Thursday, 28 June 2018

Paul Mason's Postcapitalism - A Detailed Critique - Chapter 2 (3)


Uptrends, Downtrends and Accumulation

Paul rightly pays homage to the life, work and death of Kondratiev. His work has been misrepresented and misused. As I said earlier, there is also a tendency to confuse and conflate the concept of crisis of overproduction with recession and stagnation (depression). That is also apparent in the work of those right-wing, financial analysts who view things through the prism of stock market movements. For example, it has been common to view the stock market crash of 2000, especially followed by the 2008 crash, as indicative of the start of a downward phase of the long wave. In fact, Paul seems to reflect some of that in this chapter too. Therein lies the danger of trying to mechanically fit current events into some preconceived formula or framework. 

In fact, it's clear that if there is a more or less 50 year cycle – 25 years uptrend, 25 years downtrend – if the uptrend begins in 1949, the downtrend begins in 1974, with the next uptrend beginning in 1999. These cannot be seen as mechanically determining the actual start and end dates, but on no combination of dates, consistent with the long wave, is it possible to consider a downtrend commencing around 2000. But, here, Paul's dating of the Fourth Wave as being 1945 – 2008 also falls down. It would mean a 63 year wave with the downtrend (1973-2008) being 35 years! 

Paul introduces some interesting ideas in this chapter, locating the long wave within the wider theory of waves in nature. Further support for the existence of the long wave is cited from the works of Korotayev and Tsirel, in relation to global GDP, which identifies no global recessions (growth below 3%) between 1945-73, followed by six recessions after 1973. Paul also cites the work of Cesare Marchetti on energy consumption and infrastructure, who in 1986 concluded that these also showed pulses based on a 50 year cycle. 

Paul also rightly indicates the importance of Kondratiev in that his theory shows that the kind of catastrophism that has characterised the Left, for the last century, is a dead end. Moreover, as I have argued, it is a dead end that has also paralysed the Marxist Left in its own praxis. I have to say, I am not wholly convinced that Paul's concept of “Postcapitalism”, as elaborated, wholly breaks him from that constraint, but his proposals for praxis at least go some way to addressing it. 

Paul notes that, for Kondratiev, a new uptrend occurs because large amounts of cheap money-capital has accumulated. It facilitates large infrastructure projects, such as building of canals, or railways, or as Paul suggests, in relation to the work of Marchetti, the Internet.

In Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 21, Marx examines the work of Hodgskin. Hodgskin, a working-class advocate, was keen to downplay the role of capital, and highlight the role of labour. Arguing against the notion that profits were the consequence of saving up, by capitalists, of those commodities required as means of production and means of consumption, he notes, in relation to the circulating capital, rather than it consisting of saved up commodities it consists of co-existing labour. In other words, he says, the bread the worker consumes, each day, had usually been baked by labour on the same day, and that was true of many such commodities. 

Marx pursues this analysis to demonstrate that the accumulation of circulating capital does not occur as a build up of such stocks, which, whilst rising absolutely, decline relatively, but as precisely this expansion of coexisting labour. The labourers producing outputs in one sphere are simultaneously producing inputs, used by coexistent labour, in other spheres. The accumulation of circulating capital, thereby, consists of an expansion of this coexistent labour, including the production of the increased mass of wage goods required by an expanding number of workers. 

The primitive accumulation of capital, Marx says, also does not arise as a consequence of some initial production and saving up of the commodities that comprise the constant and variable capital. All of these, he says, already existed. Unless they already existed, the peasant producers themselves could not have consumed to live, or had means of production so as to produce. The primitive accumulation consists of the concentration and centralisation of these commodities so that they can be used in a new way, in factories, on the basis of the division of labour, which, thereby, facilitates a sharp rise in productivity and the production of surplus value. Marx notes, in contradiction to the moral socialists, like Sismondi, that this could only have been done by capitalists, and could only take the form of capital, because it is only the capitalist that has the means and the motive to bring it about. That, he says, is the historical case for and necessity of capital. 

It can't be a build up of large amounts of cheap money-capital that explains the start of the new upswing, because, as Marx describes, the money-capital must have existing means of production to purchase/accumulate; it is a necessary but not sufficient condition. For the pace of this accumulation to increase, its necessary that there is some additional motivation for this money-capital to metamorphose into productive-capital, rather than for it to be used for unproductive consumption or in financial and property speculation. And, this is a crucial aspect for understanding this current long wave, 2008, and the period after. I will examine this and the conditions for a new long wave uptrend in Part 4.

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