The economics of Luther or Munzer?

Last week leading leftist economists in the UK held a seminar on the state of mainstream economics, as taught in the universities.  They kicked this off by nailing a poster with 33 theses critiquing mainstream economics to the door of the London School of Economics.  This publicity gesture attempted to remind us that it was the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church, Wittenberg and provoked the beginning of the Protestant reformation against the ‘one true religion’ of Catholicism.

The economists were purporting to tell us that mainstream economics was like Catholicism and must be protested against as Luther did back in 1517.  As they put it, “Economics is broken.  From climate change to inequality, mainstream (neoclassical) economics has not provided the solutions to the problems we face and yet it is still dominant in government, academia and other economic institutions. It is time for a new economics.”

The economists included Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, and author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and Economics: The User’s Guide.  He commented that “Neoclassical economics plays the same role as Catholic theology did in Medieval Europe – a system of thought arguing that things are what they are because they have to be.

Steve Keen, head of economics at Kingston University, London, and author of the excellent ‘Debunking Economics’ that exposed the unrealistic and illogical assumptions of neoclassical theory, exclaimed that “Economics needs a Copernican Revolution, let alone a Reformation. Equilibrium thinking in Economics should go the way of Ptolemaic Epicycles in Astronomy”.

Another post-Keynesian economist, Victoria Chick, warned that students should “read the economic scriptures, in all their great variety, for themselves. Thus they will learn that the Pope (formerly Samuelson, now Mankiw) is not infallible and that they must search for Truth in the contest of ideas.”

This all sounded progressive and exciting and reflected the movement against mainstream economic teaching that has mushroomed over the last few years since the global financial crash, organised by the Rethinking Economics group of graduates and lecturers.

But I have some reservations.  First, is a progressive revolution against the mainstream really to be painted as similar to Luther’s protestant revolt?  The history of the reformation tells us the protestant version of Christianity did not lead to a new pluralistic order and freedom to worship.  On the contrary, Luther was a bigot who worked with the authorities to crush more radical movements based on the peasants led by Thomas Munzer.

As Engels put it in his book Peasant War in Germany: “Luther had given the plebeian movement a powerful weapon—a translation of the Bible. Through the Bible, he contrasted feudal Christianity of his time with moderate Christianity of the first century. In opposition to decaying feudal society, he held up the picture of another society which knew nothing of the ramified and artificial feudal hierarchy. The peasants had made extensive use of this weapon against the forces of the princes, the nobility, and the clergy. Now Luther turned the same weapon against the peasants, extracting from the Bible a veritable hymn to the authorities ordained by God—a feat hardly exceeded by any lackey of absolute monarchy. Princedom by the grace of God, passive resistance, even serfdom, were being sanctioned by the Bible.[8]

But maybe all this shows is that analogies or metaphors have their limits and the idea of copying Luther’s theses as a publicity trick can only go so far.

More seriously, it is clear from the comments of the erstwhile academics that, for them, the mainstream economic religion is just neoclassical theory, namely there is perfect competition in markets, which tend to equilibrium; and economies can grow harmoniously, except for shocks caused by imperfections in markets (trade unions and monopolies) or interference by governments.  Our Lutheran-type protestors thus argue that it is this neoliberal economics that must be overthrown.

But is that all there is of the mainstream?  Our protestors have nothing to say against Keynesian economics – indeed variants of Keynes are the way forward for them.  That’s an irony for a start because the basis of neoclassical theory is marginalism: marginal utility of the consumer and marginal productivity of ‘capital’.  And Keynes held entirely to the marginal theory propounded by his mentor Alfred Marshall.  All he added was that, because of uncertainty and unpredictability in investment decisions by individuals (driven by psychology or ‘animal spirits’), sometimes economies can get locked into an equilibrium where markets don’t clear and unemployment becomes permanent.  For Keynes, this was a ‘technical problem’ that could be fixed; it was not inherent feature of the capitalist production process.

As he said at the end of his life: “I find myself moved, not for the first time, to remind contemporary economists that the classical teaching embodied some permanent truths of great significance. . . . There are in these matters deep undercurrents at work, natural forces, one can call them or even the invisible hand, which are operating towards equilibrium. If it were not so, we could not have got on even so well as we have for many decades past.”  Keynes, the neoliberal.

But our Lutheran protestors had not a word of critique against Keynes, and certainly not his more radical followers like Hyman Minsky.  On the contrary, the 33 theses show clear support of Minskyan theory on crises under capitalism.  Thesis 28 refers to “financialisation, short-termism, speculative finance and financialised real economy” as the key issues, thus implying that it is the growth of finance under neoliberalism that is the cause of crises, not any inherent flaws or contradictions in the capitalist profit-making system as a whole.  Marx’s critique of the mainstream (and not just neoclassical and neoliberal economics) is ignored.

Our protestors follow Luther, not Munzer.  They want to replace Catholic economics with Protestant economics, but they do not want to do away with the religion of capitalist economics.  They wish to correct a ‘capitalism distorted by finance’, not replace the mode of production and social relations.  Indeed, this has been the dominant position of Rethinking Economics as it seeks to reverse the dominance of neoclassical theory in the universities.

The result is that there will be no revolution in economics by following Luther.  Indeed, our Lutheran economists have gone little further than the revisions to ‘neoliberal economics’ that mainstream ‘Catholic’ gurus are considering too.  Martin Sandbu in the FT pointed out that “economists are debating intensively how to upgrade their understanding of the economy in order to prepare better for future disruptions and provide better guides for good policy”.  Nobody could be more mainstream and Keynesian than former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard and former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers (who is related to Paul Samuelson, the pope of mainstream ‘neoliberal’ economics in the 1970s, according to Chick).  They too want to ‘rethink economics’.  Indeed, all the things advocated in the 33 theses are being considered by the great and good of academic economics.

Back in the 1520s, Luther was eventually accommodated and Protestantism became a religion of the establishment and many monarchies across Europe (and the religious motivation behind capitalism, some argue).  Today’s economic Lutherans may also be absorbed to save capital.  Munzer was executed.

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67 Responses to “The economics of Luther or Munzer?”

  1. Nadim Mahjoub Says:

    Nice one!

  2. Nadim Mahjoub Says:

    The most common spelling is Munzter not Munzer.

  3. Boffy Says:

    Michael,

    You say,

    “Thesis 28 refers to “financialisation, short-termism, speculative finance and financialised real economy” as the key issues, thus implying that it is the growth of finance under neoliberalism that is the cause of crises, not any inherent flaws or contradictions in the capitalist profit-making system as a whole. Marx’s critique of the mainstream (and not just neoclassical and neoliberal economics) is ignored.”

    I mostly agree, except, of course, that its necessary to distinguish as Marx did between a purely financial crisis, such as 2008, or 1847 – which may have a serious knock on effect to the real economy, due to a credit crunch etc – as opposed to a crisis of overproduction. As Marx put it,

    “The monetary crisis referred to in the text, being a phase of every crisis, must be clearly distinguished from that particular form of crisis, which also is called a monetary crisis, but which may be produced by itself as an independent phenomenon in such a way as to react only indirectly on industry and commerce. The pivot of these crises is to be found in moneyed capital, and their sphere of direct action is therefore the sphere of that capital, viz., banking, the stock exchange, and finance.” (Capital I, Chapter 3, note 1 p 137)

    As Marx points out in relation to the 1847 financial crisis, induced by the 1844 Bank Act, it resulted in a 37% fall in UK economic activity! Marx and Engels point out that there is no fundamental reason why such financial crises should impact the real economy, because at root they amount to one section of holders of fictitious capital gaining at the expense of another section of holders of fictitious capital. provided the monetary authorities ensure that there remains sufficient liquidity, and functioning transmission mechanisms for the circulation of capital and commodities, such events should have no impact on the real economy, and indeed, as marx points out should actually be of benefit to it.

    It is then necessary to separate out these financial crises from actual economic crises. Marx cites a range of causes of actual economic crises, each of which can arise at different conjunctures of the metamorphosis of capital from one form to another. For example, he talks at length of the effect of the US Civil War, in raising the price of cotton, and even making it unavailable, so that the realised profits of UK textile producers could not be metamorphosed into productive-capital once more, so as to reproduce the consumed capital, thereby causing the circuit of capital to be ruptured.

    He also talks about the inability to be able to sell the produced output, not absolutely, but relatively. In other words, it may be possible to sell all of the output, but only at lower market prices, or else, it may be possible to sell all of the output even at the full price, but with some delay, and this delay, in itself may be sufficient to rupture the circuit of capital, which is sufficient to set off what he terms a crisis of the second form, a payments crisis, where a cascade of payments failures sets in. Indeed, given that Marx gives all of these extensive explanations of various causes of economic crises, I have always been surprised that some have sought to limit his theory of crisis to one single cause.

    If we take a crisis of overproduction, which is what I take your definition of crisis to be here – and of course, this is often confused with what Marx defines as stagnation as opposed to crisis – then, of course, Marx makes clear that such crises are not at all the consequence of some flaw within capitalism, but are themselves a central feature of the way capitalism itself functions. They are indeed a consequence of contradictions, but contradiction is a fundamental aspect of a dialectical understanding of dynamic systems. Capitalist contradictions are not a sign of a flaw, or of some systemic decay, but are precisely an indication of its dynamism, of its continued ability to revolutionise production, and to vastly increase the production of use values, because it is that contradiction between this vast and rapid expansion of production, relative to the expansion of the market for those use values that is the basis of the contradiction that is resolved by the crisis of overproduction.

    If capital stopped experiencing crises of overproduction, it would be a sign that it had stopped being a dynamic system, that it was no longer capable of continuing to revolutionise production, and to be able to bring about these sudden, rapid expansions of production that lead to overproduction. It would be a sign that it had become absolutely decadent. As I put it in the Preface to my book Marx and Engels’ Theories of Crisis,

    “We tend to think that crises are an indication that something has gone wrong, because they disrupt the normal course of events, but, in fact, crises themselves are normal events. There is nothing abnormal about an earthquake, for example. It is simply a means by which the stresses of tectonic plates, and other geological formations are relieved. This kind of process occurs throughout the material world. There are long periods of gradual change, ruptured, every so often, by revolutionary breaks. It is a reality recognised by chaos theory, which demonstrates that what appears on the surface as a steady state, is, in reality, a seething mass of continual change at a quantum level.

    The same is true about economic and financial crises, they are a means of resolving the contradictions that build up within the economic process. In respect of capitalism, this notion, that it is a system that is driven forward by the continual resolution of these contradictions, is central to the analysis provided by Marx.”

    The reason that Earth is a living planet is because it is dynamic, it has tectonic plates that shift, it has a carbon cycle that is only possible because of that tectonic structure, which enables subduction etc. It is this dynamism that provides the Earth’s magnetic field, which shields the Earth from solar radiation and so on. A look at Mars, for example, which does not have the same tectonic plates, and the consequent dynamic illustrates what happens when this dynamism is not present. It becomes a dead world, and the lack of earthquake activity, i.e. of crises arising from the build of contradictions is a manifestation of its morbidity.

    In the same way crises of overproduction are not an indication of a flaw within capitalism, but the manifestation of its dynamic nature, they are central to its very existence and functioning.

    • Boffy Says:

      Correction,

      It should read above instead of “so that the realised profits”, so that the realised value of the commodity-capital. In other words, the money equivalent of the productive-capital C, having been metamorphosed in the production process P into C’, divides into C+c, and the money equivalent of C, M, is then realised waiting to be metamorphosed as money-capital once more into productive-capital C.

      This latter metamorphosis, Marx demonstrates was frustrated as a result of sharp rises in the price of cotton, and its complete inavailability due to the Civil War. In Chapter 6, he sets out a series of other examples of where such price rises etc. can result in a crisis.

      • marthajpc Says:

        Boffy again presents liberal market economics as marxian dialectics: capitalism’s crises as analogous to naturally occurring disruptions in nature– and proof of capitalism’s health, rather than reflecting capitalism’s inherent disruptive/destructive tendencies, based on capitalism’s contradictory “social relation” (Marx’s definition of capital itself and reflected in capitalism’s commodity and mode of production). As a “marxist” he’s better than Keynes.

      • Boffy Says:

        Martha,

        For Marx, crises are an inherent characteristic of capitalism. It is bourgeois economists who see crises as an anomaly, as something going wrong with the system. It is precisely why bourgeois economists can propose solutions for dealing with those anomalies, whereas for Marx the requirement is to get rid of the system itself!

