Monday, May 25, 2009

Once More on Healy/Wohlforth & “The Crisis” (1973)

Workers Vanguard No. 33 (23 November 1973)

Cynics Who Scorn Trotskyism
"There is no crisis which can be, by itself, fatal to capitalism. The oscillations of the business cycle only create a situation in which it will be easier, or more difficult, for the proletariat to overthrow capitalism. The transition from a bourgeois society to a socialist society presupposes the activity of living men who are the makers of their own history. They do not make history by accident, or according to their caprice, but under the influence of objectively determined causes. However, their own actions – their initiative, audacity, devotion, and likewise their stupidity and cowardice – are necessary links in the chain of historical development."
– L.D. Trotsky, "Once Again, Whither France?" March 1935
The article "Healy/Wohlforth and 'The Crisis'" (Workers Vanguard, 3 August 1973) must have touched sensitive nerves, for it provoked a rare polemic against the Spartacist League in the pages of the Healyite daily, Workers Press.

Perhaps feeling that the turgid ravings of its American acolyte, Tim Wohlforth, were incomprehensible to its readers, the Socialist Labour League (recently rechristened the Workers Revolutionary Party) assigned the task of refuting the SL to its chief monetary theorist, Peter Jeffries. In a mercifully brief (by Wohlforthian standards) polemic entitled "Cynics Who Scorn The Crisis" (Workers Press, 26 and 27 September 1973) Jeffries attempts to defend the International Committee's analysis of the "fundamental nature of the world monetary crisis."

As we shall show, Jeffries succeeds only in demonstrating the fundamental nature of the ignorance and dishonesty of the Healy/Wohlforth school of politics. Indeed, it is not until the end of his otherwise worthless article (which unfortunately must be dealt with for reasons of elementary political hygiene), that Comrade Jeffries manages to ask one useful question. Pointing out that the capitalists are compelled to "launch the most brutal attacks on the living Standards of the working class and their class organizations, " Jeffries shrieks:
"Tell us, Mr. Robertson, where has your group made any preparations in the working class for such events? Where, please, are your statements in which you warned the working class of such events?
"There are no such statements, because like all the revisionists, you hoped that the working class would remain firmly under the control of the Stalinist and reformist trade union leaders, leaderships under which they would be defeated."
Unfortunately for Comrade Jeffries and the IC the record is clear. For example, just eight days after the Allende popular-front coalition gained a plurality in the Chilean elections we read in Workers Press (12 September 1970): "There must be a preparation for class action to defend Allende's victory and his election programs to meet this danger." And your cothinkers of the U.S. Workers League state: "There is only one road and that is the revolutionary road of the October Revolution... As a step in this understanding the workers must hold Allende to his promises...." (Bulletin, 21 September 1970). In contrast, shortly after the election of Allende we stated in our article "Chilean Popular Front" (Spartacist, November-December 1970):

"It is the most elementary duty for revolutionary Marxists to irreconcilably oppose the Popular Front in the election and to place absolutely no confidence in it in power. Any 'critical support' to the Allende coalition is class treason, paving the way for a bloody defeat for the Chilean working people when domestic reaction, abetted by international imperialism, is ready."
Yes, Comrade Jeffries, the record is clear. Not only are you a liar, but your organization, the so-called International Committee, urged a policy of class treason on the Chilean working class, feeding its illusions in the Stalinists and Social Democrats. Today, faced with the murder of thousands of working people in Chile, which we warned was on the agenda, you can denounce the popular front. Hindsight is cheap indeed. But in the fall of 1970, when Allende had just won his electoral victory, when he was popular with the Chilean masses, you demanded that the Chilean workers should compel an essentially bourgeois, government to achieve socialism. No amount of bombast can erase this shameful crime from the record of the IC. Our political differences could not be more clearly posed. Who, Comrade Jeffries, is the revisionist?

'"The Crisis" and Political Banditry

Having thus disposed of Comrade Jeffries' question, we can turn to the bulk of his article. In doing so, it is useful to recall that we are engaged in a polemic with notorious political bandits. The salient feature of political banditry is the subordination of political principles and program to organizational appetites. Thus Wohlforth can court Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party and at the same time support the strike of the New York City police. Thus Gerry Healy, who in 1966 proclaimed Pabloism definitively destroyed and the IC to be the Fourth International, four years later comes to the United Secretariat with a proposal for common political discussion and common work hopefully to result in a "joint international conference": This subordination of principles to appetites is a primary characteristic of the Healy/ Wohlforth school of politics and explains many of their activities that might otherwise be perplexing.

