[Marxism] Bukharin clears it all up

dave x dave.xx at gmail.com
Thu Jun 28 02:02:16 MDT 2012

On Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 12:35 PM, Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> wrote:
> As I pointed out in my comment, there is absolutely no indication that the
> ruling class of today is willing to act in its own long-term interests. If
> serious financial re-regulation is the only way to avoid a new financial
> meltdown, why is it so hard for Wall Street to back serious reform? If
> “fracking” will unleash carcinogens in the water supply that will cause
> cancer for the rich and poor alike, why won’t the billionaires who live on
> Park Avenue do something to protect our waterways?

I agree with this insight and in fact think that it needs to be taken
as a starting point for any serious analysis of 'where we are today',
but I think that this quote from Bukharin is thought provoking hardly
'clears it all up'. For that we would need a much more involved
analysis of the various forms of modern rentier capitalism and their
associated dynamics. Maybe this analysis exists, certainly I know
their are hints of it in Harvey's discussion of financialization.

Bukharin's account of the outlook of rentierism seems overly
psychological though I admit I have not read his entire analysis.
Certainly I can imagine that traditional agrarian forms of rentierism
were not very forward looking but then again that may have as much to
do with the dynamics of agrarianism as it does with rentierism. If in
rentierism we are discussing modern financial rentierism, the
rentierism of the banks, hedge funds, etc, then it seems to me that
there are at least a couple different dynamics to take into account.

One is an impetus to extreme short term thinking driven traditionally
by the quarterly cycle of the stock market (It is anecdotally well
known how a company's behavior becomes more driven by short term gain
at the expense of long term well being after going public, certainly
it was true of Borders Books where I used to work) and exacerbated by
the computerization of finance where profit is derived from all sorts
of extreme short term hedging and manipulation.

Another dynamic, perhaps somewhat less significant, but still
interesting, works in the other direction. Rentierism drives a search
for new revenue streams and new forms of revenue, higher 'ROI', etc.
One result of this is all sorts of speculative investment in the hopes
of striking a motherload. Silicon valley and is a prime example of
this, completely awash in all sorts of venture capital. I recently
read that even Justin Bieber (!) now fancies himself a venture
capitalist. This sort of rentierism can be very forward looking, even
to the point of sheer fantasy. Also there is the Ad-based rentierism
of the Google and Facebook varieties that also has certain dynamic,
more forward-oriented characteristics.

Another thing that seems off in Bukharin's discussion (though perhaps
less central to this discussion) is his discussion of the forward
looking nature of the proletariat. Today a scientific outlook seems
ever more the province of a narrow, somewhat privileged and isolated
strata of professional workers while much of the (at least in core
countries) decaying traditional proletariat has embraced various forms
of nostalgia, backwardness and fantasy (perhaps largely driven by the
collapse of alternatives to the existing order under neoliberalism).
At the very least current circumstances make it difficult to take the
traditional marxist association of a scientific outlook and the
proletariat for granted.

My own thought as to why the capitalist class seems unable to act in
its own (not even so long term) interests is that it is bound up in
two propositions. One that capitalism depends importantly on the State
for both legitimation and for purposes of its own regulation and long
term health. Two that capitalism has in some meaningful sense
globalized itself to the point where even the largest and most
powerful states such as the US or Germany can no longer provide this
role of legitimation and regulation  (in many ways neoconservatism can
viewed as the last gasp of this approach). The minimum entity that
could accomplish something like this now would be the G20, but this is
the loosest form of federalism. Capitalism is global and all of the
fundamental problems and challenges it faces are global and any
conceivable solution to them would also have to be global. Yet
capitalism has no effective way currently of organizing and carrying
out a global response to these issues or indeed any sort of global
initiative or regulation. I do not believe that it is in principle
impossible for capitalism to develop some more effective means of
global coordination and self regulation and even perhaps new forms of
global legitimation but is far from obvious how this might come about.
Until or unless it does I think that continual crisis (with all its
attendant destabilizing effects) will be the order of the day.

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