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Kolakowski Dead – Good Riddance

Posted by Steve Palmer on July 18, 2009

Kolakowski the Clown

Kolakowski the Clown

News is that Leszek Kolakowski is dead. Since most of the reviews of his life will be snivelling sycophantic paens to his anti-communism – especially amongst the so-called ‘left’ – I intend to present at more balanced picture – it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
He was an intellectual fraud and liar. He was a hired prize-fighter for the ruling class – literally. He provided ideological air-cover for the efforts of selfish petit-bourgeois to destroy socialism. He was richly rewarded for his efforts: in 2003 he was awarded the Kluge prize, worth $1,000,000, by the Library of Congress.

We can assess his intellectual caliber by examining one of his later essays “What is left of Socialism?“, published in the October 2002 issue of the conservative magazine ‘First Things’. In the article he claimed that ‘All of Marx’s important prophecies, however, have turned out to be false’. These alleged falsehoods are:

  1. “he predicted growing class polarization and the disappearance of the middle class in societies based on a market economy”.
  2. “he predicted not only the relative but also the absolute impoverishment of the working class.”
  3. “third, and most importantly, Marx’s theory predicted the inevitability of the proletarian revolution. Such a revolution has never occurred anywhere.”
  4. “Marx’s prediction concerning the inevitable fall of the profit rate … proved to be simply wrong.”
  5. “The fifth tenet of Marxism that has turned out to be erroneous is the prediction that the market will hamper technical progress.”

Naturally, Kolakowski’s conservative hosts were pleased with this essay – but like most dogmatists they failed to check their facts. All of Kolakowski’s assertions are false. Let’s work through them one by one.

1. “he predicted growing class polarization and the disappearance of the middle class in societies based on a market economy”

Kolakowski asserts that Marx

“predicted growing class polarization and the disappearance of the middle class in societies based on a market economy. Karl Kautsky rightly stressed that if this prediction were wrong, the entire Marxist theory would be in ruins. It is clear that this prediction has proved to be wrong; rather, the opposite is the case. The middle classes are growing, whereas the working class in the sense Marx meant it has been dwindling in capitalist societies in the midst of technological progress.” (“What Is Left of Socialism”, First Things, October 2002)

What is so extraordinary about this belief is that Marx actually said the direct opposite. This is not some issue of the nuanced interpretation of some obscure statement in a neglected manuscript. As capital developed, Marx argued, its productivity would grow, enabling the growth of a whole intermediate stratum between the workers and the capitalists. For example, in the first volume of Capital we read:

“the extraordinary productiveness of modern industry, … allows of the unproductive employment of a larger and larger part of the working class, and the consequent reproduction, on a constantly extending scale of [unproductive workers]” [1]

This strata would include not only unproductive workers but also non-workers and a whole army of parasites and hangers-on:

“a servant class …’ideological classes’, such as government officials, priests, lawyers, soldiers, etc … all who … consume the labour of others in the form of rent, interests etc” [2]

Indeed, this section would grow, not only absolutely, but relatively to the working-class:

“Although the number of workers grows absolutely, it declines relatively … in proportion to the part of society not directly involved in material production or indeed engaged in no kind of production whatsoever.”[3]

Far from the middle-class disappearing, capital would ensure that it would grow, and grow faster than the working class.

Far from predicting “the disappearance of the middle class’, Marx predicted the exact opposite: “This is in fact the course taken by bourgeois society”[4]. Ricardo, Marx argues:

“forgets to to emphasise … the constantly growing number of the middle classes, those who stand between the workman on the the one hand and the capitalist and landlord on the other.”[5]

2. “he predicted not only the relative but also the absolute impoverishment of the working class.”

Marxists have twisted themselves into knots over this issue. However a look at the facts[6] at the time Kolakowski was writing is sufficient to refute his allegations:

* Real median earnings of full-time year-round male workers fell by nearly $1,000 (from $41,761 to $40,798), a decline of 2.3 percent.

