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This book analyzes key aspects of Marx’s Capital with an eye towards its relevance for an understanding of issues confronting us in the 21st Century. The contributions to this volume suggest that while aspects of Marx’s original analysis must be adjusted to take into account changes that have occurred since its initial publication in 1867, his overall perspective remains necessary for understanding the nature of crises in 21st century. Part I emphasizes the central concepts Marx employed in Capital, including exploitation, capital accumulation, commodity fetishism, and his use of dialectics as a method for baring the underlying relations that define capitalism. Parts II and III extend that focus by addressing the concept of value, fictitious capital, credit and financialization. Parts IV and V offer analyses of several concrete manifestations of contemporary crises from national contexts (Europe, Latin America, China, and the United States). The volume argues that we have to combat the imperatives of capitalism to move towards a more humane and egalitarian future.



Chapter 1. Introduction: Confronting Capitalism—Lessons from Marx’s Capital

The analysis of capitalist relations that Marx articulated in 1867 remains relevant today in the early decades of the twenty-first century. Using a methodology defined by abstraction, dialectics, and a historicist approach, he was able to highlight the inherent tendencies and internal contradictions of capitalism as a system of production, distribution, and consumption that underlies the modern social, cultural, and political fabric of social life. The necessity of confronting today the crises that have arisen from a now global capitalist political economy means that Marx’s insights are no less important today than they were when he was writing. At the same time, changes that have occurred within the capitalist system over the course of the past 150 years have prompted a rethinking of some basic elements of Marx’s original formulations. Each of the contributions to this volume point to the continued relevance of the insights Marx offered in the three volumes of Capital.
Marc Silver

Beginning with Capital


Chapter 2. Marx’s ‘Ultimate Aim’ in Writing Capital Was…

In the Preface to the first German edition of CAPITAL, Marx declares that his “Ultimate aim in this work is to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society”. Despite its importance, this phrase has not gotten the attention it deserves, either from Marx in the pages that follow, or from most of his readers. My main aim in this chapter is to make up for this lapse. I will also examine whether Marx succeeds in doing what he says he intends to do… if not, why not… and, again, if not, what can and must we do about this today.
Bertell Ollman

Chapter 3. Marx and Commodity Fetishism: Some Remarks on Method

The chapter deals with the status of the theory of fetishism in Marx’s critique of political economy. It seems that Marx has grasped fully the significance of commodity fetishism only in preparing the second German edition of Capital (1872), where he gives a systematic exposition of it. One has to distinguish the moments of critique and dialectics in Marx. The analysis of capitalism and its fetishistic illusions is the job of the critique, whereas dialectics is used in the presentation of the results of the analytic investigation. The passage of fetishism in Capital is thus not a part of the dialectical exposition, but rather formulates the presuppositions of it, since it shows the illusions against which an adequate theory of capitalism has to be developed and its concepts justified.
Vesa Oittinen

Chapter 4. Late Marx and the Conception of “Accumulation of Capital”

Marxist political economy quite often refers to the “accumulation of capital” as if it were a transparent concept, easily understood from Marx’s work. The problem is that the concept has not broken from Marx’s predecessors when mentioning accumulation, even though it must be understood with class clearly in mind, not means of production, not constant capital. Further, Marx had stated in Capital that he was offering an understanding of a world that is fully capitalist. Yet his discussion of accumulation suggests that more wage-laborers would be involved, in addition to more constant capital. And Luxemburg discussed the implications of expansion of wage-labor employment being fundamentally involved in the accumulation of capital. Thus, there are contradictions in Marx needing to be examined. For example, how does value as a concept work in a theoretical environment in which non-capitalist environments are being penetrated by capital.
Paul Zarembka

Contending with Value: Money, Price, Temporality, and Space


Chapter 5. Form Analysis, Space, and Spatial Struggle

The chapter argues that one promising way to challange objective forms of thought as well as the social forms of capitalism, is to be found in struggles over and through space. Before getting to this point, a discussion of the notions “objective forms of thought” and “social form” that underlie this argument is undertaken. While “social forms” are the social relations established “behind the backs” of the subjects who, through their everyday practices, establish these very forms, the “objective forms of thought” are unconscious mental abstractions, which systemically emanate from the very same social practices under the capitalist mode of production. The theoretical discussion departs from Marx’ formulations in Capital, moves on to the controversy between the German “New Reading of Marx” and its critics, touches upon the German state derivation debate and ends up with the works of Alfred Sohn-Rethel, David Harvey, Neil Smith and Henri Lefebvre on space.
Bernd Belina

