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Austerity, ecological crisis and the hollowing out of democracy

The book analyzes capitalism’s growing destructiveness and the cost–benefit contradiction it generates. Its new conception of the surplus, which recognizes not just capitalist businesses but also households and the public sector as sites of surplus production, links capitalism’s destructiveness to that system’s use of the surplus. Capital’s use of the surplus turns scientific knowledge and technique into forces of destruction, and the book illustrates this dynamic by making reference to the growth of a consumerist culture, to massive military spending, and to other technologies that fuel a deepening ecological crisis. This crisis, along with economic and public health crises as well as a crisis of political democracy, are also analyzed as being intimately linked to capitalism’s use of the surplus. It is capitalism’s undemocratic control of the surplus by capitalist elites, moreover, that ultimately leads to the cost–benefit contradiction of contemporary societies: the futility of our consumerist culture no longer translates productive development into correspondingly growing human well-being, while the simultaneous growth of capitalism’s forces of destruction increasingly endangers human beings and the planet. Thus, this contradiction creates the potential for an opposition to capitalism and its exploitative and destructive nature by a wide range of social movements, both “old” (such as the labor and socialist movements) and “new” (for example, the feminist, anti-racist, ecological, and peace movements). To address capitalism’s contradiction, a democratic classless society is required, but the book also analyzes how capitalism’s operation obstructs the formation of an anti-capitalist coalition fighting for such an alternative.

Critical post-Soviet Marxist reflections

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.