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Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism
Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism
by Zak Cope
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.10

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breakthrough in Marxist political economy of globalization, 3 Jan 2013
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Cope's book is a milestone in the current of Marxist political economy known as "Third Worldism", that is to say, in developing an honest and realistic understanding based in Marxist value theory of what in the wider literature is called the divergence question: the long-standing division of the world between a small number of rich countries where even the working class has incomes in the top 10-20% of the world population, and a much larger number of poor countries lagging tremendously behind in all aspects of development. As is well known, this gap grows larger rather than smaller, and significantly from the Marxist point of view, it has led for the first time in world history to the majority of the world population actually being poor urban workers - in these countries. There is among socialists little disagreement as to the reality and significance of this fact, nor of the corollary, the enormous significance of finding the right economic theory to explain and understand the mechanics of this divergence.

For this reason it is remarkable with how little seriousness and honesty most Marxist economic theorists have been willing to analyze this subject. There is indeed some excellent Marxist literature in development economics, as exemplified by the works of Ben Fine, Patrick Bond, and others. There is also a wider literature more rooted in Marxisant versions of dependency theory, such as Samir Amin and Arghiri Emmanuel, and these already go much further in trying to analyze not just the perpetuation of differences in wealth by immediate policies of imperialism and expropriation, but to also understand the historical reproduction of class relations corresponding to the phenomenon of global divergence. For this reason, perhaps, those authors are already somewhat marginal within Marxist economic theory: generally it has been very acceptable to the various Marxist parties and political currents to expound upon the evils of imperialism and war and the poverty of the Third World, but it has been much less acceptable to try and understand those "mechanics" underlying this divergence, never mind the political conclusions to be drawn from these facts themselves. This threatens the political viewpoint of most intellectual Marxists, rooted in the politics of students and workers in the First World countries, as those conclusions may not be compatible with that viewpoint, and it is hard to ignore the feeling that at some level this is sensed by many Marxist economists. Do not explore too far in this direction, they seem to say: for there be dragons.

It is therefore to the immense credit of Zak Cope (this may or may not be pseudonym) that he has done so regardless of the political consequences or palatability of this research for the Marxist mainstream in the West. Indeed, once one starts thinking about the perpetuation of divergence, the ever-declining interest in revolution and support for a meaningful socialism among First World workers, the rise of social-democracy as the 'consensus' of the First World even up to the neoliberal era, the logic of settler states and the inherent 'workers' chauvinism' associated with them and the reproduction of similar ideas among the working classes of Old Europe in response to immigration; in short, all the unpleasant realities of Marxism today and one then notices how all these are contrary to the expectations of mainstream Marxist political thinking but entirely compatible with the Third Worldist perspective, one has a very strong case to be explained indeed. Cope does just this with great vigour and relentless scientific seriousness. What J. Sakai had done for American settlerism in "Settlers", this Cope does more extensively and more scientifically for the position of the working class of the rich countries as a whole.

Cope's case runs, briefly summarized, as follows. The imperialism of the Western countries (broadly taken), enabled initially by the plunder and exploitation of the Americas and continued by the increases in wealth, power, and technology enabled by these, have over time created the potential for systematic transfers of surplus value from the 'imperialized' 'periphery' to the imperialist 'center'. These transfers then not only allow a great blossoming of labor in the countries of the center that is not immediately productive of capital, because it is compensated for by the external value transfers, but more importantly it permits the ruling classes of the center to buy off the exploited working class of the center with the proceeds of this imperialist rent. This labor aristocracy, so formed, then no longer fulfils the one special role the working class has in Marx and Engels' theory of historical materialism: namely, to be unable to emancipate itself without overthrowing the conditions it itself reproduces with its labour.

In and of itself, this is not a new observation: it is the classic expression of the theory of the labor aristocracy as found in Engels and Lenin, among others. However, the real crux is that Cope then extends this theory by demonstrating that the natural ideology of the labor aristocracy is social-democracy, and that social-democracy is the means by which the imperialist rent is shared with a wider and wider section of the working class of the center. This First World generalized labor aristocracy thereby becomes almost entirely non-exploited in net terms, according to Marx's theory of value, because the value of the surplus value produced by them is (more than) compensated for in the process of distribution through world trade. That is to say, the imperialist and neo-imperialist unequal exchange between the First World - defined by Cope as roughly the OECD and the non-OECD, excl. Eastern Europe - and the Third constitutes such a vast transfer of surplus value in the sphere of distribution that it permits, through social-democracy, an almost total compensation for the domestic exploitation of the First World working class.

Using the widely available statistics on working hours, male workers' wages in OECD and non-OECD countries, the estimates of value transfer through undervaluation of Third World currencies compiled by Gernot Köhler, the estimates of value-added in production between the First World and the Third, and so forth, Cope makes a clear and convincing case suggesting strongly, although with some room for error, that it is not at all possible to account for the differentiation by productivity differentials only, and in fact that the overwhelming majority of the wage differential is composed of vast transfers of value from the developing countries to the developed ones, distributed there to the Western working class. The means of such transfer are unequal exchange in commodity trade (i.e. deteriorating terms of trade), unequal exchange in currency exchange rates, the substantial and systematic trade deficits of the First World (especially the US), FDI profit repatriation, and so forth.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough to all open-minded Marxists and people interested in development questions. Occasionally the prose is somewhat rote, but the points are extremely important and made with all scientific seriousness and are the fruit of an impressive amount of research and statistical calculation. In the current period, the capitalist classes of the First World seem inclined to go more and more against the historic compromise of social-democracy, and the social-democracy is therefore declining in historical vigour proportionally to the shift of capitalist production from the First to the Third World in search of lower wages and higher profits, pressured by ever-accumulating private debt. This death agony of social-democracy seems to me only understandable on the basis of a Third Worldist analysis as outlined in this book, if one does not want to fall back into unsatisfying and intellectually lazy clichés about "false consciousness", "hegemony", media dominance and whatnot to explain the current global political constellation. Nepal makes revolution while no British communist group has more than 3000 members, China and India 'develop' along capitalist lines because the Western working class has lived at their expense - that is the reality we must explain today.


Crisis in the Eurozone
Crisis in the Eurozone
by Costas Lapavitsas
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.09

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Radical analysis of the Eurozone crisis and exit, 16 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Crisis in the Eurozone (Paperback)
Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics at SOAS, and a number of economists associated to one extent or another with the Research Group on Money & Finance, published this book as an examination of the effects and meaning of the economic crisis of our times for the countries in the Eurozone. They limit themselves quite specifically in this manner, not discussing the wider impact on the EU, the non-Euro member states, or the nature of the crisis insofar as it does not immediately relate to the issue of the Euro and the banks of the Euro system. What one does get, however, is a remarkably precise and detailed analysis of the constituent elements of the crisis in the Euro, the European banking system, the nature of the bailout and its failures, and the relationship between debtors and creditors within the Eurozone, which have emphatically been on the political foreground in the past two years or so.

