Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A Response to Mike McNair on Marxist Theory and the USSR

This is a preliminary response to Mike McNair's reply to our earlier discussion here.

1. I would not disagree that it is necessary to update Marx and Engels analysis in line with new information. However, I think its important to be careful about what new information is taken as valid. They may have had access to only 1% of the historical information now available, but to what extent is that other 99% the product largely of bourgeois science, and not necessarily 100% reliable. For instance, if we take anthropology, Leacock herself, in the introduction to “The Origin”, points to the fallacy of many studies into primitive peoples. Especially, in those areas of science that look into past societies there is a strong tendency of bourgeois social science to simply impose bourgeois norms on to non-bourgeois societies, to use categories such as class, Capital, productive forces and so on as though these were completely ahistorical. That said it is undoubtedly the case that science moves on, and new data is uncovered that allows us to deepen our understanding, and even to challenge some previous assumptions. The question as you say is how far the changes in the actual data and historical account undermine the core theory. As far as I can see they do not.

2. We might want to challenge the actual historical account of how the average rate of profit was formed – I have been doing some work on this myself in recent years – and prices of production, but does this invalidate the Labour Theory of Value, or even the concept of the Average Rate of Profit and prices of Production? Again I don’t think so. If we understand those two concepts in the way Marx did as something which exists in the background as the result of the drive of Capital to maximise profits not as some actual average rate of profit ever achieved, but as a moment within a dynamic process wherein Capital moves from one sphere to another in search of higher rates of profit, then the essential core of Marx’s theory remains. Indeed, I have suggested myself that in modern Capitalism we should update Marx’s theory. I have suggested that modern Capitalism is a version of State capitalism. But this State Capitalism does not operate through the State as such, but through the Stock Market, and its relationship to the State. We have a State Capitalist class that represents perhaps just 0.1% of the population, which has a controlling stake in the main means of production. It often retains some relationship to some particular Capital – for example Bill Gates and Microsoft – but its wealth is so great that it cannot be confined within such bounds. It owns shares across the Capitalist economy, and owns Government debt. The Stock Exchange acts in the same way that the State would do in a truly State capitalist economy – allocating Capital to where the highest rate of profit can be had. But, the movement of Capital is not that which Marx described, but now the movement of fictitious Capital, of instantaneous movements of share Capital in accordance with evaluation of current rates of profit now determined by current and future price earnings ratios, modified in accordance with risk premiums etc.

3. On the State. Does it matter that the State first appeared in Mesopotamia rather than Ancient Greece? The fact remains that in Mesopotamia and the other examples you cite what we had was the process that Engels describes. We had the breakdown of communal societies and the rise of class societies. In China we have the rise not of class societies, but of caste societies. The fact remains that the state arises as a specific institution with a particular purpose – to defend the interests of the ruling class or caste against the rest of society.

4. I don’t think in the same way that the historical evidence you cite in regard of the AMP or of the State under caste based systems changes anything within the core theory of historical materialism either. Surely, the significant aspect of the AMP is not the closed village community, but the need for a strong centralised state to undertake the kind of civil engineering products these societies required. It is this which gives the State its central function within such societies and leads consequently to the importance of those individuals that hold positions within this State. Consequently, it becomes necessary for these functionaries to be able to establish their power not through ownership of the means of production, but through its control. This is essentially what distinguishes caste based societies to class societies. But, whereas class societies reproduce themselves through ownership of the means of production and through inheritance of property, caste based societies can only achieve that through passing on control, and that means passing on social positions not property through birth. In order to do that such societies need completely different sets of mores, taboos, and laws to class societies. The Indian Caste system is a more classic version of that, whereas in contrast in China and other parts of Asia conflicts arise over control some degree of social mobility creates competing power centres, and so there are repeated overthrows of one Dynasty only to be replaced by another, whilst the basic social structure remains intact. I haven’t read it for some time, and don’t have access to it at the moment, but as I recall Mellotti’s “Marx and the Third World” deals succinctly with these issues.