* Real median earnings of full-time year-round female workers fell by over $300, or 1 percent (from $31,550 to $31,223), marking the second consecutive year of decline. This is the first time since 1995 that the median earnings of full-time year-round female workers have dropped for two years in a row.

* Real median income among the working-age population — households headed by adults under 65 — fell by $600 (from $51,559 to $50,923), a decline of 1.2 percent. (Overall median income for all households was unchanged.)

* The number of people who work but live in poverty increased by 563,000. The poverty rate increased among this group from 5.8 percent to 6.1 percent.

Further comment would seem superfluous.

3. “third, and most importantly, Marx’s theory predicted the inevitability of the proletarian revolution. Such a revolution has never occurred anywhere.”

This is just fantastic rubbish. The Chilean revolution – initiated at the ballot box – was quite clearly a proletarian revolution, until it was snuffed out by the Chilean military backed by the CIA. The current revolution in Venezuela is quite obviously a proletarian revolution. The Russian revolution politically was led by the working class, even though they were a minority. The slogans of ‘Peace’ and ‘Land’ were advanced by the Bolsheviks though Kolakowski does not admit this.

4. “Marx’s prediction concerning the inevitable fall of the profit rate … proved to be simply wrong.”

It is incontestable that, statistically, the profit rate has fallen. One only has to examine the annual figures for rates of return published in the Survey of Current Business[7] to see the long-term secular decline in the profit rate – exactly as predicted by Marx.

Falling rate of profit 1960-2008

It is Kolakowski who is “simply wrong”.

5. “The fifth tenet of Marxism that has turned out to be erroneous is the prediction that the market will hamper technical progress.”

Kolakowski provides no evidence that Marx ever thought this. Indeed, his works are a constant hymn to capitalism’s constant drive to innovate technologically. From the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, …  Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. …

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, …

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation …

Conclusion

Whether Kolakowski told these lies deliberately, or out of sheer ignorance is unknown. But what is clear is that with his conscience he surrendered any claim to scholarship, that what he understands about Marxism wouldn’t fit on the back of a postage stamp, and most of what he says about it is a pack of lies.

Good Riddance, Kolakowski, you liar!


[1] Capital I, CW, 35,449

[2] Ibid

[3] CW 30, 303

[4] TSV 3,63.

[5] TSV2, 573

[6] http://www.cbpp.org/files/8-30-05pov.pdf

[7] Chart is from May 2009 Survey of Current Business, p18

Posted in Dunce, Own Goal, tui | Leave a Comment »

The Racism of the Marginal Utility Theorists

Posted by Steve Palmer on May 22, 2009

There’s a PhD thesis in this, somewhere. While working on Early English Debates in Marxist Value Theory, I needed to add some notes to the piece by Foxwell to explain who Stanley Jevons, Alfred Marshall and Henry Sidgwick were. Of course, you can always peer in the Wikipedia … but you won’t find this there.

I pulled down my copies of Jevons Theory of Political Economy (Kelly’s 1965 reprint) and Marshall’s Principles of Political Economy (Macmillan’s 1966 ‘Papermac’ edition) and poked around a bit.

W. Stanley Jevons is well known as the economist famous for ‘proving’ that sunspots are responsible for crises. Bourgeois economists don’t crow about that, for some reason. He also ‘proved’ that “labour is never the cause of value” through developing a marginal utility theory of value. Discussing the productivity of labour, he casually throws out this remark: “Persons of an energetic disposition feel labour less painful than they otherwise would, and, if they happen to be endowed with various and acute sensibilities, their desire of further acquisition never ceases. A man of lower race, a negro for instance, enjoys possession less, and loathes labour more; his exertions, therefore, soon stop. A poor savage would be content to gather the almost gratuitous fruits of nature, if they were sufficient to give sustenance; it is only physical want that drives him to exertion.” Theory of Political Economy, (5th edition, New York, 1965), pp182-183. Ask your nearest bourgeois economist if s/he agrees or not. Compare and contrast Marx: “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Jevons would be quite comfortable with the branding iron, apparently.

