Re: [OPE] Finance Capital - J. B. Foster - Klassekampen

From: Anders Ekeland <>
Date: Mon Oct 20 2008 - 00:10:46 EDT

Dear all,

"Klassekampen" (KK) (Class struggle) was build up
by the Norwegian Maoist movement from the early
seventies. First monthly, then weekly, then a
daily newspaper from 1977 (if I remember correct).

But the paper always had a broader readership on
the left. When the Maoist movement destalinized
in the late eighties and early nineties the
left-wing of the Socialist Left Party (who always
had supported the paper) became more central
economically, politically and as
journalists/contributors, but still the cadre
from the Maoist movement is fundamental for keeping the paper going.

Klassekampen is growing slowly, but steadily and
has now more than 10.000 subscribers. It is now
the common "property" of the radical, democratic socialist left in Norway.

Klassekampen is the most positive, long-term
result of the very strong Norwegian Maoist
movement. Around 3000 "core" activists at it's peak in 1975/1976.


At 02:28 19.10.2008, you wrote:
>Anders (or anyone else who knows): who and/or
>what political tendency publishes
>this newspaper?
>In solidarity, Jerry
>Capital and the Crisis
>Interview of John Bellamy Foster for Norwegian Daily, Klassekampen
>Klassekampen: Is the credit crisis a symptom of
>overaccumulation of capital? It seems to me
>that investments worldwide, but especially in
>the United States, were funneled into the
>traditionally "safe" housing market following
>the bursting of the dotcom-bubble. This
>overinvestment in turn generated a new bubble,
>thus causing today's havoc. Is this correct?
>JBF: Yes, I agree that this is due to what might
>be called an overaccumulation of capital in a
>number of senses: an overbuilding of productive
>capacity (physical capital) in relation to a
>demand constrained by monopoly within what
>economists call the "real" (as opposed to
>financial) economy, an overamassing of profits
>and wealth at the top of society, and a
>hypertrophy of financial claims to wealth. In
>terms of the financial crisis itself, there has
>been a massive, highly leveraged expansion of
>money claims to wealth, creating a huge debt
>overhang, and forcing, at this moment, a massive
>devaluation of capital. All of this is related,
>however, to the breakdown of the capital
>formation process, accumulation proper, in an
>increasingly stagnant real economy. These are
>contradictions of what I have called the phase
>Capital" (Monthly Review, December 2006).
>The bursting of the or New Economy
>bubble in 2000 resulted in what has been dubbed
>"the great bubble transfer" whereby the bursting
>of the New Economy bubble compelled the Federal
>Reserve to lower the main interest rate it
>controls (the Federal Funds rate), leading to a
>new and more massive bubble based in home
>mortgages, the dangers of which were apparent
>early on (see
>Household Debt Bubble," Monthly Review, May
>2006). This involved an enormous expansion of
>consumer debt despite the fact that real wages
>had been stagnant in the United States since the
>1970s creating an unstable situation. It also
>involved the need on the part of capital to book
>ever increasing profits from finance, achieved
>through securitization of every form of what had
>previously been individual debts -- especially
>home mortgages. This in turn led to the
>extension of mortgage financing to riskier and
>riskier customers under the theory that new
>"risk management" techniques had devised the
>means (hailed -- bizarrely -- by some as the
>equivalent of the great technological advances
>in the real economy) with which to separate the
>weaker from the stronger debts within the new
>securities. These new debt securities were then
>"insured" against default by such means as
>credit-debt swaps, supposedly reducing risk
>still further. This was the ideology behind the
>housing bubble. (See
>Financialization of Capital and the Crisis," Monthly Review, April 2008.)
>Klassekampen: To what can capital turn
>now? Will it generate another bubble in even
>"safer" areas, such as natural
>resources? Food? I must admit that western
>financial capital does not seem to be very
>geographically expansive at the moment, but could this change?
>JBF: I don't think capital has anywhere to turn
>in the immediate situation, that is, there is no
>hope for restarting accumulation right now. One
>hears all the time about the creation of new
>bubbles, and certainly since financialization is
>how capital in the monopoly-finance phase has
>sought to combat stagnation, this is a natural
>enough question to ask. But it is often treated
>as though bubbles, i.e. major speculative
>episodes within the more ongoing
