With every boom the apologists for capitalism claim that the tendency to crisis that has plagued the capitalist system since its very beginnings has finally been overcome. When the boom breaks, economists fall over one another to provide particularistic explanations of the crash. The crisis of the early nineteen nineties was the result of the incautious lending of the nineteen eighties. The crisis of the early nineteen eighties was the result of excessive state spending in the late nineteen seventies. The crisis of the mid nineteen seventies was the result of the oil price hike and the inflationary financing of the Vietnam war … the crisis of the nineteen thirties was the result of inappropriate banking policies … … . Every crisis has a different cause, all of which boil down to human failure, none of which are attributed to the capitalist system itself. And yet crises have recurred periodically for the past two hundred years.
Theories of crisis have always been intensely political. Different views of capitalist development and breakdown have always shaped, and been shaped by, political strategies. In the early and mid-1970s the onset of a crisis of Keynesian policy, and hence theory, brought on by an international cycle of working class struggle, led to a widespread preoccupation with "crisis theory" in both capitalist and anti-capitalist circles. While capitalist theorists struggled to find ways to restore control and accumulation, the Left gloated and said, once again, that it was all inevitable and dusted off a variety of old theories to prove it. This essay was written as the first chapter of a book intended as an intervention in the debates of those times.
In order to avoid reifying Marx's social theory, it is important to focus on the social relations that Marx's analytical categories denote. By focusing on value formation as the process of reproducing social control, the imposition of alienation takes on a richer meaning. Not only is alienation a process of human degradation, it is also a strategic instrument in the valorization process.
Autonomy is the practice, the theory and the revolutionary project of the epoch of “fordism”. Its subject is the worker and it supposes that the communist revolution is his liberation, i.e. the liberation of productive labour. It supposes that struggles over immediate demands1 are stepping stones to the revolution, and that capital reproduces and confirms a workers’ identity within the relation of exploitation. All this has lost any foundation. In fact it is just the opposite: in each of its struggles, the proletariat sees how its existence as a class is objectified in the reproduction of capital as something foreign to it and which in its struggle it can be led to put into question. In the activity of the proletariat, being a class becomes an exterior constraint objectified in capital. Being a class becomes the obstacle which its struggle as a class has to overcome; this obstacle possesses a reality which is clear and easily identifiable, it is self-organisation and autonomy.
During the last decade there have been a number of critical studies on abstract labour. Apart from three articles in Capital & Class by de Angelis (1995), Arthur (2001), and Kicillof and Starosta (2007), notable contributions have come from Heinrich (1999), Kay (1999), Kicillof and Starosta (2008), Postone (1996), Saad-Fhilo (2002), Starosta (2008), and Vincent (1991). These works reject Ricardian inspired approaches to value according to which value is labour embodied in commodities. Instead of analysing value magnitudes, the transformation of value into prices, and the allocation of resources to socially necessary branches of production, the works examine value as a specific social form of wealth. Generally speaking, the former partakes in a substantialist approach to value, and the latter in a social and monetary approach. Examination of value as a specific social form entails reassessment of abstract labour as the substance of value.
In this book I re-examine Karl Marx's analysis of value through a detailed study of Chapter One of Volume I of Capital. The object of this study is to bring out the political usefulness of the analysis of value by situating the abstract concepts of Chapter One within Marx's overall analysis of the class struggles of capitalist society. I intend to return to what I believe was Marx's original purpose: he wrote Capital to put a weapon in the hands of workers. In it he presented a detailed analysis of the fundamental dynamics of the struggles between the capitalist and the working classes
Up there, they intend to repeat their history. They once again want to impose on us their calendar of death, their geography of destruction. When they are not trying to strip us of our roots, they are destroying them. They steal our work, our strength. They leave our world, our land, our water, and our treasures without people, without life. The cities pursue and expel us. The countryside dies and we along with it. Lies become governments and dispossession is the weapon of their armies and police. In the world, we are illegal, undocumented, unwanted. We are pursued. Women, young people, children, the elderly die in death and die in life. And up there they preach to us resignation, defeat, surrender, and abandonment. Down here we are being left with nothing. Except rage. And dignity
As a theater of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy, economic Darwinism undermines most forms of solidarity while promoting the logic of unchecked competition and unbridled individualism. As the welfare state is dismantled, it is increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state as social problems are increasingly criminalized and social protections are either eliminated or fatally weakened.
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