Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Keynes vs Marx on Idealism and Materialism


The NZ Labour Party hanging onto the coat-tails of dying capitalism will end up in the same graveyard of “progressive hopes”. Fortunately, before that happens workers will reach peak idealism and awaken to dialectical materialism. But such is its hold on our minds, idealism is not spontaneously replaced by the materialist world view we need to make the transition from capitalism to socialism. 

Without a class conscious revolutionary leadership to warn them and point the way, workers will fall for anti-scientific conspiracy theories of power elites manipulating their lives. Without the antidote to idealism, workers fall prey to demagogues of left and right instead of uniting and organizing to fight for survival socialism.

Idealism is the doctrine that thought creates being, rather than as Marx put it, that being determines consciousness. Being is our material, biological and productive life. Life begins with material needs not the ideas we use to measure it. 

So if our basic needs (jobs, health, housing, education etc) are not met and we face poverty, racism, sexism etc., the bourgeoisie blames this on ‘human nature’ the source of all ideas next to God. 

Keynes, master of distributional economics based on the ‘animal spirits’ of capitalists, was an arch idealist. On the face of it he was a practical economist. But for him capitalism was motivated by ideas. When capitalists failed to invest because they calculated they would not get a sufficient profit, Keynes had a bright idea; use the state to boost wages and demand (the multiplier) and stimulate  capitalists to invest in supplying that demand.

Yet this idea fell flat because despite increased demand, the capitalists hoarded their money rather than invest in production, or gambled on existing values, and the result was inflation as the increased money supply chased too few goods and services. Marxists at the time explained why this happened. Capitalism was subject to the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (LTRPF) and that required the supply side (inputs of labour and raw materials) to be cut in price to restore an average rate of profit.

In other words all attempts to tweek the markets will fail if the conditions necessary to restore profits are not satisfied. All neo-Keynesian ideas like Modern Monetary Theory and Donut Economics suffer from the same defect as Keynes basic idea. If the costs of inputs are not cut sufficiently to return a profit, capitalism will stagnate and enter a slump.

So, state ‘interference’ in the market is idealist because the material conditions required for the production of profits demand greater state attacks on workers living standards, and on nature to drive down costs the of production.

In Aotearoa today, peak idealism will be reached when workers no longer believe that the Labour government (or any capitalist government) can rescue society and humanity from the destruction of nature. The last hopes of a system reboot to avoid its self-destruction will be overtaken by the looming apocalypse of climate change, pandemics, economic crash and political tyranny.

Yet what is the response to the failure of such defunct ideas? Mostly a shift to supposedly 'new' or 'better' ideas that still remain trapped in idealism. The failure of the system is still seen as the failure of ideas, usually the ideas of influential individuals who create social movements dedicated to the delusion that a radical rebooting of capitalism will save us all.

That is why we are served up a mad menu of vulgar theories and conspiracies, invoking the ideas of self promoting gurus and their corporate backers who resist peak idealism with even more extreme post-modern forms that deny the biological and sociological reality of the material world. Scientific truth as a collective struggle for knowledge becomes a relativism where the free individual can escape external forces and realise his or her or their personal truth.

Bourgeois fetishism now escapes the normal institutions of academia, journalism, history and law, and become hypomanic denials of reality such as QAnon where elites rape children, antivaxxers in denial of coronovirus, or trans ideology that reduces biological sex to idealist feelings about being ‘born in the wrong body’.   

Once ideas become detached from material reality, notions of growth and personality become detached from biology, science and nature. Debates exist in an otherworldly vacuum of religious belief without roots to the earth. It’s one thing to reject these as false, it’s another to know what causes them. The critique of such forms of idealism today has to start at the beginning by grasping Marx’s critique of idealism.

Even before class society emerged (before there was sufficient surplus to enable it) social production was the result of material need not ideas. Ideas served only to organise the collective struggle for biological and social reproduction. The kinship group had a classless relation to production developing the tools to harness nature's human and non-human energy.

Once that development produced a surplus, ideas then turned to conserving the labour time of the few at the expense of the many. The ruling class had the ruling ideas about labour time. Work and die. The shaman and warlord was born to impose those ruling ideas within the class system.

