djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Aug 20 16:07:53 MDT 1996
Will, I am happy to see you back, though I find this essay superficial in
many important ways.
>I have been reading the extended article titled:
>'Decadence:The Theory of Decline or the the decline of theory?'
>in the magazine Aufheben which has been produced in Brighton,
>England annually for the last four years. The article is a critical
>review of Marxist theories of capitalist decline stretching from
>Engels and the 2nd International through Kautsky, Hilferding,
>Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Grossman, Mattick and Paanekoek to
>the Autonomists, Socialism ou Barbarismand Radical Changes.
>It is the most comprehensive, well written and well rsearched
>review of Marxist economic theory I've read...has any body else#
>From the first half of the essay:
"The position of the follower of Grossman is thus: 1/We have an
understanding of economics that shows capitalist is declining, heading
inexorably towards breakdown. 2/This shows the necessity of a political
revolution to introduce a new economic order. The theory of politics has an
external relation to the economic understanding of capitalism. Orthodox
theories of capitalist crisis accept the reduction of working class
activity to the activity of capital. The only action against capital is a
political attack on the system which is seentoto happen when the system
This is one of the crassest readings of Grossmann ever proferred.
1. Quoting Lenin, Grossmann insists that there is *always* a way out of
crisis (as does his student William J Blake in Marxian Economic Theory and
its Criticism, 1939). This way may of course be through war, the resulting
devaluations of capital, and the possibility of renenwed accumulation on
that basis. See here Paul Mattick's 1981 discussion in *Economic Crisis
and Crisis Theory*.
Moreover, Grossmann explains that an uncontested reduction of the wage
below the value of labor power would allow capital to prolong its life, as
well as parastic rent-seeking behavior in the colonized world (he gives the
example of murderous British policies in India for which Grossmann could
have found further confirmation in RC Dutt's 1904 Economic History of
India, vol II).
While Grossmann argues that there is a tendency towards catastrophe against
what he calls the neo-harmonist interpretations of Otto Bauer (see
Grossmann's criticism of his reproduction schemes and note Bauer's own
political shifts by 1937) and Hilferding (note Grossmann's severe criticism
of Hilferding's thesis of stabilization putuatively brought on by the
control of an autonomous finance capital and the possibility of peaceful
socialization thereof) , he insists that the system, no matter how
objectively weakened, still has to be (and can be) overthrown.
There is no point in turning Grossmann's work into a simple positive
theory of breakdown and abtracting it from its negative or critical
function via-a-vis the revisionist theories of accumulation and crisis.
Moreover, HG subjects to criticism even Rosa Luxemburg's theory of collapse
as implying what is being called here an external political theory (this is
especially well brought out by Blake). A careful reading of Grossmann's
text, as well as the implicit and explicit discussions of it in Wm J Blake,
Roman Rosdolsky and Paul Mattick, has obviously been felt to be
unnecessary by the *Aufhebung* writers.
2. This criticism suffers from complete neglect of the untranslated final
chapter and thus the political conclusions of Grossmann's magnum opus,
though the writer reads German. Politics as external to economics?!
Grossmann only recognizes the final struggle?! As HG writes, the political
significance of the breakdown theory lay in its demonstration that the
final goal of the abolition of capitalism is "not an ideal imported into
the workers' movment 'from outside' by way of speculation, whose
realization is reserved for the distant future independent of the struggles
of the present" but "the result of the immediate class struggles of everday
life." Grossmann's conclusion is the exact opposite of what the writer
here attributes to him! See Rick Kuhn's discussion of Grossmann last year
in *Science and Society*.
3. What does the writer mean that Grossmann accepts working class activity
as only the activity of capital? Actually Grossmann is arguing against the
reduction of working class activity to mere trade union and electoral
politics. This is the gist of his argument against Bauer against whom this
criticism may apply and who, as already noted, was forced to rethink his
position (see his writings in Austro Marxism, ed. Tom Bottomore and Patrick
The Aufhebung writer continues:
"Grossmann's theory represent one of the most comprehensive attempts to
declare Marx's Capital a complete *economics* providing the blueprint of
capitalist collapse. He insists that "economic Marxism, as it has been
betqueathed to us, is neither a fragment nor a torso, but represetns in the
main a fully elabored system, that is, one without flaws.' This insistence
on seeing Marx's *Capital* as a complete work providing the proof of
capitalism's decay and collapse is an essential feature of the worldview of
objectivist marxists. It means that he connection between politics and
economics is obviously an external one. This is wrong: the connection is
internal but to grasp this requires the recognition that *Capital* is
seentially incomplete and that the completion of the project requires an
understanding of the political economy of the working class not just that
of capital. But Grossman has categorically denied the possibility of this
by his insistence that *Capital* is essentially a complete work."
