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For a New Zimmerwald

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On August 4, 1914, the First World War broke out. The Second International had an official policy of opposing the war. But this collapsed under the pressure of wartime hysteria and with a few brave exceptions, broke up with each section voting for workers to go to war to kill other workers. The remaining revolutionary forces regrouped at Zimmerwald in Switzerland in 1915 to take a stand against the war, calling for workers to turn their guns on their own ruling classes. [See Lenin’s ‘Socialism and War’] The ‘left’ at Zimmerwald were to be the core of the revolutionaries who went on to make the Russian revolution and build the 3rd Communist International. In a three-part article, we argue that we are living through a similar period were the left is not prepared to fight the drive to war. We call for the rallying of left forces in a new Zimmerwald to build a revolutionary opposition to new imperialist wars. Part one deals with the years before the conference at Zimmerwald in 1915.

[All page references are to ‘Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years.’-see endnote].

Many communist and revolutionary socialist forces around the world recognise that with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the victory of imperialism in the late 1980’s the workers of the world experienced an historic defeat. Yet, this defeat was not one that smashed all the past gains of workers won over the previous centuries. Nor could this victory postpone for long the onset of a more serious world recession that would once more see the workers and poor peasants mobilised in defence of their hard-won gains, and imperialism embark on a drive to war to revive its falling profits. The onset of the current world recession and the drive to war that began with the Gulf War in 1990 has vindicated this perspective. We are now facing a period of worsening crisis and polarisation of classes world-wide, that pits workers revolution against imperialist counter-revolution. The time has arrived once more for the surviving communist forces to rise up again against imperialist war to overthrow capitalism and build of a socialist world.

The situation resembles the crisis facing humanity with the onset of the first imperialist war in 1914. Workers in every country are being rallied by their bosses behind the national flag to go to war against ‘evil’ in whatever guise the ruling class says. We need to mobilise our forces in the same way that the communist fighters did against the first war at Zimmerwald in 1915 and Kienthal in 1916. Here they broke with the rotten International of Social Democracy and raised the cry for workers to shoot their bosses and not each other. In taking this stand they rallied around them the forces that would make the Russian Revolution and become the new Communist International, the 3rd international.

Zimmerwald, a town in Switzerland gave its name to a conference held in Sept 1915 to rally all the anti-war forces, pacifists, defencists, and the Bolsheviks. The majority refused to break with the 2nd International, while the Zimmerwald ‘Left’ called for “civil war not civil peace” and the overthrow of capitalism. The ‘Left’ position was rejected at Zimmerwald. By the end of 1916 the Left split from the majority so it could rally those sections of workers who were beginning to resist the war to its revolutionary program. The broad Zimmerwald movement was anti-war, but not anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist. It was still heavily influenced by chauvinism and pacifism. Why then did the Bolsheviks remain in it for more than a year? Did they, while they were inside, and while they were outside, adopt the best tactics to win workers over to the revolutionary position? These questions are important because a New Zimmerwald movement must avoid making the mistakes of the First. Before addressing these questions, what took the anti-war movement more than a year to unite at Zimmerwald? What were they doing in the years immediately before the outbreak of war and the year following?

Pre-Zimmerwald: Stuttgart 1907

The 2nd International didn’t suddenly jump on the nationalist bandwagon in August 1914. It had been moving in that direction for years. At the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 a sizable minority argued for a ‘socialist’ colonisation policy; i.e. that colonisation was necessary to advance human civilisation provided the method of colonisation was not exploitative! Bernstein (the famous German socialist) said “The colonies are there; we must come to terms with that. Socialists too should acknowledge the need for civilised peoples to act somewhat like guardians of the uncivilised”. (LSNI: 10). That made the imperialist countries out to be ‘civilised’! If they were bad imperialists and mistreated the colonies or immigrants, they could be made into ‘good’ imperialists, or even cease to be imperialist, with the correct ‘socialist’ colonial policy! Even though his ‘social imperialist’ tendency was outvoted, it showed that the rot was setting in. What was the material cause of this rot? Lenin was onto it.

Lenin commented:

“This vote on the colonial question is of very great importance. First, it strikingly showed up socialist opportunism, which succumbs to bourgeois blandishments. Secondly, it revealed a negative feature in the European labour movement, one that can do no little harm to the proletarian cause, and for that reason should receive serious attention. Marx frequently quoted a very significant saying by Sismondi. The proletarians of the ancient world, this saying runs, lived at the expense of society; while modern society lives at the expense of the proletarians…However, as the result of the extensive colonial policy, the European proletariat partly finds itself in a position when it is not its own labour, but the labour of the practically enslaved natives in the colonies, that maintains the whole society. In certain countries this provides the material and economic basis for infecting the proletariat with colonial chauvinism.” (39).

On the question of war, the Stuttgart Congress debated four resolutions, two of which called for workers actions against war to include strikes and insurrections (one as the last resort); while two called vaguely for “appropriate measures” or “intervention”. Two extreme tendencies opposed each other. One tendency [Bebel] saw imperialist war as ‘militarism’ that could be resisted by socialists, first by voting against it, but if necessary going to war against ‘militarism’ to defend the ‘workers father land’. That meant that workers in every country would be dragooned to fight in ‘defensive’ wars to defend ‘their’ fatherland. The other tendency talked of stopping wars by uniting workers across national frontiers to refuse to fight imperialist wars. “Our class -that is our fatherland” [Herve] (LSRI: 27). Herve said of the German Social Democratic Party (and its ‘workers’ fatherland’): “…you have now become an electoral and accounting machine, a party of cash registers and parliamentary seats. You want to conquer the world with ballots. But I ask you: When the German soldiers are sent off to re-establish the throne of the Russian Tsar [this was two years after the 1905 revolution] when Prussia and France attack the proletarians, what will you do? …the whole of German Social Democracy has now become Bourgeois. Today Bebel went over to the revisionists when he told us: “Proletarians of all countries, murder each other”. (28)

Lenin commented on the anti-militarism debates criticising Herve as a ‘semi-anarchist’ who did not see that war was necessary to capitalism and stopping wars could only be achieved by ‘replacing capitalism with socialism’.

“However, underlying all these semi-anarchistic absurdities of Herveism there was one sound and practical purpose: to spur the socialist movement so that it will not be restricted to parliamentary methods of struggle alone, so that the masses will realise the need for revolutionary action in connection with the crises which war inevitably involves, so that, lastly, a more lively understanding of international labour solidarity and the falsity of bourgeois patriotism will be spread among the masses.” (41)

In the middle of these two extremes but leaning towards Bebel, was Jaures who argued that socialism could reform the imperialists and prevent war by means of an international arbitration court, but if push came to shove, strikes and insurrection would be necessary. He saw war as an extension of the class war which up to then had been managed successfully by the big socialist parties. In reality, Jaures believed that negotiations would suffice and make militant actions unnecessary. In the middle also, but leaning away from Bebel was Rosa Luxemburg who spoke of the recent Russian Revolution and the need for workers to use the general strike against war not only to end war, but to “hasten the overthrow of class rule in general”. She moved an amendment along these lines which she drafted (along with Lenin and Martov of the Russian Social Democrats) which was incorporated into the final draft.

The Resolution was a compromise. On the one hand ‘militarism’ was bad policy, on the other, militarism was vital to the survival of capitalism. These were clearly two very different views of imperialist militarism! But Lenin regarded the result as good. The left got in its view of militarism as necessary for capitalism to survive and for the struggle against war to be also a struggle against capitalism. He was pleased that the resolution spelled out the methods that social democracy would use, and could not be misinterpreted by the reformist Vollmar or by the semi-anarchist Herve. (42) However, despite the amendments from the revolutionary left which strengthened the Stuttgart resolution on War and Militarism, it was clear that a growing element in of the international viewed capitalism, imperialism and militarism as reformable by social democracy. Herve characterised the German element around Bebel as “bourgeois”, “satisfied” and “well fed”.

Lenin’s view was that the material benefits of colonialism created an “aristocracy of labour” in the imperialist countries.

Thus, the move away from proletarian internationalism towards the socialist fatherland was the result of the success of the movement in legislating for reforms. But these reforms were paid for by the imperialist super-profits extracted from the colonies, and the ‘socialist’ adaptation to super-profits took the form of ‘social imperialism” or: “social chauvinism” -i.e. the civilising socialism of the ballot. Lenin summed up rather optimistically that despite the sharp contrast between the “opportunist and revolutionary wings” … “the work done at Stuttgart will greatly promote the unity of tactics and unity of revolutionary struggle of the proletarians of all countries”.

Nine years later, when the Second International has collapsed in the face of the war, Zinoviev commented that at Stuttgart the coming war was clearly seen on the horizon and it was understood that it would be the life and death test of the International. Yet the opportunists had already “won the upper hand”. “Bebel, Jaures, Branting, Vandervelde, Vollmar, and Vaillant all spoke about “the nation” and “the fatherland” in terms which the social patriots of all countries now find it easy to justify their “new” tactics…Only one speech delivered at Stuttgart differed….in principle – Rosa Luxemburg’s. This speech provided, although not yet in a fully finished form, the basis of the revolutionary Marxist position”. (44)

Zinoviev tried to explain how a resolution that embodied such contradictory positions could be agreed to. The opportunist majority stood for “defence of the fatherland” yet they agreed to the revolutionary amendments. On the one hand they could not openly take a position in defence of the ‘revolutionary father land’ when everyone knew the war would be between bloody imperialist ‘fatherlands’. Second, the revolutionary amendments on strikes and insurrections was “watered-down” by lawyers to avoid the German SD being prosecuted (47). The result was less than Lenin wrote at the time, a congress in the “spirit of revolutionary Marxism”, but more a compromise congress in which the revolutionary left was indulged by an opportunist majority who did not need to proclaim their revisionism openly because they had the material means (voting and bookkeeping) to decide the issue in reality. So the scene was set for further retreats in the years between 1907 and 1914.