>financialization process, can be based on
>anything whatsoever. Historically, however,
>such speculative bubbles in the advanced
>capitalist economies are based in the stock
>market and real estate. Neither is likely to be
>expansive at present. We are in a period in
>which a massive wiping out of value is taking
>place, which will eventually, as in all such
>occasions in the history of capitalism, create
>the basis for renewed accumulation. But the
>process has to work its way out first. Right
>now we can say that there is a crisis of
>financialization on top of stagnation, pulling
>the economy doubly down. A speculative bubble
>in natural resources or food is hard to imagine
>since these are known to be the most volatile
>areas in which to invest; right now commodity
>prices are dropping rapidly in response to world
>recession, increasing fears of deflation, and
>placing third world economies especially in danger.
>The system has geographically expanded
>throughout its history and in recent decades,
>but is coming up against limits in this regard
>today. Just think of the massive
>depeasantization of the world that we have seen
>in the past few decades, perhaps the greatest
>movement of peoples in all of human history, in
>effect a whole new set of enclosures on a global
>scale. China's enhanced role in the world
>economy, indeed the only significant sustained
>source of growth in the global economy for more
>than a decade, on balance seems not to have
>increased the stability of the system -- if
>anything the reverse. Geographically, and in
>terms of imperialism, we are up against the kind
>of absolute limits of capitalist expansion
>pointed to by Rosa Luxemburg. This also has an
>ecological aspect to it. The best analysis I
>know of this problem is an article by Jason
>Moore entitled "Ecology and the Agrarian
>Question in World-Historical perspective," which
>we are publishing in the November 2008 issue of
>Monthly Review, though the work of
><>Harvey and
>in this area is also crucial.
>Klassekampen: Our very own Svein Gjedrem, chief
>of the Norwegian central bank, has confirmed
>that this crisis is the worst since the
>thirties. Just a year before he and other
>experts reassured us that the subprime crisis
>was "an American phenomenon" and would "quickly
>pass." Why does modern economics fail to predict such cataclysmic events?
>JBF: The fact that we are confronted with the
>worst financial and economic crisis in the
>advanced capitalist world since the 1930s is an
>empirical fact that no informed individual at
>this point doubts. The failure to predict in
>the era of monopoly-finance capital and
>financialization has to do with a number of
>factors, including the psychology of all
>speculative booms throughout the history of the
>system. As
>observed in Capital, "Business is always
>thoroughly sound, and the campaign in full
>swing, until the sudden intervention of the
>collapse" (Capital, vol. 3, chapter 30).
>With respect to economic theory, one can point
>to the deficiencies of orthodox or neoclassical
>capitalist economics, which has no way of
>understanding these things within its
>fundamental model. Basically, it assumes a kind
>of non-relation between what it calls the "real
>economy" and the money or financial
>economy. The belief is that what goes on in the
>realm of credit/finance is meant to service the
>real economy, providing it with needed financing
>(and financial services generally). But beyond
>that what happens in this realm (the amassing of
>money claims to wealth) has no actual connection
>to the underlying economy, and operates by its
>own principles. Nor, for that matter, do
>orthodox economists normally deal with the real
>economy in any meaningful historical sense. The
>fact that finance was lifting the whole economy
>was of course known at some level, but the
>underlying stagnation tendencies in the latter,
>apparent since the 1970s, were conveniently
>ignored as long as profits kept on going
>up. Part of the problem is that mainstream
>economics has long left behind its relatively
>rational stage (abandoning even Keynes) and
>adopted a whole series of inane doctrines such
>as monetarism, supply-side economics, rational
>expectations theory, new classical economics,
>etc. When this crisis hit, the dominant
>perspective of central bankers in the United
>States, led by Federal Reserve Board Chairman
>Ben Bernanke (an academic economist who had
>specialized in monetarist interpretations of the
>Great Depression), was that it was simply a
>problem of liquidity and that you could drop
>money from helicopters, if need be (a notion of
>Milton Friedman's, promoted by Bernanke, earning
>the latter the nickname
