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200 years of Marx: Capitalism in Decline

Two hundred years after the birth of Marx, in this book, to be published soon, we address the contradictions and economic and political implications of the rationality of the capitalist mode at this time in history, which is increasingly inadequate in terms of social relations, since it can no longer accommodate a growing workforce, , in terms of relations with nature since it can no longer guarantee its reproduction, and in terms of the crises, which are structural in character and of increasing dimensions, that it unleashes within itself. This forces us to define the concepts of productive and unproductive labor from two possible angles: that of the dominant social form or capitalist relationship and that of its content. Productive labor specific to the capitalist mode of production is work that produces surplus value. For Marx, the concept of productive labor for capital, that is, productive work from the perspective of its form, is a historically specific concept. Capitalist relations require productive labor for capital to be distinguished from productive work in general. This is a subject that Marx addresses in the unpublished ‘Chapter VI’ of Capital and which belongs in its logic to the first volume, in which he carries out his analysis without making a distinction between the angle of individual capital and that of capital in its totality.

Table of Contents

The central problem of capitalism today 11
Chapter 1
The limits of productivity 20
Chapter 2
The increase of unproductive labor in terms of content and form 31
Destructive consumption of means of consumption and productivity by content 32
Unproductive consumption of means of production and loss of labor productivity by form 36
Means of destruction; loss of work productivity in terms of form and content 37
Chapter 3
The tendency to accumulate without labor 39
The financialization of the economy since the 1970s 39
Towards fictitious capital: contradictions and crises from the 1990s 44
The dementia of fictitious capital 45
The Great World Crisis from 2008 onwards 51
Chapter 4
Preparing the mother of all bubbles? 62
The decoupling of “work” and “making money” 62
The de-substantiation of money 65
Chapter 5
Financial empires and geopolitics 68
The conservative American financial faction 68
The globalized Anglo-American financial faction 72
New Emerging Social Formations 74
The European Union, a continent state in the midst of all forces 75
Chapter 6
The geopolitical option: towards a multipolar currency world? 81
Cryptocurrencies: new forms of fictitious money 81
Cryptocurrencies: new social power relations 84
Towards a multipolar currency world? 86
Chapter 7
Will there be (other) new Emerging Social Forms? 90
China: First and Last Emerging Social Form? 90
Is China reaching its over-accumulation point? 93
Is a new cycle of capitalist economic growth possible? 94
Is it possible to reconnect capital with the real economy in China and can it be the last bastion of productive capital? 98
Chapter 8
Leaving behind capitalism in the attempt to emerge from the capitalist crisis? 102
The attempt to emerge from the crisis of capitalism without success 102
The possibility of leaving capitalism behind by not being able to emerge from the capitalist crisis 107
Final synthesis 110
Bibliography 116
Editors, Co-Authors and Contributors 122