After this gigantic leap, class societies went from exploiting the labour of slaves, to that of peasants and then wage workers, articulating all three! The ruling minority imposed its ideas on the working majority. Those who became the rulers justified their wealth in the name of gods, projecting their class power onto the gods in interest of the community.

The capitalist system is not an aberration, it follows this historic law - the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. The capitalist ruling class has the advantage over previous ones in that it doesn't need gods. Capitalism itself produces its own ideology in the very process of production where the act of exploitation of labour-power to produce surplus-labour and profit appears to be ‘natural’ and ‘just’. If we are all individuals buying and selling commodities, including labour-power, at their value then the worker who sells his/her labour power at its value is no different to the capitalist who buys it.

For Marx the ideology of capital is the idealist fetish of value created by market exchange rather than production. As a result we are alienated from production and trapped in the fetishism of exchange.

The production of labour value is separated from the ‘being’ of wage-labour and magically becomes the 'ideal' effect of supply and demand. Therefore, the failure of the market to create equal and free individuals appears to be caused by unequal exchange of commodities rather than the exploitative relations of production.

Unequal exchange results from monopoly power forcing down the price of the commodity below its value. Naturally capitalists always blame workers for this disruption. Marx demolished this illusion,  proving that labour-power was the only commodity that produced more value than its own value - hence the secret of profit extracted at the point of production, not its fetish in the market.

If the ruling idea of capitalism is the ideology that the system is natural and perfect, and this breaks down when the market malfunctions, it still leads to  attempts to reform the market from Proudhon to Piketty, and every shade of Labourism and Democratic Socialism.

So, Marx's discovery of the commodity labour-power (a child's discovery said Marx) proves that capitalism as a system never was intended to benefit all, but to justify in the name of all, poverty for the producers and wealth for the ruling class.

Once he made that discovery Marx had the key to unravel the apparent complexity of capitalism as a living reality determined by laws of motion that would lead necessarily to its eventual demise as it destroyed its material base in nature. 

But there is no need to surrender to fatalism. Knowledge provides an escape route from the alienated fetishism of life under capitalism which sucks us into futile identity politics. No longer are we isolated individuals but part of a social class where our collective knowledge becomes that basis of our capacity to act and change society.

The understanding of Marx’s scientific method creates the opportunity for workers to become class conscious and organise the power of the producers to end the long history of class society and embark on building the classless society - communism.



Thursday, March 11, 2021

India in Revolt: For Permanent Revolution!


Farmers occupy the Red Fort in New Delhi

We are living in the global terminal crisis* of capitalism. The epoch of imperialism is one of wars revolutions and counter revolutions. India’s colonial history shapes the present crisis. It cannot escape the terminal crisis of global capitalism which punishes the working masses, peasant farmers and workers alike driving them into misery and death. India’s ‘backwardness’ in relation to its imperialist oppressors has created deep contradictions within society, solidifying caste and suppressing class relations by creating national divisions as imperialism pumps out its super profits.

Today these contradictions explode. The demands of imperialism to extract more surplus to overcome its terminal crisis make the lives of the working masses intolerable. Add the devastation of climate change and the pandemic, themselves symptoms of capitalism’s destruction of nature, and millions are being driven into revolt. The comprador BJP regime of Modi has exhausted the utility of bourgeois democracy and its Stalinist lackeys, diverting the masses and resorting to extreme chauvinism to divide the masses and suppress their resistance.

The farmers revolt brings the contradiction to a head. Either fascism will violently destroy resistance and reduce workers and farmers to slaves, or revolt widens to unite workers and farmers in the whole of South Asia, and deepens into a revolutionary movement that brings down the regime, smashes the state apparatus and imposes a Workers’ and Peasants’ government and a socialist plan. 

Farmers’ revolt opens road for revolution

The terminal crisis is that of falling profits that can no longer be restored because capitalism has reached its final limit. It cannot develop the forces of production without destroying nature. Yet capitalists cannot face this prospect and continue to demand the total destruction of nature. In India, centuries of colonial rule made use of peasant agriculture to feed the masses while plundering its natural wealth.

India’s national revolution to break free from imperialism was aborted. The national democratic revolution of 1948 was defeated by sectarian divisions stoked by British imperialism to maintain divisions in the working classes, preventing permanent revolution. India was broken up into rival semi-colonies. National independence was sold out by its comprador ruling classes, Hindu and Muslim, who took a share of the labour value pumped out of the economy.

