Posts Tagged ‘economist Ernest Mandel’

Money, wage-labor and Marx’s ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’

April 20, 2014

This August marks the 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I, which forever changed the world. This is the first in a series of posts that will center on the causes and consequences of World War I. The most important consequence was the conquest of political power by the working class of the former Russian Empire. Rosa Luxemburg, along with other Marxists of the time and since, saw that the catastrophe overtaking Europe in 1914 had deep economic roots.

At the beginning of this year—2014—I couldn’t help but wonder if a major new European war could break out on the 100th anniversary of the “Great War,” as it was called, that started in 1914. This seemed extremely unlikely, and indeed history rarely respects anniversaries in this manner. But in light of the crisis in Ukraine, a major new war that would mark the anniversary of the events of August 1914 doesn’t appear as unlikely as it did at the start of the year. Many of the ghosts of the last century seem to be rising from their graves once again.

In the coming months, I will explore the economic roots of the Great War in light of the ideas on crisis theory I have been exploring in this blog. Though the Great War itself was not a crisis of overproduction, it did break out during the 1913-14 global recession and was the greatest crisis by far that capitalist society had experienced up to that time. And we have already seen that the Great War played a crucial role in the development, starting in 1929, of what seemed to be an ordinary cyclical recession into first the super-crisis of 1929-33 and then the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The conquest of political power by the working class of the former Russian Empire began in Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg and Leningrad) with the insurrection of October 25 (old calender) or November 7 (new calender). Here I want to examine the fate of that first serious attempt to build a socialist society in light of Marx’s last—and as we will see perhaps least understood—work “Critique of the Gotha Program.”

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Michael Heinrich’s ‘New Reading’ of Marx—A Critique, Pt 4

September 29, 2013

Heinrich on crises—some background

A century ago, a discussion occurred in the Second International about the “disproportionate production” theory of crisis. This theory holds that crises arise because of disproportions between the various branches of industry, especially between what Marx called Department I, which produces the means of production, and Department II, which produces the means of personal consumption.

This led to speculation on the part of some Social Democrats that the growing cartelization of industry would be able to limit and eventually eliminate the crisis-breeding disproportions. This could, these Social Democrats speculated, give birth to a crisis-free capitalism, at least in theory. The revisionist wing of the International, led by such figures as Eduard Bernstein—the original revisionist—put its hopes in just such a development.

Assuming a rising organic composition of capital, Department I will grow faster than Department II. The Ukrainian economist and moderate socialist Mikhail Tugan-Baranovsky (1865-1919), who was influenced by Marxism, claimed there was no limit to the ability of capitalism to develop the productive forces as long as the proper relationship between Department I and Department II is maintained. The more capitalist industry grew and the organic composition of capital rose the more the industrial capitalists would be selling to their fellow industrial capitalists and relatively less “wage-goods” to the workers.

Tugan-Baranovsky held that capitalism would therefore never break down economically. Socialism, if it came at all, would have to come because it is a morally superior system, not because it is an economic necessity. This put Tugan-Baranovsky sharply at odds with the “world-view Marxists” of the time, who stressed that socialism would replace capitalism because socialism becomes an economic necessity once a certain level of economic development is reached.

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Gold as Money and the Role of the National Question in the Current Crisis

July 8, 2012

Nikos, a good friend of this blog, has asked two questions—one involving monetary theory and the other regarding the role of the national question in the current crisis.

Nikos’ first question relates to a proposal made last year by the German Council of Economic Experts that the Greek government and other highly indebted European governments put up a portion of their foreign exchange reserves—gold and foreign currency holdings—as collateral for what would amount to loans in the form of euros. The proposal was rejected at the time by the Merkel government but supported by the Social Democratic and Green opposition parties.

Nikos actually has two questions about this proposal. First, does it indicate that gold is still money? And second, does this movement toward using gold as collateral point to a return to the gold standard?

Gold as world money

I would answer yes to the first question and no to the second. Among gold’s basic monetary roles is its role as world money. Traditionally, paper or banknote currencies circulated only within nation states. Insomuch as currencies were made not out of paper and ink but of gold coins—and silver coins in earlier times—these currencies were literally made out of money material. The coins could be converted into bullion—pure money material—by simply melting them down. In this way, gold and or silver bullion would wear the “uniform” of a national currency.

Because gold and silver coins were made of money material and could easily be melted down into bullion, they could circulate internationally. Their role as money did not depend on their being “legal tender” in any particular country.

Origins of the U.S. dollar

Indeed, what became the U.S. dollar had its origins in a Spanish silver coin—called the dollar—that circulated widely in Britain’s North American colonies. Now, because of the U.S. world empire, today’s paper dollar currency enjoys a sphere of circulation far beyond the borders of the U.S. itself. This is true even though the U.S. dollar is legal tender only within the U.S., Panama, Ecuador and the so-called “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico.

But, in fact, the U.S. dollar has invaded the circulation of many other countries even where it is not officially legal tender. The role of the U.S. dollar as the world currency is shown by the fact that basic commodities and gold itself are priced in terms of dollars. As a result, more Federal Reserve Notes—U.S. currency units—are circulating outside the boundaries of the U.S. than within them.

U.S. world empire

What I call the dollar system—the widespread acceptability of the U.S. dollar as a means of payment well beyond the formal borders of the United States—is inseparable from the U.S. world empire. If the empire were to fall, the U.S. dollar would certainly cease to be the world’s currency. Similarly, any crisis of the U.S. dollar, defined as a sudden sharp loss of gold value, would bring into question the continued existence of the U.S. world empire.

Gold retains its role as world money under the dollar system

Under the dollar standard, gold fully retains its role as world money. The U.S. global empire has existed only since World War II, while gold’s role as world money goes back thousands of years. In addition, as we have explained many times in this blog, the U.S. dollar cannot act as a universal measure of value independently of gold, since the law of value requires that the value of a commodity be measured in the use value of another commodity.

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