    • Boffy Says:

      Martha,

      What you are presenting us with is the Proudhonist version of “dialectics”, criticised by Marx whereby every phenomena has a good and a bad side, and progress involves removing the bad side to retain the good.

      The point about dialectics as a description of the real world, is that the real world involves change, and change, dynamism is itself necessarily contradictory, it involves the whole comprising both elements of the past and of the future, and movement is the constant reconciliation of these contradictory elements.

      Marx’s analysis of capitalism is an analysis based precisely upon this constant change, it is a theory of dynamic disequilibrium, in contrast to the bourgeois “liberal market” theories based upon partial or general equilibrium.

      You have things completely upside down!

  4. Socialism in One Bedroom Says:

    We tend to think that crises are an indication that something has gone wrong because that is precisely the case! So what if this leads to mechanisms that ultimately takes us out of the crisis or that they are the result of some other phenomena? One could say that a crop failure is not an indication something went wrong because this was the result of weather patterns that built up gradually and this problem was solved by starvation! That maybe the case but it is still a problem!

    The real question is the affect these crises have on the stability of the system. If no crisis ever threatens the stability and functioning of the system then Marx was wrong and the bourgeois economists are right, capitalism really is a system based on eternal natural laws, the realisation of these natural conditions. Hegel, the dialectician par excellence, certainly believed in this end point. Marx didn’t believe in any end points.

    This is why for Marx crises were such an important factor in analysing the development of capitalism as a transitory system. When Marx talked about the anarchic nature of capitalism he had in mind crises, capitalism is a system that creates its own problems.

    For Marx human history is class struggle, the end of capitalism will not come about by game theory changes, by Hegelian rotten apples, in other words we won’t wake up one day and ask, where did capitalism go? No, capitalism needs conscious actors to overthrow it because capitalism is a product of such class struggle, it is not the product of natural phenomena like tectonic plates.

    As Marx says capitalism came into existence dripping in blood. I suspect it will go out that way too!

    • Boffy Says:

      If your argument is that the justification is that capitalism suffers crises, then as I pointed out to Martha above, surely you end up on the same terrain as the reformists, Keynes and other bourgeois economists, which is that if you remove the potential for crises, you remove the justification for Socialism!

      Moreover, if your argument is that crises are a consequence of the chaotic unplanned nature of capitalism, then if that chaotic unplanned nature of the system is removed, you remove the cause of crises, and in doing so, you then on your first argument remove the justification for socialism. In fact, what you end up with is not Marxism, but a moral socialism, that provides a cover for the establishment of some form of regulated economy, or state capitalism. Its no wonder that so many reformists and Stalinists base their arguments on such moralism and subjectivism.

      And, of course, both Marx and Engels set out the way in which capitalism itself develops in the direction of such a planned and regulated system, which thereby undermines your entire justification for socialism itself. For example, Engels writes in his Critique of the Erfurt Programme,

      “Capitalist production by joint-stock companies is no longer private production but production on behalf of many associated people. And when we pass on from joint-stock companies to trusts, which dominate and monopolise whole branches of industry, this puts an end not only to private production but also to planlessness.”

      By contrast the justification for Socialism put forward by Marx and Engels, and Kautsky and other Marxists, which I defend is affected not one jot by whether capitalism suffers a crisis ever again. That justification is based upon the fact that socialism represents the next step in human social evolution that arises on the back of the development of the productive forces that capitalism creates, and makes possible the more effective development of those social forces than capitalism is now capable of achieving.

      After all, the most vicious crises that industrial capitalism suffered were during the period of its youth, in the early 19th century. Earlier forms of capitalism from the 15th century to the 19th century, in fact, did not suffer crises, precisely because those forms of capitalism did not develop the forces of production rapidly, and so did not lead to overproduction. Yet, during the period when capitalism was suffering these frequent and vicious crises of overproduction in the early 19th century, is precisely the time when Marx describes it as being most revolutionary! It did not at all provoke Marx at that time to demand its overthrow, and, in fact, Engels later in the 19th century, wrote that he and Marx had been completely wrong, even at the time of writing the Communist Manifesto in 1847, to believe that it was possible at that time to have established socialism, because he says, the only place on Earth even to have a sizeable working class, let alone a sufficient development of the productive forces, was in England.

      • Socialism in One Bedroom Says:

        Boffy, you have now moved on from presenting capitalism as an Earth like self repairing system to one that through repeated crises becomes more concentrated and centralised! So you rebuke your own argument in defending your argument! According to your logic capitalism develops into a crisis free system that creates a socialised system of production and I presume you believe the old problem of separation of purchase and sale has now been abolished under this form of capitalism, you must think this because by arguing that socialised production now holds sway you remove the conditions that lead to such problems! So you now say that the Earth has turned into Mars!

        I didn’t say that crises were the be all and end all of examining capitalism as a transitory system, there is of course the exploitative nature of capitalism, centralising and immiserating the working class, the problem of compound growth, technological change. Crises are one aspect but a crucial one because they force workers into thinking about alternatives, centralise and concentrate power and wealth etc. You reduce everything, and I mean everything, to technological change. As I said you expect us to wake up one fine day and ask, where did capitalism go? It is not a moral argument to talk of the various factors that describe capitalism in its transitory context, it is historical materialism. You are thoroughly determinist in reducing everything to ‘productive forces’, in other words, technological change.

        I also didn’t say that business cycle crises (the type you have brought up) lead to the demise of capitalism. My point is the affect they have on the development of capitalism (think of the impact of the crisis of 1847 and the revolution of 1848 as an example but think of it in the context of repeated crises) and the political struggle etc, I was responding to your idea that capitalism contains Earth like self repairing mechanisms. But you now seemed to have changed tact and admit that through these crises the very nature of capitalism changes! From Earth like to Mars like! It would help If you could actually clarify what is your real position!

        The way you presented the problem of crises is that they were some kind of natural phenomena that were some happy clappy comforting aspect that allowed the system to achieve a kind of karma, a balance, just like the planet Earth has mechanisms which allow it to continue ad infinitum (well at least until the sun blows up).

        If Marx and Engels didn’t believe that crises were an important part of the revolutionary picture can you explain why Kautsky and Bernstein argued over this very issue? Bernstein claimed, in a similar fashion to you, that the prediction that crises would become more acute was wrong and a key prediction of Marx and Engels had been proved incorrect. Kautsky defended Marx and Engels on this matter against the reformist Bernstein. Bernstein, the classic reformist claimed that capitalism had developed self stabilising mechanisms (his words only now in English!)via the credit system and monopolisation. You now come along, play the five card trick, twist everything and now present the old reformist ideas as revolutionary and the old revolutionary ideas as reformist. Just what type of charlatan are you?

        So you say Marx didn’t demand the overthrow of capitalism, can anyone remind me what the final line of the communist manifesto is please?

      • mandm Says:

        Capitalism’s crises tend to become more and more severe, not less serve. The period of capitalism’s most severe crisis is the period from the 1870’s to the present, the period during which the expansion of capitalist mode of production and reproduction has found its limit, which is expressed in imperialism’s wars against human beings–even against Europeans, Boffy), the alienated products of our labor, and against the environment.

        This will continue until capitalism’s antagonistic social relation (the alienation of the producers from the means of production) is replaced, probably violently. The personifications of the system have made it perfectly clear that they’d rather (we) be dead than red. …Have you ever taken a good look at the “educated bourgeoisie”?

        Marx ended up believing in the possibility of countries like Russia skipping the horrors of primitive accumulation. Kautsky ended up a social imperialist. You can thank him for the endless wars against the Soviet Union and “Stalinism”, as well as for the way you think.

      • Boffy Says:

        “you have now moved on from presenting capitalism as an Earth like self repairing system to one that through repeated crises becomes more concentrated and centralised!”

        Except I didn’t. Concentration and centralisation occurs whether there are crises or not.

        “So you rebuke your own argument in defending your argument!”

        How? Even if we take it that crises act to simulate the process of concentration and centralisation, which they do, how does that in any way contradict Marx’s analysis of capitalism based upon a dynamic disequilibrium, in which contradictions are resolved by crises, which then leads to a further growth of the system? It simply illustrates Marx’s point that both crises and the concentration and centralisation of capital are inherent to the system, and a normal part of its functioning.

        “According to your logic capitalism develops into a crisis free system that creates a socialised system of production…”

        Except I said no such thing. I quoted Marx’s comments about the way the normal process of capitalist production, and of concentration and centralisation leads to the development of socialised capital in the form of joint stock companies and co-operatives. I also quoted Engels comments that this socialised capital also does away with planlessness, and so if, as you originally stated, crises are a function of chaos, of the lack of planning, it is conceptually possible, thereby on the basis of your argument to create a crisis free capitalism by simply pursuing that process to its logical conclusion and establishing a planned state capitalism. In other words, I was simply extrapolating the logic of your argument that crises are caused by a lack of planning, and that the justification for Socialism was the existence of crises under capitalism.

        Indeed, Lenin, in his writings against the ultra-lefts in Russia, after the revolution, who wanted to by-pass the process of capital accumulation, and development of the productive forces, and who attacked the Bolsheviks for the reintroduction of the market, and private ownership of capital, and the encouragement of foreign capital into Russia to assist in that process of capital accumulation, argued against them that if they could achieve state capitalism it would be a tremendous step forward.

        There is a useful discussion of it here. It is a further illustration of Lenin’s recognition of that need for the development of the productive forces by capital that I referred to earlier, in the quote for The two Tactics. Trotsky made a similar point in relation to the development of state capitalism in Mexico in the 1930’s, and referred back specifically to this approach by Lenin.

        “Lenin accorded great importance to these concessions for the economic development of the country and for the technical and administrative education of Soviet personnel. There has been no socialist revolution in Mexico. The international situation does not even allow for the cancellation of the public debt. The country we repeat is poor. Under such conditions it would be almost suicidal to close the doors to foreign capital. To construct state capitalism, capital is necessary.”

        (On Mexico’s Second Six year Plan)

        On the basis of your argument, all that is required is state capitalism, not socialism.

        “I presume you believe the old problem of separation of purchase and sale has now been abolished under this form of capitalism, you must think this because by arguing that socialised production now holds sway you remove the conditions that lead to such problems!”

        Except again, I said no such thing. Socialised capital is today certainly the dominant form of capital, and its interests ultimately dominate the state. Indeed, that is why not only do we have large scale planning at the level of these huge corporations, but we have large-scale planning and regulation at the level of the state too, and indeed at a para-state level. That is indeed a powerful factor in modifying the nature of crises, because as Andrew Kliman pointed out several years ago,

        “Companies’ decisions about how much output to produce are based on projections of demand for the output. Since technical progress does not affect demand – buyers care about the characteristics of products, not the processes used to produce them – it will not cause companies to increase their levels of output, all else being equal.” (Note 4, Page 16, The Failure Of Capitalist Production)

        But, clearly these large socialised capitals whilst dominating production, do not comprise all of the capital within an economy. In Britain, there are around 5 million companies, and clearly not all of these are large socialised capitals. Many are the remnants of the old private capitals that characterised capital in its infancy, and they are subject to those same conditions. Logically, if you believe that the justification for Socialism is the existence of crises, you should be advocating the more rapid concentration and centralisation of these capitals into larger socialised capitals, where the chaotic and unplanned nature of capital can be overcome, and so whereby your explanation of crises is overcome. But, then along with it would go your justification for Socialism.

        “I didn’t say that crises were the be all and end all of examining capitalism as a transitory system, there is of course the exploitative nature of capitalism, centralising and immiserating the working class, the problem of compound growth, technological change.”

        Except that Marx following Ricardo notes that the exploitative nature of capitalism is part of its revolutionary role, because it is via that exploitation that it raises up the rate of surplus value, pushes up the level of productivity, and so more effectively accumulates the means of production required for Socialism. Moreover, as Marx sets out against the Lassalleans in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, “exploitation” does not cease under socialism either, in the sense that in order to continue to develop the productive forces, and to raise the level of productivity, it becomes even more necessary to raise the proportion of the surplus product vis a vis the necessary product, i.e. to increase the rate of exploitation. And, as Marx also sets out in the Critique, capitalism does not “immiserate” the working-class. On the contrary, it raises the living standards up to ever new heights.

