Part 3 The Limits to Capital: Afterword

therefore. Oxford OX4 2DQ. More interesting for me was the reconstruction and exposition of those materials directly relevant to my objective. The aim was. USA . a source of considerable gratification to find that a work more than twenty years old can still have meaning and even stir controversy. crucial limits to Limits. I see no reason to apologize for that because I believed then as I do now that you do not abandon some framework Ó 2004 Editorial Board of Antipode. needless to say. The final aim was to take fragmentary comments about spatiality. So I thank the contributors to this symposium who have so generously re-examined and critically engaged with their experience of reading The Limits to Capital over these twenty years. so crucial to my subsequent writings on Paris. MA 02148. territoriality and geography and try to weld them into a more systematic theory of the production of space. for example. 9600 Garsington Road. scarcely rates a mention in Limits. New York. value theory and the falling rate of profit. City University of New York. Malden. I wrote Limits very much under the tutelage of Marx and with very little reference to the rest of the Marxist tradition. others he had worried inconclusively about to the point of tedium (eg rent) while still others (eg money and finance capital) had been left in a very muddled state. and of uneven geographical development. USA.cuny. Theories of Surplus Value.edu It is. dharvey@ gc. The Eighteenth Brumaire. UK and 350 Main Street.______________ ___________________ Retrospect on The Limits to Capital David Harvey Graduate Center. Published by Blackwell Publishing. There were. This entailed first finding a path through well-worn controversies over. exegesis and extension of Marx’s political economy onto the terrain of geography. I wanted to see how far I could get in understanding urbanization and geographical transformations from within the frame laid out in Marx’s Capital. Some of these Marx had gone over at length (eg fixed capital). therefore. defined by the way I set up the project. I did not seek to go outside of Marx’s basic assumptions nor to depart from what I saw as his dialectical method. the Grundrisse and some of the ancillary writings on political economy. Since I cannot possibly respond to all the issues raised. I thought I would construct my own commentary and let readers judge how far it parallels or diverges from those of other contributors. urbanization.

in my judgement.Retrospect on The Limits To Capital 545 until you have explored all of the possibilities latent within it. Swyngedouw. for example. we see one of the limits to Marx’s own style of argument that needs to be transcended. the production of built environments. My strategy had been to bring the Marxian theory to bear on spatial/geographical questions towards the end of the analysis. At times I gave up on it and in the end cut some corners in order to have done with it. Walker and Storper. Massey. but what would be lost in narrative clarity would be gained in applicability and realism. It is. not easy to be dialectical about space. like the idea of a ‘‘spatial fix’’ or of geopolitical confrontations. But to say the book is foundational is not necessarily to say it is fixed and certainly not singular (consider. to me. But I do not believe this would entail abandonment of Marx’s insights on. This would. This is as true for Marxian political economy as it is for economic theory more generally. How this might be done is far too complicated a problem to be taken up here. the hardest intellectual struggle I have ever had. the least satisfactory part of the argument is the third cut on crisis theory which examines the geographical–spatial dimensions to the theory. I think. and several others). taken it. Here. This proved very hard to do. In a way this should not be surprising because. Curiously. Shepherd and Barnes. quite simply. at least to me). Webber and Rigby. It would also probably muddle things considerably. But what I think I did manage to reveal was that Marx had constructed an extraordinarily rich theoretical framework for understanding a whole host of phenomena of interest to urbanists and geographers. for example. furthermore. that the issues of spatio-temporality and the relation to nature be integrated into the argument at the very start rather than at the end of the analysis. I am sure. The trick will be to take many of the Ó 2004 Editorial Board of Antipode. change the paths of analysis substantially. the greatest difficulty I had in Limits and therefore. This was difficult to do without engaging in all sorts of intuitive leaps (some of which. . to its own limits. as I have frequently observed elsewhere. have proven useful. Smith. say. as it were. or the circulation of interest-bearing capital. But a decent theoretical understanding of uneven geographical development still remains to be written (in spite of some of the excellent work by. Writing Limits was. To do this requires. the role of fixed capital circulation. the significance I later accorded to the Eighteenth Brumaire). the introduction of space and matters geographical (in which I would include environment and the problematic of the relation to nature) into any theoretical framework usually exercises a disruptive effect on how the theory works. Cox. I was always too well aware of the corners I had cut and the restrictions I had placed on the inquiry to view Limits as a fixed frame of reference within which everything had to be cast. The insights and intuitions generated have provided a foundation for all the works I have written since.