5. States and ruling classes. I think your first example is wrong. Is it possible that in pre-class societies a bureaucracy existed. Yes, indeed likely if we take this as meaning some need for undertaking administrative functions and even religious ceremony. But, the same will be true of Communist society won’t it? It will be necessary to have some form of bureaucracy to undertake administrative functions. But, that is not the same as a State bureaucracy. Such a bureaucracy is not some independent factor in society ruling in its own interests, and conducting the economy in accordance with some laws of motion separate from those determined by society itself. The potential exists within such a society for such a bureaucracy to turn itself into such an independent factor, and Engels describes that process in Anti-Duhring in respect of primitive communist societies, but such a development must entail such a bureaucracy turning itself into either a ruling class, or a ruling caste. I agree with Trotsky’s analysis that the Soviet Bureaucracy could have turned itself into a ruling caste, I just don’t think it ever actually did, and the facts about its composition, about the laws and mores that existed within this society prove that it didn’t.

6. In relation to your second example this is very similar to the analysis I gave in relation to Cromwell’s State. However, I think there is a significant point here that requires further discussion. I believe that Leninism blurs the distinction between two different things – political power and state power. I would argue that Cromwell’s State remained in large part a feudal State not a Capitalist State. Cromwell as a representative of the nascent bourgeoisie exercised political power through the Dictatorship, and in so far as he held military power exercised State power on behalf of the bourgeoisie. But, the State is not just the exercise of military power, especially the more sophisticated society becomes. Its arguable that the ideological arm of the bourgeois State is far more important today than its bodies of armed men. Cromwell’s State failed because the material conditions within the society were not adequate to provide the human material for a sufficiently strong and class conscious bourgeois class to fill the State with a bourgeois class content. That fact did not stop the bourgeoisie exercising political control. In the same way the Chilean State was bourgeois, but that did not prevent the working class temporarily exercising political control, and to a certain extent political control is surrendered repeatedly to Social Democratic forces, or to Fascism where this meets the needs of the ruling class.

Leninism tends to deny this separation of State and Political power, because to accept the idea that the working class could exercise political power without actually holding State Power is seen as a concession to reformism.

7. On the USSR and serfdom. I think there are many, many problems with this theory. The first problem I think is that it fails to deal with the human element, and what motivates humans to act in various ways. The second and related problem is that I think it is ahistorical. To elaborate. For serfdom to exist in the 18th century, and to persist is rational and explicable. The level of productive forces were such that even in Britain Land and agriculture were the dominant productive forces. Commercial Capital exists and develops not by creating new value, but by buying low and selling high. The Landlords do not exploit labour as serf labour, or as peasant labour because it just takes their fancy to do so. They do so because that is the most efficient means of doing so given the level of productive forces. Once those productive forces change and capitalist production not only becomes possible, but becomes a more effective means of extracting a surplus it is not only a new Capitalist class that develops, but the old Landlord Class begins to utilise its land ownership capitalistically, begins itself to transform itself into a capitalist class.

But, in the Soviet Union this was not true. If we take your bureaucracy that stands as some new ruling class or caste over a vast economy of serfs the first question a Marxist has to ask is why given historical reality does this ruling class decide to exploit labour in this way, a way that is understandable for the conditions of the 18th century, but is incomprehensible in the conditions of the 20th.? We can only assume that the actual human beings that made up this new ruling class or caste were just as interested in maximising the extracted surplus as any other ruling group, so why not do so by Capitalistic methods rather than the methods of serfdom? That was not possible in the 18th century, but it was certainly possible in the 20th.

8. Now I have suggested the theoretical possibility that society could develop in the direction of what I have called “technological feudalism” that is that the changing nature of modern technology and production relations is leading to an atomised working class, and that increasingly production can be undertaken by individual workers sitting at a computer screen in their own home selling the products of their labour rather than their labour power in a Global Internet market place, and that a new Landlord class of owners of this cyber space could develop which charges a rent for use of that cyber space, but that is only a possibility for the future based on a projection of how productive relations might change, it cannot be used as an argument in relation for the existence of a serf class and Landlord class in the USSR.


