Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism
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OBAMA, Barack (1961- )
President of the United States from January 2009 to January 2017. Since he was the candidate of the Democratic Party (which many people in the U.S. still naïvely imagine is qualtitatively superior to the other major capitalist party, the Republicans), and because he was the first Black (African-American) President, many liberals, minorities, and other people had huge hopes for his presidency—which were slowly dashed against the rocks of bourgeois reality.
In foreign policy, Obama continued, and to some extent expanded, the U.S. imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and extended them further to other countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen. He especially promoted the trend toward remote-controlled mass murder, using armed drones, cruise missiles and bombs dropped from airplanes in preference to ground troops in these wars. The U.S. war in Afghanistan which began in 2001, and which Obama promised to end if elected, continued through his entire 8-year presidency, and still continues after he is out of office. (As of October 2017 this imperialist war has now lasted for 16 years, with no end in sight.)
When Obama took office the U.S. and world were in the beginnings of a severe worsening of the long-developing capitalist financial and economic crisis, in the form of the Great Recession. As far as the job situation and welfare of the people is concerned, this intensified economic crisis still continues. However, following the lead of his predecessor, George Bush, Obama paid careful attention to bailing out the big banks and other major financial corporations with many billions of taxpayer dollars. Although a pretence was made by Obama and Congress in passing legislation (the Dodd-Frank Act) to “prevent” a similar financial crisis from happening in the future, that was pure window dressing which cannot possibly address the inherent contradictions within the capitalist mode of production which leads to such crises.
In trade policy Obama also supported the interests of capitalist corporations over the U.S. working class. Although he had promised during the election campaign to reform or abandon the NAFTA agreement, he did nothing of the kind. (See: NAFTA [McChesney/Nichols quote] ) Instead he arranged for additional international trade deals which eliminated more jobs in the U.S., and even promoted the worst such proposed trade deal yet, the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (which however fell apart once Obama left office).
The “signature accomplishment” of the Obama Administration was the grossly inadequate (and quite insufficiently financed) Affordable Care Act (also known as “ObamaCare”). As poor as that pathetic excuse for a national health program was, it is now in the process of being replaced with something even worse under the Trump Administration.
Overall the Obama presidency was a dismal failure, certainly with regard to advancing the material interests of the working class and masses, and actually even with respect to significantly advancing the long-term interests of the ruling bourgeoisie itself! Did the people learn from this negative experience with Obama to stop supporting ruling class candidates in elections? Apparently not fully so; many millions of them still supported either Hillary Clinton or the billionaire demagogue Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
See also: WHISTLE-BLOWER
See: AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
Obedience “implies compliance with the demands or requests of someone in authority”. [Cf. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed., 1991)] However, within a genuine communist party we speak not of “obedience to demands”, but rather of organizational discipline. Whereas obedience is something that often implies that force or threats of force are used, organizational discipline within the proletarian party is something which is voluntarily agreed upon by each new member of the party; it is part of the rules of democratic centralism which each member of the party agrees to adhere to when they join.
See also: DISCIPLINE—Of the Proletarian Party, DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM, JESUITS [Amir Alexander quote]
The real world as it actually is, as opposed to various ideas—often quite fanciful—about the world. Also called the external world, especially in older philosophical writings.
See also: REFLECTION THEORY
“The laws of war, like the laws governing all other things, are reflections in our minds of objective realities; everything outside the mind is is objective reality.” —Mao, “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War” (Dec. 1936), SW 1:190.
The name the vulgar bourgeois writer Ayn Rand gave to her shallow philosophical system glorifying selfishness and capitalism.
[Ethics:] A moral requirement to act in a certain way. Kant held the extreme position that (what he took to be) moral obligations are absolute, that is, they are morally necessary regardless of the consequences.
See also: CONSEQUENTIALISM, DUTY
Russian term for semi-feudal peasant village communes, which however, also had certain collectivist aspects to them. For more about them see: VILLAGE COMMUNE (Russia)
A principle enunciated in cryptic form by the medieval philosopher William of Occam (or Ockham) which states that you should always choose the simplest explanation for any phenomenon, the one requiring the fewest assumptions and supporting entities.
See also: Philosophical doggerel on Occam and his “razor”.
A religious idealist doctrine which arose in the 17th century as an attempt to explain the mysterious interaction of “soul” and body, as required by Descartes’s dualistic theory of the world. The Occasionalists held that the reciprocal action between mind and body is due to the intervention of God. Malebranche carried this idea to the further extreme of postulating divine intervention in every single causal action.
Of course from the dialectical materialist point of view there are no “souls”, and mental phenomena are merely high-level ways of looking at the functioning of certain very complex material systems (e.g. brains). Thus the supposed mystery of how “two totally independent things”, mind and brain, can interact and influence each other does not arise.
See also: PSYCHOPHYSICAL PARALLELISM
[To be added...]
See also: PUBLIC RELATIONS
See: SOVIET UNION—Ocean Fishing Industry
A short-lived organization in the U.S. “New Communist Movement” of the early 1970s which developed out of one part of the RYM II faction of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and later transformed itself into the so-called Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). OL was characterized by the combination of arrogance and ideological instability that was quite common within the general primitiveness of the reborn revolutionary movement of that era. The top leader of both OL and the CP(ML) was Michael Klonsky, who later abandoned “Marxism” entirely—even in its totally revisionist perverted form.
Also known as the Bolshevik Revolution. It occured November 8, 1917, which was October 25 on the calendar then in use in Russia. [More to be added...]
The term “October Road” is shorthand for the revolutionary strategy, tactics and policies followed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution; sometimes just for the strategy used in the October Revolution insurrectionary seizure of power itself, but often for the whole Bolshevik revolutionary strategy over a period of more than two decades starting from around 1900. Thus the question “To what degree should American revolutionaries follow the October Road?” means “To what degree should we employ the revolutionary strategy and tactics that Lenin and the Bolsheviks used in making revolution?” This of course is still an open question, though obviously revolutionaries in advanced capitalist countries have much to learn from and emulate in the Bolshevik Revolution.
[Lenin speaking of the revolutionary strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks at the time of the First World War (and note that he just uses the word ‘tactics’ where we would today usually say ‘strategy’):] “The Bolsheviks’ tactics were correct; they were the only internationalist tactics, because they were based, not on the cowardly fear of a world revolution, not on a philistine ‘lack of faith’ in it, not on the narrow nationalist desire to protect one’s ‘own’ fatherland (the fatherland of one’s own bourgeoisie), while not ‘giving a damn’ about all the rest, but on a correct (and, before the war and before the apostasy of the social-chauvinists and social-pacifists, a universally accepted) estimation of the revolutionary situation in Europe. These tactics were the only internationalist tactics, because they did the utmost possible in one country for the development, support and awakening of the revolution in all countries. These tactics have been justified by their enormous success, for Bolshevism (not by any means because of the merits of of the Russian Bolsheviks, but because of the most profound sympathy of the people everywhere for tactics that are revolutionary in practice) has become world Bolshevism, has produced an idea, a theory, a programme and tactics which differ concretely and in practice from those of social-chauvinism and social-pacifism.” —Lenin, “Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky” (Oct.-Nov. 1918), LCW 28:292.
“... the mass of workers in all countries are realizing more and more clearly every day that Bolshevism has indicated the right road of escape from the horrors of war and imperialism, that Bolshevism can serve as a model of tactics for all.” —Lenin, ibid., LCW 28:293. (As always in this Dictionary, italics and other emphasis are as they appear in the original.)
Short for Organization for Counter-Terrorism and Operations. This is yet another government paramilitary force attempting to destroy the Naxalites (Maoist revolutionaries) in India. This particular force seems to have been set up by the Andhra Pradesh state government.
See: ORGANIZATION FOR ECONOMIC COOPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT
OFFICE OF POLICY COORDINATION (Of the U.S. State Department)
Despite its purposely bland name, this was a secret United States “black ops” (covert operations) spy agency hidden within the State Department bureaucracy in the period after the World War II era Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was disbanded. When the Central Intelligence Agency was first established in 1947, it mostly functioned—as its name suggests—as merely a centralizing agency for all the extensive spying done by the many U.S. spy agencies. Alan Dulles, though not a government employee at the time, played a key role in establishing the OPC as a covert operations agency. And when he later became head of the CIA the sort of “dirty tricks” and criminal activities characteristic of the OPC were transferred to the CIA.
See also: OPERATION SPLINTER FACTOR
OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES
The U.S. government spy agency which existed during World War II; the primary forerunner of the CIA which was established in 1947.
A measure of the average cost of renting commercial office space in a city or section of it (i.e., the “downtown area”), usually given in terms of some unit area (such as per square foot). The change of the price of office space is an economic indicator of whether the capitalist economy is expanding or declining, and whether or not there is a property bubble developing in the price of business buildings.
“Office space now costs more in Beijing than it does in New York. Rents have soared in Beijing over the past two years, making it the fifth most expensive city in the world for commercial space, surpassing New York. Hong Kong remains the most expensive, followed by London, Tokyo, and Moscow.” —From a Financial Times report quoted in The Week, Feb. 17, 2012, p. 38. [This is another indication that the property bubble in China has expanded to quite dangerous levels. And as long as the office space price remains high the commercial property bubble will keep expanding. —S.H.]
The transfer of jobs by a multinational corporation from its home country to another, lower-wage country. This term is popular in the bourgeois press in the United States where the transfer of jobs to other countries usually means overseas countries, though many jobs have also been shifted to Mexico.
A job is considered to be offshorable if it would be both easy to transfer it to another country and profitable for the employer to do so. According to an August 2009 study by two bourgeois economists, Alan Blinder and Alan Krueger, despite all the jobs which have already been shifted out of the country, roughly one out of four remaining U.S. jobs are offshorable. “Perhaps most surprisingly, routine work is no more offshorable than other work.” Moreover, the jobs of well educated workers are somewhat more likely to be offshorable than those of poorly educated workers.
See also: RESHORING
The agency of the secret political police in Tsarist Russia, which was formed in order to try to suppress and destroy the revolutionary movement. It hounded, arrested, exiled, imprisoned or killed many thousands of revolutionaries. Although there were a few well publicized assassinations of Tsars and Tsarist agents, overall the Okhrana was quite effective until revolutionaries themselves began to use more sophisticated methods to secretly organize themselves, and organize the working class to fight back, and until the conditions of the masses became so extremely bad that even constant vicious police oppression could not keep them from rebelling.
