Composed as a series of notebooks by Marx in 1857-8, the Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy) or simply the Grundrisse lay undisturbed but for manducating rodents until its first publication by the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow in the ‘difficult’ years 1939-41. Translations were slow to appear: the English edition, translated by Martin Nicolaus and published by Penguin in association with New Left Review in 1973 came only after translations of the full text (or the initiation of translation projects over several years) in Japanese, Chinese, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Czech, Hungarian, and Romanian. But, at least in Western Marxist circles, once it had appeared it acquired the reputation of a mysterious and fascinating text, heralded by some as providing a hitherto inaccessible “key” to Marx’s thought and even threatening to topple Capital from its place as crown jewel of his oeuvre. (For an interesting collection on the various interpretations and misinterpretations, see In Marx’s Laboratory: Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse, Edited byRiccardo Bellofiore,Guido Starosta, andPeter D. Thomas.)
Given this context, and the somewhat more explicit Hegelian style, the text is often seen as intimidating and skipped by some Marxists. But, having tackled the first three volumes of Capital (his Companion to Marx’s Capital Volume 2 also covers significant sections of Volume 3), David Harvey has done yeoman’s work – exploiting the time afforded him by the Covid lockdown – by explicating as simply and clearly as possible this preparatory text, in his typically sober and no-nonsense style. David is particularly good at deflating some of the extravagant (some may say fanciful) overreading some have indulged in regarding the famous passage on the “General Intellect”:
The passages that follow on fixed capital and the general intellect constitute a high point of theorizing in the Grundrisse. There is some remarkable writing and insights into the nature of capital in these pages. There has also been not a little controversy over how to interpret some of the key concepts. It is wonderful stuff, beautifully written and quite startling in its potential implications. Its insights into the dynamics of a capitalist mode of production, it turns out, are deeply relevant to our own time. …
Much has been made in the recent literature of Marx’s invocation of “the general intellect” in this passage. In my view, far too many of the readings are idealist, in the sense that they evoke the power of some ruling idea governing capital’s evolution. It is sometimes presented as some abstract or even occult power—“the general intellect”—which God-like rules over capital in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform. This is, however, the only place I can find in the whole corpus of Marx’s works where he uses this term, though a couple of pages later he does refer to “the social intellect” as “the precondition of the productive power of the means of labour as developed into the automatic process”. It seems rather presumptuous to base a whole interpretive school of Marxist thought—that of cognitive capitalism—on this unique concept, which is mentioned only once and at that in the Grundrisse, which is by far Marx’s most imaginative but also most experimental work.
But David’s primary concern in this book, as with the other Companions, is not to engage in turf warfare on the Marxological front, but is, rather, motivated by a profoundly democratic and paedagogical spirit, that is also testified by the interaction between his online classes and his written texts (readers are strongly encouraged to participate):
Most people, when confronted with Marx’s voluminous works on the critique of political economy, find them difficult, intimidating and confusing. As a result, there have arisen a variety of interpretations of his work by scholars and activists alike, coalescing in some instances into what appear to be factions or even whole schools of thought as to what the correct line is for elaborating on Marx’s theoretical contributions. Political parties of the left (particularly of a communist persuasion) have often shaped distinctive but somewhat rigid interpretations suited to their political situation and agendas. Marx, being the controversial figure that he is, has also attracted his share of personal vilification from opponents. Deliberate misrepresentations and false representations abound, along with more sophisticated and subtle attempts to undermine his views. All of this creates expectations and a climate of presumption and prejudgment that makes a simple and uncluttered reading of any of his texts virtually impossible.
My aim was and is to open a door into Marx’s thinking and to encourage as many people as possible to pass through it and take a closer look at the texts and make of them what they will. I have no interest in trying to impose my own particular interpretations on anyone. That is why I call my books on Marx “companions” rather than guides. I cannot, of course, open a path to an understanding of Marx’s thought without using my own experience and interests as crucial helpmates for interpretation. The fact that my main interest has been urbanization and uneven geographical development, at a variety of scales, clearly affects the way I evaluate Marx’s texts. I imagine myself, however, accompanying the reader on a long hike in which I point out this and that particular feature here and there, drawing upon my long experience of working with the text, and highlight moments of epiphany for me, linking ideas together, when possible, while always wondering and asking what it is that you, the reader, might make of it all. In teaching Marx over the last fifty years, I have been incredibly fortunate to teach it to all sorts of different groups and audiences. I have learned immensely from the very divergent ways in which people can make sense of what Marx is saying. This is, of course, a tribute to the rich complexity of the texts; that they can speak so directly to so many different people living in such radically different situations and coming from such radically different cultural and intellectual traditions. …
We all work from contexts even as we seek theoretical insights that might transcend those contexts. Marx is no exception. But then there are passages in the Grundrisse where Marx throws all contextual caution and constraints to the winds and speculates, sometimes wildly, as to the true essence and qualities of capital as a transcendent power. His insights are brilliant, dramatic and often astonishing in their implications. These form, as a student once commented to me, the jewels that shine with such luster in the mud of all too often turgid analysis. Finding and toying with these jewels of incisive understanding is what makes the study of the Grundrisse so extraordinary and worthwhile as well as, dare I say it, fun.
