This chapter describes the post-Soviet school of critical Marxism in the context of the contemporary Russian intellectual milieu. Despite the collapse of the USSR and the incursion of Western social sciences, the topic of Marxism remains very widely discussed in Russia. Indeed, Marxist works have been appearing with increasing frequency in the new century. As a result, social scientists have defined themselves quite precisely in relation to Marxism. Several groups can be distinguished in terms of their relationship to Marxism.
The post-Soviet school of critical Marxism, to which the authors of the book belong, declares itself to be Marxist, with a strongly critical attitude to social-democratic reformism. This school emphasises not just the reactualising of classical Marxism, but also its positive negation, criticism, and dialectical development. The school also stresses the need to understand the modern period (broadly, since the beginning of the twentieth century) as an epoch of global qualitative changes in the very bases of humanity’s collective life. These changes are creating the preconditions not only for a post-capitalist society, but also for a post-industrial, post-economic society (the ‘realm of freedom’). This approach makes it possible to view modern social and economic life in integrated systemic and dialectical fashion, within the context of its historical development. The crucial basis for such work is a new dialectical method, reconfigured in light of the transformations that have taken place in the past century.
In this chapter the authors identify the historical place and character of what they term the ‘modern market economy’ as the space-time of the ‘sunset’ of the system of capitalist production relations. This allows them to define the nature of ‘late capitalism’ as a space-time negation of capitalist production relations within the framework of this system, and to provide a theoretically and historically grounded periodisation of this era. Within the evolution of late capitalism, the following main stages are distinguished. First is (1) the ‘undermining’ of the basics of capitalism, under the sway of monopoly capitalism (imperialism). During this period (2) humanity has experienced the decades of the mid-twentieth century (characterised by fascism and social-reformism), and (3) the era of neoliberal revenge, globalisation and financialisation. Before us now is (4) the period of the increasing development of forms of negative transformation in the direction of conservatism, involving the retreat of classic capitalist exploitation in response to the mass use of ‘human’ and ‘social’ capital and the extraction of intellectual rents as capital exploits the cultural wealth of humanity.
The authors systematise the changes in the system of social productive forces that result in the material and technical determination of the production relations of ‘late capitalism’. The basis of these transformations is seen to consist in the development of the creative content of labour. These provisions furnish the basis for exploring new forms of goods, money, and exploitation, and for systematising the global problems of humankind.
This chapter argues that the best proof of the correctness of Marxism has to be its ability to answer the challenges of the modern epoch. Such a proof requires works that feature the dialectical development of a system of categories that integrally reflect the present-day state of the system of capitalist production relations, using the method of ascent from the abstract to the concrete. The chapter recalls the main features of the method of ascent from the abstract to the concrete as applied in Capital.
The task is posed of constructing a system of categories that reflects the system of production relations of twenty-first-century capitalism. In order to fulfil this task, it is not sufficient to distinguish the various modifications of particular categories that characterise the present stage of the involution of the capitalist economy. It is necessary to develop a system of categories that reproduces the system of Capital at a new level of the development of capitalism. This is not development in the pure sense of word: to a certain extent, twenty-first-century capitalism is changing in order to survive, in a process of self-negation. This is not development (evolution), but involution.
On the basis of the political-economic nature of commodity-simulacra posited in Chapter 6, the authors provide a theoretical derivation and empirical support for the new nature of money as a virtual product of fictitious financial capital. Money possesses a new set of contradictions and functions, which are demonstrated. This analysis helps the authors reveal the essence of financialisation. As a result of financialisation, money increasingly becomes virtual money. It is transformed gradually from a real product, a universal equivalent, into a probabilistic phenomenon, depending on the current state of global fictitious financial capital.
The reasons for the development of this phenomenon are connected with the expansion of virtual fictitious financial capital, the stage of development of financial capital at which fictitious capital, as the main form of financial capital, acquires a virtual character. The term ‘virtual’ in this case signifies an increased degree of separation of the movement of fictitious capital from the underlying real capital, in which the market valuation of a significant part of fictitious capital is more dependent on the manipulations of the largest capitals and states than on the movement of real capital. Also in the mix are the illusory forms of the ‘debt economy’. This situation leads inevitably to the hyper-realised dangers of crisis and deregulation.
The authors’ conclusions are demonstrated through generalised data that characterise the contradictions and the new quality of the modern financial market, and through a critical analysis of major works on finance capital and financialisation.
This chapter sets out to show that the methodologies of positivism and post-modernism do not permit an understanding of the modern market and capital, and doom scholars to achieving no more than descriptions of external forms. The next part of the chapter is devoted to criticism of the general expansion of economics and of its continuation, so-called ‘economic imperialism’. The authors demonstrate that in the area of theory, ‘economic imperialism’ leads to the reduction of an increasingly wide range of social and humanitarian research to a narrow functional description of the interactions between different actors within the market. In the field of practice, its effect has been to strengthen market fundamentalism. Finally, the original contributions of the authors include their analysis of the now-prevalent version of orthodox economic theory, which they designate ‘market-centrism’. As the authors see it, this approach identifies the economy in general with one of its historically possible forms, the market, and reduces all non-market economic relations to market ‘failures’.
The authors’ achievements include their success in revealing the specific advantages of using the dialectical method for studying transformational systems, which are characterised by a patchiness of social time and space; in demonstrating that the historical process is fundamentally nonlinear; and in showing that a multi-scenario approach is required to comprehend it. This methodology is used to study the process of the ‘sunset’ of capitalism and the nonlinear dialectics of the evolution and involution of goods, money, and capital.