See also: MALINOVSKY, Roman
An empirically derived rule of thumb in bourgeois economics that GDP growth must be at least 3% per year in order to reduce the prevailing rate of unemployment.
Another of the various formulations of the “law”, known as the “gap verson”, is that for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate a country’s GDP will settle at roughly another 2% lower than its “potential output”. This “law” was proposed by Arthur M. Okun in 1962, and since then its reliability has often been disputed.
Rule by the few, usually for their own corrupt and selfish purposes. Thus often, in effect, rule by the few who are rich. Bourgeois society, whether in the form of bourgeois democracy or fascism, should be considered a type of oligarchy since the ruling bourgeoisie is a tiny class relative to the whole population.
Semi-monopoly, or a “looser form” of monopoly. In other words, a situation where a small number of producers control the capitalist market for some commodity, and limit their competition either in all respects (definitely including prices), or—more commonly today because of the nominal anti-trust laws—to areas of styling and advertising.
Lenin, when he talked about monopoly, was really using the term in a way which would today better be called oligopoly. (The word ‘oligopoly’ did not enter the English language until 1895 and even then at first only in technical publications, and the Russian equivalent probably also did not exist when Lenin was writing.)
ONE-CHILD POLICY (in China)
The Chinese government policy restricting most urban families to just one child. This policy was introduced in 1978-79, after the Mao era, and by 2016 is finally being gradually phased out. The government said that as of 2015 35.9% of the population was subject to this one-child limit per family (with most of the rest being subject to a two-child limit). It estimated that without this policy there would have been 250 million more babies born by the year 2000.
At the time of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao and the other revolutionary leaders initially viewed having a large and rapidly growing population as an asset. But this opinion soon changed and in August 1956 the Ministry of Public Health began vigorously supporting mass birth control efforts. However, the fertility rate remained high, and after a few years a new campaign to encourage later marriage and a lower birth rate was implemented. During the period of 1963-66 this cut the birth rate to half its previous level.
For a few years, with the advent of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the more urgent matter of which class would control society became preeminent. But in 1972-73 the People’s government began a new nationwide birth control campaign. In the countryside the “barefoot doctors” distributed birth control information and contraceptives to the members of the people’s communes. In the mid-1970s the government recommended that the maximum family size should be 2 children in urban areas and 3 or 4 in the countryside. Mao himself was personally identified with the family planning movement at this time. Still, the means used while Mao was alive was generally the mass line method of democratic persuasion, and not one of enforcement of small family size through fines or other penalties.
Once the revisionists seized control and began to move the country back into capitalism, the whole point of family planning changed. It was no longer a matter of how best to improve the welfare of all the people, but rather of promoting the expansion of capitalist production as fast as possible and promoting the growth of the economic and political power of the new bourgeoisie. What desire remained to promote improved living standards for the masses was mostly for the purpose of keeping them from challenging the new capitalist ruling class. And the methods used to promote family planning became much more bureaucratic, legalistic and even authoritarian.
While education and social pressure are still also used to promote the one-child policy, there are now considerable economic penalties for violators, and sometimes strong coercion, including even forced abortions and sterilizations. Moreover, the manner in which the policy has been implemented has led to many cases of female infanticide. The traditional backward desire of Chinese families (especially in rural areas) for a male heir, which has led to these problems, has not been sufficiently combatted by educational campaigns, and this is now resulting in a growing disproportionate shortage of women in Chinese society.
While the goal of promoting a low birth rate in China, just as elsewhere in the world, is laudable, the manner in which the one-child policy has been implimented cannot be supported. Somewhat surprisingly, a fairly large majority of people in China do support the policy (one poll around 2008 claimed that 76% do), though there also seem to be growing numbers of those ignoring it. Most interestingly of all, there are now suggestions by bourgeois economists in both China and overseas, that this one-child policy is no longer in the interests of Chinese capitalism. The idea is that it “unduly” limits the growth of the cheap labor supply and the size of the domestic market, and also leads to an aging population which on average consumes less. This appears to be a major factor in why the policy is now being phased out.
In the fall of 2013 the one-child policy was slightly weakened. Previously married couples, both of whom were a single child, were allowed to have two children. Now, if just one of them was a single child, they are allowed to have two children. In 2015 the “one-child policy” was weakened much more and will probably be completely replaced by a universal “two-child” policy soon.
[Some of the information in this entry comes from the Wikipedia.]
“China’s birth rate on the rise
“China’s birth rate rose last year to its highest point since 2000, following the relaxation of the country’s one-child policy in 2015. There were 17.86 million births in China last year, a 7.9% increase from 2015.” —Time magazine, Feb. 6, 2017, p. 12.
A core viewpoint in dialectics, which sums up two main principles: 1) Everything in the world is in reality a unity of opposites, or (dialectical) contradiction of opposing forces; and 2) Development consists of the dialectical resolution of such contradictions, or in other words, in the splitting of this unity, and the triumph of one opposing aspect over the other, thus transforming the basic nature of the original entity.
“The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts ... is the essence (one of the ‘essentials,’ one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter...
“The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics (e.g., in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples ... and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)....
“The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their ‘unity,’—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their ‘self-movement,’ in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the ‘struggle’ of opposites....
“The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.” —Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics” (1915), LCW 38:359-360.
“ONE PERCENT” or “THE ONE PERCENT”
A term introduced by the recent Occupy Movement in the U.S. to refer to the class of very rich people who run the country. It is, in short, a euphemism for the bourgeoisie. However, in the U.S. the level of class consciousness is so abysmally low that Marxist terminology (such as the bourgeoisie or even the capitalist class) is either not understood by most people, or else often sounds to their ears like “obsolete” or “politically suspicious” jargon! In this situation, the introduction of a new term for the bourgeoisie was in fact quite useful! Of course, it is up to us Marxists to further explicate rather vague terms such as “the one percent” and to get people to understand and get used to the terminology that has been developed in our revolutionary science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
See also: MILLIONAIRES
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK [Lenin]
Important 1904 political pamphlet by Lenin focusing on the appropriate organization and line of a revolutionary communist political party.
“This book is of key importance in establishing the principles of organization of the Communist Party. It was written in 1904 following the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party—the Congress at which the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks first showed itself.
“In order to understand this book and its background, the reader should consult the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Chapter II, Sections 3 and 4. At the 2nd Congress in 1903, two opposed groups became apparent in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, revolutionary and opportunist. After the adoption of the Party Programme there took place a dispute over the Party Rules. Lenin and his followers held that there should be three conditions for party membership:
(1) Acceptance of the programme.
(2) Payment of dues.
(3) Belonging to a party organization.
His opponents held that conditon (3) was not necessary.
“At the end of this Congress the followers of Lenin gained a majority on the Central Committee and on the Editorial Board of the party newspaper Iskra. They therefore became known as the Bolsheviks—from the Russian word meaning ‘Majority’—while the others were known as Mensheviks—from the Russian word for ‘Minority.’ But afterwards the Mensheviks managed to capture Iskra and began an attack on the party organization, which they declared was too ‘rigid.’ They wanted ‘liberty’ for individuals not to obey party decisions. The opportunists thus began their operations by an attack on the principles of party organization.
“Lenin recognized that this attempt to weaken the party organization was a prelude to imposing opportunist policies on the party concerning the major political issues. In One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, after analyzing the proceedings and the votes at the 2nd Congress, and demonstrating the existence of two wings—a revolutionary and an opportunist wing—Lenin shows the need for a disciplined centralized party of the working class.”
—Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics, prepared and edited by Maurice Cornforth, (London: 1953), p. 48.
“ONTOGENY RECAPITULATES PHYLOGENY”
[‘Ontogeny’ means “the development of an individual organism”; ‘phylogeny’ means “the evolutionary history of a certain kind of organism”.]
This idea, which the 19th century semi-materialist naturalist Ernst Haeckel called his “biogenetic law”, is basically that the embryological development of an individual creature is a recapituation of the stages of the historical evolution of that species. Thus early embryos of humans and other mammals have gills and a fish-like tail recalling their ancient fish ancestry. Modern biological science, however, considers the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny to be sort of a very crude and very limited partial truth.
“There is in fact a peculiar correspondence between the gradual development of organic germs into mature organisms and the succession of plants and animals following each other in the history of the earth.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring (1878), MECW 25:69.
“The same phenomenon is illustrated by the gill arches that still dominate the ontogeny of land-living vertebrates. It is obvious in all these cases that development is controlled by such a large number of interacting genes that the selection pressure to eliminate vestigial structures is less effective than the selection to maintain the efficiency of well established developmental pathways.” —Ernst Mayr, Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist (1988), p. 435.
ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT [For the Existence of God]
The (fallacious) argument that God must exist as a consequence of the very definition of the word ‘God’. Spelled out more completely:
God is, by definition, a totally perfect entity. An entity would be less than perfect if it did not exist. Therefore, God exists.
This silly argument was originated by “Saint” Anselm (1033-1109), Bishop of Canterbury and medieval Scholastic philosopher. Even most other theologians (including Thomas Aquinas) have recognized that this argument cannot be accepted as sound.
In Anselm’s own day it was pointed out that just because we can form the concept of a “perfect island” it does not follow that a perfect island really exists. No definition of anything can prove that that thing actually exists in the real world. You can define a “round-square” as a Euclidean two-dimensional geometrical figure which is both round (a circle) and at the same time a square, but no such thing can really exist. Moreover, the notion that any real thing can be “perfect” in every way is totally incoherent. Even if it makes any sense to say that something is “perfectly smooth” or “perfectly rough”, it cannot possibly be both at the same time. In other words, some forms of “perfection” preclude other forms. And there are many other conceptual and logical problems with each of the numerous versions of the ontological argument.
1. The branch of metaphysics (in the non-Marxist sense) which discusses the nature of existence or reality in the abstract, what sort of entities actually may be said to exist, and so forth.
2. [More narrowly, but still usually within the milieu of bourgeois philosophy:] The set of entities or substances which are said to exist. The dualist’s “ontology”, for example, includes not only matter but also—independent of matter—mind and possibly “spiritual substances” (such as “souls” or “gods”). The materialist’s “ontology” includes only matter and energy (or “matter in motion”), and mental phenomena are viewed as functional characterizations of certain highly complex material entities (e.g., brains) as they change and internally reorganize.
