Some brief comments regarding a plenary session in HM ATHENS 2019
Michael Roberts offered in his blog a detailed presentation of the plenary in which he participated together with J.Milios and C.Lapavitsas (which is rebloged underneath). Following is my take regarding this debate.
The plenary session to which M.Roberts is refering was truly revealing of the inadequacies and the problematic character of the Financialisation ‘fashion’. John Milios argued that capitalism was alsways a monetary economy (which is correct). But from this he moved on to argue that you cannot distinguish analytically between labour values and money (which is a fallacy advocated by value-form theories and the pseudo-Rubin scholl (as Rubin himself expicitly rejected this vies in his ‘Essays in Value Theory’). Then John argued – through the Janus faced argument about capital – that we actually cannot distinguish between money, productive and merchant capital (as Marx very appositely did). Finally John avoided arguing that financialisation is a new stage (or a new capitalism) by saying that it was always present (which is wrong as the Financialisation ‘fashion’ argues that it has specific features not existing before). He concluded with a rather simplistic argument that financialisation is a disciplinary mechanism for both individual capitals and labour that imposes capital’s prerogatives on them. This is superficial as capital has older and more fundamental disciplinary mechanisms for both individual capitals and labour (namely the formation of the general rate of profit and the despotism of the factory).
Lapavitsas presented his usual bag of tricks with a few novel, but equally erroneous, modifications. He argued that Marx accepted ‘secondary exploitation’ (that is exploiting workers in distribution). Indeed Marx – and Marxists in general – recognise this. However, they do not separate it from the operation of the law of value (as Lapavitsas and his post-Keynesian friends do). This is part of the formation of the value of labour power; Ben Fine’s excellent demolition of Lapavitsas’ trickeries can be read here: https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/7480/2/BenFine_FinancialisationLabourPower.pdf. Additionally, Lapavitsas pronounced Hilferding as the doyen of modern Marxism (silently bypassing the latter’s rejection of the Labour Theory of Value). He assimilated Lenin with Hilferding disregarding their significant theoretical and political differences. Lapavitsas argued that financialisation began because there was in the late 1980s an abundance of idle capital that could not be invested. When pressed about the reason why it could not be invested he avoided in true Keynesian fashion the acursed word ‘profitability’. When pressed again on this issue he resorted to jugglery by saying that profitability is central but financialisation is vital. This is mere nonsense as he cannot – and does not want to – establish a causal link between profit and finance. This idiocy became blatant when he exclaimed – under pressure – that he does not know any theory explaining capital gains. This is pure nonsense. His post-Keynesian friends might not have such a theory but Marx and Marxism hae: fictitious capital. The new modification that he added to all this chicanery was that he argued that today we are experiencing a new Financialisation phase; that of subordinate Financialisation. This supposedly new phenomenon hinges upon the spread of Financialisation instruments (leverage, shadow banking etc.) to emerging markets. This is partially true as emerging markets (and especially China) have very peculiar features that do not conform with the typical Financialisation dogmas. He ended by reiterating his supposed miraculous programme (regarding Greece and probably the universe as well) that centered upon old-fashioned Keynesian financial regulation and bourgeois democratic reforms.
Needless to say, M.Roberts’ talk was excellent in presenting the Marxist alternative to the Financial fallacy.
My own critique of the Financialisation fallacy can be found here https://stavrosmavroudeas.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/the-financialisation-hypothesis-and-marxism-a-positive-contribution-or-a-trojan-horse-counterpunch-may-2018/ and here https://stavrosmavroudeas.wordpress.com/2019/01/31/is-the-financialization-hypothesis-a-theoretical-blind-alley-world-review-of-political-economy/.
The first Historical Materialism conference held in Athens was very well attended – making it the biggest of such events in southern Europe and with mostly younger attendees. As is usual with HM conferences, there was a plethora of papers and sessions on all sorts of subjects around the theme of the conference, Rethinking Crisis, Resistance and Strategy. It is not possible to review these in this post. Indeed, I am not even able to consider some very interesting papers in the political economy sessions in this review.
I am going to concentrate on the issues raised in the plenary session where I spoke on the subject of Marx’s relevance to contemporary capitalism. I was on the platform along with John Milios, Professor of Political Economy at the Technical University of Athens and the author of many books on Marxist economy theory; and Costas Lapavitsas, professor of political economy at…
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