>Needless to say, the sheer stupidity exhibited
>by a theory premised on assuming equilibrium
>within the context of an irrational system of
>competitive, unregulated, and indeed
>institutionalized greed is at all times hard to
>fathom. Neoclassical economics has long ceased
>(at least in its theoretical assumptions) to be
>political economy, and its practitioners have
>therefore long dispatched any notion of class,
>power, etc. from their analysis, replacing these
>with largely meaningless abstractions. Indeed,
>this is so much the case that in business
>circles neoclassical economics is often viewed
>as useless in any real-world terms, including
>the making of money. Nor do they grasp
>dialectical connections, having adopted timeless
>mechanical models. In contrast, the weaknesses
>of orthodox economics in all of these respects
>represent the strengths of Marxian political economy.
>Klassekampen: Marx's analysis is that under
>capitalism, the productive forces are shackled
>by the productive system. Today, viable
>businesses are going bankrupt because of lack of
>credit from the financial sector. Is this a
>sign of increasing conflict between productive
>and unproductive forces? When the workers have
>to pay for the bailout of aggressive banks, is
>this a form of "primitive accumulation"? Has
>the financial system outplayed its role in furthering production?
>JBF: The crisis is a clear illustration of the
>point that productive forces are shackled by the
>existing relations of production (i.e., class,
>property relations). In the present case, the
>combination of stagnation in the real economy
>and the imperative of ever increased
>accumulation of capital, demanded by the
>capitalist relations of production, led to
>accelerating concentration of profit in the
>financial sector. In recent years in the United
>States, over 40% of all profit in the entire
>economy was concentrated in monopolized
>finance. But these booked profits were
>ultimately based on the assurance of future
>payments by workers ever more squeezed in the
>stagnating real economy. Then the payments on
>subprime debt faltered, and as a result of the
>completely opaque securitization process, no one
>knew which debts were bad and which were
>good. At the same time, the illusion that
>derivatives constituted "insurance" against
>default completely evaporated -- indeed it
>turned out to be the equivalent of adjoining
>house owners insuring each other against fire
>when the whole neighborhood burns down. Credit
>markets froze because the banks and other
>financial institutions were ceasing to lend
>since the borrowers could not be counted on to
>pay them back. The banks themselves were
>insolvent, their capital had disappeared, and
>they could not pay their current debts, were they forced to do so.
>Under these circumstances, no matter how many
>hundreds of billions of dollars in liquidity
>were poured into the financial sector, nothing
>happened. All those with money, including the
>banks, were hoarding. The U.S. was printing
>dollars like mad and flooding the financial
>sector with liquidity, but rather than loaning
>out money capital the banks were stuffing it in
>their vaults, or more precisely using it to
>purchase Treasury bills, creating a kind of
>revolving door that negated the attempts of the
>government. Faced with an insolvency crisis,
>and the prospect not of making money but of
>being presented with claims they owed but could
>not pay, the banks did exactly what Keynes had
>said they would do under such circumstances:
>they simply hoarded cash. At present, the
>authorities have prevented a complete meltdown
>(in the U.S. version of a plan adopted with some
>variation by all the advanced capitalist
>countries) by injecting capital directly into
>banks in return for preferred stock (a partial
>nationalization of banks), guaranteeing new debt
>of banks, and increasing deposit insurance. In
>the United States alone this is estimated
>potentially to cost
>trillion -- far beyond the $700 billion bailout
>of a couple of weeks ago (New York Times,
>October 15, 2008). This is a desperate attempt
>to stop the financial avalanche.
>This is all part of the present financial
>crisis. But, as you point out, the problem goes
>much deeper, and there has not yet been any
>serious attempt anywhere to deal with the real
>economy, and the relation between it and
>speculative finance. In broad terms, it makes
>sense to speak not so much of a conflict between
>productive and unproductive capital as between
>production and finance, in a context of what we
>now understand as a dialectic of stagnation and
>financialization. The classic statement of the
>problem can be found in Harry Magdoff and Paul
