Archive for the ‘World economy’ Category

by Michael Roberts

Financial markets may be booming in the expectation that the US economy will grow faster under president Donald Trump. But they forget that the main emphasis of Trump’s programme, in so far as it is coherent, is to make America “great again” by imposing tariffs and other controls on imports, and forcing US companies to produce at home – in other words, trade protectionism. This is to be enforced by new laws.

That brings me to discuss the role of law in trying to make the economy work better for bourgeois interests – an area that has been badly neglected. How is the law used to protect the interests of capital against labour; national capital interests against foreign rivals; and the capitalist sector as a whole against monopoly interests?

Last year, there were a number of books that came out that helped to enlighten us both theoretically and empirically on the laws of motion of capitalism. But I think I missed one. It is The great leveler by Brett Christophers, a professor in human geography at Uppsala University, Sweden.1 His book looks at the nature of crises under capitalism from a refreshingly new angle. He says that we need to examine how capitalism is continually facing a dynamic tension between the underlying forces of competition and monopoly. Christophers argues that, in this dynamic, law and legal measures have an under-appreciated role in trying to preserve a “delicate balance between competition and monopoly”, which is needed to “regulate the rhythms of capitalist accumulation”.

Monopoly/competition imbalance

He reckons this monopoly/competition imbalance is an important contradiction of capitalism that has been (more…)

Ernesto Che Guevara, Marx and Engels: a biographical introduction, published by Ocean Press, Melbourne.

by Phil Duncan

Ocean Press is a fascinating little publisher, specialising in publishing the work of Cuban revolutionaries in English.  Some years back, while visiting Melbourne, I picked up a book of theirs on Haydee Santamaria, one of my personal revolutionary heroes, so it was gratifying to come across this little book by Che on Marx and Engels late last year.

Che actually wrote this modest, but highly interesting, little work after his involvement in the revolutionary struggle in the Congo in 1965 and before his final misadventure in Bolivia.  It was originally envisaged not as a stand-alone piece but as part of a much larger work on political economy.  Pressing attachments elsewhere, most particularly his decision to go to Bolivia to help foster revolution there, meant his book was not completed, although fragments that were have been published.  The book arose out of Che’s disquiet about the Soviet bloc and his concern that it was headed more towards capitalism than socialism.  He grappled, both in his role as a leading figure in the shaping of the revolutionary Cuban economy and later in Africa and Bolivia, with the problems of the transition from capitalism to socialism, becoming more and more convinced that things in the Soviet Union had taken a wrong turn.

Left in imperialist world

This small book contains many words of wisdom for today’s left, especially those in the imperialist countries who too often turn their noses up at what they see as mere Third World struggles and revolutions, believing that the imperialist countries are the centre of the world and the only ones that really matter.  And, of course, who are blissfully unaware of their imperialist chauvinism and what they’re missing out on.  Certainly every individual on the NZ left should read this.  They will find little gems like (more…)

Tony Norfield will be giving a lecture next week at King’s College, London, on Wednesday 8 February.

The session is from 6pm to 8pm, and is part of a series of seminars at King’s on Contemporary Marxist Theory.

The seminars are open to the public, but arrive in time to get signed in if you want to attend.

Venue details:
342N Norfolk Building (entrance on Surrey St)
King’s College London, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Summary:
This paper discusses how the financial system both expresses and reinforces the power of major countries. Developing Marx’s theory by examining bank credit creation, bond and equity markets, the paper shows how what Marx called the ‘law of value’ is modified by the evolution of finance. To understand imperialism today, one has to recognise how financial markets help the centralisation of ownership and control of the world economy. They are also an important way in which the US and the UK siphon off the world’s resources. The question of Brexit and the City of London is also discussed.

The interview below first appeared in revolution magazine (#6, May-June 1998).  Fred was a longtime shopfloor militant and Marxist in the United States, being frequently fired and suspended from jobs due to his union and political activities.  At the time of the interview Fred was living in San Francisco but retirement meant that, at a certain point, he could no longer afford to live in that city and he moved to Mexico.  Fred died in 2002.

Fred at founding conference of the Class Struggle League

Fred at founding conference of the Class Struggle League, 1972

revolution: People have an image of the 1960s as fairly wild, in terms of social experimentation and political radicalism.  How general were these trends in the US?

Fred Ferguson: In the beginning, it depended on what part of the country you were in.  The New York City and San Francisco Bay metropolitan areas have always been little social democratic and liberal islands in a sea of reaction.  The US is a very backward country, politically and culturally.

However, as time went on and one revelation after another was made of government lying, duplicity, secret vendettas against civil rights leaders and secret wars against whole countries, young people began to wake up and look around.

By the end of the war in Vietnam, even high school (and junior high school), student strikes were taking place in the most remote areas of the mid-west and rural south.

Tens of thousands of young people flocked to the two sea coasts and formed what was to become the ‘youth culture’ of the United States.  The influence was tremendous: racially, sexually, politically, in pharmacology, fashion, hair styles and even in the automobile plants of Detroit.

The combined effect of that period politically has been misnamed ‘the Vietnam Syndrome’.  But it didn’t only apply to the government’s policy in Southeast Asia – it extended to nearly every aspect of society.  The people no longer believed.

revo: Although the US lost the Vietnam War and the American ruling class appears to have been traumatised for a while by that experience, they seem to have paid very little political price domestically.  For instance, no big revolutionary organisation emerged out of the years of ferment around the war and today the US government is intervening militarily around the world again, with very little domestic opposition.  How would you assess the campaign against the Vietnam War?

