Never mind the quantity – feel the thinness

by Humphrey McQueen

‘Crisis? What crisis?’ sketched the quantity of attention that some socialist grouplets have given to the crisis in capitalist accumulation. This companion piece sifts through their printed materials and educational plans for traces of Marxism.

Of course, decorating paraphrases from the Financial Review with quotations from Capital will not take us far. Equally, the absence of Marxian analyses is not overcome by assertions about the inevitable collapse of the capitalism, the threat from fascism and the inexorable march to socialism.

The first mark of the non-Marxist nature of almost every commentary has been to repeat the bleat from the bourgeois ideologues that their system is in the grip of a ‘financial crisis’. A few grouplets now vary this conventional ignorance by referring to an economic crisis, indicating a shift in harm to the real economy. The earliest of my items in October explained why the crisis is taking place in the accumulation of capital. Without that recognition, the course of events is detached from understanding how the exploitation of wage-slaves is the matrix of every crisis.

Against that core truth, the coverage in the Communist Party’s Guardian reads like the bland leading the bland. Similarly, the DSP/GreenLeft Weekly/Socialist Alliance is having trouble calling a spade a bloody shovel. Instead of starting from a class analysis of capitalist exploitation of labour and its plunder of the nature, the DSP’s preliminary response to Rudd’s rescue of capitalism denounced the “neo-liberal capitalist model that has brought our planet and human society to the edge of disaster’. Marxists would see that the cause is not one brand of capitalism but is rooted in the structured dynamics of its need to expand in every phase of its history.

Instead of attempting to approach the disruptions and political responses by thinking through the core concepts of Marxism, several commentaries from the grouplets provide little more than a regurgitation of bourgeois experts downloaded from the Net.

One of the longest local efforts is by Tom Bramble for Socialist Alternative. He relies on a New York Professor Roubini. Bramble has not a word about Marx, though he quotes Keynes. The concluding section is headed ‘Turning point’ but turns out to be no more than a return to Roubini. There is nothing political and nothing Marxist beyond a passing reference to ‘overproduction’, which is where every commentary should begin.

At the Socialist Alternative’s Marxism 2009 conference, none of the sessions on Marxist fundamentals takes up the concepts of crisis. Its organisers could have recognised the 150th anniversary of Marx’s Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy which is the foundation of his analysis of money, and hence crucial to penetrating the present turmoil. (Is any grouplet planning to seize upon this opportunity to rethink its supporters back into Marxism?)

The CPA(M-L) continues to provide extracts from the classics in an effort to educate activists. Hence, when people who once knew better were welcoming bank bailouts as a return to socialism, Vanguard reprinted the final section from Engels’s Socialism: Utopian and Scientific on the relation between capital and its state. In December, Vanguard spent a page and a half to bringing together several of the key passages from Capital about the sources of a crisis from over-production. In February, the M-L monthly added a page on the reserve army of labour.

The Freedom Socialists in Melbourne have persisted in running study courses on Marx’s critique of political economy. Here, I need to declare an interest since the editors of their magazine reprinted my earlier item on ‘The housing question’ because they believed it clarified a political point.

All our efforts remain rudimentary for penetrating the particulars of the present catastrophe. Some, at least, indicate a conviction that Marxism is not discredited or turgid. The next step is to locate a deepening of Marxist analysis within the agenda of political activity.

What do you think about this article?