Austerity won’t save capitalism from declining

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jk1921
Austerity won’t save capitalism from declining
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Austerity won’t save capitalism from declining. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
Its good to see the ICC

Its good to see the ICC publish a minority viewpoint.

There is a lot to commend in this article. One point of difference I have, however, is the idea that the debate around austerity vs. stimulus is only an ideological division of labour between various parts of the ruling class. I don't find this convincing. I think there are real differences within the bourgeoisie about how to manage the crisis. The choice austerity vs. stimulus reflects real policy differences with real consequences in a given moment. Making the wrong choice could have catastrophic effects on the position of the national captial. One unique feature of the present moment, I think, is that we are seeing various factions of the bourgeoisie simply give up trying to navigate these conundrums and just fall back on ideology in order to make these crucual policy choices--the fate of the Republican Party in the U.S. is a key case in point.

Ultimately, the article is correct that neither option is a "real" solution to the crisis in the time frame of deep historical time--but that doesn't mean that there aren't policy choices that are "more appropriate" than others or "less worse" than others at any one given moment. It should be the task of the most sophiticated factions of the bourgeoisie, acting through the state, to decide which policy choices best fit the moment. The fact that they are finding it increasingly more difficult to do so is a reflection of the gravity of the present crisis--but it is a also a reflection of the old Marxist notion of "ideology becoming a material force" and acting as a factor in the aggravation of the crisis itself.

I think it would be good if left communists could step back some and add a little more texture to their analyses. Its true that, in the last instance, the capitalist system is ultimately objectively self-vitiating (and thus needs to be replaced, and the sooner the better) , but this is a little like saying "in the end we are all dead." Just as there are lifestyle choices we can make to live longer and more healthy lives (although these choices are easier to follow through with for some more than others), there are policy choices before the bourgeoisie that could preserve its system a little longer. Will it make those choices? I don't know. Its something we need to analyze. None of this means that one policy or another is "better" from the historical view point of the proletariat.

I don't know. Maybe comrades think I am underestimating the gravity of the present moment? Maybe I am suffering from crisis fatigue? The article says this is the "worst crisis in the history of captialism"? Is it worse than the Great Depression? How so? Perhaps the full implications of the European situation haven't emerged yet?

red flag
The problem facing the

The problem facing the bourgeosiie of all factions in all countries is that it is unable to offer any solutions to the crisis which will not exacerbate the situation.  Reason is that as a class itt's unable to see that it's system is historically an anachroism that needs replacing before it does anny further damage noot only to the enviroment but also the social fabric.  The current choices of either cutting deficits or turningg to quasi keynsian solutions are simply not working and the only real choice of simply letting the system rip and allow whole sections of the economy go bust is to much of an apocaliptic solution, after all where would the destruction stopp? and how many individual members of tthe bourgosie would go bust?  So for rational solutions there are none.

The point is how do we intervene in the class struggle to enssure that we can attract sufficient numbers of workers to a revolutionary perspective.  It seems to me that each crisis offers opportunities as well as responsibilities to the revolutionary organisation to intervene as effectively as possible..  This meanns participating in actions such as supporting strikes, being involved in anti cuts campaigns but alll the while ruthlessly criticising all reformist solutions to the crisis and to develop independent campaigns free from the sabotage of the capitalist left.

Whatever happens the current crisis will becomme worse and will ruin countless millions of lives unless its stopped by a conscious class struggle.

On the point of whether the current crisis is worse than the 30's at this stage probably not due to the slack in the system brought about by the expansion of all forms of debt.  Now that slack is dissapaering the immediate future may soon prove that the crisis is the worse  in capitalisms history especially as in the UK we have only experienced about 6% of the cuts. 

Demogorgon
"One point of difference

"One point of difference I have, however, is the idea that the debate around austerity vs. stimulus is only an ideological division of labour between various parts of the ruling class. I don't find this convincing. I think there are real differences within the bourgeoisie about how to manage the crisis. The choice austerity vs. stimulus reflects real policy differences with real consequences in a given moment."

I don't think the article intended to give the impression that the economic debates were solely artificial, far from it. What part of it gave you this impression? The problem the bourgeoisie has is that they're between a rock and a hard place and none of their economic ideologies really offer a way out. Each faction is very good at seeing the flaws in the other faction's position, but they have to maintain belief in their own position or give up on capitalism altogether.

