Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Paul Mason's Postcapitalism - A Detailed Critique - Chapter 4(2)

The Postwar Boom

Paul says, 

“The Cold War would distort the unfolding wave, first by taking 20% of world production out of the reach of capital, and then fuelling a new surge of growth when it ended in 1989.” (p 79) 

I don't think so. If it did, then the spectacular growth, in the post-war period that Paul describes would have to be seen as even more spectacular. Capital requires two things for amassing profit for accumulation. First, it requires an adequate supply of exploitable labour. Secondly, it requires markets in which the surplus value produced by that labour, and embodied in commodities can be realised as profit. In terms of both of these things, there were far more significant developments, in the post-war period, than the Cold War. 

In terms of exploitable labour, in the post-war period, millions of married women, in North America, Europe and those settler colonies such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, flooded into the labour market. Where previously they represented unproductive labour, producing value embodied in directly consumed products, now they became productive producing surplus value, embodied in commodities. They were enabled to do so, because of all those domestic appliances that developed out of the previous Innovation Cycle, and which had first started to be rolled out in the mid-1930's, which were rolled out extensively during the 1950's. The productivity of their domestic labour was increased significantly, providing them with the released labour-time to be able to take up paid labour. And that paid labour enabled them to be able, in turn, to buy the new labour-saving domestic appliances, especially when combined with the newfangled ideas of HP and the never-never. 

Many of the commodities and labour services they now produced were the same as those they previously produced as products of their domestic labour. They produced school meals, worked in company canteens, cafes, and fast food restaurants; they provided childcare, nursery and other education, as well as health and social care, and so on. It was, in fact, a direct copy of the way peasant domestic labour had become paid wage labour, during the Industrial Revolution. What is more, Marx described the way, during the Industrial Revolution, that capital had brought female and child labour into the workforce. In doing so, it had a) dealt with a shortage of exploitable labour, b) increased the length of the social working-day, and thereby increased the mass of absolute surplus value, and c) reduced the value of labour-power

It achieved this latter, because, where previously the male head of the family had to earn enough to sustain the family, now that burden was shared by his wife and children. The same feat was performed by capital in the postwar period. The living standards of working-class families rose significantly, as Paul elaborates, but the value of labour-power, and wages of individual workers also fell substantially. It facilitated a huge rise in relative surplus value, and accumulation of capital. 

In fact, capital accumulated so quickly that, even with the new supplies of labour that the Baby Boom supplied into the labour market, in the late 1950's, and early 1960's, the supply of labour began to be used up, causing wages to rise, leading to the profits squeeze that intensified into the 1970's. Much of this labour was far more significant to capital than that locked up behind the Iron Curtain. It was mostly educated, and in some cases, thereby complex labour. Given the higher productivity compared to labour in the East, it was all complex. And, in many cases, it was producing commodities and services in a protected market. A nurse, for example, in the NHS, provided a commodity that was not facing competition from a foreign competitor. 

In addition to these millions of additional women workers, far more significant for capital than the Cold War was the collapse of the old colonial empires, and the other various monopolies and protectionist barriers that had limited the expansion of industrial capital. Hundreds of millions of colonial slaves, excluded from the global labour market, by the old colonial empires, now flooded on to that global labour market, as potential wage slaves, whose labour could be exploited by any multinational company, from anywhere on the planet. And, those same multinational corporations had massive new sources of primary products open up to them, as well as massive new markets, no longer shielded behind the protective colonialist barriers. The new international, social-democratic organisations such as GATT facilitated that process. 

An early use of that labour came, however, to meet the growing need for labour in the capitalist heartlands, as it encouraged immigrant labour to fill the gap. It was the period when the Windrush generation was encouraged to come to Britain, for example. 

Similarly, after 1989, the reunification of Germany, if anything, probably imposed additional costs on the former West German economy. Bringing other Eastern Bloc economies into the EU has required significant transfers into those economies that would probably have been more effectively used in the existing peripheral economies of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The Russian economy has continued to be dominated by oil and gas production, and is plagued by corruption and criminality. Again, far more significant for global capital is the rise of Dengism, after 1982, along with the acceleration of capital accumulation by the Asian Tigers

In terms of exploitable labour, the hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants who became wage labourers, was far more significant for global capital in the doubling of the global working-class since the 1980's. And it, along with the formerly mentioned developments, in the developed capitalist economies, was far more important in expanding the global market for the vastly increased volume of commodities to be sold, and thereby the realisation of the produced surplus value. 

But, even in the developed capitalist economies, it was not just married women, immigrants, overtime and the baby boomers who provided an enlarged pool of exploitable labour. As Paul points out, they too still had a reservoir of agricultural labour that could become industrial workers, as further mechanisation released labour from the land. As Paul says, 

“... between 1950 and 1970, the agricultural workforce, in Europe, declined from 66 million to 40 million; in the USA it collapsed from 16% of the population to just 4%.” (p 80) 

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