“OPEN AND ABOVE-BOARD”
“The case of Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih serves as an important lesson for our Party, and all the members should take warning and make sure that similar cases will not recur in the Party. Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih schemed and conspired, operated clandestinely in the Party and surreptitiously sowed dissention among comrades, but in public they put up a front to camouflage their activities. These were precisely the kind of vile activities the landlord class and the bourgeoisie usually resorted to in the past. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party Marx and Engels say, ‘The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims.’ As Communists, let alone as senior Party cadres, we must all be open and above-board politically, always ready to express our political views openly and take a stand, for or against, on each and every important political issue. We must never follow the example of Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih and resort to scheming.” —Mao, “Speeches at the National Conference of the Communist Party of China: Opening Speech” (March 21, 1955), SW 5:156.
OPEN DOOR POLICY
1. A policy (or goal) of early United States imperialism toward China, which sought to keep U.S. trade and general economic access to China and other areas open on an equal basis with other imperialist countries. In the late 19th century the major imperialist powers started grabbing more and more parts of the undeveloped world—especially in Africa—to be their own private colonies which they alone were allowed to exploit (or at least in which they had many special privileges). The United States, as a later-developing imperialist country, was very concerned that it was being frozen out of more and more regions. In 1899 the U.S. Secretary of State John Hay sent a diplomatic note, referred to as the “Open Door Note”, to the European powers proposing that China be kept open to trade with all other countries on an equal basis. In other words, all of them (including the U.S.) would be allowed to exploit China on equal terms. Thus no imperialist power should have any new special areas of influence or control in China which the other imperialist powers did not share, nor any unilateral agreements with or favors forced out of the Chinese government for that power’s exclusive benefit. The stated areas of concern were the development special tariff arrangements, the elimination or reduction of harbor dues and railroad charges for one power alone, and similar things. But the overall scope of the Open Door Policy went far beyond this.
As it turned out, U.S. imperialism at that time was largely unable to achieve their “Open Door” goal. There were numerous secret deals being forced on China by separate imperialist powers; existing forced arrangements, let alone existing territorial seizures (such as by Britain in Hong Kong and by Portugal in Macao) were not ended; and worst of all Japan totally flouted the “Open Door” principle beginning with its seizure of Manchuria in 1931, and its later massive invasion of China from 1937 until the end of World War II.
In history classes in the U.S. the “Open Door” policy is portrayed as being “opposed” to imperialism—because it was opposed to individual imperialist powers carving up China into colonies, and the like. Actually, this policy was more like an early indication of a new form of imperialism that the United States would later lead in establishing in the world following World War II. What the U.S. was already pushing, even in the 1890s was a new neocolonialist World Imperialist System.
2. Similar policies or goals by the U.S. or other imperialist powers at various times and places, when they thought they were being blocked by their imperialist competitors in exploiting some country or region of the world.
3. Occasionally the term “open door” is also used to refer to the policy adopted by the Chinese capitalist-roaders led by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to “open up” China to foreign investment.
OPERATION GREEN HUNT; and http://www.icawpi.org/ — The International Campaign Against the War on People in India (ICAWPI).
A large-scale anti-Maoist military campaign launched in the fall of 2009 by the Indian central government together with the paramilitary forces of several states in India, and expected to last for at least several years. The initial military operations began around Nov. 1, 2009, and much larger operations are expected in the first months of 2010. A major focus of OGH is in the Adivasi (tribal) areas in east-central India, where the Communist Party of India (Maoist) has made much progress in organizing and leading the people in mass struggles in resistance to the theft and despoilation of their land by giant mining companies and other Indian and transnational corporations. In effect, OGH is aimed as much at the Adivasi masses as it is at their Maoist leadership; it is in reality a war by the Indian government against its own people.
Many news articles about OGH, background articles, and statements of opposition to the campaign, can be found at the following websites: http://www.bannedthought.net/India/MilitaryCampaigns/ — BannedThought.net page on Military Assaults on Revolutionaries and People’s Movements in India
OPERATION SPLINTER FACTOR
A Cold War era intelligence operation of the Office of Policy Coordination of the U.S. State Department designed to sow unfounded suspicion, disunity and disruption, within the International Communist Movement and the Soviet Bloc, in particular. It had some considerable success in this effort, partly because of the excessive suspiciousness of people by Joseph Stalin.
The OPC, despite its bland name, was a secret “black ops” agency engaged in nefarious activities of the sort which later characterized the CIA. Starting around 1949, under the instigation of Allen Dulles, Frank Wisner and their associates, the OPC secretly led Soviet agents and other Communists in Europe to believe that some Communists or friends of the Soviet Union, were actually American spies. (Some of them had in fact met Allen Dulles, though they were by no means working for him.) Among the individuals who were “snitch-jacketed” in this way was Noel Field, a pacifist Quaker who was an antifascist and sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Field was then lured to Prague in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia with the offer of a teaching job. He was then secretly arrested by the authorities there and taken to a prison in Hungary and tortured. Meanwhile Noel Field’s disappearance alarmed his wife Herta and his brother Hermann, who went to Czechoslovakia to search for him. They too were arrested and tortured. Finally, a young German friend of the Field family, Erica Wallach, who had been rescued by them during World War II and sort of adopted into their family, also went to search for the Fields, and after asking for information from the political authorities in East Berlin she too was arrested, harshly interrogated, and sent off for five years to first Berlin’s Schumannstrasse Prison and then to the Vorkuta prison labor complex in the Soviet Arctic wastelands. It was only after Stalin’s death that these people were freed, and apologies given to them. Many other people were victimized in similar ways, and the disruption to the world revolutionary movement was quite serious.
“Operation Splinter Factor succeeded beyond the OPC’s wildest dreams. Stalin became convinced that the Fields were at the center of a wide-ranging operation to infiltrate anti-Soviet elements into leadership positions throughout the Eastern bloc. The Dulles-Wisner plot aggravated the Soviet premier’s already rampant paranoia, resulting in an epic reign of terror that, before it finally ran its course, would destroy the lives of untold numbers of people. Hundreds of thousands throughout Eastern Europe were arrested; many were tortured and executed. In Czechoslovakia, where nearly 170,000 Communist Party members were seized as suspects in the make-believe Field plot, the political crisis grew so severe that the economy nearly collapsed.” —David Talbot, Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (2015), p. 155. [Talbot is an anti-communist liberal, and it is possible that he is exaggerating things here, at least with regard to the role of the Field family specifically in all this. Nevertheless the story he tells in chapter 7 of this book is hair-raising indeed. —S.H.]
See: AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS — Public Support For, CONGRESS (U.S.)
Two imperialist wars of British imperialism against China during the 19th century which (among other crimes) forced China to allow British traders to import opium into China and sell it there. The first Opium War was in 1839-1842 and the second in 1856-1858.
A good short introduction to this sordid imperialist history is the article “The Opium War”, by C. Clark Kissinger, in the Revolutionary Worker, #734, (Dec. 5, 1993), page 11, available online at: http://www.bannedthought.net/USA/RCP/RW/1993/RW734-English.pdf, and an excellent more extensive history is the book The Opium War, History of China Series, (Peking: FLP, 1976), 149 pages, online at: http://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/History/TheOpiumWar-FLP-1976.pdf [PDF format: 6,768 KB]
“The collective white man had acted like a devil in virtually every contact he had with the world’s collective non-white man. The blood forebearers of this same white man raped China at a time when China was trusting and helpless. Those original white ‘Christian traders’ sent into China millions of pounds of opium. By 1839 so many of the Chinese were addicts that China’s desperate government destroyed 20,000 chests of opium. The first Opium War was promptly declared by the white man. Imagine! Declare war upon someone who objects to being narcotized!” —Malcolm X, quoted in C. Clark Kissinger, “The Opium War”, op. cit. [This comment by Malcolm X brings out the racist aspect of this outrageous imperialist crime. —Ed.]
OPPORTUNISM [Marxist-Leninist senses]
1. The political line and activity of an individual, group of people, or a political party who, though claiming that they are revolutionaries working to overthrow capitalism, in reality only work for some of the short-term interests of the proletariat in achieving reforms. In other words, in its most common usage, opportunism pretty much means the same thing as reformism.
2. A type of revisionism within MLM parties, whose essence is well summed up by Lenin in the following two quotations:
“The opportunist does not betray his party, he does not act as a traitor, he does not desert it. He continues to serve it sincerely and zealously. But his typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, he is politically short-sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to the momentary, transient and minor interests.” —V. I. Lenin, “The Russian Radical is Wise After the Event” (Oct. 18, 1906), LCW 11:239.
“Opportunism does not extend recognition of the class struggle to the cardinal point, to the period of transition from capitalism to communism, of the overthrow and the complete abolition of the bourgeoisie.” —V. I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution” (Aug.-Sept. 1917), chapter II, section 3; LCW 25:412.
See also: LENIN—On Opportunism and its Roots in the Labor Movement
OPPOSITES — Unity Of
See: UNITY OF OPPOSITES
OPTION (Capitalist Finance)
A security (or transferable contract) allowing (but not obligating) the holder to buy or sell something (such as uniform bulk commodities, currencies, or other securities, most commonly shares of stock) at a future time and at a pre-agreed price. In the U.S. options can be exercised at any time up until a specified date, whereas the European type of options can only be exercized on the specified date itself. A “put”, or “put option”, gives the holder the right to sell the share (or other thing) at the pre-agreed price, while a “call”, or “call option”, gives the holder the right to buy at the pre-agreed price.
Bourgeois economists try to justify the existence of options and options trading by pointing out that they allow the possibility of a type of insurance for companies that must hold real assets at the present time (and want to insure against their loss of value over time), or for companies which must buy assets later (e.g., a manufacturing company that must buy steel six months from now and does not want to be surprized by a huge increase in the price of steel at that time). It is true that the judicious use of options can have this result. However, the great preponderance of the buying and selling of options is not done for insurance purposes, but simply as a form of speculation. Options exist primarily to facilitate speculation and gambling. And this serves to further destabilize the already inherently unstable capitalist financial system.
Options are just one of the many types of derivatives, or ways of gambling about future stock prices, commodity prices, currency exchange rates, etc., that financial capitalists have created, and that go to make up today’s “casino economy”.
See also: WARRANT
The implantation of a bodily organ from a deceased individual into a live person who needs a replacement for a damaged or malfunctioning organ. The need for replacement organs is considerably higher than their availability. (In part this is because many individuals in bourgeois society are not brought up with much concern for others and have not signed cards indicating that their organs are available for transplants if they should die.) As of the fall of 2015, more than 122,000 Americans are on lists waiting for the availability of a replacement organ, including more than 100,000 who need kidneys. But during the first half of 2015 only 18,000 organ transplants occurred in the U.S.