This system of extraction entrenched caste and repressed class struggle to contain the masses’ resistance. Classes that emerged with capitalism were grafted onto the caste system of the pre-capitalist tributary mode of production. In particular, peasant farmers contributed to the plunder of India by feeding the workers who produced the surplus value for the imperialist exploiters.

The laws of uneven and combined development** that Trotsky elaborated for backward Russia, applies to all semi-colonies including India. Since the stunted national bourgeoisie is tied to imperialism, the democratic revolution cannot be completed except as part of a permanent revolution for socialism in which the revolutionary workers lead the other oppressed masses to insurrection.

To survive in a semi-colony in the epoch of 20th century imperialism, farmers have been forced to adopt the Green Revolution and employ new techniques that destroy the land, are toxic to handle, contaminate drinking water and put the farmer further into peonage debt to finance capital and Big Agra over the long run. But 21stst century capitalism in terminal crisis demands more.

Farmers face an end to state regulation of their production which provides some protection from global competition. Global finance capital demands ownership of the land to exhaust the last remaining fertility from the soil. This puts not only the future of the peasantry in question, but also that of all labouring masses, the working class itself, small traders and unemployed.

That is why the farmers’ revolt against this ‘existential crisis’ poses the question: can this revolt develop into the socialist revolution that alone can solve the crisis for the working masses and open the road to a new post-capitalist society that can restore the balance with nature, and avoid the catastrophic collapse of human civilisation?

Peasant-worker alliance

The first step along that road is the broadening and deepening of the peasant revolt into one that draws in the working class. Against the Stalinist slander that Trotsky “underestimated” the peasantry, he, like Lenin, saw its limited horizon of land ownership as a reactionary influence on the proletariat. The revolutionary proletariat must lead the peasants beyond the land question and subordinate it to the wider socialist plan. In the revolutionary struggle workers backed the landless peasants. They formed workers and peasants (and soldiers) soviets. The Bolshevik program adopted the left Social Revolutionaries demand for ‘land for the tillers’ against the landlords of the Tsarist Despotism.

Today in India this program can apply to the current situation as the demand to nationalise the land worked by the tillers (workers’ control). As part of the wider socialist program, land use would be socialised by the soviets uniting workers of both town and country.

To advance the farmers’ revolt land nationalisation is key. Their initial demands were to revoke the new legislation to end state regulation of agriculture which stabilised prices, and return to the status quo. Modi’s refusal to comply has radicalised the farmers and their determination to resist.

The response to this intransigence must be to demand the removal of the BJP and for a government that would nationalise the land. But no such government exists or could exist under Indian semi-colonial capitalism. The Congress Party and the various Stalinist parties in opposition have no stomach to go beyond their bourgeois reforms or their reactionary national roads to socialism. When it comes to the crunch, they are the left-wing boosters of the comprador bourgeoisie bought and paid, ultimately by imperialism. ***

Therefore, to succeed the farmers need to enlist the support of the working class to bring down Modi by means of strikes and occupations. These would culminate as an indefinite general strike that raises the question of which class shall rule. To build the indefinite general strike, workers organisations must prepare their independent dual power organs capable of opposing the state and quasi-state forces at Modi’s disposal. As a rule, imperialism in terminal crisis must abandon all democratic subterfuges, and resort to open reaction at home and internationally.

Fascism is at the top of Modi’s agenda as we have seen recently in his rallying of Hindu nationalism against Muslims. The imperialist powers that have a big stake in India, like the US and China, would intervene to smash any political general strike capable of bringing down Modi. There is also the danger that the US would use the defence of Modi to start a proxy war against China. Against these reactionary threats farmers and workers need their own self-defence militias based on workers’ and farmers’ soviets which debate, decide and organise the methods necessary to advance the struggle.

For International Permanent Revolution

Trotskyists participating in these soviets would follow the lead of the Bolsheviks in Russia. They would build a Bolshevik-type party based on Leninist democratic-centralism. They would fight for a Trotskyist Transitional Program that takes the immediate economic and democratic demands of today, such as the end to castes, equality for women,**** down with national chauvinism, jobs for all and a living wage, as necessary to deepen the class consciousness of both workers and peasants of the need for a political solution to the terminal crisis - a Workers and Peasants’ Government based on soviet rule backed by a popular militia.

