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A Chinese socialist consensus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/09/2021 - 8:42pm in

By Carlos García Hernández (originally published in Spanish in El Común )

Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter during Sino-American signing ceremony - 31/1/1979.Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter during Sino-American signing ceremony – 31/1/1979. Photo: National Archives Catalog

“(a) the monopolistic political power of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must not be challenged; (b) within the confines of, and to strengthen, condition (a), economic development should be interpreted as the essence of socialism, and thus of the utmost importance; and (c) regarding the central decision-making process, personalistic regime should be replaced by party rule, i.e., a consensus based collective decision-making process.”

Third Plenum of the 11th Central Committee of the CCP, December 1978

The above quote reflects the consensus that has prevailed in China since 1978. This consensus marked the coming to power of Deng Xiaoping and the start of the economic reforms that have lasted until the present day, which marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the CCP. The quote was collected by Xu Chenggang, professor of economics at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, in his seminal research work “The Fundamental Institutions of China’s Reforms and Development”. Building on this work and on previous articles on what I have called fiat socialism and modern money consensus, I will analyse the Chinese consensus in order to propose the socialist reforms that I believe would help to improve the living conditions of the Chinese people. To do so, I will interpret the information provided by Professor Xu on two levels, one ideological and the other economic.

Xu calls the Chinese economic model a “regionally decentralized authoritarian system”. According to this model, the central government and the CCP leadership control and decide on the political representation of the various Chinese provinces. Once these officials have been chosen, they are responsible for managing most of the economy, since almost 70% of public spending is carried out at the regional level and more than 55% at the sub-provincial level. Then, what is established is a competition between the different provinces. They are placed in a ranking of economic growth and have to compete with each other to climb up the ranking. The provinces are further divided into municipalities (or prefectures), the prefectures into counties and the counties into towns. Competition is established in all subdivisions, so that the most successful subnational governments are rewarded by the central power with more resources. Access to more resources is therefore conditional on success in economic management. This is the basis on which the Chinese economy is established and what distinguishes it from any other economic model ever seen.

The economic results of this model are spectacular. Before 1978, Chinese annual growth was 4.4%; between 1978 and 2011 it was 9.5%. The share of total factor productivity in growth was 11% before 1978; between 1978 and 2011 it was 40%. As a result, between 1978 and 2011, GDP increased 8-fold, a level of growth unparalleled in human history. As Professor Xu explains, one of the consequences has been that “The Chinese population in absolute poverty (defined as $1/day income) has dropped from 50 per cent to 7 per cent in twenty years, while the number of individuals in absolute poverty was reduced by almost 400 million. This number is nearly three-quarters of the poverty reduction in the whole developing world (World Bank 2003)”.

What political interpretations can be drawn from this? In my opinion, one above all: China has definitively broken the link that Karl Marx established between the so-called problem of the realisation of profits and Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall.

Let us recall that, in the second volume of Capital, Marx is confronted with an inescapable question: How is it possible that the capitalists constantly take more money out of circulation than they put into it? Of course, the origin of this subtraction must be surplus value, but “the question […] is not where the surplus value comes from but whence the money comes into which it is turned”. The answer to this question is a turning point in Marx’s work. His reasoning is as follows: the origin of the money into which surplus value is converted must be compatible with the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall, the fundamental thesis that Marx wants to demonstrate in order to achieve his ultimate aim, which is none other than to expose the inevitable collapse of capitalism, understood as a productive system based on the private ownership of the means of production.

However, this is clearly ad hoc reasoning. That is, instead of analysing the question empirically, Marx designs the answer to the question of the money into which surplus value is converted to fit his predetermined conclusions. Marx thus answers the question by means of the transactions that take place in the private sector and he ignores the existence of the public sector, and for this he resorts to the maxim of Parmenides of Elea, ex nihilo nihil fit, “nothing comes from nothing. The capitalist class as a whole cannot draw out of circulation what was not previously thrown into it”. This is one of the moments when the existence of the gold standard becomes a fundamental pillar of Marx’s work, without which his thoughts cannot be understood. If money cannot be created ex nihilo, then it must be a pre-existing natural phenomenon. Gold and its extraction are the pieces Marx finds to solve the puzzle. Capitalists withdraw more money than they put into the economy because more money is created from new extractions of gold and silver. Thus, “[capitalist production] develops simultaneously with the development of the conditions necessary for it, and one of these conditions is a sufficient supply of precious metals”. Sufficient here does not mean that all money is backed by precious metals, but that the quantity of precious metals must be sufficient to permit the circulation of commodities, which also depends on credit. According to Marx, this credit granted to allow private sector transactions, added to the reserves of precious metals, is enough to enable and explain all the processes occurring in capitalism, which he takes up in his schemes of expanded reproduction and simple reproduction, and he does not hesitate to resort to magical thinking to conclude that “circulation sweats money from every pore”.

By not resorting to the public sector as a source of profit realisation, Marx also manages to save his Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall, since the production of gold and silver, with its particularities, is also explained as the production of the rest of commodities. Thus, the contradictions within the private sector, in which the capitalists are forced to constantly lower wages and increase working hours in order to be able to compete with each other, can only tend to increase to a point where the capitalists’ share of profit, due to the ever-decreasing consumption capacity of the workers, is so reduced that the whole capitalist system collapses.

Now we get into a time machine and travel about a century into the future. When we get out of the machine, capitalism is still there. It is the 1st of January 1979. Deng Xiaoping lands in Washington D.C. to meet with President Jimmy Carter. What happened at that meeting astonished the world. The top leader of the Chinese Communist Party outlined to Jimmy Carter the three points of the Chinese consensus with which this article begins. Unlike the Soviet leaders, Deng did not frame the relationship with the US as a confrontation between two opposing and competing economic systems destined to destroy each other. There were no references to inexorable historical laws. There were no mutual threats. What Deng offered Carter were trade agreements. Deng explained to the Americans that his goal was not the destruction of capitalism in the US, but economic cooperation based on non-interference. If the Americans recognised and respected the sovereignty of the Chinese people, China would not interfere in their internal affairs. On the contrary, it would offer US companies a mutually beneficial access point to the Asian market. Carter not only seized the commercial opportunity offered by Deng, he also officially recognised the People’s Republic of China that emerged from the 1949 revolution.