A pretense is often made in capitalist society that scarce and life-preserving organ transplants are allotted on the basis of need, and according to who has been waiting the longest on the lists of needy individuals. In reality, the system has been set up so that the rich can jump ahead of others and unfairly receive a transplant while others who were ahead of them on the lists die. To the ruling bourgeoisie in class society it seems only “right” that those with money should live, while those without it should die. Money, for them, is the primary measure of a person’s worth.
“You can’t buy hearts, kidneys or other organs but money can still help you get one. Wealthy people are more likely to get on multiple waiting lists and score a transplant, and less likely to die while waiting for one, a new study finds.
“The work confirms what many have long suspected—the rich have advantages even in a system [supposedly!] designed to steer organs to the sickest patients and those who have waited longest. Wealthier people can better afford the tests and travel to get on more than one transplant center’s waiting list, and the new study shows how much this pays off.
“‘Multiple-listed patients were more likely to get transplanted and less likely to die,’ said Dr. Raymond Givens at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.... He led the study and gave results Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Orlando....
“Patients on multiple lists often must pay for a new set of tests, which can range from $23,000 for a kidney to $51,000 for a heart, one study estimated, plus be able to get local housing or travel on short notice if an organ becomes available....
“Steve Jobs was the classic example [of someone using their wealth to jump ahead of others to get a transplant]. The former Apple chief was on a transplant list in Tennessee and received a new liver at a hospital there in 2009 even though he lived in California.”
—Associated Press news report, “Study finds the rich are more likely to get organ transplants”, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 10, 2015, p. A-12.
ORGANIC COMPOSITION OF CAPITAL
The ratio between constant capital and variable capital, or C/V, which is employed in the capitalist production process. Constant capital is the sum total of the value of the means of production (i.e., the factories, machines, raw materials, fuel, electrical power and other necessary products used up in the production process, and so forth). Variable capital is the value of the human labor-power purchased (by hiring workers) and employed by the capitalists in the production process.
There are therefore many different factors which can affect the ratio C/V. If more machinery is purchased, and some of the workers are laid off, the organic composition of capital will increase. If the workers’ wages rise, or if their work day is shortened and additional workers must then be hired, the organic composition of capital will decrease.
On this standard Marxist definition of the organic composition of capital, over time and as more complex and expensive machinery is introduced and fewer workers are needed to produce a given amount of goods, the general trend is for C/V to rise. In Vol. III of Capital Marx makes the argument that this increasing organic composition of capital will lead to a tendency for capitalist profits to fall over time, and this is presented as one of three different theories in Capital to explain how capitalist overproduction crises develop. This particular crisis theory, however, is now disputed by many Marxists (including me! —S.H.).
There is, however, another conceptual problem with the concept of the organic composition of capital as Marx put it forward. If, as a few of us Marxists maintain (but not Marx himself!), the use of machinery in effect allows the re-use of past human labor-power (which went into the production of the machinery), then there should also be some contribution to variable capital from the use of those machines as well as some contribution to constant capital (to account for the maintenance and gradual wearing out of the machine). Moreover, the total variable capital employed in the production process would then include not only the additional contribution via the machinery but also the current contribution (from the labor-power of the current workers). Thus the calculation of both C and V become more complex, and at the same time V increases (perhaps considerably). Under this revised conception of the organic composition of capital, it is no longer obvious that the ratio C/V really does increase over time! It may well be that it decreases over time! The crisis theory that depends on the long-term increase of the organic composition of capital is therefore also even more called into question. [More discussion of this whole topic will be presented under the general heading of the Labor Theory of Value.]
See also: REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION
“In its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon but organization. Disunited by the rule of anarchic competition in the bourgeois world, ground down by forced labor for capital, constantly thrust back to the ‘lower depths’ of utter destitution, savagery, and degeneration, the proletariat can, and inevitably will, become an invincible force only through its ideological unification on the principles of Marxism being reinforced by the material unity of organization, which welds millions of toilers into an army of the working class.” —Lenin, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” (May 1904), LCW 7:415.
ORGANIZATION FOR ECONOMIC COOPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT (OECD)
An international organization of about 34 industrialized capitalist countries that coordinate policy to maximize the economic growth of its members. The OECD is especially known for its work in gathering and publishing statistics related to economic and social issues. Its web site is at: http://www.oecd.org
ORGANIZATIONS — Political
“The character of any organization is naturally and inevitably determined by the content of its activity.” —Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?” (1902), LCW 5:440.
“Revolutionary organizational forms should serve the needs of revolutionary struggle. When an organizational form no longer conforms to the needs of the struggle, it should be abolished.” —Mao, quoted in “Build Revolutionary Great Alliance on the Basis of Fields of Work in Accordance with Chairman Mao’s Instructions”, Renmin Ribao editorial, Oct. 19, 1967. In English: Peking Review, vol. 10, #44, Oct. 27, 1967, p. 8.
A revisionist theory about capitalist economics which claims that in the modern monopoly era capitalism either already has become, or else will soon become, so “organized” that economic crises will no longer develop. An early version of this theory was put forward around 1900 by the revisionist pioneer Eduard Bernstein, who argued that a long series of reforms by the capitalist state, together with the regulation of production by private associations of capitalist companies, would lead to a decline in the severity of crises and their eventual complete elimination. Bernstein, of course, also opposed any form of the “breakdown theory” (that crises might eventually become so bad that the capitalist system would collapse).
In an article in 1915, Rudolf Hilferding put forward a more elaborate version of the “organized capitalism” thesis, but one just as erroneous. He had already hinted at this notion in his famous book Finance Capital. Basing himself on his research into the development of trusts, cartels and finance capitalism, Hilferding claimed that the capitalists could now both regulate production and also regulate profits. Since he believed that crises came about because of the falling rate of profit—voilà!—there would no longer be any capitalist economic crises!
This is a great example of how an incorrect theory of crises can really totally mislead you. Bernstein’s theory of “organized capitalism” was also based on an incorrect crisis theory, but in his case it was the “anarchy theory” (i.e., that crises are due to the anarchy of “many capitals”). Since monopoly capitalism, and the advent of trusts and cartels, was presumed to end most of this anarchy, there should no longer be any economic crises.
What neither Bernstein nor Hilferding understood is that capitalist economic crises actually derive simply from the very extraction of surplus value from the workers in the first place, and are thus inherent in capitalism. In short, the workers are not paid enough to buy back all they produce. Things can be kept going for a while by using the surplus to build more factories (even if unneeded); by loaning the workers money to buy the things they otherwise cannot afford; and by having the government run deficits to purchase the “excess production”. But ultimately all that must of necessity collapse, which brings on an inevitable economic crisis. Thus a correct understanding of capitalist crisis theory shows that there cannot possibly be any such thing as crisis-free “organized capitalism”.
We should also mention that Kautsky’s theory of “ultra-imperialism” (under which the entire world market is under unified capitalist control, which supposedly precludes inter-imperialist wars), is sort of a extension to this “organized capitalism” nonsense and a related revisionist fantasy.
See: CENTRAL ORGANIZING THEORY
ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE, The [Book by Engels]
[Intro to be added...]
“I hope that in studying this question of the state you will acquaint yourselves with Engels’s book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. This is one of the fundamental works of modern socialism, every sentence of which can be accepted with confidence, in the assurance that it has not been said at random but is based on immense historical and political material. Undoubtedly, not all the parts of this work have been expounded in an equally popular and comprehensible way; some of them presume a reader who already possesses a certain knowledge of history and economics. But I again repeat that you should not be perturbed if on reading this work you do not understand it at once. Very few people do. But returning to it later, when your interest has been aroused, you will succeed in understanding the greater part, if not the whole of it. I refer to this book because it gives the correct approach to the question in the sense mentioned. It begins with a historical sketch of the origin of the state.” —Lenin, “The State: A Lecture Delivered at the Sverdlov University” (July 11, 1919), LCW 29:473, online at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/jul/11.htm
ORIGINATE-TO-DISTRIBUTE vs. ORIGINATE-TO-HOLD [Capitalist Finance]
An originate-to-distribute loan is one that a bank or other financial institution makes with the intention to sell that loan (i.e., the right to receive interest on it and the eventual return of the principal) to a third party. An originate-to-hold loan is one that the bank or originating institution plans to hold onto itself (and thus itself receive interest on it and the eventual repayment of the principal).
Allowing banks to originate-to-distribute loans is a sure-fire way of guaranteeing that the issuing bank will not even really care if the loan is ever repaid or not, since that will then be “someone else’s problem”. This leads to wild recklessness in the granting of loans to people with little ability to repay them. This practice was one of the factors that served to greatly amplify and worsen the financial crisis that developed in 2008-2009. And it has not been ended even afterwards!
“The OTHER REPUBLICANS”
See: DEMOCRATIC PARTY (U.S.)
[To be added...]
See also: SYKES-PICOT CARVE-UP
A “left” sectarian faction among the Bolsheviks that developed after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution. Its founder was Alexander Bogdanov and it also included Pokrovsky, Lunacharsky, Bubnov and others.
“Otzovism (from the Russian word otozvat—to recall)—an opportunist trend represented by a small section of the Bolsheviks which arose after the defeat of the 1905-07 Revolution.
“The otzovists demanded the recall of the Social-Democratic deputies from the State Duma, and the rejection of work in the trade unions and other mass legal and semi-legal organizations. Under cover of ‘revolutionary’ phrases, the otzovists would actually have deprived the Party of the possibility of employing legal methods of struggle, isolated it from the workers and placed it in danger of attacks by the reactionary forces. Lenin sharply criticized the otzovists and called them ‘liquidators of a new type’ and ‘Mensheviks turned inside-out’.” —Footnote 7, LCW 17.
“... In 1908 the otzovists formed a special group and opposed Lenin. They refused flatly to participate in the Duma, and in trade unions, co-operatives and other mass legal and semi-legal organizations; they tried to confine themselves exclusively to the underground organization, cut the Party off from the masses of non-party people and leave the Party face to face with reaction....
“A variety of otzovism was ultimatumism; its champions differed from the otzovists in form alone. They proposed first submitting an ultimatum to the Social-Democratic Duma group and to recall it in the event of the ultimatum not being fulfilled.
“The ultimatumists were actually covert otzovists, or, as Lenin called them, ‘shamefaced otzovists’.
