Financialisation as a product of virtual fictitious financial capital
Aleksander Buzgalin and Andrey Kolganov
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.
The dialectics of non-linear, multi-scenario social transformations
Aleksander Buzgalin and Andrey Kolganov
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.
Production relations vs. productive forces, social creativity vs. activism
Aleksander Buzgalin and Andrey Kolganov
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.
Four Conversations with Canadian Communications Officers
As the production, content and display of humanitarian images faced the requirements of digital media, humanitarian organizations struggled to keep equitable visual practices. Media specialists reflect on past and current uses of images in four Canadian agencies: the Canadian Red Cross, the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, the World University Service of Canada and IMPACT. Historically, the risk to reproduce the global inequalities they seek to remedy has compelled photographers, filmmakers and publicists in these agencies to develop codes of visual practice. In these conversations, they have shared the insights gained in transforming their work to accompany the rise of new digital technologies and social media. From one agency to the other, the lines of concern and of innovation converge. On the technical side, the officers speak of the advantage of telling personal stories, and of using short videos and infographics. On the organizational side, they have updated ways to develop skills in media production and visual literacy among workers, volunteers, partners and recipients, at all levels of their activity. These interviews further reveal that Communications Officers share with historians a wish to collect, preserve and tell past histories that acknowledge the role of all actors in the humanitarian sphere, as well as an immediate need to manage the abundance of visual documents with respect and method. To face these challenges, the five interviewees rely on democratic traditions of image-making: the trusted relationships, both with the Canadian public and with local peoples abroad, which have always informed the production and the content of visual assets. For this reason, humanitarian publicists might be in a privileged position to intervene in larger and urgent debates over the moral economy of the circulation of digital images in a globalized public space.
Lewis Hine’s Photographs of Refugees for the American Red Cross, 1918–20
Sonya de Laat
From June 1918 to April 1919, the American social photographer Lewis Hine made photographs of refugees in Europe. Refugees emerged as an unexpectedly humanitarian subject during World War I. Care for them was part of the American Red Cross’ (ARC) overall war relief activities, which Hine was hired to visually record. In this paper, I present the way in which refugees went from being framed in the ARC’s mass-circulated popular Red Cross Magazine as unique, innocent, idealized war-affected civilians to eventually being visually displaced in a shifting humanitarian landscape. For refugees who were, by 1920, making their way across the ocean to North America, visual displacement from the humanitarian visual sphere was tantamount to territorial displacement. Anxieties and negative rhetoric of the unassimilated alien prevailed, resulting in the temporary ‘closure’ of America’s borders and the ARC’s growing American-centric relief activities. Entwined with anti-Bolshevism, American immigration, and isolationist politics of the early twentieth century, Hine’s photographs and the ARC’s role in contributing to humanitarian photography are an early example of a rise and fall in sympathies towards refugees that would continue throughout the century.
This article introduces you to the general themes and questions of this special
issue. We argue that history and visual media have long been central to
humanitarian communication, but that the overlaps between history, visual media,
and humanitarian communication have seldom been addressed. A focus on those
overlaps, we suggest, not only demonstrates that critical historical inquiry has
much to offer for professional communication specialists, it also sheds new
light on the workings, changes and persistence of humanitarian narratives over
the twentieth century.