>Sweezy's essay
>and Finance" in their book
>and the Financial Explosion, published in
>1986. More recently, you can look at my essay,
>Financialization of Capitalism" (Monthly Review, April 2007).
>I don't think it is much help to call the
>bailing out of banks by workers through taxpayer
>funds "primitive accumulation." The latter
>concept has a very specific meaning in classical
>economics and Marxian theory, related to the
>laying of the foundations for a capitalist
>system of self-perpetuating
>accumulation. Rather, the forcing of wage
>earners to carry the responsibility for more
>debt, which is used to justify further cutbacks
>in government programs that benefit the vast
>majority of people at the bottom, should be seen
>more straightforwardly as a means of increasing
>the rate of exploitation through the medium of
>the state, and of redistributing income and
>wealth from the poor to the rich. Capital has
>innumerable ways, including of course
>unemployment, for transferring the costs of a
>crisis onto the backs of workers and all of
>these techniques will be used. Marx once
>ironically said (in Capital) that the only part
>of the national wealth that belonged to everyone
>in the society, including the working class, was
>debt. The national debt, serviced mainly by
>those at the bottom of society, then becomes the
>means of supporting the national wealth in
>private hands. As for bailing out capital, this
>is the first rule of capitalism in every
>crisis. There is nothing new about this, only the scale of the problem.
>In asking whether financial system has
>"outplayed its role in furthering the system,"
>you are getting to the crux of the matter. The
>essential problem, focusing particularly on the
>U.S. situation, is this. There has been a
>creeping economic stagnation since the
>1970s. Growth rates have been gradually slowing
>over the decades (with of course cyclical ups
>and downs within the larger trend). Looking
>decade by decade, utilization of plant and
>equipment (productive capacity) has been
>dropping, the number of jobs (particularly good
>jobs) has been disappearing, real wages have
>been stuck, household debt has been rising, net
>investment has faltered, income and wealth
>inequality has been increasing. In the United
>States today the top 1 percent of wealth holders
>own twice as much as the bottom 80 percent (if
>we were talking about financial wealth, i.e.
>excluding equity in owner-occupied housing, it
>would be four times). Under these
>circumstances, characterized by rising rates of
>exploitation, what has mainly kept the system
>going is the financial explosion, which through
>the "wealth effect" (a term used for the fact
>that people tend to consume part of any increase
>in equity, whether in homes or stocks,
>especially if they think the market goes only
>one way -- up) has been the main force spurring
>the economy. There are other factors, of
>course. Thus actual U.S. spending on the
>military in 2007 was $1 trillion, helping to put
>a floor under the economy
>U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending,"
>Monthly Review, October 2008). But the
>financial explosion was the main means of
>lifting the system. That appears to be all over
>for the time being, with what will likely be an
>extended crisis of financialization; and that
>means that stagnation tendencies, never far
>below the surface, are resurfacing in a big
>way. U.S. consumption (which accounts around 70
>percent of U.S. GDP and is critical to world
>demand) is plummeting, and with it nearly everything else.
>We should not spend time worrying about the
>capitalist class. The real pain is going to
>fall on the working class in the advanced
>capitalist countries, and even more so those in
>the poorer and "emerging" countries. We
>(meaning the left) should be devoting our
>efforts to helping those whose needs are
>greatest at the bottom of the economic pyramid,
>rather than seeking to fix a broken system (even
>if it could be fixed). Ultimately, it is a
>political and a class question. It is a new
>historical moment, when the working class
>everywhere, especially in the advanced
>capitalist states, may at last be compelled by
>circumstances to begin to fight back -- and in
>ways that go against the logic of a predatory
>system that is tearing down the whole world and the world's people with it.
>John Bellamy Foster is editor of
><>Monthly Review. This
>interview was conducted on 15 October 2008 for a
>story being written for the Norwegian daily
><>Klassekampen (Class
>Struggle) dealing with Marxist views of the
>crisis. The interview is provided here in full.
>URL: <>
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