Keen on Keynes
his article ‘Keynes: The great saviour and his leftwinger converts’
(October 18), Jack Conrad raises a number of arguments in relation to
says that Keynesianism was not responsible for the long post-war
boom. That is true, but it is not the same as Jack’s main
contention, which is that Keynesianism doesn’t work. In fact, as
Mandel demonstrates in The second slump, there were five
recessions during the post-war boom, and the adoption of Keynesian
stimulus acted to cut all of them short, compared to similar
recessions during the 1920s and 30s.
argues that the long post-war boom was due to the destruction of
capital during the war, and the rise of the United States as a new
hegemonic power. The facts do not support this theory, and Marxist
value theory also contradicts it. If the destruction of capital
during the war were responsible for the boom, then why did not the,
possibly even greater, destruction of capital during World War I lead
to a similar boom? In fact, rather than a boom, the period after WWI
was followed by the long-wave downturn that dragged on through the
1920s and 30s. Moreover, Britain had already ceased having economic
hegemony by the end of the 19th century, losing out to both Germany
and the US, and soon after to Japan. It may have still been
militarily dominant, but by the 1920s the US had surpassed it there
is more, by the late 1930s, the long-wave downturn was already coming
to an end, and that could not be the result of the war to come. By
the late 1930s, new dynamic industries, such as consumer electronics,
car production, pharmaceuticals, etc, were developing and in areas
such as the Midlands and south-east these new industries were
providing employment on relatively high wages. At the same time, the
rising living standards and more stable employment of the workers in
these areas created new sources of demand for these products, and for
the owner-occupied housing that now grew rapidly, itself on the back
of new construction techniques. In fact, all of these new dynamic
industries were the ones that provided the economic growth of the
idea that the physical destruction of capital facilitates growth is
itself actually closer to Keynesian theory than to Marx. It’s
reminiscent of the Keynesian idea that growth can be created by
destroying things in order to employ people to rebuild them! In fact,
one reason that the USSR had difficulty growing its economy in the
1920s was precisely because large amounts of capital had been
physically destroyed, and had to be replaced. According to Marxist
value theory, what facilitates growth is not the physical destruction
of capital, but the destruction of its value, the ability to utilise
this devalued capital to produce exchange value and surplus value,
and because of the now devalued condition of that capital to make
higher rates of profit upon it.
it were easier to grow economies that lacked capital - because it had
been destroyed or did not exist in the first place - then Upper Volta
would for years have been able to grow much more quickly than the
USA. Any society that has to devote a large proportion of its total
social labour time to reproducing its capital will grow more slowly
than one that does not, precisely because it will have
proportionately less social labour time left over as surplus to
devote to growth.
Jack’s argument for the existence of the long-wave post-war boom is
not substantiated, and nor is his argument against the effects of
Keynesian demand management during that time. What is more odd is his
argument against Keynesianism now. Reading his argument, it is as
though he is opposing the use of Keynesian stimulus. Yet in practice
the CPGB supports its use as much as anyone else. Jack correctly
describes Keynes’s idea as based upon governments running fiscal
deficits. But nearly all countries run such deficits already. In
fact, the Thatcher and Major governments during the long-wave
downturn of the 1980s and 90s ran much larger percentage deficits
than did Blair and Brown. The current government too is running a
huge deficit. In other words, they’re already using Keynesian
demand management. But the CPGB opposes the attempts by the
government to reduce that Keynesian deficit spending. So, in
practice, the CPGB not only supports Keynesian intervention, but it
wants the government to do more, not less, of it. If the CPGB really
believes that Keynesianism does not work, it would abandon its
opposition to the government’s attempts to reduce the deficit.
course, Marxists do not believe that there can be a crisis-free
capitalism, which is why Keynesianism cannot solve the problems of
capital permanently. But that does not mean that it cannot solve some
problems, some of the time, nor that in doing so it creates better
conditions for workers to defend their own interests.
