David Harvey on Capital and the centrality of class struggle

I view crises as surface eruptions of deep tectonic shifts in the spatiotemporal logic of capitalism. The tectonic plates are now accelerating their motion, and the likelihood of more frequent and more violent crises increases. The manner, form, spatiality and time of the consequent eruptions are almost impossible to predict, but that they will occur with greater frequency and power is almost certain, making the events of 2008 appear normal if not trivial in comparison. Since these stresses are internal to the capitalist dynamic (which does not preclude some seemingly external disruptive event like a catastrophic pandemic), then what better argument could there be, as Marx once put it, for capitalism “to be gone and to give room to a higher state of social production”?

But this is easier said than done. It entails, of course, the shaping of a political project. For this we can’t wait until we know everything we need to know, or even understand everything Marx has to say. Marx holds up a mirror to our reality in Volume I in such a way as to create an imperative to act, and he makes it clear that class politics, class struggle, has to center what we do. In itself, this doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary. But over the past quarter century, many of us have lived in a world where we have been told again and again that class is irrelevant, that the very idea of class struggle is so old-fashioned as to be mere fodder for academic dinosaurs. But any serious reading of Capital shows irrefutably that we will get nowhere unless we write “Class Struggle” on our political banners and march to its drum-beat.

We need, however, to better define exactly what this might mean for our place and times. Marx in his own day was often uncertain as to exactly what to do, what kinds of political alliances would make sense, what kinds of objectives and claims should be articulated. But what Marx also shows is that even in the midst of such uncertainties, we cannot fail to act. Cynics and critics typically object that one is trying to reduce questions of, say, nature, gender, sexuality, race, religion or whatever to class terms, and that this is unacceptable. My answer to this is: not at all. These other struggles are clearly important and have to be waged in their own right. But, I would note, it is rare for any of them not to internalize a significant class dimension, the solution to which is a necessary though never sufficient condition for, say, an adequate anti­-racist or pro-environmentalist politics.

This outstanding and provocative quote is in the concluding chapter to David Harvey’s Companion to Marx’s Capital.  I can hardly express how urgent I feel it is that people pick up and read Capital right now.  It is crucial that we begin the formation of the “political project” Harvey calls for here, and I think that political project needs to be rooted in revolutionary socialist politics, informed by Marxism.  Capital is absolutely, I think, the key text for truly ground oneself in Marxist politics.

In spite of its popular perception, Capital, is more than political economy, accounting, and number crunching.  It’s not a collection of “laws” of economics, wages, value and so on.  It’s a primarily philosophical, dialectical and materialist approach to understanding capitalist society.  It’s an examination of the production and re-production of that society.  If we, as revolutionaries, wish to overturn that society (and construct a new, just and democratic society in its place), and to eliminate the profound suffering, exploitation and oppression capitalism is founded upon, than we have a responsibility to understand that society’s fundamental structure.

To paraphrase Lenin (I believe this is Lenin) Marxism teaches us to see straight without overlooking twists, turns and zigzags of reality.  Capital is a fundamental text for drawing the map on which we plan our revolutionary course.

(PS. If you’re also interested in building the foundations of a Marxist, revolutionary socialist movement I’d like to make a shameless pitch for my own organization and recommend checking out the International Socialist Organization.)

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