Posts Tagged ‘economist John Maynard Keynes’

The Early Cold War and the Two-Party System

July 17, 2016

The Brexit vote and new wave of racist police murder in the U.S.

During the week leading up to the June 23 Brexit referendum, media representing the largest capitalists that benefit from the U.S.-dominated world empire pulled all the tricks out their bag to ensure that the proposal for Britain to leave the European Union was defeated. They claimed that Brexit would bring financial panic and a deep new world recession that would otherwise be avoided.

The leaders of all the major parties in Britain, including the Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was lukewarm in his opposition to Brexit, and the leadership of the liberal Social-Democratic Party, were united on their opposition to Brexit. Only the far-right racist United Kingdom Independence Party and a few small leftist groups supported it.

What was the Brexit vote about?

The Brexit movement was dominated by the racist anti-immigrant right with neo-fascist components, much like the Trump campaign is in the United States. There was a much smaller left-wing movement that also favored Brexit. The problem was there was no way to distinguish between votes for anti-immigrant, racist Brexit and the leftish “lexit” movement.

Unfortunately, there are many on the left who echo Brexit by explaining that there has to be some limit on immigration, since otherwise wages in Britain and other “white” European countries will plummet. Such people are not thinking like working-class revolutionaries but like bourgeois trade unionists who want to assure high wages for “our British Workers” at the expense of “foreign workers” who are not “white” or are from Poland. (Polish workers in Britain these days do not qualify as “white.”)

Voters were given two choices. One was to vote for the British nationalist “Trumpist” movement’s position based on nostalgia for the days when “Britannia ruled” and everybody in Britain was English, Welsh, Scottish, or “at worst” Irish, and there were many relatively good paying jobs in industry and mining. In bygone days in industrial Britain, the high demand for the commodity labor power made it possible to organize powerful trade unions that limited the competition among the sellers of that commodity, resulting in relatively high wages for British workers.

The other choice was to vote for the order that has “given the world 70 years of peace”—among the imperialist robber countries, that is—but has also led to the progressive decay of the industrial economies of the imperialist core countries—especially Britain. In U.S. terms, it was comparable to voting for Hillary Clinton—the status-quo presidential candidate—or the anti-immigrant, racist, fascist-infested Donald Trump candidacy.

As the day of the vote approached, the “establishment” prepared to celebrate. Polls under the weight of the media campaign were shifting toward the “anti-Brexit” position. The assassination of Jo Cox, a strong Brexit opponent and Labor MP, by a neo-Nazi a short time before the referendum seemed to put wind in the sails of the anti-Brexit camp. In anticipation of another great victory for the “pro-European Union position”—which really means pro-U.S. world empire—world stock markets climbed relentlessly while U.S. government bonds and the dollar price of gold slumped.

Or, as the financial press likes to say, with Brexit headed for defeat the appetite for risk was increasing. The defeat of Brexit in Britain would then signal the coming victory of the pro-status quo, conservative Hillary Clinton in the November U.S. presidential election over her anti-immigrant, nationalist-racist challenger Donald Trump.

Just before the polls closed, the media reported that a last-minute poll showed a further swing toward the anti-Brexit position. It was, it seemed, a done deal, and the anti-Brexit supporters prepared to celebrate their great victory! But that was before the votes began to be counted. As the returns came in, the mood of victory among the conservative supporters of the status quo turned to horror. Against all expectations, Brexit was victorious at the polls.

What happened? It seems that many young people—comparable to Bernie Sanders supporters in the U.S., though they most certainly didn’t support the racist Brexit campaign—couldn’t get themselves to vote for the status quo by voting against Brexit. Many of these young people disgusted with what was being offered to them by both the pro- and anti-Brexit positions simply stayed home. Could something like that happen in November in the U.S. causing the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency?

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The U.S. Two-Party System and Proto-Fascist Trends in the 1930s

June 19, 2016

Much to the relief of the U.S. ruling class, Wall Street favorite Hillary Clinton defeated Senator Bernie Sanders in the June 7 California primary. In the wake of Clinton’s victory, President Obama formally endorsed Clinton for the office of president of the United States, as did the “progressive” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, considered a major leader on the left wing of the Democratic Party.

