With the ideological battle over how to interpret the current recession in full swing, there is a renewed interest in Marxian theories of capital, commodity fetishism and crisis. What they are expected to deliver is not so much a set of solutions as the capacity to redefine the problem. In Marx’s critique of political economy, capitalism is seen as a form of social reproduction that weaves three implacable and destructive conflicts into the social fabric.
- It subordinates the production of use value (goods and services) to the production of surplus-value (profits). In doing so, it renders the right to exist precarious for anyone and anything unable to be employed or utilised on profitable terms. This is the single most important impediment to tackling climate change today and also the root cause of the current economic crisis.
- The capitalist mode of social reproduction sets in motion a class conflict over the performance and appropriation of surplus labour. The conflict originates in the dual nature of wage labour as both source of profit and cost factor. It not only constrains purchase power in an economic system that thrives on mass consumption, leading periodically to the eruption of crises; it also undermines the historical capacity of capital to generate exchange-value (the specifically capitalist form of wealth) as well as surplus-value (the very purpose and driving force of the capitalist mode of production).
- The capitalist mode of production locks our social and economic development in a universal race for surplus-value and abstract growth in the face of relatively decreasing profit margins (global market competition). Its blind dynamics not only accelerates what it wishes to combat (the relative fall in the rate of profit), it produces finance bubbles, social devastation and military conflict in its wake.
Woven into the social fabric like Ariadne threads, the three interrelated conflicts lead us to the heart of today’s economic meltdown and the deep systemic roots of the unfolding ecological catastrophe. Why does the rerun of Keynesian regulations not resolve the economic crisis? Can a Green New Deal succeed while the systemic gap between work to be had and work to be done is historically widening before our very eyes? What alternatives do Marxian approaches offer in the face of the monumental failure of Marxism in the 20th century? These and other questions are being explored with a view to developing desirable and sustainable solutions to the two most urgent problems facing us today.