Michael Kidron and the Permanent Arms Economy


For a new member of the International Socialists in the early 1960s, the public face of the organisation was not Paul Foot (still in Glasgow), nor Chris Harman (then a raw student recruit), nor Duncan Hallas (working as an adult lecturer, in temporary retirement from active politics). Tony Cliff was prominent, but he was not the only strong personality within the group. Cliff’s publisher and IS’s guiding mind was Michael Kidron.

Nigel Harris who joined IS in the early 1960s came into IS though the good influence of Kidron rather than Cliff (Birchall, Cliff, p211). He was not the only one. James D. Young also came into IS through a friendship with Kidron who he met in Oxford in 1955.

Born in South Africa in 1930 (thirteen years after Cliff), Kidron’s own conversion to socialism had begun in 1944. He had fallen ill on a Zionist youth camp in Johannesburg, an entire continent’s width away from his home in Capetown. A hospital visitor read him Stalin’s ‘A Short Course of the History of the CPSU(B)’. “It was a grey volume,” Kidron later recalled. The result of the attempted indoctrination was that after weeks of this attention, “I was foreseeably driven towards Trotskyism.”

Kidron’s elder sister Chanie met and was courted by Ygael Gluckstein. Michael met Cliff briefly but remained in Palestine for a further eight years, arguing against Zionism and translating Rosa Luxemburg. He eventually arrived in London in 1953, joining Chanie and Cliff in the Socialist Review Group. His arrival, he recalls, transformed the group’s prospects. Before he came, there were just six of them. His arrival spurred them on to seven. “Within two months of coming, I was the editor of Socialist Review”. Making best use of his time as a research student, it became a regular monthly publication, and then, three years later, a fortnightly.

Kidron edited the IS’s magazine for its first five years, from 1960 to 1965. “It was a very personally warm period”, Kidron later recalled, “And the group was so small and so obviously ineffectual and, within our very hard class analysis, we could say what we liked. We were searching round for a little bit of soil to drop a seed into. Cliff himself was shifting around. One morning he woke up as Rosa Luxemburg, another he was Lenin, the third Trotsky. And very occasionally he was Marx.”

James D. Young memory of the International Socialists is of a group that was culturally “Jewish”, i.e. discursive, argumentative, and held together by feelings of intense, personal loyalty towards Cliff, Kidron and the leadership. Formal politics played a part too, “What kept the Group together and allowed the young members to recruit new members was the emphasis on libertarian Marxism in the concrete shape of workers’ control, workers’ democracy and the egalitarianism seen in the Paris Commune of 1871 and the early stages of the Russian Revolution.”

Kidron’s intellectual contribution to IS was the idea of the Permanent Arms Economy. Chris Harman has summarised Kidron’s theory as follows: “His central argument was that capitalism was militarised to a degree unknown before in peacetime. This militarisation may have arisen out of the struggle between rival empires to colonise the rest of the world, but had taken on a life of its own. The sheer scale of arms spending had produced a massive growth of manufacturing production, but had also reduced the tendency towards periodic crises. It provided a guaranteed market for key sections of industry. And it reduced upward pressure on Marx’s ‘organic composition of capital’, so offsetting the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The system had brought stability by becoming more barbaric than ever before. And along with the barbarism went a waste of human resources on an enormous scale.”

The Permanent Arms Economy (PAE), in its original elaboration, was intended to characterise the likely evolution of the world economy – for a considerable period to come. This can be seen in the way Kidron explained the theory to a passing American journalist George Thayer, who interviewed him in 1964:

“Kidron feels that capitalism has stabilized itself on the basis of its expenditure on arms by exporting inflation which, he claims, has minimized the fluctuations of ordinary business cycles. He believes that this stabilizing will become increasingly more viable in the 1970s when Russia reaches the point of military strength equal to that of the West. This may lead, he adds, to a nuclear war which could only be averted by workers’ control of the state and industry. His solution is based, he says, on a re-examination of Trotsky’s analysis that private ownership is a fundamental characteristic of capitalism. Kidron claims that, on the contrary, capitalism is only the unplanned accumulation of wealth and that Trotsky’s stress on nationalization as a means to material abundance must be replaced by stress on workers’ control as a means to human freedom.”