The years 1907-1914

The next international Congress was at Copenhagen in 1910. The international became more divided on how to respond to the coming war. Commenting on the German Party Congress at Magdeburg in September 1910 Lenin put his finger on the reason for the failure to take a strong internationalist stand on the war. He recognises that the socialists in Germany have been sucked into a legal apparatus and were unsure how to break with bourgeois legality (parliamentarism).

“The chief feature of this peculiar pre-revolutionary situation consists in the fact that the coming revolution must inevitably be incomparably more profound, more radical, drawing far broader masses into a more difficult, stubborn and prolonged struggle than all previous revolutions. Yet at the same time this pre-revolutionary situation is marked by the greater (in comparison with anything hitherto) domination of legality, which has become an obstacle to those who introduced it…The era of utilising the legality created by the bourgeoisie is giving way to an era of tremendous revolutionary battles, and these battles, in effect, will be the destruction of all bourgeois legality, the whole bourgeois system…” (67)

The Copenhagen resolution against militarism echoed the Stuttgart resolution. It called on workers to use all measures available to stop war, but it stopped well short of the internationalist position that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war. During the Copenhagen Congress Lenin tried to rally the left wing without success. Rosa Luxemburg wrote a critique of the ‘Peace Utopias’ evident in the resolution. She ridiculed the utopia that imperialists could make peace as flying in the face of imperialist economic expansion and rivalry.

“Arms limitation and curbing militarism are not part of international capitalism’s further development. In fact, they could result only from the stagnation of capitalist development…Only those who think that class antagonisms can be softened and be blunted, and that capitalist economic anarchy can be contained, can think it possible that these international conflicts can subside, ease, or dissolve. For the international antagonisms of the capitalist states are only the complement of class antagonisms, and world political anarchy is but the reverse side of the anarchic system of capitalist production. Only together can they grow and only together can they be overcome. “A little peace and order” is, therefore, impossible, a petty-bourgeois utopia, as much so in the capitalist world market as in world politics, in the limitation of crises as in the limitation of armaments.” (71)

A confrontation between German and French troops in Morocco in July 1911 showed Rosa Luxemburg to be correct. Hermann Molkenbuhr of the SPD executive claimed that the German government had provoked the crisis to “divert attention from the domestic situation and create a mood favourable to them in the Reichstag elections”. He argued that this ruse would fail as ‘pro-French’ industrial capitalists would stop the war as it was against their interests to go to war.

Luxemburg responded attacking the concept that different national imperialist rivalries that surfaced in Morocco could be stopped by a common interest among German and French firms to ‘share’ colonial booty. She summed up Molkenbuhr’s argument:

“Leave it to the grandees of the steel monopolies to order a halt to the German action in Morocco at the appropriate moment. As for us, we will pay as little attention as possible to the entire affair, since we have other business to attend to, namely the Reichstag elections…It is best not to rely on the commitment to peace of any particular capitalist clique, but on the resistance of the enlightened masses as a force for peace…Above all we must carry out socialist education in the Reichstag elections. This cannot be accomplished, however, if we aim our criticism exclusively at Germany’s internal political conditions, and fail to portray the overall international context – capital’s deepening domination over all parts of the world, the obvious anarchy everywhere you look, and the prominent role of colonialism and world power politics in this process. We must not fashion our electoral agitation as some simplistic political primer cut down to a couple of catchy slogans, but as the Socialist world view in its all-encompassing totality and diversity.” (77).

At this time there broke out in the German party a debate on the nature of imperialism. Was it doomed to go to war by its very nature, or was war a sort of aberration, even an accident, that could be corrected by socialist peace policies? On the left was Pannekoek, Radek and others, on the Right was Kautsky, Hesse, Bernstein and others. The left was defending the existing position while the right was looking for a parliamentary road to socialism by arguing that modern imperialism had investments in every country so could not afford to go to war. Kautsky theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ expressed this clearly.

Pannekoek neatly summed up the revisionists’ views:

“We often hear talk of imperialism as a sort of mental derangement of the bourgeoisie…Bernstein speaks of a spiritual epidemic. But we should not conceive of it in such an un-Marxist manner, as if it were an accident.”

Lensch also had some ripe words:

“Comrades! How did the international arms build-up which we have witnessed these last ten years come about? Is it really just a case of international misunderstanding? That would mean that world history had made mistake, as it were: that a capitalism without resort to force, without colonies and fleets is also feasible. No doubt that is true, but only in a vacuum! Perhaps in your imagination or on paper, you can conceive of a capitalism without violence. But we deal with the real capitalism here on earth. Our task cannot be to correct World History’s homework, and say, “Dear World History, here is your work back! Its swarming with mistakes. I marked them all in red. In the future I expect better work from you.” (80).

In October 1912 the International was put to the test by the outbreak of war in the Balkans. Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria attacked Turkey which was defeated and forced to withdraw from its European possessions. Then Serbia, Greece and Romania turned against Bulgaria. What was the role of international socialists in this war? All the various socialist parties took a stand against the war. In Bulgaria a Socialist parliamentarian was assaulted when he spoke out against the war. Yet in each country this opposition got more popular as the death and destruction affected the people. The international correctly saw the Balkan wars as a forerunner of imperialist war. Both sides in the war were pawns of imperialism so the war had to be opposed and stopped by revolutionary means.

An emergency congress was held at Basel November 24-25 1912. The Basel Manifesto began by quoting the earlier Stuttgart and Copenhagen resolutions against war including ‘civil war’, but again refrained from calling on workers to use the methods of ‘strikes and insurrections’ to stop the war.

While the war in the Balkans did not see any wavering from the official line, in the German party the centre and right began to grow in influence as it was put under pressure to vote for money to expand the military. In March 1913 the SDP deputies (MP’s) voted for a huge increase in military spending. The measure needed the SPD support to pass, so the government tried to win its support by introducing an income tax rather than a flat tax that would hit the poor hard. After a sharp debate the majority abandoned the principle ‘not one man, not one penny for war’ and voted for the Bill. At the Party’s Jena Conference in 1913 the leftist position calling for a mass strike in the event of war was outvoted 142 to 333 in favour of the rightist position against the general strike.

Again, Rosa Luxemburg sounded the warning that this capitulation to social chauvinism would lead to disaster with the outbreak of war.

“What will happen if war breaks out and we can do nothing more to avert it? The question will then arise whether the costs should be covered by indirect or direct taxes, and you will then logically support the approval of war credits…the position will lead us onto a slippery slope where there is no way to stop. Let our resolution therefore put an end to such cheating on principles by proclaiming, “So far and no further!” (94)

Jena was the last Congress of the united SDP. The SDP was now split into three factions, Left, Right, and Centre.

 

[2] The Collapse of the International

 This is the second part of an article that examines the history of the Zimmerwald movement against imperialist war in 1915, in preparation for a ‘new Zimmerwald’ today to oppose the drive to imperialist war. The first part showed that in the years after 1907 the Second International while formally anti-imperialist became rotten at the core with a rightward opportunist movement rooted in the labor bureaucracy. This set the scene for the historic betrayal of August 4, 1914. In this second part we take the story further to show how the revolutionary left was vigorous in challenging the ‘pacifist’ and centrist opposition to the war, notably Liebknecht’s famous vote against war credits, but failed to see the urgency of organizing a strong anti-imperialist war movement.

August 4, 1914.

The outbreak of war saw the rotten centre of the International exposed in a massive betrayal. Despite many dire warnings, this event was still a huge shock for the ‘left’. Rosa Luxemburg co-founder of the new revolutionary journal Die Internationale wrote in the leading article in the first issue “The Reconstruction of the International”:

“On August 4, 1914 German Social Democracy abdicated politically; at the same time the Socialist International collapsed. Every attempt to deny these facts or go gloss them over, regardless of its motive, in reality serves only to perpetuate the disastrous self-deception of the Socialist parties and the internal sickness that led to their collapse.” (183) “A body of four million strong allowed a handful of parliamentarians to turn it around in twenty-four hours and harness it to a wagon going in a direction opposite to its aim in life…Marx, Engels, and Lassalle; Liebknecht, Bebel and Singer trained the German proletariat so that Hindenburg could lead it” (186)

Luxemburg, Trotsky and Lenin all drew the conclusion that this betrayal did not call into question either Marxism or the revolution. It was the result of alien class forces and the ‘internal sicknesses’ of the party. They all called for the reconstruction of a new International to replace the collapsed Second. However, almost immediately differences emerged on how to fight the war. Trotsky said that workers had to stop the war to preserve their power and so use their arms to fight for the United States of Europe. But how? Mobilize for peace? “Neither victory or defeat” was his slogan. [155] Lenin argued that workers must oppose the war by calling for the defeat of their own country. It was necessary to turn imperialist war into civil war by turning their weapons on their own bourgeoisie. [156] Trotsky criticized the Bolsheviks for their defeatism in Russia as unrealistic. It is “an uncalled for and absolutely unjustified concession to the political methodology of social-patriotism, which would replace the revolutionary struggle against the war and the conditions causing it, with an orientation – highly arbitrary in the present conditions – towards the lesser evil”. Trotsky wants to avoid defeats as they “disorganize the whole of social life, and above all else the working class”. [165]

Lenin responded that this was typical of Trotsky’s “high-flown” phrases with which he “justifies opportunism”. He criticised Trotsky for calling for peace without any means of linking this to revolution i.e. defeatism. “‘A revolutionary struggle against the war’ is merely an empty and meaningless exclamation, something at which the heroes of the Second International excel, unless it means revolutionary action against one’s own government even in wartime.” [166]. Lenin accused Trotsky of ‘opportunism’ because Trotsky assumed that the call for the defeat of Russia must mean the victory of Germany. The ‘lesser evil’ means that Russian workers will see the victory of Germany as preferable to the victory of the Tsar. And Trotsky is not prepared to swim against this stream of social-patriotism. But, said Lenin the 2nd International position was clear:

“In all the imperialist countries the proletariat now desire the defeat of its own government”. So, in rejecting the call for workers in all countries to defeat their governments, and adopting the position that one nation must win, it is Trotsky that adapts to the “political methodology of social-patriotism” [167].