Anonymous said...

1. 1% of historical information - I refer by this 1% not to the academics' theorisations but to the primary sources. For a *small* example, I have on my bookshelves translated texts of ancient Mesopotamian and of Sasanian Iranian law, and of the Lex Irnitana, a copy of the 1st century standard Roman municipal laws which was first dug up out of the ground in the late 20th century; and I have access in the local library to 20 volumes of the official records of lawsuits in 13th century England and another 120+ volumes of transcribed medieval and early modern law reports and other texts, which are deeply informative about property and commercial relations as they were practised in the period. The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum collects all the Latin inscriptions found by archeologists. These and private contracts and conveyances and records of law-suits in Roman Egypt dug up by archeologists and transcribed by papyrologists are similarly informative about the economic base of ancient society. As I said, just small examples. None of this material was available to Marx and Engels.

While we're on this point, the idea that the products of historical science are prima facie suspect insofar as they conflict with Marxist theory because they are "the product largely of bourgeois science" is an inheritance from orthodox Stalinism and is deeply, deeply contrary to Marx's method. His late notebooks on anthropology and on pre-capitalist property forms (printed, regrettably, only in German) show that he read vast amount of contemporary "bourgeois science" output. He read it critically, but he also used it to *modify* his existing positions. Engels in Origins only scratched the surface of what Marx was trying to with the anthropology. Yes, we have to read academic material critically, but we also have to read it with an open mind.

2. (a) Farjoun & Machover's work tells us that (i) the *average* rate of profit would not be the *equilibrium distribution* of rates of profit, and (ii) that there is no reason to suppose that capitalism tends towards equilibrium outcomes, anyhow. This implies abandoning 'prices of production'. But to do so actually *strengthens* the labour theory of value (among other reasons because certain logical failures in the theory purportedly found by pro-capitalist economists disappear. And it potentially makes the theory more useful for direct empirical work (e.g. Webber & Rigby, The Golden Age Illusion, uses value theory without equilibrium solutions to investigate the 'long boom' of the 50s and 60s; I am not sure that their arguments are right, but they do succeed in using labour values as an analytical tool at a high level of rigour.)

(b) 'state capitalism through the stock market' - what you describe has actually been characteristic of the British money markets since their formation in the 1690s. Capital cannot *rule* without the formation of abstract capital and this formation is inherently connected to the state through financial markets.

3. If there's evidence for the state before there's evidence for class conflict, yes, of course it matters. The plausibility of Engels' account of the origin of the state rested on his combination of the existence of 'tribes' in Roman law and the Athenian constitution, which he took to be genuine remnants of recent dissolution of a tribal structure (they seem, rather, to be political institutions created on the basis of culturally transmitted memories of a remoter past), and on the origin-narratives of Athenian and Roman *law* (both created at some temporal distance from the events in question) as arising out of class conflict between rich and poor. But the state does not equal law or vice versa.

If 'caste' merely means the state/ religious bureaucracy itself as an exploiting entity, the argument that the state exists to defend the interests of this caste is viciously circular - it exists because it exists becqause it exists ...

4. Civil engineering projects: this is Wittfogel's interpretation of Marx, not Marx. See Draper KMTR I Book ii chs 21-22. It is also indefensible on the empirical evidence (Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State, has a discussion somewhere; Bhula Badra, Marxist Orientalism, is useful on Indian empirical evidence.

5. For the reasons given in the second para. at 3. above,I think you are merely using a definition to postpone (potentially in an indefinite regress) the question of analysis.

6. Cromwell: I will have more to say on this in responding to your initial replies, but the examples I am thinking of are the Byzantinization in its later life of the Visigothic kingdom of Spain, and the signorie created out of later medieval Italian city-states (I know, you're going to say these weren't capitalist, but I will have more to say on that, too).