Such a revolutionary government would apply the lessons of history and recognise that socialism cannot be built in one country. Against imperialist intervention it would appeal to the workers and peasants of the other South Asian semi-colonies to rise up against their comprador regimes, and the workers of the imperialist powers to defeat their own ruling classes. Against a US proxy war with China, socialists would fight a revolutionary war against the US without defending Chinese imperialism. As an isolated socialist regime emerging from a semi-colony, India today cannot realise socialism unless as part of an international union of socialist republics of South Asia, and ultimately a world union of socialist republics.

For a New World Party of Socialist Revolution!

* We understand Terminal Crisis to be the compounding of economic crash, climate change and pandemic. There are feedback loops among them, as the drive for profits to avoid or mitigate crashes exacerbates climate change which creates the conditions for pandemics. The pandemics then in turn compound the severity of the crash and accelerate the terminal crisis. It puts capitalism into the ICU without any PPE. Therefore, the program we need has to address all aspects of the crisis, their interactions, and their effects on the class struggle. In particular the impact they have upon the working class in its widest sense as the only class that can resolve the terminal crisis of rotten capitalism in the interests of workers and humanity as a whole. We cannot develop a scientific program for international revolution without such a theoretical starting point. 

** “The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematism. Unevenness, the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries. Under the whip of external necessity their backward culture is compelled to make leaps. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which, for the lack of a better name, we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of the separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms. Without this law, to be taken of course, in its whole material content, it is impossible to understand the history of Russia, and indeed of any country of the second, third or tenth cultural class.” Trotsky History of the Russian Revolution.

***The various Stalinist parties in India (Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist), Liberation (CPI [ML]), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), or the Socialist Unity Center of India (Communist) are acting together to limit the workers-farmers alliance to putting pressure on Modi to withdraw the attacks on workers and farmers. This perspective is reactionary – to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution but block permanent revolution. One method of containing the masses is holding regular 1 or 2 day ‘general strikes’ to pressure the government. What is needed is for the rank-and-file activist workers and farmers to demand an indefinite political general strike to break from the union bureaucracy and the pro-bourgeois Stalinists. 

****  Witness the campaign to free Nodeep Kaur, a 24 year old Dalit woman who was arrested, assaulted, raped and jailed for over a month on a charge of attempted murder for supporting the farmers' revolt and recruiting for the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathana (MAS) union. She is currently on bail awaiting facing new charges, but determined to return to supporting the farmers and the union. Her commitment is an inspiration for other women in India to take their place in the vanguard of the socialist revolution that will liberate women from their historical oppression. 

Friday, March 05, 2021



March 4, 2021

International Women’s Day, St Petersburg, Russia 1917: Striking women textile workers sparked the February Revolution

Women spark the Russian Revolution

When 100,000 women textile workers went on strike in St Petersburg on March 8 (February 23rd Russian calendar) they sparked a general strike which led to the downfall of the Tsar, and 9 months later, the October Revolution. This was the highest point scaled by revolutionary women in history. Not only did some women play a leading role in the Bolshevik Party, the October revolution led to the biggest leap in women’s equality ever seen since the overthrow of women by the patriarchy 10,000 years ago. Women were no longer men’s property, the bourgeois family ceased to dictate their lives, unpaid domestic labour became paid social labour, and they began to play a equal part in public life. For example, prostitution was recognised as the failure to provide financial security for women. Attempts were made to rehabilitate and support women as a public health measure. 

The revolution was immediately beset by the counter-revolution in 1918 as the imperialist powers invaded and fought a civil war to smash the revolution. Despite the victory of the Red Army by 1921 the price was the destruction of the economy and decimation of the leading ranks of the working class. These events saw the party  captured by a bureaucracy under Stalin, denying women their place alongside men in the socialist transformation that promised so much to the world workers. Eisenstadt’s film ‘October’ made in 1928 documents the rapid retreat in the social position of women under Stalin as the revolutionary laws were reversed. For example Stalin punished prostitutes in labour camps as moral degenerates shaming ‘socialism’.

