12/12 David Harvey #5

Throughout this series of lectures, we have engaged with seemingly disparate subjects which tie together in their long histories or comes together in the larger network of socio-economical relationships across time and space, an example of this is how the full employment of fixed capital changed the British diet to enjoy bitter marmalade. Bitter marmalade was produced in the 19th century when the Kentish conserve industry needed to keep its fixed capital fully employed through times of the year when there was no more fresh local produce, by getting Spanish oranges in the winter and making bitter marmalade. The challenge we face is how to create a way of thinking these relations effectively which is partly what Marx intended to do in his theory of capital.

It is important to note that Marx had a theory of capital, not of capitalism and when he mentions capitalism its in reference to a “capitalist social formation” or “the capital as a social formation”. He uses the power of abstraction as a means of analysis which exists at a certain level of the general. He states that he’s not interested in the particularities since the particularities will have a different dynamic, an example of this is when he refuses to take on the issue of supply and demand in the first volume of the capital.

In this lecture series we used a diagram which is an abstraction of capital as value in motion. Money capital becomes the means of production, which becomes a new commodity. The commodity is then taken to the market and sold and the value is monetized. This money is then distributed through wages, taxes (which can both come back as demand) and is then divided between several distributed factions and comes back as reinvestment in the money capital. This system is also an expanding system and its not static. The three volumes of capital integrate in this diagram, volume 1 takes you through the first part of the diagram, left side, in which it’s assumed there are no issues about the problem of distribution or realization of capital. Capital is analyzed from a perspective which asks you to consider all the issues of realization and distribution as constant or irrelevant. In Volume 2 he looks at the realization process, where the market is and how its guaranteed and Volume 3 is about distribution, in each of these volumes the other two perspectives are considered as constant or irrelevant.

So, we have three perspectives on capital which are in these three volumes of capital, placed on this diagram, However its clear from the introductions to these works that these three volumes are meant as part of totality and the totality or “theory of capital” is encompassed by all these volumes.

At the same time there are several contingents and contextual relations that must be there for this process to work out, one of which is the theme of social reproduction, another is the formation of one’s needs and desires (in volume 2) and the free gifts of knowledge, technologies and culture which capital is constantly transforming.These contextual relations are very important and in focusing on each of these themes, as Cindi Katz does with social reproduction, and expanding them new issues can be articulated which haven’t been addressed in the general model.

The same expansion happens when we talk about the production of nature and the metabolic relation to nature.In so doing we realize that this system is inadequate for encompassing the totality of what needs to be addressed however its important to understand that Marx using the power of abstraction is teaching us about the dynamics of this system and some of its laws in motion and those laws of motion have been very significant in what this totality of capitalism is about.

The analogy that I have used in contradictions to capitalism is useful here, if you are on an ocean liner, there may be thousands of things going on, but in the basement, there is an engine room. What Marx does is explain how this engine works, explaining the engine room may not explain everything, or every possible way in which the ocean liner might sink, it might sink for external reasons. However, if the engine stops, we are in real problem, what we see now is that increasingly the globe is being powered with this engine of capital accumulation and the dynamics and internal contradictions of this engine are becoming problematic. The speed and the acceleration and growth of this engine is also accelerating these problems which raises the question how long can the metabolic relations of this system to nature, or culture facilitate this expansion. It seems like this exponential growth cannot continue at the pace in which it has.

However, things are happening that would question these assumptions, it’s not clear that Marx’s value theory is as relevant as it once was. These expansions are no longer necessarily material, instead valuation of knowledge and immaterial elements are now more important than stuff. The way in which for example a corporation is valued is mostly based on expectations rather than material conditions. Therefore, immateriality is the core of what contemporary capitalism is about. If capital can shift from a material base into an immaterial one its in fact becoming something that evades a lot of these contextual constrains.  It is possible that we are moving into a new form of capitalism and capital which is not a form that can be best understood using this framework.

Then we must consider if a new model can better explain the reality that we are observing. Central to this model, Harvey argued, is a working understanding of finance. Harvey defined finance as “the circulation of interest-bearing fictitious capital.” Where in Volume I, Marx goes looking for a theory of value and discusses money only as an expression of value within the circulation of capital. The heart of Marx’s model throughout Capital is the manufacture of commodities and the extraction of value, but finance, Harvey argued, is money for money’s own sake, and yet bears tremendous value in the contemporary capitalist system.

Interest-bearing fictitious capital that is lent to families in order to buy land, or money lent to landowners for the purpose of building infrastructure on it, for example, enters the circulation of capital at a very different time and place than goods produced through the factory process. The simple truth of the matter is capitalism is different now. Not only is it more global than ever before but Harvey argued it also is more deeply centered on creating consumer-effective demand and enabling consumption at all costs. While Marx certainly predicted rising debts and an increased importance of interest-bearing fictitious capital, it would have been impossible to predict it would become the basis of an entire debt economy.

With this in mind, Harvey reminds us in his final lecture of how Marx’s own theory of capital changed and evolved significantly from the beginning of Capital Vol. I, through all of the thoughts and essays comprising Vol. 3. Just as Marx’s analysis and critique evolved, so too should our own. Harvey encourages us to develop a new model of the circulation of capital — one updated for the contemporary form of capitalist social structures. In our renewed model for understanding the circulation of capital, Harvey argued we may no longer be able to rely on Marx’s theory as the be-all-end-all of capitalism. Instead, we must find new ways to understand how capitalism exists or else, as Harvey warned us, the theory of capital will remain stagnant. To allow our theories to remain stuck in antiquated modes of production, would be to fail at our most important task in this class: To engage in anti-capitalist action.

