[OPE-L] [Jurriaan re] The ambiguities of Hillel Ticktin

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri Oct 07 2005 - 17:03:39 EDT

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------
Subject: The ambiguities of Hillel Ticktin
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date:    Fri, October 7, 2005 4:06 pm

Hillel Ticktin offers an interesting article here:

I think the article is thought-provoking, yet also a masterpiece of
Marxist-Froebelist equivocation, in the sense that Ticktin fails to
provide any objective yardsticks for "decline", based on facts, as if a
clear discussion would "aid the class enemy". Seems to me - here I agree
with Immanuel Wallerstein - that if you want to address this issue
intelligently, you do need them.

In addition, at least six different conceptual issues are conflated in a
sort of pseudo-Hegelian poetry, namely, the issues of:

- the overall functioning of the capitalist system,
- social and material progress,
- the balance of power between social classes,
- the transition between modes of production,
- prospects for revolutionary, rather than evolutionary political change,
- the concept of societal decadence.

I do not intend to discuss this in detail and depth, but I have a few
comments on it.

In general, the perspective of the Communist International was that the
epoch of capitalist decline had begun, as proved by the outbreak of the
first world war. Even so, as capitalism recovered from the world war, the
rhetoric changed from "decline" to "stabilisation" and then back to "crisis"
in 1929. Exactly same thing happened after world war 2, and then you get a
long boom, which saw the fastest economic growth of capitalism ever. The
doomsayers were wrong, and it led to apologism.

It seemed that, because the autarkic policies of Soviet-type societies
(which could not modernise otherwise, in an imperialist system of trade)
took a large chunk of the world population out of capitalism, and because
the political successes of the national liberation movements, that
geographically the reign of capitalism was shrinking as well. However,
further expansion of the world market (globalisation, or export-led
development) in response to world recession, and the demise of official
communism as well as the national liberation movements, signified a
further expansion of capitalism, despite lower overall real growth rates
of production, and an increasing mass of non-productive capital. The
system didn't decline so much, as mutated, aided by computerisation. More
about that below.

It appears to me, that the most solid synthetic indicator we have for this
whole problematic of decline, is "the extent to which the capitalist
system is observably capable of satisfying basic human needs, globally".
Ticktin doesn't mention it, except implicitly in a vague way. Yet the
core claim of neoliberal ideology is precisely that "at least we are
positively trying to meet human needs" through promoting trade; if not by
this route, how would you do it? That is the real challenge. Yet Ticktin
hasn't even mentioned socialism once yet, or alternative economic
strategies. He just mentions a reformist ideology about substituting
administration for the law of value, which misunderstands what is is
really about, as I mention below (administration can obviously also work
perfectly well on a "surplus-value producing" basis).

Eric Hobsbawm titled his survey of 20th century capitalism "the age of
extremes", and that is not a bad way of putting it, insofar as global
human development shows more and more a juxtaposition of positive and
negative extremes, creating ever more complex problems of moral and
scientific evaluation. There is, in other words, both progress and
regression, and the serious scientific question then is, which really
prevails over the other in an overall sense.
Ticktin says "Decline occurs at the point when the system is in process of
supersession, but the process of supersession is a complex one." This
could mean anything or go any which way, even so, it is a mistaken idea,
because you can have decline without supersession, just simply decline;
around a dozen countries in the world have shown consistent negative
output growth rates without any supersession being in prospect. Hence the
current fascination with the notion of societal collapse, as popularised
by Jared Diamond.  Ticktin says "Not all countries, however, were able to
fully emerge into the initial stage of capitalism: eg, Holland." This is
an obvious error of fact by a scholar, although you can say that Dutch
industrial capitalism only really took off in the second half of the 19th
century, lagging England.

Marxists have often considered the question of the "nature of the epoch"
terms of whether capitalism is growing or declining, but this just is not
very fruitful as characterisation; Anton Pannekoek already knew that. It
leads to superficial doomsayer prophecies and so on. As Lenin himself
noted, I think at the 2nd Comintern Congress, "there are no absolutely
hopeless situations for capitalism", its progress and demise are
contingent on the outcome of the conflicts between social classes, and I
might add, feasible alternatives. A good illustration of this is
Argentina, in recent years.

I think there is a much more interesting and fruitful Marxian take on this
question, if we frame the question more in terms of: given the current
situation (forget about the dogmatists), what real opportunities exist for
the working classes to advance and develop? What can they independently
achieve? How are the perceptions of that, coloured by ideology about what
people can and may do, or achieve? This Gramscian question links directly
to the question I mentioned before, namely, the extent to which the
capitalist system is observably capable of satisfying basic human needs we
all have, globally, i.e. the (growing) gap between "the actual and the
potential". Orthodox Marxists will often claim, as Louis Proyect does,
that there is nothing progressive about capitalism, but that is obviously
nonsense, that has no basis in Marx's or Engels's text anyway. Check out
the Communist Manifesto for yourself.

Funny thing is, that everybody missed the real substantive implication of
Mandel's theory about the "long waves" of capitalist development, namely
that another "long wave" of the type 1947-73 is ruled out, i.e. that
overall growth of real production, as compared to population growth, will
stay sluggish at best, precisely because of the condition that world
capitalism has reached. Thus, the debate among Mandel's epigones was about
"whether there would be a new long wave or not", which completely
misunderstands the real substantive thesis Mandel offered. He moreover
explicitly dissociated himself from any "cyclical" theory of history.

