The Contradictions of Capitalism
Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano
School of Geography
The Contradictions of Capitalism
Universidad Academia de Humanismo Cristiano
School of Geography
The Urbanization of Our Discontents
The Ideal City Conference
August 27, 2015
Text from Boitempo Editorial:
David Harvey talks about how to conceive of and organize the working class in contemporary circumstances. Different from its classical, factory-based, guise, the working class today is fragmented and scattered throughout the urban setting. In this context, Harvey emphasizes the importance of thinking up new territorial strategies for class struggle – a terrain more explored by the anarchist tradition than the classical Marxist one. He then, paraphrasing Murray Bookchin, insists that the future of the left depends crucially on our capacity for putting together the best of Marxism with the best of anarchism. A must see video.
The clip is an excerpt of the closing panel of Boitempo’s Rebel Cities International Seminar, that took place in São Paulo, Brazil in June 2015 and celebrated the publication of the Brazilian edition of Professor Harvey’s PARIS, CAPITAL OF MODERNITY (http://bit.ly/ParisHarvey).
A video recording of the full panel is available online here: http://bit.ly/cidadesrebeldesenglish
Slums & Skyscrapers: Space, Housing and the City Under Neoliberalism
Dangerous Times Festival
28 June 2015
Dangerous Times Festival
28 June 2015
“Listen, Anarchist!” A personal response to Simon Springer’s “Why a radical geography must be anarchist”
City University of New York, USA
Simon Springer (2014) has written a lively and polemical piece in which he argues that a radical geography must be freshly anarchist and not tired-old Marxist. As with any polemic of this sort, his paper has its quota of misrepresentations, exaggerations and ad hominem criticisms, but Springer does raise key issues that are worthy of discussion.
Let me first make clear my own position. I sympathize (but don’t entirely agree) with Murray Bookchin, who in his late writings (after he had severed his long- standing connection to anarchism), felt that “the future of the Left, in the last analysis, depends upon its ability to accept what is valid in both Marxism and anarchism for the present time and for the future coming into view” (Bookchin, 2014: 194). We need to define “what approach can incorporate the best of the revolutionary tradition – Marxism and anarchism – in ways and forms that speak to the kinds of problems that face the present” (2014: 164).
Springer, judging from his piece, would want no part in such a project. He seems mainly bent on polarizing the relation between anarchism and Marxism as if they are mutually exclusive if not hostile. There is, in my view, no point in that. From my Marxist perspective, the autonomist and anarchist tactics and sentiments that have animated a great deal of political activism over the last few years (in movements like “Occupy”) have to be appreciated, analyzed and supported when appropriate. If I think that “Occupy” or what happened in Gezi Park and on the streets of Brazilian cities were progressive movements, and if they were animated in whole or in part by anarchist and autonomista thought and action, then why on earth would I not engage positively with them? To the degree that anarchists of one sort or another have raised important issues that are all too frequently ignored or dismissed as irrelevant in mainstream Marxism, so too I think dialogue – let us call it mutual aid – rather than confrontation between the two traditions is a far more fruitful way to go. Conversely, Marxism, for all its past faults, has a great deal that is crucial to offer to the anti-capitalist struggle in which many anarchists are also engaged.
Geographers have a very special and perhaps privileged niche from which to explore the possibility of collaborations and mutual aid. As Springer points out, some of the major figures in the nineteenth century anarchist tradition – most notably Kropotkin, Metchnikoff and Reclus – were geographers. Through the work of Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford and later on Murray Bookchin, anarchist sentiments have also been influential in urban planning, while many utopian schemas (such as that of Edward Bellamy) as well as practical plans (such as those of Ebenezer Howard) reflect anarchist influences. I would, incidentally, put my own utopian sketch (“Edilia”) from Spaces of Hope (2000) in that tradition. Continue reading
Seventeen Contradictions is the most dangerous book I have ever written. It is also the latest (and maybe the last) of a series of books that I refer to in retrospect as “the Marx Project”. I say “in retrospect” since I had no idea until recently that such a project had been in the making. A combination of dramatic historical shifts and the logic of what I was doing propelled me onwards from one topic/book to another and yet another.
The project began sometime in the late 1990s but became more explicit after 2000. I had looked forward to that year not because it was the beginning of a new millennium but because I imagined it as the year of my retirement. So here I am fifteen years and a dozen or so books later wondering what happened. In part I blame this on my move to the CUNY Graduate Center in 2001. This proved to be the best career move I ever made. I removed myself from the misery of an increasingly isolated life in an elitist Johns Hopkins to a privileged position in the rough and tumble and politically charged atmosphere of a massive public university with great colleagues (most notably Cindi Katz and Neil Smith as well as good friends in Anthropology) and politically minded graduate students. It was the latter who insisted I do the video series on Marx’s Capital; they also did the skilled work of making the videos and setting up and maintaining the web-site. I owe them, and Chris Caruso in particular, a tremendous debt.
