Paul Mattick

Interview with Lotta Continua 1977

Source: Kurasje Archive;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden, for 2003.

Question: We seem to be entering into a new period of serious economic and social crisis. Whar are the new features of this period, in comparison with the 1930’s?

Answer: The basic reasons for the current crisis at the same as those which caused all previous capitalist crises. But all crises have also specific features with respect to their initiation, the reactions released by them, and their outcome. The changing capital structure accounts for these peculiarities. Generally, a crisis follows in the wake of a period of successful capital accumulation, wherein the profits produced and realized are sufficient to maintain a given rate of expansion. This state of capitalistic prosperity requires a steadily increasing productivity of labor, large enough to offset the relative decline of profitability resulting from the changing capital structure. The competitive and therefore blind pursuit of profit on the part of individual capitals cannot help but ignore the changing capital/labor composition of the social capital. The crisis erupts, when an arising disproportionality between a required rate of profit for the social capital and its necessary rate of accumulation forbids its further expansion. This underlying but empirically unascertainable discrepancy comes to the fore in terms of market relations as a lack of effective demand, which is only another expression for a lack of accumulation on which the effective demand depends.

Prior to 1930 periods of depression were answered by deflationary procedures, that is, by letting the ‘laws of the market’ run their course in the expectation that sooner or later the declining economic activity would restore the lost equilibrium of supply and demand and thus revive the profitability of capital. The crisis of 1930, however, was too deep and too extensive to allow for this traditional way of coping with it. It was answered by inflationary procedures--that is, by governmental interventions in the market mechanism, up to the point of international warfare, for the restructuring of the world economy through a forced centralization of capital at the expense of weaker national capitals, and by t he outright destruction of capital in both its monetary and physical forms. Financed by way of government deficits, that is, by inflationary methods, the results were still deflationary, but on a far larger scale than had been accomplished previously by passive reliance on the “laws of the market.” The long depression period and the second world war, and the attendant enormous destruction of capital, created conditions for an extraordinarily long period of capital expansion in the leading Western nations.

Both deflation and inflation led then to the same result, to a new upswing of capital, and ere subsequently and alternatingly utilized in the attempt to secure the newly-won economic and social stability. Undoubtedly, it is possible by way of deficit-financing, that is, by way of credit, to enliven a stagnant economy. But it is not possible to maintain the rate of profit on capital in this manner and thereby perpetuate the conditions of prosperity. It was then only a question of time until the crisis-mechanism of capital production would reassert itself. By no. it is obvious that the mere availability of credit to expand production is no solution to crisis, but a fleeting make-shift policy with only temporary “positive” effects. if not followed up by a genuine upswing of capital, based on larger profits, it must collapse in itself. The “Keynesian remedy” has led merely to a new crisis situation with growing unemployment and growing inflation – both equally detrimental to the capitalist system.

The present crisis has not as yet reached that degree of devastation which, in the 1930’s, led from depression to war. Although unable to overcome the current crisis, the anti-depression measures alleviate to some extent the social misery caused by the decline of economic activity. But in a stagnating capitalist economy, these measures become themselves elements in its further deterioration. They make it more difficult to regain a starting-point for a new upswing. Also the degree of international “integration” of the capitalist economy, by way of liberal trade policies and monetary arrangements, is steadily undermined by the deepening depression. Protectionist tendencies disturb the world market still further. As the depression cannot be overcome, except at the expense of the working population, the bourgeoisie must try all available means, economic as well as political, to reduce the living standard of the workers. The increase of unemployment, though of some help, is not enough to cut wages sufficiently to increase the profitability of capital. The incomes of all non-capitalist layers of society must be reduced, the so-called welfare measures diminished, in an attempt to reach that profitability of capital which allows for its further expansion. Although a rapid rate of inflation has this effect, it also finds its limitations in the increasing anarchy of capitalist production and in society in general. As a permanent policy it threatens the existence of the system itself.

Question: In this connection, how do you see the role of the Left, especially the Communist Party; what is the meaning of Eurocommunism?