In my view, the intelligence displayed by Deng Xiaoping at the time was astonishing. I am convinced that it is only thanks to this that the CCP is still in power today. What did this veteran communist militant know that Marx did not? The answer can be found in the date of the meeting, 1st of January 1979, more than 7 years after President Richard Nixon ended the gold standard on the 15th of August 1971. That is more than 7 years of proving that money has always been created ex nihilo. Deng knew this perfectly well, as he was not only the heir to Mao’s revolution, he was also the son of the country that created paper money in the 7th century. To approach China’s relations with the US from a vantage point from which to advocate the imminent collapse of capitalism would have made no sense.

Deng knew that such a collapse was not going to happen. This allowed him to go beyond the Trinity Formula enunciated by Marx in chapter 48 of the third volume of Capital, according to which there are only three sources of income: capital-profit, land rent and labour-wages. Deng knew that there were not three sources but four, since to Marx’s list public expenditure must be added as a source of profit realisation. That is why China’s central bank, called the People’s Bank of China, has played a key role in the country’s development since 1978 by financing sub-national government spending and ensuring that competition between different provinces is on a level playing field.

As Professor Xu explains, this regionally decentralised structure “converts local officials into entrepreneurs”. Decentralisation allows successes or failures to be experienced first at the local level, without destabilising the country as a whole, and allows citizens to feel closer to institutions, which weakens political opposition. This is possible because China’s regions, being so big, are largely self-sufficient, allowing a wide range of goods to be produced. The number of goods under central government control has never reached 1000 and there are only 30 ministries in China. As a result, the central government is much smaller than in other socialist countries and it only controls essential economic sectors (land ownership, banking, energy, telecommunications, railways, etc.). If a reform succeeds in one province, it is possible that other provinces will adopt the same reform. If the reform fails, it is rejected. In any case, the stability of the country as a whole is not put at risk. This is how the transition from a centrally planned economy to a mixed market economy, in which there are all kinds of enterprises (public, private, cooperative, jointly owned, etc.), came about.

Being a mainstream economist, there is a moment in his paper when Professor Xu doubts and wonders how it is possible that China has been so successful. Mainstream economics is dominated by the Washington consensus and Say’s law, according to which non-intervention is essential for flourishing markets to emerge in which, by magic, supply creates its own demand. China is an example of the opposite. There, state and CCP intervention is enormous in all areas, however, economic growth is much higher than in the West. This shows that the Chinese model, despite its obvious shortcomings, is much less corrupt and much more efficient than that of Wall Street, the European Union and all other bodies governed by the Washington consensus, the absurd Say’s law and supply-side economic models.

However, it is also necessary to address the major deficiencies of the Chinese model, since these flaws arise largely from the introduction of neoliberal economic paradigms into its institutions. The most important example of this can be found in the person of Prime Minister Li Keqiang (to whom, fortunately, Xi Jinping does not seem to pay much attention). The economic policies promoted by Li, who holds a PhD in economics from Peking University, are markedly neoliberal in character and deeply influenced by the Washington consensus. As always in these cases, the neoliberal bias translates into an irrational aversion towards public deficits. On the 28th of May 2021, Li said during a press conference:

“The central government is taking the lead in living a tighter life this time. We will reduce the central government’s direct spending by more than half, so that funds can flow to grassroots enterprises and people’s lives. All levels of government must live a tighter life. It is absolutely not allowed to engage in formality, and do those things that spend a lot of money.”

The neoliberal bias of these statements is evident. According to Li, public spending confiscates savings that diminish investment. Like all neoliberals, he understands economic phenomena backwards. Government spending encourages investment because it increases the balance of bank reserves. This encourages demand and therefore investment. To reduce public spending and to think that companies and people’s lives will benefit from this is to miss the point. The reduction in public spending advocated by Li will only increase private indebtedness and unemployment.

This graph shows the evolution of China’s public deficit and its projected evolution until 2026.

 Source IMF

 

Source: IMF

COVID caused the deficit to increase to 11.39% in 2020. Thanks to this deficit, China was able to contain the pandemic. From a socialist perspective, this data should make it easier to interpret the public deficit for what it really is: a tool to tackle social problems, which in China’s case are many and growing in severity. Therefore, instead of making the reduction of the public deficit an end in itself, Li should forget about the level of the deficit and focus only on social problems. To this end, my proposal for fiat socialism is based on what I have called the Lerner index, which is calculated as the distance between a particular economic situation and one in which unemployment and the absolute value of inflation are equal to zero. In the case of China, the evolution of the Lerner index between 2000 and 2016 was as follows:

The evolution of the Lerner index in China between 2000 and 2016

Chart: year / unemployment rate / inflation rate / Lerner index

The method to bring the Chinese economy to the Lerner point should be the job guarantees based on employment buffer stocks, as these schemes turn permanent full employment, guaranteed by law, into an automatic price stabiliser. The process of reaching the Lerner point in China should not be very complex, since in 1994 the Chinese government took back tax collection as one of its functions and since then has been able to control inflation very efficiently. Therefore, the establishment of full employment and the corresponding price level should occur as soon as possible.

This should be the first step towards the achievement of what I have called the five goals of socialism, which let us remember are:

  1. guaranteed and permanent full employment.
  2. full and prudent use of natural resources.
  3. a guarantee of food, shelter, clothing, health services and education to every citizen.
  4. social security in the form of pensions and subsidies.
  5. a guarantee of decent labour standards.

China has sufficient resources and capabilities to guarantee these five points for its entire population. I am therefore of the opinion that these five points should be incorporated into the three points of the Chinese consensus established by the great Deng Xiaoping. The effort to achieve these five points should not be too great for the Chinese government and the benefits to it would be glorious. I think that is the spirit of these statements by Deng in 1994: “to build socialism it is necessary to develop the productive forces […]. Not until […] we have reached the level of the moderately developed countries, shall we be able to say that we have really built socialism and to declare convincingly that it is superior to capitalism. We are advancing towards that goal.”

Unfortunately, millions of people are not assured of these five points. In China, there are still conditions of misery and exploitation, as in the most savage of capitalist societies, that have made the country one of the most unequal in the world in terms of the distribution of wealth. If the CCP decided to end this exploitation by implementing the five goals of socialism, it would gain enormous support among the lower classes, the same classes that created it 100 years ago, and would strengthen its rule of the country.