Trotsky was moving toward Kautsky’s fatalist view that neither revolutions nor international solidarity between workers of different countries is possible in an imperialist war. That’s why the call for ‘peace’ is substituted for ‘defeatism’ because it does not challenge social-patriotism. It means in effect “neither victory nor defeat”.  This is a paraphrase of the “defence of the fatherland” slogan because it is a ‘class truce’. The working class is neither for nor against the war policy of its ruling class which also claims to be ‘against defeat’. [168] So the class struggle is suspended for the duration of the war. That is why the Italian government threatened its social democrats with ‘treason’ if it called a general strike. This is why the Tsarist government charged Russia’s social-democrats with ‘high treason’.

For Lenin:

“A proletarian cannot deal a class blow at his government or hold out (in fact) a hand to his brother, the proletarian of the ‘foreign country’, without contributing to the defeat, to the disintegration of his ‘own’ imperialist ‘Great Power’” [169]. “…Those who stand for the “neither-victory-nor-defeat” slogan are in fact on the side of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, for they do not believe in the possibility of international revolutionary action by the working class against their own governments, and do not wish to help develop such action, which, though undoubtedly difficult, is the only task worthy of a proletarian, the only socialist task. It is the proletariat in the most backward of the belligerent Great Powers which, through the medium of their party, have had to adopt – especially in the view of the shameful treachery of the German and French Social-Democrats – revolutionary tactics that are quite unfeasible unless they ‘contribute to the defeat’ of their own government, but which alone lead to a European revolution, to the permanent peace of socialism, to the liberation of humanity from the horrors, misery, savagery and brutality now prevailing.” [170]

In Germany it was some months before the revolutionary left was able to mobilize opposition to the leadership’s betrayal. Small meetings in working class branches supported the minority opposition to war credits but also criticized the minority for upholding party discipline and voting with the war credits majority in the Reichstag. In Stuttgart on September 21, a meeting of SPD elected leaders condemned the war credits stand by 81 to 3. Liebknecht responded:

“You are quite right for criticizing me. Even if alone, I should have called out my “No!” in the Reichstag and so informed the whole world that the talk of unanimity of the Reichstag and the German people is a lie”. [173]

In November in the Berlin suburb of Niederbarnim local left wingers also took a stand against the war credits: “Had the Social Democratic faction done its duty on August 4, the external form of the organization would probably have been destroyed, but the spirit would have remained…then the German working class would have carried out its historic mission.” Their conclusion was to build a new party and begin underground work.

“The Main Enemy is at Home”: Liebknecht and the Spartacists

On December 2, 1914 Karl Liebknecht took his historic stand and cast the sole vote against war appropriations. [174] In a declaration, “Explanation of War Credits Vote”, distributed as an illegal leaflet he explained his political stand. In the leaflet, Liebknecht said he refused to vote for war credits because the war “is an imperialist war, fought for the capitalist domination of the world market and for the political domination of important territories for settlement of industrial and finance capital’” [175]

Liebknecht was drafted into the army on 7 February 1915. Rosa Luxemburg was arrested and jailed on 18 February. Despite the repression, the left SDs formed an underground opposition to imperialist war in the factories and working-class areas, known as the ‘Spartacists’ – the name of the leader of a slave rebellion against the Roman empire. Their main slogan became “The Main Enemy is at Home”!

But it was the Russian revolutionaries who spelled out what revolutionary defeatism meant.

“Who is it that threatens the Russian people? Who should we combat? They say it is the Germans…But it is the landlords, the factory owners, the big proprietors and merchants who steal from us; it is the police, the tsar, and his hangers-on who rob us. And when we have had enough of this robbery, and call a strike to protect our interests, then the police, the soldiers, and the Cossacks who are unleashed upon us…Now they try to mislead us and make us believe that our enemy is “the Germans” whom we have never seen… But will we Russian workers be so stupid as to take these lying phrases seriously? No! If we must sacrifice our lives, we will do it for our own cause. They put guns in our hands. Good. We will use these guns to fight for better living conditions for the Russian working class.” [178]

Revolutionary defeatism got a practical endorsement during Christmas 1914, when British, French and German soldiers fraternized at the front. The British and German troops even organized their own 48-hour truce! Lenin wrote that this proved workers could unite against their own bosses. The military high commands worried that it might spread rapidly ordered that fraternization was high treason punishable by death. Lenin wrote (in The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated) that if the opportunists had devoted their efforts to calling on workers to fraternize for peace instead of backing their bosses war efforts and accepting ministerial jobs, then the spontaneous fraternization of Christmas 1914 might spread on into the new year and beyond. The real issue came down to what cause should workers die for.

“There is only one practical issue – victory or defeat for one’s country – Kautsky, lackey of the opportunists, has written…Indeed, if one were to forget socialism and the class struggle, that would be the truth. However, if one does not lose sight of socialism, that is untrue. Then there is another practical issue: should we perish as blind and helpless slaves, in a war between slaveholders, or should we fall in the “attempts at fraternization” between slaves, with the aim of casting off slavery? Such, in reality, is the “practical” issue.” [179]

Kautsky and ‘ultra-imperialism’

Meanwhile, Kautsky was working overtime trying to invent new twists in Marxist theory that would justify workers not having to fight anybody in principle. His theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ was revamped to claim that imperialist war was old fashioned and that the class interests of the bosses were now so enmeshed in each other’s stock markets that fighting imperialist wars was bad for business. “Every far-sighted capitalist today [with the benefit of Kautsky’s lesson on where their class interests lay] must call on his fellows: capitalists of all countries unite!” [180] Kautsky is saying: imperialists wake up! Why are you fighting among yourselves when the real danger is posed by the colonial and semi-colonial countries, and by your own socialist movements? You are ruining yourselves unnecessarily. Stop the war in your own interests. Peace brings prosperity! This was the old opportunist line from the pre-war Congresses of appealing to the bosses’ self-interest but now revived to provide ‘official Marxist’ legitimacy to the opportunists.

Kautsky and Co got the savaging they deserved from the revolutionaries. In a new theoretical journal, Die International, launched on April 14 1915 to combat this falsification of Marxism and to advance the creation of a new revolutionary leadership, Rosa Luxemburg wrote the devastatingly brilliant ‘The Reconstruction of the International’:

“Kautsky, the representative of the so-called Marxist Centre – politically speaking, the theoretician of the ‘swamp’ – made a sincere contribution to the party’s present collapse. Many years ago, he degraded theory to the role of obliging hand-maiden to the official practice of the party establishment. Already he has thought up an opportune new theory to justify and whitewash the collapse”.[184] “…Official theory, whose organ is Die Neue Zeit, [The New Times!] misuses Marxism any way it pleases to serve the party officials’ current domestic requirements and to justify their day-to-day dealings…The world historic call of the Communist Manifesto has been substantially enriched and, as corrected by Kautsky, now reads: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite in peacetime and cut each other’s throats in wartime!” “According to historical materialism, as Marx laid it out, all of previously recorded history is the history of class struggle. According to Kautsky’s revision of materialism, that must be amended to read: ‘except in time of war’.” [187]

Luxemburg goes for Kautsky’s throat:

“A moments reflection shows that Kautsky’s theory of historical materialism…does not leave a single stone of Marxist theory standing. According to Marx neither the class struggle nor war fall from the sky, but rather arise out of deep-seated social and economic causes. Thus neither of the two can periodically disappear unless their causes also vanish into thin air.” “…Wars in the present historical period result from the competing interests of rival groups of capitalists and from capitalism’s need to expand. But these two driving forces do not operate only when the cannon’s roar, but also in peacetime, when they prepare and make inevitable the outbreak of new wars. War is indeed, as Kautsky is fond of quoting from Clausewitz, only ‘continuation of politics by other means.’ And it is precisely the imperialist stage of capitalist domination whose arms race has made peace illusory, by declaring what is in essence the dictatorship of militarism and permanent war.” [188]

On the dangers of ‘official Marxism’ Luxemburg says this:

“All attempts to make Marxism conform to the present transitory decrepitude of Socialist practice, to prostitute it to the level of a mercenary apologist for social imperialism, are in themselves more dangerous than all the blatant and shrill excesses of the nationalist confusion in the ranks of the party. Such attempts tend not only to conceal the real causes of the International’s profound failure, but also to discard the lessons from this experience necessary for its future construction.” [192]

Writing for the Russian Bolshevik journal Kommunist, in September 1915, Lenin also takes Kautsky apart in “The Collapse of the Second International”. First Lenin refutes Kautsky’s complaint that the revolutionary situation that was expected at the Basle Congress did not occur with the outbreak of war because governments got stronger and workers weaker. Lenin shows that the war did create a revolutionary situation which he famously defined in this article. A revolutionary situation exists ‘objectively’ when the ruling classes find it impossible to rule ‘in the old way’; when the ‘lower classes do not want to live in the old way’, and when workers are drawn into independent action. To which he adds the necessary ‘subjective’ changes to workers consciousness –the “ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government” [194]. Thus, the prediction of the pre-war Basle Manifesto is “fully confirmed” says Lenin:

“[even]…those who fear revolution – petty bourgeois Christian parsons, the General Staffs and millionaires’ newspapers – are compelled to admit that symptoms of a revolutionary situation exist in Europe…To deny this truth, directly or indirectly, or to ignore it, as Plekhanov, Kautsky and Co have done, means telling a big lie, deceiving the working class, and serving the bourgeoisie”. [196]

So rather than take advantage of a revolutionary situation to ‘hasten’ the downfall of capitalism as demanded in the Basle Resolution, Kautsky and Co take refuge in the ‘big lie’ that no such crisis exists. Hence Kautsky rejects the charge that the leadership of the SD betrayed the masses. He caricatures the left SD position as calling for a ‘revolution within 24 hours’ which was impossible. Lenin counters that revolutions are not ‘made’ but develop within objective conditions and the betrayal of the leadership was a massive setback to that development. Kautsky justifies his position by trying to make the crisis dissolve into thin air as a ‘mistaken’ policy option that can be turned into peace by appealing to ruling class interests. Thus, the conditions were not ripe for revolution because the ruling class had not come to an impasse where it could not ‘rule in the old way’ but could instead opt for peace rather than war.

