Sunday, 16 November 2008

Perhaps Marx was right after all

All this talk of an imminent financial crisis on an unprecedented scale has made me wonder whether Karl Marx might have been right all along. The financial meltdown certainly makes a change from that other popular discourse of the apocalypse - the melting ice-caps and other environmentalist doomsaying - but maybe it could be good news. Well, good news for anyone who would welcome the final collapse of capitalism due to the stresses caused by its own internal contradictions.

For those of you who like a challenge, here is an excerpt from Marx's Das Kapital, which strikes a chord with me when I come to look at the market shenanigans and economic hocus-pocus that has resulted in the vast majority of us having to tighten our belts (again).

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour.

The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.

[Source: Karl Marx, Capital, Volume III, Part III, Ch. 15]

Some of you will no doubt point out that Marxism has been proven wrong by the Soviet venture and by other communist states, all of which could be seen as palpable failures. Nevertheless, I could make the case that each such regime deviated from Marx's vision in some way, or indeed that the required conditions were not in place for a global transition from capitalism to socialism as the mode of production.

Then again, perhaps Christmas has arrived just in time. After all, it is the annual consumer-hogfest during which we buy plastic tat that we don't need. A proportion of which we give to people we don't like in order to celebrate an event that many of us don't believe in. So if you want to contradict Marx and my good self, make sure that you spend lots of money over the next few weeks and boost the economy, or at least maintain its life support system.


MoneyEnergy said...

I like the attempt to bring Marx back into the contemporary discussion... Marx's own writings should certainly not be confused with "Marxism"... Marx and Engels too said some brilliant things! I think we'd have to really check out to what extent what we're seeing in the markets right now is really due to "contradictions" though... unless you want to call greed a contradiction. Greed is what created the off-balance-sheet items in the first place, basically (for what other reason would one hide that stuff?).

Stepterix said...

Thanks for the comment.

When I read that quote it put me in mind of the fetish of economic growth. Without it the economists get worried and start doomsaying, and sooner or later the self-fulfilling prophecies start to take their toll. I guess that is how I see these contradictions, that the stability of the economy requires perpetual growth which in turn destabilises the economy due to the dubious means that capitalists use to achieve it.

Paul Baines said...

To reward those who exploit and deplete the world's resources is truly a sign of cultural insanity. Economically the economy has no long term future, without a whole new reasoning about the world's objectives, including sustainability and fair distribution of resources - as opposed to wealth- I doubt we will escape the impending ecological and social doom that awaits us. I can imagine many of us witnessing a collapse in the "belief system" of money it self in our own lifetimes. A great reference to the fallacy of the financial system for all (essential viewing in my opinion) is Zeitgeist: Addendum by Peter Joseph. There are quite a few positive comparisons with Marx's own interpretation of the economy. As the movie explains - money is debt - from its conception it is in fact a loan - all major economies rely on the flow of credit - debt. I think we all now understand that "Betting on the future" rather than utilising our resources as they stand are to blame in the current recession. Hopefully the emergence of worldwide communications and therefore debate will side-step any notion that we need a political alignment in order to achieve a more practical development for the future.

sherry with grammology said...

i read your article and the book by marx actualy but just like your article the book was over my head. thanx for stopping in and visiting our site. we will be checking back again soon.

sherry with grammology said...

i read your article and the book by marx actualy but just like your article the book was over my head. thanx for stopping in and visiting our site. we will be checking back again soon.

Stepterix said...

Marx can be hard work at times. I doubt that I will attempt his magnum opus, Das Kapital, as it is published in three enormous volumes.