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Comments on "Marx's Economics for Anarchists"

category international | economy | opinion / analysis author Monday January 02, 2012 08:33author by Wayne Price - personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

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.
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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.


References


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

author by Ilan S. - AAtW, ainfos, Matzpenpublication date Mon Jan 02, 2012 22:32author email ilan at shalif dot comauthor address Tel Avivauthor phone Report this post to the editors

Though Marx is the most famous of anti capitalists who criticized capitalist political economy he is not the only one and clearly not up to date. I started my education with Capital I. but have read since much more up to date critics of capitalist political economy. Some of them more followers of Marx than others. It is important for anarchists to understands the working of the capitalist system in order to expose its wrongs, but it seems that lately the disillusion of the masses of the merits of the capitalist system make this task much easier.

Related Link: http://ilan.shalif.com/anarchy/glimpses/glimpses.html
author by Jpublication date Tue Jan 03, 2012 05:04author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I don't find the claim that "there is no non-Marxist economics except forms of bourgeois economics" very convincing. There were economic ideologies before capitalism that supported feudalism, slavery, or some other form of class society and were neither bourgeois nor marxist. The analysis by David Graeber in Debt: The First 5000 years contradicts Marx on several points, yet is very critical of capitalism (and class society in general). Furthermore, all the parts of Marx's theory you claim are useful you can find in other thinkers before him, such as Joseph Proudhon, David Ricardo, and Adam Smith. The latter two are mistakenly thought of as a right-wing pro-corporate power people today, but socialist interpretations of their ideas developed in the 19th century and had history taken a different turn they might have come to power. There are definite similarities between their analysis of capitalism and Marx's analysis of capitalism. The reason you associate these ideas with Marx, instead of some other faction, is that Marx's followers established a number of totalitarian states which used his ideas to legitimize themselves. They promoted Marx's economics while usually ignoring or denigrating the many other people who advocated similar ideas prior to Marx, and which influenced Marx. Had Proudhonists or left Ricardians come to power we would call it Proudhonian economics or some other term instead. By identifying these ideas with Marx, instead of with the broader 19th century socialist movement, you are repeating the propaganda of Marxist totalitarian states.

"And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,[1] (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society." - Marx, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/letters...b.htm

author by Waynepublication date Wed Jan 04, 2012 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is the kind of ignorance displayed by both Ilan and J. about Marx's economic theory which motivated my writing my book. Rather than respond to what I have written, they go off on their own tangents to discuss what they feel like discussing.

Once again, they present the argument that there were other political economists who had analyses of capitalism before Marx (bourgeois economists as well as early socialists, including Proudhon). I discussed this for several paragraphs in Chapter 1. Obviously neither J. nor Ilan have bothered to read my argument (including the obvious fact that Marx acknowledged that he built upon earlier economic thinkers, as J's concluding quotation demonstrates). Whatever might have happened if Proudhonists or Ricardians had developed their theories, for whatever reasons, it is a fact that there is currently no developed anti-capitalist economic theory than Marxism. (Referring to feudal theories is bizarre. Obviously I am talking about theories of capitalism.)

J's explanation for this is nonsense. Bakunin and many other anarchists did not respect Marx's economic theory because Marxist parties would one day come to power. In any case, Marxist theories dominated on the left due to the growth of the Marxist movement, well before the parties came to power.

As to J's charge that I am repeating the theories of totalitarian states, I can only repeat my claim that there are both libertarian-democratic and authoritarian-statist sides of Marx's Marxism. I give evidence for this in this and other books (unread by my critics). For example, see my comparison in this essay between Samir Amin and Loren Goldner. And I repeat that bourgeois economics is dominant today because it supports capitalism, with all its evil effects. The rejection of Mar's economic theory only leads to boureois economic theory (whatever phantasy anyone may have about some never-created theory of left-Ricardians.)

Ilan claims that Marx is "not up to date." Well, one point of my book was to demonstrate that the general, abstract, ideas of Marx on economics were still up to date and useful for understanding the current world. This world is still under the system of capitalism, the system which Marx analzyed. Even Ilan admits that he has read "more up to date" economists who were applying Marxist economic theory, which proves my point (note my book's suggestions for further readings of books which apply Marx's theories to the current crisis). If he and J. do not think that I have shown how Marx's economic theory applies today, then they need to respond to what I wrote, rather than to repeat something which they could have said at any time and on any occasion!

As for J's last quotation from Marx (on classes),, J. probably does not know that Marx used "dictatorship of the proletariat" in his day to mean "the rule of the working class," and specifically cited the ultra-democratic Paris Commune as an example.

 

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