(OPE-L) Re: Historical Explanation and Systematic Dialectics

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Mar 26 2004 - 09:33:27 EST

Hello Rakesh.

> No, the argument is that competition tends to become fraticidal and
> crises protracted rather than solveable through a simple
> redistribution of capital only when accumulation has come to founder
> on a shortage of surplus value in the abode of production though said
> shortage manifests itself as a surplus of commodities in the realm of
> circulation (Mattick, 1969, 1981). Inter-class competition (sic:
> should it not read intra class competition?) cannot in itself explain
> a a protracted downturn in which competition has become fraticidal.

When examining the causes for a world economic crisis, we have to
grasp the world market "in which production is posited as a totality
together with all movements, but within which, at the same time, all
contradictions come into play." (Marx, _Grundrisse_, Penguin, p. 227).
This means, among other things, that we must grasp capital and the
(nation-) state as diversity on the international level.  This requires
that we grasp foreign trade and, furthermore, ALL of the contradictions.
To grasp ALL of the contradictions related to a specific historical
event requires that we also grasp all of the relevant _contingent_
contradictions.  To take an abstract tendency, such as the LTRPF,
and assert that it _must_ be the cause of a _particular_ economic
crisis is exactly the sort of  [reductionist] problem that Tony warned
against.  One can not assume in examining a particular historical crisis
that class conflict between capital and wage-labour is -- 'ultimately' or
otherwise -- the cause.

You assert that it has been 'demonstrated' that a 'prolonged' economic
crisis can not be caused by (contradictions associated with) capitalist
competition.  By inference, you are suggesting that any factor which is
not a direct expression of the class struggle between wage-labour and
capital can not be the primary causal force behind a 'protracted'
economic downturn.

In what follows, I will present a number of causes of a potential
world-wide economic crises which are hypothetical in nature. All
of the examples have in common the positing of a _primary_ causal
force for a crisis which is _not_ class struggle between capital and
wage-labor.   The intent is to show by example that what you have
asserted to have 'demonstrated' is erroneous.  While these
examples are hypothetical, they are none the less expressions of real
material, social processes that could _in fact_ trigger a capitalist crisis.

1.  Capitalist Competition: Cartelization

The oil industry was once ruled by an international cartel and, if
conditions change, a cartel could re-assert itself as a global
economic force.  If there is 'cartel solidarity' and unity in action,
then the cartel could multiply the price of crude oil by several-
fold.  This would then dramatically increase the costs of production
for all firms since the rising price of oil would increase the cost
of all oil derivatives (such as plastics and fiberglass) which can
be both final output and/or elements of constant circulating capital.
As the costs of production go up, firms could increase prices and
inflation would likely result.  Yet, there is no mechanism  to assure
that consumers will now be able to afford to pay higher prices.
Say's Law does not hold.  This could set in motion a series of
events that would result in a prolonged world-wide economic crisis
-- even though one section of the world capitalist economy (in
nation-states where the cartel is based) could prosper.

2. Boycotts and Trade Sanctions

a) A consumer boycott of French and E.U. commodities in the
US is launched -- with or without the support of the US
government.  If the movement -- which would be an expression
of nationalism rather than class conflict -- is largely successful,
it can be expected that citizen-consumers in other nations will
likely boycott commodities produced in the US.  As this
process continues, one can easily envision a protracted world-wide
economic crisis.

b) The US government decides to levy a special tax on
imported goods to help pay for US military interventions which,
it claims, benefit the rest of the world.  Even though this would
be a violation of international law, that has not stopped the
US government before on numerous occasions. Other
countries might respond by levying tariffs on commodities produced
in the US.  Of course, the US government would have anticipated
retaliation when they levied the tariff but they might  have believed
-- on balance -- that they might gain more than they would lose.
Events could demonstrate that they miscalculated.  Again, this
competition among capitalists and  nation-states could result in a
prolonged period of economic crisis.

3.  War

It's true that there have been historical examples of war among
capitalist nations promoting the accumulation of capital and growth.
One could, however, envision circumstances in which wars could
trigger a prolonged economic crisis.  E.g.

-- A nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan; or
-- A nuclear exchange between N. Korea and the USA; or
-- A nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran; or
-- The US uses WMD when invading a country in Latin

While it may be the case that class conflict was the underlying
factor that led to these wars, it could be the case that it was not.
Nationalism, after all, is a very strong force in the world and
nationalism can lead to actions which could be viewed as
'irrational' and undesirable from the perspective of  _world_
capitalist class interests.

One could expect de-accumulation as a consequence as the
'investment climate' and stability  in  international markets would
likely be severely undermined.  I.e. having observed these events,
capitalists might likely anticipate further conflict and instability
and withhold funds for accumulation in the presence of heightened
international uncertainty.

4.  Religious Fundamentalism

One could envision a coalition of many different nations which
are united by Islamic fundamentalism which could decide not to
sell or buy any commodities from 'the West'.  This would close
off entire sections of the world from imperialist investment.
While it could be expected to lower the standard of living in the
nations imposing the boycott, it could nonetheless be done and
perhaps in some regions (if popular perceptions change) be
popular.  Yet, it would also likely push the world capitalist
economy into a prolonged economic crisis.

5.  Other Contingencies

A new plague -- whether manufactured in the laboratory or naturally
occurring -- could spread out of control throughout the world.  Even
if nations closed off borders (which itself would severely impact
world trade) it might not be stopped.  Of course, this might have
nothing to do with the LTRPF (or its counteracting factors) or
class struggle between capital and wage-labour but it could
nevertheless trigger a prolonged economic crisis.

I have thus demonstrated that any 'demonstration' which alleges
to show that only the class struggle can be the primary cause of
a particular economic crisis is manifestly false.  Any specific
economic crisis must be analyzed concretely and all of the
relevant contradictions and causal factors must be examined
to ultimately locate primary cause.  We can not _a prior_ know
what that primary cause is for a specific crisis based on abstract
theory and assertions of theoretical primacy that are derived from
that abstract theory.

> I immediately made this argument on LBO-talk in response to Brenner's
> NLR book upon its publication. Werner Bonefeld made a similar
> argument.

Yes, Bonefeld comes from a tradition which privileges class struggle
to the exclusion of other causal factors.

> The inability of intra capitalist competition in itself to
> explain a protracted downturn has been demonstrated by several of
> Brenner's critics. Ultimately Brenner explains a depression in the
> profit rate as a result of a rise in the real wage, though he insists
> that the real wage does not rise as a result of working class
> militance. That is, Brenner himself does not ultimately explain the
> long downturn as a result of simply intra capitalist competition; he
> too turns to a change in the real relationship between capital and
> wage labor in the division of net product.

If Brenner 'ultimately' grounds the current economic downturn in
the  struggle between capital and labour then all of the efforts by
Brenner's critics to 'demonstrate'  that competition can not 'in itself'
cause  a protracted downturn were misplaced.  A classic 'straw
man' type argument by the critics of Brenner.

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Mar 27 2004 - 00:00:02 EST