Euro delendus est

 

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The post A Chinese socialist consensus appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Keynes and Marx

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/08/2021 - 7:00am in

Tags 

Blog, Marx

My new book Keynes and Marx attempts a constructive Marxist engagement with Keynes and Keynesianism. I’ll explain what I mean by this and how the book tries to achieve it.

Three attitudes dominate Marx-Keynes relations. I argue for a fourth.

The first attitude is one of mutual hostility. Seldom a genuine battle of ideas, this is more often involves a cursory dismissal, preferably ornamented with a few choice insults. For Keynes, Marxism is simply ‘illogical and dull’. Marxists reply in kind. Keynes was at best one of capitalism’s more subtle apologists. Expect contamination if you venture too close.

The second attitude is one of mutual appreciation. Both Marx and Keynes were fighting the good fight against a dastardly mainstream, using different language to say much the same thing. For John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney, ‘Marx figures centrally in Keynes’s analysis’. Now of course, there can be common cause, whether against austerity policies or for pluralism in the teaching of economics. But it is simply not true that Keynes ever took Marx seriously. There are some sharp differences in their philosophies, politics and economics which militate against a comfortable cohabitation.

Recognising this, a third attitude, says that Keynesians can appropriate Marxist insights. Perhaps best exemplified in the work of Joan Robinson, once we jettison that metaphysical value-theory nonsense, we can graft Marxist ideas about class inequality and economic dynamism onto Keynesian foundations to provide a richer account of imperfect competition.

I’m saying there is mileage in doing something comparable from the other direction. There are important Keynesian insights, which a Marxist critique can radicalise and then appropriate to provide a richer account of capitalism. I’m not claiming to be the only person ever to think like this, but there is at least a relative lack of serious Marxist engagement with Keynes.

There is an immediate practical problem. Keynes often wrote beautifully but his major economic works, the Treatise on Money and particularly the General Theory, are difficult books. They are not like Marx’s Capital, or for that matter Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which may be daunting in their size, but which almost anybody could read, given the time. Keynes was writing for professional economists. And although the mainstream then was less ridiculously mathematical than it is now, Keynes engages with his marginalist peers on their own terms using their own language.

The first part of my book therefore tries to explain where I think – and these things are always controversial – Keynes was coming from. I risk a summary of the General Theory but explain this in the context of Keynes’s social situation as a proud member of Britain’s ruling elite; his politics, ‘small-l’ liberal but also Liberal Party; his philosophy, which I describe as an ‘inconsistent idealism’; and his attitude to his economic forebears, particularly William Stanley Jevons and Alfred Marshall.

I then turn to areas where I think Marxists have most to gain through a critical encounter. The first is on unemployment, which Keynes condemns as an inefficient waste of resources. For Marxists, unemployment is essential to capitalism to keep workers in their place. But simply invoking the industrial reserve army is insufficient. It says nothing about how varied unemployment can be. Keynes’s ideas of ‘unemployment equilibrium’ can help explain the inertia in the system, and why imperatives to accumulate are experienced unevenly between industries and across time and space.

Marxists can also learn from Keynes’s insights on money and interest. Keynes exaggerates the independence of finance from the productive economy and exaggerates the benign powers of the state to set things right. But finance has a distinct moment of its own and Marxists have tended to underestimate and to leave under-investigated the dynamic interaction of finance and the broader economy. States do make history, albeit not in conditions of their own choosing, and states’ influence on monetary relations are vital.

The final chapters turn to Keynesianism after Keynes, to why it went into decline and to the prospect of a return. A recurring theme is that there are an awful lot of Keynesianisms. Economic practices often bore only the faintest resemblance to Keynes’s own ideas. People calling themselves Keynesians can assert diametrically opposite things. Marxists will be familiar with the phenomenon. But this means that some Keynesians are outright intellectual and class enemies. Others should be close allies.

In an important sense, Keynesianism never went away. States’ responses to the global financial crisis of the 2000s and to COVID-19 show a capacity and readiness to intervene, quite alien to the pre-Keynes world of Britain or the US in the 1920s. There are real gains worth defending as well as Keynesian-type reforms worth fighting for. But what we came to know as Keynesian practices were typically the unintended outcome of profound social struggles. They were a hitting the moon by aiming at the stars kind of outcome. We should still aim higher, without expecting to retrace that path to the moon.

The post Keynes and Marx appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Tony Judt on twentieth-century Marxism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/08/2021 - 11:55am in


Tony Judt was especially astute when it came to linking history and intellectuals. One strand of thought in his collection of essays, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, is a critical engagement with several twentieth-century thinkers associated with Marxism (and sometimes anti-Marxism), including Althusser, Kołakowski, E.P. Thompson (briefly), Raymond Aron (briefly), and Eric Hobsbawm. With the exception of Kołakowski, Judt's perspective on these thinkers is negative, usually because of their failure to honestly reckon with the crimes of Stalinism (Althusser, Hobsbawm). And there is often a disparaging tone to his rhetoric.

In the case of Althusser, Judt's tone and critique are especially harsh. He portrays Althusser as an ignorant pundit rather than a serious philosopher, he finds Althusser to be contemptible for his efforts to gloss over the crimes of Stalinism, and he has complete scorn for Althusser's "structuralism" as an explication of Marx's theories. On Althusser's ignorance of history and philosophy:

He seems to know nothing of recent history (among his howlers is an indictment of the “Polish fascist” Pilsudski for starting World War II). He appears only late in life to have discovered Machiavelli and other classics of Western philosophy, and he even admits to a skimpy and partial acquaintance with Marx’s texts (something one might have inferred from his published work). He is also unsophisticated to the point of crudity in his political analysis. He seems to have learned nothing and to have forgotten nothing in the last twenty years of his life. Thus there is much talk of “the hegemony of bourgeois, imperialist capitalism”; and he is dismissive of the dissidents of the Soviet bloc (“cut off from their own people”) and contemptuous of writers like André Glucksmann for “putting around unbelievable horror stories of the Gulag.” Those words were written in 1985! (p. 113)

Judt believes there is no content to Althusser's "theory of structural practices". And this shortcoming dovetails with the issue of Althusser's failure to confront Stalinism:

This subjectless theory of everything had a further virtue. By emphasizing the importance of theory, it diverted attention from the embarrassing defects of recent practice. In such an account, Stalin’s crime was not that he had murdered millions of human beings, it was that he had perverted the self-understanding of Marxism. Stalinism, in short, was just another mistake in theory, albeit an especially egregious one, whose major sin consisted of its refusal to acknowledge its own errors. (p. 108)