The emphasis on stabilizing factors can also be seen in Kidron’s article ‘ A Permanent Arms Economy’, published in IS in 1967 (http://www.marxists.org/archive/kidron/works/1967/xx/permarms.htm). In a 6,000 word piece, less than a sixth is devoted to the “slow erosion of arms expenditure at the periphery and its increasing concentration at the core”, the rising capital intensity in the arms industry, and the tendencies towards increased unemployment, all of which might bring revolution back into play (the only alternative Kidron could then foresee to the continuation of this stage of capitalism). Five sixths of the piece is given over to spelling out the factors which tend to make arms expenditure permanent. Kidron’s 1968 book Western Capitalism since the War is very similar.

The SWP’s present analysis of the breakdown of PAE is that the dynamics which were stabilising capitalism (i.e. arms spending) were sustained by fewer and fewer of the major powers (essentially just America and Russia), and that this represented a massive levy on these particular economies, both of which were in relative stagnation by the end of the 1960s compared to rivals who were not involved in expenditure on this scale, with the Soviet Union in particular never recovering its postwar growth levels. The world drew back from the arms race, and the PAE ceased to operate on a sufficient scale to stabilise the system as a whole.

This argument is only partially foreshadowed in Kidron’s 1967 and 1968 statements of PAE. He was certainly alive to the contradictions between the Franco-German and the American economies and at times you feel that he could sense the possibility of a non-revolutionary solution to the arms race. But even in Western Capitalism Since the War a book for the hardly-revolutionary publishers Penguin, Michael Kidron preferred to end by emphasising the prospects for revolutionary change rather than any other possibility: “Western capitalism is once again creating conditions for the convergence of working-class protest and revolutionary politics that could change the world. Whether or not that convergence will take place in the seventies depends as much on the revolutionaries as on anything discussed here.”

Kidron eventually broke with IS in the mid-1970s, signalling his departure with a 1977 article ‘Two Insights don’t make a theory’, noting the fragmentation of the state capitalist economies, their strength compared to domestic capitals but their weakness within the system as a whole. He complained that the group’s ideas were losing pace with the development of capitalist reality, “Although the International Socialists and their forerunners in the Socialist Review group were known as the “state caps” for many years, and presented a “state capitalist” analysis as their central, distinguishing tenet, our collective expressed view has not kept pace with the formation and consolidation of state capitalism as a world system; and the analytical variant of “state capitalism” current in the organisation remains locked into the limited partial insight of its original formulation.”

Kidron asked aloud whether he had been right to see PAE as the dynamic feature of the long boom. Perhaps it been rather the growth of cities, the integration of millions of former peasants into an urban capitalist economy, etc:

“Assuming the foundations of the state capitalist system to have been effectively laid during the second world war, it is hard to sustain the view that it was the permanent arms economy that fuelled the long boom. On the contrary, such expenditure must have worked towards stagnation. And if in reality heavy spending on arms coincided with an unprecedented expansion of capital, it can only be because the effects of arms vending were overpowered by the effects of something much more fundamental – the changes that attended the consolidation of the state capitalist system; changes that redirected vast working populations from barely-productive work in agriculture towards highly productive occupations in industry; changes that reduced the amount of social capital required for the new workers and so sharply lightened the capital structure throughout the world; changes that increased the technical division of labour sharply arid reduced duplication of effort as capitals themselves grew to national proportions. On this reading it was despite the arms economy, not because of it, that the first years of state capitalism were years of release of the productive forces and of expansion.” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/kidron/works/1977/07/insights.htm)

If Kidron was right – and I am not an economist, so I raise this only as a question – might his refinement of PAE not point us towards a better explanation of the changes to the world economy in the past 30 years? Under this approach, the “second boom” for 20 years from the mid-1980s would be explained by the same factors which Kidron had identified in 1977, urbanisation and rapid technological development, or, in a word, globalisation. These factors are clearly not altogether exhausted (India’s and China’s continued growth strongly indicates their continuation) but their declining power would be reflected in the weakening of the world economy from 2008 in particular.

This refinement would not, as Kidron argued, refine PAE out of existence, but a sense of PAE’s dual consequence (as both stabiliser and break) might enable us to have a theory of the economy beyond (for example) Chris Harman’s developed answer, which was that growth levels in the economy went into decline from the early 1970s and have never picked up since. The weakness of Harman’s approach, of course, was that it allowed very little analytical space for the real boom which the economy did see especially between about 1998 and 2008 – a pattern very visible if we see the world not only from England or even America but also from South Africa, India, China or Brazil – nor indeed, for the sharp decline that the economy has seen in the last five years.

