cannot be a “disintegration” of abstract labour, because abstract labour does not exist as a concrete entity. It is merely a means of measurement of labour-time, an abstraction from all concrete labour, in the same way that a ‘foot’ is a measurement based upon an abstraction of human feet in general. So it cannot disintegrate any more than the unit of measurement known as the foot can disintegrate. Moreover, it is not abstract labour that creates value, which comrade Smith confuses with exchange value, but real concrete labour.
But, most obviously, the main problem with comrade Smith’s argument here is that he provides no evidence whatsoever to support the contention that there is a “weakening of the hold that the value form has over social relations.” And no wonder he does not, because the facts show quite the opposite. Of all the goods and services produced in man’s entire history, nearly 25% have been produced in the last 10 years, and they have been produced not as use values, which was the case with all of the production in human history prior to capitalism, but as exchange values.
And he provides no evidence that “forms of capital and labour-power unproductive of value and surplus value” have predominated either. Once again, no wonder, because the most rapid growth of capital on a global basis has been of productive capital, and that has fuelled the massive increase in the size of the global working class, which now, for the first time in history, has become the largest class on the planet. Given Marx says capital is a social relation, that is hardly an indication of capital in decline.
2. He then claims that “Some of the consequences of decline are the domination of capital by finance capital; the tendency to monopoly; the emergence of institutions trying to organise and manage the global economy; nationalised and regulated entities; increased bureaucracy; state provision of welfare; and the socialisation and politicisation of economic relations generally.” But there is nothing in Marx’s writing to suggest that any of these things are an indication of decline. On the contrary, there is every reason, on the basis of what Marx and Engels wrote, to see in all these things not the decline of capitalism, but its rise out of its more primitive forms. For comrade Smith, it appears, a dialectical analysis of capitalism only has two stages - birth followed by degeneration and death.
In fact, what he gives us is just a dogmatic, half-understood recantation of Lenin’s Imperialism, as though it removes the need to question or analyse the nature of modern capitalism, not to mention whether this work, in what was a pretty rushed and, for Lenin, shoddy piece of analysis that rested largely on the writings of the liberal Hobson, was even accurate back then. Largely, it wasn’t, and Lenin seems to have realised its inadequacy by the fact that he hedges most of his statements in the book to such an extent as to make them almost meaningless.
In Imperialism, Lenin writes: “Nevertheless, like all monopoly, it inevitably engenders a tendency of stagnation and decay.” But, he goes on to say: “Certainly, the possibility of reducing the cost of production and increasing profits by introducing technical improvements operates in the direction of change. But the tendency to stagnation and decay, which is characteristic of monopoly, continues to operate, and in some branches of industry, in some countries, for certain periods of time, it gains the upper hand.”
Just one instance of Lenin introducing those hedges, which make the general statement meaningless. In fact, what have we seen is not “stagnation and decay”, but that very process of “reducing the cost of production and increasing profits by introducing technical improvements”, and that process has been further stimulated precisely because of the fact that capitalism and industrialisation have been spread across the entire globe, creating, if anything, a period of the most intensive competition we have seen, and of the most rapid development of the productive forces ever seen.
The main area where the claims of decay and stagnation apply have, in fact, been in those areas where something approaching a true monopoly exists: that is, where the capitalist state has taken over the production and provision of goods and services, and where, as a result, bureaucracy has increased, and innovation has been sluggish.
Nor is there anything to suggest that “the emergence of institutions trying to organise and manage the global economy” is in any sense an indication of a decline of capitalism. On the contrary. Just as the capitalist state developed on a national basis to perform those functions, so the development of international state bodies is a reflection not of the decline of capitalism, but its breaking out of the restrictions of those national borders via the development of multinational and transnational firms, and the establishment of a global capitalist economy.
In what sense is “state provision of welfare” an indication of decline? The first elements of a welfare state were established in Prussia in the early 1800s. It provided a basis for the development of the German welfare state provision by Bismarck later in the 19th century, which was a fundamental element in the driving forward of a dynamic German capitalism, which required the efficient reproduction of labour-power.