This makes it all but official that the Democratic nominee will be the pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street, and very hawkish former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton. Clinton will be the first female to be nominated by one of the two ruling parties to the presidency and if elected will be the first female president of the U.S.

The media made it appear that Clinton won by an unexpectedly large margin, though Sanders got more than 40 percent of the vote. Before the election, most polls had shown Clinton well ahead of Sanders. But that was before Sanders staged a series of rallies that drew thousands of enthusiastic young people, in sharp contrast to the tepid support for Clinton. Clinton’s lead in the polls began to evaporate and it looked as though Sanders might have the momentum to pull off an upset in California like he had done earlier in Michigan and some other states.

In the end, Clinton prevailed frustrating the hopes of Sanders’ newly politicized young supporters. One factor was that on the eve of the California primary, the Associated Press, quickly echoed by other media, announced that Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination. In reality, Clinton lacked, and still lacks despite her victory in the California primary, enough elected delegates to win the Democratic nomination. However, she is assured of the great majority of the unelected “super-delegates.” Indeed, weeks before the AP announcement it had become clear that Clinton would almost certainly be the Democratic nominee thanks to the un-elected super-delegates.

Sanders had kept alive the hope among his young supporters that he would be able to convince the super-delegates to shift their support to him, but this never seemed likely. However, it would have been far more costly politically for the Democratic establishment if Clinton had been nominated after losing the primary in the U.S.’s biggest state. The timing of the AP announcement just before the election had all the markings of a corporate move to save Clinton from an embarrassing loss.

There were other factors in Clinton’s victory. Under the bizarre electoral rules of California’s so-called open primary system, persons can vote in the primaries regardless of their stated political party preference. However, this rule does not apply to the office of U.S. president. Who exactly can vote in the presidential primary is different for the Democratic Party than for the Republican Party.

Only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican presidential primary. However, in the Democratic primary it is possible for persons registered as neither Democrats nor Republicans to request a special ballot that enables them to vote in the Democratic presidential primary. Of course, many young people—and indeed even older people—were awakened to politics for the first time by the Sanders campaign and were not registered Democrat. They simply didn’t know that they could actually vote in the Democratic primary for the office of president. Or even if they did know this, they might not have known where or how they could obtain the special ballot. This undoubtedly cost Sanders many votes.

In addition, many poor people have felony convictions. Convicted felons who have passed their probation are “out of the system” and under California law can vote in elections. But many such people believe that once you are convicted of a felony you can never vote again—which is indeed the case in some U.S. states.

Yet another factor that tends to depress the votes of anybody who has to work for a living is that U.S. elections are held on a working day. In virtually every other country, elections are held on holidays or weekends giving voters several days to vote. To be sure, in the California primary people did have the possibility of voting by mail, but to do this you had to be signed up beforehand. It is also possible to vote at a polling place, but you have to know where to go to vote if you follow this route, and there are often long lines.

All these factors work strongly in favor of corporate-backed machine candidates such as Hillary Clinton. These machine voters know their polling places or are signed up to vote by mail.

Perhaps most important was the alliance between the leaders of trade unions, including unions made up mostly of immigrant low-wage workers, and the Democratic Party machine. This close alliance between trade-union leaders and the corporate-backed Democrats, now led by Hillary Clinton, dates back to New Deal days. If the union leaders had backed Sanders (1), the result would have been quite different. This illustrates the truth, if in this case negatively, that in present-day capitalist society no major progressive social and political change can happen without the support of the organized working class.

Clinton’s victory, however, does not change the fact that about 40 percent of those who voted in the Democratic Party, and far more than half of the younger voters, preferred the avowed “democratic socialist” to the pro-corporate, pro-war Hillary Clinton.

While Sanders and Clinton were campaigning in California, Donald Trump actively campaigned up and down the state as though he, too, was in a tight race. In reality, Trump faced no opposition in the California Republican primary. Indeed, Trump’s last standing opponents, Ohio Governor John Kasick and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, had withdrawn from the race weeks before. Nor is the racist Trump given a realistic chance of winning the state in the general election where white people are a minority and Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group.

