Can Partition be Undone? – An Interview with Lal Khan

 Paramita Ghosh

Lal Khan’s Crisis in the Indian Subcontinent – Partition… Can it be undone? is provocative not only because it questions the official narrations of the modern history of the Indian subcontinent by analyzing new facts with theoretical tools embedded in Marxism, but mainly because of its activistic programmatic sharpness that backs the revolutionary transformatory politics in the region. It asserts that only a voluntary socialist federation of the subcontinental societies can guarantee peace and prosperity in the region. The following interview with Lal Khan (LK) by Paramita Ghosh (PG) brings out some of the important issues dealt in the book, along with Khan’s perspective on the political situation and transformation in the subcontinent . It was originally published in an abridged form in The Hindustan Times on October 21, 2007.

PG: You have taken on the holy cows, the big boys of the Indian subcontinent – Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Sheikh Abdullah… Who according to you, did his people most harm to the people’s movements? Which, or whose actions, most influenced the way the class picture of the subcontinent looks today?

LK: I don’t think that all these leaders can be evaluated on equal terms and their roles be subjected to same degree of critical analysis. But the role played by the political representatives of the local elite was clear enough in the freedom struggle. Even the serious mouthpieces of British Imperialism conceded the clear class divide and conflicting interests in the movement of National Liberation in India. I quote from the editorial of the London Times of January 29, 1928. It said, “There is no real connection between those two unrests, labour and congress opposition, but their very existence and co-existence, explains and fully justifies the attention, which Lord Irwin gave to labour problems”. I also want to assert that these politicians could only play this role because the leadership of the CPI in reality abdicated the struggle of independence by collaborating with the British under the instructions from Stalin’s Moscow where the bureaucracy was carrying out its foreign policy for the national interests of “Russia” rather than following the Marxist-Leninist path of proletarian internationalism.

I think all of these ‘leaders’ influenced the post-colonial politics in different ways and to different degrees. Again the reason has been the lack of a clear alternative for irreconcilable class struggle.

PG: Your attitude to Gandhi is really interesting and it of course overturns the popular perception about him. On the one hand, there is of course his formidable reputation as the saviour of minorities, as he did at Noakhali 1947. On the other hand, as your book shows, in 1922 when Hindu soldiers from the Garhwal rifles refused to fire on an anti-imperialist demo by Muslims, Gandhi opposed this act of violence. Is there a contradiction between the two?

LK: The ideological foundations of Gandhi’s policies were confined within the parameters of semi-feudal, semi-capitalist social economic relations. Hence all his political actions flowed from this thought. All the confusion and divinity aside, the reality is that India won Independence through a compromise and 2.7 million innocent souls were lost in this bloodshed. Sixty years later, India and Pakistan are the bastions of most disgusting destitution and poverty in the world.

PG: You seem to suggest that Gandhiji’s protection of Muslims was actually an extension of a kind of state support to one’s subjects.

LK: The liberation movement would not have stopped at the ‘stage’ of national liberation and could have moved on to social and economic emancipation through a socialist revolution. It was cut across by the religious frenzy to restrain it within the clutches of capitalism and the system of continual imperialist exploitation. Gandhi wanted a peaceful derailment of the class struggle, which is a utopia. He might have had an honest sentiment to protect the Muslims but once the forces of reaction and communal hatred were unleashed even Gandhi failed to restrain them.

PG: Leon Trotsky believed that the Indian bourgeois could never lead a revolutionary struggle and went on to call Gandhi an artificial leader and false prophet. Would you say the same of Jinnah? You mention an oyster dinner at the Waldorf hotel in 1933 when he laughed at the idea of Pakistan calling it impractical.

LK: All leaders were subjected to change through the dynamics of the movement and dictates of the vested interests of the class they represented. Jinnah was vulnerable to that too. This shows the evolution of Jinnah from Woldorf hotel in 1933 to Karachi assembly in 1947. There were innumerable zigzags in that journey. Although Trotsky didn’t analyze him individually but from the point of view of his theory of permanent revolution, Trotsky’s analysis of Jinnah would not have been any different from his analysis of Gandhi.

PG: Would you attribute the shaky structure of democracy in Pakistan to the class biases of its founding father?

LK: The shaky structure of democracy in Pakistan is mainly due to the belated and corrupt character of its nascent bourgeoisie. In sixty years the Pakistani ruling classes could not accomplish a single task of the democraticbourgeois revolution and cannot do that in a thousand years. Parliamentary or bourgeois democracy was one of those fundamental tasks. I may add that even the Indian ruling class has not been able to complete any of these tasks.

PG: Bhagat Singh was of course one of the most progressive and thinking radicals of the liberation movement. But what is it about him that the Left, the Right and the Centre rush to adopt him as their own?

LK: Bhagat Singh was no doubt an icon of the struggle against British imperialism. He developed his political policies and ideology when he had a chance to read works of Lenin and Marxism while in prison. He was still forging his political position when he was hanged. Hence when his position of “inqilaab’ is put, its ideological and theoretical foundations are relatively shallow and not entrenched in scientific Marxism. Hence it is easier for the left, the right and the centre to rush to adopt him as their own. Thus it is vital that unless the youth who are inspired by Bhagat Singh are developed into Marxist cadres, mere slogan mongering of ‘Revolution’ could lead them in any direction. They can even blunder into certain reactionary movements displaying a revolutionary rhetoric. It is the tragedy of cultural primitiveness that the role of the individual in political movements is exaggerated. Icons are mystified and even worshipped. This devastates the role of a collective leadership in a revolutionary struggle and undermines the importance of scientific theory and practice.

PG: Pakistan has mostly been under military rule. It has had democratically elected governments only thrice in 60 years. What is the reason that Marxism has never been an option, not even as an experiment?

LK: In 1968-69 there was a revolution in Pakistan. From Chittagong to Peshawar, there was only one slogan in the air – Revolution! Revolution! Socialist Revolution! Workers occupied factories, the peasants besieged the landed estates and the youth were on the streets, refused to pay fairs in trains and buses. The prevalent property relations were being challenged by the revolution. From November 6, 1968 to March 29, 1969 there were at least 7 occasions when the capitalist system and state could have been overthrown through a revolutionary insurrection. Unfortunately due to the lack of a Bolshevik party this historical opportunity was missed. The Pakistan Peoples Party was a product of this revolution, as its founding documents clearly stated:

“The ultimate objective of the party’s policy is the attainment of a classless society which is only possible through Socialist Revolution in our times.”

Z. A. Bhutto recognized that the character of the (1968-69) movement was socialist and not national democratic. That is why he became a legend of the masses for three generations. But he had no organised Bolshevik party or a strategy to carry this revolution through to its victorious end.

The so-called democratic regimes in Pakistan were only inducted by the ruling state either to diffuse a rising revolutionary upsurge or as a preemptive measure to deviate and confine the raging movements against military dictatorships within capitalist structures. In any case the basic fault lines in Pakistan are not between democracy and military or extremism and moderation. The fundamental contradiction is of class interests and no stability can come without the resolution of this contradiction.

PG: Please tell us about your introduction to the Left ideology. Who were your mentors, your peers?  You were born ten years after Independence. In the 1970s you were a student leader resisting the despotic Zia regime. Was Marxism a natural progression of a politics of student activism?

LK: The first time I got to study Marxism was in 1976 when I was incarcerated in Multan Central Jail after a clash with Islamic fundamentalists; we were tortured by the state. In the prison library there were some works of Marx and Lenin lying in a corner. They were left there by some communist prisoners during the 1940s. After I was ordered to be shot at sight by the Zia dictatorship on June 10 1980, I had to flee to exile in Amsterdam. In Europe I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with comrade Ted Grant, who was my friend mentor and teacher. I think that after Trotsky’s assassination, Ted single-handedly held high the red flag of revolutionary Marxism. His contribution in Marxist theory is enormous. For more than sixty years he resolutely worked to deepen and enhance perspectives and strategy to lay the foundations of a new and genuine Marxist international.

PG: When did you become Lal Khan?  Why did you choose this name?

LK: Lal Khan was the name of a sergeant in the British Indian army. He was my uncle and had been a prisoner of the Bolsheviks in 1919 when 21 imperialist armies attacked the nascent Soviet state. As a child I used to listen his stories of how the Bolsheviks had treated the Indian military prisoners. Sometimes in dearth of food supplies the Bolshevik captors used to remain hungry themselves but fed their Indian prisoners. I was so amused and impressed that when in 1981 I had to choose a pen name under the vicious Zia dictatorship I opted for that name. It also means Red. As I have been writing under this name for more than 26 years it would have been useless to change the name which was recognized by workers and youth and linked with an ideological tendency.

