Marx's Capital, Class Theory, and the Global Periphery

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
In this paper, I begin with a critical discussion of the ways in which certain Marxist writers conceptualize capitalism. I then deploy dialectical philosophy, and especially the form-content analysis, to present an alternative framework for understanding capitalism, a framework that emphasizes the relation between capital and labour at the point of production. In doing so, I build on Marx’s often-neglected, and often-misunderstood, discussion in Capital volume 1 on hybrid, formal and real subsumptions of labor as forms of the capitalist class relation. Capitalism as a class relation exists even if there is only formal subsumption, and even if instruments of production have not been systematically revolutionized. The transition from formal to real subsumption with associated technological change is not automatic. A protracted process, it is mediated by class struggle, which occurs in the context of a whole host of geographically-specific factors, including capitalist state interventions. Under the pressure to cut costs, property-owners can respond to class struggle against formal subsumption in multiple ways. Real subsumption, which is expressed as the advanced level of development of productive forces, is only one. Property owners can also respond by reinforcing formal subsumption, deploying a gender and a spatial fix, and/or introducing hybrid subsumption (which includes mercantile-usury-based exploitation of direct producers). The nature of capitalism is further complicated by imperialism, which impedes the transition to real subsumption, while selectively facilitating it. So I briefly discuss imperialism in terms of its internal relation to forms of subsumption, both in the context of advanced capitalism and peripheral capitalism. There are several theoretical implications of the subsumption perspective of capitalism as a class relation in an international context, for understanding such issues as the class character of the global periphery and geographically uneven development. It also has interesting political implications for class struggle against capitalism and imperialism.