First Published: The New Voice, Vol. VI, No. 22, November 14, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
This is one of a series of articles supporting the revolutionary strategy in the U.S. and criticizing the party program being hawked by the October League under the name “Communist Party (M-L).” Readers are invited to contribute articles to the series. Articles should unite theory and practice. They should contribute to our understanding of the difference between the line of revolution and the line of no revolution. This is a good opportunity to analyze some of your experience and to deepen our understanding of the problems of revolution in the United States.
The pamphlet “Revolutionary Strategy in the U.S.” is available for 25 cents. TNV, P.O. Box 19107, Oakland, CA 94619.
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In the October League’s Draft Program of the Communist Party (ML), the working class is once again misled about the nature of the capitalist economic crisis. An understanding of Marxist-Leninist economics is a must for any group that’s going to lead the working class to socialism. However, in the OL’s Draft Program we find not a Marxist-Leninist explanation of the decaying nature of monopoly capitalism, but the capitalist theory of underconsumptionism covered over with some Marxist terminology.
The OL explains the crisis of monopoly capitalism in the following ways
This crisis is sharpening all of the contradictions in U.S. society. The inevitable series of cyclical crisis of overproduction are becoming more frequent and devastating in the midst of the general crisis. The fundamental contradiction between private appropriation and social production gives rise to the anarchy of production, its planlessness. Each capitalist or grouping of capitalists produce without knowing how much demand or need there is for their product. Driven by their need for maximum profits and by their competition with each other, the capitalists are forced to throw the greatest possible amount of commodities on the market. At the same time, the enormous growth and development of the productive forces leads to the intensified exploitation of the working class and results in an ever growing army of the unemployed. Thus capitalism reduces the ability of the people to consume these goods by continually driving down their living standards and increasing their impoverishment. The workers are unable to purchase the very goods they themselves have produced.
The implication here is that economic crises are produced because of workers’ inability to consume all they produce. In articles in The Call and leaflets put out by the October League, this has been stated openly. (See TNV’s pamphlet, Fight the Crisis!, p. 11.)
This underconsumption.st theory is directly at odds with Marxism-Leninism. Economic crises are due to the basic features of the capitalist system. One feature is the anarchy of production. Businessmen decide what kind of things to produce and how many to produce either individually or in small groups. Production is not planned by any central agency. Over time, disproportions between the activities of various firms and different industries eventually occur. The effect of this unplanned method of production under capitalism causes either too many products or too few products on the market.
Another feature of monopoly capitalism which leads to economic crises is that the level of production allowed by the monopoly capitalists is determined by how much profit is to be made, not by the needs of the people who live under the capitalist system. If a big businessman determines that he can produce a smaller amount of some product and sell each item for a higher individual price, making higher profits, he will do so. No matter what the level of technology, how high the unemployment level, or how gorged the stocks of raw materials, the monopoly capitalist will sabotage production in order to make a higher profit.
For example, most food products, from milk to wheat, are regulated to profits rather than social needs. The big dairies have set the price of milk and milk products, and even dump silk into sewers rather than let stocks grow and the price of milk to fall. This year, 1977, has been a bumper year for wheat, but the bread and; cereal manufacturers have not lowered prices–in fact, they raised them! Sabotage of production goes on in every major industry in the U.S. Sabotage of production is also the reason why capitalism always suffers from unemployment unless war drains off a good portion of the workforce. Businessmen purposely do not utilize all those people willing and able to work. To do so would result in higher production, cheaper products, and lower profits.
These features of monopoly capitalism–the anarchy of production, production based on profit, and the sabotage of production–work together to produce economic contractions. Disproportions in the economy affect the capitalists’ profits. When businessmen do not make the expected level of profits, they shut down production. Shutdowns, order cancellations, and bankruptcies can cause a chain reaction leading to economic paralysis, which is called a crisis.
Part of the chain reaction of the economic contraction is a falling level of working-class consumption. Another reaction is growing unemployment. However, it is the economic contraction which causes a decline in wages and working-class consumption and growing unemployment, not underconsumption by the working class that causes capitalist economic crises.
Why is the question important? For the reason that if an organization supports the line that underconsumption is the reason for capitalist economic crises then there is no need for revolution. All the working class has to do to solve its problems is to demand some tax relief and extra spending on the part of the capitalist state. As long as the capitalists are in control, production is based on profits not social needs, and workers will never have cheap, abundant medical care, food, education, leisure activities, and so on. Just having higher wages or less taxes does not make capitalists produce more. Total production may remain the same while prices rise even more–the old supply and demand trick.
The underconsumptionist line channels the working class away from militant class struggle and into dead-end reformism. Struggle is confined to making appeals through the system to this or that politician.
The renamed October League, by pushing the underconsumptionist line, helps the capitalists to foster reformist illusions in the working class. Instead of arming the working class with the ideological weapons to fight the trade union hacks and the capitalist politicians who are always trying to lead us into the swamp of reformism, the OL caves in and joins the reformists.