Fred: The campaign against the war was headed by the social democrats and their political partners in the Communist Party and the rapidly rightward-moving Socialist Workers Party.  Sociologically, it was overwhelmingly pacifist, middle class and campus-based.  The working class was, by and large, suffering under the patriotic illusions left over from World War II and the Korean War.  The US had only just begun its long decline economically and most of the working class was doing quite well compared to the pre-war years.  That tended to give them a conservative colouration.

But by 1967 most were deeply disturbed by the war and by the pictures that were on their television news programmes every night.  The social democrats, with no base in the working class, and the CP which had pissed theirs away in the 1930s and strike-breaking during World War II, had been driven to the right by the McCarthyite witch-hunt and the need to hide in the Democratic Party.  The left-wing concentrated around the (Maoist) Progressive Labor Party and the early (Trotskyist) Spartacist League were just too small, too late and too shrill.

During the same period much of the youth became (more…)

downloadby Tony Norfield

Although it is the world’s major power, the US has found it difficult to impose its will in the past decade or so. From President Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’ speech about Iraq in 2003, to the continuing disasters in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, from US policy in Ukraine also being upset by Russian intervention in Crimea, to how the Saudis and other Gulf states have destabilised the Middle East, the US has not been getting its own way and has been unable to impose settlements that would otherwise be expected of a hegemonic power. This puts the incoming US administration under The Donald in an interesting position.

Early signs suggest that POTUS-elect Trump is taking a softer line on Russia, one different from the still Cold War-inspired position of the Obama regime. Trump has stated that he expects the Europeans to pay more for their own NATO-related defence, which might make them less willing to finance an increased build-up of military operations close to Russia’s borders. Trump has also rejected Obama’s rhetoric on Putin’s supposed involvement in Russia’s alleged cyber attack on Hillary Clinton’s emails. Perhaps most striking of all, Trump plans to appoint Rex Tillerson as US Secretary of State, that is to be the main person in charge of foreign policy. Tillerson is Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, and is well known to have friendly relationships with the Russian government.

ExxonMobil opposed sanctions on Russia from its own business perspective, but one would have to agree that the aggression shown to Russia by the current US administration makes little economic or political sense. Russia is far from being a threat to US interests. Instead, Russia may have (more…)

download-1This is a translation of an article in issue 177, July–August 2016, of Lutte de Classe (Class Struggle), the magazine of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), a significant revolutionary Marxist organisation in France.  We have taken it from the site of LO’s co-thinkers in the United States, here.  While the original article naturally uses mainly French examples, this is a discussion which is going on in New Zealand at present and that anti-capitalists need to think carefully about.

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of debate about two ideas that appear similar but, in reality, are miles apart: “guaranteed income” and “universal basic wage.” The first is defended not only by left-wing or ecology activists, but also by self-proclaimed reactionaries. The second, seemingly closer to Marxism, stems from the works of Bernard Friot, a sociologist and member of the French Communist Party (PCF).

downloadFriot’s thesis is quite popular among young people and the various milieus that make up the Nuit debout movement (Up All Night, similar to the Occupy Movement in the U.S.). It may appear more attractive at first glance than the other proposals – but it is not, as we will see, any more revolutionary than the others. They are all stamped with a political ideology that is the complete opposite of ours.

“Universal Income” and its Various Forms

A referendum held in Switzerland on June 5, 2016, put the idea of “guaranteed income” in the spotlight. The question was whether the State would pay the entire population a fixed sum of 2,260 euros per month for adults and €565 for children, from birth to death, working or not. The project, called “unconditional basic income” in Switzerland, was rejected by the majority of Swiss voters. But there was much talk about this idea, which has been promoted for many years by a number of very diverse political currents.

In France, the French Senate set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the usefulness and possible forms that a basic income might have. During the (more…)

imagesby Michael Roberts

Pete Green has now taken up the cudgels in the debate that Jim Kincaid and I have begun over the causes of regular and recurrent crises in capitalist production and in particular the Great Recession.  He makes a welcome and considered critique of my views, as expressed in my book, The Long Depression and in recent discussions at the Historical Materialism conference in London earlier this month.  I think he raises some new and important points in his critique, which, as he says, will require further debate and research.

Like Pete, I cannot deal with all arguments in this short reply on my blog but I’ll do my best to take up some key ones, but it still makes this post long enough!

The data is actually clear

Pete starts by saying he is not going to dispute the data on the rate of profit that I have presented, mainly for the US, but also for other economies.  But apparently he “shares Jim Kincaid’s scepticism about reliance on US national income accounts as source for corporate profitability”.  Actually, I am not sure Jim is sceptical of the official data.  Indeed, he has said that I have used the data accurately and as Pete says, “there is no adequate alternative available for those engaged in empirical investigation”.

And that is what the bulk of my research is: engaging in empirical investigation to verify or otherwise particular theories or laws.  In my view, too many Marxist economists have ignored empirical work and concentrated on interpreting (and re-interpreting) Marx’s writings and ‘what he meant’, rather testing his laws of motion of capitalism to see if they best fit the facts.

Luckily, I am not alone in doing empirical investigations – Andrew Kliman has done prodigious analysis, Anwar Shaikh’s new book is a gold mine of empirical studies, G Carchedi has also tested Marx’s law with the evidence.  And there is a host of new young scholars internationally doing such work.  Carchedi and I will be (more…)