3. Having failed to provide any facts or evidence to make his case, comrade Smith then turns to trying to deal with my arguments by use of the old Stalinist tactic of misrepresentation and the use of the amalgam. He accuses me of taking my arguments not from Marx, but from “three non-Marxist sources. The first is Stalinism, the second bourgeois economics and the third is the Soviet economist, Kondratiev.” But, in fact, although I have referred to all of the sources he mentions, the basis of my view that capitalism is not in decline rests entirely on Marx’s method of analysis, and on the idea that a mode of production cannot be said to be in decline if it continues to revolutionise the productive forces and continues, in the case of capitalism, to extend the domain of exchange value.
The reason for referring to the sources comrade Smith mentions is that it is rather difficult to demonstrate either that the productive forces are being revolutionised or that the domain of exchange value is being extended, unless you can refer to the facts and demonstrate that there is no “terminal crisis”. It is rather difficult to do it also without referring to whether global growth is rising or falling, or whether the development of technology is advancing, stagnant or declining. Of course, comrade Smith has no such problems because he fails to provide even one shred of a fact, one piece of data to support his dogma.
4. His response to facts, where I have presented them, is to grossly misrepresent what has been said. For example, he writes: “Denial of decline drives him to defend some absurd positions. These include that the export of finance capital abroad has not been a source of revenue for imperialist countries.” But I have said no such thing. What I did say was that his claim that welfarism was only possible because of the superexploitation of the colonies through the export of capital was nonsense. The vast majority of capital exported from developed capitalist economies went not to the colonies, but to other developed capitalist economies, which themselves had welfarist regimes.
Comrade Smith himself stated that the biggest expansion of welfarism by far was in the post-war period, when the colonial empires were being disbanded. The ‘welfarism’ introduced by Ford at the beginning of the 20th century was not financed by colonial exploitation, but by the massive increase in surplus value generated by Fordist mass production and Taylorist scientific management methods. Comrade Smith cannot admit that fact, precisely because it would mean accepting the fact that capitalism continues to revolutionise the forces of production.
5. He writes: “He argues that, despite falling growth in the US and major European economies, capitalism has generated growth in some developing countries. He cites - as evidence of a tendency - the 2007 pre-crash growth rates of Mauritania (18%) and Angola (26%). He thinks these figures prove that capitalism as a whole is not in decline.”
This is a gross distortion of what I said, and can easily be seen by reference to the article of mine to which he refers (‘The crisis is financial, it is not economic’, October 13 2011). Far from claiming that the growth rates in Mauritania and Angola were a sufficient basis for establishing that capitalism is not in decline, I set out a series of facts to demonstrate there was no such decline. For example: “Between 1980 and 1990 global trade rose from $4,000 billion to $6,000 billion, remaining flat until 1994. Between 1994 and 2000 it rose from $6,000 billion to $12,000 billion. But the sharpest rise has most notably been since 2002, rising from $12,000 billion to $28,000 billion by 2007.”
Comrade Smith may easily write off Mauritania and Angola, but China is the world’s second largest economy, likely to become the largest within the next 10 years. How does his view of a capitalism in decline fit with the fact of such an economy growing at around 10% per annum? Moreover, it is not the case, as comrade Smith says, that “contrary to appearances the global economy is now experiencing an upturn”. The appearances too - ie, the facts of the actual rates of growth - demonstrate that the global economy is in a period of upturn.
6. I did not at all dismiss Trotsky’s criticisms of Kondratiev as “undialectical”. I pointed out that Trotsky himself talks about long waves of capitalist development in a way that is clearly at odds with both Mike Macnair and comrade Smith’s positions. Trotsky’s position was far more subtle and dialectical than comrade Smith’s dogmatic assertion of Lenin’s provisional comments in Imperialism and the Stalinist economism drawn from it.
7. As for me claiming “that Stalinism did not influence bureaucratic forms of control over workers during the cold war; and that no distinction can be made between productive and unproductive labour”, what can I say? Where exactly am I supposed to have made the last statement?