I have described Kidron’s theory and its political utility; it would be wrong to separate it from his personality and the ideas he had for the development of the group. If the arms economy was a permanent economy, it followed that IS had in front of it several years in which it could grow, without needing to be a mass party, without formulating perspectives for the class as a whole, without the bluster which characterised orthodox Trotskyism in Britain, and against which the International Socialists polemicised very effectively in the 1950s and early 1960s.

George Thayer’s description of IS’ virtues is revealing. He sees the group as very small. Their lack of size was however compensated for by an “intellectual” approach (not to be confused with an “academic” one, Thayer was well aware that IS was competing in “the political arena”, in the Labour Party, and among young workers). “In their own words, they carry on a ‘Marxist dialogue’, presenting new twists to old theories, reinterpreting Socialist needs in light of present developments, and fending off those theses which they deem as no longer suitable.”

In this context that it is worth noting Kidron’s refusal to describe the IS as “Trotskyist”. According to Thayer, “He claims that the group is not Trotskyist but Trotskyist-derived, pointing out that Socialism is his first concern and that his conclusion may only incidentally incorporate the thoughts and these of Trotsky. He adds that he welcomes all Socialist thought – from Marx, Lenin, E. V. Debs or anyone else – if it can be of assurance to him.”

One of Kidron’s fellow International Socialists Dave Widgery later recalled his “inward groan” as Kidron arrived to address some building workers during the industrial agitation of the late 1960s wearing a chamois jacket instead of the issue Trotskyist rig-out. “But they loved the speech … and the bloody jacket.”

Widgery concluded: “What Kidron’s life asks is what kind of a Marxism should we adopt to go beyond the Left’s patriarchal, puritanical, pre-electronic, almost deliberately unpopular presentation of itself? A Marxism that doesn’t lose rigour, traditions and an understanding of what Kidron calls “the system’s major, seismic, fault. The conflict between labour and capital in production.””


30 responses »

  1. Yes, well, maybe, or perhaps it was a mistake to make the arms sector so special and decisive a feature of the capitalist economy in the first place. From outside the IS tradition, it does rather look as if the theory of the PAE was just too overwrought to bear the great explanatory power it was granted – being first made to explain the boom, and then the crisis. In Marx’s theory of accumulation the barrier to capital accumulation was capital itself. He resisted those theories that put a special weight on specific sectors as explanatory of the whole, as for example in Smith’s priority of manufacturing over other kinds of labour, or Ricardo’s identification of declining productivity of agricultural land as the cause of the crisis. Since Kidron, other radical economists have identified the creative sector, IT and financial services variously as being the sectors that determine the direction capital overall takes. But those have proved to be poor explanatory accounts, that leave capitalism as a whole under-analysed.

    • James, we have discussed some of these points on Facebook previously. I think there is an interesting (if under-acknowledged) evolution in PAE from originally a theory which emphasises the permanence of the postwar conditions to one which (as you say) carries the weight of explaining both the boom and its dissipation. And that was one of the main points of this piece: to get that “history of PAE” into the public domain. I don’t necessarily agree that it would be too bold to expect a theory to do both. In Neil Davidson’s big piece on neo-liberalism for the next ISJ he makes the useful point that it is possible to periodise capitalism according to strategies for averting the tendencies to crisis, going back to Lenin’s Imperialism. Now, from one perspective, many/most such approaches do indeed seem to be no more than partial. But without anyone of the calibre of Marx in our epoch to guide us, it is likely that people’s best efforts will just be a series of approximations, each partial in their own way (and even he found it hard enough). I don’t think that’s necessarily such a problem…

  2. lots to like about Kidron, particularly the studied iconoclasms and refusal to accept the received wisdoms of the Left at face value. I’ve always thought the “Two Insights” article was a bit odd though. To make the argument that state capital was progressively subsuming private capital at the very time the tendency towards neo-liberalism was gathering pace doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think Kidron’s original rendering of PAE made much sense and I can’t see anything in the later article that remedies things. The material from the late seventies that Colin Barker has put up on his website casts an interesting light on thinking about PAE in the IST. Both Barker and Kidron call for a renewal and deepening of the theoretical traditions of the IST. Damn shame it didn’t happen….