PG: Under whose regime was/is it most difficult to conduct Left politics? How irresponsive were Zulfiqar Bhutto, Zia, Sharif, Benazir to people’s movements?

LK: There is no situation in a capitalist milieu that is easy and viable to build the forces of revolutionary Marxism. Similarly there can be no objective conditions so bad in which Bolshevik party cadres can’t develop the art of expanding the organization and building the revolutionary forces.

However the wrath and indignation of the masses against the brutalities of the Zia dictatorship was helpful in gaining recruits. But when Benazir Bhutto came to power, the way she disillusioned the movement and dashed the hopes of the masses, the political apathy and a certain demoralization that had set in made our work somewhat more difficult.

PG: What will happen to Kashmir?

LK: The ruling classes of India and Pakistan have used and abused the Kashmir issue for sixty years. Now they can’t go to all-out war nor can they sustain peace. Their systems don’t allow them much room. The masses of Kashmir have been brutalised and subjected to misery by these subcontinental elites. The Americans want a continual sale of their weapons of mass destruction at the expense of the sweat, tears and blood of the subcontinental masses. Without the overthrow of these capitalist regimes, Kashmir issue cannot be solved. Unless the subcontinent gets independence from imperialist slavery, how can Kashmir gain freedom?

Nationalism and fundamentalism are on decline in Kashmir, the youth and workers are moving more on to the lines of class struggle. This has to be linked to the class movements in India and Pakistan. A voluntary socialist federation of the Indian subcontinent would be the only guarantee for a genuine freedom and emancipation of the Kashmiri oppressed.

PG: In Pakistan, on the one hand, there is the military which somehow has, in a way, been an upholder of liberal will and democratic parties like the PPP are corrupt and thoroughly discredited. On the other hand, there are the religious rightist forces. What will Pakistan choose now?

LK: The liberals and fundamentalists are both entrenched in this decaying capitalist economy. Imperialism and religious obscurantism are two sides of the same coin. As soon as a revolutionary movement of the toiling masses emerges, the so-called liberaldemocratic and religious rightist forces have always and again will join hands to crush any challenge to this exploitive system. The perspective of a mass movement is rejected by mainstream intellectuals in Pakistan. There is always a doom and gloom scenario preached by these apologists of Capital in the media. But a social revolution is the only way-out for the salvation of the people. I am convinced that working masses shall tread upon this path sooner rather than later. The events of 1968-69 are too glaring a tradition to ignore.

PG: How supportive are the Indian left of leftist struggles in its neighbourhood in Pakistan? What do you think of its position on the nuclear deal, which many feel, is just an anti-American statement?

LK: There cannot be two separate revolutions in India and Pakistan. Five thousand years of common history, culture and society is too strong to be cleavaged by this partition. However the left forces can learn from experiences of each other. Especially the ideological mistakes made have to be rectified and lessons learnt from. Obviously the opposition to the nuclear deal is positive. But from a Marxist point of view it is not the most important of issue in the present situation. The way market economy is ravaging India and throwing the vast majority of population into the abyss of misery, poverty, disease and deprivation is horrendous. I think that after sixty years of the traumatic experiences the left should at least try to understand that the basic character of the Indian revolution is not national democratic but socialist. Unless they change course the Indian proletariat will force them onto a revolutionary path. The vote of the masses to left parties in the 2004 elections was for a revolutionary change rather than to maintain the existing order. Next time they will vote with their feet. If these leaders still cling on to the redundant theory of two stages they shall perish in the rising tide of a workers upsurge. A fresh revolutionary Marxist leadership shall emerge to make socialist victory a reality in the impending class war-about to explode.

Lal Khan is a prominent Marxist activist from Pakistan. He is the editor of the Asian Marxist Review.

On Henryk Grossman, A Revolutionary Marxist – An Interview with Rick Kuhn

Rick Kuhn’s Henryk Grossman and the Recovery of Marxism (University of Illinois Press/Amazon) is not just another biographical sketch of a Marxian economist. In fact, it is an authoritative attempt to understand and interpret Grossman’s contributions to the Marxist critique of political economy as realizations of his lifelong commitment to the working class and revolutionary politics. The book begins with a comprehensive and lucid survey of Grossman’s political activism at the turn of the twentieth century, when capitalist expansion, intensification and competition were increasingly met with a rise in the self-activity and organization of the working class against exploitation and national oppression. The biography shows how Grossman’s approach to Marxism and his theoretical agenda congealed against this backdrop. This entirely new approach to Grossman’s Marxism makes his complex theoretical insights equally accessible to political economists, activists and non-academic audience. The following discussion with Rick Kuhn touches upon some of the themes in Grossman’s life and work detailed in the book.

Radical Notes (RN): Let us begin by asking you about the meaning of the title that you chose for this tremendous biography, Henryk Grossman and the Recovery of Marxism. It seems it has a dual connotation. On the one hand, it maygrossman signify that the book tries to detail Grossman’s role in the recovery of Marxism during his own time, while on the other, it might be an attempt to assess the importance of Grossman’s contributions for the “recovery of Marxism” in our times. Is this ‘ambiguity’ intended, or we are just reading between the lines?

Rick Kuhn: The history of Marxism is not simply a history of doctrines and debates. We have to apply historical materialism to Marxism itself. Marx’s insights were only possible once capitalist society and particularly working class struggle had reached a certain level of development, in the middle of the nineteenth century. Without the growth of capitalist production and hence an extensive working class, Marxism, the theory and practice of working class revolution, is inconceivable. Later insights into the nature of capitalist society, and even more broadly, human society and its relations with nature, emerged in the context of the growth and achievements of the working class and the engagement of Marxists with new problems.

But the curve of Marxist theory is not a monotonic, upward sweep of accumulating insights. Particularly during periods of working class defeat or the adaptation of working class institutions to capitalism, earlier insights have been lost, distorted and denied. Under new, more favorable circumstances, later Marxists rediscover or reinvent them. Thus struggles for women’s liberation and over the environment were the contexts for recoveries and extensions of Marx’s previously neglected, misunderstood or obscured analyses of women’s oppression and capitalism’s implications for the natural world. Hence the work of recovery, in the first case, by Hal Draper, Barbara Leacock, Karen Sacks during the late 1960s and 1970s, and in the second by Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster around the turn of the millennium.

Against the background of his experiences in the workers’ movement before and after the First World War, and particularly the upsurge in class struggle during the period of the Russian revolution, Henryk Grossman recovered and extended some fundamental aspects of Marx’s critique of political economy. But Grossman’s best known publications during the late 1920s and early 1930s appeared after the revolutionary wave had crested. He continued his work in Marxist economics through to the 1940s and also made important contributions to the history of science. As Victor Serge put it, the 1930s were ‘the midnight in the century’. As a consequence of Stalinism and fascism the workers’ movement suffered not only terrible physical but also theoretical setbacks.

Hence, as you correctly observe, the need to recover Grossman’s own analyses and to re-recover those of Marx. The German New Left rediscovered Grossman during the 1960s in the context of a massive, international revival of class and other social struggles. I have continued this process. The later stages of my project happily coincided with the movement against capitalist globalization and the largest anti-war movement in history.

RN: One aspect that strikes us most in the text is that you have devoted around one third of the biography to Grossman’s formative period – to his politics in Poland and his contributions to a Marxist theorization of the national and Jewish questions. One reason, which immediately comes to mind, might be an attempt to rebut the general image of Grossman as an academic economist, not as a communist revolutionary, which you have effectively portrayed him to be. What lessons do we get from his early political life and his contributions to direct political questions like the question of national self-determination and its relationship with the proletarian revolution?

Kuhn: Those aware of Grossman’s work in economics have generally had little awareness, to put it kindly, of his engagement with working class organizations and their struggles. Just reading his publications, it is not difficult to spot his identification with the interests of the working class and commitment to the goal of socialist revolution. But those who propound the dominant interpretation of his economics still ignore this and have not bothered to investigate the details of his non-academic life especially before the First World War.

Although Grossman’s family background was bourgeois, he became an organic intellectual of the working class. In other words, experiences in his twenties, with building the organizations of the Jewish workers in Galicia (Austria-Hungary’s Polish province) from about 1902, at the latest, until after 1908 shaped his outlook. Despite some political shifts, for the rest of his life his understanding of the world was Marxist.