The end of the lecture felt almost as if Harvey were responding to all of the course’s most impactful speakers. He listed off areas of capitalism Marx had left unexplored, but which we had discussed this semester. In forming our new model for understanding capital, Harvey encouraged the class to look more closely at racial, gendered, and cultural differenced in the experiences of and functions of capitalism, much like many of the highly-engaging faculty who spoke to us throughout the course. He told us to pay attention to the role of social reproduction in creating not only a capitalist economy, but of a capitalist political and social organization.

Toying at this concept of growing beyond traditional understandings of capital himself, Harvey concluded with an example of how we can apply Marxist theory to new concepts, and update them for the contemporary world. He discussed whether we should view the Chinese government as class traitors for joining the World Trade Organization, and engaging in the coercive laws of competition or if we should try to understand how the needs of the people in China forced the government to join the WTO in order to meet them. Once China had entered the world market, however, Harvey argues they were forced into a situation where, in order to survive, China had to operate under the coercive laws of competition and engage in the exploitation of Chinese labor to make enough from cheap commodities to be able to expand their resources and elevate the standard of living across China.

Q & A

  • Knoweldge? On the question of appropriation, how do we speak of it when speaking of knowledge production? How to think on immaterial values through the theory of Accumulation by dispossession, with the history of knowledge so interwoven with epistemicide?

Marx primitive original accumulation ideas are related with the proletarianization process because once the proletariat is form, its formed and has to be dealt with. This is a historical and contemporary process, as observed for example with the proletarianization in China and India of the rural population, where people are being forced out of the land.

However, this is the classical form of appropriation by disposition, surplus value accumulation from the working class. There are also other forms of appropriation, such as the ones that take place not in the Production stage, which is normally related with exploitation, but in the Realization moment. As for example the credit system, speculation in the land value, or knowledge in practice as the pharmaceutical system, when they are able to charge ridiculous prices for patents because of need.

In this sense, Marx and Engels speak of secondary exploitation. We can even speak of economies of dispossession. As when the shopkeeper, the landlord, between other different examples, appropriate by taking advantage of their own role. We can even speak of disposition of rights, as the employees of American Airlines and United who suffered when the companies filed for Bankruptcy. These economies of dispossession became extensive through the neoliberal period due to the need of the expansion of capital.

However, the concept of cognitive capitalism is polemic. Knowledge by itself is not capital. Incorporation of knowledge into the machine and how its incorporated by Capital, its realization, is what Marx was interested in.

  • How do you explain the fall of the Soviet Union through the theory of the seven elements?

It has to do with what revolutionary change is all about. The Soviet Union used a single bullet theory. By changing only, the productive forces, they thought they could solve all the other problems. There was no coevolutionary theory of the social and no attention to any of the other seven elements. Which produced a lack of dynamism that ended with its fall.

On the other side, China has not done the same. It says a lot that every regime in China starts off with them doing reforms. There the system is conceived as a totality. In this sense we can understand the importance of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The reading that Marxist tend to make is that capital is about the transformation of the labor process. But what Mao understood is that it’s not just labor, but social relationships. The need to address the cultural understanding and the cultural relations was fundamental for the revolution. In this sense, the Cultural Revolution aimed to take power from the Chinese elite dominating it. Through this we can understand why the detention of Chinese students nowadays is also a result of the strength of the Maoist revolution.

One has to remember that capital was built not because of the labor process during the industrial revolution, but already was set in practice through the accumulation produced by feudal technology. The dependency on the single bullet theory shows why so many revolutionary processes have failed in the last century.

  • Social Movements and teaching. A question on the method of presentation. The problem on how to bring the dynamisms of these kind of analysis on to people or social movements that might be looking for concrete solutions on concrete problems.

One of the main conclusions when working with social movements, Harvey states, is that social movements don’t need to be explained their own material conditions or why their being exploited. Most of them have read Marx and even his books. They understand why they are where they are.

However, what can be promoted through teachings and discussions is to conceive their own plight as a continuation of larger scale processes and even see that other similar conflicts arise in different latitudes and have echoes in different geographies.

In conclusion, there is no problem in teaching these subjects to any social movement. They irony of it is that, normally the ones that are recalcitrant on learning it are Graduate Students. There seems to be resistance on learning these subjects between students in different faculties, but it might seem redundant when teaching in a penitentiary, due to that most of the inmates have already have a clear idea of how the system works.

  • Totality or Seven? It was asked if how to put together in emancipatory concept both the conception of totality and the seven moments?

To illustrate this point, we started by speaking on the struggle of Taxi unions in China. This example was taken into consideration to discuss a historical moment in which there still was the discussion in China on the possibility of continuing a Maoist kind of governance instead of the entrepreneurial neoliberalism of today. Because of the failure of the first, the second won ground and became the leading model.

In this sense, regionality offer examples that relate to the totality and should not be disregarded. The union of different regional movements, as the resistance in Barcelona of the development of the city and its new urban resistance, can lead to transnational movements.

Lead Bloggers Anthony, Marzieh, and Roberto

Lesley Gill and Sharryn Kasmir

For our discussion today, we had the pleasure of hosting Lesley Gill and Sharryn Kasmir as they presented both their independent and collaborative research and insights. Both researchers are collaborating together to investigate questions of “Why is labor fragmented in the present? “

Presentation 1:

Lesley Gill raised provocative questions as to various pathways towards creating an anthropology of labor, while also asking how has labor as a political formation been fragmented and disorganized. In her definition of labor, she clarifies that it is not the same as livelihood or class (class consciousness), but a political configuration.