Therefore, unlike the case with Clinton and Sanders, Trump should have had no real interest in the California primary if we judge by normal electoral criteria. What then was Trump up to in California?

 

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U.S. Two-Party System After Defeat of the Slaveholders’ Rebellion

May 22, 2016

The attempt of the Republican and U.S. political establishments to deny Donald Trump the Republican presidential nomination collapsed on May 3, when Trump won a decisive victory over his two remaining rivals in the Indiana Republican primary. Trump routed Tea Party darling Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasick, probably Wall Street’s favorite among the remaining candidates to succeed termed-out President Barack Obama next year. Kasick’s share of the vote ended up in single digits.

In the weeks leading up to the Indiana primary, Cruz and Kasick had announced a bloc to deny Trump a majority of the delegates needed for nomination on the first ballot at the Republican convention in July. If this bloc had succeeded on the second or, if necessary, later ballots, delegates pledged to Trump on the first ballot would have been free to vote for somebody “acceptable” to the large capitalists—somebody like John Kasick.

In the weeks leading up to the Indiana, New York and New England Republican primaries, the media had pictured the Trump campaign as at long last in deep trouble. Headlines like “Trump’s Worse Week” were splashed across the major newspapers and associated websites. The corporate press made much of the success Cruz had in picking up a few delegates here and there delivered to him on a silver plate by state Republican machines in service to Wall Street interests.

But these maneuvers came to nothing after Trump swept first the New York primary and then the New England primaries, with majorities as opposed to the mere pluralities he had won in primaries held earlier.

Earlier, there had been a lot more Republicans in the presidential race. They included Wall Street’s original favorite Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and son of former President George H. W. Bush and brother of the hated George W. Bush. Unlike his brother, Jeb was considered to be an “intelligent conservative.”

But Jeb Bush got very few votes and was forced out of the race after the South Carolina primary. As more Republicans were forced to drop out, the race to defeat Trump came down to the extreme neoliberal Senator Ted Cruz and the “moderate”—but still very neoliberal—John Kasick.

Cruz would be more in the mold of Ronald Reagan, while Kasick would be more like George W. Bush. Certainly, the conventional wisdom went, the “anti-Trump” majority among Republican voters would rally around these two candidates whose support of traditional Republican neoliberal economic policies would make either one more acceptable than Trump to Wall Street.

Eventually, the conventional wisdom went, either Kasick or Cruz would emerge as the nominee to face off against pro-Wall Street Democrat Hillary Clinton in November. But just the opposite happened when Trump won first in New York and then the New England states with outright majorities, and then won in Indiana, also with an outright majority, where Cruz had been expected to do well. Cruz and Kasick were then forced to withdraw from the race leaving only Trump.

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Germany and the U.S. Empire (Pt. 5)

January 31, 2016

On January 30, 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Reich chancellor, the most powerful office in the government. But there were only two other Nazis in the cabinet. In terms of cabinet members, traditional reactionaries such as Franz Von Papen (1879-1969)—the vice-chancellor—and the arch reactionary media baron and Nationalist Party leader Alfred Hugenburg (1865-1951) dominated the government.

Hugenburg was the Rupert Murdock of Germany. Leaving aside the Nazis, Alfred Hugenburg’s Nationalist Party was considered Germany’s most right wing, representing the large landowners. Hugenburg held the Ministry of Economics and Food, a ministry of considerable interest to Germany’s large landowners.

The Communist movement at first believed Hugenburg, not Hitler, was the dominant member of the new government. Not only were Nazis a small minority in the cabinet but the Prussian landowner and militarist Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) still occupied the presidency and had the power to appoint and dismiss the chancellor.

The view that Hitler was not the real power in the cabinet, however, ignored several crucial facts. One was that the two Nazi ministers besides Hitler gave the Nazis control over the bulk of Germany’s police forces. The Ministry of the Interior was awarded to Nazi Wilhelm Frick (1877-1946), a lawyer and policeman by profession. The other Nazi, Herman Goering (1893-1946), held the post of minister without portfolio and, more importantly, served as acting minister of the interior for the State of Prussia. This gave Goering effective control of Germany’s police force, including its political branch—the “red squad” in U.S. terminology. The Prussian red squad was soon given a new name—State Secret Police, or Gestapo for short.