I am inclined to agree with Judt's assessment of Althusser's structuralism. My own assessment in The Scientific Marx (1986) of Althusser's structuralist Marxism was negative as well:

A second important example of this "theoretist" approach to Capital can be found in structuralist Marxism, particularly that of Althusser and his followers. In this case, instead of an economic interpretation of Marx's system, we find an effort to describe Capital as a general theory of the "structures" that define and animate the capitalist mode of production. For example, Hindess and Hirst hold that Capital is fundamentally an abstract theory of the capitalist mode of production that derives the "logic" of the system from the concept of the mode of production. Here too the aim is to portray Capital as a unified set of theoretical principles, with the rest of the work being treated as illustrative material or derived consequences. This account shows the same predisposition identified earlier to construe Capital as an organized theoretical system, and the same reductionist necessity to downplay those portions of the work which cannot be easily assimilated to the theoretical model. (Scientific Marx, 17)

Judt's discussion of Leszek Kołakowski gives special attention to Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders - The Golden Age - The Breakdown and is much more favorable. 
It is quite impossible to convey in a short review the astonishing range of Kołakowski’s history of Marxist doctrine. It will surely not be superseded: Who will ever again know—or care—enough to go back over this ground in such detail and with such analytical sophistication? Main Currents of Marxism is not a history of socialism; its author pays only passing attention to political contexts or social organizations. It is unashamedly a narrative of ideas, a sort of bildungsroman of the rise and fall of a once-mighty family of theory and theorists, related in skeptical, disabused old age by one of its last surviving children. (132)
Judt believes that Kołakowski arrives at a fundamental insight about the role of Marxism in 20th-century history -- the propensity of his followers to regard Marx's writings as total theories encompassing both the present and the future. These forms of dogmatism laid the seeds of the totalitarianism of Communism as a political-economic system:
Solving the problems of mankind in one stroke; seeking out an all-embracing theory that can simultaneously explain the present and guarantee the future; resorting to the crutch of intellectual or historical “systems” to navigate the irritating complexity and contradictions of real experience; saving the “pure” seed of an idea or an ideal from its rotten fruit: Such shortcuts have a timeless allure and are certainly not the monopoly of Marxists (or indeed the Left). But it is understandably tempting to dismiss at least the Marxist variant of such human follies: Between the disabused insights of former Communists like Kołakowski and the self-righteous provincialism of “Western” Marxists like Thompson, not to speak of the verdict of history itself, the subject would appear to have self-destructed. (136)
Judt also provides an extensive discussion of E.P. Thompson's polemic with Leszek Kołakowski:
The “Open Letter” was Thompson at his priggish, Little-Englander worst: garrulous (the letter runs to one hundred pages of printed text), patronizing, and sanctimonious. In a pompous, demagogic tone, with more than half an eye to his worshipful progressive audience, Thompson shook his rhetorical finger at the exiled Kołakowski, admonishing him for apostasy: “We were both voices of the Communist revisionism of 1956. . . . We both passed from a frontal critique of Stalinism to a stance of Marxist revisionism. . . . There was a time when you, and the causes for which you stood, were present in our innermost thoughts.” How dare you, Thompson suggested from the safety of his leafy perch in middle England, betray us by letting your inconvenient experiences in Communist Poland obstruct the view of our common Marxist ideal? (p. 136)

This portrait has much of the rhetorical excess from which Judt's polemical essay "Clown in Regal Purple" (link) suffers in regard to Judt's treatment of Charles Tilly (link), and seems to reflect intellectual animus as much as substantive critique. A clear indicator of the animus: after discussing Kołakowski's response to Thompson, Judt writes a few lines later: "No one who reads it will ever take E. P. Thompson seriously again" (136). That is a bit hard, given that few historians would doubt the importance, rigor, and enduring insights of Thompson's most important work, The Making of the English Working Class (link). 
Judt believes that Marxism was historically important in the twentieth century, but its importance was largely destructive. Judt believes that Marxism gave rise to social and political theories that led fairly directly to Communist totalitarianism. So he argues that it is of more than academic interest for us to try to understand the nature of Marxist thought throughout the first half of the century.
Marxism is thus inextricably intertwined with the intellectual history of the modern world. To ignore or dismiss it is willfully to misinterpret the recent past. Ex-Communists and former Marxists—François Furet, Sidney Hook, Arthur Koestler, Leszek Kołakowski, Wolfgang Leonhard, Jorge Semprún, Victor Serge, Ignazio Silone, Boris Souvarine, Manès Sperber, Alexander Wat, and dozens of others—have written some of the best accounts of twentieth-century intellectual and political life. Even a lifelong anti-Communist like Raymond Aron was not embarrassed to acknowledge his undiminished interest in the “secular religion” of Marxism (to the point of recognizing that his obsession with combating it amounted to a sort of transposed anticlericalism). And it is indicative that a liberal like Aron took particular pride in being far better read in Marx and Marxism than many of his self-styled “Marxist” contemporaries. (137)
Marxism was important, Judt believes, because it gave a unified narrative that ordinary engaged people could understand about how society might move forward to a more just future.
The Marxist project, like the older Socialist dream which it displaced and absorbed, was one strand in the great progressive narrative of our time: It shares with classical liberalism, its antithetical historical twin, that narrative’s optimistic, rationalistic account of modern society and its possibilities. Marxism’s distinctive twist—the assertion that the good society to come would be a classless, post-capitalist product of economic processes and social upheaval—was already hard to credit by 1920. But social movements deriving from the initial Marxian analytical impulse continued for many decades to talk and behave as though they still believed in the transformative project. (138)
Most importantly, Marxism highlighted the features of contemporary capitalist society that were most visible and repellent to ordinary people: exploitation, alienation of ordinary life, inequality, and the indignities of class. However, for a number of years, the Marxist narrative appeared to be refuted by the postwar expansion in the standard of living, the accessibility of public education, and health and welfare protections.
Marxism, as the Polish historian Andrzej Walicki—one of its more acerbic critics—openly acknowledges, was the most influential “reaction to the multiple shortcomings of capitalist societies and the liberal tradition.” If Marxism fell from favor in the last third of the twentieth century, it was in large measure because the worst shortcomings of capitalism appeared at last to have been overcome. The liberal tradition—thanks to its unexpected success in adapting to the challenge of depression and war and bestowing upon Western democracies the stabilizing institutions of the New Deal and the welfare state—had palpably triumphed over its antidemocratic critics of Left and Right alike. A political doctrine that had been perfectly positioned to explain and exploit the crises and injustices of another age now appeared beside the point. (140)
But -- as Judt recognizes in the final few pages of the essay on Althusser -- twenty-first century capitalism persists in presenting humanity with many of the same crippling problems that Marx identified in the nineteenth century: staggering inequalities, extensive deprivation for working class and underclass men and women, and alienating forms of daily life. The seemingly unbridled power of corporations to have their way in the market and in public policy makes the language of civic equality seem hollow. And we now know the terrible potential of right-wing extremist movements -- whether National Socialism in the 1930s or right-wing nationalist populism in the 2000s -- to mobilize mass support for dictatorship and repression. The stability of liberal democracies is no longer assured; authoritarian leaders like Orban, Erdogan, and Trump have demonstrated their willingness to smash democratic institutions and norms. 
Judt argues that intellectuals and social change have always gone hand in hand; intellectuals help us think about the future and how to create a pathway of progress to better circumstances for humanity. Judt plainly rejected the notion that Marxism could play that role. But in the current moment, we have a deficit of convincing intellectuals and broad social movements that might help us envision and secure a more egalitarian democracy. We urgently need broad and appealing visions of a more palatable future for all members of society. Where are the social thinkers who will speak for progressive liberal democracy? Rejecting "Marxism" cannot be extended to intolerance of creative thinking by a range of democratic socialist theorists. Social democracy, democratic socialism, and non-Marxist socialist thought are broad and important ideas in our current context. Are there socialist thinkers in the past who gave greater attention to individual freedom and wellbeing whose work repays a rereading (for example, Alexander Chayanov, murdered by Stalin in 1937 (link, link))? Do contemporary thinkers like Erik Olin Wright and others associated with the Real Utopias project have important contributions to make in the current setting (link)? We need progressive public intellectuals who can speak to the disaffected in contemporary society; otherwise, the Orbans and the Trumps will pursue their politics of division and hate, and will determine our futures in quite ugly ways. (Quite a few earlier posts have addressed this problem -- for example, link, link, link.)
(For what it is worth, the Democracy Index estimates that the most democratic nations in the world are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, Australia, Switzerland. Significantly, the Nordic countries make up five of the top ten nations on this list -- nations that have adopted strong versions of "social democracy" as a foundation for their social contract. This too is part of the progressive tradition of thought within which Marx did his work.)