“In the spring of 1909 the otzovists, ultimatumists and god-builders set up an initiative group to organize an anti-Party school on the island of Capri (Bogdanov, Alexinsky, Lunacharsky and others). This group was, in fact, the center of the anti-Party faction consisting of the above-named groups.
“The meeting of the enlarged editorial board of Proletary was held in June 1909; it passed a decision to the effect that ‘Bolshevism, as a definite trend in the R.S.D.L.P., has nothing in common with otzovism and ultimatumism’ and called upon Bolsheviks to struggle against these deviations from revolutionary Marxism. Bogdanov (Maximov), the founder of otzovism, was expelled from the Bolshevik Party.” —Footnote 269, Lenin SW I (1967).
The word ‘ought’ is a “verbal auxiliary”, which is used to add the element of obligation to the meaning of the verbal phrase (and hence the utterance as a whole). In the context of morality, it is the additional meaning of moral obligation which is added. Thus, in morals, ‘ought’ means “was (were) or am (is, are) under moral obligation (to do, be, have ... something).”
See also: DUTY
OUGHT FROM IS
The “ought-from-is” question, originated by David Hume, is a major issue in bourgeois academic discussions of ethics, where it is very often claimed by these foolish professors that you “cannot” deduce statements about what you ought to do from factual statements about what is the case. However, to anybody with any common sense, the statement that “a car is coming” is quite sufficient for you to deduce that “you ought not to step off the curb in front of it”. The reason is simply that the discussion of what you ought or ought not to do always tacitly assumes that somebody’s interests or welfare is at issue. Bourgeois professors, with their great erudition, seem unable to understand this very basic fact!
But there is a deep reason behind all such bourgeois attempts to obfuscate morality; namely, when a tiny ruling class has to try to use moral arguments (along with violent force) to keep the working class from rebelling, the very last thing they want to have happen is for the masses to connect up what is right and wrong with what is in their common, collective interests!
See also: “NATURALISTIC FALLACY”
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason shou’d be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.” —David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by David Fate Norton & Mary J. Norton, (Oxford University Press, 2000), 18.104.22.168.
[The simple answer to Hume’s puzzlement—which has been absolutized by many of his bourgeois successors into the claim that you cannot deduce “ought from is”—is that the subject of morality is actually concerned with what is in the interests of groups of people, and therefore there is always this tacit assumed premise in every discussion of morality: You ought to do that which is in the interests of the people (or, in class society, you ought to do that which is in the interests of the people of the same social class as the speaker). Given that there is this tacit additional premise, there should be no surprise whatsoever that ought statements are deduced from is statements in the discussion of moral issues. Thus, for example, “This government represents the interests of the rich capitalists and therefore ought to be overthrown,” makes perfect logical sense to a revolutionary proletarian, while the same fact leading to the opposite conclusion, “that therefore this government ought to be supported” makes perfect logical sense to the bourgeoisie! The explanation is that each of them has a somewhat different tacit assumption, as to whose class interests are to be favored. —S.H.]
“OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCES”
People sometimes report that they have had what they term an “out of body experience”, in which they supposedly see their own body from a location several feet away from themselves. Are these people lying or making this up? Or do they actually have such an inner experience? And if they really do have such an experience, how can such a thing be explained? What is going on here?! Interestingly enough, neuroscience has now determined what is actually happening in these cases, and provides us with a materialist explanation:
“[T]he Swiss neurologist Olaf Blanke [did a] beautiful series of experiments on out-of-body experiences. Surgery patients occasionally report leaving their bodies during anesthesia. They describe an irrepressible feeling of hovering at the ceiling and even looking down at their inert body from up there. Should we take them seriously? Does out-of-body flight ‘really’ happen?
“In order to verify the patients’ reports, some pseudoscientists hid drawings of objects atop closets, where only a flying patient could see them. This approach is ridiculous, of course. The correct stance is to ask how this subjective experience could arise from a brain dysfunction. What kind of brain representation, Blanke asked, underlies our adoption of a specific point of view on the external world? How does the brain assess the body’s location? After investigating many neurological and surgery patients, Blanke discovered that a cortical region on the right temporoparietal junction, when impaired or electrically perturbed, repeatedly caused a sensation of out-of-body transportation. This region is situated in a high-level zone where multiple signals converge: those arising from vision; from the somatosensory and kinesthetic systems (our brain’s map of bodily touch, muscular, and action signals); and from the vestibular system (the biological inertial platform, located in our inner ear, which monitors our head movements). By piecing together these various clues, the brain generates an integrated representation of the body’s location relative to the environment. However, this process can go awry if the signals disagree or become ambiguous as a result of brain damage. Out-of-body flight ‘really’ happens, then—it is a real physical event, but only in the patient’s brain and, as a result, in his subjective experience. The out-of-body state is, by and large, an exacerbated form of the dizziness that we all experience when our vision disagrees with our vestibular system, as on a rocking boat.
“Blanke went on to show that any human can leave her body: he created just the right amount of stimulation, via synchronized but delocalized visual and touch signals, to elicit an out-of-body experience in the normal brain. Using a clever robot, he even managed to re-create the illusion in a magnetic resonance imager. And while the scanned person experienced the illusion, her brain lit up in the temporoparietal junction—very close to where the patient’s lesions were located.
“We still do not know exactly how this region works to generate a feeling of self-location. Still, the amazing story of how the out-of-body state moved from parapsychological curiosity to mainstream neuroscience gives a message of hope. Even outlandish subjective phenomena can be traced back to their neural origins.”
—Stanislas Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain (2014), pp. 44-45. [The original experiments are reported in the paper by O. Blanke, T. Landis, L. Spinelli and M. Seeck, “Out-of-Body Experience and Autoscopy of Neurological Origin”, Brain 127 (Pt. 2), 2004, pp. 243-58.]
The more general conclusion which we materialists draw from cases such as this is that it is by no means correct to deny that people are having some sort of inner experience when they report “out-of-body” flights, or “Nirvana” or “the experience of God”. Yes, of course people are experiencing something internally; they are just misinterpreting and mis-reporting what is going on within their brains and minds. Their “soul” is not “really” floating outside their body and looking down at it, and they are not “really” in contact with “God” or “at one with the Universe”. These are merely the ideological expressions and ridiculous idealized interpretations of their own internal subjective experiences.
“OUTPUT GAP” [Bourgeois economics]
The difference between the actual output of an economy during a certain period (i.e., its GDP) and its “potential output”, or what supposedly “could have been”! Bourgeois economists believe that normally and “properly”, all existing capital and technology should always be fully utilized, and when this occurs the economy is producing up to its full “potential”. They also try to make reality fit their theory in this regard by estimating this full-use of capital potential output vastly lower than it really would be. Even so, they are often forced by circumstances to recognize that, despite what their own economic theory says, actual output is not reaching this “potential”. And this worrisome difference they call the “output gap”.
See also: CAPACITY UTILIZATION
The practice by corporations of sub-contracting work (manufacturing work, service work, etc.) to other companies and especially foreign or non-union companies which pay lower wages and offer fewer benefits to their workers. It is one of many very common ways today in which the capitalists are intensifying the degree of exploitation of the international working class.
The aspect of the more general economic category of overproduction in which the excess production is not in consumer goods but rather in producer goods (the means of production, i.e. factories and machinery, etc.). Overaccumulation is sometimes called “over-investment”, especially by bourgeois commentators (though they falsely assume that such a thing must generally be unusual).
Many writers on Marxist political economy (but not Marx himself!) have tried to belittle the notion of overproduction as the central cause of capitalist economic crises and some of them have put forward the term overaccumulation instead. This does have the virtue of emphasizing the most important way in which overproduction occurs, and the way in which it is hidden during the boom period of the business cycle (through the building of excessive numbers of factories as far as the reliable and long-term market demand for consumer goods is concerned). However, as Marx pointed out, producer goods are also commodities; factories and machinery are generally built by one capitalist company and sold to another, and can be re-sold later. So the name which Marx chose for the overall process, and the basic cause of capitalist economic crises, namely overproduction, makes perfectly good sense.
Still, the term overaccumulation is a very useful one in further explicating the nature of capitalist crises.
[Speaking of bourgeois economists such as Ricardo and those following him:] “The over-production of commodities is denied but the over-production of capital is admitted. Capital itself however consists of commodities or, in so far as it consists of money, it must be reconverted into commodities of one kind or another, in order to be able to function as capital. What then does over-production of capital mean? Over-production of value destined to produce surplus-value or, if one considers the material content, over-production of commodities destined for reproduction—that is, reproduction on too large a scale, which is the same as over-production pure and simple.” —Marx, TSV 2:533.
“It is thus in the nature of capitalist production, to produce without regard to the limits of the market.” —Marx, TSV 2:522.
“The market expands more slowly than production; or in the cycle through which capital passes during its reproduction—a cycle in which it is not simply reproduced but reproduced on an extended scale, in which it describes not a circle but a spiral—there comes a moment at which the market manifests itself as too narrow for production. This occurs at the end of the cycle. But it merely means: the market is glutted. Over-production is manifest. If the expansion of the market had kept pace with the expansion of production there would be no glut of the market, no over-production.” —Marx, TSV 2:524.
1. A term in Freud’s pseudo-scientific psychoanalytic theory which he used to describe what he took to be the multiple different determinations of specific dreams, and therefore (for him) the appropriateness of multiple different interpretations of dreams.
2. A term used by the French academic “Marxist”, Louis Althusser, to characterize the supposed multiple independent causes of specific historical events, which he contraposed to the Hegelian conception that each historical development is due to the working out of one or another fundamental dialectical contradiction. (Of course contradictions generally resolve themselves through subsidiary and secondary contradictions, but the dialectical conception is still that there is one fundamental or primary contradiction that is the basic explanation for that development.) Althusser’s conception of “overdeterminism” is therefore consciously opposed to dialectical materialism.
3. The more general philosophical notion that things, events, developments or circumstances typically do not have a single central cause but rather are the result of various diverse combinations of multiple different (and more or less unrelated) causes. This is a way of arguing against the view that things and events have definite specific causes, and is thus a deeply anti-determinist and anti-materialist point of view. Notions such as this are often put forward by those who themselves do not understand the actual cause of some development, and therefore jump to the conclusion that there is no such definite cause! Overdeterminist theories are especially apt to be found in those who have been influenced by Freud and/or Althusser, such as in the case of the American syndicalist economist Richard Wolff and his claim that economic developments (such as crises) are “overdetermined”.