Even more importantly, the Nazis were not just another bourgeois political party, only further to the right. They were a combat organization with a huge SA militia, whose membership numbered in the millions—compared to only 100,000 for the official German military, the maximum allowed under the Treaty of Versailles. Members were recruited mostly from Germany’s desperate middle-class youth, who had few prospects in Depression-bound Germany. The SA was organized to wage civil war against all wings of the workers’ movement—especially the Communists but also the Social Democratic Party, the trade unions, cooperatives, youth groups, and so on, in the streets of Germany.

Imagine if Donald Trump today commanded a private army of tens of millions of mostly middle-class youths, dwarfing in size both the regular army and all police forces of the U.S. Imagine further that this militia was fanatically loyal to Trump’s person. Further imagine that this private army was waging violent war in the streets against the trade unions, all African American organizations, Mexican-American organizations, immigrant rights groups, and Muslim and Arab organizations. This is what a full-fledged, Nazi-like mass fascist movement would look like in the early 21st-century U.S.

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Germany and the U.S. Empire (Pt. 2)

November 8, 2015

As the Soviet army swept westward toward Germany in 1945 and the American and British armies advanced eastward into Germany, soldiers in these armies were in for a shock. They would notice a peculiar smell in the air and then would arrive at one of the Nazi death camps.

These soldiers had been subjected to propaganda designed to portray the German enemy in the worst possible terms. Such wartime propaganda often takes more than a few liberties with the truth. In the case of the Soviet soldiers, they had plenty of experience with “the fascists,” as they called them, and their unspeakable crimes against the peoples of the occupied territories in the Soviet Union. These battle-hardened Soviet soldiers would expect the worst from the Germans.

But nothing could prepare them for what they found in the Nazi death camps. I will not attempt to describe it here. Today it is possible to watch videos of World War II Nazi death camps that are stored in digital form on the Internet. I would, however, advise anybody who is curious to watch these videos on an empty stomach.

A common reaction among the U.S. and British soldiers after they observed—and smelled—the horrors of the death camps was to tell the interviewers that now they knew what they were fighting for. The Soviet soldiers already knew what they were fighting for, but even they were shocked.

The reaction of one British soldier in one of the videos I streamed in preparation for this post unwittingly shed light on what had really happened. Interviewed many years after the war, he expressed amazement that the Germans could do this to “fellow Europeans” who simply practiced a “different faith.” A German Nazi would have explained that this was not true. The people murdered in the camps were not, our Nazi would have explained, Europeans at all. Nor were they murdered because they had a different faith. The death camp victims had to be liquidated because they were a different race.

According to the Nazis, the “great race” of white European Nordic Aryans were merely defending themselves against the racial “aggression” of the Jewish people and other “Asiatic” races such as the Roma—the so-called gypsies. In reality, our Nazi, assuming he was well educated in the “racial science” taught in all the educational institutions of the Third Reich, would explain that the Jews were a bastard Asiatic race mixed with “Negroid” elements. They had come to Europe to destroy the Nordic white Aryan race, who were the only creative race in the world and the hope of all humankind. Certainly, the Nazi would explain, a British soldier of “Nordic Germanic Aryan stock” should understand this in light of their own rich struggle against other races throughout its vast empire.

For 12 years, this lesson that the Jews, appearances to the contrary, were not white Europeans, was driven into the head of every German through the educational system from elementary school right through the universities, on the radio, in “educational” newsreels shown in movie theaters, as well through the various branches of Germany’s boy and girl scout movement—the “Hitler Youth.”

Anybody who wanted to challenge the Nazi “racial science” had no access to any media either printed, motion picture or radio. They would have to settle for word of mouth or illegally reproduced pamphlets. And if you were caught, you ran the risk being thrown into a concentration camp yourself or even being legally executed.

But what about before 1933, when Hitler came to power? Between 1918 and 1933, Germany was a (bourgeois) democracy, and before 1914 the existence of a large well-organized workers’ movement made it possible to legally oppose racist and anti-semitic ideas.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’ (Pt 4)

August 16, 2015

How gold production drives expansion of the market

Here I assume that gold bullion serves as money material unless I indicate otherwise.