  3. I think David’s suggestion here is basically correct – Kidron, in “Two Insights…” offered a better guide to the future direction of capitalism than Harman’s creation of a fudged orthodoxy in his reply, “Better a Valid Insight”. The critical point Kidron makes about the *fusion* between state and capital now looks very prescient: it’s only as the high years of neoliberalism fade that it becomes clear just how close this fusion has become, most especially between state and finance (and that most dramatically so in the UK).

    The years of crisis are bringing formal, state-led economic *strategy* back to the front of what states do, in a way that the neoliberal orthodoxy always tried to deny – the market alone would allocate investment and effort efficiently, the state merely created a level playing field, “competition policy” was as far as intervention could stretch.

    The paradoxical element is the one that Andy, above, alludes to: that Kidron was emphasising the state-capital fusion at precisely the moment it appeared to be breaking down, or was being forcibly torn apart. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight – three decades’ worth of neoliberal experience, and then five years’ of deep crisis – that we can see he got the line of march basically correct. Neoliberalism never “rolled back the frontiers of the state”, it rather reshaped what a state could do, and attached itself to a particular state strategy. The share of GDP taken by state expenditure, across the developed world, stayed remarkably constant throughout this period of time, allowing for fluctuations; but *what* the state spent on shifted, most notably in Britain – away from “productive”, investment expenditure, and increasingly into transfer payments – benefits and welfare – that were themselves the by-product of neoliberalism’s failure. Alongside that, state employment has held up incredibly well – even Thatcher, in the end, added 1m to the public payroll during her time in office (see “Rebalancing the Economy”, CRESC 2011 for details).

    What’s urgently needed, I think, is precisely Kidron’s iconoclasm and willingness to rethink the categories of the left. Much of what the radical left has got used to is plainly now redundant – the fixation, for instance, on forms of working class organisation that existed in the 1960s and 1970s but that have altered virtually beyond recognition since then – and needs casting out. On this, and although David doesn’t touch particularly on the point above, it is striking how much of Kidron’s work, especially in Western Capitalism Since the War, is tied to a consideration of how labour is reshaped by the labour:capital process – of how the PAE changes the possibilities of working class organisation. It is a part of Chris Harman’s legacy within the IS tradition, I suspect, that theoretical questions about the economy have become so divorced from the questions of organisation: that the SWP and others have ended up with, on one side, a clockwork model of the economy that has little of use to say about the economy we actually live in, functioning as something closer to a morality tale than an analytical tool; and, on the other, an excessive focus on the limited practicalities of day-to-day organising in unions and workplaces. Kidron, I don’t think, ever made this mistake.

    Anyway I’m writing a kind of extended version of this argument – expect to have it published shortly(ish)

    • undoubtedly the state remains an important economic actor but it is deeply questionable if the mode of intervention and the structural relationship of state and capital have evolved in the way that Kidron indicated

  4. OK James, save that of course there is a very intense discussion going on within the SWP as to precisely what would be a more effective way of thinking about class, organising, etc. Admittedly, relatively little of this is in print yet, although for example the Davidson piece I referred to above will be in print in a month’s time. And, while I certainly haven’t had time to think through the relationship between Kidron-era PAE and the present-day labour process, I hope pieces such as this one on where to look for organising opportunities (https://livesrunning.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/back-to-class/) deserve a little bit more than your assessment of my comrades as “clockwork” thinkers…

    • I know there are quite a few interesting things coming from SWP members at present – this piece by Rob Owen, for instance: http://www.scribd.com/doc/144651532/Revolutionary-Organisation-The-Radical-Left-and-the-United-Front – is one of the best things written during the current crisis, and shows a real attempt to get out of the cul de sac.

      But as far as the economy goes – and *especially* its relationship to class formation and organisation – I’ve seen nothing beyond attempts to defend a particularly formalistic interpretation of the transformation problem and the falling rate of profit. It’s a great shame – to shift from an organisation that won its intellectual spurs thanks to its economic heterodoxy and willingness to challenge received truths, to one that now looks incapable of doing either.

      Perhaps I’ve missed something, and there’s a serious group of SWP members doing worthwhile work here. But from the outside, debate on the economy inside the SWP looks stagnant; I don’t think it’s an organisation capable of producing a Kidron or a Harris any more.

