Contemporary topics of marxism: theoretical problems of XXI century capitalism approaches

In the article written by Pablo Miguez, the author promotes a review over the economic marxism approaches since 1960. The academic marxism is an intelectual effort, bigger than Karl Marx’s works. Some recent researches allow us to contextualize the marxism theory to the circumstances of the contemporary capitalism.

The Marxism was discredited with the end of the socialist systems, but the author says that is important to take this fundamental current of thought to the develop the economy theory.

Through the 70’s, numberless marxists studies thougth about the work proccess and its tranformations. Harry Braverman, who has written “Labour and Monopoly capital”, analyzed the introduction of the taylorist method as a fundamental moment of the subsumption of the real work force. For him, the taylorism was necessary to promote an monopolist capitalism. This kind of operation imposes to the industrial worker a manner of doing the job: fragmented and speedy, increasing the production. The ideal of saving time in taylorism expropriate the worker knowledge about the process he is part of.

The automation of work is enhanced by the relationship between work and science. The Italian Marxism was one of the few chains that did not fail to address this relationship, responsible for generating the necessary innovations for accelerated production.

Since the beginning of Taylorism in the twentieth century, it was necessary to understand its evolution and consequences, both to promote capitalist development and to challenge it. The transformation of production processes since the 80’s have been accelerated by technological changes, such as microelectronics and computer technology. That allowed to increase the productivity and transformed the terms of use and sale of the labor force. In the production field, bursted the communication logic with new information and communication technologies. With the raise of the intellectual work in a very different way from the industrial period, knowledge itself was transformed into an accumulation object, transforming the links between the industry and the university.

New valuation logics based on cognitive intellectual work emerges, not reproducing exactly the schemes of the industrial capitalism. The “new capitalism” is able to produce new types of properties, which mobilizes the accumulation of knowledge and intellectual skills in an unprecedented way. It is what the Italian author Antônio Negri calls the capitalist need to capture the power of the “immaterial labor” – as knowledge, information, social and emotional relationships. Work as a source of value passes the mass work for social work. More recently, this idea has been rephrased as “cognitive capitalism”, by authors such as Carlo Vercellone and Moulier Boutang.

Marx debates in his work the idea about the State inside the capitalist mode of production. The twentieth century marxism put aside the question about the nature of the State, because of urgent problems caused by World War II, Imperialism and by the socialist regimes. But Marx was a critical of the State form and the self-described socialist systems were strongly rooted in it.

Ralph Miliband argues that Marx never intended to carry out a systematic study of the State and his idea of it appears above all in the Communist Manifest, where it stands out as an instrument of domination of the ruling class. For Nico Poulantzas, the classes do not exist independently of the State form, since their power to influence depends on the State structure. The State itself is a structure of the capitalist system and it possess a relative autonomy. Thus, the state is assumed as a structural category.

The question of the nature of the state is wide and continues to be debated. Its structure is related in distint ways with different fractions of the capital and with the labor force. These crossed relationships are crucial to form the State structure, its policies and its forms of intervention.

It is in the 1970 decade that starts the transformations that would change the economy – the growth of finance capital. The bank capital and the values capital have grow up; new global agents emerged, such as pension funds and institutional investors; the instability of exchange, emissions of government debt and many other changes that altered the configuration of world capitalism.

Some economists had studied finance capital as the merging of bank capital with industrial capital. The following crisis in rich countries showed since the ninetheenth century that the excess of liquidity is opposed to the diminishing returns, demonstrating the inversion that the whole process of the real economy aggravates indebtedness scenarios of some States, especially in peripheral countries.

The issuance of public debt reached a third of the world’s financial assets in the 90s, which gave creditors a power to trigger a crisis on States at any time. Robert Brenner outlines a theory of capitalist crisis by overaccumulation of capital. On other side, David Harvey points out that the overaccumulation gives rise to the development of secondary and tertiary circuits of accumulation. This overaccumulation is what generates the crisis in capitalism, according to the author, including the financial and real estate crisis, like the paradigmatic one that happened in 2008 and 2009.

According to Costas Lapavitsas, the financialisation of personal income of the last two decades is the phenomenon that underlies the crisis of contemporary capitalism, understood as the penetration of the private financial sector in the transactions of everyday life. Originated in 1960, the hypertrophy of the financial capital marked the evolution of the capitalism of our days, being the main concern of the critics of political economy.

By Perola Mathias

Original article can be found in Cuadernos de Economía Crítica.

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