Re: (OPE-L) Robinson and Marx

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Nov 25 2004 - 14:05:33 EST

>Rakesh, I think that to put together Robinson and Roemer is like
>putting together Grossmann and Bernstein. They are too different to
>be collapsed in one line...
>  At the same time, I accept as substantially true her [Joan Robinson's]
>criticism of the falling rate of profits.

You mean Robinson's tired criticisms such as rising s/v can
counteract rising c/v? Or the belief that capital saving innovation
(itself ususally a product of very intense capital intensive
production--think how the computer has been cheapened...with close to
two billion dollar wafer fabs) may not slow down but actually
neutralize or reverse the OCC? Sure that could happen but must it
happen (only if one thinks in terms of comparative statics)? Is it
likely to happen? No, given the competitive pressures imposed on
rival capitals, and that the best way to cheapen commodities remains
the replacement of paid direct labor with cheaper indirect labor.

Robinson believed that with the underconsumption undertow only
special conditions (geographical discoveries, major capital using
innovations) would allow the private economy to undertake the level
of investment needed for full employment. The inducement for private
investment would be otherwise weak; one could not count on the
commandments of the Moses and the Prophets. The frontier had receded,
major capital using innovations were not forthcoming, the population
was declining in dysgenic fashion (see Toye on Keynes) and too poor
to provide a market, the opportunity for investment was vanishing.
This was the mood of interwar year despair. Even as Schumpeter
rejected economic despair, he succumbed to politico cultural and
personal despair.  Bourgeois thought did not see in visible signs of
decay and despair a new society; it mistook its decline for the
decline of society as such.  Bourgeois thought could not understand
the underlying causes of depression--the shortage of surplus value.
In reaction to its own pessimism the dominant classes capitulated to
irrationalism, power worship, race mythology and state fetishism.

In fact all this despair about the West's vaunted free market society
lead to the totalitarian and at times fascist conclusion that only
the activist state could ensure that level of effective demand and
thus stabilize the economy--if not actually  revitalize it.  And
indeed Keynes' theory was meant to hone the instrumentalities by
which capitalism could be saved. Instrumentalities more easily
availed by a fascist state as he openly admitted. Minor or declining
bourgeois renegades saw the best guarantee of their privileges in the
expansion of the state; as Mattick Sr argued, state socialism came to
define the parameters of what was known as the left. Robinson was a
state socialist. The later enthusiasm for North Korea had deep roots
in what Schumpeter would call vision.

So let me just underline what has been bothering me about the
invocation of Luxemburg in this context as an open Marxist. She broke
from Marx in the spirit of Marx. For good materialist reasons, she
did not see in her time how the FROP could bring about the material
conditions for socialism. She sought the roots for economic
catastrophism through a critique of the reproduction schema, and in
bitter opposition to a centrist such as Bauer. It is quite another
thing to revise Marx with Schumpeter and Keynes-Kalecki-Robinson to
develop a theory which implies it's possible (in theory at least) to
regulate the level of credit and effective demand to make capitalism
more stable.

  This kind of revision of Marx makes him the centrist against whom
Luxemburg polemicized throughout her revolutionary career!
Luxemburg's attempt to go beyond Marx was meant to issue in a deeper
theory of catastrophism on which the optimistic revolutionary praxis
of proletarian self emancipation could be based (the early
revolutionary Lukacs had a profound understanding of this) even
though frankly her theoretical efforts failed as a result of a
misunderstanding of the level of abstraction at which the repro
schema were pitched (this Lukacs did not understand, but Grossman
did). This is why an earlier follower of Luxemburg such as Mattick Sr
had no problem finding in Grossmann's theory the theoretical
vindication of the economic catastrophism on which Luxemburg's
politics had been based.

Does the Bellofiore Marx-Keynes-Schumpeter synthesis attempt to
provide a stronger theory of unavoidable catastrophism? Is it a
revision of Marx in the spirit of Marx and Luxemburg? I do not think
so. It leads to a revision of Marx in the direction of the centrism
against whom Luxemburg struggled. Andrew Trigg's Kaleckian theory
implies the possibility of stabilization in Imelda Marcos maintaining
and using strong credit lines and use of worker banners such as
Capitalists of the World Unite and Luxuriate!

  That said, these 'revisions' may prove to be a better, more truthful
theory of capitalist dynamics and in virtue of that more politically
useful than ultra left banter.

So the point here is not of betrayal but accuracy in the description
of theoretical positions and theoretical antecedents. It's an abuse
of Luxemburg to make her the precursor of
Keynes-Kalecki-Robinson-Sweezy. The last after all depended on the
underconsumption theory of Luxemburg's (and Grossman's) nemesis Otto

Well I do look forward to reports of Luxemburg Conference. I expect
that you, Paul Z and Andrew T will not agree with Paul Mattick Jr.!

Long live the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg!


>  But apologies for having
>put these points too quickly. I should have not intervened.
>>I agree with you, Jerry.  My own exit from neoclassical economics was
>>greatly contributed to by the Cambridge (UK) critique of neoclassical
>>capital theory and she was of course a major part of that.  Furthermore,
>>since I knew her personally a bit and got her to the ILO in the mid-70s --
>>which eventually resulted in her development book which the ILO refused to
>>publish because it was too radical, I know directly that she had a
>>wide-ranging impact on stimulating critical economics among many
>>economists and non-economists.
>>Joan Robinson is DEFINITELY the kind of economist with whom we need to
>>build alliances or we will be worth nothing except our own narcissism.
>Riccardo Bellofiore
>Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche
>"Hyman P. Minsky"
>UniversitÓ di Bergamo
>Via dei Caniana 2
>I-24127 Bergamo, Italy
>direct    +39-035-2052545
>secretary +39-035 2052501
>fax:      +39 035 2052549

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