8. Having failed to provide any facts or data to support his dogma, comrade Smith asks: “If he is a Marxist and thinks that capitalism is still in a healthy, mature phase, then he has a responsibility to outline the conditions that would precipitate its decline. I doubt whether he is capable of doing this.”
Of course I am capable of doing that. It would require that capitalism has developed to such a stage that it is no longer capable of revolutionising the forces of production, that it has expanded so that it finds itself no longer able to find sources of labour-power to be profitably exploited, that it can no longer develop new use values for which a market can be found.
In fact, all the evidence demonstrates that, currently, none of those things are true. On the contrary, the exact opposite is the case. The development of the microchip has not just revolutionised production: it has revolutionised human capacity to bring about further such development, as the revolutions in genetics, biotechnology and a range of other sciences have demonstrated. Not only has this development created conditions where the production of a relative surplus population has been massively transformed - robots are now even being introduced in medical procedures as well as industrial production - but the development of a global capitalist economy is drawing in millions of new workers every year. The fact that under such conditions, and even during a recession, unemployment has risen only marginally is itself an indication of the fact that a powerful capitalist boom is soaking up this available labour at a remarkable rate as capital expands.
But socialism is not predicated upon the decline of capitalism. Capitalism developed within the womb of feudalism long before the latter had entered a stage of terminal decline. The death of feudalism was predicated upon the rise of capitalism, and the increasing strength and dominance of the latter within it. As all Marxists have argued, no new mode of production can become dominant until it has proved its superiority over that which exists.
The victory of socialism, as with the victory of capitalism before it, will depend upon workers developing socialist forms of production, based on workers’ ownership and control, and the demonstration of the superiority of such forms. If instead we wait for capitalism to collapse, we may wait for a long time. The task of Marxists is to be the drivers of history, not the observers and catastrophists of comrade Smith’s type.
Eddie Ford’s piece, ‘Masses refuse to be ruled in old way’ (May 17), is excellent until it ends in these two purely opportunist paragraphs:
“Yet the problem does not end there. Let us not mince our words. Were such a workers’ government ever formed, then Greece would be immediately kicked out of the euro/EU - assuming it had not been already. Without a shadow of doubt, the ‘new’ drachma would be massively devalued, there would a catastrophic economic slump and more likely than not hyperinflation - and that is before things got really bad.
“What then? Such a government would have absolutely no choice but to preside over its own austerity regime. To keep itself in power and the workers in line, our ‘workers’ government’ would have to resort to authoritarian rule or a military socialism if it wanted to stave off counterrevolution and external intervention/invasion. And in this way they would turn into their opposite. Marxist revolutionaries in Greece must build up the organisational and political strength of the working class, fight to massively extend democracy, including into the army, and take the lead in constructing an all-European working class movement.”
For a revolutionary party to eschew the taking of power when the taking of power is possible is not just stupid, but absolutely criminal. Revolutionary situations are very rare indeed and the consequences of missing one are nearly always massive repression and defeat for the labour movement.
That is not to say that what we have in Greece is a revolutionary situation. Europe is in a pre-revolutionary situation which could transmute into a revolutionary situation tomorrow or, equally, extend for several years before doing so. Ford gives us the opportunist position, which marshals the correct idea that you cannot have socialism in one country, to promote the utterly bogus and counterrevolutionary idea that the working class should not or cannot take power in their individual nations, but must or can only wait until the whole of the European working class is ready to coordinate a joint revolution. Its dichotomous opposite, the adventurist position, is that Syriza should join forces with the KKE and immediately form a revolutionary workers’ government, as if these ephemeral centrists and Stalinist outfits were capable or desirous of such a thing. If they were to try it, of course, they would be leading the vanguard into a bloody mess.
Leaving aside the utter undesirability of ever having the Stalinist KKE in power, between Ford and this latter position, we have, as usual, the excluded middle, where the dialectical truth usually hides out. The grey area, if you will. Syriza should have been demanding that Pasok form a minority government and it should have demanded that this government be a workers’ government. It would have pledged its representatives to vote for all its pro-working class measures and against all its anti-working class measures, but it would also have eschewed any notion of bringing this government down by vote of no confidence unless, of course, it had gathered sufficient forces to its banner to be absolutely sure of seizing power for itself.
