the historical limits of capitalism

Just as feudalism was historically limited, so too capitalism, writes duvinrouge.

The rise of capitalists and their taking power from the nobility was a reflection of the changing economic conditions as manufacturing became more important than agriculture. Looking back, it’s quite easy to understand how the increasingly economically powerful capitalists seized power. The case for the workers taking power isn’t so obvious though. Many seem to think that capitalism will continue forever unless a political party can persuade working people of a better alternative. Such a subjectivist position shows a lack of understanding of how capitalism works and what Marx was getting at in Volume III of Das Kapital.

‘The Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit’ is part three of Volume III. To understand the importance of this requires a good understanding of how capitalism works, what value is and in particular, the difference between absolute and relative surplus value. Value is essentially labour time. Not necessarily the sum of all actual labour time that has gone into all commodities produced, but the market-determined ‘socially necessarily’ labour time; not all commodities taken to market are bought at prices that cover their costs and return a profit because the capitalist has to anticipate demand. (Don’t worry if you don’t fully grasp ‘socially necessary’ labour time, the key point is values (prices) reflect labour time).

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euro crisis is more than a euro crisis

Even if there was no Euro, or even if there was the Euro and political union, there would still be a crisis. Why? Because the crisis is a crisis of value, says duvinrouge.

That’s not to understate the problem of trying to get economic convergence of divergent economies through monetary union. It cannot be done without a political union that is prepared to use regional policy and the consequent transfer of wealth from north to south. Even without the backdrop of world capitalist crisis the Euro‘s future would be in doubt. But it is the recurrent capitalist crises that bring such problems to a head. And still it is left to Marxists to explain why capitalism is crisis.

Say’s law (supply creates its own demand) does not hold because production is commodity production – things are produced to be exchanged for money, furthermore a monetary amount greater than the original outlay. This increase in value occurs in production – the amount paid to labour in wages is less than the value created by the labourer. But it’s not just about increasing value in production; there’s also the need for the effective demand – money – to be there.

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marxist crisis theory – cyclical and breakdown

duvinrouge attempts to explain cyclical crises and longer term trends

A lot of Marxists seem confused about economic crises. Some evoke the fall in the rate of profit to explain cyclical crises, some underconsumption, some forget the law of value and sound like establishment economists,  while some just forget the materialist foundations of Marx and drift into a world of subjective will powering the class struggle. So here’s an attempt to explain the nature of an abstract cyclical crisis and how it differs from breakdown.

A cyclical crisis is just over-production. An overproduction of commodities relative to the commodity that acts as the universal equivalent – money. In otherwords, production runs ahead of the market. There is a problem realising surplus value. As the law of value asserts itself commodity production falls, i.e. there’s a recession.

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a beginner’s guide to marx’s capital

Whilst England has been rioting, capitalism’s crisis continues. duvinrouge offers an insight into Marx’s study of capital.

“A critique of political economy” was the subtitle of Marx’s book Capital. The political economists portrayed profit, rent & wages as the just returns for the three factors of production: land, labour & capital. Marx argued that such surface level appearances were seriously misleading. That both profit & rent actually came from value created by workers. Furthermore, that capitalism was actually just the latest mode of production & that because of its contradictions would be replaced by a higher form called communism.

Marx’s book on capital was part of a wider plan. He also intended to write books on landed property, wage labour, the state, international trade & the world market. As it turned out he only managed to publish volume I of Capital with volumes II & III being published after his death. Volume I looks at the production of capital, volume II at the circulation of capital & III considers capital as a whole. Continue reading “a beginner’s guide to marx’s capital”

marx, bakunin and the question of authoritarianism

David Adam casts doubt on the traditional narrative regarding the question of authoritarianism in the Marx-Bakunin conflict

Historically, Bakunin’s criticism of Marx’s “authoritarian” aims has tended to overshadow Marx’s critique of Bakunin’s “authoritarian” aims. This is in large part due to the fact that mainstream anarchism and Marxism have been polarized over a myth—that of Marx’s authoritarian statism—which they both share.1

Thus, the conflict in the First International is directly identified with a disagreement over anti-authoritarian principles, and Marx’s hostility toward Bakunin is said to stem from his rejection of these principles, his vanguardism, etc. Anarchism, not without justification, posits itself as the “libertarian” alternative to the “authoritarianism” of mainstream Marxism. Because of this, nothing could be easier than to see the famous conflict between the pioneering theorists of these movements—Bakunin and Marx—as a conflict between absolute liberty and authoritarianism. This essay will bring this narrative into question. It will not do this by making grand pronouncements about Anarchism and Marxism in the abstract, but simply by assembling some often neglected evidence. Bakunin’s ideas about revolutionary organization lie at the heart of this investigation. Continue reading “marx, bakunin and the question of authoritarianism”

is marxism just too abstract?

by Nathan Coombs

The following commentary is in response to a forum organized by The Commune and the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, held in London on July 5, 2010.  This involved a talk by Anne Jaclard, “You Can’t Change the Mode of Production with a Political Agenda,” followed by a talk by Andrew Kliman, “The Transformation of Capitalism into Communism in the Critique of the Gotha Program.” Both talks can be read here.

In 1965 Louis Althusser opened his famous paean For Marx with a withering reflection on French theoretical culture at the time. He bemoaned the fact that ‘we have spent the best part of our time in agitation when we would have been better employed in the defence of our right and duty to know’.[i] The result of which was ‘the stubborn, profound absence of any theoretical culture’; whereas, he claimed, ‘Marxism should not be simply a political doctrine, a ‘method’ of analysis and action, but also, over and above the rest, the theoretical domain of fundamental investigation’.[ii] For this task Althusser saw as indispensable the role of intellectuals committed to necessary theoretical work.

Plato: an 'abstract' proto-communist?

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david harvey: the enigma of capital

Sharon Borthwick reports on Marxist geographer David Harvey’s recent talk in London

The Great Hall at King’s College London was packed to capacity and beyond on 28th April, with people standing at the sides and sitting in the aisles. It put me in mind of Nathan Coombs surmising on where all the numbers of the left attending academic conferences were the rest of the time.

How can we, maybe, capture and utilise the level of interest shown on these occasions? This particular audience was made up of SWPers and Kings College and other students. The usual papers were sold outside. Continue reading “david harvey: the enigma of capital”