Thursday, July 13, 2017

No revolution? (2013)

Pamphlet Review from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

No Revolution Anywhere. By Robert Kurz. Chronos Publications.

According to Robert Kurz we are in the final days of the capitalist system. The ‘third industrial revolution’, the rise of microelectronics, has led to an irreversible restructuring of the production process, invested capital will soon no longer be able to reproduce itself since the human labour-power that is the source of surplus value and profit no longer plays a central role in the manufacturing process. For the past twenty years growth has been sustained not through real accumulation but through debt and financial speculation, but as the crisis is no longer confined to certain regions or sectors we are now witnessing the bubble bursting on a global scale. Unlike previous worldwide economic crisis this one cannot be overcome because capital has now reached its pinnacle. Crises of the 19th century where overcome because industrial development was able to spread into new areas.

The great depression of the 1930s occurred at a higher level of technological  development but was overcome through the development of Taylorist production methods and Keynesian state regulation. However this time there is no get out for the system, there are no further avenues for the expansion of value extraction. So what validity is there to these claims and was Kurz (who passed away in mid-2012) really ‘the most advanced political and political economic thinker in the capitalist world in this age’ as the publishers of this pamphlet would have us believe?

Whilst we would agree that the ultimate source of all profit is the productive surplus labour of the worker – wage labourers produce a value greater than that they receive back as wages or salaries – and that if production processes reached such a level that the part played by labour was close to zero there would be no source for the further accumulation of value and the era of capitalism would be over. The question remains, have we really reached this point or are we likely to in the not too astronomically distant future? The answer to both these questions is a firm ‘no’. Whilst technology is used in more and more situations (and sometimes pulled back once labour becomes cheaper to use – think hand car washes) we are still a long way from the total elimination of labour from production.

A crisis has the effect of scorching the earth ready for a fresh round of capital growth. Many enterprises fall by the wayside but those that do survive are able to purchase the productive capital assets of their former competitors at knock down prices thus helping fuel a recovery in the rate of profit. This devaluing of capital, one of the factors that Marx saw as counteracting the fall in the general rate of profit, seems to be disregarded by Kurz.

Robotic automation and information technology decrease the dependency of production on labour, as has the introduction of any new technology throughout the history of capitalism, whilst also cheapening the production of both capital and consumer goods. In other words, it takes less time to produce the stuff that is needed for the subsistence of the worker and also less time to manufacture the machinery that makes the stuff. A fall in the total mass of labour therefore does not necessarily lead to a fall in the general rate of  profit. This weakens Kurz’s claims regarding the irreversibility of the present crisis.

The rest of the pamphlet is concerned with criticising various types of reformist activism, much of which we would agree with. What we would not agree with is Kurz’s apparent rejection of the class struggle. For him the working class cannot be an agent for revolutionary change because ‘labour’ is a category of capitalist social relations, labour struggles are just a part of the development of capitalism. For us this is a half-truth, so long as the working class only struggles for petty changes to the terms of exploitation the system as a whole will continue to function. That is why it is necessary to organise politically for the sole purpose of transforming capitalism into socialism. The working class, which comprises of the vast majority of people, will be the agent for this change since it is this class alone that produces and reproduces the material conditions of society.

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