The other thing about Syriza’s sectarian attitude towards the rank and file of Pasok and the workers that still vote for it and their flirtation with the anti-European Stalinist isolationists of the KKE is to turn the next general election into a referendum on the euro, which Syriza should have been pledging tooth and nail to stay in whilst still, of course, opposing austerity measures on the working classes and proposing their imposition on the Greek elites. This may well reduce Syriza’s vote, when they might initially have looked like they could increase it - 70% of Greeks want to stay in the euro, as they don’t want to see the value of their wages, welfare and public spending devalued by 90% overnight. Let the austerity fascists kick them out, but don’t volunteer. It is not, of course, too late for them to rectify the situation, but not too much breath should be held. It depends on the strength and seriousness of the Marxist elements within it.
Eddie Ford puts the opportunist position perfectly, whilst on the blogs a bloke called Prianikoff has managed to promote the adventurist position with equal clarity.
It is unfortunate that your article on the Rochdale ‘grooming’ trial relied on the perpetuation of some extremely reactionary ideas (‘The abuse of abuse’, May 17). The comments made by Julie Bindel on the widespread, organised sexual abuse of girls and young women are dismissed as hysterical media exaggeration. Her claim that such assaults are rarely reported is described as being unsupported by any real evidence. Any problems of social and cultural degeneration, including sexual exploitation, can be solved by the powerful traditions of the workers’ movement. You indicate your opinion that feminism (of any variety) has made no valid contribution to our understanding of sexual violence by conducting academic research or providing practical support. Do you really believe this?
WT Stead (a noted socialist journalist) followed the lead of feminist campaigners in the 19th century to expose the sexual exploitation of children. Others have supported more recent campaigns with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but it remains a matter of historical fact that sexual violence has been addressed almost exclusively by feminists. The most cursory investigation of this issue would have informed you that one of the main problems is that, while one in five girls and one in four women are sexually assaulted, most sexual violence is never reported (in many cases not even to close friends) and, when it is reported, offenders are not effectively prosecuted. The causes of this rest, in large part, on a series of myths around sexual violence, including the quaint notion that women and girls lie about being raped. Extensive work has been done to counter this damaging nonsense and establish the true extent of rape, including that on which Julie Bindel based her article. It is, therefore, most unhelpful that you chose to perpetuate the same misogyny by accusing her of making false allegations.
Your blithe dismissal of even the possibility that there is enormous under-reporting of sexual violence is unjustified. This misguided approach leads many on the left to deny the fact of, for example, trafficking into the sex industry. So who were the almost 2,000 (about five a week) women who contacted the specialist support Poppy Project before Con-Dem cuts closed it? Who are the anonymous survivors of sexual violence who consistently disclose in surveys that around 90% of us do not report it to the police? I am unaware of any specifically socialist organisation collating statistics in parallel to (feminist) Rape Crisis. If such an organisation does exist, please enlighten us. I am sure it could be very useful.
Laurie Smith gives a good account of left coverage of the May 10 strike day in last week’s paper and criticism of what appears to be strike for strike’s sake (‘Strikes are not the be-all and end-all’, May 17). However, it is a little short on detail about the London rally to mark the strike.
My understanding of the position of union general secretaries Bob Crow, Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka is that they are fighting the TUC over the action required to politicise the strike. In his platform speech, Crow was strident calling for a TUC-wide strike - not just over pensions, but against the whole anti-austerity policy of this coalition government. And the speakers saw this strike action as providing hope and confidence to the workers who are struggling in the public and private sectors and a signal to the coalition that the battle is not over. They also took confidence from the outcome of the French presidential elections. By implication they were supporting workers across the channel. Whether anything concrete will come of that remains to be seen.
While on the picket line, we were visited by Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party comrades selling their new newspapers. When I mentioned the demonstration by off-duty policemen the same day, the SWP comrades were less inclined to support the Police Federation. But I agree with Smith that as communists we should support this action.
Peter Manson’s otherwise solid critique of the liquidationist trajectory of the recent Workers Power youth split around Simon Hardy, Luke Cooper and others missed an opportunity to highlight how at odds their approach is with that of the tradition they claim (‘Small rooms and the politics of dishonesty’, May 17).
