The role of the state

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Sun Oct 11 08:40:16 PDT 1998

Bill, Yes, Chomsky critiques the ideology of the free market on two grounds: first, he is incensed by the distributional consequences of free markets; and second, he notes that the rich violate the precepts of the free market (public subsidies for private profit, monopolies through intellectual property) while imposing the free market on the the poor (welfare cuts, free trade imposed on the third world while the US practices protectionism).

Chosmky's critique is thus moralistic: the free market is unfair, and only hypocrtically invoked. Indeed Chomsky's critique seems to derive from an ethical Kantian insistence that humans should never be means towards ends posited outside of themselves.

But surely Chomsky knows that Luxemburg, Grossmann and Mattick attempted to take critical theory beyond the misty realm of ethics.

In my opinion Chosmky elides the big question: whether market economies can enjoy crisis free accumulation and whether the state or banks or monopolies can intervene to prevent the outbreak of or minimize the duration of crises. Instead of dismissing Mattick as too dogmatic a Marxist for himself (what a silly unscientific comment that I am surprised Chosmky made for his Barksy bio), Chomsky should actually engage his attempt to interpret "Marx's theory of capitalist development as simultaneously a theory of capitalist crisis, due fundamentally not to the disproportionalities or underconsumption favored by most Marxists, but to the tendential fall in the rate of profit. As Mattick showed in numerous essays, most Marxist theorists...share with bourgeois economics a focus on the circulation of commodities and the realization of surplus value. Marx, in contrast, focues ont eh production of surplus value, to argue that the very process by which exploitation is enhanced leads over time to a decline in the rate of profit on total capital. Mattick's main contribution to the critique of economics was to demonstrate that this Janus faced process by its nature is not overcome by the various forms of Keynesian state regulation of the market economy. By the late 1950s he had succeeded in showing that the continued existence of the capitalist structure as the basis of the 'mixed economy' implied the latter's destabilization in the not too distant future by the same crisis mechanism that had put an end to earlier periods of prosperity." Paul Mattick, Jr in Biographical Dictionary of Neo Marxism, ed. Robert A Gorman.

At any rate, I have personal story to tell about Chomsky. I had begun my first year of grad school in govt at Harvard, and immediately made an appt to see Chomsky (whose work I had been reading). Five months later, I finally got my chance. He noted that a poli scientist from Harvard had never arranged to meet him, and it became clear to me that he thought I was a cop.

He basically said that though many of my Harvard teachers were opposed to the war in Vietnam, they were all imperialists. So I dropped out, very naively thought nothing about building an intellectual career on the basis of a prestigious credential (the anti black racism of my fellow students horrified me as well) and set out to learn all about this country from the bottom up and read all the books they would never have allowed me to read.

best, rakesh

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list