Grossman was the theoretician and outstanding early leader of the Jewish Social Democratic Party of Galicia. Before the foundation of the Jewish Social Democratic Party (JSDP), in 1905, he provided assistance to Marxists in Russia’s Polish territories. They were members of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, to which the exiled Rosa Luxemburg belonged, and particularly the Bund, the organization of Jewish workers and then the largest Marxist organization in the Russian empire. During the waves of demonstrations, strikes and protests that swept Austria-Hungary when the 1905 Revolution was convulsing Russia, Grossman was a full-time revolutionary and agitator.

Jewish workers in Galicia, who overwhelmingly spoke Yiddish, experienced national oppression and exploitation. To mobilize them into the international workers movement they needed, Grossman argued, their own political party through which they could struggle for their own emancipation and that of the entire working class. The JSDP was a means of fighting oppression and exploitation and combating the politics of other left wing currents in Galicia. To neglect their national oppression, as the Polish nationalists of the Polish Social Democratic Party of Galicia did, left them open to the appeals of Jewish nationalists. Ignoring their exploitation and common interests with Polish and Ukrainian workers in Galicia and the international movement could only weaken their defense of their wages and conditions and the overall struggle for socialism.

So Grossman belonged to the very substantial tradition of opposition to Zionism amongst Jewish socialists. This is something I particularly identify with, as a Marxist with a Jewish upbringing whose political activity includes supporting Palestinian resistance against the intrinsically racist state of Israel. The relationship between racism and capitalist interests is also a focus in my current work on anti-Muslim racism in Australia.

RN: What are the major facets of Grossman’s rediscovery of the Marxist critique of political economy?

Kuhn: Key elements of Grossman’s economic work were already evident in his first publication on crisis theory, a lecture delivered in 1919. They were the relationship of economics to the class struggle, the importance of the distinction between use and exchange-value, Marx’s method in Capital and the inevitability of economic crises under capitalism.

The last is best known. Grossman argued that the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, discussed by Marx in volume three of Capital, constitutes a propensity for the system to break down. The tendency occurs because investment in improved labour-saving technology increases the ratio of capitalists’ outlays on machinery, equipment, buildings etc. compared with what they spend on purchasing labour power. It is only labour power, however, that creates new value, the basis of profits. Following and extending Marx, Grossman identified a variety of countervailing factors that can help maintain or improve profit rates. In fact he went into some detail about all the processes critics allege that he neglected. The offsetting mechanisms mean that the tendency to break down takes, in the longer term, the shape of successive crises rather than a single downward path to collapse.

Capitalist crises can also, Grossman pointed out, be understood in terms the impossibility of the outputs of different industries being consistently in the right proportions to maintain smooth growth. Both explanations of economic crises ultimately derive from the contradiction at the heart of capitalist production which is simultaneously the creation of use values, for the satisfaction of human needs, and of values, in the pursuit of profit.

RN: Throughout your work, not only in the book but also in other research articles, you have questioned the economistic and schematic interpretations of Grossman’s theory of crises. In fact you find the intersection between revolutionary politics and his classical Marxist theory of crises based on the decline in the rate of profit as “the core of Grossman’s major theoretical project in economics”. Could you elaborate on this?

Kuhn: I tried to make the biography of Grossman as accessible as possible. This included a style that is, hopefully, direct and engaging, and giving prominence to the story of Grossman’s life, the conflicts in which he was involved and the content of his writings. So references to subsequent evaluations of his ideas are relegated to the endnotes. With one exception. Giacomo Marramao observed that in ‘Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness that one finds the philosophical equivalent of Grossmann’s great attempt at a critical-revolutionary re-appropriation of Marxian categories.’ This is very important, although it needs to be extended because both Lukács and Grossman drew on Lenin’s recovery of Marxist politics and the inspiration of the Russian revolution. Both embraced Lenin’s theory of revolution and the revolutionary party.

Grossman explicitly stated that his best known work, The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System, was designed to supplement Marxist discussions about political revolution by examining the logic of economic crisis, which is an element in revolutionary situations. In relation to the dominant interpretation of Grossman-that he had a mechanical theory of economic breakdown-it is worth noting that he wrote this not in some obscure unpublished manuscript or letter, but in the book’s introduction.

The argument in Marx’s Capital, Grossman demonstrated, moves from discussion of fundamental, abstract features of capitalism through a series of steps to the everyday appearance of capitalist reality. The structure of Grossman’s book is similar. The final chapter, which is sadly not included in the abridged English translation, operated at a concrete level of analysis, focusing on the implications of the preceding analysis of crises for the class struggle. The purpose of the entire argument was to explore the objective preconditions for successful revolutionary action by the working class.

RN: Can you tell us briefly about Grossman’s understanding of imperialism? To what extent do his theorizations in this regard converge with and diverge from other major theorists of imperialism, especially, Lenin and Luxemburg?

Kuhn: This is one of my current areas of research. Like Luxemburg, Grossman argued that modern imperialism was a consequence of the advanced stage of capital accumulation and consequently the intensification of capitalism’s tendency to break down. But he rejected Luxemburg’s assertion that capital’s survival depends on finding non-capitalist markets in which to realize surplus value. For Grossman, the problem lies not in inadequate sales of commodities, but the system’s inability to create enough surplus value. Unequal exchange and monopoly control of key resources, imperialism, are responses to this problem of securing additional surplus value for metropolitan capitals. Meanwhile, the speculative export of capital and domestic economic speculation are consequences of the inability of capital to find profitable outlets for productive investment.

Grossman regarded Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism as containing descriptive insights, but as deficient when it came to providing an explanation of the logic of imperialism. He also refuted Hilferding’s emphasis, which Lenin took over, on the dominance of ‘finance capital’ as an ongoing feature of contemporary capitalism.

RN: You mention in the book that Sweezy in his survey of Marxist economic theory criticized Grossman’s crisis theory and Grossman in turn termed his criticism as “distortions”. Can you briefly tell us about these claims and counter-claims?

Kuhn: Paul Sweezy’s The Theory of Capitalist Development, published in the early 1940s, has had a massive influence on radical economics in the United States. Its systematic and accessible introduction to Marxist economics was a major achievement. The book also introduced Grossman’s work, most of which was not available in English, to a large audience and included some favorable comments about some of his secondary arguments. But it simply ignored Grossman’s explanation of why crises will occur as the rate of profit declines, but well before it reaches zero. To justify his verdict that Grossman had a ‘mechanistic’ approach, Sweezy caricatured the role played by Otto Bauer’s reproduction schemes in Grossman’s analysis. In Research in Political Economy (preprint), I synthesized Grossman’s various published and unpublished replies to his critics, most written before 1942, which nevertheless deal with Sweezy’s unoriginal objections.

Interestingly, Sweezy takes the structure of his own explanation of crises, the balance between tendency and countertendencies, from Marx’s and Grossman’s discussions of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Both Luxemburg’s and Sweezy’s approaches were underconsumptionist. Luxemburg insisted that capitalism tends to break down. Sweezy, like Keynes, argued that ‘the deliberate action of the state’-expanded government spending-could theoretically prevent ‘chronic depression’.

RN: How relevant is Grossman’s approach today?

Kuhn: Grossman provides a framework for understanding fundamental contemporary developments. It highlights the ongoing crisis-prone nature of capitalism and developments that help restore profit rates. Neo-liberal policies-attacks on wages and conditions, dismantling of the welfare state, knocking down barriers to trade with less developed parts of the world-are not the result of the fevered imaginings of delusional politicians, but efforts to restore profits rates. The same is true of the United States’ current imperialist adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Grossman’s discussion of speculative activity as a response to capitalism’s crisis tendencies provides insights into the phenomenal growth in global financial flows over recent decades.

RN: As you note, “Changes in the level of population, through the availability of labor power, influence capitalism’s breakdown tendency. Capital accumulation increases the need for workers to valorize capital. Eventually the impossibility of this valorization, because population growth is too slow, gives rise to crisis and unemployment: ‘Unemployment was a consequence of insufficient population!’ The need for labor power pushes capitalists to attempt to extend the length of the working day, to seek supplementary sources of surplus value and labor on the world market. The mercantilist preoccupation with population … and early colonial policy were not about finding markets. They were concerned with capitalist production and hence the need for labor. As much of the labor used in colonial capitalist production was extracted from slaves, Grossman developed, for the first time, Marx’s comments on the importance of the slave trade for the emergence of capitalism in an account of the trade’s origins and significance from the fifteenth century.” (133)

Can you tell us more about Grossman’s analyses in this regard?

