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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
During the last ten years Marxism has come to occupy a substantial position within American academia. This is especially true in economics where, until recently, discussion of Marx and the Marxist tradition was largely confined to courses in the history of economic thought and in the economic history of the Soviet Union. The rise of an academic Marxism has been due, I would argue, to two forces. First, the struggles of students within the context of the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s carved out time and space within which politically active students could study Marxism as apart of radical economics, insurgent sociology, and so on. Second, university administrators and the business interests they generally represent have been surprisingly tolerant of the expansion of Marxist studies. This reaction to student demands is not simply a case of the “repressive tolerance” Marcuse described so vividly. The current tolerance is due, more importantly, to the need of business for new ideas during the present period of economic and social crisis. There is a long history of the capitalist appropriation of Marxist ideas which should lend credence to this suggestion. Moreover, the numerous attempts in recent years in the business press and in professional economic journals to give space to radical ideas and to evaluate current Marxist economic research demonstrates the on-going interest of business and its ideologues in the possibility of appropriating something new from Marx. Nowhere has this tolerance been more obvious than in the area of Marxist research on the theory of economic crisis." This willingness on the part of business to appropriate Marxist ideas and to use them for its own purposes has been largely ignored by Marxists working on the theory of crisis. They have, time and again, formulated their theories in ways that facilitate such appropriation. Yet this is not necessary. There is a way to read Marx and to develop Marxist theory that does not lend itself to this kind of appropriation. In this essay I do two things. First, through a series of examples, I illustrate how, in the history of Marxist work on the theory of crisis, many have forgotten the revolutionary content of Marx’s own work and thus left themselves open to the dangers of capitalist appropriation. Second, I suggest an alternative approach to the study and elaboration of Marx’s analysis of crisis that makes its political and revolutionary content explicit and thus more immune to appropriation.
All over the world, events are keeping up with the pace of a crisis, the end of which was just recently cheerfully proclaimed by people who thought ludicrous amounts of sovereign debt to be the recipe for an economic miracle. By racking up debt to their ears, governments worldwide were able to contain the so-called financial crisis; but then, the rating agencies presented them a bill that they promptly passed on to wage workers. The whole maneuver did not lead to recovery but to an even more menacing state budget crisis, the handling of which through uncompromising austerity measures has aroused anger. Resistance is mounting. We are at the threshold of a social crisis. Those who feel the effects of the governments’ austerity programs in their everyday life are starting to realize ever more clearly that these are not temporarily painful, yet necessary sacrifices. They are becoming aware of the fact that the drastic cuts will not only last for years or even decades, but that their own future is becoming ever bleaker. We are probably at the start of a new era: Ever since society was brought back down to the earth of cold hard economic facts, the culturalist carnival of differences has come to an end. Society’s colorful superstructure has scaled off to reveal, in Orthodox Marxist terms, the drab, universal base. And the crisis has achieved what activists striving to link struggles have been incapable of for decades: millions have taken to the streets simultaneously with the same purpose. All they’re left with is an ever more precarious survival under the reigning conditions. For them, it’s all or nothing.
Marx, Engels and Luxemburg were all keen to return to the egalitarian relations of primitive communism, at a higher level. But how does the egalitarianism of early human societies connect up with Marxism’s prime focus on the rise and decline of capitalism? As capitalism continues to disintegrate, this article looks at the egalitarian origins of money in ancient Greece for clues as to how we might transcend the whole money system.