From the IS Internal Bulletin, March 1973. 
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
I don’t blame David Yaffe for trying (IB January) to mince a document which sets out to be The Definition of Our Age, The Complete Guide to Revolutionary Action and The Turnstile for the Chosen all in one. It’s in the nature of things that he try, for as every Torah has its Talmud so every Program has its Yaffe.
But some Yaffes are good at making mince, some are indifferent and some are plain bad. Ours is bad.
He tells us that ‘the growing economic role of the State in the economy is a dominant feature of “late” capitalism’, which is right, if inelegantly phrased. He then does his utmost to avoid mentioning the single most important economic activity of that State, the activity that fuelled its growth and sustains its size: military expenditure.
When he does deal with it, he says that ‘arms expenditure and other non-productive expenditure only reduce the mass of profits’, which is also right, and then goes on to say that they ‘hence exacerbate the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’. ‘Hence’, my foot: How can taxing realized profits, that is profits already made, whose rate is already calculated, affect, let alone exacerbate, any of its tendencies?
He concludes that ‘capitalist governments will attempt to reduce (arms expenditure) wherever possible’. Right again. Bravo. (Although I admit to a twinge from old scars at the phrase ‘capitalist governments’; are there any non-capitalist governments in this context?). But the point is to tell us where a reduction in armaments is possible and where not. How far would we get with a theory that told us: capitalists increase wages wherever possible; or, perhaps, screws hand out ice cream to prisoners wherever possible; or even Yaffe keeps quiet at any mention of the permanent arms economy wherever possible?
At the risk of boring the pants off our members it’s worth repeating three simple but cardinal points.
As capitalism ages its constituent capitals get fewer and larger, more dangerous and more vulnerable to one another and more dangerous and vulnerable to workers).
The minimum productive apparatus each capital needs in order to compete successfully – that is, to exchange equal values with other capitals – grows; and so does the minimum military apparatus it needs for actual or potential conflict – that is to exchange equal clout with them. The minimum surplus or mass of profits that could satisfy these competing claims also grows; so that it is under constant pressure to maintain a high rate of profit – both to accumulate surplus directly and because of the advantage a relatively high rate of profit gives in extracting other capitals’ surplus.
Military expenditure affects both the rate and the mass of profit. It sustains the rate by preventing or slowing down the rise in the organic composition of capital in the productive sector – that is its ‘depletion effect’, the sterilisation of vast quantities of plant and machinery by tying them to military procurement. At the same time military expenditure cuts into the mass of profit available to the productive sector – it has a ‘taxation effect’. It can keep the rate up only by keeping the mass down, and vice versa. It can’t keep them moving together as Yaffe seems to believe.
But still, bully for Yaffe. He has rooted for and found some of the weaknesses in our presentation of the theory. That is his strength and our good fortune. But there is a theory to present. And that is his misfortune and our strength.
1. Originally this was entitled Every Talmud has a Torah, and every programme has a Yaffe. It was changed as it was assumed that the proletarian membership would not be familiar with Jewish theology. Ian Birchall points out that, “as in so many things, we were ahead of the field in ‘dumbing down’.”
Last updated on 7.12.2004