In her analysis she gravitated towards Frederic Cooper´s metaphor of “lumps” to describe and capital and spaces of uneven development.   Which pose questions about labor, its struggles and organization in relation to the state and capital, which also make lumps; ¨no smooth surfaces.¨ She briefly refers to iterations of labor and the struggle of working people, most notably chattel slavery, indentured servitude, sharecropping, prison labor, and other forms of contractual and paid labor. She asks how do structures and networks penetrate place, and what is the role of social reproduction within these processes?

“The politics of labor involves on-the-ground social relations among working people that cohere around social reproduction and crafting enough autonomy to shape the future. It entwines working people with more dominant groups and always stands in relationship to international fields of capital and state power.” In this sense labor is different from both livelihood (a set of individual or family strategies) or class (a political expression), the focus of labor is working people engaged in the “making, unmaking, or remaking of social relationships within interconnected fields of power”. In relation to the false promises of capitalist development, she demystifies processes of uneven development. In particular, the matrix of transnational development which create unequal interactions between cores and peripheries. However, she states these insights are inadequate to describe the present, unevenness is not simply a result of capital’s omnipotence and it’s tied to struggle. Looking at how power coalesces in certain spaces and recedes in others, we need a keener eye on how these struggles of labor, capital and the state are making these lumps.

At the beginning of Gill´s presentation she presents Leon Trotsky´s thoughts, and references in his words  Russian ¨backwardness¨ and ¨advanced¨ development, while noting that Trotsky believed that Russia could follow a path from Feudalism directly to communism, although it remains unclear if he also thought Russia could arrive by bypassing the capitalist phase of development. She briefly refers to retiring stale arguments as to the fate of the ¨nation-state in neoliberalism¨ and recognizing that neoliberal capitalism reconfigures the scale at which power operates as well as the relationships between different scales. It also clarifies the multiple struggles—global, national, regional, local—that reshape the spatial dimensions of global capitalism and condition how the many differentiated parts combine and intertwine to create novel configurations.

A key feature of Gill´s analysis is the sensitivity with which she reviews how practices, organization, and social relations are fractured by different temporalities. She urges that within this fragmentation we need to develop and discover new methods and analytical tools. To accomplish this, she refers to Escobar´s ¨ alternative modernities, ¨ and Gibson Graham´s work to examine how spatial-temporal modalities are made and unmade through capital.

Saturn GM, Springhill, Tennessee

The centerpiece of her presentation was recent research she has done surrounding the General Motors plant in Springfield, Tennessee, which is the largest plant in the US opening in the 1990s. Their business model presented the 100-year company, which promised steady work to 7,000 people who relocated to Tennessee to work at Saturn. This site was developed with causal links to other historical moments and distinct places, Japan’s share of the small car market, Centers of investment in auto industry in Brazil or Mexico where labor costs were lower and new management regimes were easier to implement. She also observes central to this business model is the concept of “flexible production. Saturn’s brand slogan, “A Different Kind of Company,” and the rural imagery of its campaign directed both at consumers and inwards at workers positioned Saturn as counterpoint to auto factories in declining industrial-centers. As such Saturn employed a diverse work force composed of Mexican, African American, female joining the ubiquitous white male workforce.

Planning began in the 1960´s-70´s after the wildcat strike manifested changes, among which were challenges to embedded structural racisms. A slogan of the time was “respect rather than wages”.

American workers formed the Revolutionary Union Movement and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, challenged racism in the auto industry and in the UAW, the interconnections between auto-workers and other sectors of a differentiated, global proletariat contributed to autoworkers organizing as a powerful segment of the US working class. As a reaction GM, moves away from these centers of militancy and moves to the south, and in response UAW unionized all plants by 1979. The union locals refuse new management changes proposed by GM and are threatened with whipsawing (originally a labor tactic) and plant closures to force local level concessions from labor.

Developing from this was how the national union became a federation of local unions, with international strategies of protectionism and politics of localism to attract global capital. Various forms of capital flight resulted from the instigation of competition between states and towns, creating a zero-sum game for labor in general. These competitions were so pervasive that for Saturn, school children wrote letters asking Saturn to choose their city, a country song was written to attract Saturn, etc. Gill highlighted how localism can greatly undermine solidarity among the working-class as it pits workers from different areas against one another.

More than a spatial assault, localism had a temporal dimension as well. labor’s temporalities rooted in family security, 30 years to retirement, sufficient household stability for children, were in conflict with the time-scale of capital, whipsawing and product investment cycles. General observations also included that the Saturn struggle institutionalized localism; however, the struggle was for time and place which was insecure and fragmented. It also highlights labor’s active role in making spatial and temporal unevenness distinct.

Presentation 2: Sharryn Kasmir investigated the spatial temporal enclave of oil through the intervention of Standard Oil corporation in Colombia. This followed a general trend of emergent oil enclaves in Mexico and Venezuela, which imposes a spatial vision upon the landscape. This vision was imposed on indigenous people and spaces in the logic of ¨primitive accumulation.¨ Oil industry remade temporalities by imposing industrial time scales on territory. Another axis of organization was that imperialism was not a foreign concept, and formed another liberatory basis of struggle.

This first generation of Colombian oil workers were isolated from Mexican and Venezuelan workers. These new oil enclaves were highly racialized and regimented; they were divided by race and required workers to carry a pass for access. The tensions that arose amongst the different groups co-habitating these enclaves disturbingly organized hierarchically based on race, not surprisingly could not be contained, as English speakers were placed in affluent neighborhoods, while other workers were in disease ridden camps. Uprooted migrant workers formed solidarities with peasants, petty merchants and sex workers. As oil workers and migrants realized they should strengthen ties, there was a general upsurge in organizing, resulting in uprisings and civic strikes.