1. How does Grossmann go about showing that *Capital* is a complete
'economic' work? This the writer should have asked himself. Grossmann
shows against several charges that Marx's Capital actually includes a
theory of the business cycle, a theory of competition, a theory of foreign
trade, a theory of the wage, etc. All these were claimed to be lacunae in
Marx's *Capital*. Grossmann showed otherwise (or at least he tried to, so
even if he failed there needs to be more careful assesment of his actual
arguments). All this speaks to the historic significance of this still
untranslated work in unabridged form. What a shame!
2. There is another reason why Grossmann at times abstracts from political
struggle against the system (this is so he can go about isolating and
examining the different functions of capital in its three circuits and the
different mechanisms which can be used as countertendencies to which he
devotes about 300 pages). At times he also abstracts from the impact of
non-capitalist systems on the functioning of capitalism. He considers this
to be part of an analytical procedure but he always pitches back into the
orbit of living human beings, their needs and the bases of their everyday
battles and the possibilities of *accelerating* their translation into
revolutionary struggle. Here he insists that workers themselves must learn
to think dialectically and as comes out in his 1943 essays he is very close
to a Hegelian conception of praxis.
3. As for the objectivist worldview, well, yes, Mattick did show thirty
years ago that the instumentalities of Keynesianism and the mixed economy
would not prove in the long run to be sufficient to overcome the trade
cycle and the tendencies towards catastrophe inherent in the system, as the
culmination of the Great Depression in world war had shown. Does this
imply passivity? Really quite the oppositie. This is only to clarify that
the emancipation of the working class remains its own task and cannot be
passed on to technocratic managment of society, which seems to have the
been the object of Foucault's critique of governmantality in his late years
4. There is a real neglect of the relationship of Grossman's breakdown
theory to those "Kantian" theories which attempted to derive the ethical
necessity for socialism. Yet this is what he is also polemicizing against
and it speaks again to how Grossmann was attempting to find the basis of
revolution from the concrete struggles within the system, instead of
importing speculative ideals from the noumenal (?) realm or writing
cookbooks for the socialism of the future.
Yet this is what the writer from Aufhebung says about Luxemburg, the most
splendid of rebels, and Grossmann, the main voice to recover the
revolutionary thrust of Marx's *Capital*.
They had tried "to provide a materialist basis for the necessity of
socialism. In this task they were in opposition to those who had started by
trying to ground the socialist project on moral or subjective grounds but
had ended up compromising totally with capitalism."
This is simple slander! And outrageous in its falsity. Luxemburg
compromised totally with capitalism! Grossmann who polemicized against
right wing social democracy in the form of Hiferding, Bauer, Kautsky and
others compromised totally with capitalism?!
And here is the *Aufhebung* conclusion: "The radical needs of the
proletariat that arise within capitalism are material forces, and it on
these forces rather simply their reified expression in the categories of
*Capital* that the communist project is based."
Now there is a serious attempt to actually work out this claim in Felton
Shortall's *The Incomplete Marx* (Averbury, 1995). Let it be noted that
Grossmann makes it clear that the greatest argument for revolutionary
politics is that it not only stunts further human development but begins to
roll back whatever advances in culture and all-sided development workers
have fought for and gained.
He makes clear that capital does this because it necessarily strives to
reduce the human being to an object which can be exploited at the
increased rate required to generate surplus value out relatively fewer
productive workers which (surplus value) is sufficient in mass for the
continued accumulation of capital.
He does make the claim that what objectively allows the capitalist system
to be overthrown is that in the way of this fully reified world are the
workers and their needs, from the simplest to the highest, which cannot be
met in this system, even through right wing social democratic electoral and
trade union reforms.
The workers' future and development thus becomes their own task. And
however much Grossmann considered workers only in their relation to the
valorization of capital--and not in terms of needs which arose against the
system, though he *did* show the system necessarily turned viciously
against the satisfaction of human needs and human development at a late
stage of development--he did make clear that the working class would find
no professional doctors or saviors from above. To impute to him pacifist
or passivist politics is erroneous in the extreme.
Moreover, I think it needs to be clarified what it means to refer to the
categories of *Capital* as reified. After all, Marx is reconceptualizing
the practice which is desribed differently in bourgeois economics and
everday life. Where in these discourses, capital appears as essentially an
exchange relation, Marx redesribes it in terms of surplus value and thus as
a system of class exploitation, in which CAPITAL, albeit a product of
alienated human activity in determinate social relations, has actually
becomes the Subject of society. The *reification* is not in Marx's
Capital, which is instead a defetishizing critique, especially as
reconstructed in Postone's Time, Labor and Social Domination.
--- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---
More information about the Marxism