OVERHANG [Political Economy]
1. A short-hand reference to accumulated debt or other economic backlog which creates problems for the current economy.
2. A term sometimes used in Marxist political economy to refer to the overaccumulation of productive capital.
Production which exceeds effective market demand. That is, the production of commodities (goods produced for sale) which cannot be sold because there is no market for them. Overproduction is also called a “glut”.
However, it is important to recognize that the greatest part of the overproduction of commodities in a capitalist system of production inevitably consists of the overproduction of the means of production, that is, of the factories and machinery which produce the commodities intended to be sold to ordinary consumers. This aspect of overproduction is also called overaccumulation. (Factories and machinery are themselves commodities which can be sold, but conceptually there is often an important difference between producer commodities and consumer commodities.)
During the boom phase of the modern business cycle consumer credit is relatively easy to obtain and the market for consumer goods is healthy. This leads the capitalist companies to expand production, build new factories, buy more machinery and hire more workers. As time goes on it becomes apparent that excessive credit has been granted to the workers and other consumers, and credit availability starts to tighten. Government debt, which has also been used to purchase many commodities from the capitalist corporations also grows excessive. Inevitably a financial crisis eventually breaks out, credit suddenly really dries up, markets collapse, workers are laid off, and a more general economic crisis develops. At this point the overproduction of consumer commodities (relative to the market demand) is obvious. But if the crisis is severe enough, factories also begin to close, some to be sold at huge losses, or even to be dismantled entirely. In this situation the sudden glut of consumer goods is the least of the problems for the capitalists. A previously hidden and much bigger and far more serious problem is finally exposed: the overproduction of the means of production, or in other words the overaccumulation of productive capital itself!
See also the sub-topics below.
“He [Ricardo] cannot therefore admit that the bourgeois mode of production contains within itself a barrier to the free development of the productive forces, a barrier which comes to the surface in crises and, in particular, in over-production—the basic phenomenon in crises.” —Marx, TSV 2:528.
[Ricardo, from his On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation (1817):] “...the very meaning of an increased demand by them [the laborers] is a disposition to take less themselves, and leave a larger share for their employers; and if it be said that this, by diminishing consumption, increases glut, I can only answer, that glut ... is synonymous with high profits...”
[Marx, after quoting the above passage, says:] “This is indeed the secret basis of glut.” [TSV 3:121.]
OVERPRODUCTION — As Relative Only To Effective Demand
As long as human beings need products and services which are not available to them there is obviously not any overproduction in relation to what people need. However, in the political economy of capitalism what we are talking about with the term overproduction is the overproduction of commodities for sale when there is nobody left who wants and needs them and who also has the money to buy them. This is what is known as effective demand.
“The word over-production in itself leads to error. So long as the most urgent needs of a large part of society are not satisfied, or only the most immediate needs are satisfied, there can of course be absolutely no talk of an over-production of products—in the sense that the amount of products is excessive in relation to the need for them. On the contrary, it must be said that on the basis of capitalist production, there is constant under-production in this sense. The limits to production are set by the profit of the capitalist and in no way by the needs of the producers. But over-production of products and over-production of commodities are two entirely different things.” —Marx, TSV 2:527.
Recurring crises within the capitalist mode of production caused by both the overproduction of consumer commodities, as well as—far more importantly—by the overproduction of productive capital itself (i.e., the producer commodities, or means of production) used to produce the excess consumer commodities. Overproduction is inherent in capitalist production and consequently so are overproduction crises. Overproduction is inherent in capitalism because the capitalists do not, and cannot, pay their workers enough to buy back all the commodities that they produce. (For an elaboration of this see the entry Overproduction Crises — Causes Of below.)
As capitalism develops, and as its productive power becomes ever greater, the potential is created for overproduction crises to get more and more serious. To some degree this has been mitigated by the ever more determined intervention into the workings of the economy by the capitalist state. (This amounts to the partial merger of the state with the private economy.) The economic managers of the capitalist state have found the means to prevent most recessions from continuing to develop and become full scale depressions, primarily through: 1) lowering interest rates (which makes borrowing easier); 2) tax cuts (which put more money into the hands of the capitalists and the petty-bourgeoisie, and even sometimes some limited amounts into the hands of workers!); 3) promoting increased consumer credit (such as by guaranteeing consumer mortgage payments to the banks); and 4) massively expanding Keynesian deficit financing. All of these methods amount to ways of expanding either consumer or government debt, and therefore all have limits which they eventually come up against. Although the recent quite serious Great Recession, did not develop into a full-fledged new depression, it came very close to doing so. The ability of the government to “short-circuit” the development of overproduction crises in this way diminishes over time, and in one of the next few recessions (perhaps even the very next one) they will no longer be able to prevent things from developing into a more-or-less intractable depression, worse even than that of the 1930s (because the means of moderating the depression will have already mostly been used up in further postponing it). (See: split-cycle theory.)
Will a new intractable depression which eventually develops out of the current long-developing extremely serious overproduction crisis lead to the final collapse of capitalism? This is indeed a real possibility, though it will also require a mass revolutionary movement to develop and mature. (See: breakdown theory)
See also the essay “An Introductory Explanation of Capitalist Economic Crises” (2008), by Scott Harrison, at http://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/crises/index.htm , the sub-topics below, and: CRISIS THEORIES, ECONOMIC CYCLES
OVERPRODUCTION CRISES — As “Self-Correcting”
Throughout its history capitalism has suffered many overproduction crises, but—so far!—these crises have also been followed by recoveries and new booms, only to give way eventually to new crises. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels state that such crises are resolved “On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.” This means that only if these methods can continue to be used will each new crisis be capable of resolution. Some people have assumed that these resolution methods are automatic and that they can always continue to be used. Thus Trotsky, for example, said that:
“Capitalism does live by crises and booms, just as a human being lives by inhaling and exhaling. First there is a boom in industry, then a stoppage, next a crisis, followed by a stoppage in the crisis, then an improvement, another boom, another stoppage, and so on.... So long as capitalism is not overthrown by proletarian revolution, it will continue to live in cycles, swinging up and down.” —Leon Trotsky, “The world economic crisis and the new tasks of the Communist International,” from The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume I (London: New Park, 1973), p. 252.
This seems to imply that the recovery and regeneration is as automatic and guaranteed as is the advent of another crisis. However, the expansion of capitalism to new markets is something that obviously cannot continue indefinitely since the world is finite. And indeed there are very few (and only very tiny) places left in the world where capitalism has not already penetrated and come to dominate the economy. Thus the only method left to resolve overproduction crises these days is through the destruction of capital. However, here too there are getting to be greater and greater difficulties.
In the imperialist era the overproduction of capital between crises has reached far beyond the levels of the 19th century. The Great Depression of the 1930s lasted more than a decade in most capitalist countries, and it took a world war to carry out the destruction of excess capital to the degree necessary to clear the ground for a new capitalist boom. The expansion of excess capital since World War II has been even more colossal, and the difficulties for world capitalism in destroying that enormous excess (as far as its system of production is concerned) are all the greater. Once again it seems that only a new world war, even more unprecedentedly destructive, will be capable of accomplishing the job!
Thus it now appears that the crisis phase of a major overproduction crisis in the capitalist-imperialist era is no longer self-correcting. Moreover, if a new world war happened today it would almost certainly involve nuclear weapons on a huge scale and would most likely wipe out humanity along with capitalism and its long series of economic crises. The coming new depression will last indefinitely (though with secondary ups and downs), will not automatically resolve itself, and will only end when one of two things happens: either humanity gets rid of capitalism, or capitalism gets rid of humanity.
“Permanent crises do not exist.” —Marx, in a footnote focusing on an error made by Adam Smith with regard to a supposedly permanent effect in the fall of the rate of profit due to the over-abundance of capital, TSV 2:497.
[There are two things to say about this general statement that “permanent crises do not exist”. First, the nature of capitalist overproduction crises has changed quite a lot since Marx was writing in the 19th century, and in particular they have become much more serious in those cases where they cannot be prevented from developing into major depressions. Marx and Engels themselves noted in the Communist Manifesto that the means then available to resolve these crises only paved the way “for more extensive and more destructive crises” and diminished “the means whereby crises are prevented”. In fact, things have now essentially reached the point where such a depression becomes intractable; that is, there is no way out within the constraints of the continuing existence of the capitalist system. But, on the other hand, this does not really amount to a “permanent” crisis though it might well be quite prolonged; eventually something still has to give, even if it is the capitalist mode of production itself. —S.H.]
OVERPRODUCTION CRISES — Causes Of
In talking about the causes of overproduction crises we have to consider several levels of contradictions, from the deepest and most basic level to some which are secondary or tertiary, i.e., at more surface levels. The reason for this is that there are some methods which can postpone or temporarily prevent full scale overproduction crises from breaking out, and reasons (causes) also for the eventual failure of these temporary props in an economic system inherently prone to overproduction. While it is indeed important to understand why these props fail in the end, it is even more important to understand why such props are necessary in the first place! This is why the emphasis in talking about the causes of crises must be placed on the deepest and more basic reason for them.
The deepest, most basic, most central, cause of overproduction crises is the Fundamental Contradiction of Capitalism between the social character of production and private appropriation. However, that statement is quite abstract; what does it actually mean? It means that while workers come together in factories to create products, those products then do not belong to the workers who make them but rather to the capitalists who own the factory and the machinery. But why should this cause overproduction crises? This occurs because the capitalists, in order to realize their profits, must sell those products (which now have become commodities) to other people. But to whom? The capitalists extract much more value (surplus value) in the form of saleable commodities from the workers than they pay them in wages, so the workers cannot possibly buy back all that they produce from the capitalists. Even less possible is it for the unemployed and non-working poor to be a position to buy the remaining commodities produced. As Marx put it, all the production of the capitalist enterprises cannot be sold “because of the poverty and forced restrictions on the consuming power of the masses.” [Capital, III, Ch. XXX, International ed. (1967), p. 484.] This is a direct consequence of the Fundamental Contradiction, and is only a more concrete way of expressing that contradiction.
Of course the capitalists also take many of the commodities produced for themselves, often in the form of wildly extravagant luxuries. And some production is done for the purpose of selling to other capitalists for their personal use. But capitalist production in the modern world is so powerful that the capitalists still have an ever-larger accumulation of surplus value way beyond what they can personally consume even in the way of expensive mansions and yachts. What can they do with it all? There is only one thing: Build more factories, buy more machines and hire more workers to expand their production. This is what they are already powerfully inclined to do anyway, since doing so is the source of their wealth, and capitalists always want to further expand their wealth for reasons of power and prestige if not because they need any more personal luxuries.