In A contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (see: Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie), Marx studies the Pre-capitalist Economic Formations and attempts to establish the mode and times of the process of social change: the formation of the social relations of production that correspond to a defined stage of the development of the productive forces and the “epochs of social revolution” in which social relations are necessarily transformed to adjust to the new level and scale of development of the productive forces. Historically, the period of transition from one mode of production to another can be analyzed from the point of view of the category of productive and unproductive work in terms of content, and we even consider that the work presented in this book may well provide a greater capacity for prospective analysis by taking a brief retrospective look into the history of humanity.
Following Marx 200 years later, it is possible to analyze the development and demise of production relations based on the categories of productive and unproductive work. Permanent warfare (unproductive work) during the Roman Empire was a necessary condition for sustaining the capacity to replace slaves. In Greece, Athens was not a hegemonic “State” and debt bondage of the citizens (mostly peasants) led to the limited reproduction of the third class that had to pay taxes and go to war to make the replacement of slaves owned by the patricians possible. With no hegemonic status Athens had to go to war with other Greek “States” (such as Sparta). Athens could not develop itself as a real Empire and was overruled by Rome. It left more of a cultural heritage.
The Roman Empire was based on its absolute hegemony in Italy. Without hegemony it would not have been possible to build up a growing army to build an ever-greater Empire. In this context Rome did not even need to forbid the en-slavement of peasants by debt. Instead the army ensured the capacity to replace slaves and those who did not resist the conquest could obtain Roman citizenship. Slave relations reached their height with the first wars of the Empire (Punic Wars), when replacement capacity reached unprecedented levels that, also coincide with the cruelest episode in the treatment of slaves. The cost of the war rose with the expan-sion of the Empire into ever more distant territories. Replacing slave labor became more expensive as the cost of warfare increased considerably. Moreover, it imposed the need to hire an increasing number of mercenary forces in-stead of Roman citizens, and even to grant Roman citizenship to these people. The reproduction of the slave-owning social relationship became more costly and difficult for the Empire to sustain. The costs outweighed the benefits of productive slave labor. Slaves had to reproduce themselves and got pieces of land to do so. Hence the progressive need for the emancipation of slaves (freedmen) implies the transition to a new social relationship of production.
Marx also studied the Asian mode of production, alt-hough in reality this social formation was not exclusively Asian. It can be observed that this social formation was not only developing in Asia but also in ancient Egypt and in the pre-Columbian cultures of Latin America. The category of productive work can be seen in the collective work of forming terraces, irrigation, canals and the collective production that it unleashed. Ceremonial works (such as the pyramids), on the other hand, were a way to appropriate surpluses and a new mode of exploitation. Such works are unproductive but originally contributions to the gods of fertility, the sun or the moon were one of the ways of making the social relationship of exploitation created between the “ruling community” and “lower communities” socially legitimate, with the former directing the carrying out of communal works. As long as the “cultural works” of worship reaffirm solidarity they can be considered indirectly productive.
However, if such works entail increasingly unproductive luxuries, overstretching obligations in labor and in-kind contributions, and these are at the expense of productive labor in the field, unproductive labor tends to destroy the basis of its own support. Internal rebellions will be the outcome and even the disintegration of the communities. In the Mayan culture no “cultural center” held a hegemonic position and none emerged as an empire, subordinating other centers through war, as we may observe in the case of the Aztecs and the Incas, for example. The larger a territory becomes to control, the more difficult it is to sustain such an empire and external rebellions will break out with the eventual breakdown of the empire (Dierckxsens 1983).
Later, under capitalism, the subordination of use-value to exchange-value (by proving that a commodity has use-value if it is sold as exchange-value, however useless the former may be) has led to unproductive labor prevailing over productive labor. We observed how destructive consumption of the means of consumption (programmed obsolescence) entails a loss of labor productivity from the point of view of content; how destructive consumption of the means of production (by inevitably lowering the rate of profit) led to the loss of labor productivity because of its form; and how consumption of the means of destruction and production for war leads to the loss of labor productivity because of its form and content (Dierckxsens, 1994). These trends, in which exchange-value outweighs use-value, push more and more beyond the limits and put the reproduction of capital itself in its totality in a situation of structural world crisis.
We observe that, as a consequence of the above, there is a prolonged downward trend in the rate of profit. Individual capital then seeks expanded accumulation, leaving the central countries (which are beginning to cease to be so) in search of cheaper productive labor, to move towards certain peripheral economies, which then become “emerging”, leading to a scaling up within, initially enabling them to move from the national to the continental level, and then even to engage on a global scale.
The globalization of capital means the globalization of the general laws of accumulation and value, by universalizing the fundamental contradiction between capital and labor. The contradiction appears as the globalization of capital vs. the universalization of the national, where the national contains all productive labor and the real economy, while the global expresses fictitious, unproductive and parasitic capital. The universalization of the national includes the necessary defense of the preservation of nature and its natural cycle of reproduction of life that includes humanity itself. As global capital is invested in “emerging economies”, and particularly the Chinese emerging global economy develops (1981-2006), the conditions are created for a New Great Emerging Social Formation to emerge which no longer necessarily clings to the capitalist rationale of value without labor. Although it is logical that new one still develops itself within its old metabolism.
Since global capital cannot be reconnected with produc-tive labor from the point of view of content, it cannot resolve how to emerge from a crisis that is structural or organic, which not only gives rise to the ongoing implosion of global capital (Piqueras and Dierckxsens, 2011), but opens up the historic opportunity to leave capitalism itself behind and overcome it. Such an “opportunity” entails a strategic conflict of interest of global dimensions, which manifests itself as a challenge as well as a threat. The real battle against globalism takes place in the US and cannot be exported. In this context we need to see what is happening nowadays with Trump as president. After the midterm elections, the war against globalism will be heavier at the international level and may create a dangerous situation. Internally a battle with the Federal Reserve (still a globalist private entity) will take place to control interest rates more directly. If necessary, Trump will try to control those interests more directly via the Treasury. This will produce high tensions between Democrats (globalist) and Republicans and may lead to internal rebellion. The collapse of Wall Street will be inevitable, and an economic depression will take place not just in the US but worldwide.
The heterogeneity and national diversity contained in the universal are how the new social formations emerge and are developing and putting forward the answers that the globalization of capital lacks or can no longer find. This very lack of internal solutions to the global accumulation of capital is, moreover, in itself a threat to humanity, since globalized capital (but not the nationalists) can only understand it in terms of a huge mass of surplus population, which implies that it can contemplate the extermination of several billion human beings. After all, this was the way capitalism solved other historical bottlenecks, such as the Great Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-44. However, even that would not be a viable way out for this mode of production, because its real problem is not that it has too many human beings, but that it lacks more and more value and added value. And this is precisely because of the scientific and technical revolution underway and because of the fact that human beings are being rapidly cut off from productive processes.
On the other hand, the national-in-the-universal cannot express itself in the New Social Formation except by affirming itself and persisting. Its only chance of prospering is to aggregate into large national blocks (regions) that contain and express the multiple historical national identities, affirming them in their historical-cultural diversity and heterogeneity. This gives rise to the universal being manifested as pluriversal, containing, recognizing and enhancing all the diversity and heterogeneity of the national, social and natural (according the latter the decisive importance of being an irreplaceable common denominator, and therefore managed collectively as an intrinsic wealth and not as a source of value).
In short, we are at a strategic and historic moment of transition, Marx would say, that would allow us to make observable, to participate and to link the development of global interest-bearing capital, as a form of growth in a mode of accumulation that belongs to the old social formations of capitalism, with a New Great Emerging Social Formation made up of a diversity of distinct social formations. We consider that this transition is in full process, subject to enormous forces that are in conflict, and one of the most important concrete manifestations of it is the subordination of the exchange-value to use-value, and therefore the subordination of productive work in terms of form to productive work in terms of content. In this struggle our own possibilities as a species may be decided.