The Real Movement

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Month: March, 2015

“There is no alternative” (for Marxists): Costas Lapavitsas Edition

“There is no alternative”, is the famous aphorism coined by Margaret Thatcher in reply to her critics. According to the Wikipedia, TINA means, “economic liberalism is the only valid remaining ideology.” Economic liberalism is generally taken to mean dismantling of the social welfare state that emerged after World War II and collapsed into disarray beginning with the 1970s depression. However, in a recent interview, Costas Lapavitsas essentially argued that, for Marxists another sort of TINA TINAreigns: Because of a lack of policy tools drawn on labor theory, Marxists had on alternative but to make use of the very same Keynesian policy tools that produced the rampant stagflation of the 1970s depression. In this post, I take exception with Lapavitsas’ argument.

My argument is not only that Marxists have no need to rely on Keynesian policy tools for their short-run program, Keynesian policy tools have the same aim of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policy tools and run counter to the aim of communism. Instead, Marxist should drawn directly on labor theory to produce a set of immediate demands. Labor theory, according to my reading, argues Marxists should not seek to “exit” the crisis of capitalism, but should take as their starting point the limits imposed by production for profit on the production of material wealth. Our immediate program should be to push the production of material wealth beyond the limits imposed on it by production for profit.

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Will someone please tell Lapavitsas to shut the fuck up!

Costas Lapavitsas latest interview reminds me of that scene from 007, where the bad guy has an elaborate plan to kill off Bond that you know is going to fail. Bond is tied down, helpless, handcuffed to an atomic bomb or sharks with lasers on their heads or some shit.

i2NncpcCDoctor Evil parodies the scene in one of the Austin Powers movies:

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy’s nemesis, Austin Powers
Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don’t you just kill him?
Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

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Gold after the death of Marxism: A reply to George Caffentzis

This post is in response to a question posed to me on regarding George Caffentzis’s essay, Marxism after the Death of Gold:

“You’ve probably read this, and may have already addressed it on your blog, but in case you haven’t, I’d appreciate your thoughts.”

I am familiar with the essay in question and have written about it before. But I will return to it to provide an answer that takes into account my personal theoretical development since that time.


9547247-making-money-with-your-computerGeorge Caffentzis does something in his essay that Marxists occasionally (all too often?) do: Completely and baldly lie about Marx’s theory. This essay is founded on a lie that Caffentzis knows or should know is a lie. And the case does not look good here: Either Caffentzis does not know the premise of his essay is a lie and is therefore unqualified. Or he know it is a lie and is not to be trusted because his knowing distortion of Marx’s argument clearly has an agenda.

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Costas Lapavitsas and the growing desperation of the underconsumptionist school

In an interview with Jacobin, “Greece: Phase Two”, Costas Lapavitsas defends Yanis Varoufakis and, in the course of this defense, highlights the forces behind the increasing desperation of the Marxist underconsumptionist school:

“Let me come clean on this. Keynes and Keynesianism, unfortunately, remain the most powerful tools we’ve got, even as Marxists, for dealing with issues of policy in the here and now. The Marxist tradition is very powerful in dealing with the medium-term and longer-term questions and understanding the class dimensions and social dimensions of economics and society in general, of course. There’s no comparison in these realms.

But, for dealing with policy in the here and now, unfortunately, Keynes and Keynesianism remain a very important set of ideas, concepts, and tools even for Marxists. That’s the reality. Whether some people like to use the ideas and not acknowledge them as Keynesian is something I don’t want to comment upon, but it happens.

So I cannot blame Varoufakis for that, for associating himself with Keynesians, because I’ve also associated myself with Keynesians, openly and explicitly so. If you showed me another way of doing things, I’d be delighted. But I can assure you, after many decades of working on Marxist economic theory, that there isn’t at the moment. So yes, Varoufakis has worked with Keynesians. But that isn’t really, in and of itself, a damning thing.”

maxresdefaultI guess I am not so much speechless that Lapavitsas said this as I am speechless that it is completely true. After 150 years, Marxists still have no other policy tools in their book bags except Keynesian ones; Marxist economists have yet to give birth to their own policy tools derived organically from the premises of labor theory of value.

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Pavlopoulos’ and Vassalos’ unscrupulous demand for democratic control of currency in Greece

Anti-euro advocates increasingly have to characterize the SYRIZA government as a failure. Thus, SYRIZA is trapped between bourgeois ideologues who spin its brief stint as government a failure and Leftists ideologues who do the same.

The problem: Dimitris Pavlopoulos and Yiorgos Vassalos argue that even the mildest Keynesian policies are not possible within the eurozone:

“If one thing has become clear, it is that the long-expected change of course in Greece and the EU more broadly, will not come just because SYRIZA has come to power. The question that emerges is whether things could have gone, and can still go, differently. Is it possible for a left government in an austerity hit country to apply even a mild Keynesian policy while remaining within the eurozone and the EU? The answer is simply NO!”

91KBeL9mdJL._SL1500_But it was already understood by most observers before SYRIZA won the election that Keynesian policies could not be successfully implemented within the eurozone. This problem has nothing whatsoever to do with SYRIZA, but with the structure of the eurozone itself, which essentially strips the nation state of its fiscal and monetary powers without creating an alternative authority to implement countercyclical policies during economic downturns.

The Left and SYRIZA already knew this before the elections and should not be complaining about it now.