In Britain last year, the Tory fraction of the Coalition came under a series of sustained attacks in the press. My personal view at the time (not necessarily that of the rest of the ICC) is that this was (amongst other things) part of an effort to push the Coalition towards a more flexible economic policy in case things got worse. Hence, Osborne's plan for "credit easing".

Nonetheless, what the whole bourgeoisie is united on is attacking the working class - the different policies all lead inexorably to this result (and they know it), regardless of the ideological fluff around them. But they still have to present this "fluff" to the working class as a real choice (as well as maintaining their own self-belief and cohesion as a class).

"Maybe comrades think I am underestimating the gravity of the present moment? Maybe I am suffering from crisis fatigue? The article says this is the "worst crisis in the history of captialism"? Is it worse than the Great Depression? How so? Perhaps the full implications of the European situation haven't emerged yet?"

Well, it's worse because it poses a truly profound dislocation throughout the global economy. The crisis of the banking system in 2008 nearly paralysed the entire world economy: no wages paid, no money out of the banks, etc. All economic activity would have ground to a halt. There have certainly been localised seizures like this (Germany to some extent in the Great Depression; parts of Asia, Russia, etc. in late 90s; Argentina 2000) but the "credit crunch" posed the issue on a truly global level.

Also, in the 30s, the bourgeoisie had cards to play in the form of state capitalism, etc. Today, the crisis is manifesting (quite literally in the case of the "sovereign debt crisis") as a crisis of state capitalism itself.

As for the the Euro crisis, it is extremely serious. It's possible the bourgeoisie might still contain it, but the potential is there for bankrupting Greece (already pretty much happening), Ireland, Italy, Spain, etc. A "disorderly" default by Greece would be catastrophic enough; but even an "orderly" default will pose enormous questions. If Greece "gets away with it" so to speak, others may also start to question why they should put up with the pain of working off deficits. The potential for outright catastrophe is clearly there; whether that potential is actualised remains to be seen.

"Its good to see the ICC publish a minority viewpoint." "I think it would be good if left communists could step back some and add a little more texture to their analyses."

I think these points are related. The evolution of the crisis poses enormous questions and challenges for revolutionaries. We're trying to deepen our understanding of the crisis and this in turn led us to realise there are certain contradictions in our previous analyses - this was part of the reason the debate on the post-war boom began. By engaging with minority positions within the organisation (and also, hopefully, with other organisations and elements) in a more healthy way than in the past we can improve and consolidate our own analyses while stimulating a wider debate in the class. Publishing a minority position is a step towards this.

On a more practical level, we don't expect comrades to defend positions that they don't adhere to. The comrade in question (the article is signed by an individual as opposed to "WR" or "ICC") has written several economic pieces over the past few years, all from a minority perspective (as a careful reading of our press will show). This time we decided to make an explicit acknowledgement, partly because it was the lead article and partly because it's a better reflection of the diversity of opinion within the organisation.

baboon
Austerity versus Stimulus

Before I go on to the above, a point on the minority position. I wouldn't have known that this was a minority position and thought that there was a couple of odd formulations about debt in an otherwise excellent article. When the ICC published part of its internal economic discussion in the Review a couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time reading those, and going back and reading, and ended up completely bemused as to what the fundamental differences were; the Thirty Glorious Years seemed alien, some parts of the articles were clear, but what the differences were or are, and what they meant in practice, is something that I gave up on a long time ago (by the way, the other article written by Ishamael (a minority position?) is also excellent).

In Britain, generally speaking, the Tories talk of austerity and the Labour opposition has a position that it presents as a "stimulus" measure  for growth. A little while ago, some respected independent economic body, the IFS or somesuch, costed the differences between both parties and it came to around £5 billion. I may have worked this out wrong but, if met in full, it seems to come to about eighty-two quid for every person in the country, or around £350 for an average family - and it's not entirely clear if this is a one-off or a continuous year by year stimulus. Given the massive amount of cuts affecting families - many times £350 per family per annum and just beginning, it is clearly a choice between austerity and austerity minus nothing much but hot air.

 

 

 

 

Demogorgon
"Before I go on to the above,

"Before I go on to the above, a point on the minority position. I wouldn't have known that this was a minority position and thought that there was a couple of odd formulations about debt in an otherwise excellent article."

We wanted to explain the oddness!

