Brenner on competition

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Sep 16 11:46:40 PDT 1998

Louis Proyect wrote:

>I don't know what you mean by open or closed. Right now, 40 percent of the
>world's economy is in deep crisis and the ruling class is worried that the
>contagion might spread.

Did I say anything to the contrary?

>(Following critical comments on Keynes, Doug proves my point by failing to
>transcend Keynsianism)
>>I don't see what choice a socialist has but to support living wage and
>>comparable worth legislation and a less cretinous NLRB. But those things
>>aren't socialism, and the bourgies will never concede them unless they fear
>Doug, this is something you do habitually and it is blatantly
>undialectical. You construct a menu with two choices: an EPI-flavored
>"comparable worth" legislation or "expropriation". The choice is not
>between pallid reforms and the Spartacist League.

You're the one setting up the binary - I didn't. I said that reforms were fine, but they're not enough. That's no either/or in my book, and I don't see anything about the Sparts there.

I'll try again. I said social democratic reforms are politically unlikely unless there's a significant risk that the bourgeoisie is about to be expropriated. I am, just in case you weren't clear, for the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. I don't think EPI is, and I don't think they'd agree that it's necessary to create fear among the ruling class to accomplish even a reformist agenda. I'll bet there are very few folks at EPI who'd agree with me that the fall of the USSR was a blow to social democracy.

>In Marxist terms, you have created a binary opposition between minimal and
>maximal demands. In the real class struggle, socialists try to bridge the
>gap between minimal and maximal demands. Trotsky understood this and tried
>to systematize it with the Transitional Program. He wrote:
>"The strategic task of the next period -- prerevolutionary period of
>agitation, propaganda and organization -- consists in overcoming the
>contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary
>conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard (the
>confusion and disappointment of the older generation, the inexperience of
>the younger generation . It is necessary to help the masses in the process
>of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the
>socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of
>transitional demands, stemming from today's conditions and from today's
>consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading
>to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.

I'm all for that Lou. I don't know where you get the idea I'm not.

>>Oh, I'm not sure the Korean bourgeoisie is thrilled with its plight right
>>now, but it knows that to remain a bourgeoisie it has to go along with what
>>its masters tell it. But fuck the bourgeoisie. Is it in the interest of the
>>world working class to see liquidation? Ask the Hyundai workers who were
>>occupying their plant.
>It is not in the interests of workers to face the liquidation of the
>factory that employs them. Nor is it in their interest to go to war when
>the various ruling classes of South Korea, Japan, etc. decide to resolve
>their problems by liquidation excess capacity through violence. The problem
>for Marxists is how to come up with an alternative. It must be stated as
>clearly as possible: there is no alternative to socialism. All the
>palliatives that are being discussed in the bourgeois press will fall
>short. No fixes from the IMF or G7 will work. The problem is that there is
>excess capacity. We are witnessing a crisis of overproduction. Capitalism
>has no solution for that.

This is where we part company. Capitalism has shown many times in the last 50 years that it can solve the problem of excess capacity, by deferring and displacing crisis. It's entirely possible that Asia, Russia, and Latin America can go through hell and the First World rulers profit in the long term. I have no idea what odds to give that they will, but they're somewhere above 0.

>>In this context, the IMF's role can be read as assuring that the costs of
>>the deflation are shifted as much as possible towards the recipients of
>>its largesse, and to limit the blow to creditor nation finances.
>>Bailouts of these sorts are justified as essential to preventing a
>>collapse of the global financial and economic structure like that of
>>1929-32. This may or may not be true -- who knows? With every crisis,
>>you never know if it's the one that, unchecked, could lead to ruin.
>This is exactly the sort of hedging you are good at. It is starting to wear
>thin, in my opinion.

What conclusion do you draw from the history of the last 50 years? One reason to study Keynes is that the bourgeoisie learned from him how to stabilize their own system. They talk laissez-faire, but when they hit a wall, they turn to The State for comfort.

You also excised the previous paragraph about a classic crisis of overaccumulation in Asia.

>You are one of the most respected young Marxist
>economists in the US. It is about time you learned to take a stand of the
>sort that Marx took in "Value, Price and Profit":
>At the same time, and quite apart form the general servitude involved in
>the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves
>the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget
>that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those
>effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing
>its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady.
>They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable
>guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing
>encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand
>that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system
>simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms
>necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the
>conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought
>to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the
>wages system!"

When Marx wrote this, there was a revolutionary workers movement. There isn't one now.

I talk as much as I can about capitalism, the shortcomings of reformism, and the desirability of socialism as I can and still have more than 6 people listen to me. If you walked around in 1998 saying "Abolition of the wages system!" people would turn away from you. I'm improvising here - how do you get a more than trivial number of people to take socialism seriously in 1998? 1999 could be entirely different from 1998, but just what is the

>socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of
>transitional demands, stemming from today's conditions and from today's
>consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading
>to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.

What are today's transitional demands appropriate to today's conditions and today's consciousness?


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