The Great Unsolved Mystery of the 20th Century: Why did the Soviet Union collapse?

Despite its devastating impact on global relations between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie within the world market, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union remains mostly unexplained. A large body of literature has been produced to explain the collapse, but, to my mind, very little of it provides a satisfactory explanation.

So I took up reading this paper, recommended by someone on, A Reassessment of the Soviet Industrial Revolution, by Robert C. Allen, without the expectation it would add much to the subject.

I was wrong. I now think it is a must read.

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“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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Yes. Yanis Varoufakis is a poor student of Marx, but so is Michael Roberts


Michael Roberts doesn’t think Yanis Varoufakis is a very good Marxist.

1200x-1What makes the finance minister so unacceptable to Roberts is his proposal for resolving the European crisis with a program Varoufakis admits “does not have a whiff of Marxism in it.” Which means, as Marxists go, Varoufakis is indistinguishable from the typical heterodox economist in all but his insistence on calling himself a Marxist.

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Podemos, SYRIZA and Europe’s “scary” neoliberal future

Alexis-Tsipras-Iglesias-AtenasFoto-Hermann_EDIIMA20140620_0627_13Yesterday Pablo Iglesias of Podemos sent out a message of support and solidarity for SYRIZA and Alexis Tsipras. While the statement was to be expected, it contained what I think is one of the more important defects in the approach both SYRIZA and Podemos have taken to the crisis:

“I’m Pablo Iglesias from Podemos and my message to the Greek people is quite clear. I think there are two options in the new elections in Greece, two candidates. The candidate whose name is Angela Merkel and is represented by parties like PASOK and New Democracy and the Greek candidate, his name is Alexis Tsipras. I’m sure the Greek people are going to choose a Greek new President for the country. I think in the South of Europe we need Presidents that will defend and protect the national sovereignty. “

I draw your attention to the last sentence in Iglesias’s message: “I think in the South of Europe we need Presidents that will defend and protect the national sovereignty.”

My question about this statement is this: Why is this not fascism? Why is Iglesias afraid of the end of national sovereignty in the South of Europe? What has the nation state ever given humanity but war, colonialism, progroms and exploitation?

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The historical context of Greece’s election

No matter the outcome of Greece’s election circus, the capitalists are losing the war. Can the Left take advantage of this?


Kevin Ovenden has a very interesting post to Counterfire, Dispatches from hope: a primer on the Greek election, in which he places the SYRIZA election campaign in the historical context of a long struggle against the neoliberalist political forces that emerged out of the 1970s depression. The present developments in Greece echo the struggles of the 1980s, says, Ovenden, but while the tune is familiar, the words have changed:

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Greece and the long awaited collapse of the Marxist underconsumptionist school

No Grexit

Tank-Top---€With SYRIZA now appearing to be a lock for forming the next government in Greece, some Marxist writers are suggesting there is a serious problem with the party’s commitment to staying in the European Union and the euro common currency.

In a post to Left Flank, Thanasis Kampagiannis, argues that leaving the common currency is a precondition for an effective revolutionary politics today:

“There is an analogy between the question of the Euro and the Left’s approach to the First World War. The decision to break with the war effort — and, even more, to break with it unilaterally — became central to the realignment of the Left. This does not mean that everyone who was in favour of peace was a Marxist. The same goes today: not everyone in favour of breaking with the euro is a revolutionary socialist. For example, Costas Lapavitsas’ proposed “Grexit” program, which Richard refers to, is a radical anti-neoliberal program for restoring Greek capitalism’s competitiveness outside the straightjacket of the Euro through depreciation of a national currency. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that breaking with the Euro is the necessary step for any anti-capitalist politics that wants to end austerity and start imposing a pro-working class agenda.”

But why is it revolutionary to pull Greece out of the euro and EU? I get the distinct feeling people think SYRIZA is to be faulted for its refusal to leave the EU and I am not sure why that would be. From reading Kampagiannis’s article I feel I have a much better grasp of some of the forces at work within the Left in Greece, but I have a lot of questions about his anti-euro, anti-EU, argument.