"When the ICC published part of its internal economic discussion in the Review a couple of years ago, I spent a lot of time reading those, and going back and reading, and ended up completely bemused as to what the fundamental differences were"

To be honest, there is some bemusement within the organisation as well. Part of the problem is that most of the published positions are basically orientated around the framework of Rosa Luxemburg's economics (the Keynesian-Fordist position is a bit ambiguous in that contains elements of concern around markets but also points to productivity and rates of profit as well). As a result, they might seem more like quibbles about the detail than any fundamental disagreement. Some comrades in the ICC defend a position based on the rate-of-profit (i.e. either the "classical" position or the Grossman-Mattick orientation), but no position text on this has been published externally.

Another problem has been our own process of clarification. It's taken time for us to understand what the real questions are and this is partly being worked out in the published debates. This is part of the dilemma we face when making our internal debates public - are we actually helping the wider class or just spreading our own confusions?

"Given the massive amount of cuts affecting families - many times £350 per family per annum and just beginning, it is clearly a choice between austerity and austerity minus nothing much but hot air."

This is very much the case in Britain given its precarious situation; in other countries there's a bit more of a genuine debate. China and the US, until recently anyway, have played the stimulus card but this seems to be drawing to a close now. The question is can they afford to revive it should the economy take another nose-dive.

Demogorgon
"by the way, the other

"by the way, the other article written by Ishamael (a minority position?) is also excellent)."

If you mean the conspiracy one, I think that probably represents the general position of the organisation. In fact, so does the majority of the Austerity article.

Fred
"What the ruling class fears

"What the ruling class fears above all is that the necessary acceleration of the attacks could STILL trigger a radical response within the working class." The "still" is emphasized by me not Ishmael. But what do you revolutionaries fear? Or hope? Do you think that the crisis could trigger a response - or is it too late for that, decomposition being so advanced? Or do you think the attacks could STILL trigger a response despite not much sign of it yet? Not of course that it's your task to predict the future, so you won't want to say. But this is an anxious time for everybody, isn't it - the bourgeoisie, the working class and its militants too?

jk1921
Excellent discussion here.

Excellent discussion here.

"The bourgeoisie have thus maintained a whole series of campaigns with the aim of keeping the myth of democratic debate alive."

I think it was this line that led me to conclude that the author didn't see much reality to the policy debates between the various factions of the bourgeoisie, seeing them more as ideological charades. I think in the past the ICC has often been guilty of this kind of dismissal of the life of the bourgeoisie and has often failed to make the attempt to go deeper than a cursory, "neither side has any answer" kind of polemic. That is of course true, but I don't think our analysis can stop there. We need to develop a better understanding of how the bourgeoisie continues to manage the crisis, the dangers posed by decomposition to its ability to continue to do so, etc. Otherwise, we start to miss the trees for the forest, so to speak.

I agree with Demo's comments that in the UK (and perhaps the entirety of Europe) these debates may not have much meaning given the gravity of the situation, but elsewhere they have more reality. That is part of the moment we are in also; different policies may be on the table for different countries depending on the severity of the crisis and their place in the capitalist world system. That is why there is a vicious debate brewing within the U.S. bourgeoisie about what to do with Social Secuity and Medicare and the speed and intensity of any future cuts. There is simply no need to do it too fast, but there are factions of the bourgeoisie hell bent on making it happen regardless of the overall consequences for the national captial.

Demogorgon
"I think in the past the ICC

"I think in the past the ICC has often been guilty of this kind of dismissal of the life of the bourgeoisie and has often failed to make the attempt to go deeper than a cursory, "neither side has any answer" kind of polemic."

I'm not entirely sure I agree with this, but I think a deeper discussion would be necessary to unpick what you're referring to.

One point to remember is that, in the past, the bourgeoisie had far more cohesion and the different factions understood their role a bit better than they do now. The "monetarism" of the 80s was an economic policy enforced across the Western bloc, the 90s saw the "third way", etc. The "debates" about policy were far more artificial than they are now. Faced with the absolute impasse of the economy, the different factions are starting to believe their own propaganda and are trying to impose their position on their rivals with more intensity than ever.

Some, undoubtedly, have lost the plot altogether and are simply trying to make a fast buck any way they can and damn the consequences (some elements in the banking sector for example).

In political life, the right tend to exhibit this loss of self-control more openly than the left, primarily because the latter have always been more directly faced with the task of keeping the workers under control and are less directly tied to specific industries.

You might want to look at this article: https://en.internationalism.org/node/4012

Ironically, after we published that, the political consensus across Europe began to fracture with a whole mosaic of left and right taking office. But it still shows quite well our method of analysing the life of the bourgeoisie.

jk1921
Demo, just a suggestion, but

Demo, just a suggestion, but perhaps your last post could be expanded into an article?