Separation of state and political power: I think this needs a *lot* more argument than you give it.I do not wholly exclude the point that I think you are making, that politics involves compromises with subordinate classes, but I think this is actually also true of the state power even in regimes without representative institutions (Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World, and Harries on The Theodosian Code are useful)

7. Serfdom. I think that serf-like relations of production form a part of the Soviet order because of the land reform, which is an attempt by the peasants to restore *pre-capitalist* peasant agriculture without landlords, as opposed to the *peripheral capitalist* landlordism of the 'second serfdom' (Kagarlitsky) and to stop the rapid development of capitalism in agriculture which had been occurring from the late 19th century down to 1917.

As I think I have already said, I regard the USSR as an ephemeral historical event - a larger-scale and longer-lasting Munster Commune or Savonarola regime - rather than anything it would be appropriate to call an independent class (or caste, if you insist on the term) formation.


Boffy said...

1) On the 1% and bourgeois science I was saying no more than that it is necessary to be critical of the vast array of “evidence” available. Of course we have to, as Marx did, absorb the data provided by bourgeois science, but where possible its necessary to check that data, and not to allow ourselves simply to accept the interpretation of that data given by bourgeois science, not only because there is a vast ideological machine with the sole purpose of defending the bourgeois regime, but because the epistemological framework within which bourgeois science proceeds itself limits the conclusions which can be drawn by even the most conscientious of bourgeois scientists. I remember for instance at University being asked in a Politics Tutorial what the main difference was between bourgeois society and feudal society and replying that in Feudal Society the majority of production was not produced for the market. The senior lecturer conducting the Tutorial was up in arms at the suggestion that the feudal economy was not simply an earlier replica of Capitalist economic relations. We see time and again in different disciplines attempts to read human characteristics on to animals, we see Capitalist norms applied to past societies for example of Rome, and so on. It is not necessarily that bourgeois scientists or the producers of pulp educational programmes are dishonest, it is more that in the same way that they cannot see the possibility of a future society that does not revolve around trade, profits etc. nor can they envisage then that any past societies could have functioned other than through such mechanisms either.

2) On prices of production. Marx never argued that Capitalism DID tend towards equilibrium – that would be a strange position for a dialectician to adopt. Nor does the Transformation problem or prices of production likewise require that these are seen in terms of some static equilibrium. Indeed, in some work I did myself a few years ago I convinced myself that it is not possible to arrive at Prices of Production on a static model and remain within the context of Marx’s model of transformation. The interaction of the new Prices of production with the inputs leads necessarily to different levels of the Rate of Profit than the average rate calculated on the basis of exchange values. A simple Excel spreadsheet then running an iterative algorithm to remain within the required constraints will demonstrate that. Some of the work done to prove that prices of production can be calculated from Exchange Values in the way Marx sets out in Capital do proceed on that basis of an equilibrium model for instance Von Borkiewicz and Francis Seton. However, this is not Marx’s method. Rather for Marx they are seen as high levels of abstraction to obtain what is the rational core of the way in which prices are determined, a rational core which never is realised in the actual world. Had Marx lived long enough to have written the full work he intended the elaboration of that I am sure would have made that clear, and I am sure that in addition to looking at the way other economic factors come to play Marx would also have dealt in greater detail with the way in which Prices of Production are also determined in the shorter term by Supply and Demand. However, I see no reason to abandon either the basic formulations of the Labour theory of value or of Prices of Production on the basis of the work of Farjoun and Machover than there was on the basis of the work of Sraffa which it was argued also made empirical research easier. The purpose of Marx’s theory is not the same as that of bourgeois science to enable predictions of prices etc. but is to lay bare the mechanism of the system that exploits labour the better to be able to reveal that secret to the class destined to overthrow it.