Lenin responds:

“The most subtle theory of social-chauvinism, one that has been most skillfully touched up to look scientific and international, is the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ advanced by Kautsky…This theory boils down, and can only boil down, to the following: Kautsky is exploiting the hope for a new peaceful era of capitalism so as to justify the adhesion of the opportunists and the official Social-Democratic parties to the bourgeoisie, and their rejection of revolutionary i.e. proletarian, tactics in the present stormy era…[198] “…Let us recall what the passage from the previous and “peaceful” period of capitalism to the present and imperialist period has been based on: free competition has yielded to monopolist capitalist combines, and the world has been partitioned. Both of these facts (and factors) are obviously of world-wide significance: Free Trade and peaceful competition were possible and necessary as long as capital was in a position to enlarge its colonies without hindrance, and seize unoccupied land in Africa, etc., and as long as the concentration of capital was still weak and no monopolist concerns existed i.e. concerns of a magnitude permitting domination of an entire branch of industry. The appearance and growth of such monopolist concerns (has this process been stopped in Britain or America? Not even Kautsky will dare deny that the war has accelerated and intensified it) have rendered the free competition of former times impossible; they have cut the ground from under its feet, while the partition of the world compels the capitalists to go over form peaceful expansion to an armed struggle for the repartitioning of colonies and spheres of influence.” [199]

Both Luxemburg and Lenin proved that Kautsky’s ‘official Marxism’ rejected the laws of capitalist development and the operation of the market, leaving “no stone” of Marxist theory overturned. Rather imperialism by its nature was inevitably forced to war. That war created the objective factors necessary for a revolutionary situation but the old leadership had betrayed the Basle resolution and failed to lead a revolutionary opposition to the war. It needed to be replaced urgently by a new leadership that could exploit the revolutionary crisis and turn imperialist war into civil war. The time was overdue to regroup the left SD forces and begin the process of building a new Third International. It was necessary to unite the left forces and prepare for a anti-war conference. The question arises why did the ‘left’ leave the initiative to the ‘centre’ to convene the first anti-war conference at Zimmerwald in September 1915, one year after the war had begun. Why did it take the ‘left’ so long to re-organize?

Towards the Zimmerwald “Left”

The bourgeoisie understood that imperialist war created a revolutionary crisis and passed tough repressive measures against workers and the ‘left’ in general. The anti-war movement was driven underground and many of their leaders and cadres were imprisoned. To implement the Basle resolution and the call to turn imperialist war into civil war, the left needed to build a new international. Why didn’t the left initiate an antiwar conference?  Two pre-conferences were held during this period; an International conference of Women met in Bern, March 26-28, and an Internationalist Youth Conference during April 1915. But no call arose out of either of these for a full-blown anti-war conference. In May 1915, the Italians tried to get the ISB to hold an antiwar conference. This was rejected, so the Italians decided to convene a conference without the ISB. A Preliminary Conference met on July 11 in Bern. Invitations were sent to the official ISB national leaderships! Kautsky among others declined. Zinoviev reported on the Preliminary Conference. He was obviously surprised to find that the organizers had invited only representatives of the official ISB parties “Where are the genuine lefts of the International?”, he asked.

 

[3] The Zimmerwald Left and Lessons for Today

How and when did the split which formed the Zimmerwald Left in 1915 take place? Why was this the important step to building a new international? What are the lessons to be learned today as US imperialism steps up its war drive? With the end of the Soviet Bloc most of the Western left has reverted to a Menshevik position of putting faith in the completion of the bourgeois revolution. They have given up on any belief that the working class is the revolutionary class and substituted the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. Those who adapt to democratic imperialism, Stalinists, centrists, and social democrats avoid fighting their own ruling class! They turn their backs on revolutionary Marxism, Leninism, and Bolshevism. As the contradictions of imperialism intensify these Menshevik currents form a counter-revolutionary barrier to the leftward movement of workers and poor peasants. That is why we need a New Zimmerwald, a new Bolshevik left, and a new Communist International.

During the first year of the war the pressure from the left for an international conference to unite those prepared to break with the social chauvinists and pacifists was sabotaged by the right and centre. The preliminary conference in Bern on July 11 1915 was dominated by the right and centre and rejected Zinoviev’s motions for revolutionary mass actions against the war. When the Zimmerwald Conference was finally held, September 5-8, 8 delegates including the Polish, Russian delegates met beforehand and formed the ‘Zimmerwald left’. They were Lenin and Zinoviev (Bolsheviks), Berzin (Latvian social democrats), Radek (Polish-Lithuanian opposition), Borchardt (for Lichenstrahlen in Germany), Hoglund and Nerman (Swedish and Norwegian left), and Platten (Switzerland). Trotsky was among several others who attended this meeting but did not endorse the left’s position.

Liebknecht writing a letter from prison greets the delegates and calls for a “settling of accounts with the deserters and turncoats of the International”. He urges the delegates to fight an international class war and to break with false appeals to national and party unity. He concludes:

“The new international will arise on the ruins of the old. It can only arise on these ruins, on new and firmer foundations. Friends – socialists from all countries – you must lay the foundation stone today for the future structure. Pass irreconcilable judgement upon the false socialists…Long live the future peace among peoples! Long live internationalist, people-liberating, and revolutionary!”

The formation of the ‘Zimmerwald left’ was the decisive step in the break with the old international. Lenin and Radek had drafted resolutions to put to the conference. Radek’s was adopted but Lenin’s references to support for colonial wars and calling for ‘defeat of one’s own country’ were omitted. Yet Radek’s draft was still strong. The war is characterised as an imperialist war. The causes of war could only be overcome by socialist revolution in the leading countries. The majority of the socialist international had gone over to the social patriotism of their national bourgeoisies. The ‘centre’ current of pacifists such as Kautsky was more dangerous than the open patriots because it misled and confused the more advanced workers. The left must struggle against social patriotism with every method at its disposal – rejection of war credits, propaganda against the war, demonstrations, fraternalization in the trenches, strikes etc. Quoting Liebknecht’s letter, Radek concludes: “Civil war, not ‘civil peace’ is out slogan” (299).

The debates at Zimmerwald centred around the question of ‘civil peace’ versus ‘civil war’. Most delegates were for ‘peace’ because they said workers were demoralised, confused and needed further preparation before they could turn the war into a ‘civil war’. Those against ‘civil peace’ also included Trotsky who opposed to pacifism ‘class struggle and ‘social revolution’. Chernov the Russian socialist revolutionary said that the “struggle for peace exclusively” must be extended to the “struggle for social revolution”. Radek’s resolution that put the case for ‘civil war’ was voted down 19 to 12 and did not become part of the final manifesto. Trotsky and Roland-Holst, Chernov and Natanson voted with the Zimmerwald 8.

 Zimmerwald Manifesto

The Zimmerwald Manifesto addresses the Proletarians of Europe:

“one thing is certain: the war that has produced this chaos is the product of imperialism…economically backward or politically weak nations are thereby subjugated by the great powers, who, in this war, are seeking to remake the world map with blood and iron, in accord with their exploiting interests…In the course of the war, its driving forces are revealed in all their vileness…The capitalists of all countries who are coining the gold of war profits out of the blood shed by the people, assert that the war is for defence of the fatherland, for democracy and the liberation of oppressed nations…thus the war reveals the naked figure of modern capitalism which has become irreconcilable not only with the interests of the masses of workers, not only with the requirements of historical development, but also with the elementary conditions of human existence…this situation that faces us, threatening the entire future of Europe and humanity, cannot and must not be tolerated any longer without action. “…Proletarians! Since the outbreak of the war you have placed your energy, your courage, your endurance at the service of the ruling classes. Now you must stand up for your own cause, for the sacred aims of socialism, for the emancipation of the oppressed nations as well as of the enslaved classes, by means of irreconcilable class struggle”.

“Class struggle”? What does this mean? Socialists in the countries at war are told to take up “this task”. What is this? “peace among the people”. Compared with real task of turning the imperialist war into civil war this is a pious platitude. (320) Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, Nerman, Hoglund and Winter of the Zimmerwald left produced a statement protesting the omission of any “characterisation of opportunism” as the main cause of the capitulation to war, and any clear presentation of “methods of struggle against the war”. But they agreed to vote for the Manifesto as a “call to struggle, and because we want to march forward in this struggle arm in arm with the other sections of the International”.

