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Isabelle Garo: “The Crises of Capitalism That Marx Predicted Are Confirmed Today”

Translated Saturday 16 March 2013, by Gene Zbikowski

Karl Marx, 1883-2013. The philosopher Isabelle Garo, a specialist on Marx, lays out all the relevance of his work in understanding and analyzing capitalism and the on-going crisis.

Over one hundred years after his death, in the midst of the crisis of capitalism, is Marx’s thought still relevant today?

Isabelle Garo: The relevance of the analysis of capitalism by Marx (and by Engels, who is often forgotten) is not that of a historical description which, in its concrete details, remains or becomes relevant once more. First of all, the relevance concerns the study of a mode of production, whose economic and social contradictions are its very essence. Unfortunately, we are well placed to confirm one of Marx’s major intuitions: the crises of capitalism are integral to its very definition; they are inseparable from its nature. Such an approach does not make an economist of him, but a critic of political economy, linking the economic analysis of concrete trends and counter-trends to social analysis and criticism, to political prospects and intervention, and to a philosophical approach and creativity.

Can present-day capitalism be analyzed using Marx’s works as a yardstick?

Isabelle Garo: Amid one of the major crises of capitalism, the social gains of the past 40 and even the past 70 years are being demolished one after the other. A de-regulated capitalism is re-appearing, whose characteristics are, certainly, new, but which is assuming some of the traits of capitalism in Marx’s time. Boosting the rate of profit is its only obsession, whatever may be the social and environmental consequences, and the means to achieve that in a time of crisis is notably downward pressure, directly and indirectly, on wages, as well as the capitalistic re-commodification of everything that was won in hard-fought struggles in the areas of health care, education, retirement, transport, etc. And yet, these ultra-violent counter-reform policies do not seem to be capable of resolving what is one of the worst crises in the history of this mode of production.

In what can Marx’s analysis really help us to understand the crisis and its financial dimension?

Isabelle Garo: Marx emphasizes the importance of the link between the spheres of production and circulation. Marx is one of those who pay the greatest attention to financial and monetary phenomena. As concerns the financial dimension of contemporary capitalism, which has become so very complex – while Marx’s works obviously do not engender an immediately transposable description of it, they nonetheless aid in the analysis of its fundamental mechanisms. From this point of view, the financial dimension is not at all something that can be separated from a basically healthy industrial capitalism. The financial dimension is integral and inseparable. Thus, Marx develops the notion of “fictive capital,” which designates shares issued on the basis of loans. These loans are not value-producing capital, and yet they are indeed profit-yielding capital, profit being still the surplus value extorted from the workers, but a future surplus value. This time-shift is pregnant with capitalist crises. This is why the effects of fictive capital are not fictional but are truly real. And it’s at that point that the economic crisis takes on its social dimension, its dimension of sharpened class war.

According to Marx, is there a possible alternative within the capitalist system, or is it necessary to change the social system?

Isabelle Garo: While there is a real renewal of interest in Marx’s works today, it is his merits as an analyst that are being boasted of more readily than the revolutionary and political character of his analysis of capitalism as a whole. Now, the perspective that colors and orients all of his analyses is truly an exit from capitalism. He never prescribes a universal strategy for fear of making “the cauldrons of the future boil,” but he continually combines theoretical analysis and militant intervention in order to abolish the capitalist system, which in no way is the last stage in human history, despite what they blather to us.

On this point, it must be stressed that for Marx, social and political struggle is also a struggle over ideas. These different dimensions are brought together under the concept of ideology.

Because the neo-con offensive is also an ideological offensive, in the sense that it praises the merits of an upside-down world in which the satisfaction of social needs cedes to the profit-seeking of a small minority. Moreover, the neo-con ideology is also able to combine ideas and the use of force, and manages to realize these ideas through concrete policies. For example, the individualist hypothesis, as implausible and simplistic as it may be, is really spreading, that is to say it is being confirmed, to a certain degree, as the effect of the policies of individualization of wages, of training, of career paths, which reinforce exploitation and isolate the individual.

Fighting back against these policies is not simply a matter of refuting the adverse hypotheses. You have to systematically put forward other political, social and economic solutions, without forgetting the gains of struggles, past and present, throughout the world.

And this of course means critically re-examining the questions of socialism and communism, their history and their relevance. This field of action is gigantic. It demands creative effort, and collective creativity, one that can include theoretical analysis but also go beyond it and renew it.

Isabelle Garo has published several works on Marx, including Marx, une critique de la philosophie (Le Seuil), Foucault, Deleuze, Althusser et Marx (Démopolis), and Marx et l’invention historique (Syllepse).

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