3) On State capitalism through the Stock market. You miss the essential aspect of my argument, which is not about the relationship between the Stock Market and the State. The description I give is not at all the same as that which has applied in the past. In the past certainly in the 19th century and for a major part of the twentieth Capital was in the hands of Capitalists who owned their respective enterprises. If the rate of profit fell in one sphere of activity the only course of action was for the capitalist to remove physical capital from that sphere, and invest it in some more profitable sphere. This causes inevitable frictions in bringing about an average rate, and it also means a necessary misallocation of Capital with inertia leaving Capital invested in less profitable even declining spheres. The introduction of Credit improves this situation as Marx describes, because the capitalist can simply borrow more or less to buy more or less Variable Capital or raw material. But, it only marginally improves the situation. In fact, things can only change with the introduction of Publicly listed Limited liability companies whose shares can be freely bought and sold on the Stock Market, which is one reason why this situation could not have existed at any time prior to that. Secondly, for some time after the development of such companies it is not just that the ownership of these companies remains in the hands of the capitalist that created the Company and his family, but that the capital of this capitalist is inextricably linked to that particular firm. That is a consequence of the low level of concentration of capital in the hands of the capitalists – a separate issue to the Concentration of capital within a few firms though it appears at this early stage to represent the same thing. But now the majority of Capital IS concentrated in a very small number of hands, whilst it is spread over the whole of big business. The significant difference I would argue then is:

a. Capital is owned by a very small number of super-rich Capitalists, whose Capital is no longer inextricably tied to any particular business, it does not for these Capitalists assume any personal relationship, but has become completely freed of any such relationship, and in doing so moves further away from being physical Capital into becoming pure Capital free of any fetters to search out its raison d’etre – the maximisation of the rate of profit.

b. It does so in the form of Share capital moving instantaneously through electronic trading to buy or sell shares according to models of valuation etc. In other words the rate of profit these Capitalists are interested in is not that outlined by Marx but purely that of the return on this fictitious capital. It is in this sense that I would argue that we no longer have Capital being allocated on an individual basis by disaggregated Capitalists according to whether their particular business was thriving or not, but is rather allocated collectively by the Stock Market acting as a collective or “State” capitalist to where the highest returns can be made. Physical Capital continues to be allocated as Marx describes, but the “Value” of this Capital is continuously determined outside the physical sphere in the Market Capitalisation given to it by Stock Market trades.

4) “If there's evidence for the state before there's evidence for class conflict, yes, of course it matters.”

But, you misrepresent what I said here. My response was essentially two-fold. Firstly, if the State arises in Mesopotamia because it is there where civilisation first arises, and with it class or caste based society then this does not change the fundamental argument about the origin of the State it merely changes its historical and geographical location. Secondly, (and Engels does refer to the establishment of the rudimentary beginnings of the State in Mesopotamia in Anti-Duhring) if what exists is some form of bureaucracy for administration etc. that has some of the characteristics of a State, but does not have that characteristic of a State which gives it its meaning in Marxist terms i.e. as a body which defends the interests of a ruling social class, then in what sense does it make sense to describe such a phenomena as a State in the Marxist sense??? This is precisely what I was talking about earlier about the way in which bourgeois science takes forms and applies them will-nilly to different circumstances thereby denuding them of what is specific in Marxist terms i.e. their class content and historical specificity. In Communist society as in pre-class societies it will be necessary to have some form of bureaucracy that deals with the administration of things. To what extent does it make any sense to describe this institution as a State in the Marxist sense of the term?

5) “If 'caste' merely means the state/ religious bureaucracy itself as an exploiting entity, the argument that the state exists to defend the interests of this caste is viciously circular - it exists because it exists because it exists ...”

I was very disappointed in this and your next point on the AMP. This merely repeats arguments from the 1970’s verbatim. Firstly, I was not saying that “caste” means the state/religious bureaucracy. I was arguing that the “Caste system” arises necessarily in a society whereby the ruling group rests on the social basis not of the ownership of property, but on the control of property. It does so because whereas ownership of property can be easily transferred through inheritance control of property cannot. It is necessary to have a whole series of laws, mores and taboos which restrict social position to the children of particular families, and prevent social mobility into such positions on any basis other than birth. It is then necessary to analyse why these particular societies that develop along the path of the AMP create such a State in the first place as the leading economic force as opposed to other states that develop in the direction of class society, of private ownership of property and so on.

