Who was Paul Mattick?

Excuse my butting in but I am a big fan of Mattick's. I can appreciate Louis's disappointment with Mattick if that was all he stood for (though I think that Louis is unfair to Rakesh, who is rare in his interest in developing Marxism, rather than simply applying the dogma).

But it is not Mattick's political analyses which recommend him - they are, by and large an anarchistic version of the Luxemburgism of his youth (he was a member of the USPD before moving to the US in the twenties).

What Mattick did (as did his sometime collaborator Henryk Grossmann) was to try to show how Marx's theory of crisis could be reconciled with the long boom of the period 1945-70. Today, of course that seems trivial, because everyone - even the President of the USA and George Soros - thinks that Capitalism is prone to crises.

But in the post-war period when Mattick was isolated in his insistence that Marxist theory could account for the real state of the economy in its own terms, without revision. Then everyone thought that there were lessons to be learnt from JM Keynes and his vision that market collapse could be planned away by spending to invigorate demand.

Superficially many people rejected the political dimensions of Keynesianism as reformist. But these remained formal denunciations. Only Mattick answered Keynes economic argument. Many on the left adopted Keynesian arguments such as theories of 'military Keynesian' spending offsetting the crisis (or what was sometimes called the permanent arms economy). But as Mattick pointed out, if it was possible for capitalism to resolve the economic crisis through managing the economy, the case for socialism would be only a moral declamation.

What Mattick did was to show that the real reasons for the postwar boom were unconnected to the Keynesian policies that were generally thought to be responsible for the improvement in economic performance. As Mattick points out (and pointed out at the time in his many articles on the New Deal) the precondition for economic upturn was not managed demand, but the destruction of surplus capital. Not overstocked markets, but the overaccumulation of capital was the source of the crisis. Consequently only the retirment of significant amounts of capital - even the destruction of means of production in world war - explained the recommencement of a new round of accumulation on a new basis.

Mattick's explanation implied that any resolution of the crisis would be temporary, whereas the Keynesians version suggested that demand could always be managed. Mattick argued that state spending would meet objective barriers determined by capital accumulation, since all state spending was necessarily a drain on accumulation.

Mattick was proved right, and the Keynesians and revisionists were proved wrong. Crisis did re-emerge in the seventies, as he predicted. State spending reached its own limits. Capital went into crisis disproving the thesis that demand could be indefinitely managed - or even that the source of crisis was to be found in the sphere of exchange (as the Keynesian inspired arguments implied).

Paul Mattick was one of very few Marxists who understood that Marx's theory of capital accumulation is not a fair-weather theory that you support only when the economy is on the rocks, but rather it theoretically explains the entire course of capital accumulation, its development, and what is only the reverse of that medal, its tendency towards crisis.

Mattick's hostility to Keynesian arguments were a natural outcome not only of his understanding that these provided the ideological justification of 'planned' capitalism, but also his own political agitation around the militarisation of labour under the New Deal. It was wrong to imply that the New Deal was comparable to Fascism, because Fascism mobilised a petit-bourgeois social base in support of its reactionary measures in a way that Roosevelt never did. But Keynes General Theory was published in Germany with a preface by a leading Nazi, because the Nazis did use many of Keynes policies in Germany. And more to the point, Roosevelt did militarise labour in a way that was comparable to Fascism, as it was the American resolution to the problem that Fascism was the resolution to in Germany.

Today Mattick's crisis theory seems to be pushed into the background as everybody now accepts what he was alone in noticing in the forties, fifties and sixties, that capital growth contains the seeds of its own destruction. But judging by the preponderance of Keynes-inspired analyses of the crisis as one that is due exclusively to problems of supply and demand, there is still a lot that Mattick can teach us. And when Clinton is demanding a global Keynesianism the author of Marx and Keynes still has a lot to say.

-- Jim Heartfield


Re: Paul Mattick

Mattick was a German tool-and-dye maker who belonged to the youth group of Rosa Luxemburg's organisation in his teens. He emigrated to the United States in the mid-1920s and was involved over the following several decades in several magazines, one of which was called Living Marxism.

In the early 1930s his group adopted the analysis made by Henryk Grossman, ie of the centrality of the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, in relation to capitalist crisis. Mattick propagandised unceasingly for this position, when most Trotskyists and other non-Stalinist radicals (as well as the Stalinists themselves) were propagating under-consumptionist rubbish and various other analyses of capitalist crisis that had very little in common with Marx's own work.

I have four of Mattick's books:

'Marx and Keynes: the limits to the mixed economy', which consists of pieces written in the late 1960s predicting the end of the boom and the conditions under which Keynes' ideas appeared to work. Most of this book is outstanding. The flawed parts are when he gets on to anaylsing the Soviet social formation and throws out the window his own methodology and starts trying to fit the USSR into an analysis of capitlaist social relations, thereby ending up with a state capitalist view. But this is only a small part of an otherwise excellent book. My copy is published by Merlin, a leftie British publisher.

'Economics and Politics in the age of inflation', stuff written around the same time I think, and further developing the themes in the above book. This too is excellent for its analysis of the trends which became manifest in the early-mid 1970s. Also published by Merlin.

'Economic Crisis and Crisis Theory'. This is published about 1980, and I can't recall if it is Sharpe or Merlin. An excellent account of Marx's theory of crisis, a substantial section on the evolution of bourgeois economic theory and its decline and f ragmnentation; and a withering critique of the eclecticism and misunderstandings of Ernest Mandel, who has held over the years just about every position imaginable in relation to crisis theory.

'Anti-Bolshevik Communism': can't remember who this is published by. I came across it in a second hand bookshop here (Christchurch, NZ) a year ago. It gives a very good account of his political standpoint, ie his hostility to Bolshevism. But this is him at his weakest. His opposition to the whole notion of a vanguard party indicated to me that, while he had a brilliant grasp of Marx's critique of political economy, he had virtually no understanding of Marx's analysis of ideology and how to build a vehicle to overthrow capitalism.

A year ago I also interloaned another book of his, I think it was the last one he wrote and was published shortly after his death (he died around 1981 I think). This book was called something like 'Marxism: last refuge of the bourgeoisie'. Some of it was very interesting - there was some very good stuff on value theory and he made a strong argument that as the crisis of the 70s/early 80s deepened the bourgeoisie, or their lackeys, were having to take up bits of Marxism to try and solve their problems. This book also contains his political credo, again the weak side of Mattick. Some of his stuff on Lenin and the Bolsheviks comes across as just way over the top and also way out from a Marxist point of view.

In the early 1970s he also wrote a critique of Marcuse, called I think, 'Critique of Marcuse'.

I think Mattick is very important. He is one of THE GREAT Marxist economic theorists and propagandists of the twentieth century and one of those rare breed - a genuine working class intellectual. He argued for a classical Marxist position in relation to economic crisis for decades. It is in no small part due to his work and persistence that the falling rate of profit is now widely accepted among Marxists as the crucial aspect of crisis theory, although what political and strategic conclusions various groups draw from this analysis of TRPF is another question.

His son, Paul Mattick Jr, lectures at a university in New York and has written a pretty good book called 'Social knowledge: an essay on the nature and limits of social science' (Sharpe, 1986).

Philip Ferguson