But, in fact, that Mandelite thesis offered in my opinion itself *also*
misunderstands the real question theoretically; as Alan Greenspan can tell
you, the real question is whether or not world capitalism can successfully
accomplish controlled *market expansion* at a sufficient rate, under
conditions of gigantic socio-economic inequality, aided by credit (if
people don't have buying power, the way you can initiate markets is by
allocating them credit, which is what the IMF and the World Bank among
others try to do; you try to go from natural economy to money economy via
credit economy, to use Marx's expression in Capital Vol. 2). Also, output
in value terms is quite a different thing than output in physical terms.
In many important areas, physical output has continued to grow, although
its market value has declined (which is what Marx would expect).

The market question is not just a question of economic timing, but a
question of the mutation and transformation of social and political
relations, within an increasingly shaky and dodgy system lacking consensual
values. This is precisely why Dr Condoleezza Rice refers to the importance
of a "common system of ideological values", emphasizing "liberty,
democracy, private property, capitalism and Bentham" (well, may be not
Jeremy Bentham, but some other luminary). The ruling classes are trying to
fumble towards a new ideology, a morality for a new order. The
neoconservatives cannot provide it, they need the US Democrats for it, but
they're in disarray as well. In a statesmanlike way, Clinton stands by
Bush with an appeal for the ""unity of Americans". The real problem though
is how they can invent a convincing ideology of unity that captures the
"hearts and minds" of Americans. That isn't an insurmountable problem
though - lots of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was responsible for
9/11. If the President says it is true, then it must be true, even if it
is a lie.  It is all in a "way of seeing".

Capitalism, as I have myself emphasized, did not originate with industry,
it originated from commercial trade, and its future depends not on
industrial development so much as on its capacity to "commodify" any and
all assets, i.e. expand trade and establish private property relations. It
doesn't matter so much from the point of view of the functioning of the
capitalist system, if real output increases only sluggishly. Obviously it
does matter to whole populations shut off from resources, but we can
always blame that on their primitivism, laziness, immorality or lack of
thrift, and so on.

Once we understand this, we can understand better what "mutation" consists
in, namely precisely the changing of the "rules of the game" governing
trade in assets of any kind, and expanding the
temporal-spatial-intellectual region within which commercial trading can
occur. The problem here is that of course the labouring classes can also
do a bit of "trade" of their own, which isn't surplus-value generating,
raising the important bourgeois question of how one can stay in control of
that trade, and contain it within those bounds compatible with basic
capitalism. And broadly, you can do that only by means of more and more
social controls by the state, that regulate behaviour, and larger and
larger security forces of all kinds policing private property of all
kinds. That is why neoliberalism isn't so liberal, as you might think.

Of course, I should say something about the famous falling rate of profit
beloved of orthodox Marxists. Simple math can show you that a falling rate
of profit doesn't really matter so much, *provided* that the "mass"
(volume) of profit increases sufficiently, through market expansion. Which
is to say, the real problem of the epoch is not so much a falling rate of
profit, but that of capitalist market integration, i.e. how you integrate
more and more people and assets into markets, and get them to trade up the
ladder, with the aid of well-intentioned middle classes spreading culture.
Enviously, the Western bourgeois eyes India and China, which seem to be so
much better at it.

That is also really the core of of the so-called neoliberal idea, and it
depends on the willingness of people to participate in capitalist market
trade. You can of course also force them into it, as in Iraq, but if you do
that, you really undermine the supposed "liberality" of capitalist market
trade. That's a problem, which you cannot really pave over with rhetoric
because nobody really believes it. How do you get that participation?
Through advertising? Through practical demonstration of its benefits and
superiority in giving people what they want? Through saying there are no
alternatives? Through bashing the Bible? Mr Moneybags always has the
advantage, that he owns most of the money that can be dished out. He can
extend credit, or withhold it. But what if, for example, people don't need
much of his money anyway for their lives?

Anyway, I will be interested to read episode 2 of Hillel Ticktin's article,
for the rest, I am I going to have a decline.


We met as soul mates
On Parris Island
We left as inmates
From an asylum
And we were sharp
As sharp as knives
And we were so gung ho
To lay down our lives

We came in spastic
Like tameless horses
We left in plastic
As numbered corpses
And we learned fast
To travel light
Our arms were heavy
But our bellies were tight

We had no home front
We had no soft soap
They sent us Playboy
They gave us Bob Hope
We dug in deep
And shot on sight
And prayed to Jesus Christ
With all of our might

We had no cameras
To shoot the landscape
We passed the hash pipe
And played our Doors tapes
And it was dark
So dark at night
And we held on to each other
Like brother to brother
We promised our mothers we'd write
And we would all go down together
We said we'd all go down together
Yes we would all go down together

Remember Charlie
Remember Baker
They left their childhood
On every acre
And who was wrong?
And who was right?
It didn't matter in the thick of the fight

We held the day
In the palm
Of our hand
They ruled the night
And the night
Seemed to last as long as six weeks
On Parris Island

We held the coastline
They held the highlands
And they were sharp
As sharp as knives
They heard the hum of our motors
They counted the rotors
And waited for us to arrive
And we would all go down together
We said we'd all go down together
Yes we would all go down together

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