      • James, it’s a fair criticism to say that within the SWP opposition, the most intense discussions have focussed around issues such as women’s liberation, democracy, race and anti-racism, industrial and political strategy, etc, with economics being treated as a lesser priority. (Although I hope you enjoy Neil’s piece when it appears). I’d also agree with you that historically, one of the main ways in which people who wanted to establish legitimacy for a particular variety of Marxism often did so was through Marxist economics (it’s interesting to compare the chapter on Capital in the Revolutionary Ideas – as a leadership bid – to things Kautsky was doing all those years agi with his Economic Works of Karl Marx). But you don’t establish authority in the sphere of Marxist economics by mere exercises in intellectual history, by saying “X writer go it right”, “Y theorist got it wrong”. You do it by setting out a positive legacy of ideas, predictions, analyses, by constructing a project which (unlike Yaffe’s – see up in this thread) has some resonance beyond the boundaries of a particular group. A decent Marxist analysis is something which requires many other activists’ work – just as a Marxist lawyer also requires many years of discussions and arguments. If I’ve got any credibility in the law it’s not because of this footling blog, but because of the cases I’ve fought, especially my blacklisting cases, which other lawyers would have lost. It’s the same for you too. There’s no point chivvying us for our failure. Show us, by your writing, that you can do better. Not talks or interviews but articles and books. Do bring out that Kidron piece, and make its focus explaining the economy rather than the SWP. Maybe then all of us will feel that you’ve earned our respect. Till then, I look forward to seeing it…

  5. It is of course true that Michael Kidron was a seminal influence on those attracted to the International Socialists in the early and mid 1950s. Some of us came into direct contact with Kidron through the small but intellectually energetic Socialist Review group. Others came through the debates within the broader New Left in which Socialist Review’s Alasdair MacIntyre as well as Mike Kidron (in debate mong others with Raymond Williams and EP Thompson) were the two most important participants.

    As is well known the genesis of the Permanent Artms Economy theory lay with intellectuals among the American Third Camp socialists – notably Walter Oakes and T.N.Vance. However Mike developed the theory and sought to place it more directly within Marx’s own model of capitalist development (for instance seeing arms as a surrogate for “capitalist consumption.”) He also sought to develop this model where Marx had left off – notably by critiquing Piero Sraffa’s Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities.I say “sought” because I think loose ends were left which have since been identified as weaknesses.

    Kidron’s PAE theory did also contribute to the SR/IS theory of State Capitalism insofar as it identified arms competition between the Soviet Union and the West as the key source of the imperative driving the accumulation of capital within the Stalinist economic system. This was a major issue in the fascinating debate in the later 1960s between Third Camp marxists notably between supporters of Bureaucratic Collectivism and State Capitalism. I was a minor participant in direct debate on this subject between Kidron and the late, great Hal Draper in Berkeley in 1967.The decline of the arms sector as a source of stabilisation of capitaisl seems to overlap with its diminishing ability to generate productive technology spin offs – something which some economists believe contributed to the rise of inflation in the 1970s.

    As other’s have pointed out Mike Kidron insisted in 1977 that “Two Insights do not Make a Theory.” But he continued after leaving the IS/SWP on seeking a better understanding of a rapidly changing capitalist world system. Illness meant his final magnum opus was never finished but part of it has been published. I think it fair to say that he was ahead of his time (again) in locating the crisis of environmental;/social “sustainability” of modern capitalism. It is work that others will not have to build on.

    John Palmer

    • John, I think I picked up – maybe from Richard Kuper – that Haymarket will be publishing a collection of his writings, including lengthy extracts from that unpublished work, relatively soon. If so, congratulations to them for having had the good sense to do this

      And as for your story, I am jealous; many of us in the younger generation would have loved to watch Kidron and Draper in conversation!

      • Not just the younger generation – I’m afraid I also never heard Draper and Kidron in debate, or Draper at all for that matter. But I was in touch with him early in 1967 and he arranged for bulk copies of his book Berkeley: The New Student Revolt published by Grove Press to be sent to us very cheaply. They arrived just in time to be distributed and read during the first – great – sit-in at LSE in March 1967.
        Haymarket are indeed looking at Mike’s writings – including the draft of his last, unfinished work – with a view to publishing a new collection. Can’t say yet that they will. But we can hope!

    • where do you think the “temporal single system interpretation” of Capital leaves PAE? Kliman and others have demolished Sraffa and Bortkiewicz, the two authorities that Kidron’s version of PAE rested on. What I find uncomfortable is that IS figures have simultaneously lauded TSSI and refused to acknowledge it makes the case for PAE problematic

  6. Dave: Carelessly, I wrote about “those attracted to the International Socialists in the early and mid 1950s…” That, of course should read “early and mid 1960s.”

