A Short Note on Something That Is Obvious but Which Certain Folks Do Not Understand
– Abhinav and Kavita Krishnapallavi
For the past 4-5 years, we have engaged with many comrades and fraternal organizations in debate on many questions, for instance, caste question, the question of Ambedkar, identity question, crisis theory, fascism, character of Indian social formation and Indian bourgeoisie, agrarian and peasant question and the question of gender and sexuality, to name a few. On many of these questions the debate is still continuing. On others, the debate has been concluded. At present too, we are involved in a couple of debates with a few organizations, especially on the present farmers’ movement and agrarian question in general. One of these debates is going on with the group gathered around the magazine ‘The Truth’/’Yathaarth’. The debate began on the peasant question and agrarian question but it has now engulfed many other questions from Soviet socialist transition, relation of state and class, Marx’s theory of ground rent and crisis.
In the past as well, in other debates, some comrades and organizations commented that our organization presented a different line on the question of, say, caste and Ambedkar in 1995, 2005 or 2010; or they pointed out that we had a different understanding of fascism in 1996 or 2006, than the one that we have today. Such an argument is a banal one. The reason is simply that no organization or individual would claim that their views on any particular subject have not evolved and developed with deepening theoretical understanding and developing revolutionary practice. It is but obvious that such evolution would be there in the case of every revolutionary organization involved in practice. In fact, the contrary would be bizarre.
In the ongoing debate on agrarian question too, the “leftist” intellectual of social media Mukesh Aseem and Don Quixote de la Patna Ajay Sinha have argued that “your organization too talked about permanent crisis and overproduction a few years ago.” Similarly, some other comrades too had made such comments in relation to our views on crisis theory, caste, Ambedkar, gender and sexuality, etc. in not too distant past. Our comrade Sunny responded in one of his critiques in the ongoing debate with ‘The Truth’ brigade to such comments very succinctly: even our organization has a history of evolution of its views on many questions and nothing else can be expected. For instance, our understanding of crisis has been very clear for past many years: the underlying cause of capitalist crisis is the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall and overproduction and over-accumulation on the one hand and under-consumption on the other are symptomatic or phenomenal expressions of this fundamental cause. This understanding has been present in our papers and articles since 2016. It does not matter what we thought 10 years ago or 12 years ago, except for those whose sole interest is to research the evolution of our views on this question, a useless exercise, anyway. For any present ongoing debate, such an argument is not only superfluous and banal but also idiotic, namely, why someone’s views did evolve!
In ‘The Communist Manifesto’ Marx had an incorrect view of crisis; every Marxist political economist knows that. Similarly, at one time Marx was still clinging to the view of labour as commodity and only later he developed the theory of labour-power as commodity. Again, Marx’s views on alienation and estrangement underwent profound changes from the ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’ to ‘Capital’. The same is true for Marx’s understanding of ‘Asiatic mode of production’, which he changed towards the end of 1870s. If one reads Lenin’s introduction written for Bukharin’s book ‘Imperialism and World Economy’ and Lenin’s book ‘Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism’, they would be shocked to see the changes that Lenin had adopted. In ‘State and Revolution’, Lenin argued that the socialization of production has reached such a level that even a worker familiar with basic mathematics would be able to manage the state affairs and national economy under socialism within a few days. However, in 1919, in front of entire Comintern Conference, Lenin said that we were wrong that the working class would immediately be able to rule without the institutional leadership of the revolutionary vanguard and it would take many years for the workers as a class to learn how to rule. Similar trajectories of evolution can be found in the thinking of entire parties as well. However, if someone would say to Marx that ‘you did not talk about the law of declining rate of profit in 1848 and you talked simply about commercial crisis’, Marx would laugh and ask ‘how is that even relevant for any present discussion and what else do you expect?’ Our own understanding about the victory of Deng-Hua Kuo Feng clique in China was incorrect towards the end of the 1970s and a fraternal organization drew our attention to this fact and helped us correct our stand on this question. In fact, any person who persists stubbornly with incorrect views or claims that the views that he/she holds today are the views with which they were born, should be ashamed of themselves! We know that we are saying something trite. However, the irony of our age is that the monstrous mediocrity obliges saner people to repeat the trite, ad infinitum.