In a previous post, I indicated that there cannot be an overproduction of gold in its role as money material. This has been more or less the received view among Marxist writers over the years.

However, in thinking about this question more carefully I think my earlier post was incorrect on this point. I was correct in stating that from the viewpoint of capitalists as a whole there cannot be “too much” gold as far as the realization of value of (non-gold) commodities is concerned. The more gold there is relative to the quantity of other commodities, everything else remaining equal, the easier it will be for industrial and commercial capitalists to sell their commodities at their prices of production and thus realize the surplus value contained in them in the form of profit.

But what is true for the non-gold producing capitalists is not true for the gold producing capitalists. Indeed, from the viewpoint of an individual industrial capitalist there can never be too much of the commodities produced by their suppliers. As a productive consumer, industrial capitalist A can hope for nothing better than that supplier industrial capitalist B overproduces as much as possible. When B overproduces, all other things remaining equal, A gets to pocket some of the surplus value contained in B’s commodities. But from B’s point of view, the overproduction of B’s commodity is an absolute disaster.

True, the (non)gold producing capitalists do not consume gold, insomuch as gold serves as money material as opposed to raw material. But it is absolutely essential for them that gold is produced in adequate quantities if the value, including the surplus value, contained in their commodities is to be realized.

Even if gold bullion played no role whatsoever as raw material, a certain level of gold production would still be necessary for capitalist expanded reproduction to proceed. And capitalism can only exist as expanded reproduction.

How much gold capitalism needs—with the development of the credit system, banking, clearing houses, and so on being given—depends on the level and vigor of expanded reproduction at a particular time. The greater the possibilities of exploiting wage labor and the higher the rate of surplus value and the potential rate of profit in value terms, the higher the level of gold production must be if the process of expanded capitalist production is to proceed unchecked.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’ (Pt 2)

June 21, 2015

Recently, I have been looking at Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Piketty, a French bourgeois economist, created a sensation by pointing out that over the last 45 years a growing proportion of national income—wages plus surplus value in Marxist terms—has been going to profit at the expense of wages. Piketty is alarmed that if this trend isn’t reversed capitalism will be seriously destabilized.

The title of his book is, of course, inspired by Marx’s great work “Capital,” though it predictably rejects Marx’s anti-capitalist revolutionary conclusions. Naturally, I was interested in what Piketty had to say about Marx.

What I found striking was that Piketty did not understand Marx at all. The reason is that he views Marx through marginalist lenses. Essentially, Piketty treats Marx as a fellow marginalist. Marx’s theory of value and surplus value, so completely at odds with the marginalist theory of value and surplus value, is literally beyond Piketty’s comprehension.

In examining the current debate about “secular stagnation” among economists like Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, we must never forget how deep the gulf between their economic theories and Marxism really is. This is true even when their terminology is similar. This month, I will contrast the theories of two economists of the 20th century, Joseph Schumpeter and John Maynard Keynes, regarding capitalist growth and stagnation. Both men were marginalists, even if not the most “orthodox” ones, and therefore had much more in common with each other than with Marx.

Next month, I will begin to contrast their views with Marx and the views I have been developing in this blog. (1) But before we reach the “Marxist mountains” we will have to slog through the plains of modern bourgeois economics. Only when we begin to ascend into the Marxist mountains will we be able to explore whether any of the ideas of Schumpeter can be integrated into Marxism. I have already dealt with Keynes quite extensively in this blog. (See, for example, six-part series beginning here.)

Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) was the most famous marginalist economist to deal with the question of technological changes, or “innovation,” under capitalism. Schumpeter was an Austrian economist in the sense he came from Austria, though he spent his last years in the United States as a professor at Harvard University. He was certainly influenced by the “Austrian economists” as well as other schools of post-classical bourgeois economics current in his day. Like the Austrian economists proper, Schumpeter preferred to communicate his ideas in natural language as opposed to mathematics.