        “Crises are one aspect but a crucial one because they force workers into thinking about alternatives,”

        Firstly, crises as Marx describes are shortlived phenomenon. They are not the same as periods of stagnation, which represent a period of crisis for the working-class, because of high levels of unemployment, but not for capitalism. In such periods, of stagnation, capital is able to create a relative surplus population, so as to reduce wages, and raise profits, for example. Secondly, there is no reason why such a crisis or a period of stagnation should cause workers to think about alternatives. As Trotsky wrote in response to the ultralefts who made that argument, a period of stagnation may cause workers to be more resentful, but it also diminishes their ability to do anything about it, it leads them into feelings of apathy, and increases the degree of competition between them, as they fight each other for available work. And, the alternatives that workers are likely to think about during such periods, and under such conditions are not socialist alternatives, but individualist alternatives, sectional alternatives, and nationalist alternatives, leading to the rise of populist, demagogic, and fascistic forces as happened during the 1930’s.

        “You reduce everything, and I mean everything, to technological change. As I said you expect us to wake up one fine day and ask, where did capitalism go?”

        Except everything I have written even in this thread says exactly the opposite, let alone everything else I have ever written, or done as a labour movement activist over 40 odd years.

        For example, as I wrote, in a previous comment,

        “But, of course, the fact that the objective development of the productive forces, and of the social relations that arise upon them does not automatically result in the creation of worker-owned co-operatives”

        “My point is the affect they have on the development of capitalism (think of the impact of the crisis of 1847 and the revolution of 1848 as an example but think of it in the context of repeated crises) and the political struggle etc, I was responding to your idea that capitalism contains Earth like self repairing mechanisms.”

        Except the crisis of 1847, was a financial crisis, and the extent to which it wa a financial crisis, like the crisis of 1857, is shown by the fact, as Marx and Engels describe, that no sooner was the Bank Act suspended, so that the credit crunch was ended, and liquidity returned to the economy, the crisis came to an end, and the economic boom resumed, in 1848. The financial crisis of 1847, was based upon the fact that a booming economy with high rates of profit, created low rates of interest, and those low rates of interest promoted financial speculation in financial assets, particularly Railway Shares that created a speculative financial bubble. Much like the situation since 2008, created by QE, this financial speculation in fictitious capital, sucked potential money-capital away from actual productive investment. This is also the indication that this was a financial crisis rather than a crisis of overproduction, as Engels puts it,

        “The thirst for speculation of manufacturers and merchants at first found gratification in this field, and as early as in the summer of 1844. Stock was fully underwritten, i.e., so far as there was money to cover the initial payments. As for the rest, time would show! But when further payments were due — Question 1059, C. D. 1848/57, indicates that the capital invested in railways in 1846-47 amounted to £75 million — recourse had to be taken to credit, and in most cases the basic enterprises of the firm had also to bleed.”
        (Capital III, Chapter 25)

        Far from being a crisis of overproduction, therefore, there was potential money-capital being drained away from real capital investment into the speculation in shares, blowing up this stock market bubble. And, indeed the immediate spark for the crisis was the crop failure of that year, which caused a large rise in food imports, which were paid for by an export of gold, which then caused the Bank of England, to reduce the note supply, and caused discounting rates to rise sharply, which then led to the credit crunch, which led the speculators to have to liquidate profitable assets, at knock down prices, so as to obtain liquidity so as to meet the calls from their brokers as they came due for the further instalments on the shares they had bought.

        “But you now seemed to have changed tact and admit that through these crises the very nature of capitalism changes! From Earth like to Mars like! It would help If you could actually clarify what is your real position!”

        No I didn’t. Capitalism would go through a process of concentration and centralisation whether it experienced crises or not. That process leads to the creation of socialised capital, and the nature of socialised capital, and the huge levels of long term investment it requires, leads to a need for planning, and regulation. Kautsky discussing this socialised capital notes,

        “It was Marx and Engels who first set forth these facts and explained the scientific laws that govern them…

        “The corporation renders the person of the capitalist wholly superfluous for the conduct of capitalist undertakings. The exclusion of his personality from industrial life ceases to be a question of possibility or of intention. It is purely a question of POWER.”

        (The Road To Power)

        “The way you presented the problem of crises is that they were some kind of natural phenomena that were some happy clappy comforting aspect that allowed the system to achieve a kind of karma”

        No I didn’t. I said, as does Marx and Engels that crises are normal for capitalism. They are an integral part of the functioning of the system. Change the system, and those crises disappear along with it, although, of course, that doesn’t mean that whatever replaces it will not experience crises too, but they will be different sorts of crises, because the laws of motion of that other society will be different. The only things that do not experience crises, are things that have no contradicitons, and the only things that do not have contradictions are things that are unchanging. In other words, things that are basically dead.

        “So you say Marx didn’t demand the overthrow of capitalism,”
        And, where exactly do you claim that I said any such thing? I have never said anything even approaching that, which makes me wonder just how closely you have read anything I have said, so perhaps its no wonder you are so hopelessly confused.

      • Boffy Says:

        “The period of capitalism’s most severe crisis is the period from the 1870’s to the present, the period during which the expansion of capitalist mode of production and reproduction has found its limit,”

        Found its limit, really? Has anyone told the Chinese that, or all the countries industrialising in Africa? Has anyone told the statisticians who show capital accumulation continuing to rise, and technological developments increasing at a more rapid pace? Has anyone told that to the global working-class that has doubled since the 1980’s alone, and more than a third since 2000?

        “Marx ended up believing in the possibility of countries like Russia skipping the horrors of primitive accumulation. ”

        No he didn’t. In his letter to Vasulich, he makes clear that the only way Russia could convert the village communes to socialist communes was on the basis of adopting the technologies already developed in the capitalist economies of western Europe. It basically required that the revolution that Marx expected in Britain and western Europe had already occurred, so that the workers in those western countries could simply provide the Russian workers and peasants with the technology they would require.

        By the latter part of the 19th century,as Engels was writing, it became clear that Russia was already engaged in significant capital accumulation, and that it the progressive aspect that Lenin describes, and that guided his programme after the revolution, in the need for such capital accumulation.

      • Socialism in One Bedroom Says:

        So you now say there are no mechanisms for the development of ‘socialised capital’ (concentration and centralisation), it just appears all by its self? We have gone from capitalism being a self contained and self healing Earth like system to being one of total spontaneity, or maybe a system where everything is already written!

        The argument about crises isn’t that they in some way reflect contradictions but in your initial presentation of them as something natural and as Bernstein would say self stabilising. You have now presented 3 versions of this, the initial self stabilising view, the secondary view that crises do not resolve contradictions but create new conditions, and the new view that things just happen. So whatever centralisation would take place, as if it is written in the heavens.

        I don’t think capitalism does do away with anarchy and you don’t either because you now make the point that much of capitalist production is done by smaller capital, which you claim is a legacy of earlier forms but I would argue is not legacy but simply a feature of the system. So for example the hundreds of nail salons that have been established in the 21st century are not some legacy of the 18th century but are the result of existing conditions! You clearly believe the anarchy of production problem has been resolved, I don’t believe capitalism can solve this anarchy in whatever form it takes. In fact your belief in capitalism resolving this issue is linked to your deterministic view of change, in your world we really will wake up one morning and ask, where did capitalism go.

        You also clearly believe that crises have no impact on the foundation of the capitalist system, in which case they are very much not crises but things that happen. So why do you insist on calling them crises? While we are on that topic how do you explain the debate within the SPD between the reformist wing and the revolutionary wing? The reformist wing presented the argument that Marx was becoming outdated because capitalism had developed self stabilising mechanisms, the revolutionary wing took the opposite view. Seriously how did this actual history occur if what you say is true!! Were the members of the SPD insane or suffering from illusions?

        Marx already believed that the productive forces were developed enough for socialism when he was alive, large scale industry had become the predominant feature of capitalist production. So for Marx the problem was not one of undeveloped productive forces. Because Marx was not talking about Russia, Russia was not part of the first international! So if this was a concern for Lenin that is beside the point, other than to say I accept the productive forces are one of many factors at play, for you they are the one and only factor.

        Marx, as far as I can interpret, did not believe in a determinist view of human development, even if he did hold to a dialectical conception of nature. Marx believed that events, individuals, along with ‘spontaneous’ mechanisms (productive forces etc) were factors that led to revolutionary situations.
        Marx had already seen that economic crises had led directly to social revolutions, so it was at the forefront of his mind that crises were not only a fact of capitalist life but that these crises led to transformations of one degree or another. I really don’t give a fig for what caused the 1847 crisis, though having read the accounts by Engels I am confused how you arrive at the conclusion it was a financial crisis (see chapter 26 vol 3 of capital)!? But anyway, the point is that this crisis of capitalism had led to the 1848 revolution, or had been a trigger according to Marx. More importantly Marx empathised that it was part of a pattern of boom and slump.

        Exploitation is a class relation, a human to human relation. If in a cooperative the worker becomes his own capitalist then you can’t really speak of exploitation because in effect the workers are exploiting themselves. In that case exploitation is not the word to use, at least from a Marxist perspective. I don’t know what word I would use. But the measure of the rate of exploitation would become a thing of the past. At heart you view capitalism as an eternal condition of human existence and for you it is perfectly natural and logical to believe that exploitation is a permanent condition, a condition that humanity was always destined to arrive at.

        You said in a previous comment that Marx was not provoked to call for the overthrow of capitalism, when in fact consistently during his life that is exactly what he did call for. If he urged caution it wasn’t because the productive forces hadn’t been developed to the appropriate degree but because the balance of power between the classes meant the overthrow would likely fail.

      • jlowrie Says:

        ”Marx already believed that the productive forces were developed enough for socialism when he was alive, large scale industry had become the predominant feature of capitalist production. So for Marx the problem was not one of undeveloped productive forces.”

        I agree.

        However, I do not agree with, ”Marx, as far as I can interpret, did not believe in a determinist view of human development.”

        Marx IS an economic determinist, but not an economic reductionist. We should bear in mind that where Marx employs ‘determine’ it embraces the twin concepts of ‘sets boundaries to’ and negation. Thus his dictum that people make their own history but they do not do it in circumstances that they themselves have chosen. What humankind can do is circumscribed and negated by the economic structure of the society into which they are born.

      • Boffy Says:

        “So you now say there are no mechanisms for the development of ‘socialised capital’ (concentration and centralisation), it just appears all by its self?”

        Its not me that says that, but Marx! The process of concentration and centralisation is set out in Capital I, Chapter 32,

        “That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the cooperative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime.”

        And, in Capital III, Chapter 27,

        “The capital, which in itself rests on a social mode of production and presupposes a social concentration of means of production and labour-power, is here directly endowed with the form of social capital (capital of directly associated individuals) as distinct from private capital, and its undertakings assume the form of social undertakings as distinct from private undertakings. It is the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself…

        It is the point of departure for the capitalist mode of production; its accomplishment is the goal of this production. In the last instance, it aims at the expropriation of the means of production from all individuals. With the development of social production the means of production cease to be means of private production and products of private production, and can thereafter be only means of production in the hands of associated producers, i.e., the latter’s social property, much as they are their social products.”

        (Capital III, Chapter 27)

        “The argument about crises isn’t that they in some way reflect contradictions but in your initial presentation of them as something natural and as Bernstein would say self stabilising.”

        But, for capitalism crises ARE natural, as Marx sets out. They are an inherent means by by which the system resolves the contradictions that arise within it. And, they are not a means of self-stabilisation, but of growth. The crisis in the process of resolving the contradictions also creates the conditions for the renewed expansion of capital.

        “the fall in prices and the competitive struggle would have driven every capitalist to lower the individual value of his total product below its general value by means of new machines, new and improved working methods, new combinations, i.e., to increase the productivity of a given quantity of labour, to lower the proportion of variable to constant capital, and thereby to release some labourers; in short, to create an artificial over-population. Ultimately, the depreciation of the elements of constant capital would itself tend to raise the rate of profit. The mass of employed constant capital would have increased in relation to variable, but its value could have fallen. The ensuing stagnation of production would have prepared — within capitalistic limits — a subsequent expansion of production.

        And thus the cycle would run its course anew. Part of the capital, depreciated by its functional stagnation, would recover its old value. For the rest, the same vicious circle would be described once more under expanded conditions of production, with an expanded market and increased productive forces.”

        (Capital III, Chapter 15)

        Have you ever actually read anything that Marx wrote, or are you like just using the force to directly receive into your brain what you think he might have said?

        Except that I have said no such thing, which leads me to the conclusion that not only have you not actually read anything that Marx has written, but you have not read what I have written here either, which rather calls into question the fruitfulness of any further discussion. I’m further led to that conclusion, because you then within the same paragraph write,

        “I don’t think capitalism does do away with anarchy and you don’t either ,” followed just a couple of lines further by, “You clearly believe the anarchy of production problem has been resolved”! What I am led to believe is that you seem to be prepared to write any old crap, to put forward an argument, whether it is self-contradictory or not.

