[OPE-L:324] Thoughts (fwd)

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Tue, 24 Oct 1995 05:14:47 -0700

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 21:31:15 +1000
From: bill mitchell <ECWFM@cc.newcastle.edu.au>
To: ope-l@anthrax.ecst.csuchico.edu
Subject: Thoughts

G'day. This is my first email to this list. Most of you will know me from pkt
and pen-l. in case you don't i am a person who says he is a marxist but often
wonders what it means. i guess it provides a clue to my concerns. i haven't yet
caught up with all the reading that preceeded my m'ship following jerry's kind
invitation to join. my lack of membership was not a sign of disinterest, but
rather that i was away visiting michael at chico when the post went out and i
was having hassles getting connected (eh michael!). so i just missed a stack of
pen-l days.

so i haven't yet worked out my position on being a member of this rather
exclusive group. i haven't actually worked out whether (a) i should belong to
this group, and (b) whether groups like this should exist. I am working on it
though. I guess i waver between thinking about futile time consumption and
exciting synergy.

i think back to my earlier days (i am 43 years old now). I studied maths, music
and philosophy first. a musical technocrat. I had a big dose of marx in the
philosophy and politics components of my first degree studies. i read
everything i could and knew all the defences of this position and that. i was a
very active radical at school and univ. and spent 564 days in a state prison
for political crimes relating to the vietnam war in the early 1970s. i thought
that i was part of the spearhead, the revolutionary cell, that would take
capitalism by storm and turn OZ at least into a socialist, then communist green
commune. it didn't happen and i never was lost as to why it didn't. capitalism
had successfully bought everyone off with its marvellously successful provision
of consumer items to the middle class and the credit to buy them with.

I later took an economics degree into postgrad as i realised that i had better
at least make myself useful. in reality, i wanted more time to spend training
and pursuing an international cycle racing career and i also became fed up with
teaching classical piano and guitar technique (my specialisations at uni) to
the kids of the bourgoisie who really were only wanting to rebel and play wild
lead guitar breaks that ruined their left hand technique.

when i think of myself as an economist, it is the most partial sense of the
word. I only am interested in a very narrow subset of economics issues. i found
orthodox economics incredibly easy. my maths helped of-course. i used to laugh
at the stuff they would serve up to us and thought of it as a meagre
obsfucation of the reality. btw, i had grown up in a very poor family (my old
man was an alcoholic labourer who drank all his pitiful wage away. he was a
tough left wing man though. the sort that i would not ever want to replicate.
racist, sexist, environmentally destructive, and ignorant. but super left in
the 1950s tradition. never let his mates down. fight the company until it went
broke type of guy). i knew about marxism when i was 10 - i just didn't know the
analysis. it was at the level of feeling rather than intellect. when i studied
it rather closely later i just added jargon to the conceptual feeling i had
when i was 10.

i do not want to have a discussion on this list b/tw radical and orthodoxy.
that is a sterile debate. i don't find anything useful at all in orthodox
economic thinking. it is the wrong framework, can only answer (at best) trivial
and uninteresting questions, and has little to do with the questions that
remain to be answered by economists. it is a playground for the unimaginative
and irrelevant people. it may be a necessary path to take for a young radical
who wants to find security in the non-conformity of their position - to
challenge and argue that out - but not for me. i spent too many years of my life
already arguing with that lot. learning all their stuff and learning all the
mistakes, errors etc. too much time wasted.

i think that with the remaining years that i have plenty of "our" stuff to
develop and work on. now what is "our" stuff. well it goes back to my starting
point - i say i am a marxist but i wonder what that means.

which relates to Jerry's plea to lets get going. Substantially cut, he
>2) Why are we here? I would suggest that the reason is agreement with
>the following:
> "I have heard Marxists repeat over and over again how Marx's analysis
> of capitalism was incomplete and how we need to further the work on
> political economy that Marx began. Yet, in my view, Marxist economists
> spend far more time defending Marx from attack, then advancing his
> analysis."

>3) If we agree with the above, then I pose the following topic for
> Given our diversity, what specific tasks can we undertake that will
> allow us to set in motion a dynamic that will help, eventually, to
> further our understanding of capitalism?

Do we want to understand capitalism any further? Hands up anyone on the list
who would say they haven't more or less worked out how capitalism operated.

Do we want to spend a lot of time on theoretical issues?

