In our last issue (IP#29) we published a review of Claude Bitot's new book Communism has not yet Begun. The following text is his response. In our view, it does not invalidate our critique but it does confirm that there are disagreements between us. However, we won't respond to his remarks directly. Rather than pursuing this debate in a ping-pong fashion, we aim for a deeper, more theoretical effort. Concerning the crisis of capitalism, its causes and mechanisms, we think that the reader will find many answers to the issues raised by Claude Bitot in the text by Sander, of which the two first parts are published in this issue. We will come back to other aspects discussed by Bitot in future articles. As usual, we invite all readers interested in this debate to write a contribution, which we will publish when possible.
Thanks for reviewing my book. I think the book itself answers most of your critiques, so I will not attempt to refute them all in another long text. I will limit myself to rectifying the positions which Adele has erroneously attributed to me or which she has misrepresented because she didn't understand what I meant.
On page 16 of IP#29 it is stated that in my view, "a catastrophic crisis begins in the ‘70s". I don't say that. In my periodisation, capitalism entered the final phase of its historical cycle, but so far this is not yet catastrophic for capitalism. On page 194 I write:
On page 17 of IP, it is said: "But CB's argument is based o a false premiss: the idea that there is an absolute limit, a point beyond which capitalism can no longer develop its productive forces." This argument doesn't come from me but from Marx, who writes: "A social formation never disappears before all the productive forces are developed which it is large enough to contain." (Preface to Critique of Political Economy, 1859) Or also:
On page 17 it is said that in my view the crisis of 1929 was solely overcome through "mass consumption". But I don't limit myself to that. On page 175 of my book, I write:
Furthermore, IP claims that I don't say a word on the policies of large "public works". Yet on page 148, I write:
Still on page 17, IP makes me say that the crisis of 1929 was "a crisis of profit" which was solved by increased mass consumption, which makes it possible to find my analysis "absurd":
But nowhere do I say that the crisis of 1929 was "a crisis of profit". On page 147 of my book, I explain that this crisis was caused by the saturation of the market, due to the fact that the demand was essentially limited to sector I (means of production) while sector II (means of consumption) was limited by the consumption of luxury goods by the capitalists and by the wages of workers. On p.174 I return to the crisis of 1929 and its deeper cause to conclude with Marx: "the ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses..." After 1929, this consumption increases, but I'm careful to point out, on p.175:
That's what's been called ‘Fordism’: the increase of mass consumption in exchange for the increased production of surplus value, which partially counterbalances the fall of the rate of profit.
I write indeed that 1974-75 was a crisis of profitability of capital and, on p.176, I list its causes:
I conclude that this shows the bankruptcy of ‘the Keynesian model’, which forces capitalism to return, little by little, to its classic, liberal model and thus to wage austerity. That doesn't mean that "the working class now consumes too much", as IP writes on p.18. The decline of wages (which can go below their value) is part of the methods of capital to check momentarily the growing and historic fall of its profit-rate. It can't be denied that in the Anglo-Saxon countries, where real wages have gone down by about 20%, the crisis of profit has been partially overcome. In Europe, and in Germany where wages are especially high, this is far from the case. Hence the permanent marasmus. That doesn't mean that this crisis of profit won't be partially overcome there too. But, like I wrote on p.195, that doesn't mean that capitalism will be out of the woods: "It will find itself facing the old problem of overproduction, which it thought to have solved since 1945; otherwise said, it will jump out of the frying pan of production into the fire of the market." Hence the return to periodic, ever more severe, crises of which the one of 1991-93 was but a mild foretaste."
On page 19, my position on the Bolshevik revolution is clearly misunderstood: I'm credited with the idea that the proletarian takeover in October 1917 should not have been done. I know very well that history doesn't obey such recommendations. Marx warned in 1870 that Paris Commune would be "a desperate folly", but that didn't prevent the Commune from becoming reality in 1871. We should, however, note that in contrast to the Commune, which came about in a mostly spontaneous and improved way, the armed insurrection of October 1917 was lead by the Bolshevik Central Committee and by Lenin in particular (in other words, by a small minority). It is not at all certain that it would have taken place without their organised initiative. But whatever the case may be - since it failed - we must look for the causes of this failure. I think that the socialist revolution couldn't succeed, neither on a national, nor on an international scale. I get faulted for "an attempt to rationalize the defeat after the event" (p.19) How about that! When one draws lessons isn't it always after the event? One should at least use the advantage of hindsight to discern the deeper causes of the failure. That's what Marx did, ten years after the Commune, in his letter to Domela Nieuwenhuis. But, once again, it wasn't my intent to say, after the event, that the insurrection shouldn't have taken place. Even if in theory one can always say this, in practice it doesn't work that way, a revolution isn't something which can be set in motion by pushing a button; too bad if it's doomed, objectively speaking, to crack its skull in the hard contact with reality, or to have catastrophic consequences such as the Bolshevik insurrection giving way to Stalinism!
Also on p.19, it's claimed that I think that "the necessary conditions (for revolution) will be assembled when the absolute pauperisation of the working class reaches the depths of the worst conditions of the 19th century." On page 191 and following, I speak only of "a generalized social regression". As for the absolute pauperisation which I do indeed mention, it seems to me that capitalism today is indeed going in that direction. Whether the proletariat will accept a return to living conditions comparable to the 19th century, is another story, and which I don't discuss. But I do note that, in order to avoid such a situation, it will need the force to challenge capitalism. It won't be enough to resist within the framework of the system, otherwise it's very likely that this absolute pauperisation will occur.
To conclude, a general remark. On page 16, it is recognized that "with this book, CB brings a Marxist view of history, written in a clear and precise language, within everybody's reach." Yet further (on page 18), it is stated that "CB gives us a view of history that seems to come straight out a novel". You have to decide! Either I'm a Marxist, or I'm a novelist! On balance, you think I'm the latter, since you feel you have to give me a lesson in Marxism: "Marxism has always explained society's great events on the basis of the developments of the productive forces and not on the base of the mindset of individuals, as reactionary as they may be." Yet two pages further, I learn that my "hyper-determinism cannot explain the major events of this century". So, after being "Marxist", then "a novelist", now I'm a "hyper-determinist". I must have written a Marxist novel with a hyper-determinist tendency...But enough nonsense. It doesn't serve any purpose to call A. Mayer "bourgeois" (p.18) or to call me a "novelist" or "hyper-determinist" because our view of the history of the 20th century, which is not identical but parallel, does not conform to your ideology of capitalism’s ‘decadence’ since 1914. With ‘the thirty years war’ of the 20th century (1914-1945), I have precisely explained the events "on the basis of the developments of the productive forces": they result from the transition of a largely formal domination of capital to its real domination on all levels (not just economic but also social, ideological and cultural) This transition occurred through a whole process of wars, revolutions, counter-revolutions, class struggles putting all the nations and all classes of European societies up against the wall. It's your cycle of "crisis-war-reconstruction" which doesn't hold water: it is now 50 years since the last war finished and the "reconstruction" has been over for a long time so, according to the ‘logic’ of your cycle, a new world war should have already taken place!
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