The framework is that of examining the opposition of interests between the core countries of the Eurozone, the creditor states of France, the Netherlands, Finland, Austria, etc., and most importantly Germany, and on the other hand the intra-European periphery, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland (though Ireland is not the focus of this study due to its idiosyncrasies). As Lapavitsas et al. argue, the European Central Bank and the monetary union which it underpins are essentially constructs created to achieve these purposes: first, to create a European currency which can rival with the US dollar as the `world money' Marx identified capitalism must have in the absence of a metallic standard; secondly, to unify the money market and thereby the competitive strength of the financial institutions of the Eurozone; thirdly, to facilitate the imposition on the EMU member states of a permanent system of austerity, inflation-targeting, and budgetary restraint which would make any serious national opposition to the interests of European finance capital (and industrial exporters and carrying traders) impossible. In this it has succeeded wonderfully well.

However, as skeptics pointed out from the start, the Eurozone contains a serious contradiction between the interests of the capitalists of the core (well served by this) and those of the periphery, for whom this does not work as well. The authors rather unusually emphasize Germany's primary position within this system, and its dominance over the interests of the periphery, as following not so much from its export strength as from the fact it has had the longest and most enduring neoliberal wage repression of the Eurozone. This then combines with its absolutely high levels of productivity and its political power over the ECB (located there) to make it fundamentally more `competitive' than the southern countries, which have seen rising nominal wages but insufficient corresponding productivity growth. This is supported and further examined by a great deal of graphs and data, unfortunately often not clearly visually presented.

A second major section of the book is to argue the effects of the financialization of the Eurozone, and how this has played out in generating much of the crisis. The crisis started, of course, with the collapse of interlinked financial bubbles in the United States - the real estate bubble and the multiply leveraged debt bubble. But the focus is here on the Eurozone only, and this has experienced similar phenomena. It is certainly worth remarking on how commonplace it has become for commercial banks to undertake financial `investments', for consumer debt to skyrocket in response to stagnating real wages and an increased dependency on credit in the open market for previously `shielded' consumption like education and housing, and to note the enormous expansions of fictitious capital luring in investment from institutional investors, domestic corporations, and so forth, exposing them to much greater degrees. However, this aspect remains somewhat undertheorized in this book. There is little explanation of the political economy of financialization itself, its origins and its relationship to the rate of profit in the overall economy - other than declaring it, rightly, as part of the neoliberal project. This is perhaps defensible as such considerations can be found in various other books, and one cannot expect one book to discuss everything. But a more political economic background might engage the work more with the criticisms of much of the distributionist theories and `crowding out' explanations of financialization as offered by for example Andrew Kliman, and would contribute to that debate. As it stands, financialization appears as an exogenous cause explained merely in terms of ideological drives for deregulation and the economies of scale of large corporations that allow them to self-finance investment, as also summarized by Lapavitsas here.

The third subject of the book is probably of the greatest political-economic interest, namely a practical discussion of the trends in the current crisis and the attempts to resolve it on the part of the `troika', and what the periphery countries can do about it. The focus here is, understandably and rightly, mainly on Greece, although no doubt much of the same applies to Portugal and perhaps also Spain. Lapavitsas et al. take a strong stand against what they see as the failures of the political left to properly understand and critique the presuppositions of the EMU system, thereby paralyzing left politics at precisely the moment it needs to intervene strongly. One might add that this also leaves open the door to other forces to do so instead, as already becoming visible in Hungary and Greece. The left's response has been a muddled back-and-forth between on the one hand suggesting massive lending and investment by the ECB and Eurozone countries respectively as a simple stimulus programme, and on the other hand an inchoate resistance against the European system as a whole, proposing solutions which would involve a more `popular' Euro policy.

For the authors, this is inadequate and incoherent, and they make a strong case. As they describe it, there are essentially three possible routes: the first is to continue the current policy. That is to say, the troika provides liquidy and limited debt relief to periphery countries in return for severe austerity policies. The purpose of this is purely to retain the credibility of the Euro as a whole and thereby benefit the financial institutions as well as the beneficiaries of the Euro as a world money, and the costs come down entirely on the shoulders of the working people of Europe and especially of the periphery. There is some discussion here, as in many post-Keyenesian arguments, about the inability of the austerity policy to actually revive growth and investment, but this strikes me from a Marxist angle as besides the point: its sole purpose in the short to medium run is to favor financial capital interests, as with Cameron-Clegg's policies on behalf of the City of London, and the restoration of the investment climate for the national bourgeoisies is left to the mass devaluation that results from prolongued recession and unemployment. Here, Marxism and the theory of the transnational class have considerably greater explanatory power than the (post-)Keynesian analysis, which would have us believe the ruling class is simply unable to see its own interests, and that those interests can partially coincide with those of the population as a whole. We must resist such notions.

However, on rejecting the recipe of austerity and recession, two other options remain. The second is the `left-EMU' option, that is, to attempt to use or reform the EMU institutions such that a genuinely `popular' policy can be followed. This seems to be the notion favored by much of the social-democracy in Europe insofar as it is having second thoughts about the neoliberal turn, and also that favored by the trade union leaderships and the left `civil society' and so forth. Here Lapavitsas et al. are very useful in their denunciation of this approach, at least for the periphery. As they rightly note, there is very little reason to believe even a reform like abolition of the Stability and Growth Pact would be able to overcome the contradictions inherent in the Euro project as currently conceived, and aside from that, it is virtually inconceivable that the ruling classes of Germany, France, the Netherlands and so forth would be willing to move any further in that direction. They have already permitted the ECB to make various direct interventions to restore liquidity, they have accepted partial defaults on creditors' terms, and they have had to substantially finance the EMU-wide bailout funds like the EFSF - all of which entails in practical terms a distribution of value from the core to the periphery. The middle classes of northern Europe are well aware of this, and are exercising strong pressure not to budge any further. A left option within the EMU is therefore for the periphery actually a more utopian possibility than the third, the option of exit.

The exit strategy is the most politically significant and the most interesting, and especially for Greece appears as the only really viable option purely from the point of view of economic development. While restoration of national fiscal and monetary power and disembedding from the EMU on the part of the periphery might be seen by some as a concession to nationalism and contrary to the international interests of the workers, it is worth considering the substantial economic historical evidence for the importance of sovereignty in achieving developmental goals. Moreover, as Lapavitsas et al. make clear, there is not much choice. The various calculated scenarios of the econometricians of the troika themselves indicate that Greece will not by the current course be able to sufficiently reduce its national debts, both public and private, and the severity of the depression in the country and capital flight are further undermining the state's tax base. The ECB cannot indefinitely keep propping it up, simply because it is not backed by a federal or united European state of which it can be the monetary-fiscal incarnation, and therefore its risk position from the point of view of transnational finance capital is relatively unstable - one major reason why the ECB's interventions have been much more conservative than those of the Federal Reserve. More importantly, the current prospect is indefinite high unemployment, negative growth, loss of real living standards, and loss of self-determination for Greece's working people, never mind the looming spectre of Chrysi Avyi. This cannot be allowed to go on, especially as PASOK, ND, and the `Democratic Left' are by no means capable of convincing the troika of EU, IMF, and ECB to act against their own interests and pressures and let Greece off the hook.