So what was this “Marx Project” all about? It had long been obvious that Marx was not well understood, let alone actively embraced, and that much work was needed to make his work more accessible. This was not only because of general ignorance based in avoidance and right wing distortions but also because of some of the more dogmatic presentations on the part of the sectarian left. Academic Marxism, meanwhile, seemed for the most part hell-bent on making Marx’s thought even more complicated than it already was. I had to some degree contributed to this in writing Limits to Capital (a work which, at the time of its publication – 1982 – was depicted by one reviewer as “another milestone for geography and another mill-stone around graduate students necks”). There clearly was a space in which I could take the experience of teaching Volume One of Marx’s Capital at least once every year after 1971 and put it to good use. In some years in the 1970s I had taught it three or more times both on and off campus (when I taught it in the university I always did so in addition to my contractual teaching load so nobody could claim I was neglecting my academic duties in favor of politics!). I aimed throughout to simplify and clarify Marx’s argument without dumbing it down or resorting to simplicities. I tried not to impose any particular reading of Marx, though it is impossible of course not to base the teaching in one’s own interpretations (mine is just one out of many plausible readings). I wanted to open a door into Marx’s thinking so that readers could pass through it and create their own understandings on the other side. That is the spirit in which the video series and the written Companions to Marx’s Capital Volumes One and Two were also constructed.
I also felt a pressing need to illustrate the contemporary relevance of Marx’s thinking for politics. This carried with it an obligation to identify not only what we might learn from Marx but what he had left incomplete, assumed away or simply (heaven forbid!) gotten wrong. It also entailed recognizing what was outdated in his thinking and what was not. The question that was very much on my mind was: What is it that reading Marx can teach us today and what is it that we have to do for ourselves to understand the world around us? I therefore set out to illustrate the utility of Marx’s method as well as of his concrete theorizations by putting my understanding of them to work in analyzing contemporary events and issues – hence the books on the new imperialism, the brief history of neoliberalism, the spatial dynamics of uneven geographical development, interpretations of the crisis of 2007-8 (The Enigma of Capital), and analyses of capitalist urbanization, a topic I addressed in Spaces of Hope, Rebel Cities and had a wonderful time continuously re-thinking and ruminating upon in the book on Second Empire Paris. The Paris book, an exercise in what I call historical-geographical materialism, filled in the history between Marx’s analysis of how Louis Bonaparte came to power in the wake of the failed revolution of 1848 (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) and what happened in the Paris Commune of 1871 (The Civil War in France). I did not consciously choose to do the Paris study with this in mind (I began to work on the topic back in 1976 because I was interested in Haussmann’s works). Only relatively late in the day did I realize I was bridging the gap between two of Marx’s seminal political works! Continue reading
Interview on TV Brasil’s Espaço Público
(Interviewers speak in Portuguese, with answers in English.)
Description from Boitempo:
David Harvey gave a series of lectures entitled “The political economy of urbanization” in five Brazilian cities in November 2014. This is the interview he conceded to TV Brasil’s Espaço Público, while in Brasília. He was also in Recife, Fortaleza, Curitiba and São Paulo launching the Brazilian edition of the second volume of his Companion to Marx’s Capital, by Boitempo. All of professor Harvey’s lectures were recorded and are being published on Boitempo’s channel on YouTube.
“What I am seeking here is a better understanding of the contradictions of capital, not of capitalism. I want to know how the economic engine of capitalism works the way it does, and why it might stutter and stall and sometimes appear to be on the verge of collapse. I also want to show why this economic engine should be replaced, and with what.” –from the Introduction
|Published by Profile Books in the UK:
Following on from The Enigma of Capital, the world’s leading Marxist thinker explores the hidden workings of capital and reveals the forces that will lead inexorably to the demise of our system.You thought capitalism was permanent? Think again.
David Harvey unravels the contradictions at the heart of capitalism – its drive, for example, to accumulate capital beyond the means of investing it, its imperative to use the cheapest methods of production that leads to consumers with no means of consumption, and its compulsion to exploit nature to the point of extinction. These are the tensions which underpin the persistence of mass unemployment, the downward spirals of Europe and Japan, and the unstable lurches forward of China and India.
Not that the contradictions of capital are all bad: they can lead to the innovations that make capitalism resilient and, it seems, permanent. Yet appearances can deceive: while many of capital’s contradictions can be managed, others will be fatal to our society. This new book is both an incisive guide to the world around us and a manifesto for change.
|Published by Oxford University Press in the US:
To modern Western society, capitalism is the air we breathe, and most people rarely think to question it, for good or for ill. But knowing what makes capitalism work–and what makes it fail–is crucial to understanding its long-term health, and the vast implications for the global economy that go along with it.
In Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, the eminent scholar David Harvey, author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism, examines the internal contradictions within the flow of capital that have precipitated recent crises. He contends that while the contradictions have made capitalism flexible and resilient, they also contain the seeds of systemic catastrophe. Many of the contradictions are manageable, but some are fatal: the stress on endless compound growth, the necessity to exploit nature to its limits, and tendency toward universal alienation. Capitalism has always managed to extend the outer limits through “spatial fixes,” expanding the geography of the system to cover nations and people formerly outside of its range. Whether it can continue to expand is an open question, but Harvey thinks it unlikely in the medium term future: the limits cannot extend much further, and the recent financial crisis is a harbinger of this.
David Harvey has long been recognized as one of the world’s most acute critical analysts of the global capitalist system and the injustices that flow from it. In this book, he returns to the foundations of all of his work, dissecting and interrogating the fundamental illogic of our economic system, as well as giving us a look at how human societies are likely to evolve in a post-capitalist world.