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A Global Analysis of Capitalism and Its Contradictions Is More Indispensable Than Ever

Translated Wednesday 26 September 2012, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Today, everyone, or almost everyone, recognizes the continued and even increased relevance of the theses advanced by the author of Capital. Their topicality is due to the continued existence of a mode of production, capitalism: the exploitation of labor power – and hence of human beings – with a view to the valorization of capital. To this day, and more than ever, this exploitation defines capitalism through all its historical transformations.

By Isabelle Garo, professor of philosophy and director of the Great Edition of the Works of Marx and Engels in French [1].

Today, the big investors and the shareholders are demanding a “return on investment” that justifies every social regression in the eyes of the ruling classes and the small fraction of the population that profits from it. We are the 99% the Indignant Ones cry, who thus formulate the social logic of a mode of production that has reached the stage of senility.

The rate of profit is capital’s only obsession, and its means, in times of crisis and recession, is notably downward pressure on wages, increased extortion of what Marx called absolute surplus value (the length and intensity of the working day) and the systematic re-classification as merchandise of everything that had been obtained from capital through struggle, as concerns health care, education, retirement pensions, etc.

The Fordist parenthesis is closing before our very eyes. A deregulated capitalism is taking root, piloted by neoliberal doctrines and hyper-austerity policies that are accentuating the economic crisis and are spreading poverty and chaos everywhere. A logic that is economic in nature – and which seems mad even from the point of view of its proponents – is being combined with social choices and ideological options that are every bit as grave. Recourse to Marx and to Marxism remains indispensable to a fine analysis of this mixture, which is at one and the same time coherent and explosive, and whose contradictions are deadly in the long run.

Thus, the particular characteristic of Marxist analysis is to be deeply political, both in its motivations but even more so in the alternatives that it puts forward. One example will suffice: Marx developed a notion that is still particularly useful today, that of “fictive capital,” which is as powerful in the economic domain as it is rich from the philosophical point of view, and which includes the social dimension. Indeed; while loans are not value-producing capital, the creditors demand a yield, that is to say a surplus value to be extorted from the workers in the future – these demands belong to the domain of class war, pure and simple.

Marx’s The Class Struggles in France says, on the subject of the 1830-1848 July monarchy: “the faction of the bourgeoisie that ruled and legislated through the Chambers had a direct interest in the indebtedness of the state. The state deficit was really the main object of its speculation and the chief source of its enrichment. At the end of each year a new deficit. After the lapse of four or five years a new loan. And every new loan offered new opportunities to the finance aristocracy for defrauding the state, which was kept artificially on the verge of bankruptcy – it had to negotiate with the bankers under the most unfavorable conditions.”

Such a text teaches two things. First, that a global analysis of capitalism and not only of its economic contradictions, but also of its political and social contradictions, is more indispensible than ever. Secondly, that being a Marxist does not mean plastering quotes over present-day reality, but rather developing and re-developing analytical tools, as Marx himself continually did: because this text, despite its continued relevance, absolutely does not suffice to describe the contemporary debt mechanism!

A certain kind of doctrinaire Marxism is dead, or almost dead, and that’s a good thing. But now analyses need to be developed that are not descriptions, even of the economic crisis, but are forms of political and critical intervention in present-day reality. This is what makes Marxism a completely different theory from any other: it is truly the progression to a higher stage – the abolition of capitalism – which is the aim of his entire work, and hence it is a revolutionary aim. What’s the use of Marx? He’s useful in the articulation of a study of the economic crisis, in knowledge of the contradictions of capitalism, in intervention in the class struggle and the political strategy with an aim to abolish capitalism, which cannot be reformed, now less than ever.

[1(1) Isabelle Garo is the author of Marx et l’invention historique. Published by Éditions Syllepse, 2012, 192 pages, 10 euros.

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