However, as the authors make clear, there are two ways in which exit could be undertaken, and their impact would be significantly different in each case. The first is the conservative exit, which would entail a creditor-led default along the lines of the `haircuts' imposed so far. The creditors would then have to accept a swap of euro-denoted debt for drachma-denoted debt, for which they will impose considerable conditions in return. The Greek small savers, pension funds, middle class small investors and the like will be hit hard, while the primary financiers of the troika will demand exemption from default in return for this manoeuvre. Greek banks would have to be recapitalized, possibly on the basis of nationalization, but managed from the outside by the troika or their comprador forces domestically (as is essentially the case now in both Greece and Italy). The northern creditors would also be hit considerably, but if the exit involves just Greece, the costs would be limited and probably surmountable. However, continued participation in the EMU structure would almost certainly entail continued or more severe austerity as precondition for a later re-entry into the euro.

The option favored by the authors instead is what they call `radical exit', and this is the option which socialists within and without Greece ought to examine and discuss most seriously and earnestly. In all versions, this basically involves a unilateral declaration of default, i.e. bankruptcy, on the part of a Greek government willing to act decisively in favor of the interests of the Greek masses. There would be an enforced shift from the euro to the drachma, by unilateral declaration, and of course the necessary bank holiday and capital controls imposed upon the country to prevent bank runs and capital flight. The troika and the northern expropriators would be expropriated at a stroke, the banks nationalized under public control, and the overall debt audited as to its structure (which is not currently public knowledge) and liabilities. Such a course of action in the short term is only possible if the government is willing not just to intervene, but to intervene radically and immediately, with a clear plan. Any muddled or delayed action would worsen the situation by permitting more capital flight, steeper rises in the inevitable inflation, and worse dislocations and shocks to living standards.

It is almost certain the result would in any case be painful for the Greeks in the immediate term, with inflation, loss of lending facilities abroad, and rising costs of imports (oil, consumer goods, machine tools, and medication especially). But it would permit, as Lapavitsas et al. rightly note, an actual way out that is not permanent austerity. The restoration of national sovereignty in the political-economic sphere must be used immediately to redistribute the very unequal wealth of Greece, as it is no coincidence that the periphery nations are the poorest and the most unequal. An industrial plan must be developed to counteract unemployment, the bourgeoisie and Orthodox church seriously taxed for the first time, and the ossified political and civil society structures crushed. Depreciation can be expected to improve the `competitiveness' of Greece over time, and it is a great opportunity for the modernization in productivity terms Greece has never properly undergone. The prospects for living standards in Greece would over 10 or 20 years be almost certainly considerably better than those under the current policy, and the authors use the example of Argentina's default and state-led revival programme as analogy.

This book certainly makes a strong argument for why euro continuation is not compatible with the interests of the working people of the European periphery. However, as may be clear from the above summary, its perspective is still somewhat limited. It is in some respects still somewhat too simplistic - for example, the authors seem somewhat naive about the compatibility of the radical course with EU membership overall, handwaving this away in the sense of `who knows what will happen'. It seems to me such an exit would, unless shared by several countries at once, necessarily entail an exit from the EU as a whole, given the centrality the euro project now plays in it. Also, the authors do not address the political and ideological dimension adequately. Even among the Greek population there is a great reticence about the exit strategy. This is partially borne out of the real increases in wages and consumption since joining the Eurozone, fuelled considerably by the boom period's cheap euro credit, but it is also a serious reflection of the sense that membership of the EU and its inner structures acknowledges Greece, Portugal, and similar countries as belonging to the modern, developed, and cooperative European project. Much of this is no doubt illusion, but it is a live one. The very fact that the EU to many people stands for a historically unprecedented peace between the major European states and for a guarantee of a certain formal freedom and equality - the formal equality of money - over the isolation and tyranny of Colonels and falangists cannot be ignored. Here, ideology plays an important role in holding back more radical critiques and strategies, out of fear of throwing the baby away with the bath-water. This is not a wholly unfounded fear, and any left programme of exit must address it.

Another political economic limitation is that the book's analysis and strategic considerations do not go beyond the immediate logic of the developmental state. Indeed, much of this is no doubt intended to function as transitional demands towards a more lasting change of social formation; this is certainly true for a Marxist economist like Lapavitsas, although perhaps less so for a Keynesian like James Meadway. However this may be, the use of for example Russia's recovery strategy after 1999 as proof of the possibility of a radical option shows the strength but also the limitation of this strategic idea. After all, how radical is Putin's militarist, oligarchic developmental nationalism? There is little room here for at least critically discussing the traditional left critiques of nationalism and of the idealization of work, in short, the critique of productivism.

Certainly the conditions of the Eurozone and the crisis are such that the `development in one country' route cannot be avoided - whatever the Trotskyist clichés may be, one must either act or not, and someone has to make the step. One could not blame Greece for a developmental nationalism in this way. But the logic of competition between nation-states under capitalism necessarily forces a contradiction between such developmental nationalism and the interests of the domestic working class, not to mention the working classes of other nations. A more thoroughgoing socialistic approach would be needed to disembed the exiting countries from these logics as well. The difficulty there is, however, that unlike China or the USSR a country like Greece or Portugal has few major resources and a small economic base to start from, and an autarkic developmental state capitalism is likely not a viable option. Here the necessity of solidarity between nations, not just in words but in actually mutually supportive political-economic strategies, is paramount; else a new Greece risks ending up a new Cuba. In saying this, I have by no means solved the strategic problem, and it is one fraught with political and economic difficulties. But in writing Crisis in the Eurozone, Lapavitsas et al. have made a major contribution to the sober and concrete consideration of the possible ways forward; it is now up to other socialist critics to join this debate.


Love And Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution
Love And Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution
by Mary Gabriel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 21.12

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful personal biography of the Marx-Engels family, 19 Aug 2012
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The genre of the personal biograph, when applied to famous historical figures, more often than not falls in the traps of sensationalism, moralism, or hagiography. This is not least the case when it comes to persons of considerable political controversy, such as Karl Marx and his friends and family. However, Mary Gabriel's personal biography of the Marx-Engels clan studiously and brilliantly avoids all cliches and all sensationalism, portraying the characters 'warts and all', sympathetically but without making saints of them. Its almost 600 pages are unflaggingly interesting, intelligent, and informative even to those who are very well acquainted with Marx and Engels theoretical thoughts and the chronology of their life. But what's more important is that it is virtually unique in its emphasis on the personal life of Karl and Jenny Marx, their children, their friends (not least of course Engels), and their many associates.

