CRITICAL NOTE ON ATILIO BORON'S ARTICLE: THE ECONOMY AFTER THE DISASTER.
The first thing to be said about Atilio Boron's text is that it is objectively reformist. It matters little that he speaks of "a great mobilization and social struggle to impose a new post-capitalist economic and social order" and of "A society, in short, where health, medicines, education, social security, housing, transportation, culture, communication, recreation, sports and all the components that make for a dignified life are no longer commodities”. It is not at all clear what this gentleman means by capitalist. That is to say, it is not at all clear that the "new post-capitalist economic and social order" of which he speaks will not be another form of capitalism. In fact, when he tells us that we must ensure that "all the components that make for a dignified life are no longer commodities", he is not saying anything that a humanist bourgeois could not say. One of those who defend a "market economy", but not a "market society". Regardless of Boron's subjective intentions, ambiguity at this time is reformist.
Perhaps some friends think that we should not care about that, for we are clear that we are in favor of socialist revolution and that this is only the beginning of a long transition to a classless, stateless and patriarchy free society. And that anything less than that is simply not in our interest. The reformists do their thing and we do ours, we might think. But that's a mistake.
It is a mistake because the majority of the workers with a minimal class consciousness for themselves, the majority of those who have conquered a (relative) ideological and political class independence, of those who are (subjectively) anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists and revolutionaries, in a word: of the vanguard of the working people, are in the "Boronian" ambiguity. The "leap" to the revolutionary socialist transition to communism, without an intermediate stage, makes them dizzy. That is why it is necessary to make a relentless and well-founded criticism of the theses of the "experts", like Borón's, who in their immense majority are in reformist positions. Because weeding out reformism, conscious or not, from the vanguard is the first step to build a revolutionary movement. The second, of course, is to achieve a mass base.
In this sense, I think that even worse than the ambiguity mentioned above, is the vision of 20th century capitalist development that Borón gives us in his article. It is the standard version that the left-wing and sometimes not so left-wing social democrats usually give us and from which they deduce their reformist strategies.
Thus, first, they divide the second half of the 20th century into two major periods, that of the "post-war social contract" or "welfare state", on the one hand, and the so-called "liberal" or "neo-liberal" period. Second, they explain the differences between both periods as a result of political struggle, within capitalism, without questioning this social system. And, third, since the political struggle (always without questioning the bourgeois state but seeing it as an instrument to be used) brought about neoliberalism, it could also bring about its replacement by a "new social contract" that incorporates elements that were missing from the previous one: gender equality and ecology above all.
For all these reasons, it is of vital importance for the revolutionary ideological struggle to debunk this discourse on the different types of capitalism.
The two stages of capitalism since World War II
First of all, I must clarify that for me, the whole of the 20th century, what we lived so far of the 21st, and part of the 19th century, since 1893, more or less, is part of the epoch of organic development of capitalism. It´s what Lenin called Imperialism, appropriately in my opinion, because its essence is the division of the world into oppressed and oppressor nations and which is (if the theory of Marx, Engels and Lenin is correct) the last one, that of its agony (in the etymological sense that we have given to this word in the communiqué (Iraultza da bide bakarra-La revolución es el único camino) that can only end, as the Communist Manifesto says, with "the revolutionary transformation of the whole social regime" or "[the] extermination of both belligerent classes”. However, this does not mean that other shorter and more conjunctural stages of capitalist development (marked by the predominance of the tendency to the collapse of capitalism) cannot take place within this long stage. Specifically, after the Second World War we can distinguish a first period, from 1950 to 1978, in which social democracy, in a broad sense, has been the dominant ideology, and a second period, from 1979 until now, in which what we could call liberalism has been the dominant ideology, also in a broad sense. A stage which we can call neoliberal.
There is hardly any disagreement here. But ideological change is not self-explanatory. The social being determines the conscience and not the other way around. The disagreement is in the explanation of how, in this specific case, the social being determines the conscience.
In the opinion of Borón and other reformist theorists, neoliberalism expresses the hegemony of financial capital. It is interested in reducing public spending because it needs less state. The political conclusion of this analysis is clear: the problem is not capital vis-à-vis the working people, but a fraction of it: financial capital. Let us remove its hegemony and another capitalism will be possible that is more stable, less unequal, in short, more favorable to the interests of the working classes.