But Healy and Wohlforth are not simply political bandits operating in a vacuum. They are political bandits masquerading as "Trotskyists." This affords them a certain left cover, but it also is something of a hindrance to their gross appetites. Consequently they are in need of a talisman which can subtly transmute Trotskyism into the fools' gold of opportunism. "The Crisis" plays the role of one such talisman for the priests of the IC. For under the objective impact of "The Crisis," it seems that trade-union demands become profoundly revolutionary. Thus Jeffries states:

"It is this sectarianism that leads Robertson to deny that the wages fight today is a political fight with directly revolutionary implications. For him, capitalism can still grant concessions, if only to limited sections of the working class. Here is but an expression of his denial of the depth of the capitalist crisis, of his middle-class belief in its continuing strength and stability."
Under the impact of "the depth of the capitalist crisis" Jeffries renders the Transitional Program obsolete. Simple minimum reforms have come to have "directly revolutionary implications." What is behind this, of course, is the appetite of the Healy/Wohlforth gang to unite with the trade-union reformists – on the basis of simple trade unionism – and become their "left" advisers.

Furthermore, for Jeffries to deny that capitalism can grant concessions to limited sections of the working class is to deny the material basis for labor reformism, This is why Tim Wohlforth can with a perfectly straight face call upon the arch-reactionary George Meany to form a labor party. You see, there is no longer any basis for reformism – now it has directly revolutionary implications: Moreover, the argument that if trade-union demands cannot be objectively realized they are necessarily revolutionary can lead to dangerous utopian illusions. Why not assert that pacifism and parliamentarianism are objectively revolutionary since it is not possible to end war through disarmament or overthrow capitalism through electoral means?

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Peter Jeffries should leap to the defense of "The Crisis' in so belligerent a manner. Stripped of the objective nature of "The Crisis," the Healyite opportunists would simply be naked.

What Type of Crisis?

Since Healy/Wohlforth are purposefully vague about the meaning of the term "crisis," a few questions are in order. By capitalism's crisis, Comrade Jeffries, do you mean the historical crisis of the entire capitalist order? Or are you referring to one of the cyclical crises of capitalism? Or don't you make any distinction between these two types of crisis?. In any case, our position is in essence that of Trotsky:

“However, the cyclical oscillations are inevitable; and, with capitalism in decline, they will continue as long as capitalism exists. And capitalism will continue until the proletarian revolution is achieved. This is the only correct answer to the question: 'Is this the final crisis of capitalism?'"
– "Once Again, Whither France?"
Jeffries' article actually reaffirms one of our central accusations that for the Healyites the term "economic crisis" has no objective criteria, but is simply whatever and whenever they say it is. Jeffries writes: "Economic crises cannot be measured in terms of production indices. This is the shallow method of the capitalist commentator – and one shared by Robertson and his group.”

We assert that the Marxian concept of economic crisis refers precisely to a phase in the industrial cycle when expanding production turns to contraction with its attendant effects on prices, circulation and employment. "The reverse is true in a period of crisis. Circulation No. 1 contracts, prices fall, similarly wages, the number of employed laborers is reduced, the mass of transactions decreases" (Capital, Vol. III, Ch. 28). Whatever Jeffries means by the term "economic crisis' (in reality everything and nothing), Marx clearly defined it in terms of quantitative indices. But the high' priests of the IC never soil their hands by coming into contact with the raw data of the gross material world!

Having determined the essence of the SL's position, Jeffries proceeds, to. demonstrate the Spartacist League's "denial of the nature of the epoch in which we live as one of the decline and breakup of world capitalism...". He accomplishes this "demonstration" by grossly misquoting us. According to Jeffries:

"This is made explicit towards the end of his article when he tries to explain why capitalism did not restore the pre-1914 Gold Standard [Jeffries Stands in such awe of these words that he feels compelled to capitalize them] after the end of World War II."
That this did not occur after World War II was the result of the absolute economic and political hegemony of the U.S. in the capitalist world, a condition which lasted until the late 1960's,' says 'Workers Vanguard.'
"What the Spartacists 'miss out' is that the restoration of the 1914 Gold Standard was made impossible by the historic decline of capitalism as a world system, seen above all in the loss of Russia, Eastern Europe and soon China. It was this, and not the power of US capital, which precluded a restoration of the relations of 19th century capitalism. But like all petty-bourgeois revisionists, Robertson can see only the strength of American capitalism and not its contradictions."

