DOI link for Conclusion
DOI link for Conclusion
Identifying these limits allows us to understand more clearly the theoretical and political significance of Marx’s studies in the early 1850s as documented in the London Notebooks: a still relatively unknown phase of his research. These studies mark a qualitative advance in Marx’s analysis of capitalist accumulation and pre-capitalist societies. Chapter 4 has highlighted the centrality in this process of Marx’s critique of the quantity theory of money. This represented a real turning point, which allowed him to integrate into his analysis of capital the processes of capitalist expansionism and of so-called primitive accumulation that he had examined since the 1840s. In the light of his critique of the quantity theory of money, in fact, Marx questioned the theory of comparative advantage and the vulgar elements of Ricardo’s system of political economy, including those aspects of his theory of rent and population that underpinned the iron law of wages. A crucial role was played by the study of the Ricardian socialists and their formulation of the concept of surplus value, whose extraction implies a continuous expansion of the foreign trade and the empire. This study provided Marx with tools for investigating the close link between industrial capital and colonialism as affirmed by the main exponents of the Colonial Reformers’ Movement, delving into the history of non-European societies before colonialism and into world history more in general. Contrary to dominant opinions, Marx’s investigation into pre-capitalist societies in the first half of the 1850s was not just due to his journalistic activity but responded to a non-contingent interest, present from the beginning of his elaboration of historical materialism. Marx, in fact, also studied the history of culture and of the condition of women, coming to know Millar’s path-breaking analysis of matriarchy in ‘primitive’ societies, which put in question Marx’s own previous idea of the inherently patriarchal nature of the family. The notebooks, moreover, provide evidence of some aspects that do not emerge as clearly in Marx’s articles on India, such as his awareness of the complexity of the social structure of Indian society; his attention, free of romanticism, to the democratic forms related to the common ownership of the land, and his research into a unitary scheme of human development. Thanks to these studies, Marx identified the basis of the ‘Asiatic form’ with primitive communal property and questioned the existence of an absolute sovereign right over land: this idea, inconceivable in such societies, responded to European interests of commercial expansion. Property now appeared as a secondary relation, presupposing an original unity between humankind and the earth. This allowed Marx to overcome the dualistic view of a democratic West and a despotic East, elaborating a unitary scheme of human development in which non-European people appear as active historical agents. Marx’s subsequent formulation of the concept of the Asiatic mode of production was closely linked to this increased awareness of the diverse but intertwined paths of international revolution: an aspect that is often underestimated in debates on unilinearity or multilinearity in Marx’s conception of history. This reconstruction proves that Marx’s critique of political economy proceeded hand in hand with his critique of the Eurocentric system of which
political economy was an expression, allowing him to recognise the political subjectivity of non-European peoples. Expanding on Lapides’s pioneering work on Marx’s wage theory (1998), Chapter 4 concludes that it was Marx’s deeper understanding of capitalist accumulation as an imperialist process that allowed him to develop an articulated theory of wages, taking account of the economic possibilities of workers’ struggles and trade union activity. Questioning the iron law of wages, in 1853 Marx understood that technological development and expansionism could lead to material improvements in the condition of the working class in imperialist countries. Undermining his previous ‘economic pessimism’, this awareness shed light on the difficulties and potentialities of the labour movement internationally, leading Marx to modify his view of permanent revolution. He thus acknowledged the relation between the proletarian movement and peasant-based movements, both in Europe and in the colonial world, attributing an increasing importance to the national question. At the end of the 1850s, Marx predicted that Britain was not going to be able to conquer China and, in the wake of the emancipation movement in Russia, affirmed that the Russian commune was a possible starting point for a communist revolution, if a peasant movement there could link up with a revolutionary labour movement in the West. Communal forms of social organisation thus manifested in practice the limits of teleological approaches. In my view, Marx’s passages on British rule in India, which always differed from his positions on Russia and China and have attracted so much debate, do not reflect an inherently Eurocentric stance on the part of Marx, but rather his political analysis, certainly questionable, of the specific