Marx and Engels both clearly do cite the need to undertake huge Civil Engineering projects, and the specific nature of these societies – vast land areas, economically less developed etc. as the reason why it is the State rather than private property owners that alone can undertake such work. But does the fact that the kind of nascent State formations mentioned earlier that Engels talks about in Anti-Duhring in relation to Mesopotamia rise to take on this work as a fully fledged State preclude the idea that those that make up this State have their own personal interests that they come to recognise separate from the rest of society? Only if you view these things in formal bourgeois terms that require an answer to the question which came first the chicken or the egg. But, that is not the Marxist dialectical method which sees cause and effect as inextricably tied. Indeed, you could argue – and bourgeois ideologists usually do – that the whole of Marxist theory in so far as it applies the dialectical method is hopelessly circular.

In the 1970’s too it was fashionable to attack Wittfogel rather than attack Marx himself. The argument you present including the accusation of circularity was for example put forward by E.R. Leach as far back as 1959 in his “Hydraulic Society in Ceylon” in “Past and “Present” No. 15. The idea was taken up by others such as Saltini, and Eberhard. But, any study of Chinese society, which is far more an example of classical Asiatic production than India, shows a clear dialectical relationship between the State and large-scale hydraulic works and more than that Marx did not want or need to say.

6) On State and Political Power. Yes it is probably true of societies without representative institutions though its arguable that all societies have representative institutions of some form. The main point I would stress is that Political Power can never trump State Power. In a conflict between the two State Power must always dominate, Political power can only triumph in the long term by overthrowing any contradictory State power.

7) On Serfdom and the USSR you have not actually dealt with the question I put to you. Why choose such a method of exploitation. There was no alternative for a ruling class in the 18th century, but in the twentieth Capitalistic methods offered the ruling group/caste/class a far more efficient – and probably socially peaceful – method of exploiting a surplus. There is no logical reason to adopt the method of serfdom.

Anonymous said...

1. On historical information - your rejoinder is non-responsive, since what I said was that vast amounts of primary historical source material is now available. I am referring not to selections to support a point of view, but to transcriptions of whole runs of records or texts. In the case of one of the examples I gave - printed law reports from late medieval & early modern England - I can and very occasionally do check the transcription or translation against the manuscript when the printed text looks odd, but I can't say I have found any evidence of falsification to fit with capitalist ideas. It would be surprising if I did: the historical profession is actually quite good at picking up on falsification of evidence, as in the Belleisles case.

Your politics tutor I take it was an idiot. The dominant mode of approach in medieval studies stresses the profound difference of the society from modern capitalist society - in some cases, e.g. Milsom's Legal Framework of English Feudalism and his subsequent work, to the point of caricature.

2. On prices of production, I agree that the stuff in Capital is high-level abstraction and a much more concrete specification is needed to get to predictive theory. I don't agree with you on the substantial point. Sraffa was a critic of the LTV, while Machover is a Marxist (I don't know enough about Farjoun to make any statement). But the topic is a complete diversion from present concerns, so I won't go further on it.

3. On the capital markets - limited liability is 19th century, but joint stocks and traded shares date to the time of the rise of the London financial markets c. 1700. The financial markets also included an extensive market in tradeable mortgages, which were a major means of raising capital or extracting capital from business A to apply it to business B. There are, of course, important differences caused by the increased speed of communications, and so on - one level of change caused by the international telegraph system in late C19, another by the telex machine post WWII, yet a third level by modern IT. It may be that this third level will turn out to be a shift from quantity to quality in this area, but as so far advised I doubt it.

4. Of course, if you stipulatively define "the state" as the state of a ruling class, excluding other entities of a public character which control territory in which they maintain armies and levy taxes, then you will reach the conclusion that Engels' Origins is correct even if the account doesn't fit the evidence for the appearance of entities of a public character which control territory in which they maintain armies and levy taxes outside the case of classical antiquity. But this is merely the result of a stipulative definition. On the basis of this stipulative definition you could equally conclude that, since the landlords and capitalists had been expropriated in the USSR, 'the state' had ceased to exist ...