In 2001, Anti-imperialist struggles of Colombia were taken over by right wing paramilitaries that targeted, suppressed and regulated insurgent workers in the region. The paramilitaries’ arrival and their use of political violence dealt a severe blow to the local working-class movements. Arriving in the region in 2004, Kasmir observed an ongoing strike that she first interpreted as an illustration of the workers’ movement strength in Barrancabermeja, only to realize that this was in fact the last collective action of what was once a highly mobilized and organized working-class.. These new ¨lords of the city made it impossible for political dissidence. Paramilitary incorporated people into illegal labor and the drug trade, as neoliberalism spread to Colombia it incorporated people against their consent for the extraction of oil, gold, and other resources. The country was reconfigured as new spaces for capital.

This new context of infiltration followed a path similar to that of Mexico with the neoliberal production of the paramilitary ¨narco¨ as an informal agent of worker suppression for primitive accumulation. In the following Q and A session Sharryn Kasmir referred to how these representations in pop culture of the ¨narco¨ created a type of ¨narco tourism¨ which does violence to Colombia´s history by reducing, falsifying, and glamorizing the violence of the drug wars in Colombia. As these paramilitaries displaced peasants through violence and were key to the development of neoliberalism.

Questions from the audience included:

Request to elaborate on solidarity between oil workers with the sex workers, which was met by a description of  how sex workers organized soup kitchens to support the strike of the oil workers (social reproductions famous breakfast before the revolution). However, Kasmir also warned us not to romanticize the alliance between oil workers and sex workers as the solidarity movement between the two weakened in the second half of the 20thy century.

Structural heterogeneity of labor, how to put it together in a political movement, alliances and networks to create blocks to confront capital and the state in relationship to other movements and pasts of these movements. Alliances between peasants with workers, migration struggles to move the conversation forward. The issue of migration was deemed particularly important as it puts in touch people coming from different perspectives, potentially allowing radical ideas to spread from one area to another.

David Harvey inquired: ¨where was the geographical analysis in relation to discussions of uneven development, and capital mobility?¨ Later referring  to the annihilation of space by time, described by Marx, which might be applicable here to these explorations.

Another inquiry concerned the expulsion of indigenous groups, to which we heard a  summary of the annihilation of the indigenous populations by the oil industry, which occurred as labor moved from the coastal banana industry to the interior oil territory.

This elaboration continued with a breakdown of US cold war interventions into Latin America where US security employed national armies who became ¨police forces¨ involved in the dirty wars which by the 1980s became the drug wars initiated by Clinton by channeling billions of dollars into paramilitaries that strengthened right wing backlash.

Preceding this was a democratic opening, which resulted in all the anti-imperial dissident labor organizing described above, this left was crushed by ¨Plan Colombia¨ and the drug war.

Another question concerned the relationship between ¨combination¨ to intersectionality. Jeff Mayakovsky elaborate on a book called ¨Marxism in Social movements,¨ where struggles are not framed by labor, and also have lineages and histories. This book examines these plural unified struggles, what voices are coming together. However the book also described an ¨intersectional crisis¨ as collective organizing and movements fall apart in struggling to manage ¨difference¨ and inequity. Fallacies in this process is that movements are blamed rather than wider structural crisis.


  • Lesley Gill and Sharryn Kasmir present us with two cases of enclave economies; that of the GM factory in Tennessee and that of the oil industry in Barrancabermeja. What elements help us understand why solidarity movements emerged in the Colombian case but failed to do so in the North American one?
  • When it comes to organizing workers, what tools might be at our disposition to overcome localism, which pits workers against each other, and build a network of solidarity that would respond to Karl Marx’s famous call “workers of the world, unite!”?
  • In relation to the necessity of working from the specificity of the local context, yet building networks of international solidarity, can the work of Enrique Dussel guide us here through his rethinking the later unpublished work of Marx from the last 19 years of his life, which Dussel calls the unknown decolonial Marx? Taking a cue from Dussel, what liberatory potential can be found from adapting the thought of the unknown decolonial Marx to the constraints of the local?



11/28 Bianca Williams

Bianca Williams is professor of anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and a co-founder, in 2015, of Black Lives Matter 5280 in Denver, Colorado. Williams began her presentation by showing a clip from the group’s MLK Day 2016 action, where co-leaders demanded Denver cops release recordings of the murder of Michael Marshall. Their analysis linked mental health and police brutality to the city’s homelessness and housing crisis (including a 200% rent increase over five years) and its criminalization of “urban camping.”

The broader Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is now five years old, and has had up to 45 chapters in the United States, as well as in Toronto, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Various chapters have a high degree of autonomy, differing approaches to prison abolition, bail abolition, and a critique of capital. BLM is one network within the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), which comprises over sixty groups organizing together. In August 2016, M4BL released its platform, a year in the making, titled “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice.” This document addresses the relationship between Black labor and premature death to the exploitation of capitalism, presenting a transformative vision for the future. The set of demands includes: demilitarization of the police, bail abolition, the decriminalization of drugs and sex work, an end to the criminalization of youth and trans and gender-nonconforming people, divestment from fossil fuels, investment in universal healthcare and education, community control over police and schools, protection for unions, and a universal basic income. Williams shared Robin DG Kelley’s overview of the platform’s document, claiming it is not just wealth that will be the cure to poverty but justice.  