We should bear in mind that Trotskyism as a political tendency was born of factional struggle, occasioned by the bureaucratic silencing and expulsion of Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev and other leading Bolshevik figures. In my opinion, Trotsky made several mistakes in his brave struggle against the Stalinist degeneration of the Bolshevik Party. But he did, at least, put up a fight. He broke the rules.
It is not, as comrades Hardy and Chris Strafford state, “unprincipled” to break rules that are undemocratic or allow for the continuation of bureaucratic regimes (Letters, May 10). It is actually a duty to fight - a duty to their former comrades in WP and the advanced sections of our class more generally. Moreover, the fight against bureaucracy is integral to rebuilding the working class movement at all levels. The tools and methods of the labour bureaucracy - from the trade unions and the Labour Party down to the Stalinoid organisational norms that define the far left’s ‘Bolshevism’ - need to be challenged head on.
However, that comrades Hardy and others simply walked without a fight actually betrays the lack of confidence they have in their own perspectives. Rather than engage in serious, open polemic as a way of thinking through their experiences - good, bad and ugly - in Workers Power, the comrades frivolously split to chase the ‘next big thing’.
This replicates the bad, dishonest method they have acquired from their time in WP. As with so many other recent left splits, the comrades are now simply presenting themselves as something ‘new’ - ready and fighting fit for war, like Athena from the head of Zeus, in the name of going ‘to the masses’, this new split is - sadly - yet another manifestation of the far left’s political and organisational decline.
As to the need for a “debate” alluded to in the Hardy-Strafford letter, we in the Weekly Worker could not agree more. We do not simply want to set up another sect organisation with grand illusions in being the ‘advanced guard of the revolutionary proletariat’. That is a polemic against Workers Power, not us. We are for solid, rigorous debate and polemic on far-left perspectives, as evidenced by the pages of this paper over the last few weeks. But this is actually not what the comrades want at all: instead they are mainly concerned with tailoring their projects to chasing Occupy, UK Uncut, etc. How small do these ‘big rooms’ have to get, comrades?
Jon White and Allan Johnstone - our two Socialist Party of Great Britain correspondents in last week’s paper - talk up the results of their group in the May 3 elections (Letters, May 17). Their brace of candidates stood on the SPGB’s “usual manifesto of socialism and nothing but socialism”, comrade Johnstone tells us. Given this implacable position - “we just advocate socialism,” he shrugs, in case we’ve missed it - he seems to think it is politically significant that the SPGB out-performed the list of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the same areas, as Tusc simply stood on a mild-mannered “programme of attractive reforms”.
True, the SPGB did marginally better that Tusc in Lambeth and Southwark (1.9%) and Merton and Wandsworth (0.9%). However, it is absurdly overblown for comrade Johnstone to finish his letter with the flourish - “who says impossiblism doesn’t hold an appeal to votes?” Er, well for a start how about the 98-99% of voters in both constituencies who managed to resist the blandishments of the SPGB’s quaintly eccentric brand of “impossiblism”? A more politically salient point is that the SPGB comrades and Tusc scored very similar results because both picked up the normal, baseline percentage of votes that left candidates - whatever the details of their individual programmes - can expect to gather. I recall the Weekly Worker reporting in the past on very similar results for CPGB candidates standing on an explicitly revolutionary platform (perhaps comrade Johnstone might like to flick through Jack Conrad’s book In the enemy camp to check out the soft soap “wish-list of palliatives” the comrades stood on in the 1992 general election).
There is something slightly sad about the left’s ability to delude itself (the Socialist Party in England and Wales, for example, is blaming its uninspiring May 3 performance on a media blackout - as if Marxists should rely on the BBC to build them a social/electoral base!). We urgently need a reality check, here. Group A may be marginally bigger than group B; sect X may scramble together a few more votes that sect Y - so what? We are all pathetically small and uninfluential: it’s time we recognised that brutal fact and squared up to our tasks seriously - revolutionary unity and building a mass audience for Marxism.