The Zimmerwald Left was aware of the need to use the left position to break with the right and centre to form a new international. Lenin and the others (excluding Trotsky) saw that a split was necessary. Radek called the betrayal of the opportunists a de facto split. The failure to prepare for a new international quickly was to set the scene for later defeats. This is most obvious in Lenin’s critique of the Spartacists for not taking a firm independent line against the centrists in Germany.

The main lesson from Zimmerwald was that the left needed to strike out on an independent course (collaborating where possible at Zimmerwald etc) to win over the most advanced workers, with both a critique of opportunism and the revolutionary mobilisation against the ruling class. Radek put this forcefully in his report on the conference:

“It may be a long-time before the masses, bled white by the war recover and renew the struggle. We can shorten this time, however by explaining to the most conscious workers why the International collapsed, how they have to struggle, for what goals they must appeal to other workers, and how they must organise the struggle under conditions of military rule. The more difficult the situation the clearer must be the politics of socialism. It is never too early to tell the workers their true situation”. (339)

Lenin’s critique of Luxemburg and Trotsky

Lenin critiqued Luxemburg and the German Spartacists for following the Zimmerwald Manifesto in toning down their critique of opportunism and failing to break from the centrists and create an independent party. He was responding to Luxemburg’s famous ‘Junius Pamphlet’.

“The chief defect in Junius pamphlet…is its silence about the connection between social chauvinism …and opportunism. This is wrong from the standpoint of theory, for it is impossible to account for the ‘betrayal’ [of the 2nd international without linking it up with opportunism as a trend with a long history behind it, the history of the whole Second International. ..It is also a mistake from the practical political standpoint, for it is impossible either to understand the ‘crisis of social democracy’ or overcome it, without clarifying the meaning and the role of two trends, the openly opportunist trend…and the tacitly opportunist trend…A very great defect in revolutionary Marxism in Germany as a whole is its lack of a compact illegal organisation that would systematically pursue its own line and educate the masses in the spirit of the new tasks; such an organisation would have to take a definite stand on opportunism and Kautskyism.” (436).

Lenin also criticises Luxemburg for not understanding that a civil war against the bourgeoisie was necessary.

“In saying that the class struggle is the best means of defence against invasion, Junius applies Marxist dialectics only half way…Marxist dialectics call for a concrete analysis of each specific historical situation…Class struggle…is too general and therefore inadequate in the present specific case. Civil war against the bourgeoisie is also a form of class struggle, and only this form of class struggle would have saved Europe…from invasion” (443)

Lenin explains these defects in Luxemburg’s position materially as due to the ‘environment’ of German social democracy and the fear of the leftists to follow “their revolutionary slogans to their logical conclusions”. As a result, Luxemburg pulls back to “something like a Menshevik ‘theory of stages’ of first defending a republic and then to the next stage – socialist revolution”. “But this shortcoming is not Junius’ personal failing, but the result of the weakness of all the German leftists, who have become entangled in the vile net of Kautskyite hypocrisy, pedantry and “friendliness” for the opportunists.”

Trotsky’s role in all this was confusionist. He had illusions in winning of the ‘centre’. He talked of Kautsky moving left. He confused the necessary subjective task of winning the most advanced workers (Radek’s point) with the objective backward consciousness of workers. This misled him into trying to influence the party leaders of the centre like Kautsky who had “authority” with the masses. Hence his mechanical schematic view that workers had to stop fighting themselves before they would fight their own bourgeoisies. This was true but undialectical. Trotsky was proved wrong. When the German soldiers and sailors mutinied in 1918 they fulfilled the first part of Trotsky’s schema. But instead of turning their guns against the bourgeoisie, they were talked into exchanging their guns for votes in a German Republic. In Russia, the first revolution in February against the Tsar did not succumb to the bourgeoisie. The armed workers retained their guns, defeated the counter-revolution and went on to make the socialist revolution.

What was the lesson from Zimmerwald? Lenin expressed it very well. Imperialist wars can be won by workers only by means of a socialist revolution. Wars open up revolutionary crises and the revolutionary leadership must clearly take the lead from the right and centre of the party. The right goes further to the right and drags the centre with it. Failure to break from the centre was the fate of the German Spartacists. The lack of as Bolshevik party in Germany was the vital factor that allowed the counter-revolution to succeed. The defeat of the German revolution was ultimately to bring the defeat of the Russian revolution in 1991.

 We need a new Bolshevik International

Menshevism allows the possibility of a ‘peaceful’ evolutionary transition to socialism and so sees bourgeois democracy as a shell for workers democracy. But In times of war capitalism doesn’t want workers votes it want their blood. Revolutionaries have to counter that by building independent workers organs that do not rely on bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie counterposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat. That’s why we were against bourgeois democracy in the former Degenerate Workers States (DWS). As Trotsky said bourgeois democracy could only be counter-revolutionary in a DWS.

Today the remains of the 2nd International are even more openly social imperialist. Socialism has virtually disappeared inside imperialism. The new imperialism promotes western values of democracy and human rights as the means of ‘civilising’ the colonial and semi-colonial world. The remains of the 3rd international have become 2nd internationalists in the imperialist world, In the ‘3rd world’ they are for the patriotic popular front to complete the bourgeois revolution in the former workers states and in the semi-colonies. This means counterposing the international civil society of Porto Alegre to the rogue institutions of globalisation such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. Both of these currents endorse the right of imperialism to intervene in oppressed states to remove local dictators and facilitate ‘democratic’ regimes. They are against the armed struggle of colonial and semi-colonial peoples to do it themselves.

The degenerate Trotskyists are joining forces with these betrayers to revise the permanent revolution and promote the democratic stage as a necessary preparation for the socialist stage. But this is a grotesque deformation of the theory of permanent revolution that says that the democratic stage can be completed only by socialism. That is, the struggle right now is for socialism during which the incomplete democratic tasks will be completed.

Zimmerwald teaches us the importance of the fundamental distinction between the methods of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks explained by Lenin in What is to be Done, and then proven decisively i the massive betrayal in imperialist war. The Mensheviks wanted peace first, that is an end to military imperialism by peaceful imperialism. This was so because it was the institutions of bourgeois democracy, parliament, pressured by the masses that would enact peace. The Bolsheviks, dominating the Zimmerwald Left, saw the need to activate the working masses directly to stop the war by turning the imperialist war into a ‘civil war’.

Thus, the Bolsheviks called for the struggle for socialism as the only way to stop the imperialist war. They knew that this struggle would transform workers from a backward, defensive consciousness, in awe of the bosses’ parliament, into a revolutionary force capable of socialist revolution. Today, under conditions of growing crisis and drive to imperialist war on the part of US imperialism, revolutionaries have this same task. We need a New Zimmerwald. We have to reject the Menshevik program of counterposing bourgeois democracy to US imperialism in the Porto Alegre, anti-globalising, sense. We have to break from the politics of the popular front and internationally from the Menshevik international. We have to rebuild a new Bolshevik International now!

 

Originally published in in Class Struggle, journal of the Communist Workers Group of New Zealand/Aotearoa, 2002; and reprinted in Communist Worker, June 2008. https://trotskyistinspain.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/for-a-new-zimmerwald/

Part two https://trotskyistinspain.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/for-a-new-zimmerwald-part-2/

Part Three https://trotskyistinspain.wordpress.com/2008/06/29/the-zimmerwald-left-and-the-lessons-for-today/

All page references are to Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years. Edited by John Riddell. Monad Press, New York, 1984. http://www.pathfinderpress.com/s.nl/it.A/id.862/.f  Not online.

Lenin’s “Socialism and War” pamphlet http://www.marxists.de/war/lenin-war/index.htm

The Slogan of Civil War Illustrated https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/mar/29c.htm

The Collapse of the Second International https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/csi/index.htm

 

 

 

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Written by raved

October 3, 2018 at 10:34 am

China and the Socialist Future

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Yeu Yuen Shoe Strike (Nike Adidas) over unpaid pensions 2014

Class Struggle in China

China’s current role as the world’s leading industrial nation is the result of its unique history as an former empire, a British colony, a ‘socialist’ republic and today, a new imperialist power. It is the most dynamic capitalist society today having emerged out of a centralised bureaucratic state ‘socialism’. This makes China’s role in the world unique but not exceptional. While China is recognised as being a ‘leader’ in growth, in consumption, and in new technology, to keep this leadership it cannot jump over the capitalist laws of history.

China’s slowdown proves that it not immune to these laws. It is not a panacea for global capitalism’s decline. China is now facing its own capitalist crisis of overproduction which it cannot resolve without attacking the 1 billion Chinese workers. And despite its past defeats those workers cannot survive without fighting for a genuine socialist revolution. That is why China, more than any other the country, is where capitalism’s past and future manifests itself as a fundamental clash between the proletariat and the capitalist ruling class.

We can dispense with those pseudo theories that explain China’s rise as something to do with ‘market socialism’. This is a futile attempt to both recognise the truth that the capitalist market exists in China, yet somehow claim it serves the goals of ‘socialism. The reality is that the restoration of the capitalist market could not coexist with ‘socialism’ in its bastardised bureaucratic form of state ownership of property in China. It had to destroy those aspects of Chinese society that owe anything to ‘socialism’. First, it had to defeat the working class as the class that grew up under bureaucratic ‘socialism’. Far from advancing under ‘market socialism’ the workers met with an historic defeat.