Finance Capitalism versus Industrial Capitalism: The Rentier Resurgence and Takeover

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/07/2021 - 10:33pm in

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articles, Marx

Published by Sage Journals

Abstract

Marx and many of his less radical contemporary reformers saw the historical role of industrial capitalism as being to clear away the legacy of feudalism—the landlords, bankers, and monopolists extracting economic rent without producing real value. However, that reform movement failed. Today, the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector has regained control of government, creating neo-rentier economies.

The aim of this postindustrial finance capitalism is the opposite of industrial capitalism as known to nineteenth-century economists: it seeks wealth primarily through the extraction of economic rent, not industrial capital formation.

Tax favoritism for real estate, privatization of oil and mineral extraction, and banking and infrastructure monopolies add to the cost of living and doing business. Labor is increasingly exploited by bank debt, student debt, and credit card debt while housing and other prices are inflated on credit, leaving less income to spend on goods and services as economies suffer debt deflation.

Today’s new Cold War is a fight to internationalize this rentier capitalism by globally privatizing and financializing transportation, education, health care, prisons and policing, the post office and communications, and other sectors that formerly were kept in the public domain. In Western economies, such privatizations have reversed the drive of industrial capitalism. In addition to monopoly prices for privatized services, financial managers are cannibalizing industry by leveraging debt and high-dividend payouts to increase stock prices.

Read the paper in full.

Photo by Emilio Garcia on Unsplash

The post Finance Capitalism versus Industrial Capitalism: The Rentier Resurgence and Takeover first appeared on Michael Hudson.

Avineri on Marx as social democrat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/05/2021 - 10:38am in

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Marx, revolution


Shlomo Avineri is one of the interpreters of Marx's thought for whom I have had a great deal of respect since the publication of Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx in 1968. (I also greatly admire his book on Hegel's political philosophy, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State.) Avineri has recently published Karl Marx: Philosophy and Revolution, and this book constitutes a very useful contribution to the question of Marx's relevance to our current situation in the twenty-first century. (Here is an earlier post that attempts to assess Marx's continuing relevance; link.)

The recent book is presented as a fairly brief intellectual biography -- an account of the influences and preoccupations through which Marx's intellectual framework took shape. (A side theme is the role that Marx's family history of Jewish identity may have played in his own development.) In many ways the current book covers much of the same ground as the earlier Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx -- the background in Hegel's political philosophy, the conception of human beings as homo faber, the idea of the proletariat as the universal class, the "dialectic" of capitalist development, the limits of revolution, even the skeptical view Marx took of the Paris Commune. In effect, one might look at the current book as an updated and streamlined edition of the earlier book. But the current book has a liveliness and readability that distinguishes it. And crucially, the current book is quite explicit in its most striking claim: that Marx is a much more measured and nuanced theorist of socialism and proletarian emancipation than he is usually thought to be. Marx is fundamentally a social democrat and gradualist. Consistent with the intellectual and political interest of twenty-first century readers who want to find a source of new and non-dogmatic ideas on the basis of which to rethink the failures of our contemporary world, Avineri presents Marx as just such a thinker.

In a nutshell, Avineri argues in Karl Marx: Philosophy and Revolution that Marx is not the rigid and uncompromising "revolutionary" activist that he has often been understood to be -- both by supporters and critics. "What is usually called 'Marxism' is what Engels decided to include in the corpus and the way he interpreted it" (kl 81). Rather, according to Avineri, Marx's key idea, and the key motivating impetus of critique of modern capitalist society, is the idea of emancipation. And Avineri argues that this is, most fundamentally, an affirmation of radical Enlightenment values that were deeply thwarted in the nineteenth century. Here Avineri makes a complicated and crucial point. Marx's social location as the son of Jewish parents -- and therefore himself a Jew -- was not a defining fact for the young Karl Marx (according to Avineri); Marx rarely referred to his Jewish identity. But what was defining was the double earthquake in nineteenth-century Europe, first of the political emancipation of the Jews in the Rhineland following its absorption by France in post-revolutionary France, and then the reversal of this emancipation in 1814-15 when the Rhineland returned to Prussian political control according to the terms of the Congress of Vienna. Revolutionary France was the first European country to emancipate its Jewish citizens, granting them equal political and civic rights. So the Jews of the Rhineland experienced a short two-decade period of emancipation and equal citizenship, followed by a return to juridical and social discrimination. 