addition to the discussions between Socialist Alternative and the
Revolutionary Socialist Party, there have also been talks between
SAlt and the Socialist Alliance, which is in fact larger than
Socialist Alternative, despite what the article in last week’s
issue seems to suggest (‘Regroupment in a revolutionary party’,
November 8). This is somewhat interesting, as both the RSP and the SA
come from the same tradition of Mandelite Trotskyism turned more
‘broad left’, though both groups have taken their politics in
uniquely different directions away from even what exists as Mandelite
would treat both developments with a cautiously positive attitude,
though it’s worth looking into the differences between the two
statements. On the one hand, the statement on the proposed SAlt/RSP
merger, a fair amount of historical and international context is
brought into the discussion, and it at least briefly touches on
points that seem positive for CPGB supporters, such as the need for a
Marxist party and a rejection of the textbook definitions of
Leninism. On the other hand, in the statement on cooperation between
SAlt and the Socialist Alliance places much more emphasis on current
struggles in Australia and, to my eyes at least, reads as more
diplomatic than the first statement.
I am neither a participant nor an expert watcher of the Australian
far left, so it’s difficult for me to say what these apparent
differences of focus in unity discussions that are being engaged in
by the same group may mean. Nevertheless, it seems like there are
important enough differences (probably relating to the respective
groups’ evolutions) that watching the progression of further talks
may help shine light on what those differences actually are. As the
article noted, hopefully there are Australian comrades reading who
can give more insight into these respective cooperation talks.
RSP does not oppose electoral intervention. Indeed it has run
candidates in the past.
There is more at www.directaction.org.au and www.sa.org.au.
I especially recommened:
only just noticed Eddie Ford’s article, ‘Endlessly plundering the
earth’ (July 1 2010). It has been a long time.
I first joined the Young Communist League, I was taken up with the
idea of abundance; of a society where the state would wither away,
because we would create a society where there would be no scarcity in
the world, and people would go to work because they wanted to, not
because they were forced to. Production and consumption would match
one another perfectly. People would work at what they wanted to work
at. Education and practical experience would be supreme. There would
be no need for an executive, armed services, a police force, a
judiciary, a prison service and such coercive forces. Our country -
nay, our world - would be a bit like William Morris’s News from
along came ‘planned obsolescence’. Should consumer goods last
forever, or would it be better to plan, say, a washing machine to
last 10 years? And all the parts break down at the same time, or
randomly. Should computers last forever, or should they too suffer
from obsolescence, planned or otherwise?
never had a fundamental ecological outlook. If I am wrong, perhaps
you can refer me to it. He had a human outlook, though he believed in
abundance too, as a way of freeing the worker from his/her chains. Is
there anything wrong with increasing the use of energy? Surely, that
is not the critique. Even if you were not to agree with such a
concept, it is going to happen. The influence comes in on how we
produce that energy, how we harness it, how we conserve it and how we
become more efficient at using it.
have no doubt that we are in the process of destroying our lifestyle
on the planet, unnecessarily, but we are after all mortal human
beings. Sooner or later our species will collapse - some catastrophe
will happen and huge change will take place, just like the dinosaurs,
or the hot and cold periods. Personally, I do not accept the argument
that anything we do on the planet, with the exception of polluting
the atmosphere with fluorescence, is going to make a blind bit of
difference to what happens. The forces of Gaia are far too great, far
too powerful and very unknowable, compared with our own tiny
is interesting how capitalism is blamed, as if it is a thing in
itself, rather than a process. Human beings invented capitalism, and
they operate the system. We all play our part in it, to a greater or
lesser extent: we all make our compromises with it, so we are all
responsible for its outcome. My question is, have you got something
better? Not an idle or derogatory question, by the way. I would be
interested to know because I have been seeking such answers since I
left the Communist Party and threw off the chains of democratic
centralism and party discipline.
Kent’s discussion of rape seems confused (Letters, November 8).
Leaving aside his reliance on Chris Knight’s ‘just so’ story
about human origins, I will focus on contemporary issues deriving
from the Assange case.
suggests that Swedish law relies on penetration as the defining
aspect of rape and correctly identifies this as a problem originating
in the historic position of women’s role as producers of legitimate
heirs. Swedish law has progressed to some extent and now penetration
includes vagina, anus or mouth. It does not have to be with a penis,
unlike the UK, where penetration with anything else is classed as
sexual assault. It is not the case that Swedish law recognises
nothing except penetration as potentially constituting an offence.