Also like the Austrians, he was a hardcore supporter of capitalism, disliked “socialism”—proposals to reform capitalism in the interest of the workers—and was an opponent of the “Keynesian revolution” in bourgeois economic theory of the 1930s. He was what would be called today a “neo-liberal.” Like the Austrian economists proper, Schumpeter took a dim view of democracy, which he was convinced would inevitably lead to socialism. Yet he was a friend of Paul Sweezy and therefore had a certain influence on the Monthly Review school.

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Capitalist Economists Debate ‘Secular Stagnation’

May 24, 2015

A debate has broken out between economist Larry Summers (1954- ), who fears that the U.S. and world capitalist economies are stuck in an era of “secular stagnation” with no end in sight, and blogger Ben Bernanke (1953- ). Blogger Bernanke is, no less, the Ben Bernanke who headed the U.S. Federal Reserve Board between 2006 and 2014. Bernanke claims that the U.S. and world economies are simply dealing with lingering aftereffects of the 2007-2009 “Great Recession,” which broke out while he was head of the Federal Reserve System.

In effect, Bernanke is saying that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism and that healthy growth and “low unemployment and inflation” will return once the lingering aftereffects of the crisis are fully shaken off. Bernanke is, however, alarmed by the rapid growth of German exports and the growing share of the world market going to German industry.

Last year, we “celebrated” the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Bernanke’s concerns show that the economic fault lines that led to both World War I and II have not disappeared. Instead, they have been joined by new ones as more countries have become industrialized. And the prolonged period of slow growth—and in some countries virtually no growth—that has followed the Great Recession is once again sharpening them. Competition both among individual capitalists and between capitalist countries is much sharper when world markets are growing slowly. World War I itself broke out when the early 20th-century “boom” was running out of steam, while World War II broke out after a decade of the Depression.

The debate between Summers and Bernanke on secular stagnation has been joined by other eminent U.S. economists such as Joseph Stiglitz (1943- ) and Brad DeLong (1960- ). Summers, Stiglitz and DeLong are Keynesian-leaning economists, while Bernanke, a Republican, leans more in the direction of “neoliberalism,” though like most U.S. policymakers, he is thoroughly pragmatic.

The debate began with Summers’ speech to the IMF’s Fourteenth Annual Research Conference in Honor of Stanley Fisher. Summers noted that the panic of 2008 was “an event that in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009 … appeared, by most of the statistics—GDP, industrial production, employment, world trade, the stock market—worse than the fall of 1929 and the winter of 1930. …”

At the very least, this was a major defeat for “stabilization policies” that were supposed to iron out the capitalist industrial cycle and abolish panics. But the problem extends far beyond the 2008 panic itself.

“… in the four years since financial normalization,” Summers observed, “the share of adults who are working has not increased at all and GDP has fallen further and further behind potential, as we would have defined it in the fall of 2009.”

The highly misleading unemployment rate calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor notwithstanding, there has been a massive growth in long-term unemployment in the U.S. in the wake of the crisis, as shown by the declining percentage of the U.S. population actually working.

In the days before the “Keynesian revolution” in the 1930s, the “classical” neoclassical marginalist economists, whose theories still form the bedrock of the economics taught in U.S. universities, were willing to concede that some “outside shock” to the economic system (for example, a major policy blunder by the central bank or a major harvest failure) might occasionally create a severe recession and considerable amount of “involuntary unemployment.” But these learned economists insisted that since a “free market economy” naturally tends toward an equilibrium with full employment of both workers and machines, the capitalist system should quickly return to “full employment” if a severe recession occurs.

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Che Guevara and Marx’s Law of Labor Value (Pt 2)

March 29, 2015

Bourgeois value theory after Ricardo

As I explained last month, the rising tide of struggle of the British working class obliged Ricardo’s bourgeois successors to abandon the concept of value based on the quantity of labor necessary on average to produce a commodity of a given use value and quality. They were forced to do this because any concept of labor value implies that profits and rents—surplus value—are produced by the unpaid labor performed by the working class. The challenge confronting Ricardo’s bourgeois successors was to come up with a coherent economic theory that was not based on labor value. Let’s look at some of the options open to them.