The restoration of capitalism was a huge defeat for the millions of workers. Hao Qi says:

“During the country’s transition to capitalism, as the bonus-centered incentive system could not sustain itself, enterprises needed the existence of a reserve army to discipline workers and a segregated labor market to divide and conquer the working class. A continuous influx of migrant workers and the 30 million laid-off workers from the state-owned sector jointly expanded the reserve army of labor within a few years in the 1990s. The reserve army significantly depressed the power of the working class as a whole, and the segregation of the labor market also weakened the solidarity of the working class. This is why we have witnessed the major decline of labor’s share since the early 1990s.”

However according to the same writer the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 reversed that decline:

“There is a new turning point for the Chinese working class. After the outbreak of the global capitalist crisis, labor’s share in China began to recover. Along with this fact, one can also observe that the nominal wage level has grown faster than nominal GDP since 2008, and in 2012 China’s working-age population decreased for the first time in the reform era, which implies that the reserve army of labor will shrink in the near future. More importantly, there is a developing workers’ struggle for a decent living wage that is sufficient to afford the cost of living in the urban areas. The new generation of migrant workers who were mostly born in the 1980s and ‘90s insists on living in the urban areas. This has led to struggles for higher wages. Workers’ struggle for a larger share of the national income will eventually end the high-profit era for capitalists and thus open up a new era for the Chinese economy.” ibid

In sum, this ‘optimistic’ view of the labor movement in China is that it has recovered from its early defeats of the 1990s and has emerged ‘empowered’ and capable of increasing the share of labor. It argues that rising numbers of strikes and successes in improving wages and conditions will lead to higher consumption and overcome China’s economic problems. How realistic is this view?

Critics have argued that the ‘empowerment’ thesis is ‘false optimism’ and not backed by the reality. Strikes have in fact declined since the massive labor militancy in the early days of capitalist restoration in the 1990s. They question the claim that the reserve army of migrant workers flooding to the cities is slowing significantly and reducing downward pressure on wages. The rural reserve army is still 300 million strong. More important is the crisis which forces capital to increase the rate of exploitation of wage labor. There is a trend towards precarization of work, with shorter hours, atomization of the workforce, worsening conditions, employer corruption of unions etc. Even the purported ‘victory’ of rising wages reflects central government policy of boosting consumption rather than union power.

Whatever the evidence that the record number of strikes is linked to growing class conscious labor movement can we draw the conclusion that Chinese workers are any better or worse prepared than in other capitalist countries to fight back against the effects of a major economic crash on their lives? That would be to ignore the historical differences between the West and the East.

Just as the recent rapid rise of China as a major imperialist power is unprecedented (the last major power to emerge as imperialist was the USA before the First World War!) relative to the rest of the capitalist world, so we have to look at the developing class struggle in China in the same light.

Class struggle in China is conditioned by its history as an pre-capitalist empire for millennia, a capitalist colony for over a century (from the Opium war of 1840), then by a national revolution that broke from global capitalism from 1949 to the 1990s, followed by the restoration of capitalism and the rise of a new Chinese imperialism. This unique history has important implications for our understanding of China and global capitalism today.

What makes China different? 

 To explain the impact of the past on China today and on the prospects for a socialist future, we have to explore what makes China’s road to capitalism different from the West. Since China today is clearly capitalist the class struggle between the working class, poor peasants and the capitalist ruling class is like that of all capitalist states. However, there are important differences in the development of capitalism in China.

The First Chinese Revolution in 1911 led by the new bourgeois class overthrew the Qing dynasty. But because Chinese development was retarded by imperialism, no powerful national bourgeoisie had emerged capable of leading the democratic revolution in China. It was an already historically redundant class caught between the massive peasantry and the rising industrial proletariat on the one side, and the occupying imperialist powers on the other side.

The weak national bourgeoisie feared the peasants and workers more than the imperialist exploiters and sided with the latter. This fear was well founded as it was the workers and poor peasants who defeated Japan and the Kuomintang army in 1949, proving once again after Russia in 1917 that ‘backward’ countries in the epoch of imperialism can only become independent of imperialism through socialist revolution.

This unique history is the big difference between China and the West. In the West capitalist development in the 19th and 20th centuries occurred over centuries on the basis of the plunder of the colonial world including the plunder of the ancient Chinese empire. Modern imperialism allowed these nations to accumulate huge wealth and bribe large sections of the working class with colonial super-profits to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie as politicians in the reformist parties and bureaucrats in the labor unions.

Trotsky pointed out that this accounted for the success of the revolution in Russia and its failure in Europe. The strength of reformism in Europe tied workers to the parliamentary system whereas in Russia, a backward capitalist country under a Tsarist dictatorship, bourgeois democracy was yet to be born. The socialist revolution overtook the bourgeois democratic revolution and incorporated its tasks as part of the ‘permanent revolution’.

However, for the Bolsheviks, a successful workers revolution in a backward country could not lead to socialism in one country. Russia’s isolation and economic backwardness created the conditions for the emergence of a bureaucracy under Stalin after 1924. The Stalinist bureaucracy reverted to a Menshevik “two-stage” theory that ‘backward’ (colonial or semi-colonial) countries had to follow the example of the Western countries and go through a bourgeois democratic stage to prepare the conditions for socialism. In the absence of a Russian bourgeoisie Stalin reverted to the old Bolshevik formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and the peasants” in which the workers and all the peasantry would complete the bourgeois revolution in the absence of a revolutionary bourgeoisie.

According to his unreconstructed Menshevik cynicism that the proletarian revolution was premature in Russia, Stalin turned this theory into the “bloc of four classes” i.e. a national front of the proletariat, peasantry, petty bourgeois intelligentsia, and national bourgeoisie, to bring about the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution. This would allow the Soviet Union to form alliances with ‘democratic’ capitalist countries to buy the time necessary to build ‘socialism in one country’.

Against this Menshevik theory, the Bolshevik concept of Permanent Revolution was defended by the Left Opposition between 1923 and 1928 in an effort to win the leadership of the CCP to lead the poor peasants against the national bourgeoisies, including the rich peasants (kulaks), and the imperialist bourgeoisies. So the ‘permanent revolution’ must start off as a bourgeois democratic revolution against imperialism but immediately pass over to the socialist revolution against the bourgeoisie.

Theory/program of ‘permanent revolution’

Karl Marx originated this theory after the failure of the bourgeois revolutions in Europe in 1848. Henceforth the bourgeoisie was incapable of completing its own revolution to extend bourgeois rights to the masses (as we saw when Napoleon revoked the freedom of the slaves in Haiti) and that historic task was now that of the proletariat as part of the world socialist revolution.

Marx foresaw that the colonial world would not need to follow mechanically copy the stages of growth of capitalism in the West. Once the West extended is rule over the whole world (coming to its full force as imperialism in the late 19th century) the colonies could complete their national democratic struggle for independence only by means of socialist revolution.

In 1850 Marx talking about ‘backward’ China wrote:

“Chinese socialism may, of course, bear the same relation to European socialism as Chinese to Hegelian philosophy. But it is still amusing to note that the oldest and most unshakeable empire on earth has, within eight years, been brought to the brink of a social revolution by the cotton bales of the English bourgeoisie; in any event, such a revolution cannot help but have the most important consequences for the civilized world. When our European reactionaries, in the course of their imminent flight through Asia, finally arrive at the Great Wall of China, at the gates which lead to the home of primal reaction and primal conservatism, who knows if they will not find written thereon the legend: “République chinoise Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” Review: January-February, 1850

Just as in Europe where the reactionary bourgeoisie was suppressing ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ for fear of the working class, in China the Taiping uprising in 1850 against the British invaders proved to Marx that that the working class had the potential lead the peasants to overthrow not only imperialism but also its own weak pro-imperialist bourgeoisie and complete the bourgeois revolution as the socialist revolution. Thus Marx anticipated the prospect of ‘socialist revolution’ (even if ‘bourgeois’ at the start) led by workers and peasants completing the bourgeois revolution as ‘permanent revolution’ in backward capitalist countries.

Such an eventuality was first proven correct in Soviet Russia. The Bolsheviks moved quickly to complete the bourgeois revolution avoiding the death trap of the bourgeois Provisional Government between February and October 1917. They took over the program of the party of poor peasants, the Social Revolutionaries, for ‘land to the tiller’, to win them to the revolution. They expropriated foreign capitalists, repudiated the foreign debt, and formed the Red Army to defeat the military invasions of the imperialists. Even when widespread starvation caused by the Civil War forced the Bolsheviks to allow the rich peasant Kulaks and capitalists to profit from agriculture and trade, these enterprises were under the control of the workers state.

However, just as in Russia where permanent revolution was aborted by global capitalism and the Stalinist bureaucracy after 1924, in ‘backward’ China the CCP, as part of the Comintern dominated by Stalin, also adopted the Menshevik program of the Bloc of Four Classes and the two-stage revolution. The first ‘democratic’ stage of the revolution required a bloc of workers, peasants, intellectuals and ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie. This bloc would require the CCP to subordinate itself to Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist army and expose it to repression.

Trotsky and the Left Opposition from 1923 onwards opposed Stalin’s Menshevik theory as part of his betrayal of Bolshevism and his program for “socialism in one country” and fought against this policy in the CCP. They condemned Stalin’s treacherous role in the smashing of the Second Chinese revolution in 1927 when the bourgeois general Chiang Kai Chek unleashed his army to massacre the CCP leaders and the militant rank and file in Shanghai and Canton.

