Paul Demarty (“Socialist Party/CWI: Rudeness and Revolution, Weekly Worker 969, July 4, 2013) quibbles over nothing when he notes that the Grundrisse, not Capital, is where Marx wrote that the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit is “in every respect the most important law of modern political economy.” In Capital, Marx wrote the same thing in slightly different words: “given the great importance that this law has for capitalist production, one might well say that it forms the mystery around whose solution the whole of political economy since Adam Smith revolves.”
Demarty’s comment that “there is no one theory of capitalist crisis in Marx” is misleading for several reasons, among them the fact that Marx did not counterpose the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit to the financial causes of crisis, but included the latter within the former. And given that it’s been more than six years since the latest capitalist crisis erupted, Demarty’s comment is far too abstract. The important questions, which he avoids, are: What are the actual causes of this crisis?, and How does Marx’s work help us to understand them?
Demarty also attacks a straw man when he criticizes the notion “that underconsumptionism necessarily equals reformism.” Who has ever said anything like that? My own view is that “[a] proponent of underconsumptionist theory may happen to have a revolutionary perspective, but not because it comes organically from his/her theory,” since underconsumptionist theory implies that capitalism’s “interests and [working people’s] interests go hand-in hand” (The Failure of Capitalist Production, Pluto Books, 2012, p. 199, p. 198). If Demarty thinks the latter clause is incorrect, he should explain why.
Instead, he treats us to a completely illogical counterargument. Since one proponent of the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit, David Yaffe, “was driven not towards sound revolutionary Marxism as a result, but shrill, Castroite stupidity,” the theoretical implications of the underconsumptionist theory of crisis are therefore not reformist, according to Demarty. This is the logical equivalent of “one person got wet by dumping a bucket of water over his head, so it’s not true that you’ll get wet if you stand in the rain.” But Yaffe and underconsumptionists can both be all wet because the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition, for “sound revolutionary Marxism,” and because individuals’ politics is frequently inconsistent. This latter consideration indicates that we shouldn’t focus on the vagaries of individuals, as Demarty does, but on the implications of ideas, about which his article has absolutely nothing to say.
Demarty writes, “it is extremely difficult to demonstrate that the rate of profit [was] falling sharply in the run-up to the crisis, primarily because of capital’s inherently global nature as a social formation and the difficulty in aggregating statistics from wildly different sources.” This statement is correct insofar as the global (world-wide) rate of profit is concerned, but the global rate of profit is a red herring. I have shown that U.S. corporations’ rate of profit (rate of return on accumulated fixed-asset investment) failed to recover in a sustained manner “under neoliberalism.” And since the U.S. was the epicenter of the Great Recession–it spread elsewhere after, and because, it erupted first in the U.S.–it is not the global rate of profit, but the persistent fall in U.S. corporations’ rate of profit and its many indirect effects, that we need to focus on to explain why the Great Recession occurred, in the U.S. and therefore throughout (much of) the globe.
Demarty also claims that “Kliman adheres to the US Marxist Humanists, who are ‘unorthodox Trotskyist’ in origin, but were also in substance an obedience cult around Raya Dunayevskaya.” However, I have absolutely no connection to the “U.S. Marxist-Humanists” organization, which is only four years old and thus could not be “an obedience cult around Raya Dunayevskaya,” who died in 1987, and who (the record shows) did not run an obedience cult during her lifetime. I don’t think the “U.S. Marxist-Humanists” organization is a cult, but it has in practice required “obedience”–to its leaders, not Dunayevskaya–which is why I have no connection to it. (See https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/u-s-news/why-a-new-organization.html, especially paragraphs 8 and 9.)
I work politically with Marxist-Humanist Initiative. It is grounded in the ideas of Marx and Dunayevskaya, and that is the underlying issue. If a group is a “cult” merely because it is grounded in a body of ideas, then these terms apply to any group grounded in Marx’s ideas, not just one that is also grounded in Dunayevskaya’s further development of them. Misology (hatred of ideas) is thus the real sentiment that Demarty and others express, yet conceal, when they throw around vile allegations like “cult” and “sect.” And what alternatives do the misologists have to offer, I may ask? Nothing but mindless activism, opportunism, and unprincipled eclecticism.
Let me end on a positive note, by calling attention to the insightful discussions of my political and theoretical work, by Nick Rogers, that appeared in the Weekly Worker last year:
New York City
July 7, 2013