Kuhn: Grossman had a long term interest in slavery as an institution under different modes of production. In a manuscript, probably written in the early 1920s, he dealt with slavery among Christian peoples to the ninth century. During the 1930s, he noted that the development of machinery in the ancient world was in response to problems that could not be solved by the application of human labor because slavery could be regarded as a natural perpetuum mobile, a machine that continues to operate without the expenditure of additional energy. In a letter to Horkheimer he offered a critique of the depiction of slavery in Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling novel, Gone with the WindThe Law of Accumulation examines the role of slavery during the early period of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, and also identifies forms of tribute labor imposed on native populations of Central and South America. The account of slavery also deals with French and English colonial expansion and the institution’s economic significance in the Americas into the 19th century. He was making an historical case against Luxemburg’s explanation of imperialism, in terms of the realization of surplus value. So, rather than offering a history of colonial economies, Grossman explicitly confined himself to demonstrating that the underlying logic of capitalist territorial expansion was the creation of surplus value.

RN: Grossman’s The Law of Accumulation and other major works were conceived during his association with the Institute for Social Research which gave rise to the Frankfurt School. However, it seems that after Carl Grünberg’s death, Grossman distanced himself from the mainstream activities and engagements of the Institute. One can understand the political and organizational reasons for his disillusionment, but were there theoretical and methodological reasons too?

Kuhn: In Frankfurt am Main and exile, through to the end of the 1930s, Grossman was dedicated to the Institute and valued collaboration with his colleagues. In New York, however, the core of the Institute around Max Horkheimer moved away from Marxism, particularly its stress on the role of the working class in liberating humanity. In theoretical terms, this culminated in Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s The Dialectic of Enlightenment of 1944, which rejected the concept of scientific explanation. Grossman remained a Marxist. He stood by and developed his own earlier analyses. But the desperation of the midnight in the century affected him and led to a massive contradiction in his thinking. After being very hostile to Stalinism for a couple of years, he became an uncritical supporter of the Soviet Union around 1936. So distinct differences at the levels of high theory and more concrete political analysis emerged between Grossman and the Horkheimer clique. In addition, because of a financial crisis, Horkheimer and Friedrich Pollock tried to drive as many members of the Institute as possible off the payroll during the early 1940s. This led to personal stresses and hostilities.

RN: In Chapter 5, the section that discusses the reception of The Law of Accumulation is titled, “An Economic Theory without a Political Home”. Can you please give our readers a glimpse of this ‘homelessness’ of Grossman’s theory?

Kuhn: The roots of the widespread misinterpretation of Grossman’s arguments lie in the initial reception ofThe Law of Accumulation. Bourgeois economists, social democrats and orthodox Communists were all hostile. Conservatives and social democrats obviously disliked the argument that capitalism is inherently crisis-prone and that the solution is workers’ revolution.

The defeat of the Russian revolution and the victory of state capitalism-personified in Stalin-led to the establishment of dogmas in all areas of Soviet intellectual life, including genetics. The explanation of economic crises which Grossman advocated did not comply with the views of Stalin’s man in economics. Jenö Varga explained crises in particularly crude underconsumptionist terms. Grossman therefore had to be wrong.

By the 1930s, social democracy and Stalinism dominated working class organizations around the world. Representatives of both currents accused Grossman of believing that capitalism would mechanically break down and that organized working class action was therefore superfluous. So no significant section of the labour movement took up his analysis.

RN: Despite a rediscovery of Grossman’s works in the late 1960s, till now his major book has been translated in English only in an abridged form, and your standard biography has only just appeared. Does this not show that this ‘homelessness’ continues? What could possibly be the reason behind this?

Kuhn: Yes, to some extent. But today the nature of the homelessness is different and less absolute. From the 1920s to the 1960s, the influence of Stalinism and social democracy meant that the space for classical Marxist politics and theory in the labor movement was very restricted. That has changed. The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of a new or revitalized revolutionary left. Then the downturn in the levels of class struggle around the world during the late 1970s through to the 1990s, coupled with many defeats weakened the organized labor movement. The end of state capitalism in Russia demoralized the Stalinist left, old and new, and led to the collapse or final embrace of reformism by many organizations which had illusions in the USSR. In many countries, the neo-liberal trajectory of social democratic parties since the end of the long boom, in the mid 1970s, weakened their leftist pretensions and eroded their memberships.

Of course this is a generalization, there have been ups and downs. The Brazilian Workers Party, for example, emerged out of working class mobilizations before emulating the neo-liberal behavior of its older social democratic siblings. In South Korea, Italy and France there have been some periods of quite sustained class struggles. And there have been important social movements, especially against the USA’s wars.

Overall, then, the left has declined drastically in size. But there is somewhat more space for currents, like that of the unorthodox Trotskyist tradition, to which I belong, which are open to Grossman’s analysis.

RN: Since for several years now you have been working on Henryk Grossman, can you tell our readers about your initial motivation? Also, what went into making the book? What are your hopes for the book regarding its contributions and achievements, politically and within Marxist circles?

Kuhn: Through Anwar Shaikh’s excellent 1978 essay on the history of Marxist crisis theory I became aware of Grossman. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 prompted me to start learning German again. Before that my research was mainly on Australian politics and political economy, an area which I continue to explore. This, however, does not provide much scope for international travel. I wanted to do some work on Germany andAustria. Once I had a certain proficiency in German, around 1993, I began the Grossman research.

Studying Grossman was, in part, a search for my own roots. Not only because my parents were Jewish refugees from Vienna-Grossman’s home for several years-and my mother’s mother was, I discovered as a bi-product of my project, even born in a Galician shtetl (Jewish village) where there was a JSDP branch. Tracing Grossman’s story was also an investigation of my heritage as a socialist: the history of the institutions and struggles of the labor movement.

The research has taken me on many journeys through time, space and different cultures. A couple of examples. To grasp Grossman’s experiences in Galicia it was necessary not only to understand the institutions of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the history of eastern European Jewry but also to trace the activities of the JSDP, which led me to learn to read Yiddish and to add an appreciation of klezmer to my musical tastes. Grossman participated in or was affected by Marxist debates about the best way to organize and the national question, the zig-zags in the line of the Communist International, particularly as they impacted on the Polish and German Communist Parties. I stalked primary material from Kraków and Warsaw to Boston and Berlin, from Vienna and New York to Frankfurt am Main and the village of Tellow in the north-eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In New York, the Australian novelist Christina Stead and her partner, the banker, writer and economist, William Blake were amongst Grossman’s closest friends. This led me into their biographies and a key source, Stead’s papers in the National Library of Australia back in Canberra, my hometown.

Hopefully my detailed and sympathetic account of Grossman’s life and work will disrupt the cycle of distortion of his ideas that social democrats and Stalinists began in 1929. Grossman vindicated the Marxist synthesis of theory with practice, analysis of objective realities and constraints with strategy and tactics designed to realize the working class’s capacity to be an historical, revolutionary subject. He provided useful tools for people who not only want to understand but also want to change the world. But I have no illusions about the impact of my publications on the level of the class struggle, the fundamental driver of socialist politics. There is no substitute for practical activity: building campaigns against the immediate consequences of capitalist exploitation and oppression, and constructing an organization capable of merging them in the struggle for socialism.

On “The Darker Nations” – An Interview with Vijay Prashad

The importance of Vijay Prashad’s book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, lies in its ability to trace the trajectory of the “Third World Project” – its genesis, growth and crisis – amidst the cacophonous range of local political economic structures and their varied articulation with global capitalism and the metropolitan world. The book shows us that beyond the simplistic orientalist image of the Global South as just being on the receiving end and reactive, there has existed definite protagonism with all its contradictions grounded in the peoples’ struggle against domination, oppression and exploitation. The following discussion with the author of The Darker Nations is an attempt to retrieve some of the salient insights in this formidable work.

Radical Notes (RN): First of all, hearty congratulations to you from Radical Notes for having authored a masterly work on the history of peoples (and their interactions) less traveled to, and much less talked about. But how necessary do you think is it to write a history of peoples still alive? Considering that the developing world is still at a developing phase, will writing a history amount to writing off of some reverberating presence of the old elements?

Vijay Prashad: Thanks for asking me to do this. I appreciate it.