        Then you say,

        “I don’t believe capitalism can solve this anarchy in whatever form it takes. In fact your belief in capitalism resolving this issue is linked to your deterministic view of change, in your world we really will wake up one morning and ask, where did capitalism go.”

        Its not my belief its Marx’s belief, as set out in his comment cited above,

        “It is the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself…”

        And Engels belief as set out in his Critique of the Erfurt Programme. But, if I am to believe that this happens automatically, that I believe we will wake up one day and ask “where did capitalism go”, as opposed to Marx’s point that what goes is that old monopoly of private capital, which is replaced by socialised capital, in the form of co-operatives and joint stock capital, why then would I have spent so much time as a trades union activist, why would I have spent so much time as a political activist, arguing the need for workers to create a revolutionary party, and fight for politcal power, why would I argue the need for workers to actively engage in setting up co-operatives, and to demand control over other forms of socialised capital?

        “You also clearly believe that crises have no impact on the foundation of the capitalist system, in which case they are very much not crises but things that happen. So why do you insist on calling them crises?”

        For the same reason that Marx did. The fact that such a crisis does not undermine the foundation of the system, because all such crises are merely temporary phenomena, by which contradictions are resolved does not change the fact that in the immediate effect it is a crisis. A partial crisis of overproduction, for example, as described by Marx, certainly does not impact the foundation of the system, but it is no less a crisis for those capitals impacted by it.

        “The reformist wing presented the argument that Marx was becoming outdated because capitalism had developed self stabilising mechanisms, the revolutionary wing took the opposite view. Seriously how did this actual history occur if what you say is true!! Were the members of the SPD insane or suffering from illusions?”

        Except that is not the discussion that took place in the SPD over reform or revolution! The argument of Bernstein was that capitalism was evolving towards socialism, and that it would be possible to simply gradually introduce reforms that transformed capitalism into socialism. Kautsky accepted that capitalism was evolving towards socialism – as described in the quote from The Road To Power – but that the ruling class would always act to defend their political power, and it was necessary, therefore, for workers to also organise politically to challenge for power.

        “At heart you view capitalism as an eternal condition of human existence and for you it is perfectly natural and logical to believe that exploitation is a permanent condition, a condition that humanity was always destined to arrive at.”

        No it isn’t, and nothing I have ever written, said or done could leave any honest person to make the statement you have done. Incidentally, I haven’t bothered responding to all of the guff in the previous paragraph or so, because it was so vacuous, and unsubstantiated that it didn’t merit a response.

        “You said in a previous comment that Marx was not provoked to call for the overthrow of capitalism.”

        No I didn’t. What I said was that in the early phase of industrial capitalism from around 1825, capital went through frequent crises, which were an indication of the vigour of its youth. I pointed out that Marx did not see these crises, at that time, as the basis for the need for an overthrow of capitalism. Nor on the basis of his theory could he have done so, because at that time, not only were the forces of production inadequately developed, and the working-class and bourgeoisie were in alliance fighting the landed aristocracy, but Engels also pointed out that there hopes for the bourgeois revolutions of 1848, to become a permanent revolution, were also utopian, because at that time the only place that had a sizeable working-class was Britain! That is completely different to trying to present my position as being that Marx did not call for the overthrow of capitalism!

  5. Magpie Says:

    I found curiously amusing the whole call for reforms coming from reformist economists, but the cake goes to Kate Raworth:

    “Yes, economics is in crisis and the last thing it needs is creeping reform: it’s time for a sweeping reformation.”

    She cannot force herself to use the word “revolution”, but she seems to be calling for a revolution in economics teaching. What she and all her comrades cannot call is for a revolution in our mode of production.

  6. Tony of Ca Says:

    Well said!!!

  7. Boffy Says:

    “One could say that a crop failure is not an indication something went wrong because this was the result of weather patterns that built up gradually and this problem was solved by starvation! That maybe the case but it is still a problem!”

    This is again a Proudhonist interpretation of dialectical contradictions not a Marxist definition. Just be real dialectical contradictions lead to change, which is brought about by crises, does not mean that every crises is the manifestation of a resolution of contradictions, any more than just because all dogs are animals all animals are dogs!

    We could also discuss what it is that went wrong in the example, you give. For example, did something go wrong, for example, with the Earth’s weather system? No it did’t, precisely because the Earth’s weather system involves constant changes, it is a dynamic system.

    “The real question is the affect these crises have on the stability of the system. If no crisis ever threatens the stability and functioning of the system then Marx was wrong and the bourgeois economists are right, capitalism really is a system based on eternal natural laws, the realisation of these natural conditions. Hegel, the dialectician par excellence, certainly believed in this end point. Marx didn’t believe in any end points.

    This is why for Marx crises were such an important factor in analysing the development of capitalism as a transitory system. When Marx talked about the anarchic nature of capitalism he had in mind crises, capitalism is a system that creates its own problems.”

    Except that is a completely false view of Marx’s analysis of the importance of crises! It is more like the view of Adam Smith, or Ricardo or Malthus who did view crises in these catastrophist terms, whereby a natural law of the falling rate of profit, causes the mass of profit to be reduced to a point whereby the stability of the system is undermined. Marx totally rejected those incorrect views, and showed at length why they are wrong! Marx demonstrated that crises of overproduction are associated with periods of high rates and masses of profit, which lead to overaccumulation, sharp rises in the prices of inputs, sharp rises in wages, which cause a sharp squeeze on profits, and greater potential for the capital consumed in production not be reproduced, as profit margins get squeezed.

    But, for Marx, these crises of overproduction are merely short lived phenomena, by which these contradictions are resolved. As Marx says criticising the view of Adam Smith that these crises are in some way threatening of the stability of the system,

    “A distinction must he made here. When Adam Smith explains the fall in the rate of profit from an over-abundance of capital, an accumulation of capital, he is speaking of a permanent effect and this is wrong. As against this, the transitory over-abundance of capital, over-production and crises are something different. Permanent crises do not exist.”

    Its not crises that somehow mysteriously lead to socialism, but the inherent dynamic elements of capitalism itself. As marx says, the historical revolutionary function of capitalism is precisely to develop the productive forces to such an extent that it makes Socialism possible. That is why he says, in “Value, Price and profit”,

    “They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.”

    It is the Proudhonists/Anarchists who see socialism coming about in some kind of nihilistic reaction to crises, not Marx or Marxists.

    And, yes, of course,

    “For Marx human history is class struggle, the end of capitalism will not come about by game theory changes, by Hegelian rotten apples, in other words we won’t wake up one day and ask, where did capitalism go? No, capitalism needs conscious actors to overthrow it because capitalism is a product of such class struggle, it is not the product of natural phenomena like tectonic plates.”

    But, the conclusion that would come from your view of the role of crises, as being in some way the means by which capitalism is replaced is precisely one which suggests some kind of natural automaticity, that substitutes for human agency! Your view is based not on the replacement of capitalism by socialism on the basis of the construction of some superior mode of production, i.e as marx puts it of pushing the dynamic contradictions inherent within capitalism beyond their limits, but is based purely on some kind of nihilistic negation of capitalism, simply as a response to its negative aspects.

    Rather than being a positive advocacy of socialism, it resolves into a negative, nihilistic anti-capitalism.

    For Marx human actors are merely representatives of different forms of property, and it is these different forms of property that come into conflict, because these different forms of property – landed property as against capital, money-capital as against productive-capital, socialised capital as against privately owned capital that are the material bases of these struggles.

    These material conditions create the dynamic which drives the human actors into certain courses of action, but they are not mechanical. It does indeed, require the human actors to act. So, for example,

    Marx says,

    “The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”

    But, of course, the fact that the objective development of the productive forces, and of the social relations that arise upon them does not automatically result in the creation of worker-owned co-operatives, especially where elements within the the workers movement for their own sectarian, or personal interests, attempt to divert the workers from such action. For example, the Trades Union bureaucracy is hostile to the development of such workers owned co-operatives, because their social function depends upon their ability to act as conciliators between capital and labour, and that requires the continued “antithesis between capital and labour”.

    As Marx put it,

    “But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.”

    But, as he recognised, the class struggle is manifest here too precisely in the fact that the representatives of those previous forms of property, of landed property, private capital, and money-capital would not themselves sit by and simply allow that process of development to unfold.

    “Yet the lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defense and perpetuation of their economic monopolies. So far from promoting, they will continue to lay every possible impediment in the way of the emancipation of labor. Remember the sneer with which, last session, Lord Palmerston put down the advocated of the Irish Tenants’ Right Bill. The House of Commons, cried he, is a house of landed proprietors. To conquer political power has, therefore, become the great duty of the working classes. They seem to have comprehended this, for in England, Germany, Italy, and France, there have taken place simultaneous revivals, and simultaneous efforts are being made at the political organization of the workingmen’s party.”

    For Marx, socialism does not arise out of a nihilistic and negative rejection of capitalism, driven by crises, but arises out of the development that capitalism provides, and the development of socialised capital, which it itself produces, which creates these “transitory forms”, and which the workers must themselves develop, and seize control of in the fact of the opposition of the representatives of older forms of property.

    As Lenin also put it,

    “And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class.”

    Lenin – Two tactics of Social Democracy In The Democratic Revolution, Chapter 6

  8. Boffy Says:

    Michael you say,

    “That’s an irony for a start because the basis of neoclassical theory is marginalism: marginal utility of the consumer and marginal productivity of ‘capital’. And Keynes held entirely to the marginal theory propounded by his mentor Alfred Marshall. All he added was that, because of uncertainty and unpredictability in investment decisions by individuals (driven by psychology or ‘animal spirits’), sometimes economies can get locked into an equilibrium where markets don’t clear and unemployment becomes permanent. For Keynes, this was a ‘technical problem’ that could be fixed; it was not inherent feature of the capitalist production process.”

    But, of course, marginalism also plays a significant role in Marx’s theory too. It was Marx who developed Ricardo’s theory of rent based on marginal productivity theory, for example. Marx uses marginalist theory (though he doesn’t, of course, call it that) in his analysis of exchange rates, where he talks about it being not overall quantities that are decisive, but only the quantities at the margin that decide, in the same way that a butterfly can tip an evenly balanced scale on one side or the other.

    Most significantly, Marx’s theory of demand is necessarily based upon marginal utility, because, as he says demand is always demand at a price, but how much is demanded is a function of subjective consumer preferences. So, for example, Marx notes,

    “The same value can be embodied in very different quantities [of commodities]. But the use-value—consumption—depends not on value, but on the quantity. It is quite unintelligible why I should buy six knives because I can get them for the same price that I previously paid for one.”

    (Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 20)

    In other words, Marx recognises that demand is a function of use value, and the marginalist idea of the elasticity of demand. And as he adds,

    ““Here a great confusion: (1) This identity of supply, so that it is a demand measured by its own amount, is true only to the extent that it is exchange value = to a certain amount of objectified labour. To that extent it is the measure of its own demand — as far as value is concerned. But, as such a value, it first has to be realized through the exchange for money, and as object of exchange for money it depends (2) on its use value,but as use value it depends on the mass of needs present for it, the demand for it. But as use value it is absolutely not measured by the labour time objectified in it, but rather a measuring rod is applied to it which lies outside its nature as exchange value.”

    And, like Keynes, Marx rejected the idea of Say’s Law that demand can simply be assumed, on the basis that supply creates its own demand. That applies only under systems of barter, but as Marx points out, in every money economy, money is always the general commodity that can be demanded, and held rather than exchanged for any other commodity, and so the total level of aggregate demand can fall below the level of aggregate supply.

    As Marx puts it,

    “At a given moment, the supply of all commodities can be greater than the demand for all commodities, since the demand for the general commodity, money, exchange-value, is greater than the demand for all particular commodities, in other words the motive to turn the commodity into money, to realise its exchange-value, prevails over the motive to transform the commodity again into use-value.” (TOSV2 p 505)

    In other words, the marginal propensity to save rises.

    Marx’s, theory of value, shows that value is objectively determined by the labour time required for the reproduction of commodities. Contrary to the neo-classical, marginalist theory, that value is imminently determined on this objective basis. However, as Marx also recognised things are not that straightforward. Firstly, the value of a commodity may be objectively determined on this basis, but that does not at all mean that there will be a sufficient demand for all of the commodities produced, at that value, as he sets out in the quotes above. As he says, also in Capital III, Chapter 15, the conditions of producing surplus value are not the same, and are often contradictory to, the conditions of its realisation. Even assuming that exchange-value equals price of production, there is absolutely no reason that demand will be such as to ensure that market prices will equal the price of production, and Marx says that such a condition will only every be accidental.

