[OPE-L:8011] Re: Re: Re: Robert Brenner

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Sat Nov 16 2002 - 23:57:26 EST

In 8010 Paul Bullock wrote:

>Brenner has been gadding about, he was at SOAS in London 2 November and
>various places in UK after.
>Here he has faced severe and extensive criticism eg in two issue of
>Dialectical Materialism no's 4 and 5. At SOAS it was all very friendly, but
>he had few allies.  He is not regarded as a 'Marxist' by most ( excluding
>the eccentrically enthusiastic introduction to his NLR article in 1998 by
>Perry Anderson) although his strong 'liberal' ideas are well recognised.
>He seems to do his best to avoid the issue of the day - Imperialism. So too,
>did most of the panel at SOAS except Weeks in a general sense. From the
>floor only Hillel Tickton and David Yaffe took up Imperialism and what Marx
>was really concerned with... revolution.

Brenner did take up imperialism and spoke of the grave possibility of 
the reappearance of the seemingly anachronistic forms of colonial 
occupation, plunder and theft. I'll relate what he said in a moment.

While Brenner may downplay imperialism, it seems to me that the 
theoretical difficulty of the day is in grasping capital as global 
social relation (see Cyrus Bina and John Holloway).

Here's an example of the problem.  Brenner argues in The Boom and the 
Bubble, pp.130ff  that the post-95 recovery in US  corporate 
profitability was killed  by the wild escalation in the relative 
value of the dollar (which--I assume--took away global market share 
and increased the real value of US debt).  Greenspan's wildly loose 
monetary policy which has had Dr Richebacher and the other  von 
Miseans very hot under the collar could neither reverse the upward 
hike of the dollar nor reduce interest costs sufficiently to boost 
absolute US corporate profitability.

The dollar thus rose from 1996 on as a result of panic and recession 
elsewhere (and the US, Japanese and Germans governments also 
engineered a reverse Plaza Accord which helped to ensure that the 
Japanese would keep their massive holdings in short term, 
easy-to-liquidate US Treasury debt); consequently,  a nascent 
recovery in US profitability was quickly killed off as US capital was 
simply aboard the sinking ship of global capital and could not rise 
above it even though it was on the top floor of the Titanic (to use 
Cyrus' metaphor).  Favorable changes in the US VCC, S/V, U/P labor 
ratio may have seemed to poise the US economy for an uptick in 
profitability or at least not for a sudden negative reversal in 
profitability after  1995-6. But alas the titanic ship of global 
capital was sinking. And the social relation of global capital proved 
itself be the truly hegemonic one (Bina), not the imperialism of the 
US which has been an ineffectual response to the global crisis  and 
all the more violent and blustering one for that very reason.

This suggests to me that no national economy is immune from the 
condition of capital as global social relation and that capital as a 
global social relation is (as Cyrus puts it) sui generis--by which I 
mean something more than a sum of national capitalist economies. A 
multicelluar living organism cannot be reduced to physico-chemical 
reactions in all its individual cells; capital as a global social 
relation cannot be reduced to the sum of profit movements in 
different national economies. One cannot fully understand the 
workings of a single cell by the most thorough study of it alone but 
only by comprehension of its place and function within the organism 
as a whole.

Now of course the living organism of global capitalism is in ill 
health which has predisposed it to the cancer which is simply the US 
cells living off the other cells in the body until the body and the 
cancer cells both die.

   At any rate, due to my rejection of reductionism (and its close 
ally methodological individualism or in this case methodological 
nationalism), I remain skeptical of attempts by the new quantitative 
Marxists to determine the trajectory of a profit rate within a nation 
solely by the construction of national data sets. The available data 
may only allow for solid empirical  Marxist estimates in national 
terms but this could be no more a good way for finding the condition 
of the global capitalist system than the drunk who figures his best 
place for locating  his lost keys on a pitch black night is 
underneath a far-away streetlight.

I reiterate: the main theoretical problem is not specifying the 
modalities of imperialism but in the grasping of capital as a social 
relation. The main revolutionary task is not anti imperialism but 
worker internationalism. Though of course national and racial 
chauvinism  pose obstacles to the latter.

At any rate, this is what Brenner had to say about US imperialism:

He had only short time to comment on US foreign policy, but I
remember the following points:

*it is questionable whether war against the Iraqi Ba'ath regime, much
less old-style colonial occupation, is in the interests of the US
capitalist class as a whole at this point rather than just that
clique which stole the election and now wishes to regain some of the
pumping rights which were lost with the wave of nationalizations in
the 70s.

*it is doubtful that US foreign policy is aimed at increasing or
stabilizing the flow of oil as it is after all the US which now leads
the boycott of Iraqi oil. The clique is more interested in a better
share of profits, greater control over upstream operations, etc.

*Israel is probably worried about a geopolitical threat which may
interfere with its handling of the so called Palestinian problem.

*However, if stagnation persists, the American capitalist class as a
whole may accede to a militarization of the US economy not only for
the purposes of a straight rip off of colonial resources but also for
a pump priming of the economy. The name of that old finance minister
Hjalmar Schact was mentioned. A programme of colonization and
seemingly anachronistic occupations would find support outside the
already mentioned clique.


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