Now heading this year towards his 88th birthday and still teaching at the CUNY Graduate Center, writing texts, crossing theoretical swords (see, for example Rate and Mass and Reply to Riley on Rate and Mass) and attending conferences with his characteristic good cheer, bonhomie and modesty, David Harvey is the antidote to all those sickened by more austere and contemptuous aspects of academic Marxism and is an exemplar of vigour and hardiness (although he is terrible at replying to emails – so don’t take it personally!). Verso is proud to publish this book and to have republished his previous books with us in the Essential David Harvey series.
N.B. I cannot resist recycling this anecdote David told to Tariq Ali when announcing his new project on the Grundrisse: “Dear Tariq, I am told you are writing a book on Churchill and I am so delighted to hear this. I am so totally sick of his sanctification and deification by the political classes on this side of the Atlantic. Having a good critical book will be invaluable. I have a couple of anecdotes by the way which might amuse you. My grandma would only shop at the co-op and when I was 8 or 9 (in 1943-4) I often spent Saturdays with her. One time, we went somewhere to get her “divvy” and we ended up in some queue where she pontificated rather loudly to the effect that Churchill was a rotten bugger, enemy of the working people. I was banned from using such language at home, so I probably remember it because it was quite shocking to hear her going on in that vein in a public setting. Quite a few people were getting upset and defended him for leading the fight against Hitler to which my grandma replied that Hitler was a rotten bugger too and maybe it would take one rotten bugger to get rid of another rotten bugger but, after this war was over, we would get rid of all the rotten buggers, everyone of them. I told this anecdote to a colleague when at Oxford and he told me that, around the same time, he went to picture shows on Saturday mornings and they always showed Pathé News and, when a certain person was depicted, the whole audience would hiss and boo. He thought it was Hitler for a while, but it turned out to be Churchill…”
David Harvey tackles Marx’s notebooks that have spawned wide-ranging and raging controversies
When leading scholar of Marx, Roman Rosdolsky, first encountered the virtually unknown text of Marx’s Grundrisse – his preparatory work for his masterpiece Das Capital – in the 1950s in New York Public Library, he recognized it as “a work of fundamental importance,” but declared “its unusual form” and “obscure manner of expression, made it far from suitable for reaching a wide circle of readers.”
David Harvey’s Companion to Marx’s Grundrisse builds upon his widely acclaimed companions to the first and second volumes of Capital in a way that will reach as wide an audience as possible. Marx’s stated ambition for this text – where he was thinking aloud about some of possible metamorphoses of capitalism – is to reveal “the exact development of the concept of capital as the fundamental concept of modern economics, just as capital itself is the foundation of bourgeois society.” While respecting Marx’s desire to “bring out all the contradictions of bourgeois production, as well as the boundary where it drives beyond itself,” David Harvey also pithily illustrates the relevance of Marx’s text to understanding the troubled state of contemporary capitalism.
“It is often said of Marx that you need to read to the end to grasp what comes at the beginning. True to that maxim, after a lifetime of studying and interpreting Marx, David Harvey has finally returned to where Marx’s critique of political economy effectively began, in the famous Grundrisse. Harvey likens his Companion to accompanying the reader on a long hike, pointing out key landforms, junctions and hazards along the way. So put on your boots, fill your water bottle, and join Harvey in his dazzling venture to bring Marx’s ‘most interesting and difficult’ book to life.”
Harvey’s latest public-facing effort, The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles (2020), offers readers two things. It contains useful commentaries on the crises of global capitalism and the socialist possibilities opened up in the contemporary conjuncture. But it is also a handy portal into some of the most exciting realms of Harvey’s intellectual output. Readers already familiar with Harvey’s work will appreciate how he revivifies concepts and interventions from various periods in his career, using them to weave together insightful, unfamiliar commentaries on important matters, from financialization to urban development to geopolitical and military contests. Newcomers to Harvey’s work are sure to find in the Chronicles ample incentive to begin the long and fruitful journey through his prodigious oeuvre. Educators will be pleased to encounter a book constructed with them in mind.
Amidst waves of economic crises, class struggle and neo-fascist reaction, few possess the clarity and foresight of world-renowned theorist, David Harvey. Since the publication of his bestselling A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Harvey has been tracking the evolution of the capitalist system as well as tides of radical opposition rising against it. In The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, Harvey introduces new ways of understanding the crisis of global capitalism and the struggles for a better world.
While accounting for violence and disaster, Harvey also chronicles hope and possibility. By way of conversations about neoliberalism, capitalism, globalisation, the environment, technology and social movements, he outlines, with characteristic brilliance, how socialist alternatives are being imagined under very difficult circumstances.
In understanding the economic, political and social dimensions of the crisis, Harvey’s analysis in The Anti-Capitalist Chronicles will be of strategic importance to anyone wanting to both understand and change the world.