After some deliberations, the Prussian authorities in the Rhineland revoked Jewish emancipation and imposed on the Jews in the newly annexed territories the status of Jews in Prussia proper. The major principle, following the precepts of what it meant to be a Christian state, implied that Jews could not be in a situation of authority over Christians: they could not serve as lawyers, judges, civil servants, teachers in schools or universities. In other words, the Rhenish Jews were de-emancipated, thrown back to where they—or their parents—had been a generation ago. (5)

Marx was born in 1818; so this social and political trauma was fresh in the experience of his parents, including the forced conversion to Christianity reluctantly accepted by his father. And Avineri believes that this experience created a unique kind of alienation for a generation of well-educated Jewish intellectuals from this region -- including Marx.

In the years between 1815 and 1848 one can discern a deep feeling of alienation and consequent political radicalization among members of the Jewish intelligentsia in the Rhineland and the emergence among them—much more than among the more quietistic Jewish communities in Prussia proper—of radical politics; some did convert under that pressure, but this did not make them more supportive of the system imposed on them; others, while distancing themselves from orthodox Judaism, did try to maintain their Jewish identity in one way or another. (7)

The most striking element of Avineri's interpretation of Marx's evolving position is what he takes to be Marx's preference for a gradual and non-violent transition to a kind of social democracy.
In a significant but somehow neglected passage in Das Kapital, Marx argues that in England there is a distinct possibility for the working class to reach power peacefully, not only because of the extension of the suffrage, but also due to various aspects of factory and social legislation, adding that “for this reason … I have given so large a space in this volume to history, details, and the results of English factory legislation.” (140)
The grounds of this view can be found in Marx's rejection of Jacobinism and the Terror in the French Revolution.
In a surprising critique of the Jacobins, Marx argues that the Reign of Terror was itself a testimony of the failure of Jacobin politics because of their wrongheaded fascination with classical Rome, encapsulated in Saint-Just’s call to “Let revolutionary men be Romans” or his nostalgic complaint that, since the Romans, “the world is a void, and only their memory fills it and prophesizes liberty.” This to Marx is not only empty romanticism but would also be responsible for the Jacobins’ shift toward terrorism: the Roman republican tradition focused exclusively on political arrangements in the state, whereas modern societies have to grapple with the tension between civil, bourgeois society and the political realm—an issue totally unknown in Roman history. ... any attempt to use force when conditions are not ripe for internal change are doomed to the tragedy—and cruelty—of the Jacobin terror. (61)

The closing sentence of this passage can be read as a firm rejection of the impulses that led to the cruelties and intransigence in pursuit of "revolution" of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.
Also important in Avineri's view of Marx's development as an advocate for revolution is the new direction Marx took following the failures of the revolutions of 1848. In place of the bold and sweeping view of the future for proletarian revolution outlined in the Communist Manifesto, Marx articulates a more nuanced and historically contextualized conception of "class" in his writings of the 1850s. In The Class Struggles in France, for example, Avineri finds this change of perspective:
The detailed study from 1850 suggests a very different picture of a complex, multilayered society, where many conflicting interests crisscross each other, bringing about shifting coalitions among multiple groups and subgroups and thus impeding the emergence of a clear-cut, polarized class warfare. (109)

And in the 18th Brumaire Avineri finds that Marx accords much greater complexity to the relationship between economic interests and political power:
He admits that the relationship between economic interests and political power is much more complex and not as simplistic or linear as he himself had maintained in the Manifesto.

Avineri also gives a good deal of attention to Marx's rejection of historical determinism and the idea that there is only one path of historical development. He emphasizes Marx's view, consistent from early to late, that social change must be understood in its particular social context, and that there is great contingency in historical change. Avineri seems to believe that this sensitivity to historical context is one result of Harx's critique of Hegel's philosophical methods: rather than looking for a philosophical theory that explains history, it is necessary to look to historical circumstances to explain change. Avineri provides a very interesting discussion (178) of several drafts of Marx's letter to Vera Zasulich (link) in which Marx denies that his theories have definitive implications for the course of Russian social and political development. (For further discussion of the Zasulich correspondence see an earlier post here.)
Avineri also argues for a reassessment of Marx's view of the Paris Commune in 1871 (a theme he develops in the 1968 book as well). He describes the published version of The Civil War in France as an official report from the International Workingmen's Association (IWA), and a document that is tailored to the radical working class orientation of IWA; whereas Avineri documents that the drafts that Marx prepared prior to publication of the piece are much more measured, nuanced, and critical. In particular, Avineri argues that Marx viewed the Commune's rebellion as both ill-conceived and primarily "petty-bourgeois" rather than proletarian:
Yet there is a fundamental difference between the drafts and the final published essay. In the drafts Marx tries to identify the social structure of the Commune and its political aims, and concludes that it was basically a lower-middle-class affair, with scant proletarian input. ...
Marx’s drafts clearly and unequivocally identify the rising of the Commune with its petty-bourgeois leadership, and note in great detail the immediate circumstances of the insurrection. During the growing tension between the provisional government in Versailles and the Commune, which controlled Paris, Versailles proclaimed a provisional moratorium on all outstanding bills of payments and rents. The aim of this moratorium was obvious—to get the support of the lower middle class, mainly in Paris, for Versailles, and for a time it worked. The moratorium was to expire on 13th March 1871, and representatives of Paris middle-class associations tried to press for its extension, but the provisional government in Versailles under Thiers refused. Marx recounts that between 13th and 18th March more than 150,000 demands for payment of bills and rents were reactivated, and then on 18th March the insurrection of the Commune broke out. Marx goes on to note that the demand for a further, or definite, extension of the moratorium—obviously an interest of lower-middle-class groups—continued to figure as a major plank of the Commune. The drafts also contain further analysis of the social structure of the Commune leadership, pointing to its petty-middle-class composition. (155)
Avineri finds these same doubts about the Commune expressed by Marx in a letter to Leo Fränckel, a central committee member of the IWA and leader of the Commune, during the final days of the suppression of the uprising (155). Avineri's view is unequivocal:

Marx never retreated from his view that the Commune was not a socialist uprising and that, by implication, it had set back the chances of the working-class movement in Europe. Ten years later, in a letter of 22nd February 1881 to the Dutch socialist Ferdinand Domela-Nieuwenhuis, Marx reiterated his view that a socialist government can come into power only if conditions enable it to take all possible measures necessary for transforming society radically, and then, referring to the Commune, added: 
"But apart from the fact that it was merely the rising of a city under exceptional conditions, the majority of the Commune was in no way socialist, nor could it be. With a modicum of common sense, however, it could have reached a compromise with Versailles useful to the whole mass of the people—the only thing that could have been reached at the time. The appropriation of the Bank of France alone would have been enough to put an end with terror to the pretensions of the Versailles people, etc." (161)
This demystification of Marx's view of the Commune is important because of the iconic role that the Commune played in the drama and rhetoric of Communist rhetoric throughout much of the following century. The heroic proletarian nature of the Commune and Marx's important role in its origins are both defining myths of the Communist narrative; but Avineri demonstrates that they are fundamentally incorrect.
So what was Marx's view of "proletarian revolution" in the final decades of his life? In Avineri's view, it was a fairly moderate view that urged the party of the proletariat to find non-violent, non-terrorist avenues to political power. Avineri offers a great deal of evidence to support this interpretation. For example, he highlights Marx's speech to the IWA in Amsterdam in 1872, when the IWA was deeply divided between the anarchists (Bakunin) and socialists (Marx):
The speech is a powerful insistence on the need to gain political power but also expresses a highly pluralist approach to the question of how gaining political power would come about—through violent revolution or through peaceful means, shocking the anarchists by maintaining that in some significant cases orderly electoral politics might be the handmaid of socialism. 
"The workers must one day conquer political supremacy in order to establish the new organization of labor. … But we do not maintain that the attainment of this end requires identical means. We know that one has to take into consideration the institutions, mores [Sitten] and traditions of the different countries, and we do not deny that there are countries like England and America, and if I would be familiar with your institutions, also Holland, where labor may attain its goal by peaceful means." (163)
Here we find Marx the social democrat -- an advocate for proletarian revolution who recommends seizure of power through a gradual process of legal and peaceful means. And it is important to underline, as Avineri does, that this is not the counsel of despair following the failures of 1848 and 1871, but rather a fundamental view of Marx's, that social change is not a putsch. "A movement based on terror, intimidation, and blackmail will ultimately produce a society based on these methods as well" (165). Here is Marx's rebuttal to Bakunin's philosophy in Statism and Anarchy and his derisory term, barracks communism:
What a wonderful example of barracks communism! Everything is here—common pots and dormitories, control commissioners and control offices, the regulation of education, production, consumption—in one word, control of all social activity; and at the same time, there appears Our Committee, anonymous and unknown, as supreme authority. Surely, this is most pure anti-authoritarianism! (165)
Avineri supports this reading of Marx's analysis of the Paris Commune with several relatively little-known statements by Marx in 1867 following enactment of the Second Reform Act in Britain that reinforce this preference for a peaceful transition to socialism:
It is possible that the struggle between the workers and the capitalists will be less terrible and less bloody than the struggle between the feudal lords and the bourgeoisie in England and France. Let us hope so. (167)
and:
In England, for example, the way is open for the working class to develop their political power. In a place where they can achieve their goal more quickly and more securely through peaceful propaganda, insurrection would be a folly. (167)
Avineri is a remarkably learned reader of Marx, and a lucid interpreter. The distance is great between his interpretation of Marx as a principled advocate of a peaceful transition to power by the proletarian majority and Marxist orthodoxy since Engels. And yet Avineri's case is deeply informed by a close reading of a broad swath of Marx's writings throughout Marx's career. It is moreover consistent with Marx's famous statement -- "If that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist!". Rather, Marx displays a sociological imagination that reflected a nuanced, historically minded theorist, constantly aware of the contingencies and contextual differences of historical settings. Further, Avineri makes a powerful case for believing that Marx regarded a strategy of violent seizure of power as deeply self-defeating. Unlike Communist orthodoxy since Lenin, Marx did not believe that successful social and political transformation could be achieved by fiat, force, and ruthless party discipline; in a word, he rejected the premises of Soviet-style communism. And given the crimes that have been committed in the name of revolution in the past century and a half, that is a good thing.
(Bruce Robbins' review of the book in The Nation (link) is well worth reading.)

We actually read Capital!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/04/2016 - 8:30pm in

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Marx

“So, what did you do over the summer”? Most students respond to this ubiquitous question with the familiar answers: “caught up with family”, “earned some money” or (perhaps more commonly) “lots of daytime drinking”.   For a small group of political economy students from the University of Sydney, however, they might respond: “I read Marx’s Capital, volume 1”.

Between November, 2015 and March, 2016 a small, dedicated group of students – undergraduate, postgraduate, or between degrees – met weekly to discuss that text which too-few Marxists have actually read: Capital. Meeting largely at the University of Sydney, the group persevered through the entire 682 pages, despite the oppressive heat of a Sydney summer (intensified by the contradiction of capitalism that is climate change).

Running through the weekly discussions were themes including the specificity of capitalism, the continued relevance of this historical text, and questions of Marxist strategy moving forward into the 21st century. Below are some of the thoughts and impressions of just some of these students.

Matthew Ryan – Postgraduate student

It’s quite a broad brief, “say something about your experience reading Capital”. Do I focus on a particular concept, something I never understood but now grasp a little better? Do I talk about the relevance of the text in the twenty-first century? Perhaps I can comment on an ongoing debate within Marxism, and offer my personal resolution through reference to the text? All valid options and it would be easy to write too many words on any of these topics. But instead, I’m going to talk about reading Capital.

David Harvey has taught a class on Capital every year for decades. Well, maybe he’s missed a few on leave and what not, but the point is he has read it many times! I always used to wonder why he read it again each year. Having now read it myself, I can understand why – different groups and different approaches to reading the text all result in a unique, contingent experience of the text. This can be seen even through our own short encounter with the text.

