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ImageJoseph Choonara, author of Unravelling Capitalism, started off my first Marxism festival, with his talk “The rate of profit and capitalism today”. He follows the Financial Times and other financial press very closely, and finds that mainstream debates are usually between austerians and Keynesians. Those in favour of austerity believe that cutting public sector spending is necessary, while Keynesians believe that austerity has gone too far and that public sector spending is needed. This is sometimes called “making capitalism work for socialism”. Joseph argues that, while Keynesian policies are preferable for the working class, neither positions deal with a fundamental global problem: low level of investment. Using statistics on US and European economies, he shows how the long-term tendency is for the return of investment to fall, and how stimulus (like that of 2008) or any other state involvement fails to restore profitability.

These problems are then related to the increase of ‘dead labour’ in ratio to ‘living labour’. That is, technology replacing the need for so many workers. A familiar example is one checkout assistant supervising six self-service checkouts, rather than six workers, each with their own checkout. This is an inevitability, not something that bosses really have a choice in. Given these problems, along with overproduction, isn’t it a surprise that the capitalist mode of production didn’t meet its maker 150 years ago? Choonara explains that crises themselves find ways of restoring capitalism.

Though the terminology was hard to follow at times, the talk contained well-known examples to illustrate points, from the selling off of Woolworths for £10 to the high profitability after the destruction of World War Two. For a beginner in economics, this talk made it clear how concepts that often seem abstract and inconsequential in fact affect our lives and create struggle. An open discussion followed, in which many members of the packed lecture room asked questions on fictional capital, the Labour Party, and one speaker pointed out that 25 families in Greece own 75% of the country’s wealth. On the question of how optimistic socialists should be, Choonara ended the talk by borrowing a phrase from Antonio Gramsci: “Optimism of activity, pessimism of intellect”.

Michael Roberts’ blog was suggested for someone an economist who stands outside of mainstream debate.

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When describing our political positions, Socialist Workers Party members and other international socialists often use the term ‘revolutionary socialist’. It is a useful term as it distinguishes us from left-reformists. By why is ‘communism’ so avoided? Why are we not a more openly ‘communist party’? We agree with Lenin’s understanding of the state, and so socialism is not an end goal for us, but a transitional period: “So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.”

Richard Seymour, in a TV interview on his book Unhitched, said that he calls himself a revolutionary socialist only to disassociate himself from the negative aspects and failures of the Soviet Union. I am a bit more optimistic: eventually, as more people accept that there is alternative to capitalism’s inevitable exploitation and crises, it will become more and more necessary to talk about communism and reclaim the word. So why wait?

One of the many groups that set up a stall outside Marxism 2013 was the Communist Party Imageof Great Britain, from whom I got some great badges. I explained to them this problem and told them that I admired them for using the word openly. On the argument that it is so strongly tied to Stalinism, one member said, “So is socialism. So is Marxism. But we can’t explain what we’re about without them.”

Another group I talked to and took some material from was the International Bolshevik Tendency, often known as ‘orthodox Trotskyists’ for their theory of the USSR as a workers degenerated state, as opposed to the theory of State Capitalism. They describe themselves as Marxists and I asked an IBT activist whether or not his organisation is Marxist-Leninist. He said no, as this term is used mainly by Stalinists. Later in the conversation we talked positively about the application of Lenin’s theories. Like the majority of the SWP, here was a Marxist and a Leninist who couldn’t call himself a Marxist-Leninist! If the experience of Stalinism has proven one thing, and maybe it has only proven one thing, it’s how easy it is to change the meaning or connotation of a word, so I suggest comrades start saying ‘communist’ in more of their political arguments.