Spiralling out of Control: On the Fate of Capital and Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century: A Conversation Between Nancy Fraser and David Harvey
Moderated by Bhaskar Sunkara
Wednesday, November 1st, 2017, 6:30 PM
Proshansky Auditorium, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York
Nancy Fraser is Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor at the New School for Social Research and holder of an international research chair at the Collège d’études mondiales, Paris. Trained as a philosopher at CUNY, she specializes in critical social theory and political philosophy. Her new book, Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory, co-authored with Rahel Jaeggi, will be published by Polity Press in spring 2018. She has theorized capitalism’s relation to democracy, racial oppression, social reproduction, ecological crisis, and feminist movements in a series of linked essays in New Left Review and Critical Historical Studies and in Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis (2013). Fraser’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and was cited twice by the Brazilian Supreme Court (in decisions upholding marriage equality and affirmative action). She is currently President of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division and Roth Family Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Dartmouth College.
David Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of various books, articles, and lectures. He is the author of Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (Profile Books, 2014), one of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2011, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2010). Other books include A Companion to Marx’s Capital, Limits to Capital, and Social Justice and the City. Professor Harvey has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for over 40 years. His lectures on Marx’s Capital Volumes I and II are available for download (free) on his website. He was director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics from 2008-2014. His new book, published by Oxford University Press, is called Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason.
Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor and publisher of Jacobin magazine, as well as the publisher of Catalyst: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.
“Marx’s Capital is one of the most important texts of the modern era. The three volumes, published between 1867 and 1883, changed the destiny of countries, politics and people across the world – and continue to resonate today. In this book, David Harvey lays out their key arguments.In clear and concise language, Harvey describes the architecture of capital according to Marx, placing his observations in the context of capitalism in the second half of the nineteenth century. He considers the degree to which technological, economic and industrial change during the last 150 years means Marx’s analysis and its application may need to be modified. Marx’s trilogy concerns the circulation of capital: volume I, how labour increases the value of capital, which he called valorisation; volume II, on the realisation of this value, by selling it and turning it into money or credit; volume III, on what happens to the value next in processes of distribution. The three volumes contain the core of Marx’s thinking on the workings and history of capital and capitalism. David Harvey explains and illustrates the profound insights and enormous analytical power they continue to offer in terms that, without compromising their depth and complexity, will appeal to a wide range of readers, including those coming to the work for the first time.”
“Karl Marx’s Capital is one of the most important texts written in the modern era. Since 1867, when the first of its three volumes was published, it has had a profound effect on politics and economics in theory and practice throughout the world. But Marx wrote in the context of capitalism in the second half of the nineteenth century: his assumptions and analysis need to be updated in order to address to the technological, economic, and industrial change that has followed Capital’s initial publication.
In Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason, David Harvey not only provides a concise distillation of his famous course on Capital, but also makes the text relevant to the twenty-first century’s continued processes of globalization. Harvey shows the work’s continuing analytical power, doing so in the clearest and simplest terms but never compromising its depth and complexity.
Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason provides an accessible window into Harvey’s unique approach to Marxism and takes readers on a riveting roller coaster ride through recent global history. It demonstrates how and why Capital remains a living, breathing document with an outsized influence on contemporary social thought.”
This book presents a sequence of landmark works in David Harvey’s intellectual journey over five decades. It shows how experiencing the riots, despair and injustice of 1970s Baltimore led him to seek an explanation of capitalist inequalities via Marx and to a sustained intellectual engagement that has made him the world’s leading exponent of Marx’s work. The book takes the reader through the development of his unique synthesis of Marxist method and geographical understanding that has allowed him to develop a series of powerful insights into the ways of the world, from the new mechanics of imperialism, crises in financial markets and the effectiveness of car strikers in Oxford, to the links between nature and change, why Sacré Coeur was built in Paris, and the meaning of the postmodern condition. David Harvey is renowned for originality, acumen and the transformative value of his insights. This book shows why.
David Harvey is one of most famous Marxist intellectuals in the past half century, as well as one of the world’s most cited social scientists. Beginning in the early 1970s with his trenchant and still-relevant book Social Justice and the City and through this day, Harvey has written numerous books and dozens of influential essays and articles on topics across issues in politics, culture, economics, and social justice.
In The Ways of the World, Harvey has gathered his most important essays from the past four decades. They form a career-spanning collection that tracks not only the development of Harvey over time as an intellectual, but also a dialectical vision that gradually expanded its reach from the slums of Baltimore to global environmental degradation to the American imperium. While Harvey’s coverage is wide-ranging, all of the pieces tackle the core concerns that have always animated his work: capitalism past and present, social change, freedom, class, imperialism, the city, nature, social justice, postmodernity, globalization, and-not least-the crises that inhere in capitalism.
A career-defining volume, The Ways of the World will stand as a comprehensive work that presents the trajectory of Harvey’s lifelong project in full.
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
“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
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.
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.