My thanks to my friend Terry Witkowski for his thoughtful response to my recent blog piece entitled ‘How Macro is Macromarketing?’ My claim remains that macromarketing declines to theorise markets in terms of capitalism and therefore can overlook such structural issues as class.
Terry responds by informing me that not all markets are capitalist and reminds me of the existence, once upon a time, of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, it is necessary for me to say that it was never my intention to claim that all forms of exchange and distribution, or market formations, are capitalist. Rather, my claim is that when markets are analysed, their situatedness within capitalism tends to be overlooked and this, therefore, occludes the geo-political-economic context which is the broader macro context. Naturally, such a comment would not be relevant to any study that does not study capitalist markets and whose existence is not bounded by that same geo-political-economic context, but given that almost all papers in the journal’s recent volumes do not address such a context, this point seems somewhat pedantic. It is, nonetheless, a qualification that I am happy to accept.
More critically, Terry insists that capitalism ought not to be regarded as a singular entity and notes the large divergence that exist between, for example, stakeholder capitalism in Japan and French statism. First, we might note how neoliberalism tends to reduce the very possibility of alternative economic structures between states and observe how transnational bodies such as the IMF and EU aggressively limit the possibility of different modes of government – a phenomenon we witness today in the failure of the Greek government. But moreover, it is important to argue against the recurring and popular idea that we do not have capitalism but diverse capitalisms.
For Marxists, there is only capitalism, albeit a capitalism of ‘uneven but combined development’. Such a perspective requires us to read not just one nation’s trade deficit as contingent on another’s surplus but also to regard the ‘development’ of any particular state as partially stemming from the active ‘non-development’ of other states in a way that recognises both the imperialist legacy and dependencies on maintaining flows of cheap raw material and labour. In this regard, capitalism wants states to develop towards mutual prosperity (so to ensure demand for commodities) but it also wants there to be cheap sources of raw material and labour. Here we see capitalism as contradictory and unstable and such a recognition of instability is crucial for Marxists for understanding why economic crises happen and why structural unfairness is unavoidable. For example, as Bauman has well argued in Wasted Lives, western countries, like the Netherlands, are able to support their record-breaking density of population precisely because so many other lands cannot; that is because they import bare commodities like cereals at bottom prices from ‘developing countries’ and then use them for the production of expensive export objects like meat and milk. For a Dutch person to then regard the African countries that they import from as overpopulated and under-developed would be a galling comment for any Marxist analyst who would more clearly see the structural injustice. Whilst I accept that many macromarketing market systems theorists do agree that there is structural unfairness as countries trade, they seek solutions through macromarketing. Marxists, on the other hand, see unfair arrangements as endemic to capitalism.
Therefore the diversity of economic order that exists within states that allows the emergence of stakeholder capitalism in one versus strong statism in another, does not contradict Marx’s general formulae. Instead, in a model of ‘combined but uneven development’, we should precisely expect such diversity within a single model. Scholars of the state, within this tradition, typically conclude that the state exists not to contain capitalism but rather to mediate between competing class interests so to allow capitalist reproduction to continue. For example, we can observe the rise of post-War social democracy in certain countries as taking place not in spite of capitalism, but for capitalism, as it protects it from revolution. That such practices of mediation differ across countries does not contradict the basic claim that there is a single capitalism. Indeed to believe otherwise is to accept that some countries are simply better than others at capitalism and therefore, where poverty exists, this is a matter of internal failure rather than structural dynamic; a perspective that will always privilege the rich countries who will see themselves as potential wise counsel who can offer best practices to those less able to understand capitalism, rather than seeing themselves as smug benefactors of brutal class privilege. This is not to deny that states can be poorly governed and others well governed, but it is to say that government takes place within a wider capitalist structure and that rigorous criticism should begin where wealth is accumulating, and it is to acknowledge that eliminating poverty is foremost a task of eliminating privilege; that rising tides cannot raise all boats.
Whilst it is wonderful that there is to be a special issue on alternative economies, as Terry informs us, my concern is that unless studies of alternative economies seriously consider their capitalist frame, they will be fancifully naïve. As Althusser put it, there is both a Repressive State Apparatus and an Ideological State Apparatus that exist to reproduce the means of production and cannot be simply wished away or dissuaded by rational argument. Learning how to counter such apparatus becomes a key part of Marxist analysis, and any Marxist would regard the idea that we can simply achieve ecological sustainability via tweaking capitalism, as naive. For Marxists, imagining that capitalism has the capability to reorganise itself according to a logic of non-growth is a profound misunderstanding of how capitalism functions and how class interest will defend itself. For Marxists, simply aggregating practices that reduce unsustainability in particular contexts and then declaring that we might therefore be moving towards overall sustainable capitalism, if only more could be rationally persuaded, equally presents a profound misunderstanding of capitalism. slot machine apps for android
There is irony in Terry’s claim that macromarketers do not read Marx because they regard him as irrelevant. No doubt he is right. But last week I attended the Historical Materialism conference alongside 741 other delegates. This was only the London branch of a global conference network that includes Historical Materialism conferences in Toronto, Rome, Berlin, Delhi and New York. And this accounts for merely a single network of Marxist conferences; amongst many. If we expand the field to include all Marxist academic studies direct and indirect – that is subject areas whose existence stems from Marxist theory – then we are accounting for one of the biggest areas of global academic research. Add to this the many Capital Reading Groups that exist around the world and so engage a broader readership, the many social movements and political parties that are inspired by Marx’s theories, and the many people who continue to read Marx’s books which remain available in any decent bookshop anywhere in the world, in so many languages, then the question of which subject can lay greater claim to relevancy – Marxism or Macromarketing – takes the form of a tragic kitsch.
Finally, it is wonderful that Terry encourages a scholarly update of Marxist analysis within Macromarketing. Whether or not one agrees with Marx and Engels’ claims in their Communist Manifesto, many economists would agree that Marx’s analysis of Capital remains a comprehensive text whose theories, far from anachronistic, still provide a strong basis for understanding and therefore is relevant to people of all political persuasions. Marx never presented a theory of communism and therefore the failure of the Soviet Union does not mean that we are presented with a failure of Marxism. Rather Marx is the open project in which we do not know the answers but are equipped with a series of tools that allows us to better question our predicaments. That the wrong answer arose from Marxists in the past, and may well do so again in the future, should not prevent anybody from learning from these mistakes and starting again at the level of serious rigorous analysis, deep thinking and dialectical engagement. Marxism, therefore, is not a subject for fanatics but a subject for serious scholars who can only make plausible interventions when they are rigorous and sensible to their subject’s own history. A Marxist simply cannot overlook how their subject has lead to flawed practices in the same way that many business school professors do every day. With that in mind, the idea that macromarketers need not bother with Marx, is a bad idea.