The book is a history of the Third World project. It is this project’s development that I trace from the 1920s to the 1980s. ADarker Nations wide range of initiatives came together in a relatively coherent platform of demands that was pushed at various United Nations and international forums. That project was assassinated in the 1980s by a combination of the exhaustion of the way the various regimes operated in their societies, by the debt crisis (itself a product of a newly confident financial capitalism), the collapse of the Soviet Union, etc. The people who live in the societies that once adopted the Third World project of course live on, and certainly they are making history. But not on the same platform as they once were.

RN: You have pointed out the dangerous redundancy of “East-West” paradigm. By that stretch, how valid do you feel were the “First-Second-Third” worldist categorizations?

Prashad: Like all such categorizations, the division has its merits and demerits. It usefully captures at least one surface level division: between the states of the advanced industrial world who had once been major colonial powers and, after World War II, had retooled the methods to maintain primacy (the First World – and its military arm, NATO); the states of the formally non-capitalist bloc, mostly the vast Russian confederation and Eastern Europe, who had adopted Communism and attempted to create a path out of the strong undertow of capitalism (the Second World); and the states which had been either recently colonized or which had a longer history of non-colonial imperial domination (Latin America and China), that had a variety of political lines but yet were united in the breech through the Third World project. I develop the three lines at Bandung, for instance, where one can see the divisions. But these are to be expected. What is so interesting is the congruence of views, between, say, Manila and Accra.

RN: You say, the Third World was a project, more than being a place, and so you offer a historical appraisal of the making of this project. Can you please tell our readers, why would the project gain prominence over the places? If a project is meant to have common goals, how common were the goals sketched for the Third World? Would it be less apt to suggest that the Third World was (or/and is) perhaps comprising those wretched places of earth ravaged by colonialism to have a grounded commonality in their origin, than to have evolved as an organized project through their enlightened leaderships?

Prashad: In the 1980s, the “third world” was seen as failed states and famine, poverty and hopelessness. The places seemed to have come “third” if not last in the great race for progress. That was the broad tenor of the discourse on the post-colonial period. I found this tendentious. It meant that these places were fated to failure, and therefore to charity. The condescension erased the history of struggle and defeat. I am interested, partly, in looking at the richer history of the epoch, to uncover the struggles and their ideologies.

The anti-colonial struggles that produced the new nations schooled the vast mass of the population about the roots and resources of imperialism. The Third World project, therefore, comes not so much from the intellectuals alone, for if it did it would not have had so much popular support. It came from the wisdom of these movements, which was articulated by the intellectuals and what you call the “enlightened leaderships.”

The Third World, in my analysis, is not so much a commonality of condition as it is a unity of purpose by the regimes that, at least in the two decades after the 1950s, came with significant popular legitimacy. And, for a time, it posed a challenge to the post-World War II dispensation, particularly with its agenda for disarmament, for a more just economic order (use of subsidies and tariffs, and commodity cartels), and for a world without racism. This was something.

RN: We understand by analyzing the schemes and plans of the third world leadership and their internal relations you have over-grounded a much-neglected aspect of the history of international relations – the intra-third world relationship. How much do you think this is representative of the threads that the majority of peoples found among each other even before the nationalist leaders awakened themselves to an “internationalist nationalism”? If we count the peoples more than the leaders while describing the project, don’t you think that even though the project is dead, the conditions for the project still exist?

Prashad: The conditions for some kind of project certainly do exist in our times. I believe that the contours of the Third World project need to be totally rethought. For instance, the Third World project did not fully grapple with the problem posed by an energetic and “free” finance capital, whose own relations to the state changed in the 1960s and 1970s. Castro, at the 1983 NAM meeting, raised this problem, but it was generally discounted. He proposed, for instance, that there be a Third World debt servicing payments strike. This would have been a very powerful way to at least reveal the power of finance capital, and its stranglehold on sustainable development. It was not to be, as I recount. So, the conditions of exploitation continue, but these are also sharpened and transformed. We need to account for the new conditions, for the new struggles against them, and for the possibility of an inter-national, global platform capable of dealing with an aggressive U. S. military, with the Chinese and Indian economies humming, and with the creation of the “planet of slums,” etc. This was my interest in editing (with Teo Ballve) a book on Latin America, Dispatches from Latin America: On the Frontlines Against Neoliberalism (which was published in the US by South End Press and in India by Leftword). I am now trying to assemble such a book on Africa and on African struggles: one wonders what will happen to the African left forces if the South African Communist Party widens the gap with the African National Congress (there is a wonderful debate ongoing in the pages of the SACP’s Bua Komanisi and in Umsebenzi… worth following).

RN: When we look for a “peoples’ history”, we are primarily seeking the history of the oppressed – within the ambit of the history of that region. In fact, the peoples’ history is posited against the rulers’ history, especially when the ruling class interests vary from the peoples’. How much do you think the documents or conferences that you have analyzed in the book provide insight into and how much they obscure this history?

Prashad: A people’s history is not just the history of the oppressed, but it is history told from the standpoint of the “people.” The early people’s histories, including those of Geijer on the Swedes and Palacky on the Czech, as well as Morton on the English, were mainly attempts to bring other social classes into histories reserved for the elites (when Pushkin proposed to write a history of a peasant leader, the Tsar noted pointedly, “such a man has no history”). I am not of the view that there are special classes in the world who should be the subject of history, and that their views are somehow more authentic than that of others (such as the working class or the peasantry – there are also reactionary forces within these social classes). The subject of my narrative is the Third World project, and it therefore demands an engagement with the lives and labors of all social classes, in contradiction, in interaction. What makes it a people’s history is that it is written with an ear to the struggles for a type of egalitarian and libertarian justice, which means that the grievances and imaginations of the oppressed are central to the narrative.

RN: Talking of women, the Third World is special. Not just as the most oppressed half of the population, women have also been the most celebrated political figures. In the ‘Cairo’ chapter you dealt with some of the prominent women political figures in the Third World. What do you think about the roles and positions of women within various alternative political movements in the Third World – as comrades and as oppressed?

Prashad: From my point of view, the basic thesis of the national liberation women’s rights platform is this: that their societies are torn by sexist traditions; that their states are plagued by misogynist laws; but that their social and political histories demonstrate that women within these societies can challenge national liberation and the Third World project to extend itself in a positive direction. They rejected “humanitarian interventionism” at the same time as they called for an internationalist critique of sexist injustice. The women in these movements had no illusions that their were problems within their political parties and formations, that they needed to fight on many fronts – against allies and enemies. That is the basic point of “Cairo.” The UN dynamic that led to Beijing (1995) draws from this lineage.

RN: Talking about the character of struggles in the Third World, the history is replete with struggles against dual oppressions: one against direct/indirect colonialism itself, and two, against the remnants and local agencies entrenched within the worldwide intensification of capitalist accumulation. Why should the Third World get credit for only the former struggle in which its leaders were glorified, and not the latter – in which its peoples were shunned? What do you think about post-colonial militant movements aimed at destabilizing those very powers that defined the Third World institutionally, but have not quite succeeded to reclaim power yet? How much have they contributed in the making, or rather, unmaking of the Third World project?

Prashad: Certainly these are important struggles. I emphasize them at various points in the narrative, for instance in the sections on Indonesia and Iraq. The social movements that are alive today were incubated in this period, but they don’t begin to flower until the 1980s. The water wars and what not are a product of the collapse of the Third World project, as I hope to show in the next volume of this study: The Poorer Nations: A People’s history of the Global South (should be done in about five or six years).

RN: You evoke hopes for a successor to the Third World. What can possibly prevent any attempts to assassinate this? If measured by the institutionalization of the Third World, the project was perhaps doomed from the beginning, since the political elites could not have done without the help of the bourgeois class – who in turn would have worked hard to undermine the further struggles. However, if measured by peoples’ agitations against colonial powers, domestic capitalists and the current neo-liberalism, then the hope may well be still alive. In your opinion then, at this juncture of world history, what should be the weapons of strength for the people world over to combat neo-liberalism? With the apparent aspirations in the form of the United Nations (UN) or the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) getting redundant, and any dependency on institutional projects producing no radical shift, what paths are open for the oppressed of the world?

Prashad: There are no guarantees. But, on the other hand, one of the lessons from this history is to ensure that the leadership not insulate itself from the people, that the people be the arbiters of the direction of social change, and that their delegates widen the responsibility as much as possible. That’s a fairly simple lesson, but also one that is easier to articulate than to put into practice; particularly when the regime is under attack from imperialism and from the old social classes. The constraints often paralyze the ability to broaden the democratic nature of the movement.

