Revolution and Counterrevolution in Marxian Economics

Article excerpt

REVOLUTION AND COUNTERREVOLUTION IN MARXIAN ECONOMICS

Recently my book, Mass Enrichment and Finance Capital,(1) was roundly criticized in an essay published in the Monthly Review, entitled "Reactionary Marxism: The End of Ideology in Japan?" (MR, April 1987). The article, written by John Lie, is laden with errors, including distortions stemming from Lie's own ideological prejudices and mistakes due to his inability to understand my theoretical arguments. Criticism born of Lie's childish ambition should in no way be taken as a basis for judging the theoretical depth or value of the book itself. Because of the broad influence of Monthly Review and because English is so much more widely read than Japanese, I fear that if I failed to respond to Lie's portrayal of the book, many readers would be left with a mistaken impression of it. The main purpose of this response is to dispel any such misunderstandings Lie's article may have produced, without attempting to point out each and every mistake in the article.(2)

First of all, the reader should be made aware that Lie hardly touches the core of my argument, which is that the advanced capitalist countries of Japan, North America, and Western Europe are currently characterized by a phenomenon which should by all rights be called "excessive affluence." I don't use this term in a moral sense, but rather in the senses of social science and ecology. Excessive affluence can be readily observed on a micro level. Though Lie only mentions "jogging and dieting" in a footnote, the popularity of both of these show that people in the advanced capitalist countries are becoming aware that overeating and lack of exercise threaten their physical well-being. At the same time, the surfeit of contemporary prosperity can also be observed on a macro level. Here the problem is that of the scale of the world economy as a whole. Per captita GNP now exceeds $10,000 in the advanced capitalist countries. If this standard of living were to be diffused equally over the world as a whole, the world economy would have to grow fourfold. All other things being equal, this would lead to a fourfold growth as well in oil consumption, air pollution, Chernobyls, and the pace at which we are depleting the world's forests. I doubt that humans could continue to survive on this planet for many years under such conditions. Based on these micro- and macro-level assessments, I argue that the standard of living in the so-called Western countries is too high. While discussing excessive opulence at the micro and macro levels, I also point out that inequalities do exist within the excessively affluent societies, so much so that some people lack even enough to eat.(3) But I emphasize that the income disparities within the Western countries are small compared with those in the developing countries, and point out that the majority of the populations in the Western countries, including the working class, have achieved too lavish a lifestyle. Although this is the core argument of my book, there is no way the reader would know it from Lie's essay. I do not know whether he ignores this central point, without which the book itself really makes no sense, because of prejudice, lack of ability to understand books, or for some strategic reason having to do with his argument. But it is certainly unfair to pour so much criticism on a work while ignoring its central argument.

Although Lie states that what I emphasize most is the success of Japanese capitalism, this is completely mistaken. Rather, I emphasize the fact of excessive enrichment in the advanced capitalist countries, and point out that it is due to changes in the accumulation of finance capital under contemporary capitalism. Postwar Japanese capitalism is a prime example of the global phenomenon of excessive affluence, both in the quantitative sense of its rapid economic growth, and in the qualitative sense of change in the nature of finance capital. Moreover, the characteristics of Japanese finance capital, which is based on the so-called Japanese pattern of labor relations, cannot be fully explained in terms of the existing social science concepts which grew out of Western society. …