Similarly, from the question of caste and fascism to Marx’s theory of crisis, our views have evolved and developed through a process of ‘negation of the negation’, just like everything else develops. We wrote our book on Hindutva fascism in 2009. In that book, we presented a crisis theory that was more of an ‘overproduction’ theory with undertones of under-consumptionism. In 2017, when the new edition was going to be published, we revised the section on crisis theory and presented our latest understanding that the underlying cause of crisis is the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall and overproduction and under-consumption are manifestations of this fundamental cause. The same is true for our paper on fascism written in 2015, in which we presented the ‘long depression’ as the last crisis. A few organizations and individuals, in fact, plagiarized this position of ours. Now they are upset with us as to why we have changed these views about crisis theory and are looking at us in way as if we have betrayed them! Similarly, on the question of caste, in 2013 Arvind Memorial Seminar on caste question in Chandigarh, we had only started to develop an understanding of the political thought of Ambedkar. It reached a maturity only in 2016 and it is still developing. Here too, a number of individuals and organizations were taken aback!
As far as our understanding of crisis theory is concerned, before 2013, it was mainly influenced by overproduction thesis with some hints of over-financialization thesis and even less of under-consumption thesis. One can see it in our older writings on the question of crisis. From 2013 to 2015, our views were undergoing a transition. By then, we had certainly purged ourselves of all traces of under-consumptionism though the overproduction thesis still had strong influence on our thinking. However, the question of the law of profitability had certainly crept in by 2011-12, though we had alluded to the law of tendential decline in the rate of profit in some of our earlier writings as well. However, there was certainly a lack of clarity on this question. The strongest influence was, no doubt, of the overproduction thesis.
This was something that we had inherited from the communist movement of India as well as the world communist movement itself, of which we are a proud part. In the communist movement of India, the theory of crisis that has remained most influential till present day is under-consumptionism. Most of the groups that follow the program of new democratic revolution and even some which follow the program of socialist revolution, have strong influence of under-consumptionism. Similarly, many Marxist scholars in India too are victim of this theory of under-consumption. We never subscribed to under-consumptionism school and belonged mainly to the overproduction thesis. However, we cannot say that under-consumptionism had no influence on our thinking. One of the reasons for this lasting influence of under-consumptionism on the communist movement was the strong impact of Monthly Review School in India. It was the most widely-read international left journal in India and one of the most representative proponents of modern under-consumptionism and affected a lot of left organizations, intellectuals and activists. However, the most important and fundamental reason for the impact of under-consumptionism in Indian left movement as well as world communist movement was its common-sensical appeal. It is the most common-sensical crisis theory and since under-consumption does happen and it does deepen the crisis in its turn, it appears to be the most viable explanation, though it is not. Rather, it cries for explanation!
We never subscribed to the under-consumptionist thesis, even in the 1990s, as we mentioned earlier, despite its vague influence. However, we had been having doubts about the overproduction thesis too by 2012-13. What magnitude of production can be considered overproduction? ‘Over’ in relation to what? Is there any appropriate level of production, if you will, under which it would be called ‘underproduction’ and over which it would be called ‘overproduction’? It was gradually becoming clearer to us that the overproduction thesis as the underlying cause would ultimately lead one to under-consumption thesis itself, even though the crisis of overproduction (and over-accumulation) is certainly the representative manifestation of the crisis of profitability.
Another incorrect line of thought that afflicted our thinking till mid-2016 was that since world capitalism did not see any considerably long period of boom since 1970s, the present crisis is a kind of permanent crisis or long depression, that may theoretically end with some global war, but since there are many deterrents in the present world that function against any possibility of a third world war, the present long depression will continue till the end of capitalism. We still think that it is possible that present long depression might continue for a long period to come, with no significant boom in near future and that before capitalism sees another significant boom, the series of revolutions might break out. However, we do not think that the idea of permanent crisis is theoretically congruent with the nature of capitalist mode of production, as explained by Marx. In other words, to argue theoretically that capitalism can be permanently stagnant, mired in permanent crisis is incorrect. Theoretically, there is no such thing as ‘permanent crisis’; the crisis can be short or long. However, that is a different matter altogether. Even the 19th century saw some long periods of recession, or long recessions, as has been pointed out correctly by the likes of Guglielmo Carchedi and Michael Roberts and many others. The reason why a ‘theory or permanent crisis’ is incorrect is that the very process of crisis (which might span for several decades) is simultaneously a process of devalorization of capital, destruction of productive forces and depression of average wages that restore profitability. What makes the ‘Long Depression’ of the late-20th and early 21st centuries different from earlier ‘long recessions’ is that this time the devalorization of capital has not proceeded in a rapid fashion for a variety of reasons that have been discussed by many Marxist political economists. In the last few years, there has been a lot of research by many Marxist political economists on this question which must be read by all Marxists. There have been lively debates among Anwar Shaikh, Michael Roberts, Guglielmo Carchedi, Andrew Kliman, David Harvey, Dumenil and Levy, Alan Freeman, Fred Moseley, Michael Heinrich and many others and those who have defended the classical Marxist position of law of tendential decline in the rate of profit, have not only dominated the debate theoretically but have also supported their position with ample empirical data. Anyway, from 2016, it had become clear to us that the idea of a ‘permanent crisis’ is theoretically incorrect and cannot be supported with empirical evidence from the history of world capitalism. It does not matter whether a depression is a ‘long depression’ or a short-lived depression. Theoretically, no capitalist crisis can be permanent, even though, some crisis will definitely prove to be the last one! The political assessment of world situation is a different thing altogether. It is very much possible that before this long depression ends, revolutions break out in the countries that can be called ‘hotspots turning into flash points’. The other possibility would be large-scale devalorization of capital in some way. Still, the idea of a ‘permanent crisis’ is theoretically incorrect and empirically untenable. Moreover, it is important to understand that the law of decline in the rate of profit is a secular tendency. It simply means that historically the rate of profit will fall, despite rebounding periodically. Every new crisis will be deeper than the previous one and will make the contradictions of capitalism even sharper and more acute, precisely due to its recurrent nature. The very theoretical idea of ‘permanent crisis’ is non-dialectical.