In describing BLM 5280 as an anti-capitalist formation, Williams emphasized the constant negotiations the group undertook to establish an everyday anti-capitalist organizational practice. Decision-making protocol features centrally here, with members acknowledging the limits of simple majority rule, as well as discussions around fiscal status, childcare at events, payment for organizing, and members’ class positions. When a Black woman landowner offered the BLM 5280 a reduced rate on a derelict plaza and Denver’s Black mayor offered to cover the difference in exchange for a say in what the plaza was used for, the chapter ultimately refused the deal. For Williams, these kinds of decisions and discussions – often less-visible and more quotidien than protests or direct action – were are important ways of “denaturalizing” capitalism practically.

Discussing her time organizing with BLM, Williams highlighted the everyday tensions that arise between theory and practice, especially as it regards managing money. In deciding to pay one of the organizers for her work as an administrator, BLM 5280 members differed in opinion on whether it was fair to pay just one person in the group. Similarly, by attaining fiscal status as a non-profit, the organization was constantly figuring out what sources of funding would or would not compromise their goals.

Williams also described the dynamics between BLM and other groups. Standing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) was a mostly white group that often took part in the riskier aspects of actions in order to minimize the vulnerability of people of color during protest. BLM members trained SURJ members, who then participated in actions, directly using white privilege as a strategy for attaining political recognition in spaces where black bodies are the most vulnerable to police prosecution, violence and murder.

While Black churches and the Nation of Islam were uncomfortable with some of the gender politics of BLM, they nonetheless showed their support during actions and offered their security services during public actions. BLM activism was in this way a lesson in building solidarity within and across groups through an ongoing, and at times exhausting, negotiation of individual race and gender power dynamics and politics.

Williams addressed how fundraising and grant proposals as well as general organizing led to a tension among group members between the theory of Black equality and resistance and the everyday practice of fighting for it. They would often refuse to accept certain grants because of where the money came from while fighting for the fact that people lacked everyday necessities of food and shelter.  BLM 5280’s participation in the Mother and Father’s Day bailouts was also a point of contestation as it reinforced in the power of the carceral state while aiming to solve the more pressing need to free people from jail. BLM was also criticized more broadly for not recruiting enough non-college educated working class people of color, claiming that BLM fights for Black equality while excluding those most marginalized groups,  reproducing an exclusive membership of black excellence. Williams also expressed frustration at the graduate student member who would bring up the history of Black resistance and revolution when needing to confront the everyday urgency to protect oneself from poverty and police violence.

The political pursuit of Black owned and controlled capital as a means to attain social and political autonomy was brought up in class as a debatable form of Black progress.  Only placing and extracting wealth from Black-owned businesses, organizations and banks directly increases economic power to select black communities and generally perpetuating capitalist inequality. The strategy of using capitalist competition to level the playing field for Black people’s participation in the system may neglect the need to undermine capitalism’ role in maintaining unequal access to resources as well as racial justice according to Robin Kelley’s understanding.

Considering the gender and sexuality politics that arose through the confrontation of Black patriarchy, such as with Black preachers and Nation of Islam as well as in organizing meetings, Williams pointed to the need in both academia and activism, to address how paying attention to emotions can be a means to achieve pedagogical and emotional justice. Both within the classroom and the activist spaces, the emotional body is an often neglected yet crucial means to help us understand how systems of race, class, capitalism and power embed themselves onto the body and shape our everyday experience.

Discussion questions:

1. The BLM economic platform invokes a concept of democracy that is separate from capitalism. Does democracy have potential beyond capitalism, and/or as a strategy in anti-capitalist movements?

2. One of the things BLM supports is Black Christmas, an event encouraging consumers to spend their money only at Black-owned businesses and to bank with Black-owned banks. This sparked in class discussion on whether this could be an anti-capitalist strategy or not. Can it? Can a historically informed strategy of racial justice be achieved through capitalist means?

3. Should BLM, a movement firmly based in social media networks  have a more centralized national platform for black equality or should strategies be shaped by the particular racial and economic dynamics of each local community?   

4. What are ways that personal emotions be used as the content of anti-capitalist and anti-racist intervention, thought and action?

11/14 Miguel Robles-Duran


Lead Bloggers: Emily, Matthew and Anna

I. Main Interests


Robles-Durán started the lecture by sharing his background, noting that he works and teaches outside his official appointment. Even though he started his career with architecture, he is interested in it only from the standpoint of a practitioner dealing with consequences of capitalism. His work is influenced by David Harvey and Henri Lefebvre’s Production of Space. Robles-Durán emphasized the need to develop a transdisciplinary perspective for the analysis of space, thus challenging the deterministic and myopic orientation of the academia. He outlined the areas of his interests, some of which were addressed in the lecture and the Q&A section: Anti-speculative (i.e., anti-capitalist) development; Politics of scale; Commons, collectives, shared infrastructures; Development of urban unions; Economies of use value within urban processes; Spaces for political infiltration; Radical representative strategies. The focus of his lecture was on the emergence of supranational agents of neoliberalism and their influence on urbanization.

II. The non-democratic urban world of supranational dominance

When we talk about the beginning of neoliberalism, what is commonly missed is the fact that parallel to privatizations, deregulations and other processes of neoliberalization, there were also changes on a global scale reflected primarily in multinational trade agreements. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, we saw the drafting of the first series of international treaties (NAFTA in 1992, EU in 1993) and the process of internationalization of everything. Governments were working together across the wide array of and regardless of their ideological positionalities. In a short period of time, these agreements created border-crossing commercial lines, with a logic that superseded that of the nation-state. Based on these developments, Robles-Durán posed the following question: Why is it that, regardless of political developments on the local level, the urban trends and patterns have been the same?  One can easily observe that since the 1990s, cities around the world has gone through a similar transformation. Robles-Durán proposed to search for the answer in the creation of new supranational institutions accompanying neoliberalization and outlined four conditions that made this global restructuring possible.