But if the existing level of production already produces commodities way beyond the level of the unaided consumer market to buy, how will further expanding production by building more factories help? It won’t, of course; it will only make matters worse in the long run, with an even greater accumulation of surplus value. But in the meanwhile it will give the capitalists something to do with the largest part of the wealth created by their workers which the capitalists have ripped off.
We come now to the next major level of the contradictions of capitalist overproduction, namely the absolute need for the capitalists to find some artificial ways to expand the market for their ever-increasing overproduction. There is really only one such general way to do this: by creating and continually expanding credit and debt so that the workers and other consumers will be able to purchase the excessive production of commodities which they otherwise cannot afford to buy.
Some consumer credit is issued by individual manufacturing corporations. But the more usual method is for banks, or financial divisions of some giant corporations which function like banks, to issue the credit. These “financial institutions” issue home mortgages, car loans, student loans, and other kinds of loans, to workers and other consumers so that they can buy houses, cars, send their kids to college, and so forth—even though the borrowers really don’t have enough money to do these things. Is this smart? Both workers and bankers convince themselves that “future earnings” by the borrowers will allow them to pay off their loans. This may be possible in many individual cases, but overall it is simply impossible. Most credit is not really issued “against future earnings”, but only because both today and in the future as well, the workers and masses do not and will not, have the money to buy back all that they produce for the capitalists. Thus the continual expansion of consumer credit is absolutely necessary to keep the capitalist economy functioning.
But consumer credit cannot be allowed to expand without limit. If you can always get more credit and never have to pay it back, then this is not really “credit” or a “loan”, but rather a gift. The capitalists shudder at the possibility that their loans will not be repaid, and despite their initial great promotion of credit they eventually must curtail it and eliminate it entirely for those they deem now “not credit-worthy”.
The credit bubble which has been built up during the boom period of the economic cycle must inevitably pop in the end. For this reason it appears to many that what we Marxists call overproduction crises are really only problems in the financial system, or “credit crises”. But to think of the problem in this way is to ignore that deeper and inherent problem in the capitalist mode of production that inevitably leads to financial crises. The better way to think about it is that financial crises (or “panics”) merely expose a deeper problem, the overproduction of productive capital.
In the contemporary world this is not the end to the story. In the capitalist-imperialist era (since the late 19th century) the capitalist state has of necessity come to play an indispensable role in promoting the expansion of consumer debt. This adds yet another layer of contradictions. The capitalists fear losing their previously acquired wealth so they are afraid to loan out any part of it unless they are reasonably certain they will be repaid. But since the capitalist class also controls the government, they have arranged for the government to provide some widespread guarantees for them. In the U.S., for example, one way the government has done this has been to set up several important “government sponsored enterprises” (GSE’s), which are really government insurance agencies, but which pretend they are private companies, to guarantee house mortgages especially, but also student loans, etc. Without these government guarantees the vitally important housing market in the U.S. would undoubtedly collapse.
The capitalist government promotes the expansion of consumer and business debt in other ways as well. Especially when a slowdown in the rate of expansion of the economy (GDP) begins to appear, the national central bank (the Federal Reserve System in the U.S.) will take steps to lower interest rates, making it easier and less expensive to borrow money. Taxes may also be cut. (Most of these cuts are for the rich and their corporations, but occasionally, in times of desperation for the ruling class, there are more modest cuts for the “middle class” and sometimes even for a portion of the lower working class.)
In addition to promoting the endless growth of consumer debt, the capitalist government in the modern imperialist era also purchases an ever larger amount of commodities itself. (Especially weapons and other military expenses.) If it pays for these commodities with tax money, then there is no net gain in the market (since those taxed have equivalently less money to buy things). But if the government uses Keynesian deficit financing to buy commodities there is indeed an expanded market for the capitalists. But this form of government debt also has limits, and when those limits are reached there is yet another reason for a financial crisis to break out, which once again exposes the overproduction problem at the bottom of the mess.
In summary, overproduction crises are caused first of all by the inherent problem in the capitalist mode of production which involves the theft of surplus value produced by the workers—which means that the workers cannot possibly buy back all that they produce. And secondly, overproduction crises are triggered by the eventual collapse of the credit and debt bubbles which the capitalists and their government are absolutely forced to build up in order for the system to function at all. The market expands more slowly than production, and the economy can only keep functioning for a time by artificially expanding the market through credit and debt—which eventually leads to a disastrous financial crisis. That’s the basic explanation.
There may also be some additional factors which play a contributing, but relatively minor, role in the development of crises. These include the anarchy of production under capitalism (i.e., the fact that there is no overall rational production plan due to the existence of many private corporations); other disproportionalities that may arise; and, it is claimed by Marx and others, because of a supposed tendency for the rate of profit to fall over time due to the increased “organic composition of capital”. The correctness, significance or importance of these sorts of additional factors is disputed by some Marxists, however, including me. At the very least, they are not the basic cause or explanation for overproduction crises. —S.H.
See also: EXPANDED REPRODUCTION
“The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.” —Marx, Capital, vol. III, ch. 30. (International ed., p. 484; Pelican ed., p. 615.)
“The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. ... The means—unconditional development of the productive forces of society—comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital.” —Marx, Capital, vol. III, ch. 15, sect. 2. (International ed., p. 250; Pelican ed., p. 358-9.)
“The form of production is simply the form of distribution seen from a different point of view. The specific features—and therefore also the specific limitation—which set bounds to bourgeois distribution, enter into bourgeois production itself, as a determining factor, which overlaps and dominates production. The fact that bourgeois production is compelled by its own immanent laws, on the one hand, to develop the productive forces as if production did not take place on a narrow restricted social foundation, while, on the other hand, it can develop these forces only within these narrow limits, is the deepest and most hidden cause of crises, of the crying contradictions within which bourgeois production is carried on and which, even at a cursory glance, reveal it as only a transitional, historical form.” —Marx, TSV, 3:84.
“The apologetic phrases used to deny crises are important in so far as they always prove the opposite of what they are meant to prove. In order to deny crises, they assert unity where there is conflict and contradiction. They are therefore important in so far as one can say they prove that there would be no crises if the contradictions which they have erased in their imagination, did not exist in fact. But in reality crises exist because these contradictions exist. Every reason which they put forward against crisis is an exorcized contradiction, and, therefore, a real contradiction, which can cause crises. The desire to convince oneself of the non-existence of contradictions, is at the same time the expression of a pious wish that the contradictions, which are really present, should not exist.
“What the workers in fact produce, is surplus-value. So long as they produce it, they are able to consume. As soon as they cease [to produce it], their consumption ceases, because their production ceases. But that they are able to consume is by no means due to their having produced an equivalent for their consumption....
“By reducing these relations to those of consumer and producer, one leaves out of account that the wage-laborer who produces and the capitalist who produces are two producers of a completely different kind, quite apart from the fact that some consumers do not produce at all. Once again, a contradiction is denied, by abstracting from a contradiction which really exists in production. The mere relationship of wage-laborer and capitalist implies:
“1. that the majority of producers (the workers) are non-consumers (non-buyers) of a very large part of their product, namely, of the means of production and the raw material;
“2. that the majority of the producers, the workers, can consume an equivalent for their product only so long as they produce more than this equivalent, that is, so long as they produce surplus-value or surplus-product. They must always be over-producers, produce over and above their needs, in order to be able to be consumers or buyers within the limits of their needs.” —Marx, TSV 2:519-20.
[Thus, since the workers under capitalism must inevitably produce more than they can buy, the rest of what they produce must be purchased by the capitalists themselves, if it is to be sold at all. If a large part of what they produce goes to expand productive capital, then who will buy the goods produced by that expanded production?! In fact, the only way the capitalist system can function at all is for some artificial means to be put in place--for as long as is possible--to allow both consumers (mostly workers) and the capitalists themselves to buy more commodities (including more machines and factories). That is to say, the only way capitalism can avoid overproduction crises even for a time is by expanding consumer and government debt. Marx gets into these credit issues elsewhere in his work. —S.H.]
“Overproduction, the credit system, etc., are means by which capitalist production seeks to break through its own barriers and to produce over and above its own limits. Capitalist production, on the one hand, has this driving force; on the other hand, it only tolerates production commensurate with the profitable employment of existing capital. Hence crises arise, which simultaneously drive it onward and beyond [its own limits] and force it to put on seven-league boots, in order to reach a development of the productive forces which could only be achieved very slowly within its own limits.” —Marx, TSV, 3:122.
OVERPRODUCTION CRISES — Marx On
As can be readily seen from looking at the many quotations accompanying the other subtopics on overproduction crises on this page, the richest source by far for Marx’s comments on the topic is his 3-volume work Theories of Surplus-Value (also collectively known as volume IV of Capital), especially Marx’s extended critique of Ricardo’s theory of capitalist accumulation in volume two of TSV. It is a curious fact that many people imagine that they have mastered Marx’s theory of capitalist economic crises when they have not yet even read his most important and extensive writings on the subject! Specifically, it must be firmly stated that Volume III of Capital is not the best source for Marx’s overall crisis theory, despite what many people have claimed.
Volume III of Capital was prepared by Engels from Marx’s very rough and unfinished manuscript, but Engels notes in his preface that not only did he struggle for quite a long time to pull all this diverse material together, he purposely did not include most of the extensive material in Theories of Surplus-Value in that volume. This he intended to publish separately as volume IV of capital, but did not live long enough to do so. (Engels states that volume III “concludes the theoretical part” of Marx’s Capital, but in actual fact there are a great many theoretical comments specifically about crises in Theories of Surplus-Value which Engels did not incorporate into volume III.)
Of course there is a considerable amount of important material about capitalist overproduction crises in volume III of Capital. But the volume does not present a well-organized and fully coherent crisis theory. Worse yet, the excessive one-sided attention given by many readers to chapters 13-15 on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, which is clearly a supplemental aspect of Marx’s overall crisis theory (and may not even be correct!), has led to a very widespread distorted understanding of Marx’s basic crisis theory. Many readers of Capital simply have not been able to grasp that the central reason for captialist overproduction crises is that the capitalists extract surplus value from the workers, i.e., that the workers must necessarily produce more value than they are paid for, and consequently they cannot possibly buy back all that they produce. The capitalists then use all that surplus value (beyond that portion which they keep as their own luxuries) to build more factories, buy more machinery, and in general to overaccumulate productive capital (the means of production) way beyond the level necessary to produce the commodities for which there is a sure and continuing market. This continues for quite a while because of the great expansion of consumer credit and government debt, but then collapses in a financial crisis which leads to a general exposure of the more basic overproduction crisis. If there is really a tendency for the rate of profit to fall over time, this is only a quite secondary aspect to the basic problem and an additional part of the reason for the advent of the financial crises.