Although Gabriel makes sure to make clear the significance and substance of the various works Marx, Engels, and the family wrote or worked on during their life, this is not yet another political-romantic biography of the theoretical heroes of socialism. On the contrary, this book is a chronicle of their private hopes and pleasures, their struggles, and their difficulties. Also uncharacteristic for the many biographers of the Marx-Engels extended family is Gabriel's courageous and timely decision to emphasize the significance of the lives and work of the women of the group: Jenny Marx, Karl's wife; their three daughters, their only children to survive infancy; Freddy Demuth, the illegitimate son of Karl Marx; and the daughters' partners, children, and friends. In the usual biographies of Marx and/or Engels, his wife appears merely in the background and his daughters are a footnote, but in Gabriel's biography, they come into their own as serious and dedicated revolutionary thinkers and doers in their own right. In the process Mary Gabriel finally also clears up a great number of small errors and confusions that have been copied from one biography to another, and she is to be commended for the great thoroughness with which she has conducted and presented her research on a topic many would think has been too fully mined to lead to any new gold.

In an era when both Marxism and the cause of women's equality seem more under attack than ever before, and yet are more needed than ever, it is fitting and just that a great new biography should revive the founders of Marxism as human beings in all their glories and failings, and that for the first time the women in the family should play an equal role in the narrative. While the political and theoretical histories of Marx and Engels' lives tend to be a story of triumph against adversity, Gabriel's book makes it clear that this cannot by any means be said of the private lives of the family. More than anything else, it stands out clearly for the first time what a sad, difficult, and often despairing life they led, the women of the family especially. It has often been remarked on, but it only becomes clear from this work why the Marx women all died early, several to suicide, and it is clear that their lives were not as happy nor as fulfilling for their own great talents, no less than those of the men, as they should have been.

Two great forces of their age made their lives more confined and more frustrated in its potential than conscionable: on the one hand, Victorian moralism and the enduring power of patriarchal values; on the other hand, the more physical but no less destructive power of disease. The former held the women in restricted positions, endlessly sacrificing their wishes, their talents, and their very happiness to the cause of the men; the latter robbed them - the men no less than the women - of their strengths, energy, and future. In Gabriel's book, there is rarely a moment that some member of the great Marxist family is not gravely ill. Many of Marx's children as well as of his grandchildren died in childhood of vague diseases, caused by the poverty and inequality of their times, and incurable by the low level of medical expertise and the difficulty of affording it. In a time when both these great hostile forces, patriarchy and disease, are the prime enemies of the emancipation of humanity in most of the world, it is a sad but useful reminder of their impact to read about how they destroyed the Marx family. Even Marx himself may well have lived longer and been much more productive, to the lasting benefit of our knowledge of socialism, had he not been perpetually ill and taken such medication as mercury and arsenic, never mind much alcohol, to alleviate it.

"Love and Capital" is therefore not necessarily a happy read. But it is a fascinating read, full of lively detail, engaging writing, and sound judgements. It does without the hypocrisy or moralism of many hostile biographers but also free of the pretense that the Marx family was flawless in their personal life. The author also does not shy away from the real revolutionary commitment of all the participants, not just Marx and Engels but their wives, Marx's children and husbands also, and does not try to reinvent them as 'democratic' egghead theorists or irrelevant Victorian ranters. If one has to have an objection, it is some very minor errors and that the copious endnote apparatus often contains no further explanation of the many interesting and illuminating details first mentioned in the text. But those are just quibbles. On the whole, this book by a respected Reuters editor (of all people) is of enormous benefit to our understanding of the historical reality of the founding family of Marxism, and in particular of the real contribution of Marx's wife and daughters to setting this great movement of history in motion. It deserves to be widely read and will surely become a classic in the history of Marxism.


The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time: Socialism in the Twenty-first Century
The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time: Socialism in the Twenty-first Century
by John Bellamy Foster
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and repetitive, 26 Jun 2012
If Hungarian Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros is indeed Hugo Chavez's favorite theorist, as implied by the book cover, the President of Venezuela must be a patient man indeed. "The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time" appears to present Meszaros' philosophy of history, and because of the high regard he is held in by many (as shown also by the enthusiastic introduction from John Bellamy Foster), this seems promising enough. But in reality, the book is a mere collection of essays, articles, and occasional pieces, by and large on the same topic. As a result, the argument, the content and even the quotations are extremely repetitive, an effect which is worsened by Meszaros' ineptly abstract, obscurantist writing style. When all is said and done, "The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time" introduces few new ideas to the body of socialist theorizing about the historical course of capitalism and the transition to socialism.

Meszaros' specific ideas are best summarized so: the unique nature of capitalism is not just its manner of production, but also its time accountancy, i.e. its subjection of all human activity to the 'count' of socially necessary labor time, and the implication that this time accountancy is a historically closed system. It expands only quantitatively, and does so in this way or that, sometimes with 'reforms', sometimes with laissez-faire, sometimes with state support and initiative, sometimes with the 'free market'; but under all circumstances is the only measure of its progress the accumulation of dead labor time to dominate the living workers. Meszaros identifies, quite rightly, the failure of the Soviet system of planning as the failure to overcome this time accounting and thereby the system of accumulation for its own sake, rather than for the production of use values in a 'sustainable' way. The latter is important, because Meszaros refutes the closed historical reading of capitalism that corresponds ideologically to its time accountancy: instead of Whiggish histories and the right-Hegelian 'end of history' of Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman, for Meszaros the reality of the future is a choice between socialism and barbarism. This updated version of Castoriadis focuses on the possibility of catastrophe, perhaps Marx's "mutual ruin of the contending classes": the possibilities of human destruction through ecological collapse or through nuclear war. The former is hardly unique to Meszaros among contemporary Marxists, but his emphasis on the latter is more original - there is no reason to believe we are any less likely to suffer destructive nuclear war now than during the Cold War, as imperialism not only continues, but intensifies with the slow decline of the hegemonic power.

That said, for the most part the work has little new to offer. There are the usual refutations of 'free market' economics, of the ideological notion that 'there is no alternative', the usual genuflections towards the importance of democracy, sustainability and changes in consciousness: all that avails us very little in the abstract. One chapter is purportedly dedicated to outlining principles for socialist reconstruction of society, but in fact does very little of that, by remaining (as is too often the case with Marxist political theory) on the level of generalities and largely ethical claims. And Meszaros himself rightly attacks the likes of Stiglitz for failing to transcend that level! The author recurrently makes use of his two core concepts, the need of socialism for 'substantive equality', and the distinction between 'capital' as the movement of the economy and 'capitalism' as the entirety of society. Neither concept however is explained or defined with meaningful precision in this work; perhaps one must refer back to his magnum opus, "Beyond Capital" (Beyond Capital Pb: Toward a Theory of Transition) to understand the use of this work. For the most part, the work does not go beyond what are now well-established lines of critique, and which themselves are often just workings out in the current period of Marx & Engels' original concepts. The degree of repetition and the annoyingly obtuse style therefore particularly tax the reader's patience.

