The revolutionary implications in understanding capitalist crisis — part 1

History moves upward in a spiral of negations.
Georg Hegel

 

At its root, Marxism, or scientific socialism is a method of understanding change in complex social systems. Change is part of a constant cycle of universal motion. Of particular interest to Marxists is ?qualitative change?, which we see everywhere: water turns into vapour when it boils, a seed sprouts and is transformed into a plant, Aluminum becomes silicon and silicon becomes phosphorus as their atomic number accumulates. In biology, a caterpillar, a creature specialized for eating turns into a butterfly, a creature specialized for flying and mating.

Marxists contend that at the heart of radical change is contradiction: a duality of forces, interacting from within and without the whole. Called ?dialectical materialism? (based on a synthesis of Hegel?s dialectics and Feuerbach?s materialism) it is an idea that is increasingly being validated by science. Evolutionary biologists, such as Richard Lewontin and the late Stephen Jay Gould have employed it in their theories of punctuated equilibrium. Lewontin said:

Dialectical materialism is not, and never has been, a programmatic method for solving particular physical problems. Rather, a dialectical analysis provides an overview and a set of warning signs against particular forms of dogmatism and narrowness of thought. It tells us, ?Remember that history may leave an important trace. Remember that being and becoming are dual aspects of nature. Remember that conditions change and that the conditions necessary for the initiation of some process may be destroyed by the process itself. Remember to pay attention to real objects in time and space and not lose them in utterly idealized abstractions. Remember that qualitative effects of context and interaction may be lost when phenomena are isolated.

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BRANDON: ?Most robust protagonists for capitalism do not understand the economic system they so vehemently advocate?

Mick Brooks is a lifelong socialist and activist in the labour movement and this commitment shows through in this book. He is no mere ranter, however, for this is a tightly-argued and coolly measured examination of the dynamics of capitalism and how a variety of conflicting forces create internal contradictions that lead to crises that ultimately it cannot avoid.

Brooks points out that even the most robust protagonists for capitalism do not understand the economic system they so vehemently advocate. These pundits were caught totally unawares by the onset of the Great Recession in 2007 for they had previously been arguing passionately that such events could never occur again. Other economists with disarming candour actually admit that they don?t know the first thing about economics and cannot explain what causes recessions under capitalism or the speculative bubble which was the obvious manifestation of deep-seated problems.

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FEASIBLE SOCIALISM — a concrete programme for the left (part 4)

This article is a the last from the series of texts by Harry Ratner, a British longstanding socialist activist. Part I, part II and part III have been published previously on our website. Your comments are welcome.

The Democratisation of the State

The ?state? has been mentioned several times in the sections dealing with overall economic planning. What sort of state is envisaged?

Certainly the existing state machine has inbuilt obstacles to the achievement of socialism ? for example in Bretain the fact that parliament has no real control over the cabinet, which can declare war, introduce a state of siege, etc, without parliamentary approval, the House of Lords, the royal prerogative, etc, etc.

A radical restructuring of the state machine to widen democratic control and initiative from below is obviously necessary. But this does not mean that socialists cannot or must not use existing institutions. So long as parliament is still relatively freely elected, and so long as alternative structures have not arisen naturally, as a result of social movements, it is ludicrous for socialists to talk of ?destruction of the state machine? and its miracolous replacement by non-existent ?soviets?.

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FEASIBLE SOCIALISM ? a concrete programme for the left (part 3)

This article is a continuatin of the series of texts by Harry Ratner, a British longstanding socialist activist. Part I and part II have been published previously on our website. Parts IV is currently edited and will be up next week. Your comments are welcome. 

Public Ownership or Merely Control?

Economic policy in Britain during the Second World War provides an example of how it is possible to combine effective planning of the economy with market mechanisms. Physical controls on the use of resources (raw materials) were imposed so that firms could only secure these commodities if their use was essential to the war effort. More significant was the establishment of state control over capital investment. Thus a firm was only able to secure finance from the banks for expansion of its productive capacity by applying to the Capital Issues Commission, which only granted authorisation if this was considered essential to the war effort, or necessary for the meeting of civilian needs within the overall parameters set by the War Cabinet. Similarly, the building of a new factory or the closure of an existing one had to be authorised, and was sanctioned only if it fitted in with the needs of wartime production. Despite the destruction by bombing, the U-boat blockade, and the strains of war, the system worked ? even though the banks and industry remained in private ownership.

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“The police behave like nazis” and other shocking facts from Greece

As the Greek governing coalition grows ever more unpopular, SYRIZA, the radical alternative, is poised to win any coming election. But does it have the programme and leadership to solve the crisis in favour of working people? Here ILIAS MILONAS, a member of the Party’s Central Committee and its left-wing faction Left Platform, questions the road down which SYRIZA’s leadership is trying to take the party. And raises warnings about the rising threat of the neo-fascist right.

Where does Syriza currently stand in public opinion?

SYRIZA has stabilized at around 30% in public opinion polls, after their 27% share in the last elections. The Greek people do not have an absolute trust in SYRIZA but they are suffering a lot from the hard measures of the government and the Troika (the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank ? editor) and in the reality, they have no other political alternative. This support for SYRIZA should be better but the masses have not the enthusiasm of previous years and no trust in politics generally. Also, the political attitude of the SYRIZA leadership lately doesn?t help very much. Their public speeches have lost the radicalization of the period before the elections as they try to promote a more ?realistic? program.

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Cockshott&Cottrell’s planning techniques a moot point

Towards a new socialism by W. Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell (Spokesman Books, 1993) is an intriguing book. The model of socialism the authors espouse assumes from the outset that the main means of production are owned in common. C & C then address the problem of how the socialist economy will be planned. They advocate using direct measurement of labour time. Workers will be paid according to the time they have put in and the amount of work required to carry out tasks will be used as the basis for the plan. Their model is mathematically sophisticated.

C & C advocate using input-output models. They deal with the objection raised by Alec Nove in The economics of feasible socialism that there were 12 million different commodities in the Soviet Union at the time he wrote his book (1983). Nove argued that if all these commodities are interconnected in an input-output model of the economy it would be quite impossible to plan the interconnections between them all. Nove, ?quoted the estimate of one O. Antonov that to draw up a complete and balanced plan for the Ukraine would take the labour of the whole world?s population over a 10 million year period.?

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P2P and Marxism II ? How does P2P collaboration differ from other forms of collaboration?

Collaboration has existed before P2P production and many different forms continue to exist side by side with it. It could therefore be easy to dismiss P2P as nothing new under the sun. Yet that would be a mistake. Several things make P2P unique. In order to understand that it is worth comparing with other forms of collaboration.

The most common form of collaboration, outside the private sphere, exists at any workplace. Simply in order to get the work done people must collaborate. Superficially, it would be easy to identify the difference between P2P and other collaboration on the work place by saying that collaboration at a workplace is based upon bosses deciding and ?creating? a team. Formally speaking that is true, but in practice, collaboration at most workplaces is, like P2P, more of a bottom up collaboration.

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