Joseph 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.
The Principles of Communism was written the year before the much more widely disseminated Manifesto of the Communist Party in conditions that would be hard to recognise today, lacking much of the terminology that Marxist theory now takes for granted. So why is it still of any usefulness or interest?
Engels answers 25 questions, starting with “What is communism?” and ending with a description of communists’ perspectives on other political parties.
After defining communism as simply, “the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat”, Engels explains what it means to be a proletarian and how the proletariat originated. He argues that this class is the child of the industrial revolution of the last half of the eighteenth century. The orthodoxy now is that this revolution was hugely beneficial for all involved. Engels instead says that the development of capitalist technology, with all its liberating potential, renders the workers’ means of production useless (the example of the loom is given). This gave rise to a much more unequal and polarised society, in which the class of “big capitalists” owns the vast majority of the means for subsistence and production, for example factories.
Based on a talk that I gave to the Kent Socialist Workers Party group. To many people these ideas will be obvious, but sometimes it helps to be reminded of the obvious. References are at the bottom.
There are three main tasks that face a revolutionary socialist party. The first is the SWP’s role, or any socialist party’s role, as an antifascist opposition; second is the importance of education on socialism: this topic is the majority of this article; third is the importance of internationalism and of relating individual struggles, as explained by Duncan Hallas.
At the recent Party Council of the SWP (June 2nd), Weyman Bennett (UAF) made a point about the role of socialists in fighting the far right. Recent experience has shown that social-democracy (that is, introducing socialist politics through reformist methods) in Europe, for example in Sweden, Denmark, and arguably the area controlled by our own Green Party, has shown no opposition to austerity. Many problems and kinds of unrest caused by capitalism make the rise of fascism all the easier. Trotsky in his last article (August 1940), Bonapartism, Fascism, and War gives many examples of these problems but there are three that are most relatable to our current situation: “the gravest crisis of capitalist society; growing confusion and indifference; the growth of hostility to the proletariat”.
I could give specific examples, but they are fairly self-explanatory. The polling strength of the racist Swedish Democrats is the result of scapegoating inequality and other social ills on immigrants. It is quite clear that if the periodical and inevitable crises of capitalism can lead to the popularity of fascist and right-wing populist ideas, a dedicated anti-capitalist party will also be the most effective antifascist party. Left-reformists themselves have a lot to answer for in the rise of the far right. The Labour party has taken a typically conservative stance on immigration, while Ed Milliband expresses his respect for UKIP. All this serves to normalise anti-immigrant hatred.