Reformed supranational institutions

  1. Reform of old institutions, such as IMF and World Bank, that function as a consensus apparatus and depositories of neoliberal knowledge, coerce states into accepting treaties and dictate the reconfiguration of space.
  2. Supranational surveillance, benchmarking & promotion of neoliberalism. Organizations like IMF would need institutions to supervise individual states, benchmark and peer review their progress and change to prescribed standards. OECD is an example of this monitoring type of organisations that also function at supranational level.
  1. National governments as the agents of supranationals. The first two institutions operate invisibly, removed from the local level; they are regarded as consultant or bank agencies, with no threat to democracy. However, these institutions enter nation-states and coerce them into operating as agents of international organisations, implementing neoliberal agenda. Thus, we cannot direct our resistance against national institutions, since they were forced to become agents of a specific kind of capitalism.
  1. City governments as opinion shapers. On a local scale, city governments act as agents of transformation. Cities are prompted to become more competitive by OECD and other supranational agents. Cities work together for this purpose, creating networks and alliances. These still operate on supranational level because laws under agreements between cities occupy different space than conflicting laws of sovereign nations.

III. Supranational demands & transformation of territories:

Robles-Durán outlined the demands put forward by these supranational agents that lead to transformation of territories at different scales:

  1. At global scale, more legal control is given to privately defined supranational organisations, in many cases bypassing constitutional conventions and democratically structured political jurisdiction. They redefine continental and transcontinental trade blocks through the drafting of new corridors, directing the flow of labor, natural resources, manufactured goods, food, services, etc.
  2. At city scale, treaties encourage urban centers to become more competitive by providing incentives and infrastructure to attract international manufacture, trade, and business hubs. Two types of urban development forced by supranational institutions have become most popular:
    1. Competition between cities of low-cost sourcing, which entails a reconfiguration of territories for low-cost manufacture;
    2. Competition between aspiring headquarter cities.

Mass consultancy agencies (independent of IMF and OECD) define these two types of cities (manufacturing and global cities), e.g. UN-Habitat, Deloitte, PWC. They pass down a neoliberal agenda from IMF to city mayors, thus intersecting all scales and shaping new laws that override local laws.

3. Corridors that work outside the logic of any nation state. While nation states continue to financially support urbanization, through classic channels like fiscal redistribution, in order to become competitive players they have to offer more development resources and focus on finding and opening spaces for  private investment.

Since the 90s, cities have been trying to fit the same formula of becoming competitive, imposed on them by the same consulting agencies: innovation, promotion of entrepreneurship, creation of business environment, creative class. This homogenization can also be seen in architecture, as it came to physically represent processes of capitalism, and construction of the same cultural attractions, such as museums.  Additionally, Robles-Durán notes that this type of benchmarking and metric making has proliferated, even penetrating the logic of cities attempting to resist the neo-liberal agenda (i.e. ranking of municipalist achievements). The result leads Robles-Durán to define urbanization as the “representation of capitalism in space.” Following this definition, he suggests we need a new way to read cities, wherein we consider their temporal and historical aspects, and recognize the ways in which their boundaries as political territories are eroded.


During the Q&A portion of the talk, Robles-Durán further articulated both the consequences of embedded neoliberalism in urbanization and potential strategies for intervention and course-correction.

The first question was on the role of prominent urban academics and theorists in legitimizing and perpetuating tropes and systems of global cities, namely Saskia Sassen (here is a link to an article by Sassen that provides an overview and introduction to her concept of “The Global City”). Despite her affiliation with academia and critical research, Robles-Durán situates Sassen and her ilk (particularly Richard Florida) as beholden to the supranational, non-democratic global organizations that perpetuate and disguise extractive strategies for capitalist accumulation. Being an academic, even being a part of the “Left,” does not preclude complicity in these structures and systems. Cities are coerced by these organizations into compliance by heeding strategies of remaining “globally competitive.” Florida’s “Creative Class” has arguably wrought an incredible amount of damage on urban democratic institutions, practices, and landscapes, mainly because its elegance and simplicity were so attractive to cities struggling to revitalize following the financial crises of the 1970s and the deindustrialization of the Global North. Robles-Durán argues that “creative” is really a metaphor of exclusion: upon adopting these strategies to attract both capital and residents, cities made a conscious decision of who and what urban territory was for.

Another question related to strategies of anti-capitalist contestation, namely pedagogical tools, which dovetailed the previous discussion of academics and researchers in urbanism. Robles-Durán urged a broader view, reminding us that “capitalism thinks in centuries.” Shifting the logic of understanding phenomena of change will take time, but it is critical to initiate it now. Younger generations are conscious that something isn’t right, but they lack the tools and language to articulate it–most educational preparation is not grounded in dialectical critiques or comprehensions. Challenging and dissolving arbitrary and anachronistic disciplinary boundaries is another strategy to cultivate new perspectives and critiques, and could empower students to consider problems and processes more comprehensively. His final comment related to scale–engaging with individuals, organizations, institutions at a scale that can match that of supranational institutions.