The authors show that the ‘sunset’ of the capitalist mode of production and of the ‘realm of necessity’ is marked by contradictions that indicate the limits of the present mode of production and of the epoch of social alienation as a whole. These limits are imposed by the progress of technology and by changes in the content of labour – that is, by the development of the productive forces, requiring mass participation by workers in creative activity in a wide range of fields. This development, however, leads to the rise of urgent practical tasks that humanity must resolve primarily through post-market and post-capitalist methods. There is an objective need to solve problems on the basis of solidarity, and not of competition, between individuals, firms, and countries.
The progress of technology and of people’s social creativity causes relations of a transitional kind to develop within the framework of late capitalism. These contradictory relations combine the market and capital with early manifestations of the ‘realm of freedom’. Among these manifestations are the development of mass creative activity (education, health care, etc.) in fields such as the creating of public goods rather than commercial services; the subordination of regulatory activity by the state to the interests of society as a whole; the development of public control over the market and capital by the institutions of civil society; and others. Together, these point to an exhaustion of the potential of the market and capital for stimulating the development of technology and human capacities.
In this chapter, analysis of the literature and data provides the main argument validating the authors’ conclusion that the market has not only become global, but also has become a totalitarian force that is no longer a ‘socially neutral mechanism of coordination’. The market is now a product of the hegemony of corporate capital, featuring the intensive and extensive growth of new types of commodity – information, simulacra, and so forth. The authors demonstrate the new qualities acquired by value, use value, prices, and commodity fetishism within this new market, while exploring the contradictions of new non-limited resources (such as knowledge) and the commodity form of their existence.
The authors indicate what is changed in the isolation of the producers, in the division of labour, and in its content, while showing how this leads to partial qualitative transformations of the market. The latter is transformed, gradually and nonlinearly but steadily, into a total market of networks. This market of networks (1) is locally controlled and regulated by the competing large corporate structures that manipulate most of the actors of this market; (2) covers all (and not only the economic) spheres of human life; and (3) involves the production not merely of goods but of their brands, ‘multiplying the falsehood of the forms generated by commodity fetishism’. An important outcome of our work, we believe, is that it reveals the political-economic nature of commodity-simulacra: their value and use value, prices, and the mechanisms through which their fetishisation is multiplied.
The starting-point for the book is its chapter on methodology. Found here are not only critiques of conventional Soviet Marxism-Leninism and post-modernism, but also a new rethinking of the classic dialectic. For the most part, however, the book focuses on revealing the new quality now assumed by commodities, money, and capital within the global economy. The market has become not only global, but a totalitarian force that is not a ‘socially neutral mechanism of coordination’. It is now a product of the hegemony of corporate capital, featuring the growth of new types of commodity: information, simulacra, and so forth. The book demonstrates the new qualities acquired by value, use value, price, and commodity fetishism within this new market, while exploring the contradictions of non-limited resources (such as knowledge) and the commodity form of their existence.
Money is now a virtual product of fictitious financial capital, possessing a new nature, contradictions, and functions. This analysis of the new nature of money helps to reveal the essence of so-called financialisation.
Capital has become the result of a complex system of exploitation. In the twenty-first-century context this exploitation includes the ‘classic’ extraction of surplus value from industrial workers combined with internal corporate redistribution of income by ‘insiders’; international exploitation; and the exploitation of creative labour through the expropriation of intellectual rent.
The final chapter reveals the peculiarities of the reproduction of capital in the twenty-first century. Major attention is devoted to new aspects of the structure of social reproduction. Two sectors are distinguished: the useful sector, in which goods that aid the development of technologies and human qualities are created, and the useless sector, where the goods created consist of junk: simulacra, fakes, and other phenomena that do not contribute to the progress of humanity, society, or technology. These goods consist mainly (but not exclusively) of phenomena created in the areas of finance, marketing, bureaucratic management, and so forth.
A second crucial aspect of reproduction in the twenty-first century is the transformation of the general law of capitalist accumulation. The chapter shows that along with the direct consequence, the growth of socio-economic inequality, there is also another consequence: a reduction of this inequality to the extent to which, as a result of the social activism of working people, a socialisation of capitalism takes place. The chapter proposes a new way of formulating the general law of capitalist accumulation: there is an inversely proportional relationship between the expansion of the hegemony of capital on the one hand, and the degree of progress of the creatosphere and of the social creativity of working people on the other.
Continuing in this vein, and building on their innovations in the field of the dialectics of transformation, progress, and regression, the authors propose the hypothesis of possible stages (genesis, developed state, ‘sunset’) and models (mutations) of different economic systems (pre-capitalist and capitalist). This helps them to show the importance of understanding the nature of the world of (social) estrangement (in Marx’s terminology, pre-history, ‘the realm of [economic] necessity’) as a whole. The authors consider it no accident that the ‘sunset’ of the capitalist mode of production coincides historically and logically with the ‘sunset’, that is the overcoming, of the ‘realm of necessity’. This hypothesis is supported by analysis of the interaction of productive forces with the relations of production. The authors show not only the direct, but also the reverse couplings involved in this interaction. In particular, they reveal the socio-economic mechanisms responsible for the formation of particular types of productive forces, the incentives at work, and the limits to the development of these forces.
The contradiction of social being in which a person acts both as the creator of history and as a function of objectively alienated social forces has been discussed in our previous works, and should be considered under the rubric of philosophical rather than of political and economic provisions. We argue that this contradiction underlies historical progress and regression, and determines the main features of the Marxist concept of the human individual.