    But, those conditions of demand, might also, as he demonstrates in TOSV Chapter 12, be consistently above or below the existing level of output, which then impacts the market value of output. The market value/price of production depends also upon the level of production, because central to Marx’s theory and analysis of capitalism is that a) it requires large markets so as to enable mass production of commodities, b) as production is undertaken on a larger scale, the cost of production per unit, falls.

    So, demand depends upon subjective consumer preferences, which determines how much demand there will be for any commodity/commodities in general at any particular set of prices, the particular set of prices are themselves objectively determined, by the labour-time required for their reproduction, but the objective determination of that quantum of labour-time itself also depends upon the scale of output, and the scale of output in turn depends upon the level of demand, at the given price!

    “Supply and demand may eliminate the effect caused by their difference in many different ways. For instance, if the demand, and consequently the market-price, fall, capital may be withdrawn, thus causing supply to shrink. It may also be that the market-value itself shrinks and balances with the market-price as a result of inventions which reduce the necessary labour-time. Conversely, if the demand increases, and consequently the market-price rises above the market-value, this may lead to too much capital flowing into this line of production and production may swell to such an extent that the market-price will even fall below the market-value. Or, it may lead to a price increase, which cuts the demand. In some lines of production it may also bring about a rise in the market-value itself for a shorter or longer period, with a portion of the desired products having to be produced under worse conditions during this period.

    Supply and demand determine the market-price, and so does the market-price, and the market-value in the further analysis, determine supply and demand. This is obvious in the case of demand, since it moves in a direction opposite to prices, swelling when prices fall, and vice versa. But this is also true of supply. Because the prices of means of production incorporated in the offered commodities determine the demand for these means of production, and thus the supply of commodities whose supply embraces the demand for these means of production. The prices of cotton are determinants in the supply of cotton goods.

    To this confusion — determining prices through demand and supply, and, at the same time, determining supply and demand through prices — must be added that demand determines supply, just as supply determines demand, and production determines the market, as well as the market determines production.”

    (Capital III, Chapter 10)

    • Socialism in One Bedroom Says:

      “in every money economy, money is always the general commodity that can be demanded, and held rather than exchanged for any other commodity, and so the total level of aggregate demand can fall below the level of aggregate supply”

      So where goes this socialised system of production that Boffy claims capitalism entered sometime in the late 19th century? If production is socialised in the way he says it is how can money be held to the extent that it can cause disequlibrium!

      Boffy claims we now have socialised production but at the same time claims we have privatised consumption, distribution and exchange! So much for production determining distribution etc.

      • Boffy Says:

        “So where goes this socialised system of production that Boffy claims capitalism entered sometime in the late 19th century? If production is socialised in the way he says it is how can money be held to the extent that it can cause disequlibrium!”

        This makes no sense. If all of production was controlled by the state, there is absolutely no reason why workers will not save some of their wages rather than spend them, just as there is no reason that landlords will not save some of their rents, and money-capitalists save some of their interest, so that the revenues paid out as wages, rents, and interest are greater than what is spent on consumption.

        What, of course, we would expect, is that because of what Kliman says,

        ““Companies’ decisions about how much output to produce are based on projections of demand for the output. Since technical progress does not affect demand – buyers care about the characteristics of products, not the processes used to produce them – it will not cause companies to increase their levels of output, all else being equal.” (Note 4, Page 16, The Failure Of Capitalist Production)”

        and, because of what Simon Clarke has said,

        “Indeed it would be fair to say that the sphere of planning in capitalism is much more extensive than it is in the command economies of the soviet bloc. The scope and scale of planning in giant corporations like Ford, Toyota, GEC or ICI dwarfs that of most, if not all, of the Soviet Ministries. The extent of co-ordination through cartels, trade associations, national governments and international organisations makes Gosplan look like an amateur in the planning game. The scale of the information flows which underpin the stock control and ordering of a single Western retail chain are probably greater than those which support the entire Soviet planning system.”

        Capital and Class, Winter 1990

        The models of these huge corporations are now so elaborate, and facilitated by the use of immediate feedback from retailers EPOS systems, and from the introduction of Just In Time production and stock control systems, that any such state capitalist producer, would have a very good idea of what the level of demand for their output was going to be, and would be able to plan their production accordingly. Indeed, many see this now, as the basic means by which a transitional socialist economy will be able to undertake such planning.

        “Boffy claims we now have socialised production but at the same time claims we have privatised consumption, distribution and exchange! So much for production determining distribution etc.”

        Its not just me that says that, but marx too. Socialised production exists even under private capitalism, it is a function of the division of labour. If what you meant was socialised capital rather than socialised production, then its necessary to examine, as Marx does the social relations that arise upon that socialised production, whereby the owners of money-capital, particularly in the form of shares, are able to extract huge revenues in interest payments (dividends) as a result of their monopoly over that fictititious capital, and the continued political power they exercise, which ensures that the laws of corporate governance give their representatives over capital they do not own, i.e. over the socialised productive-capital.

        Moreover, in a country like Britain, the old landed aristocracies heirs continue to own 90% of land, and to extract huge rents, as well as billions of pounds in subsidies from the state. That landed aristocracy along with the financial aristocracy is also able to obtain huge capital gains from the speculative bubbles blown up in these asset prices, which forms the main form of their private wealth.

        So, yes, indeed production does indeed continue to determine distribution, although the continued political power of the owners of fictitious capital, enables them to obtain revenues at times, in excess of what is economically justified. It is yet another contradiction that arises from these different forms of property – i.e. fictitious capital as against socialised productive capital, that creates the potential for crises, as will be seen when the requirements of that real socialised productive-capital asserts itself, and interest rates rise, as the prices of financial assets crash, with the coming financial crisis.

      • Socialism in One Bedroom Says:

        It is much less likely though because the hoarding Marx talks about is the hoarding of the capitalist. In a world of socialised capital hoarding doesn’t make much sense.

        And the nature of such socialisation of capital must surely transform distribution? Surely??

      • Boffy Says:

        “It is much less likely though because the hoarding Marx talks about is the hoarding of the capitalist.”

        No it wasn’t. Marx in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 17 describes this potential for consumers to demand money as the general commodity, as opposed to all other commodities, as a feature of all money economies, including those going back to Antiquity.

        “In a world of socialised capital hoarding doesn’t make much sense.”

        Why? Socialised-capital relates to real productive-capital. The private capital in the hands of the majority of capitalists today is loanable money-capital, and more specifically it is fictitious capital in the form of shares, bonds, other forms of financial assets, as well as landed property. It is in fact hoarding on a large scale, as well as the use of this potential money-capital for financial gambling in the purchase of these financial assets and property, in the expectation of financial gain, and totally separated from any productive use of that capital.

        In other words, as with the financial crisis of 1848, the owners of these vast reservoirs of potential money-capital are able at any one time to use it for such financial speculation, rather than to finance real capital accumulation, or to use it for actual consumption. And like Marx says in relation to the owners of landed property, if the owners of either of these assets – landed property or loanable money-capital – choose to they can simply leave them fallow.

        The owners of landed property can leave it derelict, or use it for their own leisure pursuits, rather than make it available for productive purposes. The owners of loanable money-capital, besides using it for speculation, rather than productive investment, can simply park it in the bank. They may well choose the latter, if for example, they expect some large financial crash which will decimate financial assets, and property prices, and which thereby also creates a huge capital gain for the holders of cash, which becomes massively revalued, as against those assets.

        “And the nature of such socialisation of capital must surely transform distribution? Surely??”

        And, indeed it does. Whilst capitalism was restricted by the fetter of the monopoly of private capital, distribution took the form of the majority of surplus value going in the form of profit to the private owner of the productive-capital. Today, private capital is restricted to that plethora of small capitalists, whilst the system is dominated by socialised capital. Under socialised capital, as Marx describes, surplus value divides into the profit of enterprise, which should be available for real capital accumulation, but a significant portion of which actually goes to pay enormously inflated stipends to the Executives appointed to Boards of Directors to represent the interests of shareholders against the interests of the company itself, and goes in interest payments (dividends to shareholders, and coupon to corporate bond holders).

        The private owners of productive-capital had an incentive to invest their available profits so as to expand the business, because that was how they expanded their future profits. The owners of fictitious capital have no such imminent necessity, because they can take their dividends and coupon and use it for speculation, in a range of different assets, where they think they may be able to achieve a higher yield, or where they might be able to obtain capital gains.

      • Socialism In One Bedroom Says:

        Your response to the debates within the SPD is pitifully inadequate, or maybe just corrupt. If you read the debates within the SPD it is obvious to anyone that you take up all the positions of Bernstein and attack the positions of the revolutionaries, in fact the similarity of your words to those of Bernstein is quite illuminating. And you present the reformism of Bernstein as revolutionary and the revolutionary position as reformist! Engels actually believed the extension of credit and joint stock companies would increase crises and make them more acute! You like Bernstein take the opposite view!

        The reason Engels goes a little overboard (imo) re joint stock companies is because Engels sees this development, the concentration and centralisation of power, as a proof of their scientific socialism. So for Engels joint stock companies gradually lose their capitalist character and inevitably morph into serving the nation. The only problem is this never actually happened. That requires investigation. But implicit in this characterisation of social capital is that these enterprises have captured so much market power, swept away so many rivals that competition is dead, the motives of private capitalists is done away with and things like hoarding are thereby done away with.

        My point is that I think this characterisation, social capital, is incorrect because competition is not done away with, industrial capitalists are still capitalists but with a financial character and Engels is wrong to say their expropriation is entirely interest bearing. As Simon Mohun points out the wages and benefits of the CEO managers should be seen as part of expropriation and part of profit and not wages, therefore not as Engels stated, merely market determined wages of ‘skilled’ workers. So a modern definition of a capitalist is as Mohun would say “a class that ‘controls’ investment, employment and the workplace”.

        When I said you didn’t regard capitalism as getting rid of anarchy I was making the point that you said it had got rid of anarchy but your arguments said otherwise! So while you point out that much of the capitalist economy is comprised of smaller enterprises you still claim capitalism has moved away from its early child like anarchy. In typical fashion you have distorted the point I was making here to make one of your petty attacks. Which is very much in your character. As others have said is there anyone you haven’t called a troll?

        You claim that crises do not undermine the foundation of the capitalist system as they are temporary and recurring but you also claim that crises resolve contradictions which allow the system to grow and centralise and concentrate power. So in your presentation we have repeating cycles that create growth, cause changes to the system but have no other affects! This is an absurd position, for you crises are infinite recurring events that change things and these changes made by previous crises have no affect on future crises! They just recur endlessly causing changes but at the same time they cause no changes!

        Unless you can show concretely to the contrary I assume, reading your arguments, that you must believe capitalism can go on forever raising the productive forces to ever greater degrees and capitalism is in no way a fetter to that and can in no way come into a chronic crisis over this. So in theory capitalism can just go on and on and on, having recurring crises that resolves its problem to begin anew again, all the time raising the productive forces and if by happenstance workers take up your call to take control of socialised capital then good but if they do not, well, good anyway because whichever way we view it productive forces = socialism!

        You asked if I had ever read anything Marx wrote, you are making me think maybe I haven’t and that I am mixing him up with some other guy!

      • Boffy Says:

        “If you read the debates within the SPD it is obvious to anyone that you take up all the positions of Bernstein and attack the positions of the revolutionaries, in fact the similarity of your words to those of Bernstein is quite illuminating. And you present the reformism of Bernstein as revolutionary and the revolutionary position as reformist!”

        Do I really? Would you like to provide actual evidence for that assertion?

        “Engels actually believed the extension of credit and joint stock companies would increase crises and make them more acute! You like Bernstein take the opposite view!”

        Did he really? This is what Engels actually says, explaining factors that had led to a subsidence of those regular previous crises.

        “Since the last general crisis of 1867 many profound changes have taken place. The colossal expansion of the means of transportation and communication — ocean liners, railways, electrical telegraphy, the Suez Canal — has made a real world-market a fact. The former monopoly of England in industry has been challenged by a number of competing industrial countries; infinitely greater and varied fields have been opened in all parts of the world for the investment of surplus European capital, so that it is far more widely distributed and local over-speculation may be more easily overcome. By means of all this, most of the old breeding-grounds of crises and opportunities for their development have been eliminated or strongly reduced. At the same time, competition in the domestic market recedes before the cartels and trusts, while in the foreign market it is restricted by protective tariffs, with which all major industrial countries, England excepted, surround themselves. But these protective tariffs are nothing but preparations for the ultimate general industrial war, which shall decide who has supremacy on the world-market. Thus every factor, which works against a repetition of the old crises, carries within itself the germ of a far more powerful future crisis.”

