Kapitalist (ir)rationality?

donna jones djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Thu Sep 22 23:30:57 MDT 1994


In explaining British capital disinvestment, Paul Cockshott wrote the
following:

>British figures going back to the last half of the 19th
>century seem to indicate that the capitalists would prefer
>to consume their profits rather than invest it in means of
>production. Perhaps as the bourgois class becomes more and
>more rentier in character it is just unashamedly parasitic.

As the assault on labor has not brought on an investment boom, it may seem
that capital is dying from within, from subjective weaknesses.  As I have
suggested before, Schumpeter (the most influential bourgeois ideologue
today, I believe) has given the most sophisticated bourgeois explanation
for this subjective weakness.  He locates the weakness in the breakup of
the bourgeois family--the rationalism of women as possessive individualists
in particular, thereby leaving the bourgeois patriarch without family and
without reason do defer consumption for long-term gain.  Factories are not
modernized, there is overall overproduction (esp. of capital goods, I
suppose), the nation declines and the govt is called into remedy the mess
but only exacerbates the low propensity to invest because of the threat on
profits, etc.

However, marxism, in a word, does not only look at the rate of surplus
value and thus conclude that if it is high and investment still low, the
bourgeoisie must be subjectively weak.  It looks at the objective status of
the  organic composition of capital for capital as a whole; that is, even a
high rate of surplus value may not be enough to produce the mass of surplus
value necessary for capital accumulation at a late stage. Of course Fred
Moseley  can explain all this with much more conceptual clarity than me
(for whom I shall soon have some questions--I have very much enjoyed his
work and the exchanges in Science and Society and RRPE).

Marxism  points to the intensification of exploitation as capital
accumulates and becomes the theoretical expression of working class
resistance to free the development of productive forces from the fetters of
capitalist production relations.

It should be noted that the theory of subjective weakness does have policy
implications, which always puts the Schumpeterian advocates of laissez
faire (like big-time ideologue George Giler) in a theoretical
contradiction.  That is, the use of the state to enforce family values, to
put especially middle class women back in the home, and--I suppose--to put
gay men back into the home. In this way, AIDS was a godsend for the
bourgeoisie, which is exactly how Reagan described it.

There is also implicit in the Schumpeterian concern over the power of the
"subnormal population" (Schumpeter's "great threat to humanity"--shades of
the Cairo Conference?) a policy attack on the unemployed who would pressure
the state to tax profits to provide for welfare.  This would also become a
disincentive to investment, despite a sufficient rate of surplus
value.There is supposedly no shortage of surplus value, only an excess of
valueless people.  The bourgeois concern over a decadent culture is a
critique of an overly humane culture that attempts to defy the social
darwinist "laws of nature" and provide for the "unfit".  Schumpeter for
example was an admirer of the British social darwinist Benjamin Kidd;
America's top gun monetary theorist Irving  Fisher was an ardent
eugenicist. In recent columns in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn has been
documenting the rise of neo-Darwinism in the US.

I think Marxism provides a very powerful alternative to such explanations
for bourgeois decline--breakup of the middle class family and the rise of
the subnormals. Schumpeter attempted to appear as ruthlessly objective as
Ricardo and criticized the bourgeoise whenever it did not advance the
productive forces.  He complained of their "parasitism", as well as fearing
the threat of the subnormals.  This gives Schumpeter the image of class
neutrality, as it attempts to protect the capitalist mode of production. Of
course anti-capitalist image and bourgeois reality are always important
components of fascist ideology.

 Marxism demonstrates that it is the production relations--the difficulties
in producing surplus value and worker resistance--that is at the base of
capitalist crisis. Marxism demonstrates the limits of the social form of
production, not the psychological weaknesses of the bourgeoisie based on a
timeless psychological law of growing parastism with growing wealth.  It is
the OBJECTIVE shortage of surplus value that explains disinvestment and the
inability to generate more employment and provide the basic necessities for
the resulting unemployed.

Such an explanation has been developed by (with differences among them)
Grossmann, Mattick, Rosdolosky, Yaffe, Cogoy, Weeks, Harman, Shaikh,
Pilling, Siegel, Carchedi and (in conjuction with the growth of
unproductive expenditures) Moseley. I must cite them, instead of developing
the argument, as I am not (yet) quite capable. As I have indicated before,
I think Grossmann's elaboration of the theory of objective breakdown
remains unsurpassed.  On pp.121ff, he explains British technological
stagnation in the late nineteenth century and the resulting importance of
imperialism (and not just in a moral and cultural sense) to a late
capitalism.
d jones



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