At the moment I’m reading the current issue of the Historical Materialism journal. This opens with a transcript of a lecture delivered by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin last year.
The lecture is based around a number of themes but with a strong focus on the need for a stronger theory of the influence of institutional structures both on the working class movement and on the ability of capitalism to survive into the 21st century.
I’m not sure I agree with that in principle. I think in general the nature of institutions is less important than the social structures and economic relations around and underneath them. However there was one section of the lecture which I think is very insightful for Marxist thinking concerning competition within capitalism which I wanted to capture here.
Essentially it challenges the assumption that competition which leads to monopoly means a reduction in the level of competition – that monopoly means that capital gains a level of control over the market which reduces or removes the impact of competition. This is a theory associated with Lenin and other thinkers from the early 20th century.
As Panitch and Gindin point out, it has become clear with the growth of large multinational companies – which might be thought of as monopolies in their field – that competition is still a significant factor. What is different is that these large companies continue to compete strongly for the available surplus value, between each other, but sometimes even between different divisions or regions of the same company. Even in conditions of monopoly competition remains a primary driver of the dynamics of capitalism.