« Marx & Keynes » (SPGB, 1971)

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Extrait du Guide To Books and Pamphlets on Marxian Economics publié par le Socialist Party of Great Britain, juillet 1971.

MARX AND KEYNES by Paul Mattick (1969) [*]

This is a Marxist criticism of Keynesian economics. Chapters II-X deal with Marxian economics, chapters XI-XVII with the so-called mixed economy and chapters XVIII-XXII with national state capitalism and the backward countries.

Mattick places the falling rate of profit at the centre of his version of the Marxian theory of crises and the so-called collapse of capitalism.

Crises break out, he says, when the factors offsetting the latent tendency for the rate of profit to fall (due to the rising organic composition of capital) fail to prevent the rate from actually failing. Capitalism recovers from a crisis, he goes on, because the resulting devaluation of capital assets again raises the rate of profit. Accumulation proceeds until it is again checked, though at a higher level. As Mattick puts it:

Despite intermittent periods of depression, each upswing brings capital production to a higher point and wider extension than its previous level of development … Capital deve1ops in a manner that maybe described as three steps forward and two steps backward. This type of locomotion does not hinder the general advance; it only slows it

This is a good description of capitalist development, even though Mattick has little space for unbalanced growth arising out of the anarchy of capitalist production.

Marx, said Mattick, recognised that there were theoretical limits to capital accumulation. It can be demonstrated mathematically that it is physically impossible for a rising rate of surplus value (s/v) to forever prevent a declining rate of profit (s/c + v) given an ever-rising organic composition (c/v). But although Marx once or twice used the word ‘collapse’ in this context, this is not really a theory of the collapse of capitalism because in practice the point of no accumulation is never likely to be reached. It would presuppose, for a start, a fantastically high degree of capital accumulation, automation and labour productivity (which would mean, as Marx once pointed out, that the price system would break down because commodities would be so cheap that they ought to be given away free). This theory was meant as Marx’s contribution to the problem of the threat of stagnation which had worried classical political economists like Adam Smith, Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. Marx was pointing out that if this stage was ever reached it would be due to an economic factor like falling profits rather than a natural one like diminishing returns from agriculture.

Mattick is undoubtedly right in stating that “Marx’s theory is not a theory of underconsumption” and in placing profits rather than markets as capitalism’s big problem.

Keynes, too, held a theory of capitalist stagnation. He felt that as capital became more and more abundant the rate of profit (its “efficiency” as he called it) would fall thus discouraging investment. His policies were meant to combat this stage of stagnation towards which ‘mature’ capitalism was tending.

Mattick’s criticism of the theory of Keynsianism is quite good. He points out that all government spending must be financed from the present and future profits of capitalist industry. Government spending to combat slumps would thus be a redistribution of profits from one section of capitalist to another (those who sold to the government or who received government subsidies). It would be a cost which, by maintaining what Mattick calls a “non-profit sector”, reduces the overall rate of profit. The limits of Keynsian policies are the profits of private industry. If these are discouraged then more government spending would be needed to avoid the slump and so on, with full national state capitalism as the logical outcome. Since the capitalists do not want this, says Mattick, they seek to keep government spending within limits.

Mattick does seem to imply that the state of stagnation of both Marx and Keynes had begun to appear and that government spending has been consciously undertaken to combat it. This is open to challenge on a number of counts.

First, Marx’s theoretical state of stagnation is nowhere near. Second, government spending has been undertaken not so much as to avoid slumps as to provide essential services for the capitalist class as a whole (education, health, defence), though this has incidentally affected the overall level of production and employment and has been financed out of profits and by inflation. Third, Mattick is saying in effect that Keynsian techniques have saved capitalism, at least temporarily. This is not true because they have never really been tried properly, except perhaps as inflation to reduce real wages.

Mattick also deals with economic development, the backward countries and Russia. Although he describes Russia as state-capitalist (because it is still based on wage-labour) he views the national state capitalism practised there and in a number of other countries as a quite different social system from Western-type capitalism. Indeed, he sees it as more advanced and one towards which the West is heading too, under the ideology of Keynsianism. This does not mean, however, that he supports it. National state-capitalism, he says, is no solution to the problem of the backward countries, only world socialism is. And Mattick is quite clear that Socialism means the end of money, wages, profits, interest, etc.

On a number of points Mattick comes quite close to us, and used to write for the Western Socialist, during the fifties when they accepted articles from outsiders (in fact parts of chapters I, II and XII of this book originally appeared in the W.S. article ‘Marx and Keynes’ Mattick wrote in November-December, 1955). Unfortunately his book assumes a high level of acquaintance with the theories of both Marx and Keynes which makes it difficult to follow for beginners.

Note de la BS:

[*] Nous avons déjà publié un extrait en français de ce livre: L’économie mixte.

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Une Réponse to “« Marx & Keynes » (SPGB, 1971)”

  1. From the archive of struggle, no.40: Yale Yiddish special « Poumista Says:

    […] * Maurice Dommanget: Jean Colly (1858-1929) (1967) * Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB): Marx & Keynes (1971) * Alfred Rosmer: La conférence de Berlin (1922, pdf-Datei) * Jean-Jacques Soudeille: La […]

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