Chapter 6. The Transformation Problem and Value-Form: Methodological Comments

The discussions and debates Marx’s theory of value and especially the so-called transformation problem have been very protracted. The discussion raises many methodological and principal problems. An important starting point is Marx’s outline parsing the value theory in the questions about the substance, measure, and form of value. In the debates some of these aspects are often overestimated to the detriment of others. If the focus is in the form of value, the measure, the substance, and the material conditions of the valorization process are sometimes underestimated. If on the other hand the technical conditions of the process of production are emphasized, the changes and metamorphosis in the form of value is often ignored or neglected. The difficulty is obviously in finding the right path to the synthesis of these various aspects in the theory of value. In this article, some methodological problems are touched, especially those connected with the reproduction schemes and linear production models and the relation of “simultaneous” and “sequential” reasoning as well as with the “monetary” theory of value.
Pertti Honkanen

Chapter 7. Value Forms and the Structure of the Capitalist System

The missing time dimension of value, that corresponding to the future, will be established here. The two triads of value and time will then be complete: value linked to the past, exchange-value to the present and use-value that ties to the future. This formulation allows for the understanding and characterization of contemporary capitalism and in turn will show the way to the emancipation from the rule of capital. Further, the nature and origin of profit will be established as a basic corollary of monetary exchange under capitalism; this does not invalidate Marx’s characterization of surplus value and exploitation but is the necessary form of expression of these. The key to all this is in the understanding of the two triads. The total wealth of the system needs to be classified and mapped and this will be seen to be composed of two elements, one representing the past and the other the future.
David Fishman

Financialization, Credit, and Crisis


Chapter 8. Marx’s Musings on Financial Crises: Credit and Crises in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Gold Standard

This paper focuses on integrating Marx’s theory of real and financial crises into a theory of complex crises. I argue that in part V of the third volume of Capital, what Engels referred to as Marx’s “disorderly mass of notes” on credit, Marx had the beginnings of a concrete analysis of the three panics—1847, 1857, and 1866—which wreaked havoc in mid-nineteenth century Britain. He argued that the relationship between the real economy, the rules of the game of the mid-nineteenth century gold standard, and the emerging credit system shaped the complex nature of the era’s downturns, as well as the contradictory role and relative effectiveness of the Bank of England in managing the era’s periodical outbreaks of financial disorder.
Laurence A. Krause

Chapter 9. Marx on Financial Intermediation: The Promise of Money as Command Over Future Labor

Confronting capitalist finance, we examine Marx’s articles on the French Crédit Mobilier, written for the New York Daily Tribune during the 1850s, to identify the outlines of a theory of the destabilizing role of financial intermediaries (FIs) in economic development. By combining Marx’s real-time historical analysis of joint-stock investment banking in France with the theoretical treatment of financial accumulation in the Grundrisse and Capital, we extract a framework for understanding the role of financial intermediaries in capitalist development. Five propositions emerge: (1) FIs proliferate speculative claims to social wealth beyond realization; (2) FIs immobilize and misallocate capital; (3) State debt as ‘lender of last resort’ is ineffective; (4) FIs concentrate capitalist property; and (5) FIs play an explicit political role in “buying time” in class struggle to defer intractable conflicts to a later date. The object is to read Marx politically—to root Finance in class relations. Money advanced as credit is the promise to command future labor. Successful completion of the circuit of interest-bearing capital presupposes the successful imposition of surplus labor. We distinguish Marx’s analysis of speculative financial crises from Post-Keynesian views, recognizing that the uncertainty of money as capital is the uncertainty of the class struggle itself.
Joseph M. Ricciardi

Crisis in the 21st Century: Cross-National Evidence


Chapter 10. The Ambiguous Role of China’s Collective Land Ownership Under Global Capitalism

China, with its large tracts of land not fully capitalized and a peculiar “uneven” structure that articulates different modes of production together—the smallholdings, the nominal collective ownership, and the advanced form of post-Fordist capitalism—presents an interesting case for Marxian theory of accumulation. In this paper, I analyze how collective land ownership and subsistence agriculture serve to generate a huge army of cheap, flexible, and disposable labor force, and how the “small peasant family,” a crucial institution notable for its accumulation of “unwaged labor” and its capacity for “intensification of labor”, functions as an important institution to sustain such large-scale rotation of migrants between country and city. However, “collective ownership” still contains the possibility of dissociating laborers from the urban capital and reintegrating them with land for more productive use and thus indicates an alternative direction for China’s future development.
Xiangjing Chen

Chapter 11. Beyond the “Pink Tide”: Dependent Capitalism in Crisis in Argentina and Lessons to Be Learned for Radical Social Change