  7. Dave: A penn’orth of autobiog re-Mikey, as Nina called him, or Kidders as others did. He grabbed me from the fading embers of the London New Left club in Nov 1959, just as it was in decline as an activist interventionist assembly and heading for the senior common rooms of what Peter Sedgwick called the Pseud Left. I became his newest recruit, his tenant and his editorial runner, my name is on the EB of the first score or so of issues as treasurer and then drops off after emigration to Sheffield. Your debate on the PAE theory overlooks the context of the times. Kidron saw only one practical environment for revolutionaries, the Labour Party and its youth sections, neither of which was a ferment of Marxist theory. The alternative was the much larger SLL or the grouposcules dancingaround Trotsky’s tombstone, all of which in common with the CPGB saw the USSR as a workers state in need of defence with a worker’s bomb. That a revolutionary group existed outside of both milieux was a like finding water in the desert. All predictions from one side saw capitalism as on the verge of immediate crisis, and on the other as healthy but in need of reform. The latter was the main pre-occupation of the early issues of IS. But to counter the attacks on us from the left, PAE and State-Cap were both theories that explained to members and critics the real world

    • And for the record, the PAE was first printed as a perspective on world cap by Tony Cliff in the Socialist Review March 1957. His concluding comments were spot on and enough to keep the SWP on course for another six or seven decades without a Kidron or a Harris. ‘The war economy may thus less and less serve as a cure for overproduction, a stabiliser of capitalist prosperity. When the war economy becomes expendable the knell of the capitalist boom will surely toll.’ Cliff added the rider ‘as long as the US with one half of world output continues to prosper the lifebelt will continue to be thrown to the junior partners of US imperialism.’ He listed those as all European. Those searching for a theory of globalisation would be better served not by targetting the present SWP efforts to explain the world but by adding some original ideas of their own that explain it’s realities. The slow re-enactment of the 1930s and the falling rate of profit, an idea that predates both the 20th and 21st centuries would be a good starting point.

  8. TSSI is, unfortunately, a dead-end for Marxism: I find it very hard to see much of use in the deeply scholastic exercise of “proving” that Marx was “consistent”, particularly if it leaves you – as it certainly appears to – without any useful thing to say about money and finance, beyond using the catch-all category of “fictitious capital”. Ajit Sinha’s review of Kliman from 2007 I think pretty comprehensively shows this, and the mathematical problems involved in TSSI – far from “demolishing” Sraffa, it’s simply a debased version of Sraffa’s own methodology. I tried to cover some of this here: http://faithfultotheline.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/chris-harman-economic-dynamics-simultaneous-equations/

    An effective demolition of Sraffa and neo-Ricardianism can be found in Machover and Farjoun’s The Laws of Chaos, and in Farjoun’s contribution to Marx, Ricardo, Sraffa.

  9. David, in response to your own (good natured) chivvying, while I don’t expect you to pay much attention to what I’ve been up to, it’s precisely in collective work on the economy that I’ve been engaged with – see for instance the RMF reports on the eurozone (and the Verso book I contributed to, if you’re insisting on that) alongside my work for NEF – most recently in publishing two lengthyish reports on the UK economy and (with the Welsh TUC) in developing an industrial strategy for Wales. Both, in this case, intended to win an argument that Keynesianism alone will not resolve the crisis. Of course, the People’s Assbly is another project that very deliberately seeks to put a radical critique of political economy in the hands of people who may actually be able to do something with it.

    I’m sure you can find plenty enough to fault in all this. But I don’t think I have been completely remiss in publishing material and working collectively on the kind of projects you seem to be talking about.

  10. When my old comrade Nick Howard refers to Tony Cliff’s 1957 presentation of the Permanent Arms Economy perspectives in 1957 as “enough to keep the SWP on track for another six or seven decades without a Kidron or a Harris” he risks entering a world of intellectual deference rather than Marxist analysis. Of course Cliff paid an indispensable role in launching and sustaining the SR/IS over the years. Cliff was working on ideas initially developed by others as I mentioned above. But even he recognised that Mike Kidron had both deepened and rendered more rigorous his 1957 outline of a PAE theory over subsequent years. And he was key in supporting Nigel Harris as editor of the International Socialism journal to succeed Kidron left for a period in India. Surely the difficult questions surrounding the new economic and political landscape within which socialists have to operate now require something more than political hagiography?