It is high time that Marxist writing on history and political theory goes beyond the level of a repetition of moves, beyond the purely negative work of refuting neoliberalism, critiquing inequality, and such more. For example, nowhere is Meszaros' concept of substantive equality related to the general understanding that Marxism is, as theory, a philosophy of freedom and emancipation, not of abstract equality; while at the same time, no appeal is made to the strong scientific body of evidence on the negative social and health effects of social inequality. By sticking to generalities and repetitions of well-established post-1989 Marxist ideas, works like this threaten to be 'neither meat nor fish': they have not enough engagement with contemporary research to be scientific contributions, but are too general-theoretical and not sufficiently creative to be of political use. And that is unfortunate.
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Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
by David Harvey
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Harvey on the 'right to the city', 22 Jun 2012
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Within Marxist economics, David Harvey has made himself a specialist in questions of space, place, and geography, and this book is a specific application of that body of thought to the urban. Previously, Harvey had written on the history of Paris as the development of modernity, on spatial differentiation of global capitalism, and similar topics; now, he has turned his eye on the city in the modern day, and the role of urban struggle in the struggle against capitalism more generally. In so doing, he makes a number of very valuable points of analysis. While he is at times, especially in the first chapter, somewhat vague in his summaries of (financial) capitalism generally, he is excellent when it comes to explaining the significance and particulars of the spatial dimension and the way it applies to the city. Harvey's analysis focuses on the city in two ways: first, as site of the generation of rents, and the role that rent plays in the accumulation of capital; and secondly, as a commons, created by the collective physical and symbolic production of its inhabitants.

On the former topic, his chapter on wine-making is particularly excellent, using this perhaps obscure topic to delineate how different kinds of rent are the practical form of accumulation and thereby structure its production from beginning to end. One important aspect here that Harvey rightly, and quite originally, underlines is the necessarily subjective nature of rent: because rent is a category of distribution, it is entirely dependent on the social convention of property, and thereby requires constant efforts to reinforce those symbolic and subjective discourses and ideologies that underpin its existence as property. Not just in the sense of respecting the private ownership of intellectual goods or of land, but also in the ability of companies to appropriate the symbolic value attached to a particular place and social geography, a fictitious value produced by its history and cultural significance. From tourism to advertising, a considerable degree of of capitalist activity concerns itself with such second-order appropriations. This also posits such cultural, symbolic and historical spheres as sites of struggle, where class conflict may arise over such appropriations and the desire of those living in those spaces, or reproducing those symbolic values, to reclaim them as a commons.

The second point, with regard to the city itself as commons, is the mainstay of the book. Here, Harvey outlines the potential of understanding the urban struggles, whether over housing, rent, open spaces, parks, safety, public transport, or whatever, as elementary forms of class struggle. He rightly excoriates those who would withdraw from cities and their struggles into the minimal forms of self-association in remote areas or self-contained communal houses, or who believe that it is sufficient to have self-governing municipalities and localism and decentralization above all else - as he rightly points out, neoliberalism can be decidedly accomodating to localism and decentralization, and smaller is not always better. But he also emphasizes the role of urbanization worldwide in creating a historically uniquely urban working class, a clear locus of potential for vigorous struggle against capitalism, and rightly calls on communist theorists to follow anarchist thinker Murray Bookchin's example in developing adequate ideas for an urban socialist future. At times, Harvey certainly veers too strongly in the direction of claiming originality here - he attacks Marxists for having ignored urban struggles and the newly precarious workforce as being equal participants in the class struggle with factory workers, but this is largely a strawman. Indeed, for most of the history of capitalism, and in most parts of the world, the description of "temporary, itinerant, insecure and precarious" has attached to industrial work as much as anything, and therefore this is nothing new. But the historical move to a worldwide urban working class majority is indeed new, and of great significance for Marxist thought.

For Harvey, then, the 'right to the city' is his proposal for what traditionally would be called a 'transitional demand': a political form of struggle and a way of organizing which is not anticapitalist per se, but will necessarily have to organize against capitalism to succeed, and has the potential to organize a broad array of very diverse groups. This is plausible and important. The question, of course, is as Harvey himself asks: how does one organize a city? Of great significance here, especially in the wake of the fiasco in Wisconsin recently, is his use of American union theorists Fletcher and Gapasin (Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice) in seeking to broaden the traditional union struggles to comport with the real significance of rent and accumulation through rent in the life experience of the urban population. One major argument of this book is that the significance of rent has been understated by Marxist analysis as a practical and political site of struggle, mainly because as a distributional category it plays a subsidiary role in the pure theory presented in "Capital". This has in many cases led to an unacceptable narrowing of the activities of communist parties and movements as well as of labor unions, restricting their activities to those workers immediately occupied in production of commodities. Instead, as Fletcher & Gapasin rightly write, and Harvey cites: "If class struggle is not restricted to the workplace, then neither should unions be". Connecting such struggles with the wider struggles of unemployed people, of marginal workers of all sorts, of those engaged in domestic work and reproduction, and with the questions of practical life in the city outside the workplace are important ways forward for socialist organization and for a revival of unions; not just in Third World communities like El Alto in Bolivia or the Zapatistas in Chiapas, but at least as much for having a chance to organize urban Westerners against capitalist interests. At times, Harvey's suggestions here move somewhat in the direction of reformist 'municipal socialism', although he is right to point to the real accomplishments of those administrations. But with the Occupy movement in mind, Harvey's throwing down of the gauntlet to find an appropriate, centralizing, and internationalist urban basis for communism is a challenge that our best minds should seek to answer.


Lenin and the Revolutionary Party
Lenin and the Revolutionary Party
by Paul Le Blanc
Edition: Paperback
Price: 27.73

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trotskyist reading of Lenin and Bolshevik organization, 29 May 2012
"Lenin and the Revolutionary Party" dates from 1990 and was the first monograph by Paul Le Blanc (La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA). Yet the question of the relationship between Lenin's thought, the organizational aspects and evolution of the Bolshevik current in czarist Russia, and the relative success of the Russian Revolution compared to similar attempts in other countries is one that does not go away in 1, 10, or 100 years. Many scholars from left to right have contributed to the now immense bibliography on Lenin's thought and actions, but not many of them have bothered to take Lenin's own ideas on Bolshevik organization and the detailed context in which they evolved seriously. Le Blanc's book must therefore be read as trying to go beyond the fashionable demonization of Lenin as an inherently tyrannical, dictatorial, single-minded, intolerant, anti-democratic etc. etc. figure, especially when it comes to his ideas on the 'vanguard party' and its significance for the revolution. This he does well, and no-one in good faith can read this book and emerge believing in the idea of Lenin as someone with no interest in party discussions or substantially democratic decision-making. Similarly, the hoary old myth of Lenin as the fanatic, who wanted to substitute for the working class a small group of elite intellectuals and in so doing managed to somehow conjure up a revolution in 1917, is demolished as well.