I don’t want to second-guess the form that the new internationalism will take. Chavez has begun to push for the creation of institutions of the South, and to revive NAM. He has become a pole for this refoundation (at the African Union meeting in June 2006 he was greeted as a savior, which might be more than we need right now!). There is also the World Social Forum, which is useful, but as yet unable to drive a wedge into the world system – it neither has the power of the nation-state nor of the international organizations at the inter-state level. This is a serious structural limitation for the articulation of a plausible short-term program. Farooq Tariq, the head of Pakistan’s Labour Party, has recently likened the WSF to “a peacock dancing in the jungle,” by which he means that the WSF is beautiful but its beauty is being showcased away from the masses of people, insulated from their eyes. All this needs to be remedied.

The grievances and hopes are many, and I hope that The Darker Nations will be part of a conversation that seeks to find a new project that might solve the problems of our world that the G-7 can only exacerbate and not even ameliorate.

“Build it Now”: An Interview with Michael A. Lebowitz

Michael Lebowitz’s Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century is not just another book about the specificities of the Bolivarian Revolution. Like the Communist Manifesto, its purpose is to identify the participants in the ongoing class struggle – the fundamental struggle between the needs of capital and the needs of human beings – underlying contemporary capitalism and its crisis, exposing the contours of their practices. It refreshes the classical Marxist notion of a continuous and uninterrupted revolution of radical needs as practice of the working class, as its struggle for self-emancipation.

We all know that the mechanical dualisation of “objective conditions” and “subjective intervention” (taken as reactive and external) has always come handy in justifying the social democratic deferral of revolutionary tasks. Build it Now disarms the ideology of such deferral, by stressing “the need for activity, the need to struggle for [socialism] now”. But, then it also attacks the voluntarist tendencies of speculating recipes for the society of the future, as “socialism doesn’t drop from the sky”. Lebowitz finds both these ideological tendencies as reflections of a period of disappointment and defeat.

The beauty of Build it Now lies in presenting this dialectical critique as articulated within the contemporary practice of the working class – in the demolition and building of institutions and their discourses that impede and facilitate this practice. Definitely, Latin America, especially Venezuela, is the centre where this revolutionary class practice is present in its clearest form. However, the Venezuelan context simply shows,

There is an alternative. And it can be struggled for in every country. We can try to build that socialism now… So, today, let us say, “Two, Three, Many Bolivarian Revolutions!””

Build it Now has several implications for left practice throughout the globe, and the following discussion with Prof Lebowitz is an attempt to bring out a few such lessons relevant for our struggle.

Radical Notes (RN): You have been writing lately about the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Are there essential aspects of the Bolivarian model of a “democratic, participatory and protagonistic” society that would ensure a progress towards socialism for the 21st Century? Further, there are left intellectuals and leaders who assert that the Bolivarian revolution has been successful mainly due to the Venezuelan oil revenue, and since others do not have that advantage, its experiences cannot be emulated elsewhere. How far do you think this allegation/explanation is valid?

Lebowitz: At the core of the process that we can see in Venezuela are two essential elements: (a) the focus upon the full development of human potential as the goal and (b) the explicit recognition that the necessary condition for this human development is participation as subjects – i.e., revolutionary practice, the simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity and self-change. This combination of vision and necessary practice is present in the Bolivarian Constitution with its emphasis upon overall human development and upon local planning and self-management and other forms of economic activity ‘guided by the values of mutual cooperation and solidarity.’ That combination is being realized at this very point, too – the creation of the new communal councils, where people in their neighbourhoods are beginning to direct activity toward the satisfaction of communal needs, and the new emphasis upon the development of workers councils demonstrate the definite deepening of this process.

However, nothing ensures progress towards socialism but struggle. Insofar, then that the path the Bolivarian Revolution is taking is one of mobilising and developing the capacities of masses, the potential to win that battle is increased. Certainly, having oil revenue makes it possible to attempt to deal with Venezuela’s enormous social debt quickly. But, I suggest that intellectuals and leaders who focus upon this unique characteristic are just looking for excuses to do nothing (or, more accurately, to follow the capitalist path). As I argued in Build it Now, ‘most of what stands out about the Bolivarian Revolution has little specifically to do with Venezuela. The struggle for human development, radical needs, the centrality of protagonistic democracy (within the workplace and the community), the understanding that people are transformed as they struggle for justice and dignity, that democracy is practice, that socialism and protagonistic democracy are one – these are the characteristics of a new humanist socialism, a socialism for the twenty-first century everywhere’ (118).

RN: A central theme in Build it Now is to reclaim a socialist vision based on human needs, or as Marx would say, “the worker’s own need for development”. In your work, we find this conception to be based on a critique of socialist practice that prioritised the task of removing the fetters in the development of means of production or technology. Thus, perhaps, it rejects the whole logic of “catching up” with capitalism that dominated the developmental discourse in the erstwhile ‘socialist’ countries. In your socialist vision the notion of development loses its neutrality and is redefined in terms of class struggle – as a struggle between the needs of capital vs. the needs of human beings (or collective worker!).

Lebowitz: For me, everything loses its neutrality.  In my book, Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class, I argued that because Marx did not proceed to write the volume on Wage-Labour, Marxists have tended to forget about the side of workers, about workers as subjects struggling for their needs. They have mistaken Marx’s look at the side of capital for a study of capitalism as a whole. Once you focus upon this second side, the side in opposition to capital, it becomes clear that in order for capital to succeed in achieving its goals, it must defeat workers. Capital must divide and separate workers in order to defeat them.  Everything capital does, in fact, is permeated by its need to divide and separate workers. (I develop this point further in the Deutscher Prize Lecture, ‘The Politics of Assumption, the Assumption of Politics’, later published in Historical Materialism, 14(2):29-47, 2006)  How then could we ever think of technology or the means of production – and, indeed, any investment decision by capital – as neutral? The means of production and technology that capital introduces in the context of class struggle necessarily embody capital’s needs.  So yes, in this respect, the notion of development loses its neutrality.

In contrast to the productive forces introduced by capital, the productive forces introduced by a society oriented toward satisfying the needs of workers, satisfying in particular ‘the worker’s own need for development,’ are those which permit the full development of all the capacities and potential of human beings.  No one could say that the kind of technology that capital introduces permits this.  So in this respect, my emphasis definitely is upon the character of productive relations and how particular productive relations shape the nature of productive forces. The issue, then, is not one of catching up with capitalism.  Rather, it is one of creating a new path.

RN: In your work, you have also redefined the concept of endogenous development, where you seem to move away from its general conceptualisation as import-substitution efforts, welfarism and investment in “human capital”; you seem to stress more on whether or not the exploited and oppressed classes are subjects or protagonists of such development. You define endogenous development as “the real development of human potential which occurs as the result of human activity”, as “the transformation of people through their own activity, the building of human capacities”. Can you elaborate on this theme?

Lebowitz: When you start from the idea that our real goal is the development of all human potential, the development of rich human beings (the spectre that haunts Marx’s Capital and indeed is the premise for that work), you recognize the inadequacy of a definition of development which focuses upon specific sectors of the economy or, even upon investments by a state in inputs for what some people call human capital.  Rather, when you start from the focus upon human development and you understand (as Marx did) that real human development is the product of human activity, then you recognize that real endogenous development is the development of human productive forces.

Of course, characteristic of the Venezuelan focus upon endogenous development is also the desire to produce things that have been imported previously.  Both agriculture and domestic industry in Venezuela have been stunted by the ability to import these products cheaply because of oil revenues; the result has been a warped economy – one in which, despite having rich agricultural land, Venezuela imports 70% of its food. Now, some would say this is just a case of comparative advantage – that this specialization and exchange is economic efficiency. This is a prime example of the idiocy of neoclassical economics – a theory whose concept of efficiency does not take into account the effect upon human beings because it is an economics of capital and not of human beings. That masses of people are unemployed or in the reserve army that we politely call the informal sector, that they have little access to education or health facilities – these seem to be matters of minor concern; those who rationalize these effects of the market are simply the hired prize-fighters of neoliberalism. Venezuela’s particular concept of endogenous development, then, is the attempt to do two things simultaneously – transform circumstances and transform the capacities of the human subjects. It is what I called ‘radical endogenous development’, radical because it goes to the root which is human beings.