Our thesis, on the contrary, is that there is no financial capital confronting other fractions of capital, in general. On the other hand, in the epoch of imperialism, the hegemonic capitalist fraction is always the monopolistic-financial capital. It can have contradictions with the non-monopolist fractions of the bourgeoisie, but those contradictions are not antagonistic. On the contrary, the contradicitions that all those fractions (including the hegemonic one) have with the working people and, especially, with the world proletariat, are antagonic. The fact is that "....the capitalists, despite the quarrels that separate them in the field of competition, constitute a real Freemasonry when they confront the whole of the working class". But if the cause of the change of the dominant ideology was not the existence of a specific form of financial capital, what was it? It was that the props that the bourgeoisie had placed in order to contain the tendency of the system to collapse had failed (as it had to necessarily happen at one time or another), which manifested itself in the form of a world economic crisis and that, therefore, in the face of the new situation, a different form of ideological legitimation was needed. The most important thing is that it should be different (even more so, totally new for the masses) and secondarily more adequate for the new situation, because it is more suitable for a period of intensification of the class struggle within the borders of the imperialist states, while the ideology of the previous period was an ideology of class conciliation. This explanation leaves the revolutionary struggle as the only way out for the working masses.
Let us go, then, to the empirical contrast of the two explanations. First, let tus explain how the graphs that will be presented next have been drawn up:
- We have used the same criteria Borón uses: the evolution of public spending. If the thesis of the eminent Argentinian political scientist is correct, we will see, when the so-called neoliberal era arrives, a tendency to decrease in public spending, even if it does not return to "...the levels that were exhibited during the apogee of liberalism in the first three decades of the 20th century".
- Two of the imperialist states used by Borón in his empirical argument have been chosen: the US and the UK. They are the most significant for many reasons, but one is enough: they are analized under the governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Tatcher. Therefore, the data from these countries would be the most appropriate to refute or confirm Borón's thesis.
- For the United Kingdom, the same database has been used as Borón has used (downloaded from the I.M.F. website) in his article. But for the US, we have used one of our own, based on data obtained from the US government's Bureau of Economic Analisis. There's no catch; I will explain whoever asks me how I obtained the data and produced the final product. The reason I didn't use the I.M.F.´s website is simply because it only gives data on federal government spending, which hides a large part of U.S. public spending.
So let's see the charts.
Public Expenditure as % of GDP in the USA.
Public Expenditure as % of GDP in the U.K.
The two cases resemble each other extraordinarily well, by means of an upward trend line. There is, therefore, a clear continuity in the increase of public expenditure in every period that interests us. On the other hand, precisely during the period of the first Tatcher and Reagan governments (1979-1983) and in both countries, the empirical curve is placed above the trend line. In other words, in that period, govern spending was at higher levels than in the previous "non-liberal" period. And yes, it is true, that later it decreased below the trend line, but continuing the same upward trend and, of course, maintaining higher levels than in the previous "non-liberal" period.
All this categorically denies Borón's explanation of liberalism and, therefore, his predictions.
What about the second explanation, based on the scientific communist theory of Marx, Engels and Lenin? Well, the same data that refute the previous explanation are predictable from it: to begin with, according to Lenin, monopoly and financial capitalism is fiercely statist and it is not strange that the size of the state and, with it, its expenses, continuously grow, independently of the ideology of the government in power.
- The proportion of public expenditure in the GDP is a fraction, and during crises, for obvious reasons, the former (the numerator) grows faster than the latter (the denominator), thus making the fraction bigger. This is one of the reasons for the growth of public expenditure at the beginning of the "neo-liberal" period. And that is not all: in the 1970-1980 crisis, as in the "great recession" of 2008-2016, the bourgeois states made use of public expenditure on a large scale with the aim of sustaining demand and saving large financial and industrial enterprises. This is also part of the explanation for the increased weight of state spending. Does this mean that the bourgeoisie has found the philosopher's stone that will allow it to avoid the crises? Not at all. The brutal increase in public spending has brought about a no less brutal indebtedness of the states (more than 100% of the GDP in many cases!) which, by weakening the state currencies as a deposit of value, has provoked the increase of speculative capital to historically unprecedented levels: for the first time in history, the money flows from speculation far exceed those from the exchange of commodities. This is a source of speculative bubbles that can have, and have had, catastrophic consequences, as well as the hypertrophy of an increasingly parasitic financial sector.
- Finally, all this growth of the state apparatus can be explained as a result of the tendency for capitalism to collapse. The failure of the "normal" mechanisms of reproduction of the system (in the case of the mechanism, the mercantile relations) lead to the intervention of the mechanism of exception: the state. The same happened before in the decline of previous social systems: the hyper-bureaucratized and hyper-militarized state of the decadent Roman Empire, the absolute monarchy in the decline of feudalism...