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.
The authors summarise their main propositions, showing the changes during the twenty-first century in the content and forms of the market, of money, of capital, and of the capitalist system as a whole. The conclusion is reached that during the stage of late capitalism, and in particular during the twenty-first century, two contradictory, mutually interconnected trends have been developing. On the one hand, transitional relationships are taking shape that are uneven in terms of space and time and that include features both of the capitalist system and of the post-capitalist realm of freedom. These transitional forms include the social delimitation and regulation of the market and capital, and the partial redistribution of profit to the advantage of society. On the other hand, new relations of alienation are taking shape and even more powerful than previously. These include the total market for simulacra; virtual fictitious financial capital, dominating the real sector and all of society; and the exploitation not just of industrial workers but also of creative workers, of world culture, and of nature. The final conclusion of the book is that late capitalism is the ‘sunset’ not only of the capitalist mode of production (or as Costas Panayotakis has observed, of the capitalist mode of destruction), but also of the entire epoch that Marx and Engels very deliberately termed the ‘realm of necessity’.