Re: [OPE-L] Michael Heinrich and the new conception of the epoch

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Wed Aug 01 2007 - 17:12:43 EDT

Hi Juriiaan:

Yes, Michael H's article has stirred up some controversy. Below you will
find Loren Goldner's response to another list.  Loren takes a very
different position, as might be anticipated.  I don't think his
assertions about a "decadent phase of capitalism" are all that convincing.
Yet, I am not convinced by all of Michael's claims either.

In solidarity, Jerry

  Michael Heinrich's scenario may be right. I say this
  as one of the people on the radical left who, since
  the 1970's, has diagnosed the crisis which began then
  the "final" one, to result in either world revolution
  recovery from something like World War III. I say this
  because in the early 70's I would have flatly denied
  the possibility of the configuration of the
  contemporary world, with China's decades of rapid
  growth and now India's emergence, for starters.

  In short, I have been somewhat sobered by being
  consistently wrong about capitalism's flexibility
  (whatever the balance sheet of horrors it has served
  up since the early 70's).

  However, (and I am not even mentioning the
  environmental questions Heinrich passes over in
  silence) there are a number of problems with
  Heinrich's analysis that would require further
  explanation. He does not comment, for example, on the
  crucial differences between the current emergence of
  China and India and the emergence of the U.S. and
  Germany ca. 1890.
  That earlier development ultimately "lifted all boats"
  in the 1945-1974 boom years, whereas even the rosy
  scenarios for China and India frankly admit that 1.5
  billion people in those countries will be "left out".
  What will become of them and how will they react?
  Heinrich scoffs at the idea that the purpose of
  capitalism is to provide good wages and welfare for
  workers, which is true enough,
  but such a formulation overlooks Marx's view that
  capitalism was historically progressive because it
  materially expanded the reproduction of society. If
  capitalism destroys society (i.e.the working class)
  while "booming" for capitalists, or if it destroys the
  environment and shortcircuits all possible social
  reproduction, Heinrich's portrait of the future will
  be meaningless.

  I have myself argued in different texts that the
  defeat of the old revolutionary movement (particularly
  in 1917-1921, and to a lesser extent the explosion of
  1968-1977) occurred precisely because capitalism had
  new territories into which it could expand. But this
  expansion does not change the fact that something
  fundamental seemed to change in capitalist
  accumulation around the time of World War I. Broadly
  speaking, pre-1914 capitalist growth expanded the
  working class
  as a percentage of the world capitalist population.
  German and American competition squeezed the
  circumstances of British workers, true enough, but
  capitalist innovation was creating new proletarians
  all the time, not eliminating them. The situation
  today is quite different. The rise of the new Asian
  economies happens at the EXPENSE of the working class
  in the West. There is a net contraction, in value
  terms, of the global social wage. Heinrich doesn't
  mention that even China has LOST 20 million industrial
  jobs through its boom, and 100 million layoffs were
  announced at the party congress in 1997. Korea, hailed
  as the "next Japan" 20 years ago, is today being
  squeezed by Chinese competition as China moves "up the
  value chain". Vietnam and Bangladesh have surpassed
  China in the race to the bottom in wages. Outsourcing
  to India has raised wages in the high tech sector to
  the point that, already, the costs of outsourcing are
  becoming not worth the trouble.

  Heinrich mentions two world wars, the great
  depression, fascism and the Holocaust as if they were
  some anomaly, when in fact they signaled a qualitative
  break from the nature of crisis in capitalism in the
  1815-1914 period.
  There are those of us, and I am one of them, who see
  in those events a "decadent" phase of capitalism. Does
  Heinrich imagine that the U.S. will peacefully hand
  its imperial status over to the Asian powers, any more
  than Britain lost its hegemony to America through
  exactly the decades of upheaval he describes?

  These are just some of the questions I would raise.
  Perhaps 50 years from now they will appear as
  irrelevant, and in fact based on developments that
  were indeed anomalies. I have been wrong often enough
  be modest in predictions. But there is a complacency
  that comes through Heinrich's (admittedly short)
  historical overview that communicates a "nothing new
  under the sun" view that plays fast and loose with
  both history and the present.



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