Jeffries' quote is taken completely out of context, rendering it utterly fraudulent. Here is the paragraph from which this mendacious quack so cleverly extracted his single sentence:
"After World War I, the qualitatively greater instability in the world economy, the strengthening of the labor movement and development of powerful revolutionary proletarian tendencies made domestic deflation to correct a balance of payments deficit too politically dangerous.... After World War I, the conflicts between the national bourgeoisies produced international financial anarchy because this condition enabled a national bourgeoisie to maintain or increase its share of world trade and capital at the expense of other nations through permanent borrowing, competitive devaluation and direct control over foreign exchange transactions. That this did not occur after World War II was the result of the absolute economic and political hegemony of the U.S. in the capitalist world, a condition which lasted until the late 1960's.... The endless crises of international finance are arenas of struggle between the imperialist powers over markets and spheres of exploitation. The decisive arena is war."
The rest of Part I of “Cynics Who Scorn The Crisis" is simply a plodding struggle against this tottering straw man set up by Jeffries.

The question arises as to why Peter Jeffries is so dishonest as to distort our position in such a crude manner. Evidently, he feels free to ascribe the most fantastic positions to us, confident that the great majority of the readers of Workers Press will have no opportunity to read "Healy/Wohlforth and 'The Crisis'" in Workers Vanguard. Why not, Comrade Jeffries, assert that the Spartacist League is composed of strange green creatures who are agents of the Mikado? The method of the lie is not the method of Marxists, but the method of the bureaucratic usurpers of the October Revolution. By stooping to such methods you only indicate again the depth of the political degeneration of yourself and of the IC.

Monetarism and Crisis-Mongering

But finally, after all the lies and straw men, Jeffries gets around to defending the Healyite holy grail, "The Crisis," from the cynics, scoffers and scorners. It is a lie, he says, to accuse the IC of having a monetarist conception of the economic crisis:

"But we never said that this crisis was purely a monetary crisis. And Robertson can quote nothing from our many published statements which in any way give this impression. For us the monetary crisis was [sic] an acute expression of the capitalist crisis, the Crisis of capital accumulation, the content of which is, of course, the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the restrictions imposed on this development under imperialism by the system of production for profit."
Of course, no one can accuse Comrade Jeffries of saying that this crisis, "The Crisis," is purely monetary. Quite the contrary: Everything is lumped into one big super-crisis. However, readers of the Workers Press and Bulletin must be shocked by Jeffries' assertion that the IC merely regards the devaluation of the dollar as an "expression" among many other expressions of the contradiction of capitalism as a productive system. Why, then, is the definitive IC work on "the post-war economic crisis" entitled The Dollar Crisis? Why, then, does this same work state that the gold convertibility of the dollar caused the post-war "boom":
"The fact that after the Bretton Woods 1944 conference it [the ruling class] was forced to establish a series of agencies through which the economy was artificially stimulated by means of inflation was its recognition that the working class was too strong to be dealt with at that stage."
Why, then, is the "greatest crisis ever" of capitalism projected because "nothing" can replace the dollar as an international medium of exchange:

"In no way could the implications of the crisis after August 1971 be likened to those of 1931. Despite the depth of the earlier crisis, it was one in which the world's major trading currency, sterling was replaced by another currency, the dollar. The blunt fact today is nothing can replace the dollar."
- "Development of the Post-War Economic Crisis," Workers Press, 24 February 1973
No, no one could possibly have the impression that 'The Crisis" was rooted in the monetary system – unless he read the IC press!

Crisis Mongers Deny Social Chauvinism

Jeffries' polemic is as significant for what it does not deal with as for what it does. A central theme of our article was that the IC analysis denied that the economic contradictions of capitalism lead to inter-imperialist conflict with attempts by the national ruling classes to line up the labor movement behind them on the basis of social chauvinism:

"Despite its lip service to Lenin's 'Imperialism,' the SLL negates the Leninist-Trotskyist view of contemporary capitalism. Written during World War I, 'Imperialism' has two major themes. The first is that a decaying world economy intensifies inter-imperialist conflicts leading to a war over the division of world markets and spheres of exploitation. The second is that labor reformism necessarily leads to social-patriotic support for one's own imperialist bourgeoisie. In contrast to Lenin, the IC ignores the question of imperialist war and denies the possibility of labor reformism, even in its virulent social-chauvinist form."
It is most interesting that Jeffries' reply has nothing to say on these questions.

To summarize, the main purpose of the IC's concept of 'The Crisis" is to assert that conventional trade-union struggles have become inherently revolutionary and the labor bureaucracy objectively revolutionary. The IC definition of an economic crisis is based on no objective criteria, but is completely subjective and arbitrary. The IC analysis is obscurantist monetarism completely at odds with Marx's analysis of circulation. And the IC in effect denies that the contradictions of capitalism as a productive system generate inter-imperialist conflict and war, giving rise to social-chauvinism as one of the most fundamental obstacles to revolutionary socialism within the working-class movement. Healy/Wohlforth capitulate to this as they consistently do to sundry other manifestations of reformism and bourgeois consciousness in the proletariat.