2002 Anti-Capitalism. A Marxist Introduction

Socialist standard, december 2004
Anti-Capitalism. A Marxist Introduction. Edited by Alfredo Saad-Filho. Pluto Press.

Marxism: an anti-capitalist view?

If you proclaim yourself to be “anti-capitalist”, it is a good idea to have some idea of what capitalism is. Alfredo Saad-Filho has gathered together here contributions from people considering themselves Marxists to produce “a Marxist introduction” to capitalism and anti-capitalism. His opening article on “Value, Capital and Exploitation” is excellent as is the closing article by Paresh Chattopadhyay, who understands that the abolition of capitalism involves the disappearance of money, wage-labour, commodity production and buying and selling generally and that “Marx does not distinguish between communism and socialism. Both stand for the society succeeding capitalism. (The distinction was first to be made famous, if not introduced, by Lenin)”. A number of the others make valid points, as, for instance, Ellen Meiksins Wood when she points out that many in the “anti-capitalist movement”:

“are not so much anti-capitalist as anti-‘globalisation’, or perhaps anti-neoliberal, or even just opposed to particularly malignant corporations. They assume that the detrimental effects of the capitalist system can be eliminated by taming global corporations or by making them more ‘ethical’, ‘responsible’, and socially conscious.”

Others, despite their reputations, are obviously mere reformists, especially two ex-members of a Communist Party, Ben Fine and Suzanne de Brunhoff. The former, who can’t have known about Chattopadhyay’s contribution, talks of “some form of wage labour persisting” in the first stage of socialist/communist society while the latter opines that “a new public regulation of markets and financial institutions is necessary”.

In fact, all through the book there is an underlying tension between an analysis of capitalism as a profit-driven system governed by its own economic laws which preclude it working in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers and proposals to try to make it do precisely that.

You would have thought that the main aim of an anti-capitalist movement would be to end capitalism and establish socialism (as the sort of society described by Chattopadhyay). Apparently not. If this book is anything to go by, this is not advocated, except rhetorically, even by those within it who consider themselves Marxists. The aim seems to be to bring pressure on existing governments to introduce reforms and to change their policy so as to tame multinational corporations and/or return to the state interventionism of pre-Reagan and Thatcher times. Even Saad-Filho himself claims, in his introduction:

“Pressure for or against specific policies can be effective, and the ensuing policy choices can improve significantly the living conditions of the majority” (his emphasis).

“Improve significantly”? We can only retort “Prove it”, since all the evidence of experience as well as a Marxian analysis and understanding of capitalism goes against this. That’s why, in our view, coherent anti-capitalists should be campaigning for socialism not changes of policy.


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