The role of the traditional nation-state vis-a-vis development (both economic and physical infrastructure) structured the remainder of the talk. The nation-state, historically, provides the capital, vision, and execution of development strategies (and all of the attendant risk). Following the neoliberal turn, however, nation-states began contracting out these roles privately and globally, providing funding but limiting interference with the broader visions and goals of these strategies. This model isn’t limited to infrastructure; it’s reflected at a smaller scale in housing development and employment training to cultivate space for accumulation and labor discipline, outside the aegis of democratic institutions. There is no space for community-driven development because there is no other option: supranational, global institutions curate restructuring at a global scale by subtly coercing nation-states and cities to toe the line– Amazon did this quite effectively, and with little protestation from smaller scales of governance.


  1. It is important to consider anticapitalist strategies under the framework of scale–scale is what has leveraged capitalist hegemony globally. What have global examples of resistance looked like historically, if at all? What issue do you see as meaningful and potent juncture for solidarity?
  2. Following on question 1, after the “alterglobalization” movement, we have largely seen critiques of globalism in mass-media captured by the far-right (i.e. Brexit).  What should the framework of a so-called “left exit” of supranational/technocratic institutions (Lexit), premised on left wing demands rather than nativism, look like today?
  3. While accepting Robles-Durán’s argument about the power that supranational institutions came to have over nation-states in the course of the neoliberalization, is it possible, at the same time, to incorporate into this analysis the role of individual hegemonic states in creating and maintaining these supranational institutions? For example, in The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (2012), Leo Panitch and Sam Grindin emphasize the role that the US has played in coordinating the management of global capitalism and restructuring of other states, both through its military and financial institutions. How would this argument complicate our thinking about strategies to combat global forces of neoliberalism?


Open Discussion 11/7

Lead Bloggers: Zachary, Stephen and Leo

Professor Gilmore wasn’t able to join us on 11/7, so the seminar participants decided to open up the room for discussion and reflection on the lectures we’ve heard so far from Professors Harvey, Katz, and Robotham. Broadly speaking, we discussed the possibilities and constraints of melding anti-capitalist thought and action. Among other things we touched on the perennial reform v. revolution debate; the prospect of building organizations and broad coalitions for anti-capitalist movements; political education and consciousness; and the role of traditional electoral politics.

Several students voiced concerns over the limits of “reformist” proposals. One student recalled Prof. Robotham’s support of social wealth funds, to which the class had responded with broad skepticism. Wealth fund managers have a fiduciary duty to produce growth/profits. Given this, even public employees’ pension funds (so-called “workers’ capital”) have accelerated gentrification and private infrastructure development in cities around the world. Another student interjected that such reformist proposals might, in fact, “create the conditions for organizing.”  Partial public ownership of private companies would open up questions of short- and long-term investment strategies, potentially providing opportunities for political education and mobilization. If nothing else, ordinary people might learn more about corporate structure and financial planning. Education of this sort would, potentially, allow people on the Left to spread their analysis. Millions of people experience the degradations of capitalism, but may not have a specific analysis or platform to articulate opposition to it. Fights for or around social wealth funds – or, as Professor Katz suggested in her lectures, a shorter work week – might give the Left an opportunity to build through action.

In an attempt to rectify the reform/revolution split, one student offered up a working definition of capitalism: a mode of production in which the work to produce the things necessary for people to survive is market dependent and  involves the exploitation of the labor force. Acknowledging the difficulty of breaking this market-dependency in the short term, this student urged us to consider the kinds of organizing that might be possible to improve working people’s lives in the short term and simultaneously build class power in the medium- and long-term to oppose counter-revolutionary assaults such as capital strikes or attacks on the currency with mass unrest, general strikes, and so on.

At this point, Prof. Maskovsky intervened to ask how we can continue to have an anticapitalist disposition without falling into calling other initiatives reformist. In his view, there is not only one place from where we can attack capitalism. In fact, he reminded us of Harvey’s argument according to which there are at least seventeen places/moments that are ripe for disruption in contemporary capitalism. These opportunities could even extend if we were to include among them the potential for anti-capitalist action in the realm of social reproduction, as suggested in Prof. Katz’s lectures. Prof. Robotham extended this point to suggest that instead of concentrating in resolving the endless debate between reform and revolution, we should acknowledge that we are in a moment of transition to other forms of political and economic organization, which nature hasn’t yet been figured out. In his opinion, the “central contradiction” of capitalism, is the one existent between the forces of production and the social relations of production. The contemporary Right agrees with the Left that capitalism is broken in this regard. For the Right, however, the solution is more capitalism and greater repression. It is incumbent upon the Left, Robotham stated, to struggle to realize its own solutions to the contemporary crisis.

But how should we fight to win? We discussed the importance of building organizations and broad coalitions in order to realize anti-capitalist action. One student cited Rose Braz and Craig Gilmore’s (2006) “Joining Forces” about a coalition of abolitionist, anti-racist, and environmentalist activists in rural Central California who organized to stop the construction of a new prison. This example shows how ostensibly different groups (young Latinos in rural CA threatened by police, prisons, and pollution; environmentalists fighting for the Kangaroo Rat; the NAACP; and so on) might come to recognize their common interests and power by engaging in concrete political struggles over decidedly non-revolutionary issues, such as the use of public debt. One student raised the successful, on-the-ground organizing of SNCC in rural Southern counties as an example of how the Left might work to create urban-rural coalitions, with a different student concurring and arguing that the Left needs to remedy its current lack of proposals for rural economic development. Another student argued the Left might have a lot to learn from mainstream political parties, who have managed to create extensive coalitions composed of (ostensibly) different people who all identify with a common political platform.