Marx was. What Marx shows. in effect. Problems arise for capital when this class struggle spirals out of control to transform reform into revolutionary movement. Ó 2004 Editorial Board of Antipode. is that capital left to its own devices (absent restraints) would not only destroy the laborer as a human being but destroy the two primary sources of all wealth—the laborer and the soil. Why did Marx deploy such modes of argument and why did I replicate them? It is surprising that someone who proclaimed that ‘‘all history is the history of class struggle’’ should pay so little attention to such struggles in his political–economic as opposed to in his historical and political writings. The tactic of taking the political economists at their word and assume perfect markets permits him to reveal all the mystifications within the wage system. (b) that the account given by the classical political economists of labor markets was based on a deliberate mystification. The analysis seems largely geared to show (a) that capitalism cannot do without collective class struggle. For this to happen requires that workers put their heads together and organize. In the chapter on the working day we see that a certain level of class struggle on the part of the laborers can help save capitalism from its own self-destructive tendencies. Class struggle therefore becomes necessary to the stabilization of capitalism.546 Antipode substantive findings in Limits and by switching the focus learn to interpret them differently. simultaneously attempting to critique the classical political economists and to understand how capitalism works. Class relations are. central to the argument in Capital but the activity of struggle shows up only episodically (as in the chapter on the working day or in the consideration given to the luddite movement in the chapter on machinery). But the analysis permits Marx to outline very clearly what it is that laborers must organize against. of course. in effect. The first is the muted role of class struggle. The emphasis upon equilibrium in Marx’s argument derives from assuming away such problems. The second is the curious habit of assuming that all commodities trade at their value. There is an internal relation between these two features—class struggles affect the value of labor power and disturb value relations more generally. . My guess is that Marx chose this tack because he wanted to show the inevitable implications of the commodification of labor power and thereby to answer in its own terms the utopian fantasy of the political economists that freely functioning markets (particularly that for labor power) would produce a result that was in any way beneficial to the laborer. So what of the other limits to Marx’s analysis? I take up just two issues of considerable import. Class struggle barely gets a mention in volume 2 of Capital. and (c) that the laborers must and inevitably would also organize (as he repeatedly emphasized in his historical writings).

for example. oppression. conversion of various forms of property rights (common. suppression of rights to the commons. though it certainly conceals the systematic exploitation of living labor within production. is realized. Marx’s description of primitive accumulation reveals a wide range of processes. Consider. These include the privatization of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations. particularly of Ó 2004 Editorial Board of Antipode. fraud. force. state. The role of the capitalist as a commodity producer and exchanger is already well established and labor power has become a commodity that trades generally at its value. looting and the resort either to outright illegality or the abuse of state power. uncontaminated by the contingencies of organized class struggle on the part of the laborers. This last move explains Marx’s adoption of wide-ranging initial assumptions in building his theory of capital accumulation. . the neoliberal project of the economists. collective. Marx’s account emphasizes the role of violence. But is this an adequate way to understand actually existing capitalism? Obviously not. surely. in our times. To expose the utopian fantasy of liberalism (and for us. ‘‘Primitive’’ or ‘‘original’’ accumulation has already occurred and accumulation now proceeds as expanded reproduction (albeit through the exploitation of living labor in production). juridical individualism. It will also produce serious and growing instabilities culminating in chronic crises of overaccumulation (of the sort we are now witnessing). freedom of contract and appropriate structures of law and governance guaranteed by a ‘‘facilitative’’ state which also secures the integrity of money as a store of value and as a medium of circulation. immense insights worthy of preservation. colonial. These include: freely functioning competitive markets with institutional arrangements of private property. the world of primitive accumulation. What looks on the surface to be a more peaceful and legalized world of the organized market takes over. But it is hard not to infer from the structure of the argument that this gets left behind once capitalism is established. It will instead produce ever greater levels of social inequality (as indeed has been the global trend over the last thirty years of neoliberalism).Retrospect on The Limits To Capital 547 But in order to accomplish the former he had to theorize the latter in a pure state. neoliberalism) is a major achievement. These assumptions allow us to see what will happen if the liberal project of the classical political economists or. These are. The brilliance of Marx’s dialectical method is to show that market liberalization—the credo of the liberals and the neoliberals—will not produce a harmonious state in which everyone is better off. monetization of exchange and taxation. neo-colonial and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources). etc) into exclusive private property rights. commodification of labor power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption.