Answer: One must distinguish between the “objective left” in society, that is, the proletariat as such, and the organized left, which is not strictly of a proletarian nature. Within the organized left, at any rate in Italy, the Communist Party holds the dominating position. At this particular time, it most probably determines “left policies” despite opposition from other organizations either to its left or to its right. But the Communist Party is not a communist organization in the traditional sense. Long since it turned into a social-democratic formation, a reformist party, at home within the capitalist system and therefore offering itself as a supporting instrument. Practically, it exists to satisfy the bourgeois aspirations of Its leadership and the need, of its bureaucracy, by mediating between labor and capital in order to secure the social status quo. The fact of its large working class following owing indicates the worker’s unreadiness, or unwillingness, to overthrow the capitalist system and their desire to find, instead, accommodation within it. The illusion that this is possible supports the opportunist policies of the Communist Party. Because a prolonged depression, threatens to destroy the capitalist system, it is essential for the Communist Party, as well as for other reformist organizations, to help the bourgeoisie. to overcome the crisis conditions. They must therefore try to prevent working-class actions which may delay, or prevent a capitalist recovery. Their reformist and opportunist policies take on an open counter revolutionary character as soon as the system finds Itself endangered by working-class activities that cannot be satisfied within the crisis-ridden capitalist system.

The “Eurocomunism” sported by the Communist Party has no meaning because communism is not a geographic but a social category. This empty term marks an attempt on the part of European communist parties to differentiate their present attitudes from past policies; it is a declaration that the former, albeit long forgotten, state-capitalist goal has, been given up in favor of the mixed economy of present-day capitalism. “Eurocommunism” is a request for official recognition and for full integration into the capitalist system, which implies, of course, an Integration into the various nation-states that comprise the European territory. It is a quest for larger “responsibilities” within the capitalist system and its governments, and a promise not to disrupt the limited degree of cooperation reached by capitalist nations in the European context, and to abstain from all activities that may disturb the apparent consensus between the East and the West. It does not imply a radical break with the state-capitalist part of the world, but merely the recognition, that this part, too, is not interested in the extension of state-capitalist system by revolutionary means, but rather into a fuller integration into the capitalist world-market, despite the remaining socioeconomic differences between the private- and the state-capitalist systems.

Question: What possibilities are there for revolutionary action, or action which wants to prepare for a future revolution? What possibilities do you see for workers, unemployed, students, the left-wing groups?

Answer: Revolutionary actions are directed against the system as a whole – for its overthrow. This presupposes a general disruption of society which escapes political control. Thus far, such revolutionary actions have occurred only in connection with social catastrophe, such as were released by lost wars and the associated economic dislocations. This does not mean that such situations are an absolute precondition for revolution, but it indicates the extent of social disintegration that precedes revolutionary upheavals. Revolution must involve a majority of the active population. Not ideology but necessity brings the masses into revolutionary motion. The resulting activities produce their own revolutionary ideology, namely an understanding of what has to be done to emerge victoriously out of the struggle against the system’s defenders. At the present time the possibilities for revolutionary action are extremely dim, because the chances of success are practically nil. Because of previous experiences, the ruling classes expect revolutionary activities and have armed themselves accordingly. Their military power is not as yet threatened by internal dissension; politically they still have the support of the large labor organizations and of the majority of the population; they have not as yet exhausted the mechanisms for manipulating the economy, and, despite an increasing international competition for the shrinking profits of the work economy, they are united world-wide against proletarian upheavals wherever they may occur. In this common front are also to be found the so-called socialist regimes; in the defence of their own exploitative class relations.

While a socialist revolution at this stage of development seems more than doubtful, all working-class activities in defense of their own interests possess a potential revolutionary character because capitalism finds itself in a state of decay that might last for a long time. No one is able to predict the dimensions of the depression for lack of relevant data. But everyone faces the actual crisis and has to react to it, the bourgeoisie in its way, the working class in opposite ways In periods of relative economic stability the worker’s struggle itself hastens the accumulation of capital, by forcing the bourgeoisie to adopt more effective ways to increase the productivity of labor, so as to retain a necessary rate of profit. Wages and profits may rise together without disturbing the expansion of capital. A depression, however, brings this simultaneous (though unequal) rise of profits and wages to an end. The profitability of capital must be restored before the accumulation process can be resumed. The struggle between labor and capital now involves the system’s very existence, bound as it is to its continuous expansion. Objectively, the ordinary economic struggle takes on revolutionary implications and thus, political forms, because one class can only succeed at the expense of the other. The working class does not need to conceive of its struggle as the road to revolution, within a state of persistent capitalistic decline its struggles take on revolutionary connotations quite apart from all awareness.

