[Marxism] Inevitable Collapse or Crises

Shane Hopkinson s.hopkinson at cqu.edu.au
Sat Feb 4 22:22:05 MST 2012

Just a query.

Been skimming around to find out about this Heinrich guy whose book on ‘Capital’ (which I am looking forward to reading) and came across this on Louis’ blog from 2008 (http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2008/06/10/michael-heinrich-versus-the-crisis-mongerers)

Heinrich is quoted as follows:
“The fact that Marx, with good reason, bid farewell to theories of capitalist collapse did not prevent many Marxists from remaining loyal to such ideas. In the “Marxist” Social Democracy before the First World War as well as in the Communist Parties of the 1920s, it was regarded as a foregone conclusion that capitalism would perish as a result of the increasingly strong crises it generated. Every recovery was interpreted as a last rearing up before the final and inevitable collapse, which frequently led to grotesque political misjudgments.”

To which Louis responds:
“It is hard to make much sense of this rather terse historical account especially since Heinrich does not bother to name names. Before the First World War, there was no consensus in the Social Democracy that capitalism “would perish as a result of the increasingly strong crises it generated.” If that was the case, Rosa Luxemburg would have not felt the need to write “The Accumulation of Capital” which defended what amounted to a dissident perspective of capitalism being prone to collapse. Probably most social democrats agreed with Karl Kautsky who believed that “super-imperialism” was a stabilizing force. With respect to the Communist Parties of the 1920s, that covers a lot of terrain. Could Heinrich be referring to the “Third Period”, which was marked by millenarian lunacy? It certainly wasn’t Lenin’s view who urged the adoption of the united front strategy in light of the obvious recovery of capitalism following the stormy period in the immediate aftermath of WWI”

I am but surprised by this. Having just read ‘Capital Vol 1’ it’s true that there’s no inevitable theory of *collapse* – there’s certainly an analysis of how *crises* are inevitable.  So it’s not much of a jump. Heinrich says Marx changed his views about this – and perhaps he’s right since Marx’s letter to Weydemeyer (1852) says that class struggle (not the same as economic contradictions leading to crisis but related) “necessarily leads” to the dictatorship of the proletariat and this constitutes the transition to a classless society. OK it’s a letter but still it’s not hard to see how politically active people might feel that fighting for socialism was – to some extent – fighting on the right side of history and thus that victory was inevitable. Luxemburg defends some version of crisis theory (though it was apparently unorthodox). I know that this was part of the DSP culture (if not the theory) and CPA activists I think worked with that same sense – again whatever the theory might have said crises were seen as opportunities. Perhaps there’s a disconnect between the economic analysis and the political slogans?

In my field most introductory sociology textbooks (again I know they are not very reliable on such matters) suggest that Marx thought that what he was doing was uncovering the ‘laws of motion’ of capital –– and the point of Marx’s analysis is to how the trajectory of capitalist development and the likelihood (or necessity) of a socialist solution. While I am happy to accept that textbooks may misrepresent their subject (as will a Google search on Marx +inevitable collapse) but it’s hard to imagine that this idea was simply created ex-nihilo or that it stems from more than just the views of a few of the far-left sects.

Does it not seem fair to say something like: The centre piece of Marxism is an explanation of capitalism as a particular kind of class society – and that this is linked to a political project of radically challenging it (‘the point is to change it’). This involves claims about the dynamics of capitalism and its ‘laws of motion’ (and where these might lead?) (and alienation exploitation, fetishism, mystification, degradation, immiseration, the anarchy of the market – its contradictions and reproduction – the role of the state and ideology in reproducing class relations - significant elements of a theory of social reproduction within capitalist production itself in his analyses of the labor process and commodity fetishism)  – and the development of the ‘communist’ alternative e.g. Paris Commune

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