5) On the AMP, I will have to wait for your citations when you get back home. I take Draper, in spite of the age of his text, to be the most scholarly reader of what Marx actually said. I have not read anything which would lead me to suppose that the hydraulic version of the AMP was even defensible at the present date - inter alia because major civil engineering works can clearly be created without the AMP, as in Roman classical antiquity. There is a better argument, I think, for the 'self-contained villages' version of the AMP, but still, I think, problematic as a general theory.

6) OK, but I will wait to see (later) how the two are more clearly distinguished (unless it turns out to be another restrictive stipulative definition of the state ...)

7) As is indicated by my reference to Savonarola and the Munster Commune, I consider the Stalinist regime to be irrational (more exactly, rational actors within the framework of utopian ideology - the smychka and SIOC - produce irrational results). It's then not a rational decision to produce serfdom-like relations of production, but an undesired and counterproductive effect.


Boffy said...


“On historical information - your rejoinder is non-responsive, since what I said was that vast amounts of primary historical source material is now available.”

That’s because I was accepting that this is true. My only point was the need to be critical of bourgeois interpretations of this data. For example, I was watching I think it was “The Seven Ages of Britain” on Discovery a week or so ago. This was typical of the way even primitive society is discussed. Take just two issues. First was the assertion and assumption that the tribe and the Nation arises out of a coming together of separate families whereas we know that the process is in the other direction, from at least the Tribe, Clan or Gens to the Family. Secondly, the focus on trade. We do know of course that even ancient societies traded, and from fairly early on even traded extensively. But, this trade was generally from one community to another whereas the presumption or at least the viewer is left with the impression that this trade was almost identical to that of today, trade of individuals. Nowhere is it made clear that however extensive this trade as a percentage of total economic activity it constituted a very minor part. And as Leacock demonstrates it has become common in even recent anthropology for terms such as Chief or King to be given the same meaning as those terms have today in relation to status and power, whereas we know that in ancient societies these positions and terms had wholly different meanings.

“Your politics tutor I take it was an idiot.”

Maybe, but she was and is a Senior Lecturer.

“On the capital markets - limited liability is 19th century, but joint stocks and traded shares date to the time of the rise of the London financial markets c. 1700.”

But, there is a huge difference between Joint Stock Companies and Limited Liability Companies which as a Lawyer I am sure you understand. Limited Liability was introduced precisely because of the need to mobile far greater amounts of Capital than could be mobilised on the basis of Joint Stock Companies. In a Joint Stock Company although it had become common for ownership and day to day control to be somewhat separated through the employment of professional Managers the investors in the Company were relatively few in number and could exercise some individual control. But, no investor is going to risk losing their shirt by investing in a Company over which they have no real control, which becomes the case once we begin to talk about large liquid Capital markets. Only by limiting the liability of investors to their invested Capital can you persuade investors to begin to invest in a wide range of Companies not with the intention of necessarily owning or controlling that Company, but merely as a rentier Capitalist looking to recive dividends and Capital Gain. The Stock Market becomes a qualitatively different beast after the introduction of Limited Liability.

But, the second qualitative difference today even compared with perhaps the beginning of the twentieth century is the further and huge concentration of productive wealth in just a very few hands and the way that bursts asunder the previous relationship of individual capitalists to individual enterprises and even conglomerates. In fact, I was having an argument with a US investor some months ago over the issue of the Rate of profit. He disputed my claim that Rates of profit had risen from the 1980’s, and through the 90’s, and did so by claiming that the only Rate of profit that investors are concerned with is the return on their Stock Market investments, which during that last period have indeed remained constant if adjusted for inflation. As a means of understanding what is going on in the Capitalist economy this method of calculation is clearly deeply flawed, but it does demonstrate the way in which modern capitalists view things.

