Michael Lebowitz: ‘A dialectically materialist critic of political economy’

By Humphrey McQueen
28 February

Yea! Michael Lebowitz is coming to a conference near us. At Easter, this Canadian Marxist will address the DSP’s Sydney conference, ‘World at a Crossroads: Fighting for Socialism in the 21st Century’.

Boo! The Conference organisers have not programmed Lebowitz to lead a workshop on his Marxian critiques of political economy.

Let us hope that Lebowitz takes every opportunity to inject his understanding of the il-logic of capital into the proceedings.

Whether or not Lebowitz gets that chance, a longer and deeper acquaintance with his writings will be invaluable. His presence in Australia should spur activists of every hue to absorb his insights by diligent attention to his writings, followed by discussion groups to enrich proletarian responses to the crisis in the accumulation of capital.

To no living Marxist do I owe a greater intellectual obligation than to Michael Lebowitz. My debt is founded on two journal articles, totaling forty pages. The pair are ‘Marx’s falling rate of profit: a dialectical view‘ from the Canadian Journal of Economics, IX (2), May 1976, pp. 232-54, and ‘Capital and the Production of Needs’ in Science and Society, 41 (4), Winter 1977-78, pp. 430-47. The pair are being made available on the Surplus Value website
(surplusvalue.org.au).

Lebowitz is not the greatest Marxist of his generation. Timing was everything in sparking my enthusiasm. I encountered the pair of articles after struggling to make sense of the relations between mass media, mass marketing and mass production in writing Australia’s Media Monopolies (1977). The lessons from his articles became catalysts for key arguments in The Essence of Capitalism (2001). Re-reading them last week helped me to break through more of the bourgeois apologetics about the looming catastrophe.

Central to Lebowitz’s appeal is that he remained a dialectician and a critic of political economy during the decades when other left-wing academics were condemning both Marx’s method and jettisoning his prime concern to analyse the conflict between capital and labour.  Lebowitz exposed the ‘analytical Marxists’ as apologists for the free-market craze. (Science and Society, Summer 1988).

Hence, this item will be the first of a sequence spotlighting aspects of Lebowitz’s commitment to a dialectical critique of political economy. The first set will present the crux of the two articles which I have found so fruitful across thirty years. Closer to Lebowitz’s arrival in April, I hope to introduce his book, Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the working-class.

The next item will clear some ground with remarks on ‘materialist dialectics’, followed by one on ‘contradiction’. Only by reflecting on those methodological matters can we get down to ‘the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’.

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