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Capitalism Without A Capitalist: Why SYRIZA probably will fail

arguing-evangelismThere are two absolutely essential essays drawn from post-war Marxism that are key to understanding why SYRIZA most likely will fail: The first is Robert Kurz’s “Domination without a subject” and Michael A. Lebowitz’s “What Keeps Capitalism Going”.

Kurz explains why what we call Marxism is a reductive critique of the concept of domination  that is incapable of explaining “mature” capitalism:

“One of the favorite terms of leftist social critique, stated with all the thoughtlessness due to the obvious, is that of “domination”. The “rulers” were and still are considered in countless essays and pamphlets as malefactors of vast and universal but vague reach, in an attempt to explain the miseries of capitalist socialization. This framework is retrospectively applied to all of history. In the specifically Marxist jargon this concept of domination is extended by adding the concept of the “ruling class”. In this manner the understanding of domination acquires an “economic basis”. The ruling class is the consumer of surplus value, which it cleverly and perfidiously and, of course, violently, appropriates.

It is immediately apparent that most theories of domination, including the Marxist ones, display a reductive utilitarian approach to the problem. If there is an appropriation of the labor of “others”, if there is social repression, if there is open violence, it is for someone’s use and advantage. Cui bono—this is what the problem is reduced to. A consideration of this kind does not fit with reality. Not even the construction of the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians, which devoured a not-insignificant portion of the surplus product of that society, can be forcefully reduced to a perspective of (purely economic) benefit of a class or caste. The reciprocal massacre of the various “rulers”, for reasons of “honor”, remains notably outside of any simple calculation of utility.”

Lebowitz explains why a close reading of Marx will show capital “produces a worker who looks upon its requirements as ‘self-evident natural laws’?

“When we think about the dependence of the worker on capital, is it difficult to grasp why capitalism keeps going? After all, Marx not only proposed that capitalism “breaks down all resistance” he also went on to say that capital can “rely on his [the worker’s] dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them” (899). Capitalism tends, in short, to produce the workers it needs.”

Both essays go a long way toward explaining why SYRIZA, although it now has in its hands management of the largest single employer in Greece, likely will never consciously exploit this position to advance the emancipation of society from labor.

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More MMT boilerplate on how to fix capitalism without really trying

Here is another silly attempt to fix capitalist crisis with money: “Why Understanding Money Matters in Greece” by Robert W. Parenteau. It is typical MMT nonsense:

“The modern state, then, imposes and enforces a tax liability on its citizens, and chooses that which is necessary to pay taxes.  That means a state with a sovereign currency is never revenue constrained. In fact, the government has to first create the money  before the private sector can find a way to get the money it requires to pay taxes and by government bonds.  Taxes and bonds are therefore not really the source of government funding or finance.”

jwsrThe standard MMT boilerplate thus argues the state creates money before taxing this money back into its coffers. It “creates” the paper first, and employs the paper to purchase “goods and services” from the private sector;  then it taxes the private sector for more or less the full amount of its purchases.

“Taxes simply give value to money, as households and nonbank firms cannot create money – that is counterfeiting.   Instead, they have to sell an asset or a product or a service to the government to get money,  or they need to be beneficiaries of government corporate subsidy or household transfer programs to get money.”

So, when individuals and businesses do what the state does, print up a bunch of currency and spend it, this is ‘counterfeiting’; when the state does it to individuals and businesses — not so much?

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Capital in the 21st Century: Thomas Piketty’s homage to Michael Heinrich

Who can read Piketty’s gloss on Kuznets, Malthus and Ricardo in his introduction and not wonder if he read as little of them as he read of Marx?

I can imagine a replay of his New Republic interview:

INTERVIEWER: “Can you talk a little bit about the effect of Kuznets, Ricardo and Malthus on your thinking and how you came to start reading them?

PIKETTY: “Ricardo and Malthus?”


PIKETTY: “I never managed really to read them. I mean I don’t know if you’ve tried to read them. Have you tried?”

INTERVIEWER: “Some of their essays, but not the economics work.”

PIKETTY: “I think, they are very difficult to read and for me they were not very influential.”

INTERVIEWER: “Because your book, obviously with the subject matter, it seemed like you were tipping your hat to them in some ways.”

PIKETTY: “No not at all, not at all! The big difference is that my book is a book about the history of capital. In the books of Malthus and Ricardo there’s no data.”

terminator_salvation_24444In his introduction to Capital in the 21st Century, Piketty characterizes Marx’s definition of capital as “infinite accumulation”. In fact, far from infinite, Marx characterizes capital as a “merely historical, transitory” mode of production. Where in Marx’s argument, covering three volumes, does Piketty find this characterization of capitalism as one of infinite accumulation? It is difficult to read Piketty’s characterization of capitalism in Marx and come away with any confidence in his characterizations of Malthus and Ricardo’s writings.

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Grexit is not the alternative the Left is looking for

The problem of the mass line

The first problem is raised by Grexit itself and its relation to the principles of a revolutionary or radical Left party. Stathis Kouvelakis makes a pretty good point in the video “Syriza and socialist strategy” at 43:00-46:00: a party may win an election not on its complete platform, but on one or two basic critical demands of the working class.

brazaletesnegro01bNo matter what those working class demands are — and if even those demands may be based on conditions that are fundamentally at odds with what the party considers necessary — the party has won on them and not on its complete program.

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