Having criticised the Swedes for their limited definition of rape,
Phil later suggests their definition is so wide it devalues the
concept of rape. In Sweden both rapist and victim can be of either
biological sex; it is questionable whether such gender-blindness is
realistic or helpful, but Phil’s criticism does not mention that;
he concentrates on trivialising the experiences of the two women.
problematic is Swedish law’s reliance on requiring violence (albeit
minor) to be used or the exploitation of a ‘helpless state’,
which can apply to sleep or intoxication, but more commonly the use
of physical force - eg, being pinned down by the assailant’s body
weight. This was described by one of the Swedish women. It would also
be an offence in Britain.
has suggested that the victim must be asleep during the entire
assault from initiation to completion, only that she is not conscious
when the attacker first attempts to penetrate her, the point being
that she would initially be unaware of what was happening, so unable
to refuse or consent. In British law, rape is defined by lack of
consent and the onus of proof is on the defendant to demonstrate his
reasonable belief that the complainant actively consented. This
cannot be repeated too often, given the confusion about this issue
shown even by otherwise well-informed people.
repeats the story that the Swedish women “were not raped in their
opinion”. Probably not in the opinion of a great many people who
are ignorant of the law and believe the (literally) mediaeval
attitude that rape victims run to the police, screaming and covered
in blood. Such dramatic behaviour is rarely the case. Phil repeats
that the women wanted paternity tests; I have never read this
anywhere else; only that they wanted Assange to take an HIV test.
There is no reason to assume that they were “treated like children”
by being informed of the law and their rights.
on the radio last week said that, unlike Europeans, Americans don’t
do coalitions. Actually, they always do coalitions - that’s what
‘separation of powers’ means.
Washington, the eye of each branch is on the other: Congress can
obstruct presidents, presidents can veto Congress. Each house needs
the other for a majority and the nine bourgeois of the supreme court
can halt anything they deem unconstitutional. The effect of all this
line drawing is to keep politics out of government, as opposed to
won the swing states because he was a ‘moderate’ and ‘got’
Osama bin Laden and helped the banks and a key car factory.
Ninety-five percent of African-Americans only vote for Democrats
anyway, while the ‘undecided’ probably trusted the slippery Mitt
any case, it takes a great deal of funding to stay in the two-party
beauty contest - $3 billion for TV ads this season alone.
Zigs and zags
are in danger of becoming the far-left mouthpiece of European Union
neoliberalism (‘“Official communists” welcome Miliband’s
conversion to austerity’, November 8). You are the zig to the zag
of the left-sectarian and Stalinist version of Little Englandism and
this right deviation comes a week after you did an ultra-left, third
period zag on the US elections. It’s all looking a bit centrist.
simply put forward the antithesis to the isolationism and British
roadism of the Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Party in England
and Wales and No2EU, and go all out for reforming - supporting - the
basically ‘good’ EU. A proper transcendent synthesis of these two
opposed and incorrect positions - their unity - would be a policy of
renegotiating the founding treaties of the EU in accordance with
socialist principles and that is the policy you should be trying to
get the labour movement to adopt.
up a campaign for such a thing to push for this and to democratically
work out what a socialist EU would look like and what it would do.
Make it clear that such a campaign would not actively seek an in-out
referendum, but in the event of one taking place that it could not
vote positively for the EU as currently constituted and nor can it
support the imposition of any anti-working class EU measures by any
to get dialectical if you are to live up to your claim to be the
torchbearers of Marxism in Britain and not just another zig-zagging,
Tell the truth!
McDonald writes an article on Scottish nationalism, saying that
Marxists should vote ‘no’ in the referendum on independence,
while supporting the democratic right to self-determination (‘Joining
the nationalist bandwagon’, November 8). But she ends up joining
the nationalist bandwagon herself by calling for a federal republic
of Scotland, England and Wales (what happens to Northern Ireland is
Sarah has missed Marx’s correct statement that the working class
has no country; and she also ignores his most famous slogan, ‘Workers
of the world, unite’. Our duty as Marxists is to build a worldwide
movement - a federal republic has nothing to do with communism. It
will just be another capitalist state, run in the interests of a
minority. Why would communists call for that?
is capitalism that must go, not the monarchy. Rather than take a pro-
or anti-independence stance, why not just tell the truth? That
workers would be exploited in an independent Scottish state, just as
they would be in a federal republic.