After the betrayal of the Second Chinese Revolution the CCP was led by Mensheviks like Mao who retreated from the cities to a peasant war of national liberation against Japan and the nationalist Kuomintang. Following its military victory in 1949 the CCP tried to negotiate with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie only to find it had fled into the imperialists’ camp. The CCP had to amend Stalin’s bloc of Four Classes to a bloc of Three Classes led not by the workers but by the petty bourgeois CCP leadership. The result was the formation of a bureaucratic centralised state apparatus run by the CCP to complete the ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution but taking state power in the name of workers and peasants.

Capitalist property was expropriated and the market replaced by the plan administered by a bureaucratically deformed workers’ state. The CCP intelligentsia promoted itself as the state manager of ‘socialist’ property but in reality the workers and peasants had no say in how the state was run or the planning process itself. There was no workers democracy that could replace the bureaucracy and move China towards a genuine socialism. China as a bureaucratically deformed ‘workers’ state was stuck in limbo between its capitalist past and its socialist future. Its fate would be decided either by a political revolution in which workers overthrew the bureaucracy and took power directly to implement genuine socialism, or the defeat of the workers by the parasitic bureaucracy to restore capitalism under the ideology of “market socialism”.

Was the Chinese revolution ‘socialist’?

Was this the socialist revolution Marx spoke of? No, because the workers did not lead the poor peasants to the seizure of power. The struggle for national independence was led by a bureaucratic Stalinist party forced by the desertion of the bourgeoisie to base itself on the workers and poor peasants as a parasitic caste feeding off their labor.

After the revolution the bureaucracy had to industrialise to develop the forces of production to meets the needs of both the rural and industrial workforce as well as provide a surplus for the parasitic caste. The poor peasants who had formed the ranks of the national army were rapidly subordinated by the growth of industry and the rise of the urban working class.

The peasantry had no future as an independent class. The peasantry’s aspirations are limited to the horizon of petty capitalism or to private capitalist land ownership. The state blocked these aspirations by collectivising the land. So the fate of the peasantry was to become a rural labor force and a reserve army of labor to serve the needs of industry.

This change in rural society follows from the need to develop agricultural productivity to cheapen the wage goods of industrial workers and to create a surplus army of landless peasants who could migrate to the cities as a reserve of cheap labor. Thus wages in industry were driven down by migrant labor whose low wages were supplemented by subsistence goods in the countryside.

While this bureaucratically deformed workers state appears to bourgeois intellectuals as no more than a new ‘socialist’ elite administering the old centralised state of the ‘middle empire’, it was in reality now under the overall determining influence of the global capitalist economy. Rebuffed by the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy had to forcibly collectivise the agricultural labor of the old peasant family farmers to meet the needs of the industrial working class and generate a surplus.

But the bureaucracy could not claim the surplus as private property without stoking a political revolution of peasants and workers challenging its rule. It was necessary to resort to corruption and abuse of the norms of ‘socialism’ to maintain its privileges.

The bureaucratic plan led to the Chinese economy stagnating and a declining surplus. Because this threatened the material basis of the bureaucracies privileges by 1978 the party embarked on the first market reforms to increase output. The CCP had increasing difficulty justifying its reforms in terms of ‘socialist’ norms of freedom and equality to the masses which had the power to resist them. It stretched the concept of ‘socialism’ inventing “market socialism” to sell the restoration of ‘capitalism’ to the masses.

However, increasing opposition to ‘market socialism’ as market reforms to restore capitalism threatened the rule of the bureaucracy. The defeat of the 1989 uprising of Tienanmen Square that arose as a protest against growing corruption and enrichment of the party leadership at the expense of freedom and equality, was an historic defeat for the working class and marked the tipping point in the restoration process. The CCP Congress in 1992 for the first time recognised that the economy was now based on the market (law of value) rather than state planning.

Thus the inherent class contradiction of Chinese ‘socialism’ (between the bureaucracy as agent of global capitalism, and the peasants and workers) was resolved with the historic defeat of workers by the bureaucracy determined to convert itself into a capitalist class. The concessions to workers under the bureaucratic state – labor protection in the nationalised SOEs, peasant property, labor rights etc – were removed or subordinated to demands of capitalist profit. All the old ‘socialist’ protections of workers and peasants rights became increasingly eliminated.

Unable to escape the global crisis of capitalism which is now enveloping China, the Chinese working class is facing millions of redundancies as inefficient firms are closed down. They have to fight for the most basic demands, for the ‘iron rice bowl’ for jobs and a living wage etc for their survival. These struggles are leading to more strikes and occupations which will pose the necessity of taking control of industry. At the same time the struggle of rural collectives in the villages exposed to corruption and exploitation for decades remains the basis for the survival of the 300 million rural reserve army of labor.

Industrial workers and rural workers can only resolve China’s capitalist crisis in their own class interests by seizing power, overthrowing the Chinese bourgeoisie and replacing the capitalist state with a Workers and Farmers’ State able to implement a socialist plan. The only ‘new era’ in the age of global capitalist decline and terminal crisis in which workers can win a living income will be the new socialist era. So how do we get there? And what would it look like?

A Transitional Program for China

Immediate demands
1. Return to the Rice Bowl! Jobs for all and a living wage! Free, universal health, education and social welfare!

2. Defend the collective land rights of villages! For a state rural bank to fund cooperatives!

3. Build fighting, democratic unions! Form strike committees! For workers occupation of industry, and workers and farmers’ councils!

4. For a mass independent workers and working farmers political party to put up candidates against the CCP!

5. For a world party of socialist revolution based on the revolutionary program of the communist internationals including the 1938 Transitional Program!

Democratic demands
1. Reject all historic oppression today! Full equality to all without discrimination by race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability etc!

2. China is not returning to its “middle kingdom”, it is a modern, capitalist empire! No to Chinese great power chauvinism!

3. Against Chinese imperialism! In any war with other imperialist powers we are for workers turning their guns on their own ruling class!

4. Reject colonial oppression! For the right of self-determination for oppressed peoples and nations!

5. No to false Stalinist and Maoist national/popular fronts with the national bourgeoisies against imperialism!

Socialist Demands
1. Reject capitalist restoration under the guise of ‘market socialism’. Down with the CCP and its new Red Capitalist class! Down with the billionaires!

2. For the political general strike and workers insurrection! For a popular army, workers’ and peasants’ militias!

3. For a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government based on soviets everywhere! For the immediate expropriation of the private property of Chinese and foreign capitalists!

4. For a workers plan based on soviets to plan production for need! From each according to the ability, to each according to their need!

5. For a Federation of Socialist Republics of the Asia-Pacific!

Crisis of Overproduction

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marx et al

If one thing unites the left of all shades right now its a sort of satisfaction that the market has been shown to fail dramatically if not yet apocalyptically. On the left there are broadly three responses. The first is social democratic or Keynesian, of which Krugman, Henwood or Monbiot are examples. The second is radical, such as that of the Monthly Review School and many others who call themselves ‘socialist’, and the third is what I would call classic Marxist; Marx, Lenin and Trotsky of course, but also others like Paul Mattick who lived through the 1930s depression, David Yaffe in the 1970s and Anwah Sheikh today.  We can call these standpoints Keynesian, Radical and Marxist for short. Each has a theory of how the capitalist economy works and as a result a theory of crisis and crisis solutions.  All three are attempts to rectify what they see as the shortcomings of neo-classical, or what Marx called vulgar, political economy.

Keynesian model

As Mattick notes (in Marx and Keynes p.20) Keynes was hardly a revolutionary.  In fact he could be said to have “partially” returned to the classical theory of Adam Smith in which labor produced value.  Keynes did not think that the market could establish an equilibrium between consumption and production without state intervention.  Say’s Law that supply creates demand did not work in reality and capitalists would tend to hoard rather than invest in production to meet demand.  Only the intervention of the state to boost consumption would stimulate production, and that too would have to be pump primed by state investment to start.

For Keynes then the business cycle was a thing of the past and could be eliminated by judicious state policies to balance consumption and production.  This does not mean ideally building pyramids in Eygpt or military expenditure, since these do not normally increase workers incomes and consumption.  Keynes policies were designed to transfer income from the savings of employers to the consumption of workers. This is why social democracy has seized on Keynes and applied it where possible, drawing on the lessons of the New Deal and Labour Governments in UK, Australia and NZ.

A good example of that is George Monbiot’s call for a return to Keynes.

Today the response of social democrats to the financial crisis is to jump at the opportunity to redirect social spending at increasing the incomes and hence consumption of workers.  However the sheer scale of the crisis has  taken them by surprise and they have been overwhelmed by the banks and goverments spending pontentially many trillions of dollars to stave up the collapsing financial system.  Calls for social spending on jobs, wages and consumption have been lost in the rush to bail out the banks.

Social democrats have a problem. They know that state spending on the banks and big corporates does not necessarily mean more production since there is no matching consumption. The bailing out of the banks could end up being hoarded. The logic of Keynesianism is therefore to take ownership of the banks or to found state banks to ensure that productive investment takes place. This however would end up in the state regulating and even owning production itself.  Yet social democrats have not seized the time to demand complete nationalisation of the economy. Why is this?

One interesting comment is from Steve of Marx Redux Blog

Henwood in my view is not a Marxist, but a left Keynesian. His claim that “If the credit markets could not function properly, the economy would grind to a halt and cause immense suffering to those who could least afford it” is clearly false, since it is being shown to us every day since August 2007 that the intermediation of the “credit markets” can be replaced by the direct financial intermediation of the state. Unfortunately, actual state intervention is being perverted into intermediation for the purpose of preserving the position of the financial sector in the economy rather than for the benefit of the economy as a whole, not even for the benefit of capitalist sectors excluded from the charmed circle of military-financial parasitism, much less for the rest of the population.