From the high point of 1917 world revolution retreated. The German revolution failed in 1923 but its threat remained hanging over capitalism so the first fascist movements sprang up to destroy any new revolutionary upsurge. Fast forward to the Great Depression and another imperialist war. Except for the Soviet Union where women participated in active service in the military, women were trapped in the oppressive gender relations of the bourgeois family, or served as a reserve army of labour for men away at war. On their return from war men pushed women back into the confines of domesticity and femininity.

Marxist vs Bourgeois feminism

The rise and fall of women in Russia is largely ignored in feminist histories. The Second wave of feminism in the early 1970s takes its cue from the First wave around the Suffragettes who won the vote for women. This signifies that bourgeois feminism marks its progress by equal rights reforms under capitalism, and not sexual liberation under socialism. Marxist feminists however, do not credit bourgeois reforms as capable of winning women’s liberation. For that, women have to take their place in the vanguard of the working class as the only revolutionary class capable of overthrowing capitalism and creating a genuine equality of the sexes. 

For that reason Marxist feminists are not surprised by the failure of the reforms of the 1970’s, around equal pay and abortion rights in particular, to mark a qualitative gain for women. These were concessions that were easily revoked or circumvented. Nor is it a surprise that as capitalism has failed to restore a new period of accumulation after the end to the post-war boom, so it was in the interests of capital to increase the exploitation of women in the workforce, and the unpaid domestic labour in the home. 

To account for the predictability of the ‘backlash’ against women by men in the period from the 1980s to the present, we need a more in depth account of the nature of women’s oppression and the revolutionary struggle to overcome it. Women were the first oppressed class in history, oppressed by men in a domestic mode of production. Some would say women are a  sex-class oppressed by men in the patriarchy. All class societies since have relied on the patriarchal family for the reproduction of children, of labour power in the home, and social stability. By the time we get to capitalism, the patriarchal family became the bourgeois family, but serves the same purpose. 

Patriarchy serves Capitalism

It follows that the progressive reforms won by women are contingent on the patriarchy surviving as a buttress for capitalist social relations. Women remain trapped in a division of labour where they perform wage-labour, unpaid domestic labour, and perform sexual services in marriage or prostitution. As is true of racism which serves to reproduce non-white workers as low paid wage slaves, sexism serves to justify the double oppression of women as domestic and wage slaves. 

Marxists also recognise that capitalism in decline reaches the point where it begins to destroy more of the forces of production than it creates, threatening human existence. Capitalism can no longer survive without destroying the material base of its existence, namely non-renewable energy sources and human labour power. In desperation capitalism is driven into a self-destructive war with nature which includes women as reproducers of human life. There is a race to replace the human body with the AI reproduction of life in the laboratory, speeding up and cheapening biological reproduction, so that humans become hybrids or are displaced by machines. 

The Trans war against Women

Capital’s war against women is no better expressed than in the attacks on women as a biological sex by trans ideology. The patriarchy becomes ‘progressive’ replacing women with men as transwomen or transmen. In the bizarre language games of trans ideology, transwomen are women and transmen are men. The object is to erase women as a sex-class in the cause of liberal gender identity. As women as a sex class are erased politically, so is their historic struggle for sex liberation, the oldest resistance movement in history. At a time when history is reaching the point of no return, where capitalism in extremis threatens human extinction, women as the biological core of human reproduction, as mothers who nurture within nature, and those with the longest history of fighting for nature against its destruction, are being eliminated from the struggle. 

Except of course nature always fights back and wins. The question is which side are you on – capital or nature. So this International Women’s Day we should remember the history of women’s struggle, the highs and lows of the movement over millennia, and the existential threat to women and humanity we face in the next few decades. We need to rally for women against a latest trans counter-revolution which seeks to erase them from history, and build support to win, finally, the sexual revolution as part of the socialist revolution. We must organise and rally to the defence of those most likely to lead this revolution – working class lesbians who are threatened by male ‘lesbians’ – and are best prepared to confront the patriarchy in its attempts to reduce women to non-existence. As Marxists we make the cause of women’s liberation from oppression a matter of principle – settling accounts with the first class society in the struggle to end all class society and to bring about the conditions for human freedom.