Comments on "Marx's Economics for Anarchists"
opinion / analysis
Monday January 02, 2012 08:33 by Wayne Price - personal opinion drwdprice at aol dot com
Responses and Comments
(1) Response to anarchists saying why I think it is worthwhile for anarchists to learn from Marx's economic theory.
(2) Response to a critical book review.
(3) Further discussion on Marx's concept of capitalism's epochs of growth and decline, responding to essay by Samir Amin.
There have been a number of comments on my serialized book, “Marx’s Economics for Anarchists; An Anarchist’s Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy.
” Here are some of my comments in response.
First, some anarchists have been offended by the very subject. They seem to think that I am discussing whether Marxism is superior to anarchism, coming down on the side of Marxism. Actually, what I am discussing in the book is whether Marx’s economic theory can be useful for anarchists. This is not the same thing.
I make this argument in two ways. One is by trying to show in practice that—even at this introductory and generalized level—Marx’s theory does present a fairly accurate model of current capitalism and its future. (I also make suggestions for books which are more specific in applying Marxist theory to current and future economic developments.)
Further, I claim that there is no non-Marxist economics except forms of bourgeois economics. Assuming that we agree that an economic analysis of capitalism is needed, there is no advantage in looking toward liberal or conservative versions of economics. Despite insights, their overall theories are esentially rationalizations of capitalist ideology. Morally and politically, while Marxism can be associated with Stalinist totalitarianism, bourgeois theories are associated with economic crises, world wars, and fascist totalitarianism. This is certainly not a better choice for anarchists than Marxist political economy.
There have been attempts to build a non-Marxist radical political economy, such as the work of Robin Hahnel (co-inventor of “parecon”). I did not discuss them in my brief introduction to Marx’s political economy. In my opinion, I do not think that they break fully from bourgeois economics. But that is another topic.
My anarchism has been enriched by feminism, classical liberalism, radical psychoanalysis, progressive education, radical pacifism, Malcolm X’s thinking, ecology, and nonanarchist decentralism, among other influences—as well as by aspects of Marxism. This openness to different trends of thought is something which I find valuable in anarchism. (I do not want to sound defensive about this. If someone wants to accuse me of not truly being a fully orthodox anarchist-communist—whatever that would look like—I have no response. I do not care if I am or not.)
Besides explaining Marx’s economic theory and letting people make up their own minds about it, I had another purpose in mind. This was to show anarchists that it was possible to learn from aspects of Marxist theory while remaining anarchists. We do not have to reject everything written and done by Marx and Marxists in order to be anarchists. We can learn from and then surpass Marxist theory.
A Book Review
There has been one book review, posted by Jehu on November 18, 2011, at http://www.gonzotimes.com/2011/11/review-marxs-economic...rice/
It begins, “Wayne Price’s ‘Marx’s Economics for Anarchists’ makes the fatal error of treating Marx’s Capital as a description of how the economy works….In some limited fashion, Marx does give something approaching a description of ‘how capitalism works.’ But, this was [not] his project. ….What Marx explains in Capital of economic interest is insignificant…..
What is his evidence for this very unusual claim? “…Marx ignores significant features of capitalism even in his own day. Already in Marx’s time the credit system was of far more importance in the economy than gold (commodity) money. …. He almost entirely ignored [credit], and its technical details. If his project was to explain how a capitalist economy worked, this fact would be completely inexplicable.
Yes it would. But what is inexplicable to me is how the reviewer (Jehu?) ignores volume III of Capital (“The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole
”). This includes chapter XXV, “Credit and Fictitious Capital
” and chapter XXVII, “The Role of Credit in Capitalist Production.
” More to the point is Marx’s whole discussion in volume III of banks and loan capital, and, even more importantly, his analysis of fictitious capital. I summarize his view of fictitious capital in my book because of its extreme importance in understanding “how capitalism works” in its epoch of decline. The reviewer’s claim that Marx had almost nothing to say about credit is completely false.
What then does this reviewer think Marx was doing in Capital? “To understand what Marx’s project was in undertaking Capital…. Marx was solely concerned about the historical process by which ‘man returns to himself.’ …. Marx wasn’t an economist.
