ICC internal debate on economics (Part 1): The causes of the post-1945 economic boom

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In this issue of the International Review, we are continuing the publication of our internal debate on the explanation of the post-war boom during the 1950s and 60s. Our readers will remember that this debate was originally prompted by a critique of the analysis of this period contained in our pamphlet on The decadence of capitalism, and in particular its analysis of the role played by the destruction during World War II in opening an outlet to capitalist production through the creation of a market based on reconstruction. One position (under the name "War economy and state capitalism"), "still basically adheres to the idea that the prosperity of the 1950s and 60s is determined by the global context of imperialist relations and the establishment of a permanent war economy in the wake of the Second World War". Two other positions, which at the outset shared the critique of the analysis in The decadence of capitalism, nonetheless disagreed on the analysis of the workings of the prosperity of the post-war decades: this was attributed to Keynesian mechanisms in the case of the "Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism" thesis, and to the exploitation of the last extra-capitalist markets and the beginnings of a massive expansion of debt in the case of the "Extra-capitalist markets and debt" thesis.

In the International Review n°133, we published a presentation of the framework of the debate as well as a brief explanation of the different positions in the debate. An article on "The origins, dynamics, and limits of Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism" in International Review n°135 developed a more complete account of the "Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism" thesis.

In this issue, we open our pages to the other two positions, with the following articles: "The bases of capitalist accumulation" (which defends the "Extra-capitalist markets and debt" thesis), and "War economy and state capitalism". Before doing so however, we feel it necessary to comment on the evolution of the positions under discussion, and on the rigour demanded by the debate.

The evolution of the positions in the debate 

During a considerable period following the opening of the debate, the different viewpoints all considered themselves to be based on the ICC's analytical framework,[1] which moreover often served as a reference point for the different positions' criticisms of each other. This is no longer the case today. That such an evolution should take place is inherently possible in any debate: differences which seem minor at the outset may appear, with the discussion, deeper than at first appeared, to the point where they call into question the initial theoretical framework. This is what has happened in our own debate, notably as regards the "Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism" thesis. This position, as can be seen in the afore-mentioned article in International Review n°135, now clearly calls into question some of the ICC's positions. Future articles will come back to this article's reassessment of our positions, and inasmuch as it will be taken up by the debate itself, we will limit ourselves here to pointing out the existence of three disagreements in particular:

  • Capitalism[2] "generates a growing social demand through the employment of new workers and reinvestment in extra means of production and consumption" whereas for the ICC "Contrary to what the idolaters of capital claim, capitalist production does not create automatically and at will the markets necessary for its growth" (ICC Platform).
  • Capitalism's apogee corresponds to "a certain stage [of] the extension of wage labour and its domination through the formation of the world market", whereas for the ICC on the contrary its apogee corresponds to the world's division between the major powers and the fact that "capitalism reached a point where the outlets which allowed it to grow so powerfully in the nineteenth century became saturated" (ICC Platform).
  • The evolution of the rate of profit and the size of the market are completely independent, whereas for the ICC "the growing difficulty encountered by capital in finding a market for the realisation of surplus value accentuates the fall in the rate of profit, which results from the constant widening of the ratio between the value of the means of production and the value of the labour power which sets them in motion" (ICC Platform).

It is characteristic of proletarian debate to take the systematic and methodical clarification of disagreements to their roots, without fear of whatever re-evaluation may result. Only such a debate can really strengthen the theoretical foundations of organisations that claim to defend the proletarian cause. Consequently, the debate imposes the strictest possible scientific and militant clarity, in particular in referring to the texts of the workers' movement in support of this or that position or demonstration. Unfortunately, the article on "The origins, dynamics, and limits of Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism" poses certain problems at this level. 

A lack of rigour in debate

The article in question begins with a quotation taken from Internationalisme n°46 (the press of the Gauche Communiste de France), as follows: "In 1952, our predecessors of the GCF brought their group's activity to an end because ‘The disappearance of the extra-capitalist market leads to a permanent crisis of capitalism (...) it can no longer expand its production. We can see here the striking confirmation of Rosa Luxemburg's theory (...) In fact, the colonies are no longer an extra-capitalist market for the colonial homeland, they have become new capitalist countries. They therefore cease to be outlets. (...) the perspective of war (...) is falling due. We are living in a state of imminent war...'. The paradox is that this incorrect perspective was announced on the eve of the post-war boom!".[3]

Two ideas emerge from this passage:

  1. That in 1952 (when the article was written), the GCF considered that the extra-capitalist markets had disappeared, whence the "permanent crisis of capitalism".
  2. The GCF's belief that war was imminent springs directly from the exhaustion of the extra-capitalist market.

However, this does not reflect the reality of the GCF's thinking at the time but on the contrary deforms it through the construction of a quote (reproduced above) which draws respectively from pages 9, 11, 17, and 1 of Internationalisme.

The first passage quoted, "The disappearance of the extra-capitalist market leads to a permanent crisis of capitalism" is immediately followed in the original by this, which is omitted from the quote: "Moreover Rosa Luxemburg demonstrates that the crisis opens long before this disappearance becomes absolute". In other words, for both Rosa Luxemburg and for Internationalisme, the crisis that reigned when the article was written in no way implies that the extra-capitalist markets are exhausted since "the crisis opens well before this deadline". This alteration of the GCF's thinking is not without its consequences for the debate since it supports the idea (defended by the "Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism" thesis) that the extra-capitalist markets are a negligible element in the prosperity of the 1950s and 60s.

The second idea attributed to Internationalisme, that "The disappearance of the extra-capitalist market leads to a permanent crisis of capitalism" and to "a state of imminent war", was not in fact defended by the GCF as such but by certain members of the group in an internal discussion. This is clear when we look at the passage from Internationalisme which is used in the article, but in an amputated form (the cuts are in bold in the passage that follows): "For some comrades indeed, the perspective of war, which they have always considered as imminent, is falling due. We are living in a state of imminent war and the question that demands analysis is not to study the factors that would drive us towards a worldwide explosion - these factors are given and are already in action - but on the contrary to examine why war has not yet broken out on a world scale". This second alteration of Internationalisme's thinking tends to discredit the position defended by Rosa Luxemburg and by the GCF since a Third World War, which should supposedly have been the consequence of the saturation of the world market, has not taken place, as everyone is aware.

Our aim in setting the record straight here is not to undertake a discussion of Internationalisme's analyses, which were undoubtedly mistaken on certain points, but to point out a tendentious interpretation of this analysis in the pages of our Review. Nor do we wish to prejudice the foundation of the analysis in the article on "The origins, dynamics, and limits of Keynesian-Fordist state capitalism", which is entirely distinct from the arguments we have just criticised. Now that we have undertaken this necessary clarification, it remains to us to continue calmly with the discussion of the points of disagreement in our organisation.

[1] As we pointed out in the presentation of the debate's framework in International Review n°133.

[2] The quotes that follow in these three points, are drawn from the article in International Review n°135 or from the ICC Platform.

[3] This passage is drawn from the original, longer version of the article which has been published on the web in French. The passage cited in the English version of the article (and published in French in the print edition of the International Review) is somewhat more truncated.