I guess my main research agenda in the next several years is to understand more
about the options. The problem is capitalist production, what are the
solutions. the problem is multi-dimensioned, and can be understood in many
different ways - gender problems, poverty problems, race problems, north-south
problems, environmental problems, material versus non-material approach
problems. etc.

i used to think a deep understanding about every nuance of value theory might
help prior to praxis. i am less convinced now. I am more interested in how
communities can sort of develop communism within capitalism and then link up
and then........

i am not sure about anything much anymore. that is why i waver b/tw futility
and excitement. i used to think that global solutions were a reality. now i
waver b/tw securing coherence within the community, where that might just mean
one's immediate family. i used to think it was an important prior to practical
action to shore up all of marx into some defensible. now i don't think that is
at all a reasonable goal. why shore up the work of someone who wrote for but a
brief time in a dynamic history. i take with me his method of analysis. i take
his fundamental juxtaposition of capitalist goals and the contradictory
aspirations of the workers, and how the necessity of joint interaction spawns
the dynamics we study as capitalism. in a sense, i think all that is totally
irrelevant to the real issues of finding environmentally sustainable forms of
community life. i am not a luddite. i don't reject technology at all. i
actually thrive on its liberating facets. i now play in a one person band of
many (via midi and digital synthesis). i am now part of organisations (like
this list) which as a person who lives in a rural area on the east coast of a
very remote country (in physical terms) was never imaginable some years ago.
the tyranny of the distance (a famous oz history book about how we developed
down here such a long way from most people) is no longer a constraint in
communication terms. so i see technology as part of the future communism.

i worry about the type of questions that braverman raised - the ideology of
technology. i am a sceptic. i asked some high powered soviet economists who
visited the uni. when i was studying economics (they came as some part of
cultural interchanges) (remember OZ has had a somewhat different post-war
development in terms of tolerance to views and legitimacy (and legality for
that matter) of political parties than say the US), - anyway, i asked them what
difference was it for a worker in the soviet union to get up at 6.00 in the
morning in the dark and cold, and then go to work all day in a factory where
they only contributed a part in repetition to whatever was being made and then
go home to the house and watch tv and drink booze....cf. to a guy in melbourne
victoria who did the same thing. on an everyday level, fuck all. they actually
said, after some embarrassing exchanges between them and the interpreter that
it was complex. but the basic difference was in the surplus. where it went and
who benefitted. okay i thought, now we are talking practical things. work is
shit and tools transcend prodution modes, but the surplus can be expropriated
or appropriated. anyway, i worry about technology and its ideology.

i have never worried about the LTV. i have never been a neoricardian or a fan
of joan robinson. i have read her work closely and all the other i always took
the matter to be "what determines profit?" are profits sourced in production or
exchange? all the gymnastics in the world won't get a better insight into that
than marx himself provided. in saying i am a marxist, i am saying that
capitalists receive income that they do not earn. now to then go into the
exchange level and get worried about the mapping back into the level of essence
is not something i have ever really been into.

Australian radicals seem to get a more thorough training in kaleckian thinking
than say the US left. John king (at latrobe as in howard and king) has a lovely
paper on why the US pkt economists ignored kalecki. anyway, kalecki was a
marxist like me. or me like him, of-course. when it came to prices, he sought
that explanation separate from values. of-course, he knew that there was a
global relation between all profits and the production sourced surplus. he knew
that marx and others following had spent a fair time working it through. but he
was not an academic in fact. he was a practical man. and so his papers
reflected that bent.

so i am going to end this thinking out aloud session here. i feel i am among
friends here. quite a different feeling to being on pkt and even pen-l,
although i am unsure what this group can achieve that pen-l cannot. i guess my
summary point is that i am more concerned these days with things that work even
if they are not attacking the major problems.

to illustrate, i would be more happy if we all built up a case for being
vegetarian based on environmental grounds, as the basis of a new order, than i
would be spending hours re-reading things that cannot really help clean the
rivers. i am stylising to put the point in relief. but i would just like to
ride along for a while while i read all the history to date (from august) and
think a little more. it is very rare, no, that one is part of this sort of
family. i want to be a good member, i just have to work out how.

take care

         ####    ##        William F. Mitchell
       #######   ####      Head of Economics Department
     #################     University of Newcastle
   ####################    New South Wales, Australia
   ###################*    E-mail: ecwfm@cc.newcastle.edu.au
   ###################     Phone: +61 49 215065
    #####      ## ###             +61 49 215027
                           Fax:   +61 49 216919  
WWW Home Page: http://econ-www.newcastle.edu.au/~bill/billyhp.html   

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