conditions for the emergence of a unitary national movement in India. Marx’s notebooks are therefore of the highest importance for understanding the scope and approach of his critique of political economy. They provide evidence that, if ‘the international’ had a central place in the elaboration of the materialistic conception of history, Marx developed his theory of surplus value presupposing not only the historical but also the logical primacy of the world market. His awareness that the functions of money could not be reduced to that of means of circulation, but also included that of hoarding, means of payment and world money allowed him to integrate the processes of so-called primitive accumulation into the concept of capital. Accumulation, in its turn, appeared to be a process of approximation of labour to the abstract and socially indeterminate labour that is the substance of value and world money. Looking for an appropriate form of presentation of capital as an organic relation, in his 1857-8 plans Marx sharply divided capital in general from competition. Through the development of the theories of reproduction, profit and prices of production, however, he then overcame such a sharp division and integrated in Capital Volume 1 some of the issues he originally wanted to present in the books on the state, foreign trade and the world market. In developing his analysis of reproduction in the 1861-63 Manuscript, Marx presupposed the system to be completely globalised. This point is crucial. If in the 1857 Introduction Marx had maintained that the real economic science emerged once it moved from the analysis of circulation to that of production, in fact, only by abstracting from circulation could
he understand the system as a totality, and not as an aggregation of national units. On this basis Marx developed the theory of surplus value and profit, and delved into the questions of the relation between foreign trade and the rate of profit, and of the modification of the law of value in the world market: two questions that he had raised since his Paris studies but he could now address on the basis of his articulated analysis of labour exploitation, anticipating some issues at the centre of contemporary debates on dependency theory and super-exploitation. This analysis questions the widespread assumption that, in Capital, Marx analysed a ‘national’ economy: an assumption that contradicts Marx’s view of the world market as a point of arrival but also as ‘presupposition’ and ‘substratum’ of capital. If capital derives from world money, transformed into capital by means of labour exploitation, analysis of reproduction shows that capital in its entirety is resolved into surplus value: capital is dead labour which, as value, has become independent vis-à-vis living labour. Marx’s presupposition of the capitalist system as completely globalised reflects the tendency of the capital of the dominant states to expand its field of action worldwide, and, at the same time, it expresses the extreme limit of capitalist development, allowing identification of its general laws, to which new developers are also subordinate. A point that is ignored or underestimated in contemporary debates is that, for Marx, the multiple patterns of capitalist uneven and combined development are subordinate to a unitary logic, to the absolute law of impoverishment of the working class in particular. These processes, at the same time, lay the basis for the reinforcement of the revolutionary movement internationally. Any increase in the productive power of social labour subsumed under capital, in fact, is due to cooperation, which expands itself with the field of action of capital and has the same universalising tendency. The development of capital is the development of the working class, which Marx did not interpret in reductionist terms as coinciding with the Western industrial proletariat, but in dynamic terms as a global and globalising class shaped along national, racialised and gendered lines. Cap italist development generates new sources of structural power for workers and lays the basis for the creation of its historical alternative, communism. Capital is essentially an analysis of the antagonism of two different social systems, which Marx saw at work in reality and in which he intervened actively by elaborating the ‘tools’ necessary to the revolutionary movement. Only against this overall antagonism can we understand Marx’s analysis of the state in the Part on the so-called primitive accumulation in Capital Volume 1. The incompleteness of Marx’s project does not mean, therefore, that his work was confined to a national sphere. In Capital, on the contrary, Marx integrated the international sphere more systematically into his analysis, postponing the examination of the modifications to the economic categories constituting that sphere. It is certainly true, therefore, that he gave only partial answers to the question of the ascent from the abstract categories to the concrete reality of the world market. Yet these answers nevertheless indicate a research direction. Further analyses would require a fuller investigation into Marx’s conceptualisation of the national sphere and of the mechanisms of ‘unequal exchange’, into