        “So for Engels joint stock companies gradually lose their capitalist character and inevitably morph into serving the nation.”

        Where do you claim Engels said any such thing? It is a calumny. Engels said no such thing. He said the exact opposite!

        “…swept away so many rivals that competition is dead, the motives of private capitalists is done away with and things like hoarding are thereby done away with.”

        Absolute nonsense. Marx sets out in The Poverty of Philosophy the basis for monopolistic competition. What socialised capital leads to is the generation of vast revenues in the form of interest (dividends and coupon) for a class of what Engels describes as “coupon clippers”, who live off their money-capital, and thereby enhances rather than diminishes the potential for hoarding. Indeed, a central aspect of Marx and Engels explanation for why older capitalist states have lower rates of interest is precisely that a growing cohort of retired former productive-capitalists hoard money-capital from the proceeds of selling their businesses, and live off this money-capital, throwing it into the money market, and thereby increasing the supply of money-capital!

        “As Simon Mohun points out the wages and benefits of the CEO managers should be seen as part of expropriation and part of profit and not wages, therefore not as Engels stated, merely market determined wages of ‘skilled’ workers.”

        Except Marx makes a clear distinction between the functioning capitalist, as he calls them, i.e. the day to day professional managers, paid a skilled workers wage, and the executives who are appointed above those managers, purely to protect the interests of the shareholders rather than the company. He writes,

        “On the basis of capitalist production a new swindle develops in stock enterprises with respect to wages of management, in that boards of numerous managers or directors are placed above the actual director, for whom supervision and management serve only as a pretext to plunder the stockholders and amass wealth. Very curious details concerning this are to be found in The City or the Physiology of London Business; with Sketches on Change, and the Coffee Houses, London, 1845.

        “What bankers and merchants gain by the direction of eight or nine different companies, may be seen from the following illustration: The private balance sheet of Mr. Timothy Abraham Curtis, presented to the Court of Bankruptcy when that gentleman failed, exhibited a sample of the income netted from directorship … between £800 and £900 a year. Mr. Curtis having been associated with the Courts of the Bank of England, and the East India House, it was considered quite a plum for a public company to acquire his services in the boardroom” (pp. 81, 82).

        The remuneration of the directors of such companies for each weekly meeting is at least one guinea. The proceedings of the Court of Bankruptcy show that these wages of supervision were, as a rule, inversely proportional to the actual supervision performed by these nominal directors.”

        It is why I have argued that a Corbyn Labour government rather than wasting time with proposals for nationalising companies, should simply change the laws of corporate governance, in a more radical way than exists with the co-determination laws in Germany, by abolishing the right of shareholders to have a vote on company policy, or to be able to appoint such Directors, and that the democratic control over that socialised capital should be exercised, by those that own it, i.e. the company itself, which as Marx says comprises the associated producers, the workers and managers within the firm. But, then hey, you wouldn’t know that, because apparently I do not propose anything do I, simply expecting that Socialism will arise spontaneously!

        “When I said you didn’t regard capitalism as getting rid of anarchy I was making the point that you said it had got rid of anarchy but your arguments said otherwise! So while you point out that much of the capitalist economy is comprised of smaller enterprises you still claim capitalism has moved away from its early child like anarchy. In typical fashion you have distorted the point I was making here to make one of your petty attacks. Which is very much in your character. As others have said is there anyone you haven’t called a troll?”

        What does any of that even mean? This is indeed more of the kind of meaningless “I said, you said, I said” nonsense that trolls engage in as an alternative to rational debate of the issues, trimmed off with the obligatory ad hominem attack on “character”. It is quite possible for a Marxist to understand that two things can be going on at the same time. There is absolutely no contradiction in understanding that the mass of capitals are comprised, in Britain of 5 million firms, most of which are small and some very small, privately owned firms, and the fact that the economy itself is dominated by socialised capital, by a relatively small number of huge companies, and that it is ultimately the interests of those large companies that determine the actions of the state, including extending the principle of planning and regulation itself to the macro economy. And consequently, it is quite clear that today’s capitalism is NOT the same as the capitalism of the early 19th century, and that such planning and regulation has been introduced on a wide scale.

        “So in your presentation we have repeating cycles that create growth, cause changes to the system but have no other affects! This is an absurd position, for you crises are infinite recurring events that change things and these changes made by previous crises have no affect on future crises! They just recur endlessly causing changes but at the same time they cause no changes!”

        What I challenged was your assertion that crises undermine the foundations of the system. I suppose a very big crisis might do that, conceivably, but it certainly would not be a means of creating socialism. Almost certainly it would have exactly the opposite effect, and result in the introduction of a period of reaction. But, for Marx, crises are temporary phenomenon, and they do recur endlessly, because that is the way the system reconciles contradictions and creates the conditions for further growth. They do so, because they are an inherent feature of the system, as much as periodically a snake sheds its skin, as it grows into a larger one.

        “Unless you can show concretely to the contrary I assume, reading your arguments, that you must believe capitalism can go on forever raising the productive forces to ever greater degrees and capitalism is in no way a fetter to that and can in no way come into a chronic crisis over this.”

        Probably not endlessly, because every system eventually reaches a point where it cannot go any further. But, from everything we see, capitalism certainly has not reached such a point yet. If anything the pace of technological change is increasing, and more and more areas of the globe are being drawn into the sphere of exchange value, for example in Africa, so there is plenty of scope for further growth of capital yet. And, yes, there is no reason why any crisis would become permanent, because as Marx said in response to Adam Smith’s catastrophist belief in such a situation “Permanent crises do not exist”. Moreover, if capitalism reached a point where it could no longer expand the productive forces, the consequence would not be a crisis, but would be a perpetual stagnation, which would be a crisis for workers not capital, rather like the situation in the 1930’s. Rather than their being overproduction, there would be perpetual underproduction, because a crisis of overproduction, as Marx and Engels describe depends precisely upon that periodic revolutionising of production, so that the mass of use values produced expands far faster than the market for them!

        “So in theory capitalism can just go on and on and on, having recurring crises that resolves its problem to begin anew again, all the time raising the productive forces and if by happenstance workers take up your call to take control of socialised capital then good but if they do not, well, good anyway because whichever way we view it productive forces = socialism!”

        You have clearly contradicted yourself here. My point is precisely that there is no automatic transformation of capitalism into socialism. It requires workers to act, to establish co-operatives, to take control of other forms of socialised capital, to build alternative forms of state to fight for the defence of that socialised property against the political attacks of the bourgeoisie. I have nowhere stated that if they do not do any of those things the simple expansion of the productive forces equals socialism. Quite the contrary. But, your position by contrast appears to be that we have to be continually hoping for the next recession, continually hoping for some great catastrophe to befall the working-class, because only by such means might we expect the system itself to collapse, and by some miraculous means thereby result in Socialism, presumably because the workers decide that things are so bad, that your alternative would be better. If that is the only way you can convince workers of Socialism, we, of course, are led to ask the question of just how unappealing your particular version of Socialism must be for workers?

        “You asked if I had ever read anything Marx wrote, you are making me think maybe I haven’t and that I am mixing him up with some other guy!”

        Yes, I think you must, because nothing you have said seems in any way consistent with what Marx said. Perhaps you have him confused with Darth Vader!

  9. sartesian Says:

    I have to say, I admire Michael Roberts for many reasons, not the least of which is that he refuses to engage with Boffy’s chronic distortion of both history and Marx. Some day I hope to be like Mike, but that day is not today

    Now I know that I run the risk of undermining my own arguments by being sarcastic and dismissive of Boffy– but in the immortal words of the Four Tops, “I Can’t Help Myself.”

    But I can restrict the remarks in this post to just a couple of Baloney Boffy’s misrepresentations– for example:

    “I mostly agree, except, of course, that its necessary to distinguish as Marx did between a purely financial crisis, such as 2008, or 1847 – which may have a serious knock on effect to the real economy, due to a credit crunch etc – ”

    While it’s true that Marx and Engels thought the panic of 1847 was brought about by the Peel banking act, that act was initiated 3 years prior to the panic. Unlike Boffy, Marx never ignored the tremendous speculation, mania actually, for railroad stocks, and railroad construction, that is to say, overproduction. Moreover, the Peel Act, while restricting the quantity of bank notes that could be in circulation, and requiring precious metal reserves to back up the notes, had exactly zero impact on the growth in deposits received, AND LOANS made, by banks, which increased 5X between 1844 and 1847.

    That’s one. And two, there’s this bit of nonsense:

    ““And from these principles it follows that the idea of seeking salvation for the working class in anything save the further development of capitalism is reactionary. In countries like Russia, the working class suffers not so much from capitalism as from the insufficient development of capitalism. The working class is therefore decidedly interested in the broadest, freest and most rapid development of capitalism. The removal of all the remnants of the old order which are hampering the broad, free and rapid development of capitalism is of decided advantage to the working class.”

    “Lenin – Two tactics of Social Democracy In The Democratic Revolution, Chapter 6.”

    Lenin wrote this in 1905 in the same pamphlet that he wrote: “Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system and the social and economic reforms…do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European and not Asiatic, development of capitalist; they will for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.”

    Well, clearly Lenin was wrong, and he knew enough to know when he was wrong because he completely jettisoned that view in favor of the April Theses in 1917.

    Capitalism was incapable in Russia or the “removal of the remnants of the old order.” Therefore the working class is decidedly NOT interested i the broadest and most rapid development of capitalism, as such development was an impossibility. Capitalism, stunted as it may have been in Russia was inextricably bound up with the “pre-capitalist” relations and incapable of revolutionizing them.

    But hey, when has the real content of history ever presented an obstacle to the world according to Boffy?

    • mandm Says:

      I too admire Michael for his powers of editorial restraint.

      Nevertheless, I also admire your stamina for shoveling through Boffy’s snowbanks and selectively refuting some of them so well.

      I might have skimmed too lightly, but I think Boffy missed the basic point I was trying to make above in asking whether he ever took a good look at the educated bourgeoisie, meaning, of course, that he might look in the mirror.

      • Boffy Says:

        Except the fact that I grew up in a terraced house with no running hot water, and bathed until I was 13 in a zinc bath in front of the living room coal fire; that I left school at 16, and became a shop steward at the age of 19, and then spent the rest of my working life as a worker, and trades union and political activist, even including the three years when I took time off work to go to University (whilst still attending my union branch meetings, and representing the Branch at the local Trades council), that I was Secretary of the Local Miners Support Committee in the 1984-5 strike, Branch Secretary of MY UNISON Branch from 2000 to 2002, President of my local Trades Council for 1985-6, and 1986-7, and sat on the West Midlands Council of TUC during that same period, rather challenges the picture you have tried to present.

        But, then hey, why would you have any idea that your aspersions are wildly inaccurate, because you have vcast them without knowing anything about me, or being bothered whether what you say has any relevance, rather like your other comments in relation to Marxist theory.

      • mandm Says:

        Boffy, my comments (like yours about me) were about your ideas only and the way you present them. That I’ve characterized the one as classical liberalism and the other as talmudic was meant only in reference to the written word, not to the person who wrote them… though, to be honest, the distinction seems somewhat casuistical. Nevertheless, the mirror was an intellectual mirror, not a physical one.

        I can only respect what you have chosen to reveal about your personal background and labor activities, because, as a retired school teacher, having for 36 years labored in racist America’s public education mills, I support the liberation of the working class and organized labor as such, despite its historic reformist orientation, its corruptions, and its current morbidity in the belly of the beast. By contrast you were lucky to have had a labor party, and luckier still to have a Jeremy Corbyn.

      • Boffy Says:

        Your comment,

        “missed the basic point I was trying to make above in asking whether he ever took a good look at the educated bourgeoisie, meaning, of course, that he might look in the mirror.”

        Is clearly, NOT a reference to what I have written, but is an ad hominem attack on me as an individual, and a pretty pathetic, and inaccurate one at that. It is symptomatic of the sniping comments you make that substitute for actual argument,

  10. jlowrie Says:

    ”I have to say, I admire Michael Roberts for many reasons, not the least of which is that he refuses to engage with Boffy’s chronic distortion of both history and Marx.”

    What is admirable in refusing to engage with distortion of Marx? Marx himself is quite explicit that error cannot be allowed to stand.

