countertendencies

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sun Apr 16 15:53:35 MDT 1995


Rahul's reply is I think very important: the length of this post shows that
it has exercised me.    A few thoughts on a. the lesson of the welfare
state b. the nature of poverty in the imperialist nations and c. the
importance of imperialism as a countertendency

a. The lesson of the welfare state is not being "unlearned": first, the
welfare state has always included repressive institutions about which the
poor are learning more everyday (hence, my query about GS Jones' Outcast
London) and second, welfarism cannot be relearnt given the crisis of
profitablity--"...the momentum of capital accumulation is determined above
all by the rate of profit: as long as the rate of profit (or in some
circumstances the mass of profit) is growing, a rising volume of state
spending can be carried by capitalism without any necessary threat to its
general stability.  So the real source of the crisis can be located in the
increasing difficulty which capitalism as a whole and especially its weaker
sections experience in maintaining its rate of profit and this, for
Marxism, is the classical expression of the fundamental contradiction.
Because of its political implications this point must be stressed,
especially in connection with state spending on the social services.  That
capitalism is no longer able to finance an adequate welfare state, and in
in fact driven to make severe cuts, indicates not that spending on the
welfare state is the cause of the crisis [not Rahul's point, I understand]
but signifies that capitalism can no longer provide the basic requirements
(health care, education, social services, etc.) for the millions who are
after all the most decisive elements in the productive forces.  The roots
of this inability are to be found not in the national economy and its
malfunctioning, but are international in character..."
(Geoffrey Pilling, Crisis of Keynesianism--A Marxist View. Totowa, NJ:
Barnes and Noble, 1986; on this theme, see also Mario Cogoy's essays in the
International Journal of Political Economy, v 17, n 2  and Paul Mattick's
writings)

In short we will not find at this point in the bourgeois state tutees for
the "lesson of the welfare state" .  However, prison, border patrol and
police specialists for the permanently unemployed should apply.

b. Rahul also questions my concession to subjectivism: "are you simply
saying that because workers in the First World have come to expect more
they are as likely to feel exploited?".  No, I was suggesting that peoples'
needs, though historically developed and generated by capital's dynamic,
are real enough indeed that their mounting frustration in times of
protracted crisis is experieced as real misery and can impel political
action, the nature of which I must emphasize is indeterminate. Whether
people feel morally indignant about exploitation or whether they feel that
exploitation and its result profit are a limited and miserable basis on
which to develop and use the productive forces for human development is an
interesting question. I think that Marx's argument is more the latter.

There is no moralism involved in this claim, only the suggestion that
revolutionary politics is indeed possible in the imperialist nations,
though the most vicious forms of poverty do not (as of yet fully) exist.
That political action is probable should be enough to convince Marxists
that they must intervene in determining its nature (don't leave it to Kevin
Phillips), instead of predicting that rebellion will again soon be
neutralized anyway by the countertendency of a welfare state--once that
lesson is relearned (the cycle of rebellion and pacification highlighted by
the undialectical Frances Piven and Richard Cloward is nearing its end, I
think, or at least it is being taken to a higher level: the other face of
pacification is showing itself more every day). Dismissing the First World
as hopelessly one-dimensional, predicting the reemergence of the welfare
state,  leaves the door open for the real countertendency of fascism.  The
egregrious sophistry may be in the Marcusean, New Left thesis.

Whether this is a less moral battle than the elimination of extreme want on
a world scale is I suspect what Rahul is questioning. (He may also be
suggesting an actual international tranfer of value from which the working
classes in the imperialist countries benefit).

 But what I am attempting to do is turn around what you underlined as a
'countertendency' in the imperialist nations--the absence of the most
glaring forms of poverty. As suggested in point a, they are returning and
point b, people may act on the basis of historically developed needs,
irreducilbe to extreme want.

Now we know that Marx noted the wage did include a historical-cultural
component , which Paolo Giussani has endeavored to leave less indeterminate
in this piece which I cited in my last post.

In other words, this historical-cultural component may be no less real
(this of course implies the historicity of human needs, i.e., they are not
biologically given) and that this historical variability of needs may
indeed be explainable by the laws of capital accumulation (all this
requires careful analysis, I understand).  It is possible that a drop below
an already developed standard, achieved during a period of capital
accumulation, will be objectively experienced as social misery.