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What is SYRIZA? Two opposing takes on the new euro-politics

euro-bombWhat is SYRIZA and Podemos, and what are their significance on the stage of world history? I came across two interesting and contrasting views by folks much more familiar than I with the situation on the ground. I offer their take, along with my own caveats:

The first is a rather pessimistic take on Greece by a conventional vanguardist formation called the International Committee for a Fourth International; knuckleheads who are connected to the Socialist Equality Party (@SEP_US), (the latter who have shown they don’t know labor theory from a hole in the ground — but okay).

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“Capitalism Harder!”: Accelerationism as Marxism’s mirror

Left accelerationists have to show why they are not simply repackaging a discredited Marxist political strategy — a charge Nick Land makes forcefully here. The reason I say this is simple: a vulgar interpretation of Marx’s theory would suggest that as the conditions of the working class screen-shot-2012-12-30-at-9-48-52-pm-01-14-57deteriorated, they would be goaded into a socialist revolution. Some variant on this idea regularly becomes very popular among Marxists in the middle of economic downturns.

Of course, this idea is not as blunt as I put it. For instance many  simply assume deteriorating conditions push people into struggle with capital and requires the additional intervention of some sort of advanced or vanguard element to raise the political consciousness of the class. This seems to be the thinking behind the more polished argument made by Michael A. Lebowitz in this passage that crises produces conditions for socialist education:

“But, they are merely open to this understanding. All those actions, demonstrations and struggles in themselves cannot go beyond capitalism. Given that exploitation inherently appears simply as unfairness and that the nature of capital is mystified, these struggles lead only to the demand for fairness, for justice within capitalist relations but not justice beyond capitalism. They generate at best a trade union or social-democratic consciousness—a perspective which is bounded by a continuing sense of dependence upon capital, i.e., bounded by capitalist relations. Given that the spontaneous response of people in motion does not in itself go beyond capital, communication of the essential nature of capitalism is critical to its nonreproduction.”

But it was (and still is) generally held that when conditions deteriorate the working class is pushed in a heightened level of at least defensive conflict with the capitalists and thus become more open to “socialist education”.

Accelerationism simply asks a perfectly reasonable question: If deteriorating conditions allows the working class to become more open to going beyond capitalism, why try to prevent conditions from deteriorating? Why fight for piecemeal reforms that only prop up existing society by maintaining the illusion it can be fixed? If the capitalists are only concerned to push their brutal exploitation of the class to ever more extreme limits, why not welcome this?

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Looking for an Exit from the Crisis

participants-of-the-g20After writing the post about Michael Spence and his proposal for the advanced countries to pursue an export-led growth strategy as way out of the crisis, I became intrigued with looking at how mainstream economics thinks exit will happen. So I have been spending time trying to find the answer to this question.

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Decoding the Ideological Bullshit of a Bourgeois Simpleton (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a two part post.

To summarize the argument of Nobel Laureate and bourgeois ideologue Michael Spence from part one of this series: The goal of “economic restructuring” (or “rebalancing”) is for the advanced exportscountries to export more of what they produce at the expense of their domestic consumption. The future expansion of socially necessary labor time (value production) and, therefore, the expansion of surplus value will depend on the growth of exports of the advanced countries into the world market. Spence proposes this can be accomplished (1) by depreciating the real purchasing power of money wages; (2) stagnant nominal wages, in turn, will reduce real wages and domestic consumption generally; and (3) the resulting “structural adjustment” will force constant and variable capital of the advanced countries to flow into sectors of production that can be exported.

It follows from this that state economic policy should be solely concerned with raising the profitability of capital by extending unpaid hours of labor in the export sector. According to Spence, if the advanced countries are to increase unpaid hours of labor, they must increase the relative size of the “tradable sector of the domestic economy”. Which is to say, in relative terms, the portion of the working day during which the working classes of the advanced countries produce its wages and state social expenditures must be reduced, while the portion of the working day that can be turned into exports must expand. The resulting “adjustment” will allow constant and variable capital of the country to flow into forms of commodity production that can be exported.

Thus the crisis can be resolved by turning the advanced national capitals into export platforms, much as has already been done with the less developed nations through IMF imposed restructuring.

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