Yes, Marx was not “an economist.” He was not interested in explaining “how capitalism worked” for the sake of objective, disinterested, science, nor was he advising the capitalists how to manage their economy. As Fredy Perlman wrote (in his Intro to I.I. Rubin’s “Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value
”), “The subtitle of Marx’s three volume Capital is ‘Critique of Political Economy,’ and not ‘Manual for Efficient Management’
.” Marx wanted to explain capitalism to the workers and their allies, to help them to become conscious of their situation and to aid them in changing it through revolution. (I said all this in the book.)
As for the “historical process” by which “man returns to himself” (or, better, “humanity returns to itself”), assuming this means the full realization of human potentialities, I do not see how it is counterposed to a broadly historical account of how capitalism has worked. The book has chapters on how capitalism began, how it developed, and where it is going, as well as Marx’s socialist goal. It focuses on moral issues related to working class self-determination. What more can I say?
The reviewer ends with a condescending statement that “… Wayne Price has done a lot of good by publishing his book…. If it gets anarchists to take another look at Marx, this cannot be bad.
” Since the writer and I have completely different conceptions of what Marx’s critique of political economy was all about, this conclusion is puzzling. I guess I should accept any recommendation I can get.
Further on the Epochs
In my book I emphasize Marx’s concept of three epochs, which includes primitive accumulation (accumulation by dispossession) and fictitious capital. These concepts are not widely understood or agreed-with by Marxists, let alone anarchists.
However, I just came across an essay by the internationally well known Marxist theorist, Samir Amin (January 2012). He summarizes his work,
“I read the historical trajectory of capitalism as consisting of a long preparation…, a short apogee (the nineteenth century) and a decline begun in the twentieth century
” (p. 51). The “preparation” for capitalism may be seen as beginning “from the year 1000 in China,” but the tendency to incorporate other regions into European (protocapitalist) rule really begins at the end of the 15th century, he says, agreeing with Immanuel Wallerstein, another significant Marxist.
Struggles against capitalism as such start from the middle of the nineteenth century, he writes. The height of capitalist functioning was in the nineteenth century. It was followed by a “great systemic crisis of capitalism… This large and long crisis, …will find only a -–provisional—solution after the Second World War
” (p. 53). In response capitalism moves to “monopoly capital, financialization, and globalization….and begins the long decline… from the first lengthy crisis (1873—1945/1955) to the second (begun in 1971 and still deepening)
” (p. 53). We are now faced with the alternatives of either a “radical path” of social transformation or “the path of self-destruction.”
Rather than a “three epoch” concept, this might be called a “two epoch” concept (or “two epochs and an apogee”). But it fits with Marx’s concept of epochs (and my explanation of his concept) and applies it to what we now know about capitalist history.
Amin does not discuss it in this essay, but belief in the long decline of capitalism does not necessarily deny that there can be lopsided growth in certain fields. There are iPads and also global warming, the (unbalanced and vulnerable) industrialization of parts of Asia and also increased warfare, desertification, and famine in Africa, as well as the de-industrialization of the U.S.A. (In any case, the “epochs” are ideas, abstracted from the messy reality of political economic history.)
As with most Marxists, Amin’s program is authoritarian. He says his conclusions are a “demonstration of the central propositions of Maoism
” (p. 55). Like the dictator Mao, he focuses on the struggles of nations, ruling classes, and states, rather than on the working class, as Marx had. Amin had defended the Pol Pot regime during its “auto-genocide” in Cambodia.
Loren Goldner is among the minority of Marxists who base themselves on Marx’s libertarian-democratic-proletarian side (my formulation, not his). He respects Amin’s contributions. But, discussing an earlier work, he writes, “What Amin gives brilliantly in his diagnosis, he takes away clumsily in his prescription for treatment…His own universalism is not that of the global class of working people exploited by capitalism, but that of an ideologue of Third World autarchy….[and] of the state
” (2011; p. 134).
Once again: it is not enough to have a correct analysis of capitalism’s epoch of decline. It is necessary to understand why this can only be ended by international working class revolution.
Amin, Samir (January 2012). “The Center Will Not Hold.” Monthly Review. Vol. 63, no. 8; pp. 45—57.
Goldner, Loren (2011). Vanguard of Retrogression; “Postmodern” Fictions as Ideology in the Era of Fictitious Capital. NY: Queequeg Publications.
written for www.Anarkismo.net