A Critique of Political Economy

What has Capital become in the twenty-first century? How must we intend the “singularity” of neo-liberal capitalism? It is necessary, on the one hand, to understand, on a global scale, the new composition of labour and of exploitation. But also, clearly, the composition of Capital itself, between value extraction and finance. On the other hand it is necessary to look at the antagonisms and the production of (ambivalent) subjectivity which characterize das Kapital today.

1. Updating the Critique

According to Marx the condition and aim of the critique of bourgeois political economy is the existence of classes, and their ongoing struggle: with the “discovery” of exploitation the Marxian critique highlights a divided society rather than isolated individuals, history rather than eternal political economic categories. However, the new “bourgeois” economic and political paradigm prevailing today has radically modified its object and the ways in which it mystifies class conflict: classes have been substituted by possessive individualism, the labour theory of value with the theory of utility, and finally the origin of economics is founded on market exchange and no longer on production. How does a critique of political economy, shaped on the present, address the change concerning the object of economic science?

2. Crises and Struggles

The international economic crisis has lost its status of exceptionality; on the contrary, it now constitutes a new model of institutional regulation; the more the causes of the crisis are left unchecked, the more powerful this regulation becomes. Some mainstream economists have started to talk about secular stagnation, but what they refuse or are unable to see is the relation between struggles and the economic downturn. Historically, at the end of the nineteenth century and more recently with the crisis of 1929, the course of economic depressions has always been interrupted by struggles that also impose new conditions for a broad reconstruction of economic and social relations, opening up to phases of radical institutional change. How is it possible to rethink the relation between struggles, reforms and capitalist restructuring today?

3. Globalization and Interdependence

If in Marx’s view the constitution of a global market is an innate tendency of capitalist development, the current process of economic globalization appears to confirm this to the point of maximum visibility. The global process of homogenization of the market, however, has also brought to light new forms of segmentation of the economic space, forcing us to question the traditional theories of “international division of labour”. The criteria employed to analyse relations in terms of hierarchy and dependency on a global scale are weaker; also, they appear to characterize from within single regional, national and urban spaces. In what way can the heterogeneity of geographical space contribute to the understanding of the changes affecting the relation between different forms of exploitation and the proliferation of alternative economic spaces?

4. Social Reproduction

Unlike classical economics, and unlike the most recent versions of mainstream economic theories, Marx believed that an individual selling workforce on the market is not a disembodied subject, but a subject coinciding with the living body in its broadest and widest sense. Starting from this premise and overcoming the limits of Marxian theory, the feminist critique has posed the issue of “social reproduction” and of domestic work as a starting point for rethinking labour, bringing to light the existence of activities that are essential for the functioning of capitalism, despite the fact that these are not economically or socially acknowledged. In what way is the paradigm of social reproduction today a fundamental element in the critique of political economy, also beyond the close link to gender and domestic work?

5. Collaborative Economy

“Collaborative Economy” has been a much debated topic, due also to the prolonged duration of the crisis. Some authors view network technology and sharing as expressions of a trend which spontaneously aims to overcome market economy and even capitalism. This irenic conception of social change brings to mind the opinion that Marx and Engels had of Utopian socialists: “Individual inventive action replaces social activity; imaginary conditions replace historical conditions for emancipation; an organization of society devised for the occasion replaces the progressive organization of the proletariat in class.” To what extent must sharing and cooperation, made more powerful by network technologies, be though of in terms of a new enhancement of capitalism and to what extent, on the contrary, must they be seen as expressions of a new praxis aimed at asserting the Common?

6. Financial Capital

The neo-liberal cycle can be said to originate with the radical change in function of the global financial capital. This capital is no longer “fictitious”, that is, production of money by means of money, lacking any mediation with the phases of capitalist production, but effectively productive capital, capable of bringing order and creating a hierarchy with respect to all the other “portions of the capital”. The so-called financialization of economy has led to a change in the main monetary relations, such as debt. Debt, both public and private, is more and more one of the most relevant forms of social subjugation at the heart of the construction of the neo-liberal subject. If the new “capitalist way of employing” debt calls into question the balance between public spending and the role played by the central banks, private debt also forces us to consider the transformations in wage setting relationships. How is credit management by banks connected to the exploitation deriving from wage setting?