Jevons was also intellectually gutless and never defended his theory in debate with defenders of the law of labour value: when Hyndman addressed the Political Economy group of the National Liberal Club, he invited Jevons to debate with him. Jevons never showed.

Alfred Marshall was Professor Economics at Cambridge University. His Principles of Economics used to be the ‘Bible’, as Foxwell might put it, of neo-classical vulgar economy. Although I read parts of it many years ago, I had embarassingly missed the fact that it oozes race theory from every pore and is riddled with anxiety about ‘degeneration’ of the human race. Eg. “on the Pacific Slope, there were at one time just grounds for fearing that all but highly skilled work would be left to the Chinese; and that the white men would live in an artificial way in which a family became a great expense. In this case Chinese lives would have been substituted for American, and the average quality of the human race would have been lowered.”(Principles, 8th edition, IV.V.23n73). Or, “conquering races generally incorporated the women of the conquered; they often carried with them many slaves of both sexes during their migrations, and slaves were less likely than freemen to be killed in battle or to adopt a monastic life. In consequence nearly every race had much servile, that is mixed blood in it: and as the share of servile blood was largest in the industrial classes, a race history of industrial habits seems impossible.” (Ibid,.IV.V.7 n65) We also meet the clever but cunning and slippery money-dealing Jew: Ricardo’s “aversion to inductions and his delight in abstract reasonings are due, not to his English education, but, as Bagehot points out, to his Semitic origin. Nearly every branch of the Semitic race has had some special genius for dealing with abstractions, and several of them have had a bias towards the abstract calculations connected with the trade of money dealing, and its modern developments; and Ricardo’s power of threading his way without slip through intricate paths to new and unexpected results has never been surpassed. But it is difficult even[!!! SP] for an Englishman to follow his track” (Appendix B.19 n44). It makes one want to vomit, doesn’t it. There’s page after page of this stuff. It is completely fitting that this book should have served as the economics textbook of the English ruling class during their period of imperial domination. Perish the thought that the theories of Marx (who was, after all, of ‘the Semitic race’) should be superior to this member of the master-race!

Sidgwick, too, had concerns for the relationship between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ races, though he seems to have been more optimistic than Marshall about the influence good ‘tutelage’ could have on ‘inferior races’. Marshall described him as his “spiritual mother and father.”

Now there’s a couple of facts your Professor never taught you …

Posted in Bourgeois Ideology, Dumb Sh*t, Dunce, Own Goal, Political Economy, Racism | Leave a Comment »

Tax dodger to run Treasury?

Posted by Steve Palmer on January 14, 2009

The US Department of the Treasury is run by the Secretary of the Treasury. It operates the Mint, which prints and coins currency and manages the government’s borrowing. It also manages the Internal Revenue Service – IRS – which collects taxes. Now a tax cheat is about to take charge there.

Timothy Geithner short paid his new employer by $17,230 in 2003 and 2004 according to the IRS, which he will be running. The Obama transition team learned that he also owed a further $25,970 for 2001 and 2002, but claimed it was common mistake. Republicans quickly pointed out that the IMF – his then employer – repeatedly emphasized the need for employees to cough up their taxes. He also dodged on penalties for early withdrawal from a retirement plan, small-business, charitable deductions, personal expenses and child deductions. In addition, he employed an immigrant housekeeper while her work authorization papers were expired.

Of course everyone is making excuses – ‘just a mistake’, ‘all is now in order’, blah blah. These are the same people who virtually incinerate ‘Welfare cheats’. Capitalism’s hypocrisy and cynicism knows no bounds!

Posted in Crisis, Dumb Sh*t, Dunce, Own Goal, Political Economy | Leave a Comment »