The work is strong on contextualizing Lenin's theoretical and organizational writings, and in demonstrating the many twists and turns of his positions vis-á-vis those of other major figures in the Russian Social-Democratic movement (as it was then called): people like Zinoviev, Trotsky, Martov, Bogdanov, and so forth. However, the book also has some clear and persistent problems. These relate mainly to the dogmatically Trotskyist interpretation of events. Le Blanc has stated elsewhere that "[he has] always considered "Trotskyism" as the same as revolutionary socialism, associated with some of the most useful ideas and most inspiring traditions that ever existed". It is from that perspective and that one only that the entire narrative is presented. While this is not at all inherently invalid, as especially Soviet historiography is riddled with explicitly liberal or conservative readings masquerading as the voice of scientific neutrality, it does have its downsides. The first is the strongly hagiographical character of the work: there is in the entire book not a single case where Lenin is substantially seen as having been in the wrong, and while this may be justifiable on its own, it seems somewhat contradictory to the conclusion in the final chapter, where the later 'degeneration' of the USSR is presented as the result of Lenin's 'retreat' from socialism in 1921. Lenin was by all means a blunt and honest man, and made no effort to disguise the NEP, the repressive period of War Communism, and the bureaucratization of society as essential defeats for socialism. But this raises the question how such defeats can result from a correct analysis of events, as Lenin is held to always have had. This is an issue carefully avoided by Le Blanc. Similarly, the frequent quotations from Trotsky and the sneers at Stalin are but the mirror image of the Stalinist style of writing at the expense of political opponents (even in battles of long ago), and are equally annoying and historiographically unacceptable - especially when, for example, Trotsky's polemic "The Stalin School of Falsification" is quoted multiple times, without comment, as if it were a generally accepted historical source! Such methods cannot but mislead the unwary and irritate the informed readership.

Finally, and this is less Le Blanc's fault but more the consequence of the book being from 1990, the bibliographical source material is somewhat limited. The emphasis is strongly on quotations, which is effective to get an impression of the political debates at the time, but the book could not benefit from the vast multiplication of excellent social-historical scholarship on pre- and post-revolutionary Russia of the last 20 years. The book also seems to retread much of the same ground covered in more encyclopedic depth by Neil Harding in his excellent "Lenin's Political Thought" (Lenin's Political Thought), as well as Alexander Rabinowitch's detailed "The Bolsheviks Come to Power" (Bolsheviks Come to Power, The). Le Blanc does indicate he has some differences with them, and his emphasis is more precisely on organizational questions, so this is not illegitimate by any means, but it would have been interesting for the more experienced reader on these subjects to have more historical discussion of the extensive material on the same field by other scholars. As it stands, one does not get a good 'feel' for the established contemporary history-writing on the subject, and that is always a bit dangerous when it comes to politically fraught topics.

That said, if one reads it as the authoritative Trotskyist view of Lenin and the problem of party organization in Russia, it is readable and sound for its purpose. It makes a good addition to a library of works on the Russian Revolution, but is not to be used as the only work on the subject.


Conspirator: Lenin in Exile
Conspirator: Lenin in Exile
by Helen Rappaport
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining popular history, 16 May 2012
The genre of popular history when applied to biography has certain clear drawbacks, and in Helen Rappaport's "Conspirator: Lenin in Exile", these are all in evidence. There is the tendency to speculative psychologizing, trying to find out what was going on in the protagonist's head when there is little real evidence to go by; an enterprise pretty dubious even when executed well. There is the dramatization, the tendency to make the subject more in the grip of great human passions than he may well have been - especially in the case of someone like Lenin, notorious for his cool demeanor. There is also the liberal outlook of most popular history writers, shared by Helen Rappaport, which makes it impossible for them to take politics seriously as an life's calling and as a serious undertaking in the face of which all else must retreat. For Rappaport, as she makes clear enough in this biographical work, it is simply incomprehensible that one could find purely political questions of organization, strategy, and political theory of decisive importance. Time and again she upbraids Lenin or portrays him as monstrously callous and tyrannical for wanting to get his way on issues of this type, completely failing to understand that for a radical, let alone a revolutionary, politics to succeed, such things are literally questions of life and death. To fail to comprehend this is at some level to fail to understand Lenin's own motivations as a revolutionary, and that can be held against the author. Finally, the popularization also makes it, understandably enough, difficult to impossible to let such questions of political theory and practice come out in their full significance. At least, to do so would be to make it more of a political or intellectual biography, and although she does not explicitly say so, this clearly cannot have been Rappaport's intent. (Most likely, it would also considerably limit its commercial significance.)

All that said, "Conspirator" is in its genre a good effort and a fun read, and that is nothing to sneeze at. As Lenin is generally a despised figure in the West, making him the protagonist is a courageous choice, and focusing on his period in exile rather than his period in power lends the book a historical interest even for people already (somewhat) familiar with the man's life. Rappaport is specialized in Russian subjects and this shows: she understands the nature of Czarist Russian society well and does not attempt to conceal its absurdly backwards and oppressive nature. She has equally little trouble with getting across the atmosphere of the many cities Lenin lived in and travelled through on his endless treks across Europe to organize an opposition in exile. The writing is generally excellent, and what makes the book particularly interesting is her attention for details often ignored in the more common quick overviews of Lenin's life abroad: there is much information particularly about his stays in Finland and in Galicia, which are rarely mentioned. Interesting as well are Rappaport's descriptions of the encryption and smuggling methods used by the exiles to communicate with other exiles or with Russia, often much less successful at evading the Russian secret police, the Okhrana, than is often claimed in more explicitly appreciative histories.

Finally, she also gives due credit to a host of secondary figures, both in Russian party organizations and in exile, who are usually rarely mentioned because they did not become prominents later on - not in the last place the many women organizers, not usually party leaders but nonetheless of great significance for getting the RSDLP's illegal resistance work off the ground. Rappaport describes herself as a feminist historian, and the major roles given to Nadezhda Krupskaya, Lenin's wife, and Inessa Armand, his sometime lover, are well justified. Nonetheless, it is somewhat striking given this commitment that the author nonetheless engages in many cliché descriptions of the women in the narrative: there is constant mention of what a woman was wearing, whether she was any good at cooking, whether she was beautiful, and so forth. Certainly these patriarchal criteria would have been seen as important at the time, but that is no reason to focus so much on them now. It is telling nobody in these type of popular histories ever seems to worry about whether Lenin or Trotsky or Radek were attractive looking, and if they went slovenly dressed - as Lenin certainly often did - this is immediately seen as a sign they were free of vanity. Perhaps Rappaport meant this more as a description of the impressions of the time, but in that case, this is not properly specified. It would be interesting to once read a popular history about political subjects where all the male protagonists are judged by essentially aesthetic criteria!