From 2013-14 our serious and intensive studies of Marxist political economy gathered momentum. By the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016 it was clear to us that it is not overproduction that is the underlying cause of crisis, but the secular tendency of the rate of profit to fall. It is this crisis of profitability that leads to the crisis of overproduction on the one hand and under-consumption on the other. The very basic teaching of Marx was that the driving force of capitalism is not consumption but profitability and ‘any plethora of capital is the plethora that cannot be invested profitably’. Without understanding this, it would be impossible to define what is ‘over’-production and what is ‘under’-consumption and why it happens.
Similarly, on the question of cost-price in agriculture, our views changed towards the end of 1998. By 1999, we were clear that this demand cannot be supported unconditionally, though we were yet to write anything on this question. We wrote about this question openly in ‘Bigul’ when a debate broke out with a pro-kulak capitalist-roader shortly after the beginning of the new millennium. By this time, we had reached the conclusion that since the decline in cost-price of agriculture would generally be achieved through depressing the prices of inputs of agriculture, and therefore by depressing the real wages of workers of the industries that produce these inputs, and in case of rich farmers, by also depressing the agricultural wages, we cannot support this demand. As a consequence we concluded that this is a non-proletarian demand and cannot be supported as such. We have added another thing to this position during the present debate on agrarian and peasant question: the demand of the poor peasants is to improve agricultural infrastructure, subsidize the supply of agricultural inputs only by imposing a special cess or tax on the bourgeoisie, including the agrarian bourgeoisie that is, rich farmers and kulaks, and universal employment guarantee, among others. The point was to distinguish between the independent class demands and political position of the poor peasants and that of the rich kulaks and farmers.
Several such questions can be discussed here on which our views have evolved over the years and will evolve in the future as well. Such comments or observations that our views have changed on many questions over the years is only stating the obvious and making it a point in a debate is even more banal and superfluous. The point is to engage with our opponent in a debate on their current positions on every question. An archaeological excavation of positions held by any individual or organization a decade ago or 8 years ago or 6 years ago does not hold any value in any critical exchange. This only reveals one’s incapacity to deal with these positions and precisely due to this incapacity certain “Marxists” abandon the vocation of theory and politics and become archaeologists and paleontologists!
Such evolution of ideas is the sign of life of an individual as well as an organization and shows that they have not become ideological fossils ossified in time. To have incorrect ideas is not a sin. Every individual and every organization in their political life have maintained incorrect positions at some point of time, including the great teachers and the great parties. The point is to correct these ideas. However, some people are arrogant fools. They cling to their outdated and outmoded ideas even when someone pokes them in the eye and demonstrates the incorrectness of their ideas. They are the ones who end up finding themselves locked in a time and space capsule. Arrogantly hanging on to some obsolete understanding is sign of intellectual mediocrity and dishonesty and these are precisely the traits that characterize the present agents of kulaks in the left movement, namely, ‘The Truth’/’Yathaarth’ brigade.
What we said might appear banal or commonplace to many of our friends and comrades and they might say that “of course, your ideas have evolved and it is natural! Why the heck are you even mentioning this?!”. We realize that and we understand their amazement. However, it is essential to understand that what is obvious for saner people is certainly not so obvious for lesser minds.
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