Through the encouragement of cooperatives and new state sectors organized on the basis of worker protagonism, Venezuela is attempting to build not only material productive forces but new human productive forces; it is attempting to unleash the potential of the masses. But, let me stress that this is not my concept of endogenous development. It is the Bolivarian concept. I have learned from this. And, we all should.

RN: Do you think the three tenures of President Chavez can be divided into phases of socialist construction? If yes, what are they?

Lebowitz: There is definitely a revolutionary process occurring in Venezuela, a very uneven one which is propelled by struggle. It is a process of struggle in which every advance can be reversed. I think that is the most important thing to understand.

Even if specific, discrete phases of socialist construction in Venezuela could be identified, I’m not certain about the utility of doing so. I really think we need to break away from schematic, stagist thinking. I am constantly amazed by the extent to which people think they can judge the Venezuelan process with the help of schema based upon the singular experience of the Soviet Union. The last thing we need to do now is create a new schema based upon the Venezuelan process. As I argued in ‘Socialism Doesn’t Drop from the Sky’ (published inBuild it Now), we all start the process of socialist construction from different places and, given our own particular histories and circumstances, ‘we would be pedantic fools if we insisted that there is only one way to start the social revolution.’ I went on to say, though, that ‘one step in every particular path is critical – control and transformation of the state.’

RN: John Holloway asserts that in the last century the revolutionaries’ stress on state power was essentially based on a false understanding of state as a mere instrument rather than as embedded “in the web of capitalist social relations”. In your critique of Holloway’s notion of “changing the world without taking power”, you seem to reaffirm the “orthodox” Marxist stress on the role of state power in the revolutionary process. But you have ruthlessly criticized statism, populism and totalitarianism too. So can you tell us briefly about the role of state power in the process of socialist construction, which, as we understand, is essentially a process of humanity’s “self-change”? How can “the sovereign people” transform themselves into “the object and the subject of power”? What can we learn from the Bolivarian experience in this regard?

Lebowitz: What Holloway had to say is not as interesting as the reception for a book which begins by saying we don’t know how to change the world without taking power and, almost 200 pages later, ends by saying the same thing. In both an extended on-line exchange with Holloway and my article about his book (‘Holloway’s Scream: Full of Sound and Fury’, Historical Materialism, 13(4):217-231, 2005) I argued that his position and the reception of his book reflect a period of defeat and demoralization. I see it as an example of the ‘morbid symptoms’ that appear when the new cannot yet be born.

In the exchange itself, I proposed that to be consistent he either had to repudiate his argument that the state is the ‘assassin of hope’ or attack the Bolivarian Revolution because it was spreading ‘the notion that society can be changed through the winning of state power.’ I find so much strange in the argument he presents in his book. How does Holloway deal with the power of the capitalist state (police, courts, armies)? As I demonstrate, he abandons Marxism for pure idealism by dissolving the power of the capitalist state through the power of logic. Of course, if you start from Holloway’s premise that capitalism is fragile and that we can huff and puff and blow it down by shouting our ‘No’s’, then I suppose it is consistent to say that you don’t need organization and you don’t need the power of the state.

So, it is definitely correct to describe my position on the role of the state in socialist transformation as traditional Marxism. I argue in both Beyond Capital and Build it Now that using political supremacy to wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoisie remains as critical now as when Marx and Engels wrote theCommunist Manifesto. Where my position may be less familiar, though, is in my insistence that for working people to be the subjects of power who can transform society, you need a state which provides the space for revolutionary practice, the development of the capacities of people through their activity. However, this is simply a return to Marx from the crude historical materialism that Marx rejected: the focus upon transformative practice is precisely why Marx embraced the Paris Commune model as the political form ‘at last discovered’ under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.

Again, once you start from the emphasis upon human development and the recognition of the centrality of revolutionary practice, then it is self-evident that you must reject a hierarchical state, populism and totalitarianism. As I said in Beyond Capital,  ‘the form and the content of the workers’ state are inseparable. Only insofar as the state is converted “from an organ standing above society into one completely subordinate to it” can the working class “succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew”.’

How do you create such a state? I think there is no magic formula. The process will differ everywhere. In Venezuela, the impulse for the development of the communal councils as the basis for a new state has come largely from Chavez and, given the horror of the existing state, people have responded with enthusiasm. But, I’m sure there will be many paths to this point. What is important is knowing where you want (indeed,need) to go; the particular paths to that point will depend upon where you start in any particular society.

RN: In a situation of an unevenness of capitalist development throughout the globe, we find that for a large section of established “third world” left forces, the issue still remains that of greater industrialization and overcoming underdevelopment, which for them essentially signifies an insufficiency of national capitalist development. They also justify their reformist politics and compromises with neoliberal forces by invoking a kind of TINA rationale – the twin dangers of aggressive globalisation and the ever-looming possibility of capital strike. Do you think your critique of social democracy can also be directed against this tendency within the “third world” left?

Lebowitz: Within the Third World left, some groups which call themselves communist or Marxist (as in China these days) have reduced this only to a particular conception of the party – its internal practices and discipline and the view that the party is the instructor of masses and social movements.  They continue to talk about socialism but in practice, as in the case of Social Democratic parties, they see no alternative to capital; that is, they accept the logic of capital. Thus, we see them evoking various forms of the discredited stagist theory that insists that now (as always) is the time for capital to develop the productive forces – thereby demonstrating once again that history repeats itself as tragedy.

As I noted in Build it Now, the failure of social democracy in developed capitalist countries to break ideologically and politically with capital has meant that, despite all the ideals it expressed historically about building a better world, social democracy has enforced the logic of capital. The same is true of those elements of the left in the South which are relying upon capital to develop productive forces.

What can be done about that? I think there are real limits to spending one’s time attacking social democracy in all its forms theoretically and polemically. Many good working people are committed to these parties and tendencies because of their past struggles and achievements and, thus, are defensive in the face of such attacks. Rather, criticism in practice by the development of organization from below both develops the capacities of people as subjects and exposes the limitations of those who refuse to break with the logic of capital. To paraphrase Fidel, we do not exclude these parties; they exclude themselves.

 

(Build it Now: Socialism in the Twenty-First Century – Monthly Review/Amazon. In South Asia, contact: Daanish Books, A-901, Taj Apartments, Gazipur, Delhi-110 096, Tel:             011-5578 5559      , 2223 0812, Cell:             +91-98685 43637      , E-Mail: daanishbooks@gmail.com)

The Meaning of Adam’s Fallacy: An Interview with Duncan K Foley

Adam’s Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology has critical implications not only for the official discipline of mainstream economics, but also for various  contemporary anti-capitalist movements, which frequently reproduce ‘Adam’s fallacy’, inheriting the moral philosophy and dualisms that constitute this fallacy . Naturally, professional economists like Robert Solow , Brad DeLong and others have been quite actively seeking to dampen the book’s impact. However, the book contains several lessons that are crucial for people interested or involved in social transformation, especially after the collapse of the major 20th century socialist experiments. In this regard, Radical Notes (RN) decided to forward a few questions to Prof Duncan K Foley (DKF) for his responses, which we reproduce here. Readers might find other articles that we published earlier on the book helpful.

RN: You have distinctly mentioned right in the beginning of Adam’s Fallacy that for you this fallacy resides in the compartmentalization of spheres of life into the economic and the rest of social life. And you consider this dualistic view of social life as the essence of political economy and economics. Can you please elaborate on this? If this dualism is ideological can we understand it as essential for the reproduction of capitalist social life?

DKF: The specific fallacy is Smith’s claim that the pursuit of self-interest, which has to be balanced against regard for others in other human interactions, can be trusted to lead to good outcomes both for oneself and others in the context of competitive market interactions. This idea has reconciled many people to the morally troubling consequences of capitalist development. It leads, as I show in the book, to the development of political economy and modern economics as discourses which claim a “scientific” status but whose content is in one way or another a discussion of this moral philosophical question. The dualism may not be essential for capitalist reproduction, but it seems to me to be an inevitable outgrowth of the contradictions of capitalist social relations.

RN: Many radical political economists have opined that underlying neoliberalism there is a politics of separating the political from the economic. According to them this separation has a specific significance through which the influence of popular politics, especially that of the working class, is neutralized. By alienating the power of economic decision-making from the democratic institutions, and bestowing it on market forces and financial and other supra-national bureaucratic institutions, the capitalist forces disarm the subversive influences of the counter-hegemonic forces. Do you think this is the theological-political role of the neoliberal reformulation of Adam’s Fallacy?