All in all, the book makes for entertaining and informative reading, whether one likes or dislikes Lenin. To my taste, it still relies too strongly on the clichéd description of Lenin as the violent fanatic bent on power, although there have been much worse, more one-sided readings than this, and there is no doubt Lenin did have a domineering, disciplined personality and a remarkable lack of tact. For getting an impression of the way he lived his life, personally and socially, while in exile in many parts of Europe, this book can hardly be improved upon. It is also a refreshing thing to have Lenin taken seriously as a politician and an organizer, together with many others, before the actual events of 1917: both because this dispels the myth of the revolution coming out of nowhere due to the evil conspiracies of a few people, and because it shows how much of Lenin's theoretical work actually was aimed at resolving practical and organizational obstacles to the revolutionary mass organization he had in mind, an aim he felt was constantly being frustrated. For much of his life, Lenin was totally remote from any real power, and his pre-1917 oeuvre should be read with that in mind. One can forget the silly final chapter with the obligatory dismissal of his efforts towards revolutionary socialism, as this is par for the course in liberal popular history-writing. One can also overlook the absence of many major sources on Lenin's political-theoretical work, especially the main works of Lars Lih and Neil Harding. For all that, "Conspirator" is an entertaining and relatively balanced read, and informative enough to keep even those in the know going.


Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge
Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge
by Patrick T. Murray
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing discussion of Marx's epistemology and method, 13 May 2012
While there is relatively little about science as such in this book, Patrick Murray's "Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge" is nonetheless a subtle exploration of Marx's ideas about epistemology and the consequences this had for his method in Capital and other works. By analyzing the way Marx responded to Hegel and Kant and attempted to formulate a historical materialist understanding of Enlightenment thought, Murray strikingly deftly manages to present Marx's work as one integrated whole, uniting the "early" and "late" periods as usually distinguished. On the author's reading, for Marx the central concern was to overcome Hegel and the Enlightenment's absolute idealism as well as absolute mechanistic materialism, both of which produced and relied upon a series of dualisms. Contrary to Hegel, for Marx the dualisms were not resolved by finding a third element which united the two sides of the dualism in itself. Hegel saw this unity of the two, in Geist, as the overcoming of the contradiction, but for Marx the third element is merely the mode of appearance of the contradiction as such, and it is the contradiction that must be overcome in real life, in our social existence, not in thought. Dualism therefore leads to four elementary errors that Murray identifies as Marx's objections: subjectivism, transcendence, conservatism, and idolatry. All of these are the consequences of the projection and attempted overcoming in thought of dualisms that are really the results of contradictions existing in real social life.

For Marx, then, this meant (on Murray's reading) a critique that from the earliest works on up to Capital is systematically grounded in trying to find the social basis for the contradictions that appear in Enlightenment thought, to tease out the inner logic in reality that is reflected in the logic of the ideas. Here, it is methodologically important to note that Marx's method does not consist in the more vulgar historical materialist way of trying to relate the substantive content of theories to immediately apparent historical phenomena, as has been done often since; instead, he tries to relate the logic of a particular school of thought to the logic of the social-historical phenomena, a more subtle enterprise and one less amenable to simplistic reductions. Marx also for this reason rejects a purely moral critique of existing affairs, because such a critique bases itself not fundamentally on the logic of existing things, but purely on positing the individual as opposed to the reality, which itself creates a dualism. Instead, in "Capital", he finally scientifically demonstrates the logic of capital, shows the Enlightenment contradictions to be the product of the limitations of the logic of the surface phenomena of early capitalism (simple circulation), and the errors of the classical political economists to be those of the limitations of understanding the logic of the full value-form properly. Marx's own critique of value then appears in terms of epistemic method as the critique of the abstraction containing the contradictions of capitalist society being its essence, which necessarily appears in the definite forms of capital, profit, interest, rent, and so forth; contrary to the idea that value is a metaphysical or desirable essence, it is precisely this dualistic separation that Marx objects to in capitalist society.

Murray's work, influenced by Moishe Postone's ideas, is a subtle and quite stimulating study of Marx's method throughout his life, and makes the philosophical significance of his early works more clear in light of his later ones. Unfortunately, Murray does not always himself overcome the obscurity of terminology and over-abstraction that is inherent in Hegelian language, and sometimes becomes something of a 'vir obscurus' himself. In particular his chapter on money is sometimes lacking in clear exposition. Also, he tends to overstate the unicity of Marx's use of general versus determinate abstractions, which simply boils down to transhistorical versus historically specific phenomena. For most of this philosophical understanding to make more practical sense, it would have been desirable for Murray to integrate it into at least some discussion of what the significance of historical materialism and philosophy of history was for Marx himself. Without this, the discussion of Marx's impetus in relating the logic of Enlightenment thought to the logic of political economy remains somewhat disembodied. There is besides here a great opportunity to connect this with various Marxist historiographical critiques, particularly those of vulgar historical materialism imposing preconceived historical schemata on the history of thought and economy rather than trying to understand their inner logic.

All in all, this book is by no means easy reading, and at least an average level of familiarity with Marx's whole philosophical oeuvre is recommended. But for those already experienced in reading Marx and Engels, this will be a welcome contribution to understanding method and philosophy in Marx's thought, and the unity of the whole of his life's project.


The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change
The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change
by David Harvey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 19.54

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Postmodernity seen through the lens of political economy, 9 May 2012
David Harvey's 1990 book "The Condition of Postmodernity" has by now likely reached the status of a classic. Little of it is dated for a book now 22 years old, and it remains to be seen whether the current crisis will sound the tocsin for postmodernism as the dominant cultural form of expression of developed capitalism. With that in mind, it is a book much worth reading. Although David Harvey is a geographer, he is often surprisingly adept at art history and cultural interpretation, and this book is a stellar example of this. In the process of understanding the postmodern condition, Harvey leads us from the origins and nature of modernist thought through an excursus on political economic change to an assessment of the flaws of postmodernism as a style of thought. While the argument is rich and many-sided, it essentially has the following flow. Where modernism was the offshoot of the Enlightenment in the period of developed capitalism, seeking to reconcile the individuality of the bourgeoisie with the sense of progress of Enlightenment thought, representing the universal from the particular and the objective from the subjective, the becoming of transformation from the being of space, postmodernism is its opposite: it represents the particular from the universal, the subjective from the objective, and the local, partial, fleeting, and irreducibly particular from the general, the meta, and the universal. This seems a very powerful and valuable way to think about the opposition of the two, although Harvey rightly notes that the two are in their own way attempts to respond to the sense of time-space compression and historical fragmentation resulting from the intensification of competition and accumulation by the ever more full development of capitalism.

Because of this, the middle section of the book leads us into Harvey's analysis of the corresponding change in political economy. He presents us here with the by now familiar story of the Fordist regime of accumulation, with its class compromise, its mass production and economies of scale, and its unionization, to the 'flexible regime of accumulation', with its geographical displacement, its fragmentation of the labor force, and its instantaneous production. As a very general analysis of changes in technology within a capitalist framework, there is a good argument here, but I think much of this traditional story is either wrong or problematic by erroneous emphasis and serious omissions. Harvey is always at his weakest when doing applied political economy (as opposed to economic theory proper), and this shows here. The same story, where I to write it, would focus considerably more on the missing global history dimension, the historical development of the labour aristocracy as the dominant class in the West, the transformation from national to transnational capital within the continuity, rather than rupture, of the forms of production intrinsic to capitalism, and the significance of the global shift of production from the post-imperialist countries to the post-imperialized countries. My view would be much more skeptical than Harvey's about the significance for capitalist accumulation of the changes in technology of communication and production; not because those have not dramatically developed since the 1970s, but because the so-called 'Fordist' regime was always more exception than the rule from a global viewpoint, and was within the West more caused - by historical political developments relating to the rise of the labour aristocracy - than cause. My view would also be much less rosy about the social-democracy that underpinned this 'Fordist' system. This is also not to overdo the super-macro-level effects of the technological changes to capitalism as a mode of production: as Doug Henwood and many others have rightly argued, there is not and will never be such a thing as an 'information economy', a 'knowledge economy', and so forth.