Of course, the workers might be prepared to accept, within limits, a decreasing share of the social product, if only to avoid the miseries of drawn-out confrontations with the bourgeoisie and its state. But this might not be sufficient to bring about a new economic upswing and therewith not enough to halt the growing unemployment. The division between employed and unemployed, while a capitalist necessity, turns into a capitalist dilemma with a steadily growing unemployment under conditions of economic stagnation and decline. If one wishes to suggest to the workers how to react to the deepening crisis, all that could be said is to organize both employed and unemployed into organizations under their own direct control, and to fight for immediate needs, regardless of the state of the economy and the class-collaborationism of the official labor movement. In other words to fight the class struggle as it is fought by the bourgeoisie. The advantage on the part of the bourgeoisie, its state apparatus, must be matched by a greater power, which, at first, can only by the continuous disruption of the production process, which is the basis of all capitalist power, and by relentless activities of the unemployed to force from the bourgeoisie the means of existence. As far as the radical students and revolutionary groups are concerned, in order to be effective at all they must submerge themselves in the movements of the workers and unemployed; not to realize any special program of their own , but to articulate the meaning of the impending class struggle and the directions it has to take due to the imminent laws of capital production.

Question: What role do you see for violence, and in particular for armed struggle, in radical activity?

Answer: This is not a question which can be answered by allotting to violence either a positive or negative role. Violence is imminent to the system and thus a necessity for both labor and capital. Just as the bourgeoisie can only exist by virtue of its control over the means of production, so it must defend this control by extra-economic means, through its monopoly over the means of suppression. Already a refusal to work makes the possession of the means of production meaningless, for It is only the laboring process which yields the capitalist profit. A “purely economic” struggle between labor and capital is therefore out of the question; the bourgeoisie will always supplement this struggle with violence wherever it threatens its existence by seriously threatening the profitability of capital. It does not allow the workers to choose between non-violent and violent methods of class struggle. It Is the boureoisie, in possession of the state apparatus, which determines which one it will be on any particular occasion. Violence can only be answered by violence, even if the weapons employed are unequal to the extreme. No question of principle enters here, but merely the reality of the social class structure.

However, the question posed is whether or not the radical elements in anti-capitalist struggles should take the initiative in the use of violence, instead of leaving the decision to the bourgeoisie and its mercenaries. There might be situations, of course, which find the bourgeoisie unprepared and where a violent clash with its armed forces might favor the revolutionaries. But the whole history of radical movements shows clearly that such accidental occurrences are of no avail. In military terms , the bourgeoisie will always have the upper hand, unless the revolutionary movement takes on such proportions as to affect the state-apparatus itself, by splitting or dissolving its armed forces. It is only in conjunction with great mass movements, which totally disrupt the social fabric, that it becomes possible to wrest the means of suppression and therewith the means of production from the ruling classes.

The futility of badly-matched military confrontations has not been able to prevent them. There do arise situations, moreover, where such confrontations release the trigger for greater things and my lead to mass movements, such as are generally the preconditions for revolutionary violence. It is for this reason that it is so dangerous to insist upon non-violence and to make violence the exclusive privilege of the ruling class. But here we speak of highly critical situations, not such as exist presently in the capitalist countries, and also about large and sufficiently armed forces able to wage their struggle for a considerable length of time. In the absence of such highly critical situations, such actions amount to no more than collective suicide, not unwelcome to the bourgeoisie. They may be appreciated in moral or even aesthetic term, but they do not serve the course of the proletarian revolution, except by entering into revolutionary folklore.

For revolutionaries it is psychologically quite difficult, if not impossible, to raise their voices against the futile application of “revolutionary justice” by terroristic groups and individuals. Even Marx, who despised all forms nihilistic actions, could not help being elated by the terroristic feats of the Russian “Peoples’ Will” As a matter of fact, the counter-terror of revolutionary groups cannot be prevented by mere recognition of its futility. Their perpetrators are not moved by the conviction that their actions will lead directly to social change, but by their inability to accept the unchallenged, the perpetual terror of the bourgeoisie unchallenged. And once engaged in illegal terror, the legal terror forces them to continue their activities until the bitter end. This type of people is itself product of the class-ridden society and a response to its increasing brutalization. There is no sense in forming a consensus with the bourgeoisie and condemning their activities from proletarian point of view. It is enough to recognize their futility and to look for more effective ways to overcome the ever-present capitalist terror by the class actions of the proletariat.