    ”I too admire Michael for his powers of editorial restraint.” Is this a clarion call for censorship?

    • Edgar Says:

      Yeah I hate these insinuations of censorship.

      Whether you agree with Boffy or not he explains his position, argues it and you can take the argument or leave it.

      Although I don’t know what Boffy’s rules on censorship are? Maybe he censors everything for all we know?

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        If you look at my blog back to when it first started, I tried to allow anything and everything, other than spam posts advertising various products. I even allowed a troll who used assorted pseudonyms at one time posing as a vulgar Marxist, and at another as a BNP supporter to post comments, including comments attacking members of my family, such as my son who is autistic. The same troll has followed me around various left websites, using different pseudonyms, but always using the same writers voice, and using the same style of argument. Its why I have little time for trolls here, and on other sites.

        In the end, when that troll was left doing nothing other than posting personal abuse, I decided that was the point at which a line had to be drawn. Apart from that, I welcome rational and purposive debate, and you can see many examples of it on my blog with people who disagree with me, just as I have had many such debates with people who disagree with me on other websites. The point is whether people are arguing honestly a different point from a stance of knowledge and conviction, and open mindedness or whether they are arguing from a standpoint of ignorance and dogma, or as with the trolls simply as a form of entertainment for themselves.

    • sartesian Says:

      “What is admirable in refusing to engage with distortion of Marx? Marx himself is quite explicit that error cannot be allowed to stand.

      ”I too admire Michael for his powers of editorial restraint.” Is this a clarion call for censorship?”

      You’re being a bit melodramatic there, comrade. Neither m nor myself said anything about censorship; proposed censorship or restricting Boffy.

      That much is painfully clear to the most casual observer. Compare any of the comments about Boffy to the call for banning of the post-er who advocated mass murder. Remember that? I think you, J, agreed with the need to censor that individual.

      What’s an admirable in Michael’s ignoring of Boffy? a) a the complete dismissal of Boffy’s so called understanding of Marx b) time management.

      • jlowrie Says:

        ” Neither m nor myself said anything about censorship; proposed censorship or restricting Boffy. ” No, you didn’t but mandm certainly insinuated it.

        ” to the call for banning of the post-er who advocated mass murder. Remember that? I think you, J, agreed with the need to censor that individual.”

        Absolutely, but engaging in a scientific debate is not advocating mass murder. If Boffy were so to do, then of course I would demand his censure too.

        Just think how poor Michael’s blog would be without Boffy’s contributions. Neither you nor I, Sartesian, would know how fully to ”time manage” the remaining sunset hours of our earthly existence!

      • sartesian Says:

        I don’t think mandm came anywhere close to calling for censorship or banning. He admired, as I admired, Michael’s ability to refrain in responding to the indefatigable Boffy’s unrelenting distortions of real history, and the real history of Marx’s critique.

        My opinion of Boffy’s “contributions” is certainly different from yours, as Boffy’s opinion of my contributions differ from others’ opinions. But it’s of no matter. I salute Michael for being able to ignore Boffy’s “analysis” which, as demonstrated in Boffy’s assertion that the “law of value” has governed societies for thousands of years prior to capitalism, seems to me to be a (near) perfect expression of commodity fetishism.

        Boffy, unable to grasp that the specific, historical condition and relation of labor under capital is expressed in and as value, considers the value of commodities as inherent, intrinsic, the natural result of all production. The specific historical expression is then mistaken as the eternalproperty(!) of all objects. That is precisely what Marx criticized with his notion of commodity fetishism. The powers derived from a relationship of people is attributed to the power of things, divorced from the historical condition of the reproduction society itself.

    • mandm Says:

      Marx died 134 years ago. His fundamental understanding of the historical/material basis of the capitalist mode of production and the evolution of the capitalist /economic social order have stood the test of time. He was both a theorist and, it can’t be emphasized too much, an active revolutionary his entire life. He died before completing his project (partially because he continually modified his views relative to changing conditions) which was to analyze the capitalist system as a whole.

      For me, Boffy is a traditional liberal with marxist characteristics–this, despite his real and valuable erudition regarding the holy text. We can all learn from him…if he himself would lift up his priestly robes and get out of the way.

      What bothers me about Boffy is his Talmudic approach to Marx’s oeuvre. If one looks hard enough in this vast archive, one, with a little finessing here and there, can always find confirmation of one’s views. That happened a lot in Marx’s lifetime, which is why he refused to call himself a marxist. Boffy’s rabbinically exhaustive references get in the way of dealing with writers pretending to deal or actually dealing with the conditions in which we find ourselves. Rather than discussing Michael’s reviews of such writers according to our own wider reading and experience, we end up discussing Boffy’s Mohammed’s mountain of interpretations of holy law.

      By the way, my name isn’t Martha, it’s Murray. Martha’s my wife. She let me borrow her word press account after my own got lost in cyberspace. I didn’t mind being my own wife for a while, because there seemed to be no women commenting on this site, which obviously could benefit from a woman’s point of view. I have.

      • Boffy Says:

        “That happened a lot in Marx’s lifetime, which is why he refused to call himself a marxist.”

        No he didn’t. Marx made the comment sarcastically, in relation to the revolutionary phrasemongering of Guesde and Lafarge, and their denial of the significance of reformist struggles.

        “Boffy’s rabbinically exhaustive references get in the way of dealing with writers pretending to deal or actually dealing with the conditions in which we find ourselves.”

        The reason those references not just from one place in Marx’s writings, but from a wide range saying the same thing is necessary, is that what passes for Marxism has been severely corrupted over the last century, firstly by the role of Fabianism/Lassalleanism on the Second International, and inherited by the Third and Fourth, and by the role of Stalinism.

        All those, including myself who have been part of supposedly Marxist organisations in the past, have suffered from the fact that these organisations themselves have been transmission belts of these corrupted ideas, as part of the sectarian stances of those organisations as they sought to carve out their own particular niche within the range of contending grouplets, and to justify their own particular political stance and practice at that time. As Marx says social being determines consciousness, and that includes the impact of those other organisations and milieu.

        Michael’s economic analysis and stance is clearly influenced by his role within the UK Militant Tendency, and its reformist programme of nationalising the 200 top monopolies, and other such Fabian/Lassallean statist concepts, just as his ideas are also no doubt affected from having spent so long working in investment banking, and the need to live a dual life as a Marxist theoretician whilst also appearing on CNBC as an advisor to the financial speculators. That’s not in any way a criticism, because of course Engels had to manage a similar dual role as being an active capitalist on the one hand, and a Marxist theoretician on the other.

  11. jlowrie Says:

    Is Boffy free from error? Of course not! He writes, ”And, as Marx also sets out in the Critique, capitalism does not “immiserate” the working-class. On the contrary, it raises the living standards up to ever new heights.” Here I think Boffy misunderstands what Marx means by ‘immiseration.’ Immiseration is the dialectical opposite of the concentration and centralisation of capital. Marx writes, ” this complete denudation, purely subjective existence of labour, stripped of all objectivity. Labour as ABSOLUTE POVERTY (Marx’s emphasis ):poverty not as shortage but as total exclusion of objective wealth.”
    ( Grundrisse Pp 295-296)

    Immiseration expresses the progressive separation of the labouring classes from the means of production and the consequent necessity of their selling their labour power or starving. It does not embrace the
    concept of standard of living. So I think here Boffy has misunderstood Marx. But hey! I think Michael has misunderstood Marx’s concept of immiseration too, for I seem to recall quoting this very passage to him not so long ago. On the other hand it well may be me who has got Marx wrong. Only free debate will be able to rectify error.

    In the meantime I had better go and gaze into comrade mandm’s ‘mirror of fools.’ I daresay I shall spy therein many a foolish visage beside my own and Boffy’s, perhaps even comrade mandm’s own!

    • Edgar Says:

      If you were to look a western worker in the face, rather than look in the the mirror, and say capitalism immiserates you, they would initially look at you, then look at their mobile phone and finally they would politely nod and then go away and subconsciously file you under delusional.

      If you could keep their attention long enough you could try and explain you meant separation from the means of production etc. The problem is this won’t really wash as they will ask, so under socialism you will give me a plot of land and say, here goes, now work on that. You will nervously say, well no the means of production will be held in common ownership and how this means of production will be put to use will be a collective decision. And the worker will subconsciously be thinking, still sounds like I am being alienated from the means of production!

      Now crises may lead to collapse, cooperatives may grow big enough to challenge capitalist firms, technology may make capitalism naturally go by the wayside but for over a century we still have capitalism and none of those things have begun to challenge it.

      Maybe the real crises are yet to come as capitalism matures. Problem is I don’t know if capitalism is still a baby, a stroppy teenager, a feisty MILF or an OAP!

      • sartesian Says:

        “If you were to look a western worker in the face, rather than look in the the mirror, and say capitalism immiserates you, they would initially look at you, then look at their mobile phone and finally they would politely nod and then go away and subconsciously file you under delusional.”

        1/3 of the work force in the EU is now working without the usual contracts that guarantee employment, benefits, etc.

        Similar, if not a greater portion, of the work force in the US is temporary, part time, or at employed at minimum wage levels.

        Between 2009 and 2015 average wages in the UK declined so severely that only Greece registered a more severe decline.

        But right, sure thing, those privileged workers in the West are too busy with their smartphones.

      • Edgar Says:

        I never said that workers were privileged but I am wondering why they are passive, think they are paid fairly and have not embraced a socialist outlook.

        I am sure you will be telling me next that they have!

      • sartesian Says:

        No, I’d tell you some workers have embraced socialism, and other workers haven’t. And then I’d say, “so what?”

    • Boffy Says:

      J,

      Sorry, but I think you are wrong. You are absolutely right about Marx distinguishing between the fact that workers living standards can rise, as I have described it in several posts, they become more affluent, and yet they become poorer, because individually, they become increasingly separated from the potential to own the means of production.

      But, the term immiseration has its own specific history. That history goes back to Lassalle, and his supporters, and the so called iron Law of Wages, which Marx’s bourgeois opponents often throw up, as being a representation of Marx’s own view. It was also an interpretation that the Stalinists, put forward, and in the 1950’s Soviet economists and propagandists performed all sorts of logical and statistical gymnastics trying to show that workers living standards and wages in the West were declining as confirmation of such immiseration, which as Edgar has said, just makes anyone making that argument look silly in the eyes of workers who have seen their living standards soar over the last fifty years.

      It led Rosdolski to trawl through all of Marx’s writings in search of the term immiseration, and he could only find I think one reference that could in any way be seen as even vaguely suggesting that capitalism causes an immiseration of the working class, meaning a reduction in, living standards. Yet, you still see vulgar Marxists using immiseration in that sense, as well as Stalinists.

      Marx, in fact, sa i said was quite clear in the Critique of the Gotha Programme to distance himself from that interpretation of immiseration. He wrote,

      “…the system of wage labor is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labor develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. And after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our party, some return to Lassalle’s dogma although they must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages were, but, following in the wake of the bourgeois economists, took the appearance for the essence of the matter.

      It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!”

      The same sentiment might have been given by Marx in relation to those like SIOB, who think that the reason for advocating Socialism is that capitalism periodically suffers crises as a means of reconciling contradictions. To, which we might also put two other tests. Firstly, had Marx via his analysis not concluded that Socialism was possible as a superior mode of production that acted to raise the level of social productivity, would he then have been in favour of an overthrow of capitalism simply because it suffered periodic crises? Secondly, if capitalism did morph into a system that was crisis free, would that mean that the argument for Socialism was not longer valid.

      Trotsky in relation to the first scenario argued, that all that would be left would be to try to mitigate the effects on the working class.

      In other words, whilst I accept the basis of your argument, I think its wrong to attribute to Marx the concept of immiseration as meaning only this separation from the potential ownership of capital. Marx makes the distinction between affluence, i.e. the receipt of a sizeable and revenue, and riches, meaning the ownership of a stock of wealth. Similarly, he uses the term absolute poverty to mean the non-ownership of wealth, and specifically capital.

      Immiseration has by its own history in the socialist lexicon come to be associated with income and living standards, rather than with the non-ownership of capital. Its in that context, that I stated that Marx does not not argue that workers are immiserated. And, of course, if we were to examine the context of socialised capital, we would conclude that it is not just workers but also individual capitalists who are increasingly separated from the ownership of capital/means of production too.

      • sartesian Says:

        “It led Rosdolski to trawl through all of Marx’s writings in search of the term immiseration, and he could only find I think one reference that could in any way be seen as even vaguely suggesting that capitalism causes an immiseration of the working class, meaning a reduction in, living standards. Yet, you still see vulgar Marxists using immiseration in that sense, as well as Stalinists.”