That said, the third part of the book returns to the cultural-political sphere, and is as excellent as the first. Through surprisingly deft and easily intelligible readings of (mainly French) thinkers on ideology and space, Harvey emphasizes the political-ideological consequences of the further compression of space-time resulting from the capitalist technological changes. This in turn, he suggests, produces a further individualization and fragmentation, a massive speeding up of life and a further destabilizing of fixed capital and fixed historical sense of place, so that truly "all that is solid melts into air". Postmodernism then appears as the ideology of individualism and subjectivism turned in on itself, a burrowing into the ground by the middle class now fully individualized and thrown into complete competitive uncertainty. Ironically, Harvey suggests this means the deconstructionist, localist, subjectivist, and counter-narrative projects of postmodernism all really disclose a deep longing for some manner of meaning and stability that can give a sense of place and part to the intellectuals of the Western middle classes. This is not a sneer, because it is a natural enough response, and modernism was also such an attempt in response to the rise of a fully capitalist system in the second half of the 19th century. Whenever competition and loss of symbolic and political power operate, people will seek to find a new ideological ground on which to understand their place in society. The pressures of capitalist individualization will then force these into the local, the subjective, the immediately experienced, and the construction of individual senses of meaning (identities) from the same. It is perhaps the age of the book that leads Harvey to ignore the salient question of the relationship between identity and politics here, when he ends on the high note of wishing to reclaim the modernist project in the name of Marxism (or the Marxist in the name of modernism), but that wish is itself one well worth sharing.


A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World (Themes in Global Social Change)
A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World (Themes in Global Social Change)
by William I. Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.96

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful contribution to Marxist theories of international relations, 24 April 2012
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Although the author is William I. Robinson, who teaches sociology and IR at UC Santa Barbara, this book is the very opposite of a Robinsonade - in fact, it deals with the global convergence of the capitalist class and its interests. Robinson's thesis in this book is that rather than conceiving of globalization as increasing internationalization, i.e. increasing trade and political connections between nation-states and proceeding from that political level, it should instead be understood as an increasing transnationalization. In other words, it means that there is now a secular tendency for the formation of a global, transnational capitalist class, which operates on the basis of the interests of global capital and increasingly forms a transnational state apparatus (from UN to WTO to IMF) to exercise its power. This global capitalist class is in opposition to the old national bourgeoisies, which are ever more succumbing to this struggle, and dominates global production in terms of volume - as Robinson aptly demonstrates with some choice statistics from the 1990s (surely even more true now). This global capitalist class has not made the nation-states obsolete, but restructures their organizations and institutions of power according to its needs and tries to pave the way for the total domination of this class over all state power by programmes of austerity, privatization, 'structural adjustment', and so forth. In other words, according to Robinson, the neoliberal order is the political mode of appearance of the interests of the global capitalist class.

So far, so good. Much of this is plausibly argued, and the author makes a number of valuable points. First is the importance of seeing the current transformation of capitalism not as a struggle between nations, such as the US and China, at the fundamental level, but rather as the rise to hegemony of the global capitalist class. Its opponents are those capitals that have purely national or regional interests to maintain specifically against the interests of the global capitalist class, and of course the proletariats of the world, which are (if much more slowly) also globalizing. Second, that it is in the interests of the global capitalist class to maximize the mobility of capital, but to minimize the corresponding mobility of labor, insofar as this would allow the development of a global proletarian opposition. The forces of globalization require ever more social containment on the part precisely of the territorial state powers, in order to prevent the Polanyian counter-movement from appearing (my words, not his).

Finally, this has only been possible because every part of the globe has now been formally subsumed under the capitalist order; there is no extensive form of 'original accumulation' possible any more on any serious scale. Robinson argues that therefore the global capitalist class' main interest in international relations is to overcome the opposition not just of the various working classes, but also of the national capitals that stand in the way; and that it seeks to supplant these by introducing everywhere 'polyarchy', i.e. the hollow form of 'liberal democracy' that channels civil society and oppositional forces into the periodic election of one or another branch of the elite. He implies it is precisely the status of petty dictators and the like as representatives of the interests purely of their national capitals and their nation-state territorial position that makes them undesirable in the eyes of the global capitalist class, however willing they may be to trade with them if they have to. This would then explain the neo-imperialist adventurist turn of many of the richer countries, including many not previously participants in such undertakings.

There are some problems with the argument nonetheless. Firstly, Robinson's economic historical explanation as well as his crisis theory are somewhat shoddy and in many cases questionable. For example, as Marx himself already pointed out, to explain a crisis by stating that there is overproduction and underconsumption is to explain precisely nothing - that is how a crisis appears under capitalism. Similarly, his reading of the social-democratic consensus is surely too rosy. It is not likely that neoliberalism appeared solely as a way for globalizing capital to escape the clutches of this consensus; the consensus itself was deeply limited in scope and intensity to certain parts of Europe and the Anglo-American countries, and it was two rapid crises that brought it down at least as much as its success.

This also fits Robinson's main weakness in the otherwise excellent and essential global outlook on political economy - namely, a serious understatement of the significance of previous imperialism and the contradiction between the First and the Third World, so-called. I agree that there is a long-term secular tendency now towards the creation of an 'equalized' global proletariat and Robinson is certainly right against Arrighi c.s. that this tendency is a victory of global capitalism rather than of East Asian capitalism. Yet this does not mean that we are yet anywhere near this situation of equalization, and precisely the distinction in existing wealth creates strong counter-globalizing forces including among the Western working classes, who have much to lose by this turn of events. By all accounts, they would prefer returning to the rosy social-democratic consensus based on the post-imperial dominance of the West, and for this reason the response to globalizing capital has been explicitly right-wing, not left-wing. Robinson is too optimistic, or too naive, when he implies that the (white) working class of the US or Europe is close to an objective or subjective position of being in the same predicament as the workers of Mexico or the Philippines. They are moving there, but are doing everything they can to prevent it, at the expense of the global proletariat as much as anything.

That said, this book is an important contribution at the political and strategic level to a truly global understanding of capitalist processes in the postwar period and today. So far, much of the initiative in this has proceeded solely from Maoist or post-Maoist sources and authors like Samir Amin. It is good to see this trend being more widely followed, and the significance of this perspective being increasingly appreciated among Marxists more widely. We cannot leave world system thinking to the followers of Frank and Arrighi, great as their contributions have been; let alone such people as Niall Ferguson or Joseph Stiglitz. "A Theory of Global Capitalism" should help put us on the right path.
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