DKF: This is a good example of Adam’s Fallacy. But note that, when it finds it convenient to do so, neoliberal discourse connects politics and economics in the formulation that democracy and free markets are preconditions for each other’s development. The content of democracy is often hostile to the neoliberal worldview, since voters do like measures increasing their economic security, redistributing income, and regulating the excesses of capitalist development. (They also like rising standards of living when capitalist development manages to deliver them.) The history of the twentieth century also throws doubt on the other half of this claim, since authoritarian political regimes have frequently been the sponsors of “free” market economic institutions.

RN: Can we reread Marx’s “critique” of political economy, not only in Capital but also in his direct political writings, as a critique of this dualism, since he seeks to produce an ideology-critique in his exposition of the capitalist socio-economic formation, especially when he presents his theory of commodity fetishism? In your chapter on Marx, you seem to indicate this.

DKF: Marx had a lively sense of the damage capitalist institutions can do to human personality and the potential for human development. His discussions of the problem of alienation, including the section of chapter 1 of Volume I of Capital on commodity fetishism, center on various ways in which capitalist society fragments human experience. On the other hand, I am not convinced that Marx completely integrated this vision into his more analytical work on economics and his theory of socialist alternatives. In Adam’s Fallacy, I argue that Marx’s sketch of socialist institutions in his comments on the Gotha Programme incorporates much of the dualism he critiques elsewhere. In broad outline the society pictured in this text functions very much like the capitalist society it is supposed to have displaced.

RN: Very importantly, you have noted in the preface and briefly explained in your chapter on Marx, that despite being the “severest critic” of capitalism he reproduces Adam’s fallacy in his theorization. You find this present especially in his attempt to concretize his vision of socialism. You say, “Despite his vigorous critique of the commodity form of production, Marx’s concrete vision of socialism carries with it a lot of capitalist baggage”.(151) Can you explain this a little bit? Further do you find this fallacy affecting his analysis of capitalism to some degree?

DKF: The economic institutions described in the Gotha Programme recapitulate many of the institutions of capitalism. Workers receive compensation in proportion to the labor time they expend, but after the “deduction” of funds for social purposes, including accumulation of the means of production. Both the distributional and macroeconomic aspects of this plan look more like capitalism, than, say, traditional agricultural society. Marx may have acknowledged this contradiction in separating the concept of “socialism” as a transitional system from “communism” as a somewhat utopian vision in which the dualisms underlying economics and political economy have somehow been transcended. Perhaps the way these issues appear in Marx’s analysis of capitalism center on his claim that the commodity form itself, which is Marx’s version of Smith’s division of labor, is at the root of the contradictions of capitalist society. This leaves us uncertain as to Marx’s attitude toward the division of labor. Does he think socialism or communism can sustain a complex division of labor without the deleterious effects capitalist social relations have on human relations and personality? Or does he believe that society can somehow do without the division of labor altogether, or that it can be sustained by some kind of conscious central direction?

RN: While delving into the actual practice of socialism, you note that the Russian and Chinese experiments were instances “of the modernizing face of Marxism as a path to capitalism”. Can we understand this use of Marxism as its reduction into an ideology for justifying nationalist capitalist practices, excising its revolutionary essence? If yes, do you think the possibility of such reduction is a sign of the presence of Adam’s Fallacy in Marx’s incomplete theorization of socialism and inconsistencies?

DKF: The Russian and Chinese experiments were revolutionary enough. It was only through the unleashing and organizing of revolutionary impulses that these regimes could survive modernization without being submerged in the capitalist world system. The economic content of these experiments was modernization and the establishment of recognizably capitalist institutions, industrial urbanization, proletarianization, the destruction of traditional agriculture, etc., in the countries involved. I don’t think it is completely satisfactory to characterize this complex of developments as a “reduction” of Marxism, since it involved a melding of Marxist ideas with nationalism and economic development. If Marx had produced a “purer” and more consistent critique of capitalism, his ideas might not have had nearly the influence they did on a world scale.

RN: Marxists have understood capitalism as a global (world) system, and have found national or regional underdevelopment intrinsic to uneven global capitalist accumulation. What do you think about the development theories (including the radical ones) that attempt to identify the internal and external constraints to endogenous development and inform national political economic practices for ‘catching up’, without rejecting the logic of capital, market and commodity production? Do you think such attempt is self-defeating, and reproduce Adam’s Fallacy – of combining self-interests with national goods?

DKF: History shows that capital accumulation reproduces unevenness on whatever stage it operates, and we have a pretty good notion of why this is true. The metabolism of capitalism Smith described, and the other political economists I discuss in the book elaborated, destroys existing institutions and creates backwardness as a precondition of its successes. Schumpeter expressed this in describing capital accumulation in the phrase “creative destruction”, but it is also behind Malthus’ demographic pessimism, Keynes’ anxiety about the stability of capitalist development, and Veblen’s vision of the clash between the pecuniary and workmanlike instincts. I doubt that the world will see any smooth “convergence” eliminating the phenomenon of uneven development. The pathos of development policy, especially in less-favored economies, lies in its constant temptation to sacrifice the actual conditions of well-being of the population to meet the (sometimes imagined) demands of the world market. Why not base economic policy on securing as best one can the actual conditions of life in a country, and create a base from which a society can exploit the world market rather than the other way around?

RN: Recent political mobilizations and struggles against neoliberalism, especially in Latin America, have once again brought the agenda of alternatives to capitalism to the fore. Many Marxists see in these struggles an alternative to productivist and vanguardist practices of the erstwhile socialist experiments. You too have noted,

The forces Marx saw as leading to revolutionary social change in capitalist societies remain potent and present…. The moment in which these forces might have concentrated in decisive centralized revolutionary change, however, has most likely passed. We live in an epoch in which these potential agents of change are dispersed into thousands of particular, often apparently unconnected, struggles over income distribution, social justice, environment protection, and personal security and freedom. It remains to be seen whether these moments of social transformation will coalesce to transform capitalist society”.(153-54)

Could you elaborate your idea of social transformation, in the context of these recent struggles?

DKF: Political alternatives rest on some specific social-economic base, as an expression of some particular constellation of class interests and alliances. In the middle of the twentieth century Latin American politics tended to be dominated by a coalition of national capitalists and urban workers. The collapse of this coalition set the stage for the current political developments in these countries. (The collapse of this coalition also was a crucial precondition for the opening of Latin American markets to international capital through liberalized trade and investment.) It is not easy to maintain rigorous links between specific struggles for basic human rights and economic policy. Feminism, for example, has as many quarrels with the paternalistic face of capitalism as it does with capitalism itself, and in the immediate situation what women have to fight for is fuller access to capitalist institutions. It is capitalist industrialization that is producing a world environmental crisis, but it is easier to control the actual environmental impacts through market-oriented institutional reform than through changing the organization of production. But there is also tremendous cumulative power in social transformations, and a world which is decisively greener and less sexist would have to undergo transformations of basic capitalist institutions, too.

RN: If we are correct, right from the time when your paper entitled “Problems vs. Conflicts: Economic Theory and Ideology” (American Economic Review, Volume 65, issue 2, 1975) was published, a major concentration of your work has been a critique of methodological individualism that underlies much of the economic ‘ideologies’. Even in your highly technical and mathematical works, you have sought to expose the internal fallacies and inconsistencies of sophisticated economic theories. We see Adam’s Fallacy as a powerful indictment of the ideological/theological practices of economics as a discipline. What do you think is the future of this discipline and what should be the role of Marxist and radical ‘economists’ in the discipline? Can there be any meaningful exchange and collaboration between the orthodoxy and heterodoxy in the discipline, as some have attempted?

DKF: You certainly thought up a lot of hard questions for this interview! In some ways economics as a “discipline” is dissolving in front of our eyes. The idea of economics as a unified and universal science of allocation of scarce resources in the face of competing goals seems to be in decline. The practice of economics resembles more and more generic social science, with a focus on small problems that can provide the pretext for a dazzling display of modelling and econometric virtuosity. Physics, psychology, and sociology each in their way are encroaching on the traditional turf of economics. The traditional “big” questions of economics are increasingly of interest only to heterodox thinkers, who are old-fashioned enough to continue to work on issues the mainstream views as having been long settled beyond debate. I think economics has always reproduced itself through divisions between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. The role of heterodoxy in this long-standing division of intellectual labor is to make mainstream economists as uncomfortable as possible. Whether this constantly-reproduced interaction can rise to the level of “exchange and collaboration” remains to be seen.