the relation between money and capital, and between value and price of production, and into the theory of classes, of the credit system and of rent, along with a deeper study of the economic and political dimension of state intervention. This book seeks to clarify some fundamental premises of these investigations, contributing to studies of Capital Volume 1, in its subsequent revisions, as well as of Marx’s manuscripts for Volume 2 and 3, and of his notebooks and writings in the last phase of his life. It provides some elements for assessing continuity and changes in Marx’s elaboration more accurately, without succumbing to a now influential trend in MEGA² studies in pursuit of a ‘new Marx’. In the late 1860s, Marx still saw world crises as eruptions of the contradictions of capitalist society, but no longer believed in an immediate connection between crisis and revolution. In the light of his greater awareness of the mechan isms of capitalist uneven and combined development, moreover, he stopped speaking of the civilising effects of capital. He never put in question, however, the dialectical conception of history that underpinned that earlier formulation, namely the identification of the contradiction between the development of the productive forces – based on an ever expanding labour cooperation – and their private appropriation. As a result of his commitment to the First International and his subsequent studies, Marx turned his gaze increasingly towards non-European societies, attributing a primary importance to the Irish anti-colonial struggle for national independence. His changes and additions to the 1872-5 French edition of Capital Volume 1 (only partly taken up by Engels in its third and fourth German editions) make the relation between capitalism and expansionism even more explicit. In these years, Marx also deepened his analysis of the history of agrarian relations, which he decided to include in Capital Volume 3 (Pradella 2011a). His notebooks of the late 1870s and early 1880s (already partially published by Krader in 1972, by Harstick in 1977 and in Marx 2001) shed light on a relatively unknown phase of his life, revealing his growing interest in pre-capitalist societies and the emerging science of anthropology (see Harris 1968). They also allow us to trace, as Raya Dunayevskaya emphasised (1982), Marx’s further elaboration of an analysis of primitive egalitarianism and the condition of women that, as we have seen, he had already laid out in the early 1850s. Marx devoted himself to this study with such a depth and commitment that Hans-Peter Harstick – who in 1979 published Marx’s notes on the Russian anthropologist Maxim Kovalevsky on common ownership in Algeria, India and in preColumbian America – argued that his interest had then shifted from Europe to Asia, Latin America and North Africa (Harstick 1979: 2). While this statement contains some exaggeration and separates these studies from Marx’s wider work on capital and his political reflections, these notebooks certainly represent an essential source for understanding how he addressed the process of capitalist globalisation in relation to pre-existing social formations in the last years of his life. Only a few scholars, however, have examined these notebooks and related them to Marx’s economic and political analysis of the time, including his reflections on the evolution of the International and of the nascent socialist parties
(see, in particular, Treide 1990; Foraboschi 1994; Smith 2002; Anderson 2010 and Brown 2012). The reconstruction presented in this book is preliminary for understanding the ways in which Marx elaborated his own analysis, and we can strive to develop and apply it today. Marx himself teaches us that the critique of political economy is not an isolated discipline: to understand its relevance we need to relate it to the present global transformations and the new challenges they disclose. In the light of this reconstruction, the ‘international’ does not appear as a static entity, but as the concrete, imperialist process of globalisation of capital, which is not an independent force but the product of a growing world working class. Only by positing labour as subject of inquiry and workers as political subjects is it possible to understand the underlying tendencies of the global political economy and the concrete shape of the international system. Marx’s work is of central importance for rejecting the reification of, and the dualism between, state and market characteristic of mainstream IPE and International Relations, but also of some critical strands of the disciplines (Rosenberg 1994). By illuminating the centrality of labour, Marx’s critique of political economy allows us to identify the very roots of capital and, therefore, the forces capable of shaping development and questioning its power. His continuous efforts to take account of the specific and evolving relations between the workers movement, peasant-based struggles, and national and anti-colonial revolutions, moreover, offer a fundamental lesson. They encourage us to develop a critique of Eurocentrism not confined to the intellectual plane, but grounded in the conditions of class power and global interdependence that exist today.