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

From: Michael Heinrich (m.heinrich@PROKLA.DE)
Date: Thu Aug 02 2007 - 10:35:37 EDT

I am glad, that my article provoqued some controversy. Therefore I have
to clarify some points.

The article was originally written for a German leftist (weekly)
newspaper and I had limited space of about 1400 words. Therefore some
important points are not mentioned at all and the mentioned points are
not argued in depth.

With this article I didn't intend to make precise long-term predictions.
When history is really an open process, such long-term predictions are
simply not possible. What I wanted to show was, that there are a lot of
signs that capitalism is in a period of extending and deepening world
wide. We are not in an end stage (or highest stage) of capitalist
development we are somewhere in a "middle" stage, where capitalism has a
lot of development potentials (and I don't know if something like a
"highest stage" will ever come into existence). It is true, that
capitalist development brought a lot of new forces of production, but
also this development was (and is) deeply destructive. On the one hand
it raised the standard of living, on the other hand it produced a lot of
poverty. May be the "economic miracle" that a limited number of
countries experienced in the 1960ies led to a different impression, but
I think this "miracle" was an exception, resting on very special
conditions. For the next decades an accelerated capitalist development
could go together with an increased development of poverty and
degradation world-wide and even in the highest developped capitalist
countries. The big potentials of capitalist development, on which I
wanted to point, are not very comfortable for the mass of people.

Why did I stress the capitalist potentials of development? It was meant
against the idea that capitalist development have reached a kind of
final stage or that a big crisis, which will change everything or even a
breakdown of capitalism will occur during the next decades (of course
such things can happen, but presently I don't see any good arguments
that this is more probable than it was in the past). I wanted to oppose
to some special (German) discussions but also to the habit many marxists
often have: in my eyes sometimes they behave like the prophets of the
old testament: Shouting to the people either you will change or the rage
of god will destroy you. It is this often repeated idea of  leftists,
that a decisive point is quite near and from this point on only two
opposing alternatives will exist: either revolution or war, either
socialism or barbarism. Usually such dramatic predictions flopped. And
when actually a catastrophy started, the starting points were overseen
or underestimated as it was the case, when the Nazis came to power in

To me it seems that a lot of leftist authors only feel confident, when
they can predict the next crisis, the next event, which will be the
turning point, when they can show the next limit of a further capitalist
development. Therefore they underestimate not by accident but
systematically the flexibility of captailism (and here I must say, that
I appreciate very much how frankly Loren Goldner admits the shortcomings
of his predictions). Opposing to that means not any "complacency" that
there is nothing new under the sun or even the idea of a peacefull
development (as Loren assumed at the end of his mail). That the hegemon
will not accept to lose its hegemony I pointed out (very shortly) in the
last sentences of my article. But to what I oppose is, that leftists
believe to need the prediciton of a catastrophy, of a radical different
development and so on  to argue against capitalism. Even when capitalism
is not in an actual crisis, even when no dramatic new development or
catastrophy is threatening, everyday life in "normal" capitalism is
reason enough to oppose fundamentally to this system.

In solidarity

glevy@PRATT.EDU schrieb:

>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
>  as
>  the "final" one, to result in either world revolution
>  or
>  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
>  to
>  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.
>  Loren
>    >

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