OVERPRODUCTION CRISES — Possible Only Under Capitalism
Only under capitalism are overproduction crises possible. Before class society, there were not really any “markets” for the sale of items at all (though from time to time small numbers of goods were traded between different bands or tribes). In slave society some primitive markets arose among the slave owners and the rich, but slaves were not paid for their labor, nor did the overall economy depend on the “purchases” by slaves and the lower class of free men. Similarly, in feudal society most production was not of commodities for sale in markets; the bulk of the production by serfs was simply taken from them by the landlords.
Only with capitalism are commodity markets central to the economy, with the value of the workers’ wages being systematically less than the value that they produce (which is how the capitalists make their profits)—which means that the workers cannot possibly buy back all that they produce. Therefore, as production expands under capitalism it soon becomes clear that if all the goods produced are to be sold a growing proportion of them will either have to be sold to the other capitalists themselves, or else sold to the workers and masses on ever-expanding credit. When the rich are sated with their many luxuries and the masses no longer can obtain credit the overproduction crisis breaks out.
There can be no overproduction crises under socialism or communism, because society is quite able to use the vast preponderance of all the goods that it planned to produce, and actually does produce. Of course in every society there will be at least a small amount of wastage in production, but under communism there is no systematic glut due to the failure of market demand—since there are no capitalist markets at all!
“Although, therefore, there was no over-production among the the ancients, there was over-consumption by the rich, which in the final periods of Rome and Greece turned into mad extravagance.... It is the unconditional development of the productive forces and therefore mass production on the basis of a mass of producers who are confined within the bounds of the necessary means of subsistence on the one hand and, on the other, the barrier set up by the capitalists’ profit, which [forms] the basis of modern over-production.” —Marx, TSV, 2:528.
“On this assumption—if capitalist production were entirely socialist production—a contradiction in terms—no over-production could, in fact, occur.” —Marx, TSV, 3:118.
OVERPRODUCTION CRISES — Resolution Of
Since capitalist overproduction crises are in their central essence due to the overproduction of productive capital, their true resolution can only come from the destruction of at least a large proportion of that “excess” capital. (“Excess”, of course, only in relation to the capital that is required to meet actual sustainable market demand, not in relation to the productive power necessary to meet the people’s full needs.)
It is true, however, that such crises can sometimes be temporarily interrupted or temporarily mitigated through the intensification of the same means by which they are long postponed during boom periods; namely, through the artificial methods of extending yet more credit to consumers and through having the government buy yet more commodities paid for by Keynesian deficit financing. There are, however, definite limits as to how far either of these two methods of expanding debt may be taken without bringing about intractable financial crises or even the outright collapse of the government currency.
Consequently the only real way to actually resolve major overproduction crises today—as long as we remain within the constraints of the capitalist system—is through the massive destruction of enormous amounts of productive capital (i.e., of the means of production themselves, the factories and machines, etc.) which have been amassed during the previous years and decades.
The difficulties, however, are that the amount of excess productive capital has become colossal; that capitalist productive capabilities continue to grow by leaps and bounds; that markets are beginning to diminish in size (rather than expand) because automation and artificial intelligence are putting more and more people either out of work entirely, or else forcing them into very low-paying or part-time jobs; and that, therefore, it becomes ever more difficult to destroy enough real capital to clear the ground and make way for any new boom. Many giant contemporary multinational corporations have huge retained profits, massive lines of credit, and have many other resources (including close friends in government) that allow them to withstand quite adverse economic conditions for extended periods of time. Indeed, in the capitalist-imperialist era there has in effect been a partial merger of the capitalist state with the supposedly private corporate business world. The state closely works on their collective behalf. All this means that when a financial/economic crisis breaks out—even a very severe one—corporations have the means to prevent or postpone the destruction of productive capital for quite long periods. This, in part, is why the descent into outright and completely intractable depression is such a drawn out process in the world today, and is characterized by prolonged periods of stagnation. The capitalist system and capitalist political institutions were once quick and deadly in dealing with over-investment, over-accumulation and overproduction—though this did mean crashes and “panics”. But no more; capitalism can simply no longer resolve this inherent problem.
In the late period of capitalist-imperialism the capitalist mode of production, and its allied political institutions, are no longer capable of effectively destroying productive capital in a way quick and thorough enough to keep the capitalist system alive. The only way this monstrous system now has to destroy capital in massive enough way to really resolve overproduction crises is through the incredible physical destruction of world war. World War I was not destructive enough to really do the trick. World War II however was, and led to the quarter-century long post-World War II capitalist boom. But world war today, with nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, would likely wipe out humanity completely. We could put it this way: World War II provided the capitalists with a desperately needed resolution to the last Great Depression and gave the capitalist system a renewal on life for about three-quarters of a century. But now the time is just about up. Not even a world war can save the capitalists now, though it might end up killing us all.
See also: OVERPRODUCTION CRISES—As “Self-Correcting”
“In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity—the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.” —Marx & Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), section I. This passage is quoted from pp. 60-61 of the Norton Critical Edition of the Manifesto, edited by Frederic Bender (NY: 1988).
[It should be noted that in the mid-19th century, when this was written, feudalism (and even earlier forms of society) still existed in major parts of the world. Today virtually the entire world is dominated by the capitalist mode of production. Moreover, we are now in the late stages of the capitalist-imperialist era, where the world is now dominated by an international capitalist market. There are still ways for individual countries to expand their markets at the expense of other countries, but for the world capitalist system as a whole there are now almost no possibilities for resolving any major world overproduction crisis through the “conquest of new markets”. Consequently, whereas Marx and Engels identified two means by which overproduction crises could be resolved in their era, today there is really only one central way: the destruction of excess productive capital. —S.H.]
“When speaking of the destruction of capital through crises, one must distinguish between two factors.
“In so far as the reproduction process is checked and the labor-process is restricted or in some instances is completely stopped, real capital is destroyed. Machinery which is not used is not capital. Labor which is not exploited is equivalent to lost production. Raw material which lies unused is no capital. Buildings (also newly built machinery) which are either unused or remain unfinished, commodites which rot in warehouses—all this is destruction of capital. All this means that the process of reproduction is checked and that the existing means of production are not really used as means of production, are not put into operation. Thus their use-value and their exchange-value go to the devil.
“Secondly, however, the destruction of capital through crises means the depreciation of values which prevents them from later renewing their reproduction process as capital on the same scale. This is the ruinous effect of the fall in the prices of commodities. It does not cause the destruction of any use-values. What one loses, the other gains. Values used as capital are prevented from acting again as capital in the hands of the same person. The old capitalists go bankrupt.” —Marx, TSV 2:495-6.
[In the above passage Marx brilliantly sums up the situation with regard to the forced destruction of capital in overproduction crises in the era of pre-monopoly capitalism. But things have gotten much worse since then! The crises contradictions in the capitalist mode of production have now become so powerful that in addition to the two forms of the destruction of capital that Marx mentions here—namely, the temporary destruction of real capital because it can no longer be utilized in the current production processs, and the depreciation in the value of capital (as when it is forced to be sold at a loss by a bankrupt company)—there is now also an even more extreme form of the destruction of productive capital which commonly occurs in overproduction crises: namely, the forced physical destruction of capital! This now routinely occurs on a limited scale even in many recessions and takes place on an enormous scale during the less frequent but far more disastrous major depressions.
[And, even worse than all that, in the capitalist-imperialist era the overproduction of productive capital has become so massive and so persistent that the very widespread voluntary, purposeful physical destruction of productive capital is itself no longer adequate to clear the ground for a new capitalist boom. The reason for this is that giant oligopolistic corporations now have such huge resources and reserves, and such virtually guaranteed support from the capitalist state, that they can leave huge amounts of their once productive capital idle for very long periods. They may well physically dismantle many plants but they can now merely “mothball” many other plants for months or even years (i.e., close them down without dismantling them). This partial merger of the capitalist state with its corporations prevents even major depressions from finally destroying enough productive capital to really clear the ground for a major recovery and a new boom. Only one thing is now strong enough to physically destroy enough productive capital to re-boot capitalism in the depths of an otherwise intractable depression: a major world war between imperialist countries. It took World War II to truly end the Great Depression of the 1930s. It will take an even more unimaginably destructive world war to do the same thing this coming time around. So destructive, in fact, that humanity probably won’t survive it.
[Of course there is one other way, a so much better way, to end an extreme overproduction crisis which has led to an intractrable major economic depression—namely, socialist revolution which overthrows capitalism completely. It remains to be seen if humanity will have the wisdom to choose this one single viable path. —S.H.]
In modern capitalism, and as technical progress and automation advance, jobs are becoming harder and harder to find. The capitalist ruling class usually claims, however, that there are actually plenty of jobs available but that people are not adequately educated and trained for them—and so millions of jobs are going unfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants. The reality is close to the exact opposite of this: millions of people are overqualified for the jobs that they can actually get. Even large numbers of people with advanced degrees and long years of training are unable to find jobs in the fields they trained for.
“Because of continuing weakness in the job market, nearly half of working Americans with college degrees are overqualified for their jobs. About 15 percent of taxi drivers and 25 percent of retail sales clerks have bachelor’s degrees.” —USA Today report, quoted in This Week magazine, Feb. 8, 2013, p. 32.
OWEN, Robert (1771-1858)
A Welsh industrialist and early utopian socialist. In the early 19th century, he attempted to operate the factory town of New Lanark, Scotland, for the benefit of the workers at the textile mills. With the help of outside philantropists, the paternalistic experiment was successful for a number of years until Owens’ business partners demanded an end to it. Afterwards Owen and one of his followers founded two utopian socialist communities, one near Glasgow and the more famous being the New Harmony community established in 1825 in Indiana. Owen, however, did not take much of an active role in these utopian communities and spent little time there. There was also little care taken in the selection of the original members, which included a number of vagrants, opportunists, adventurers and very contentious enthusiasts each with their own strong ideas about how to do things. Despite the fairly substantial initial funding, both communities soon failed.
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