Some people would watch Harvey’s lectures on Capital before each week’s meeting, as well as the chapter. Some would watch the video then read the chapter, while others would do the opposite. Some read companions to Capital in parallel, whilst others supplemented their reading with online resources – glossaries of concepts, and the like. Some people read earnestly, taking notes, and bringing these as discussion points. Others had a more organic reading process, and a discussion style to match. The point is there are a lot of ways to read it. And if I’m honest, my own approach was a mix of almost all of these, resulting in different experiences with different chapters.

A further variable producing different, yet equally stimulating, readings were the backgrounds and interests of those in the group. Some came to the group with a wealth of knowledge of Marx and Marxism, while others (myself included) did not know their absolute from their relative surplus-values. Personal research interests varied from the role of technology in capitalism, to issues relating to profit rate, to colonisation and class formation, through to the historical specificity of capitalism and the agency of class actors in capitalist development. Each brought a different perspective, leading the conversation in suggestive and distinct directions. I’m sure no reading group would have the same experience.

Reading Capital was a wholly social experience – or, I should say, a socially contingent experience – and I’m sure I’ll be telling friends, family, and students about my reading of Capital in the summer of 2015-16 for many years to come.

Rhys Cohen – Tutor and Honours graduate

For me there were two really significant things that I got from the reading group – the first was to do with the content of the book and its modern context, and the second was to do with the social experience and practice of the exercise.

First, something that Llewelyn in particular was keen to draw our attention to, was the extent to which our engagement with more contemporary Marxian literature tended to cloud our reading of Capital. I know personally that many times I assumed Marx was making an argument that was much more sensitive, nuanced and, for want of a better word, acceptable for modern theorists than was actually the case.

It took conscious effort to read the book on its own terms and it was confronting to see some of the limitations that Marx is so often criticised for. But in many ways this was heartening because it reaffirmed to me the huge contributions that theorists since Marx have made to the understanding and critique of capitalism, and also the necessity for this project to continue.

Second, as young, Left students I think we had all become very familiar with the standard lamentations of the Left more broadly: how can we stop this constant infighting, factionalism etc. The absurdity of these divisions was something we had all discussed at length in the past. And going into the reading group, although we all respected each other as friends and colleagues, I felt some anxiety as to whether this would remain the case, or if we might find some fundamental rift emerging between us.

And some conflicts did emerge: we argued about determinism, structuralism and agency; the nature of class and intersectionality; technology, morality and communism. At times these arguments got quite heated. But what struck me was our capacity to stick with the project, to work through the arguments. And in the end I felt that not only were many of these divisions revealed to be largely semantic miscommunications, but that we had moved closer to each other’s understandings in a way that felt constructive as opposed to coercive.

Llewellyn Williams-Brooks – Honours student

Returning to the New Left critique of Australian History

It certainly is a strange to read Capital in the context of Australia: a country straddling the contradictions of core and peripheral development within global capitalism. This precariousness, in terms of the world market, has always made Australia something of a strange case in the scheme of things. After all, Australia in the 19th century was producing a third of the British gold-standard’s reserve while it was championing the 8-hour work day and birthing a major union movement and Labor party. There seems something of an uncertainty, perhaps, a contradiction, at the very heart of Australianess. This economic uncertainty was best expressed, in the language of political office, through Paul Keating’s ‘Banana Republic’. Conversely, the nationalist writers were quick to convert this ambiguity into a mythical treatment of egalitarianism, most famously addressed in Ward’s Australian Legend, and necessarily critiqued by McQueen in A New Britannia and Irving and Connell’s Class Structure in Australian History. This was the project of the old and the new left, but this is not our project.

Wakefield is seen to observe, in the final section of Capital, that social relations of production are not reducible to simply a cloned relocation of the economic and political apparatus in Britain.

As Marx comments: “[Wakefield] discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things”. Australian colonialism required the re-establishment of the old relationships within a complex set of new social relations.

This reading substantiates that by understanding the economic relations of capitalism, we have, in the most optimistic reading, only half the picture. We should also observe the necessity of positioning the agency of resistance in the centre of human social history. We must neither fall into the trap of accepting Australia as a ‘peripheral’ banana republic, or a mythical space of elite nationalism. Instead we should understand that resistance in Australia is a fact of our history: Indigenous resistance in the frontier-wars, the militant organising of the great strikes, and the women’s suffrage movement are all evidence of this fact. Marx’s Capital only gets us part of the way, we must take hold of our own social history in order to change it.

Joel Griggs – Honours student

Reading Capital in its entirety is like reading Marx for the first time. For a self-professed Marxist, the experience is both one of vindication and sobriety. On the one hand I feel the hubris that Marx inspired in me from the very outset. On the other, a deep trepidation begging an answer to the question: What if Marx was right?

Incidentally, as an undergraduate embarking upon my honours year, I am repeatedly reminded that Marxism is experiencing a kind of academic renaissance. What is driving this resurgence is anyone’s guess but as my comrades and I wade through the murky waters from commodity fetishism to Marx’s own theory of colonisation I am struck by the powerful clarity of a man whose perspicacity eclipses the moral dilemma evident on every page. Less than two years after a young American Union formally abolished slavery, Marx is alone in revealing a new kind of slavery emerging in the Old World. Waged-labour with its ‘freedom in the double sense’ replaced the stability of the indentured peasant with the precariousness of the proletariat; a class at once pitted against one another and unified in their wretched struggle.

It is this constant dialectical relationship present throughout Capital that exposes the structure and the structural weaknesses of our predicament. While the conditions have undeniably improved, the structural realities of the working class remain largely unchanged today. Likewise, even though the capitalism that so consumed Marx in the nineteenth-century may have traded in its ostentatious top hat for a less-assuming tie, it is nonetheless the same vampiric fiend that dogs every step of our collective existence.

Capital’s strength lies in its piercing internal critique of what defines capitalism. Twenty-first century capitalism is adaptable, mobile, and has a thousand faces. To assign capitalism homogeneity is to lose before we have even begun to unravel its web. The uneven development of capitalism, too, makes it equally difficult to analyse. There must be, however, an underlying logic that serves as a motor for capitalism. To this end, Marx’s unfinished project is no less mistaken today than it was one and a half centuries ago – though like most things in life, questions of right and wrong are seldom black and white. The answer for me lies within the explanatory scope of the theory. For an exploration into the insights of an exceptional dialectician, then, my hubris and trepidation seem entirely fitting. More relevant today than ever, reading Capital has been a wonderful and enlightening experience.