  11. Am just logging into all the above and there is much I could say on several fronts but I will focus on Kidron and the PAE. Before doing that let me say that to my later regret my contact with him was limited to a couple of day-schools organised by Jim Kincaid and Colin Barker in Leeds and Manchester circa 1975 and a couple of other meetings one at Skegness being I think his farewell performance (and he did perform – with a magisterial air and self-assurance he shared with Nigel Harris and they were both a delight to listen to in a way which Harman could never match when speaking at that time) That was a meeting I will remember for sitting in the row immediately behind Harris as he encouraged Harman on his right to get up and criticise Kidron’s view that the dominant tendency was towards state capitalism globally – not sure if it was 1976 or 77. It was a view which Kidron himself would abandon as evident in the world atlas series he edited with Ronald Segal for Pluto and as he increasingly focused on environmental destruction (which featurees prominently in his final unpublished work which I now have to comment on for HM)
    On the PAE whoever suggests that it simply depended on using the argument (derived from Piero Sraffa but not in a ccordance with Marx’s value theory) that arms production cannot affect the rate of profit for the whole economy hasn’t read the literature carefully. There were three other much more cogent arguments in support of the PAE and they were the ones I personally always invoked when writing or speaking on this topic back in the day before I wasn’t asked to do that anymore. In brief they were:
    a) A Keynesian style argument about boosting demand in the economy a d offsetting tendencies towards stagnation as a result of underconsumption. This can be found in Vance in the Cliff 1957 piece and Baran and Sweezy. Kidron however attempted to provide a deeper more structural analysis than Cliff. He also in the book at least discusses factors such as the increased labour supply displaced from agriculture and the legacy of wartime destruction and simply suggests they do not suffice to explain the boom continuing into the 1960s
    b) An argument about technological spinoffs thrown in rather casually and presupposing that such productivity efffects had repercussions across broad sectors of the economy – and there is some evidence for this with Aerospace, Computing, telecommunciations etc. But countries with higher arms spending such as the USA and UK had lower overall rates of productivity growth so this required recognition of the negative effects of diverting investible surplus-value into arms on relative competitiveness. Harman is clearer on this (although for some reason also trying to defend the use of the Sraffian argument despite an evident incompatibility)
    c) An argument that applies to all luxury consumption whether in the form of royal palaces, a luxury yacht or arms – it simply diverts surplus-value away from accumulation of capital for expanded reproduction into what Kidron would later write a long article about : waste. That the argument went meant a slower rise in the organci composition of capital (Marx’s term for the ratio of dead labour stored up in machines, infrastructure, stocks of materials etc to living labour) and therefore less pressure on the rate of profit – whilst at the same time maintaining levels of demand as per argument 1. The contradiction would emerge when countries with higher rates of capital accumulation and less military spending postwar such as Germany and Japan began to compete successfully a t the expense of the USA and UK.
    So there was coherence to one version of the theory but it was also perfectly reasonable for Kidron to engage in his autocritique and emphasise the role of other factors as well as arms spending (Nigel Harris took a similar path in his Of Bread and Guns and that opening chapter remains a tour de force and not the focus of criticcism in the review I wrote). What should not have happened is the elevation of a very specific economic analysis into another shibboleth so that questioning it became a matter of heresy or revisionism – and as Duncan Hallas would insist these were scientific questions. The issues were in a different category to the question of state capitalism where what was at stake was a defining feature of the IS Group’s politics – an absolute stress on the self-emancipation of the working-class as the condition for socialism. That was and remains the most enduring legacy of Cliff and Kidron – and for all his retreat from active left politics Kidron did not renounce his former organisation publicly (although the issue of feminism also played a part in his alienation from the party in the early 1980s I’ve been told).

  12. Thanks for that, Pete. I am aware of the other factors behind the post-war boom but was offering up a summary of the argument for.PAE as generally offered in party publications and at meetings in the period I was a member, 1991 – 2013.

    Without being too.much of a bore, can I ask you to elaborate a bit on the point you make at (c) above? Waste seems key to Harman’s account in Zombie Capitalism but I struggle to make sense of it. If we reject the idea that capital invested in luxury goods production participates in the formation of the rate of profit despite its material output not serving as an input in further rounds of production in what sense is surplus value accumulated there diverted from the process of expanded reproduction?

    Sorry if this is a.derail!

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