Malthus, borrowing from certain passages in Adam Smith, held that the capitalists simply added profit onto their wage costs. Like Smith and Ricardo, Malthus assumed that what Marx was to call constant capital could be reduced to wages if you went back far enough. Therefore, constant capital really consisted of wages with a prolonged turnover period—what the 20th-century “neo-Ricardian” Pierro Sraffa (1898-1983) was to call in his “Commodities Produced by Means of Commodities” “dated labor.”

Malthus held that since capitalists are in business to make a profit, they simply added the profit onto their costs—ultimately reducible to the price of “dated labor,” to use Sraffa’s terminology.

The idea that profits are simply added onto the cost price of a commodity is known as “profit upon alienation.” This notion was first put forward by the mercantilists in the earliest days of political economy. In this period, preceding the industrial revolution, merchant capital still dominated industrial capital. After all, don’t merchants make their profits by buying cheap and selling dear?

But what determined the magnitude of the charge above and beyond the cost of the commodity to the capitalist? And even more devastating for Malthus, since every capitalist was overcharging every other capitalist—as well as working-class consumers who bought the means of subsistence from the capitalists—how could the capitalists as a class make a profit? If Malthus was right, the average rate of profit would be zero!

But perhaps we don’t need the concept of “value” at all? Why not simply say that the natural prices of commodities are determined by the cost of production that includes a profit? But then what determines the prices of the commodities that entered into the production costs of a given commodity? Following this logic to its end, the natural prices of commodities are determined by the natural prices of commodities. This is called circular reasoning.

We haven’t moved an inch forward from our starting point. To avoid a circle, we have to determine the prices of commodities by something other than price. There is no escaping some concept of value after all.

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Che Guevara and Marx’s Law of Labor Value

March 1, 2015

This March marks the 30th anniversary of the election of Mikhail Gorbachev to the post of general secretary of the then-ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union. At first, the election of Gorbachev seemed to involve a long overdue shift of power to a new generation of Soviet leaders. As we now know, it involved a lot more.

A process was unleashed that was soon to be called “Perestroika.” In the name of “radical economic reforms,” the Soviet planned economy was progressively dismantled. Perestroika ended not only with the restoration of capitalism but the breakup of what had been the Soviet federation.

The combined process of the restoration of capitalism and breakup of the Soviet federation was accompanied by a massive collapse of both industrial and agricultural production. The living standards and life expectancy of the working class plummeted. A generation later, the economies of not only the Russian federation but the economies of the other former republics are yet to recover.

Perestroika led to a wave of capitalist counterrevolutions that in 1989 swept through eastern Europe with the active support not only of imperialism, as would be expected, but also the Gorbachev government. As part of this process, Germany was reunited on a capitalist basis while staying in NATO. The former socialist countries that had been members of the now dissolved Warsaw Pact joined NATO as did the former Soviet Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Georgia Republic—Stalin’s homeland—is very close to NATO and openly striving to become a formal member, while the new right-wing government in Ukraine has joined NATO in all but name.

Perestroika, therefore, resulted in a massive expansion of the U.S. world empire into the one area of the planet—the Soviet Union and its allies—that remained outside the Empire after World War II.

The destruction of the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc and their planned economies would have been enough if that was all that was involved. But it was not. The capitalists and their spokespeople everywhere pointed to the Soviet collapse as final proof that “socialism had failed.” The result was a wave of demoralization that spread through a workers’ movement that was already in retreat before the neoliberal capitalist offensive symbolized by such political figures as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

National liberation movements were also pushed back, though the hopes of political figures such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush that the old-fashioned colonialism that had dominated the world in 1914 would return—with the difference that the United States and not Britain or France would be the chief colonizer—has not been so easy to achieve.

Between November 7, 1917, when the Bolshevik-led Congress of Soviets seized power, and the election of Gorbachev as general secretary of the CPSU Central Committee in March 1985, the peoples of the oppressed nations got accustomed to the idea that they should be independent and not colonial slaves of the West. Therefore, attempts by the U.S. world empire to push these nations and peoples back into something like pre-1914 colonial relationships have met, to the chagrin of the imperialists, unexpected and growing resistance.

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