        Really? Tell the workers in Greece that. Right, that wasn’t capitalism doing that, was it. No, it was evil anti-capitalists not understanding the value of capitalist development.

      • Socialism In One Bedroom Says:

        “who think that the reason for advocating Socialism is that capitalism periodically suffers crises as a means of reconciling contradictions”

        For the record this is not my position at all! I don’t know how many times I need to say one of many factors.

        Of course Boffy is not advocating anything because by advocating something he would be guilty of moralism. Advocacy is the preserve of the moralists!

        No Boffy is not advocating anything, he is simply saying to us, socialism will replace capitalism and why is that, productive forces dear boy, productive forces. In other words history is not the history of class struggles but is in fact the history of human ingenuity.

        I am sure ucanbpolitical will tell us this is an accurate portrayal of Marx’s position. Trouble is ucanbpolitical we have read Marx too! Maybe you should stop being political with the truth!

      • sartesian Says:

        Just this on immiseration– US poverty rate reached its low point of 11% in 1979; it now stands at 16%.

        Children born into poverty? According to the 2015 Statistical Abstract of the US, %2000= 15.6; %2012=21.3. But hey, the glass is half-full, ain’t it, since the rate in 2010 was 21.5%.

      • Boffy Says:

        SIOB,

        You say I am not advocating anything. Clearly that is you demonstrating once again that you throw out comments will nilly without any concern for the facts, as an alternative for any argument. A simple look by anyone at my blog posts over the last ten years shows otherwise. Then there is the use of some of the posts I wrote on socialist strategy by the Commune, and other groups such as communists in the Netherlands as a basis for their discussions.

        As I said, you clearly just sort of use the force as the basis for your understanding rather than having to do the laborious job of actually reading what other pay say.

        Your comments about class struggle, and the role of technology simply again demonstrate you clearly have not read, and if you have read you clearly have not understood even the basic elements of Marx’s historical materialism.

      • jlowrie Says:

        Boffy, I trust you will not take it too much to heart if I assert that I do not hold you to be ‘some kind of Marx genius.’ That you have been acknowledged as both a scholar of the Talmud and an indefatigable researcher in the sacred writings of Mohammed, let such be a source of consolation to you at this Christian season of goodwill among all Marxists!

        Now to be serious. The problem is well outlined by Lapides, who remarks, ”But misery can mean many things and have many causes. What was false…was to attribute to Marx a doctrine of increasing misery that denotes declining wages, leaving workers only a bare subsistence. His comments in Capital about a growing mass of misery were interpreted as though he were the author of the iron law of wages with the result that his complex analysis of capitalist dynamics and the labour/capital relation…was debased and made an easy target for critics” ( 2008 ”Marx’s Wage Theory” p250).

      • jlowrie Says:

        In ‘Wage Labour and Capital” Marx remarks ”The material position of the worker has improved at the cost of his social position. The social gulf that separates him from the capitalist has widened” ( op.cit. p 253).

        What is the meaning of this? One interpretation is that of Mandel in his Introduction to Volume ! of ‘Capital’. He argues, ”What we have in fact here is a theory of a tendency towards RELATIVE IMPOVERISHMENT of the working class under capitalism…in the sense that the productive workers tend to get a smaller part of the new value they produce.” I feel this misses the point. Marx equates absolute poverty not with misery but with economic dependence, ”absolute poverty, a poverty which means nothing else that his labour capacity is the sole remaining commodity he can sell, that he confronts objective real wealth as mere labour capacity.” ( op. cit. p 246).

        If we examine the trajectory of capitalism over the last 50 years we readily observe that more and more workers are progressively hurled into the ranks of wage labour and concomitantly it is progressively more and more difficult to escape from them. As I stated above with the concentration and centralisation of capital, this is a dialectical movement.

        This does not mean that most of humanity does not live in precarious misery and abject squalor. A case in point is the Chinese working class. Clearly their standard of living is much higher than 50 years ago, when they enjoyed an 8 hour working day. Now they have to labour for 10 or 12 or even 14 hours per day, and they are not allowed to talk, whistle or sing; maybe they are permitted to weep-so long as they do it silently!

      • Boffy Says:

        J,

        I have to say that I am deeply offended that you do not consider me a Marx genius. It has stricken me to the core, and I do not know how I will ever get over it! LOL.

        I think you have covered the elements over immiseration well. As I hope I made clear in my earlier comment, I wasn’t disagreeing with the actual substance of your argument, but only with that fact that, the history of the term immiseration by the Stalinists, Marx’s bourgeois opponents, and by some vulgar Marxists has been to tie it with the idea of falling living standards, rather than the separation from the ownership of means of production.

        There is another aspect to it, though, which is also that Marx talks about that section of society that in his day was made up of the paupers, and all those that sank into the “dangerous class”. There is, of course, no contradiction in Marx’s argument that this section of society becomes absolutely larger, and his rejection of the iron Law of Wages, and immiseration, because of several reasons.

        Firstly, at the time Marx was writing, there were other large classes besides the working-class. There were still a large number of peasants, small capitalists, petit-bourgeois and so on, and these diminished relatively, as they sank into the ranks of the proletariat. Moreover, the working-class itself was growing rapidly simply on the basis of the increase in population. So, if for these various reasons the working class rises from 5 million to 10 million, and the number of paupers rises from 100,000 to 150,000, the absolute size of the population that are paupers has risen by 50%, but its proportion of the total population has fallen from 2% to 1.5%.

        There is undoubtedly the potential, therefore, for a growing mass even of this kind of immiseration, without it in any way changing the fact that the standard of living of workers in general is rising. As Marx describes in Capital I, a similar thing was true in relation to capitalists. The total number of capitalists, Marx describes was rising even as the process of concentration and centralisation was taking place, but this absolute rise in the number of capitalists didn’t change the fact that as a proportion of society they were declining.

        As Marx says, when considering the position of workers, as he was setting out in relation to consumer demand, it makes little sense to base your analysis on the paupers, rather than on the position of the general mass of workers.

        As regards the Chinese workers, I think your example is wrong. There is an argument for saying that the condition of British peasants prior to the Industrial Revolution was better than it was when they were forced into becoming industrial workers. That was manifest in the sharp increase in mortality rates as described by Marx in Capital I. But, even there, for a great mass of agricultural labourers, and even subsistence farmers, that was not the case, a clear example being the fate of the Irish peasants during the famine. Moreover, by the middle of the 19th century, the living standards of British industrial workers had risen above what it had been for peasants living in the 18th century.

        The situation facing Chinese workers/peasants is completely different. The Chinese peasantry was living by subsistence farming pretty much unchanged from the conditions that English peasants faced in the 18th century. Even setting aside the crimes of Mao in the Great Leap Forward, which led to the death of millions of Chinese peasants through starvation, that Chinese Peasantry could barely feed itself, let alone afford itself the luxury of an 8 hour day. Chinese peasant agriculture certainly could not compete in global markets with the large agribusinesses that dominated, and continue to dominate global food production, and whose productivity is massively higher than any peasant agriculture can achieve.

        Much of the modern industry in China, however, starts from the position of being able to utilise the advanced technology that capitalism has developed, and from the start, therefore, enjoys the high rates of productivity, and high rates of surplus value, that western capitalism enjoys. It has the added advantage of much lower Chinese industrial wages, and yet, that high level of productivity, and high rate of surplus value, enables Chinese industry to provide Chinese industrial workers with much higher living standards than if they were just subsistence peasant farmers. That indeed, is why so many children of those subsistence peasant farmers have flocked to the towns and cities in search of the higher living standard that industrial jobs can provide.

        Marx described the process of the differentiation of the peasantry into a rural bourgeoisie and rural proletariat, that Lenin also describes in The Development of Capitalism in Russia, whereby the living standards of handicraft workers was better than that of subsistence peasants, that of the workers in the manufactories better than that of the handicraft workers, and that of the workers in the industrial factories proper better still. That is still what we see today.

  12. jlowrie Says:

    Thanks for that, Edgar. Fascinating!

  13. SimonH Says:

    Let’s not go over board here, censorship is when the state suppresses opinions not when blog owners do it. As for debating Boffy, I tried it, I exhaustively debated him and at the end of it he denounced me as a troll, for disagreeing with him on someone else’s web site! He also declares sartesian to be a troll and refuses to engage with him but hey lets keep pushing the narrative that Boffy is hard done by. He does have his own blog you know it’s not like this is his only platform.

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”Let’s not go over board here, censorship is when the state suppresses opinions not when blog owners do it.”

      So if Google is appointing 10,000 employees to ban ‘extreme’ views from You -Tube and the internet, this is not censorship? The bourgeoisie will be pleased you agree, for it has long been their refrain that censorship of the media exists only where the state practises it , and not capitalist media conglomerates. For which censorship, see Parenti ”Make-Believe Media” (1992) Pages 186-95!

      This is an extremely dangerous assertion, Simon. So , Boffy denounced you as a troll? Get over it! Personally I thought the above exchange between Boffy and Socialism in One Bedroom pregnant with potentially interesting theoretical offspring, but if one puts an end its free and natural development one ends up with a scientific abortion.

      • sartesian Says:

        What’s dangerous is imagining a “clarion call for censorship” when no such call has been made; when the clarion call exists purely in the imagination. M made a remark about Michael’s admirable “editorial restraint”– praising editorial restraint is not a “dog whistle” for censorship.

        Do us the favor, please. Who said anything about censoring anybody, other than me when it came to the person advocating mass murder?

      • SimonH Says:

        You want to deny owners of blogs, forums, mailing lists etc the right to manage their platforms? Well I’m afraid you can’t so there’s that. I never mentioned Google but guess what they are a corporation and if you want to change what they’re doing well then you will need the state!
        As for Boffy I wonder if you’d be getting over it if he called you a troll merely for disagreeing with him. You missed the point that debate with him is pointless, then again maybe yoiu’re one of those quantity over quality types and think anyone who can write long posts and quote mine extensively is some kind of genius?

  14. ucanbpolitical Says:

    I think you are all too critical of Boffy. Boffy in most examples reflects Marx’s positions accurately. This debate is getting far too personal. Frustration is no substitute for honest debate though to be sure, when we concentrate on the past we neglect the future.

    • SimonH Says:

      You just accuse us of being too emotional meanwhile you defend Boffy with zero evidence to back up your claims he is some kind of Marx genius. I’ll use an example though, Boffy frequently refers to Marx when he makes his positions on Long Waves in the capitalist economy. However Marx had nothing to say about Long Waves, that theory was developed after Marx was dead!

    • sartesian Says:

      Personal? I didn’t and don’t call Boffy a troll, or a sock-puppet. Or any of that stuff. That’s HIS stock-in-trade. I do think his comments have very little contact with reality, and what there is of that is accidental.

      I pointed out the nonsense he flogs as “history” about the panic of 1847, and Lenin”s “Two Tactics…” which Boffy deploys as some uncritical cheerleading for capitalist development.

      You think that’s a faithful representation of Marx or Lenin? Uncritical endorsement of capitalist “development”? As if Lenin wasn’t proven wrong by the revolution itself; as if Lenin never recognized he was wrong; as if the April Theses never existed.

      What’s next? Endorsement of the US in the war with Mexico, a la Engels, as the one true Marxist analysis? Give us a break.

      Cheerleading and cherrypicking pretty much sum up Boffy’s “Marxism.”

      I think you are flat out wrong. Boffy misrepresents what Marx said about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, which Marx called the “most important” law. The discussion where Boffy ascribes the determining role of the “law of value” to pre-capitalist societies pretty much says it all, precisely because Marx himself refutes such notions.

  15. michael roberts Says:

    Guys I think it is time to take a break on this one. The debate has gone from the ideas to the personal somewhat.

  16. happywanderer74 Says:

    I think you’re pushing the exact story of Luther too far. For most people Luther was the guy who ruffled establishment feathers. That’s the sense these economists are compared against.

    It’s also the case that at least one of the theses explicitly calls for non Keynesian thinking to get a debate- which isn’t exactly as you put it above.

    • michael roberts Says:

      Well, Luther’s ruffling soon ended and monarchies adopted his version of Christianity. The analogy with bourgeois economics follows: Keynes was adopted by the ruling elite when it suited them too. Munzer stood for the ending of feudalism not for its replacement by a Protestant version. But as isaid, analogies never work perfectly – this one did not. Who was putting the non-Keynesian view?

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