Archive for the ‘Marxism’ Category

by Michael Roberts

This year’s Historical Materialism conference in London seemed well attended and with younger participants.  HM covers all aspects of radical thought: philosophical, political, cultural, psychological and economic.  But it’s economics that this blog concentrates on and so my account of HM London will be similar.

Actually, there did not seem to be as many economic sessions as in previous years, so let me begin with the ones that I organised!  They were the two book launch sessions: one on the new book, The World in Crisis, edited by Guglielmo Carchedi and myself; and the second on my short book, Marx 200, that elaborates on Marx’s key economics ideas and their relevance in the 21st century, some 200 years after his birth and 150 years since he published Volume One of Capital.

In the session on The World in Crisis, I gave a general account of the various chapters that all aim at providing a global empirical analysis of Marx’s law of profitability, with the work of mostly young authors from Europe, Asia, North and South America (not Africa, unfortunately).

As the preface in the book says: “World in Crisis aims to provide empirical validity to the hypothesis that the cause of recurring and regular economic crises or slumps in output, investment and employment can be found ultimately in Marx’s law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit on capital.”  My power point presentation showed one overall result: that wherever you look at the data globally, there has been a secular fall in the rate of profit on capital; and in several chapters there is evidence that the causal driver of crises under capitalism is a fall in profitability and profits.

In the session, Tony Norfield presented his chapter on derivatives and capital markets.  Tony has just published his powerpoint presentation on his excellent blog site.  Tony traces the origin of the rise of derivatives from the 1990s to the instability of capital markets. Derivatives did not cause the global financial crash in 2008 but by extending the speculative boom in credit in the early 2000s, they helped spread the crash beyond the (more…)


The Christchurch-based Canterbury Socialist Society has been organising educational talks, film showings and social events since last year.  The public talks have ranged from Marx’s analysis of the working day to war resisters in New Zealand to the Frankfurt School.

Last month the Society decided to adopt a more formal structure and a founding statement.  Below is the founding statement.

In mid September 2018 the Canterbury Socialist Society was officially founded in Christchurch. A constitution was ratified and an executive board was elected. Those in attendance have prepared the following statement to mark our formation as a Society:

As capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, social ties are growing weaker, and working life is increasingly exhausting and insecure. Poverty, alienation and despair are now ubiquitous features of daily life. A burning question presents itself to the public consciousness: Is this the kind of society, the kind of world, we want? For a growing number, the answer is an emphatic no.

But this first question demands a second: If not capitalism, then which system? Our answer is this: Socialism.

We do not delude ourselves that the public en masse have yet reached the same conclusion as us. However, as capitalism continues in its tendency towards crisis, the political situation will become ever more fractious and violent. The original question therefore will become sharper and its resolution that much more urgent: Socialism or barbarism?

The socialist proposition is that capitalism is neither a (more…)

Dunedin: Otago Socialist Society presents
Marx’s theory of capitalist crisis

Why is capitalism plagued by regular economic crises? Can capitalism avoid these crises or are they inherent in the system? What did Marx see as the fundamental cause of these crises, regardless of whether they appear first in the ‘real’ economy or the financial sector? In particular, what is ‘the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’? What political conclusions follow from Marx’s crisis theory?

Speaker: Philip Ferguson
6pm, Monday, July 30
McNab Room,
3rd floor, central city library,
Moray Place, Dunedin


Christchurch: Canterbury Socialist Society presents
Harlan County USA

This award-winning film – it even won an academy award! – documents a major struggle between coal miners in Harlan County (Kentucky) and coal bosses in the 1970s.  These workers provide an inspiring example of how to fight.

7.30pm, Tuesday, August 7
The Space Academy,
371 St Asaph Street, Christchurch

A number of people who were engaged in the Imperialism study/discussion group initiated by this blog have recently been debating David Harvey and others on imperialism today (and in the past).  The debate has taken place on the site of the Review of African Political Economy.  For links to the key articles, see here.

The most recent contribution is by one of the Imperialism group participants based in New York. 

by Walter Daum

Esteban Mora begins his contribution to the discussion of the David Harvey-John Smith debate by asserting that the whole debate over who drains value from whom is misguided. While Smith says the West continues to drain the East and Harvey holds that the direction has been reversed, Mora believes that both claims rest on the ‘misconception’ arising from dependency theory that the imperialist North drains value from the imperialized South. [1]This, he says, is ‘not entirely accurate,’ and he goes on to make further claims which, as I see it, amount to arguing that imperialism as classically defined by Marxists does not exist – and for that matter never did.

Mora’s argument goes through several steps. He first points out that Northern and Southern capitalists both exploit the South, which is undeniably true. The rate of profit is higher in the South, he says, because of Southern industry’s less developed organic composition of capital, and both Northern and Southern capitalists benefit from it. But this reasoning is off-target. Mora overlooks the enormous super-exploitation of Southern labor (in fact, he never mentions any kind of exploitation), the main reason that profit rates from production in the South are higher. Moreover, the organic composition need not be much lower in the South; many Southern factories use up-to-date technology.