But Grossmann also noted that such a drop will also entail real physical
misery.  To this Rahul did not reply.   As I quote more of Grossmann's wage
theory, keep in mind the groundbreaking work of Mike Parker and Jane
Slaughter on the nature of just-in-time production, quality cirlces, etc.:

"The intensification of the labor-process is not the *result* of a higher
standard of living, as Bukharin asserts, but rather proceeds from the
objective course of capitalist production as its result and is therefore
the cause, the impulse toward wage struggles and toward raising the
standard of living.  Then, as a result of the increasing intensity [of
labor] the previous wage, which corresponded to the value of labor-power,
automatically falls belows that value.  Laobr-power is unable to be fully
reproudcued,  This sparks the wage struggle, andin the event of success
wages again are raised t the value of labor-power.  Thus it is completely
irrelevant whether the new wage 'lasts quite a long' time for it to become
the custome of the working class.  In the epoch of vigorous
rationalization, with the increases in the intensity of labor rapidly
following one after the other, wages till correspond to yesterday' value
for labor-power, today are already falling below that value, and thus in
short the working class must always struggle for new wages increases, in
rapid intervals one following the other, without waiting until in each case
teh fought-for wage level becomes customary."

Now this analysis has nothing to do with the dubious categories of First
and Third Worlds.  Many have suggested that the industrial working class in
the so-called Third World is a labor aristocracy because of the wage
increases it has been able to win and its general condition as opposed to
the peasantry.   For example, see the work of Fanon. In fact bourgeois
academics already justify the existing wages in the maquiladoras as they
are higher than anywhere else in Mexico for women of similar skills.  They
fail to add the years taken off these womens' lives, which of course may
make their wages the lowest of all.

 Once wages are thus studied in the context of the actual labor process--as
Grossmann alone did before WWII, I believe-- then the highest wages may
indeed turn out to be quite miserable. In short, there is real social and
physical misery of the working class located in the so-called First World.
And we have not even yet discussed the fragmentation and alienation of the
labor process, concentrating only on intensification.

c.  Rahul has often suggested that imperialism has been a very
countertendency against the transition to socialism in  the advanced
capitalist countries.  I am perhaps more in agreement with this than most
of the writers from whom  I have learned the most.  Here is something from
Wm Blake's unpublished 1948 manuscript however on the historical importance
of imperialism.

"The stage of deca determines the nature of the escapes most utilized.  In
some early phases, it is 'primitive accumulation', or transfer of consumer
goods by piracy, that was the age of Raleigh. Then it was in the control of
tranditng posts, that is the robbery of natives, so as to obtain chapea
materials; such was the age of spices and silks. , of Portuguese
imperialism in the Golden Age and of the Dutch and English conflict in the
days of Charles II (how cheaply Nell Gwyn got her oranges!). In the 18th
century, it concentrates on the slave trade, that is on cheap labor in the
plantations, and the merchants of Liverpool go their psalms, and those of
Bourdeux to mass, on the miseries of their sugar-growing slaves.  In the
19th century the export of capital becomes the dominant form, together with
the derivative pressures of unequal trade, while later, as raw materials
become a steadily increasing share of manufacturing costs, the
monopolization of these is added.  When, as in Germany in the 1930s
demonstrates, these forms of relief are more painfully obtained, then the
imperialist forms vary according to the acuity of need and the want of
resources.  But the underlying drive remaims the same, the constant
pressure on profitability, the need for ever more accumulation to
reestablish the former quantity of profits, and this is true, except in
acuity of need for all capitalisms, liberal or fascist."

Rakesh







>
>Is this egregious sophistry or are you simply saying that because workers
>in the First World have come to expect more they are as likely to feel
>exploited? I agree that the class struggle in this country is intensifying,
>largely because they have unlearned the lesson of the welfare state.
>However, in every sense, Marxian and otherwise, the exploitation of the
>people in the Third World is much worse. They have, with respect to
>population, a smaller percentage of income and wealth than the workers in
>the 1st world, a larger percentage of the surplus they create is
>expropriated, they lack even the limited rights of legal redress and
>protection from extreme state and other violence that 1st world workers
>have, 13 million children (almost all from the 3rd world) die every year of
>diseases with 10-cent cures, they are oppressed more by their own elites
>and they are oppressed by the 1st world as well, I could go on forever. I
>have heard similar statements from many people who call themselves
>communists -- either they are extremely naive or extremely dishonest.
>  In fact, it's pretty clear that the most sever oppression is actually
>often more stable than milder forms -- adespotic government is in the
>greatest danger when it eases up.
>
>
>
>
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