But since state intervention IS occurring on a massive scale in full public view (if except for the details of the diversion of enormous sums from the U.S. Treasury), why not call for direct state intermediation NOW (Doug!) and cut out the middleman who, after all, precipitated the crisis. These “too big to fail” operations should, of course, be taken over, shutdown, broken
up, their officers imprisoned and the remainder restricted to public utility functions.

But no, Henwood can’t even bring himself to support this minimal reform because there is no “realistic” chance of it occurring. But it is precisely this diversionary hijacking of the Treasury that will now be an immense barrier to any US economic restructuring that would constitute a “way out”
of the crisis, even in narrow capitalist terms. Henwood in his call to support the AIG bailout therefore is calling for a worsening of mass misery, not its alleviation. Henwood refuses to see that the immediate PROBLEM is that the advancement of “future wages” in the form of credit in lieu of actual wages earned (and actually stagnant and declining) – the “Payday Loan Economy” – has exhausted itself at the point where significant sectors of workers no longer earn actual wages to minimally pay the interest on this credit, resulting in a profit crisis for finance and a massive devaluation of financial capital. Reinflation of the balloon will not address this fundamental contradiction.

Doug’s call is now directly opposed to what should now be called for: the reversal of the Treasury hijacking. Realize a stanza of the International: “That the thief return his plunder”. Without that there will be no class struggle over where these funds should be going: in essence to bail out the capitalists or the workers. They will all be gone down the financial rathole. Instead this is the line at present in the class struggle and once
again Henwood is to be found on the other side of the front line as it presently stands.

This comment  is interesting as it confirms the views of radicals and Marxists that the social democrats franchise is not to expropriate capital, merely to reform its workings. Radicals are summed up by the line from the Internationale:  capitalists “steal” their profits from workers and the task is to take it back. But both radical and Marxists agree that Keynesian policies are designed to rescue capitalism from a crisis of excess capital by boosting consumption,  not take over the banks and corporates. For that would be socialism!

Radical model

The radicals objection to neo-classical equilibrium theory goes beyond a rejection of Say’s law.  Radicals argue that the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the ruling class is at the expense of the impoverishment of the working class. This theory goes back to a radical reading of David Ricardo the best political economist before Marx came along. Hence as wages are kept down to maximise profits, underconsumption is a chronic condition of the market and cannot be simply corrected by Keynesian policies.  Because normally the ruling class controls the state boosting of jobs and incomes is always subject to their resistance to funding such a redistribution adequately. Of course radicals support Keynesian policies but say it is necessary to go further to nationalise the means of production so that it can be planned to meet the needs of consumption.

Again, as with social democracy, the capitalist state is the instrument of this radical reform.  Just as the welfare state redistributes income to boost consumption in the Keynesian system,  the radical advocates state investment in industry to plan production.  Thus the radical response to the current crisis is to push the state intervention to support the banks and corporates further to public ownership and control of finance and industry.

For the Monthly Review School and many others including Robert Brenner and Noam Chomsky, public ownership of finance and industry would overcome the basic cause of the failure of the market – the tendency for capitalists to hoard their wealth unless they can drive down wages and conditions sufficiently to justify further investment.  The social democratic solution is no solution for them because taxing their profits to pay a social wage prevents wages falling and profits rising.

Given that understanding radicals go to the ‘root’ of the problem as they see it, the cause of inequality itself, the unequal exchange between capitalist and worker when the capitalist buys labour power below its real value. In the place of the capitalist the state steps in and in the name of the democratic people creates an equal exchange between labour and state capital.

There is therefore no shortage of radicals calling for state bailouts of the banks to go further then state shareholding to complete nationalisation and control of the banks. Similarly, as big corporates like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler start to fall over, the call is for these firms to be nationalised.

This call is now being made as the banks being bailed out by the taxpayers (whose taxes draw on future labor) refuse to themselves bail out bankrupt firms.  Example: Republic Windows in Chicago occupied the plant to get their redundancy from the bailed out Bank of America. They won and are now reemployed by a new boss. What is at issue here is workers using direct action to force the employer to shell out some of the public bailout money.  Its about getting what is ‘fair’ and not about workers control of production!

While workers limit their actions to pressure the nationalisation of the banks however, their political solution to the financial crisis does not go beyond the nationalisation of money. Marxists call this radical theory of capitalism ‘utopian socialism’ as in Marx’s critique of radical Ricardians and in particular of Proudhon.

Marxist model

Marxism was a development of classical political economy, so Keynes return to Smith and the radicals return to Smith and Ricardo, are a return to a pre-Marxist political economy.  Keynes system is a redistribution of income towards the social wage.  It assumes equal exchange as did Smith. Radicals assume unequal exchange after Ricardo and want the state to intervene to equalise exchange.  Marxism critiques both these theories as limited by the level of analysis.

Marxists critique Keynesians as theorists of capitalist distribution.  To illustrate this lets look at one ex-Marxist, James Heartfield, who has moved from Marx back to Keynes.  Ironically, Heartfield was once a member of the British Marxist Revolutionary Communist Party that was founded on the economic analysis of David Yaffe who was heavily influenced by classic Marxists Paul Mattick and Henryk Grossmann.

In a recent article Heartfield claims that the current crisis has nothing to do with a crisis of overproduction, but rather a ‘subjective’ psychological aversion of capitalists to productive investment that has led to speculation. Heartfield argues that a crisis of overprodution results from the TRPF and while the crisis of the 1960s could be seen as such, today the crisis originates in the sphere of finance.

Steve of Marx Redux again has pointed to the arguments against this that Heartfield must be aware of.

Of all the cases Heartfield could have chosen to illustrate supposed ‘subjectivism’ (aka psychologism), he made an unfortunate choice.

There is absolutely nothing novel about the burgeoning of finance and its attempts to distance itself from capitalist production. The case of the money market is *precisely* the one which Engels uses in his classic letter to Schmidt (Oct 27 1890) about historical materialism to discuss the relative independence of certain social developments from production – without ever having to resort to a deus ex machina or any form of idealism.

His account of the reception of Mattick’s ‘Marx and Keynes’ is ignorant – it was one of Merlin Books’ Book Club choices and was widely read and debated on the British left in the ’70s. Mattick remarks:

‘A depression may “sneak” into existence by a gradual slowing down of economic activity, or it may be initiated by a dramatic “crash” with sudden bank failures and the collapse of the stock market. The crisis itself is merely the point at which the reversal of business conditions is publicly recognized. … Even the last phases of the boom preceding the crisis are, viewed in retrospect, already unprofitable; but recognition of this fact has to await the verdict of the market. Commitments made on the assumption of a continuous upward trend cannot be met. The conversion of capital from commodity to money form becomes increasingly more difficult. The crisis of production is at the same time a financial crisis. The need for liquid funds and the attempt to avoid losses intensify the fall of securities and commodity prices.’ p84.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/mattick-paul/1969/marx-keynes/ch09.htm

As for copy-editing Grossman, Heartfield seems to have skipped several pages, at the end of Chapter 3, where Grossman clearly, if briefly explains how the expansion into finance is actually a consequence and symptom of overaccumulation!

‘I have shown how the course of capital accumulation is punctuated by an absolute overaccumulation which is released, from time to time, in the form of periodic crises and which is progressively intensified through the fluctuations of the economic cycle from one crisis to the next. At an advanced stage of accumulation it reaches a state of capital saturation where the overaccumulated capital faces a shortage of investment possibilities and finds it more difficult to surmount this saturation. The capitalist mechanism approaches its final catastrophe with the inexorability of a natural process. The superfluous and idle capital can ward off the complete collapse of profitability only through the export of capital or through employment on the stock exchange.’ p 191 and so on for pages.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/grossman/1929/breakdown/ch03.htm

As an alumni of the RCP, Heartfield seems to have forgotten, probably for good reason, ‘RC Papers’ tedious attack on Yaffe and Bullock’s ‘Inflation, the Crisis and the Post-War Boom’.
(http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/marxism/rc3-4_inflation.html)
There, several pages (22-26) describe in detail exactly the evolution of the financial crisis showing how it comes about precisely because of the constraints imposed by overaccumulation! Although developed to explain the limits on state expenditure (since Keynesianism was still the dominant economic ideology) the article is virtually a tutorial on the relationship of Marx’s theory of credit to his theory of overaccumulation, and can readily be used to understand the current financial crisis.

Heartfield is clearly well aware of these three sources which refuted him in advance. Yet he either fails to mention them or gives the impression that they don’t address the issue of the connection of the financial crisis with overaccumulation.

So, on these long cold dark winter nights, drawn up a chair close to the fire, pull down volume three and take another gander through parts 4 and 5, perhaps with some help from Yaffe and Bullock, the latter end of Grossman’s chapter 3, and Mattick’s analysis of the Great Depression, all conveniently online … and reassure yourself that things are undoubtedly going to get worse – thanks to the overaccumulation of capital, not to the fleeting whims and tastes of capitalists.

Not only does Heartfield abandon classic Marxism he arrives back at the distributional analyis of Keynes.  Heartfields psychological causes of speculation are exactly the same as Keynes reference to ‘animal spirits’ of capitalists who choose to hoard rather than invest productively.  It is the same failure of will on the part of the capitalist who ‘chooses’ to hoard or speculate. The thing about hoarding is that money inevitably loses value, speculation however creates the a fictitious value to disguise the loss of value. All that is needed is another dose of Keynesian state discipline to force the weak minded bosses to invest or else be punished by high taxes that the state will use to invest and reflate the economy.  Like making spoiled children behave really.  Problem is that the spoiled children do not want their toys taken off them, and rather than lose them they will destroy them.

Written by raved

March 18, 2009 at 1:29 am