Second, Mora rejects the dependency-theory notion of a ‘correlative movement between rising profits and diminishing profits.’ It is not clear whether the rising profits are meant to be those produced in the North or those captured by Northern capitalists wherever produced, and likewise for the diminishing profits of the South. But since he is aiming to refute the ‘drain’ of profits, we have to assume that he is denying that Northern capitalists capture greater profits than Southern capitalists. On this, John Smith has shown in his book and in this online discussion that, Apple, for example, makes a much higher rate of profit than the contractors who produce its devices in China. And I gave evidence in my contribution to the debate that ‘the surplus-value flow from the U.S. to China does not match that extracted from China by the West.’

Mora seems to. . . .

Full: Again, Is imperialism still imperialism

Every week the French revolutionary organisation Lutte Ouvriere produces workplace bulletins at hundreds of workplaces all over France where they have members and supporters.  The bulletins deal with issues in those particular workplaces along with an editorial that goes into all the bulletins and deals with national or international issues.  Below is the editorial from the bulletins of June 25.

The Lifeline is a refugee rescue ship, like the Aquarius. Outfitted by a German non-governmental organization, it is stranded at sea off the coast of Libya with 230 migrants on board because the Italian and Maltese governments deny them the right to dock. France, which is so used to lecturing other governments, is refusing them too. Once more we are witnessing the terrible predicament of women, men and children hopelessly knocking on Europe’s doors, after having been through hell.

In Italy, the far-right Minister of Internal Affairs, Salvini, is using this affair to make a show of his intransigence. He has already made proposals worthy of the racist laws adopted under Mussolini, for example a law that would oblige all Roma people to be registered.

In France, Minister of Internal Affairs Collomb speaks the same language as far-right politicians. He claims that France is under the threat of “being submerged”. And he boasts of his recent decisions making it harder for refugees to be eligible for asylum status and increasing the number of expulsions.

Asylum seekers wander from one (more…)

Many useful articles have been written about the recent demonetisation, perhaps the most discussed economic event in India in recent times. The entire discussion has brought to the fore many aspects of India’s economy. Among them is an important theme that we have emphasized in earlier issues of Aspects: Namely, the gulf between different sectors of the economy. This gulf has economic and political implications.

This gulf can be seen in many measures, which are expressions of a single reality: the gap between the income of the ‘informal’ (‘unorganised’) and ‘formal’ (‘organised’) sectors; between rural areas and urban areas; between the sectors producing commodities (agriculture, manufacturing) and the services sector; between income-poor regions which are rich in natural resources and other regions where income is concentrated.

The gulf is also within each sector, between the activities which make up most of the employment, and the activities which have most of the income. For instance, what is termed the ‘services sector’ encompasses both the courier delivery man and the captains of the financial world; ‘urban areas’ include the most miserable squalor and the most obscene wealth; mining regions are the homes of destitute tribals as well as the fiefdoms of mining barons. Thus when we talk of any of these categories or regions we need to be clear which sections and activities we are discussing.

The perverse course of ‘development’ being pursued by the economy, far from narrowing this gulf, keeps reproducing it and expanding it, by transferring not only surpluses but even, increasingly, natural assets (which are not reproducible) from the informal sector to the formal sector. This process substantially explains the dramatic growth of inequality in recent years.

While the current policies are touted as ‘formalising’ the economy, in fact thoroughgoing formalisation (which critically involves formalising employment and its terms) is not on the cards. Instead, policy measures that, within the existing framework, increase the share of formal sector firms (corporations) in the economy actually increase the incomes of the cream of the formal economy, without increasing employment in that sector. At the same time, they depress the incomes and employment of the vast majority in the informal sector. Thus we find that:

(i) the share of the organised sector in national income (GDP) has risen from about one-third in the 1980s to well over half today; but

(ii) within that organised sector GDP, the share of workers’ wages has collapsed, causing the share of profits to rise correspondingly;

(iii) more than half the workers in the organised sector are now informal workers (contract, casual, etc); and

(iv) the unorganised sector still accounts for the overwhelming majority of jobs – i.e., a growing number of workers in this sector have to share a shrinking percentage of national income.

The entire discussion on this question betrays how (i) the very methodology of estimating GDP disregards or discards the (more…)

A number of participants in the Imperialism study/discussion group initiated by Redline have been involved in debating David Harvey’s view of imperialism recently through the Review of African Political Economy.

Thanks to Walter Daum for sending us the links.  We have very much valued discussing imperialism with him, John Smith and Andy Higginbottom as well as Tony Norfield and other folks involved in the study/discussion group.

So much of the left in the imperialist world downplays the question of imperialism or reduces it to military invasions such as the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan etc.  The political economy of imperialism, including the role it plays in shaping the material position, experience and political consciousness of workers in the First World often tends to be overlooked or even denied.

David Harvey Denies Imperialism
by John Smith
January 10, 2018
Realities on the Ground: David Harvey replies to John Smith
by David Harvey
February 5, 2018
Imperialist Realities vs. the Myths of David Harvey
by John Smith
March 19, 2018
Dissolving Empire: David Harvey, John Smith, and the Migrant
by Adam Mayer
April 10, 2018
Towards a Broader Theory of Imperialism
by Patrick Bond
April 18, 2018
Is Imperialism Still Imperialist? A Response to Patrick Bond 
by Walter Daum 
May 16, 2018
A Self-Enriching Pact: Imperialism and the Global South
by Andy Higginbottom
June 19, 2018