“Of course, if you stipulatively define "the state" as the state of a ruling class,…”

I think this way of formulating the argument is disingenuous. Now of course, to an extent I would defend this method proceeding. You could just as easily criticise me in this way, for example, if I were to say, “A dog, not only has four legs, is a mammal, and is a domesticated pet, but also has other specific attributes of the canine genus.” By stipulating this latter you might similarly criticise me for saying that this stipulation prevents the inclusion of animals of the feline genus in the definition of dog. Yes, absolutely it does and from a scientific perspective wholly justifiably. In the same manner I believe it is wholly justifiable to exclude from the Marxist definition of the State administrative bodies which naturally arise in any form of society, and without which any society could not function, and yet do not constitute a body which has become alienated from society, standing above it and separate from it. Engels in Anti-Duhring does talk about the existence of such bodies, for example in Mesopotamia, and both he and Marx talk about the way in which these bodies in exercising these powers do constitute proto-states, and through which arises dialectically both a ruling caste and a state in the full Marxist sense of the term. As I said before if we ever achieve a fully Communist Society it too will require such an administrative body and depending upon circumstance, might also have to control territory, maintain armies, and levy taxes. But will it be a State?

“I have not read anything which would lead me to suppose that the hydraulic version of the AMP was even defensible at the present date - inter alia because major civil engineering works can clearly be created without the AMP, as in Roman classical antiquity.”

That argument was made by some of those I quoted previously. I can’t tell you who said exactly what because all I have at hand are fragments from old essays, but some at least of the above argued that these works could, and in some cases were conducted by co-operatives. But, the argument is not COULD these works have been conducted without the need for the State, but were they. IN the case of China we definitely know that they were conducted by the State. But, Marx and more specifically Engels deals with this argument. He says the reason why it was necessary for the State to conduct these works in these specific countries was because of the low level of development of the productive forces, and because of the huge scale on which they were required compared with say Greece or Rome.

“In each such community there were from the beginning certain common interests, the safeguarding of which had to be handed over to individuals, even though under the control of the community as a whole: such were the adjudication of disputes; repression of encroachments by individuals on the rights of others; control of water supplies, especially in hot countries; and finally, when conditions were still absolutely primitive, religious functions – such offices are found in primitive communities of every kind – in the oldest German mark communitiews and even today in India. They are naturally endowed with a certin measure of authority and the beginnings of state power……However, great the number of despotic governments which rose and fell in India and Persia, each was fully aware that its first duty was the general maintenance of irrigation throughout the valleys, without which no agriculture was possible.”

Engels – “Anti-Duhring” Part II Political Economy, IV The Force Theory Concluded , p229.

One of the sources of Marx’s ideas in relation to the AMP apart from Montesquieu was Adam Smith who also pointed to the similarities between the water control system in China and those of other Asian nations in “The Wealth of Nations”. Marx in similar vein says that because there is no private property in these societies they have fewer internal contradictions and the commune is subjugated to a “higher unity”, the State which is born out of the need to meet the basic requirements of drainage and irrigation networks, dams and other major hydraulic works made necessary by the peculiar geography and climate. I am pretty sure that reference is from within the Grundrisse, but I will have to check it.

“As is indicated by my reference to Savonarola and the Munster Commune, I consider the Stalinist regime to be irrational (more exactly, rational actors within the framework of utopian ideology - the smychka and SIOC - produce irrational results). It's then not a rational decision to produce serfdom-like relations of production, but an undesired and counterproductive effect.”

No sorry, I don’t buy this. It requires us to believe that the Stalinists and bureaucrats were acting out of a commitment to some form of socialist ideology rather than out of self-interest. I think that Engels definition in his letter to Bloch about how conflicting interests collide within society is correct. They are as he says a result of a collision of millions of individual will each seeking to maximise their own interest and determined largely though not wholly from their economic relations. The bureaucrats acted out of self-interest. Were it possible to maximise that self-interest by utilising more efficient means of extracting a surplus, i.e. capitalistic methods, they would have done so, and certain sections of the bureaucracy sought to bring such a situation about. They could not because they were in fact captive of the existing productive and social relations based on the ruling social position of the working class, on nationalised and planned economy. Only when that economy becomes totally wrecked is it possible for those relations to be overthrown, and as recent events have demonstrated even then not completely or effectively.