The global capitalist crisis has had a huge impact in the so-called neo-developmentalist processes of capitalist development in South America. In particular, in Argentina the combination of local barriers and limits (originated in the particular form of dependent development) with regional an global events, have put into question the continuity of this particular way of capitalist strategy for development. We propose to analyze this process and its current transitional crisis in the light of class conflict and the particular form of dependent capitalism in Argentina. We will stress the way in which the articulation of (a) class relationships and struggles with (b) patriarchal rule (and struggles against it) and (c) super-exploitation of nature (and clashes to stop it), amount to a particular form for working class strategies for radical social change. We will analyze the particular form of these struggles and the way in which they constitute and -at the same time- put into question, the production and reproduction of capitalist value in Argentina’s dependent setting.
Mariano Féliz

Chapter 12. The Final Fiction: Madoff Clawback Suits and Their Implications for Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century

In December of 2008, former NASDAQ Chairman Bernard L. Madoff’s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme collapsed under the weight of client redemptions spurred by the financial crisis of 2007–2009. The story of Madoff’s devastating fiction seized international attention until his sentencing to 150 years. However, the Madoff Trustee’s clawback suits, which make claims on how fictitious profits should be treated—continues to be overlooked by the public and scholars. This paper argues for their significance to the very ideological bulwarking of finance capital in the twentyfirst century by providing a Marxist reading of these suits and their outcomes. The author applies insights from Capital Volumes II and III, while situating the suits and the debates surrounding their use within the cultural logic of capitalism in the twenty-first century. This logic, as shown through clawback suits, is more and more willing to consciously and brazenly embrace the obliteration of lines between Marx’s concept of fictitious capital and real capital.
Colleen P. Eren

Chapter 13. Navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of Precarious Work: Through the Storm of Contingency

Marx contended that the Capital–Labor relation is massively and structurally unequal; the former feeding vampire-like off the latter. This chapter contends that—in keeping with the original thesis of Capital—the increasing social reality of “precariousness” or “contingency” work, while becoming that much scarcer and insecure, remains the major form of social reproduction in contemporary society, necessarily remaining the major means for material subsistence for a majority of its members. This chapter aims to contribute to a critical theory of “flexibility”/precarity informed by Marx’s own critical theory of the Capital–Labor relation which it also argues is mystified by the ideology which aims to present such conditions as their opposite. The effort to define and articulate a critical theory of precarious or contingent labor is best served by Capital and its original recognition that the material terms of existence—work, or employment—remain the primary social determinant in social reproduction itself.
Christian Garland

The Past and Present with an Eye on the Future


Chapter 14. What If Our Schools Are Working? Base, Superstructure, and Hegemony in Education

American schools are working exactly the way they are intended to work. The modern public education system developed to serve the managerial needs of industrial capitalism in the first half of the nineteenth century. It reached maturity along with the economic system as the factory-model in the 1920s and has changed very little since. As education became more regimented to meet the workforce needs of industrial capitalism, high schools became key areas for indoctrination and sorting, especially for urban immigrant populations. In recent decades, as automation, robotics, and globalization have decreased the need for unskilled and semi-skilled labor, three trends have added to the capitalist nature of miseducation in the United States—zero tolerance criminal justice, high-stakes testing, and charter schools. American schools do however allow some space for promoting progressive change. Marxists can support the development of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as Gramscian organic intellectuals of the working class.
Alan Singer

Chapter 15. Demographic Changes, Pension Reforms, and Absolute Surplus Value: Intertemporal Exploitation in Contemporary Capitalism?

This article proposes a Marxist interpretation of contemporary demographic changes and pension system reforms. The former, which have been happening since the first industrial revolution, including population aging and reduced birth rates, can potentially make it difficult for capital to replenish the labor force necessary for exploitation and accumulation at a proper rate in many countries. This possibility has important consequences for the production and reproduction of value and surplus value, insofar as it affects the inflow and outflow of different types of labor power in the circuit of industrial capital as well as the redistribution of social labor by means of taxes and government transfers. Reforming pension systems by increasing the minimum retirement age helps to keep the flow of labor power into the circuit of capital for a longer time, but with a different composition of the labor force, with more experienced workers. This work investigates whether this increased working lifetime of laborers could be seen as a form of intertemporal absolute surplus-value extraction by the equally aging capitalist class.
Marcelo Milan

Chapter 16. Readings of Capital: A Starting Point for Reinventing Socialist Politics?

This chapter explains the emergence of different readings of Capital in the changing historical contexts in which socialist movements were operating. More specifically, Capital, and other texts by Marx and Engels, were key to the formation of Marxist socialism in the days of the First and Second International. Unable to explain imperialist expansion and rivalry, this first wave of reading Capital was supplemented with a second wave prior to WWI and the Russian Revolution. Bureaucratic rule in the Soviet Union and Western welfare states and a shift of revolutionary processes to the colonial world eventually produced a third wave of reading Capital in the 1960s. The chapter concludes with some thoughts on the lessons the three waves of reading Capital might offer to present-day socialists who have to come to terms with the failures and defeats of past socialisms.
Ingo Schmidt


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