Stock promotions. structured asset destruction through inflation. and all manner of other products. the appropriation of genetic materials. the national debt and ultimately the credit system as radical means of primitive accumulation. speculative raiding by hedge funds—all of these are central features of what contemporary capitalism is about. the power of the state is frequently used to force such processes through even against popular will. even in the advanced capitalist countries. A general re-evaluation of the continuous role and persistence of the predatory practices of ‘‘primitive’’ or ‘‘original’’ accumulation is very much in order. as Lenin. been major levers of predation.548 Antipode land. seed plasmas. asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions. and usury. The escalating depletion of the global environmental commons (land. patenting and licensing agreements. Hilferding and Luxemburg all remarked. These features cannot be relegated to some distant past. slave trade. The credit system and finance capital have. Since it seems peculiar to call an ongoing process ‘‘primitive’’ or ‘‘original’’ I prefer to substitute these terms by the concept of ‘‘accumulation by dispossession’’. fraud and thievery. water) and proliferating habitat degradations that preclude anything but capital intensive modes of agricultural production have likewise resulted from the wholesale commodification of nature in all its forms. air. The corporatization and privatization of hitherto public assets (like universities) to say nothing of the wave of privatization (of water. then. the promotion of levels of debt encumbrancy that reduce whole populations. a dual character. The commodification of cultural forms. with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality. to debt peonage. to say nothing of corporate fraud. Ó 2004 Editorial Board of Antipode. plays a crucial role in both backing and promoting these processes. All the features which Marx mentions have remained powerfully present within capitalism’s historical geography. As in the past. The ‘‘developmental state’’ forces through these processes often through authoritarian practices. biopiracy by a few large multinational companies. Capitalism has. Some of them have been fine-tuned to play an even stronger role now than in the past. The world of expanded reproduction through the exploitation of living labor in production (so brilliantly dissected in Capital) is paralleled by a world of violence. ponzi schemes. public utilities of all kinds) that has swept the world indicate a new wave of ‘‘enclosing the commons’’. histories and intellectual creativity entails wholesale dispossessions (the music industry is notorious for the appropriation and exploitation of grassroots culture and creativity). The state. dispossession of assets (the raiding of pension funds and their decimation by stock and corporate collapses) by credit and stock manipulations. . Wholly new mechanisms have also opened up: intellectual property rights (the so-called TRIPS agreement).

the potency of the initial formulations. Furthermore. Luxemburg argues. I am now in the process of rectifying that omission. These two aspects of accumulation. Yet it is omnipresent in no matter what historical period and has played an obvious role in imperialism. over the wage rate. whereas in the former the inchoate forms of accumulation by dispossession make for widespread but fragmentary forms of struggle. But there was and is much that remains to be built thereon. And this brings us back to the question of class struggle. Accumulation by dispossession can occur in a variety of ways and there is much that is both contingent and haphazard about its modus operandi. the organized force of an already existing proletariat is seen as the historical motor of change. What Marx showed (and I sought to highlight this in my version too) was that there were tools available (dialectics) to unmask the mystifications of liberal and neoliberal theory and to describe in the starkest terms the horror that would be produced the closer politics veered to trying to implement such utopian schemes. This understanding is helpful in the search to shape an alternative politics. None of this. have been foundational. conditions of contract and of labor. for me at least. The category of fictitious capital has a key role to play. correctly in my view. of course. Ó 2004 Editorial Board of Antipode. From this sort of perspective we may be able to construct far more compelling accounts of our current dilemmas than would ever have been possible working from Limits alone. a portrayal of just one side of the dual character of accumulation. In the latter. is taken up in Limits. Class struggles in this realm highlight dispossession. I followed Marx in assuming that primitive accumulation was over and done with except for some residual problems here and there. are ‘‘organically linked’’ and ‘‘the historical career of capitalism can only be appreciated by taking them together’’. But these struggles are very different from those waged within expanded reproduction.Retrospect on The Limits To Capital 549 fraud and predation geared to accumulation by dispossession. rather than detracts from. . even though the way of handling spatiality and the relation to nature was far from satisfactory. The enclosure of the global commons is one of its most persistent metaphors. we see clearly that state power is crucial in regulating and charting the relations within this duality. nevertheless. How to bring these two forms of struggle together is the most pressing political issue for the left in these times. But Limits was. The interesting point is to place the other side of the duality into motion. The anti-globalization movement has focussed on these processes. But in a curious way the recognition of absences of this sort adds to. Limits may. And here a basic intuition does arise out of Limits: the umbilical cord that keeps the dual modes of capital accumulation so irrevocably and organically together lies in finance capital and the credit system. It was a reasonably accurate portrayal of that one side.

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