Professor Robotham suggested that the strategy from the left should be to encroach the traditional norms of the rule of law and accumulate the political forces that make reforms possible. In this sense, the left should embrace and defend democracy and align their projects and strategies with those of the Democratic Party. This suggestion echoed a comment made earlier in the lecture by Prof. Maskovsky, for whom democracy today, unlike other moments in the history of the United States, is challenging capitalism in that it opposes its authoritarian turn. In this scenario, the defense of democratic values could be understood as a revolutionary stand. To develop this point, Prof. Robotham posed questions about how the Democrats and the Left might consolidate and expand their respective bases. For his part, Robotham argued the Democrats cannot win with only their base. He recalled his previous comments about the potential for expanding the democratic base to include affluent suburban women who are disaffected by Trump. This idea was met with some resistance from the class, with one student noting that targeting traditionally Republican suburban voters (over both rural and urban voters) was already the strategy of Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign. Jeff registered some concern about what the Democrats might have to compromise in order to gain support from rural whites. The question of whether the Left should struggle within the Democratic party or form their own party was raised but left unanswered.

Considering our wide-ranging discussion, we propose the following questions:

  1. How should we think about building for the transition from capitalism? How do we distinguish between reforms that build towards a transition and reforms that merely prop up or strengthen capital’s hegemony?
  2. Professor Robotham suggested that by concentrating in giving answers to the contradiction existent between the means and the relations of production, the left would be able to build broader political alliances and gain the vote of rural working-class population. Is this political strategy sufficient to attract this type of vote? What about the conservative values in terms of race and gender that strongly shape the political sensibilities of the Republican voters, or more generally, of conservative middle classes in Latin America (as in the case of Brazil)? Should the left temper or abandon its claims on racial and gender equality and concentrate on economic differences on the name of electoral success?
  3. What, in your understanding, is the contradiction between the forces of production and the social relations of production? What opportunities for anti-capitalist movement are presented by this contradiction?
  4. What should be the anti-capitalist stand on democracy?
  5. What kind of organizing, around what kind of issues, should we envision to knit together otherwise different communities and spaces into powerful coalitions (urban/rural, for example)? To what extent should we rely on already-existing organizations (labor unions, political parties, non-profits, and so on)?
  6. How should the Left spread its anti-capitalist analysis to oppose right-wing elites like Bannon and grassroots populist movements? What is the role of art and other cultural practices in political education?


Braz, Rose. “Joining Forces: Prisons and Environmental Justice in Recent California Organizing.” Radical History Review 96, 2006: 95-111.

Harvey, David. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. London: Profile Books, 2014.

10/31 Don Robotham

Colin, Marty, and Hugo

We are living in a dangerous moment. The forces on the right are on the march. They have a unified message and a clear leader, a political and economic program, and the power of the state. The left and progressive movement is outraged and defiant but not acting with the same cohesion. We are in for a very long haul and need to think strategically, not only in this country, but in Brazil, Eastern Europe, Turkey, the forces are simmering in Germany. But while these dynamics are not confined to one country, it is important to think about the specifics and particularities in every instance.

Marxism as a form of historical materialism:

Like other bodies of thought, Marxism has both a broad general value and simultaneously the specificity of arising in a specific time and place. Marx and Engels studied the development of capitalism in Western Europe, particularly in Britain. But the achievement of Marx transcends time and place. Marx was able to extract the fundamental core of the capitalist system which reproduces itself wherever capitalism goes. At the heart of the matter, the capitalist system is based on private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of wage labor. This is a universal feature of capitalism, and a whole system of contradictions develops out of this.

Despite these universally applicable core relations, the way capitalism developed in Britain is not the same way it developed in China, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, etc. In each case, specific features vary across contexts. Japan, Russia, China all tried, for example, to allow capitalism to develop without the old elites losing their position. In the U.S. context, the Civil War had widespread destruction of the old plantocracy in the South. As capitalism began to emerge in the post-Civil War period it was relatively less racist, and then it’s reversed. And this then brings racism into the center of the political and economic history and life of the U.S. It’s a very distinctively U.S. development, very specific to how the U.S. develops. But it’s capitalism, and the broad features of capitalism in the U.S. are no different from the broad features of capitalism anywhere else.

But it’s absolutely crucial, especially politically, to understand what is historically specific to each capitalism, to study, in each instance, which political alliances are generated. It is critical to get away from Eurocentrism in our thinking; Eurocentrism affects Marxism too. This requires us to recover the historical agency of actors in different historical contexts. We can’t apply Manchester to China, or what unfolded in the U.S. to Egypt. To practice a science of the concrete means to be able to take the core features of capitalism and see how they are deeply inserted in the historical specifics. If we aren’t able to do this, we won’t be able to move the political needle. It is not possible to connect with people simply with an abstract theory. It is impossible to apply Marxism in a mechanical way, without deeply grounding it in historical specifics.

But that is not to say we should create a new Marxism. There are general truths of universal importance. Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is the classic example; it can’t be read often enough. In it we see the distance between an abstract grasp of theory and the concrete application with surprising and creative results. Lenin and Mao both grasped this. Manchester or Dutch development can’t be mechanically applied to Russia or China. We need to deeply embed our analysis in a historical way.

Marxism as a dialectical materialism:

This is an old Hegelian story, that of the contradictions, but it is a crucial part of Marxism. It is not a positivism. We can think of dialectics as a “pro” and “con” which inevitably arise out of a particular political situation, in which the two sides are actually irreconcilable within the existing frame of things. If the “pro” is the future, or the historical future struggling to emerge, and the “con” is the past, or the past embedded in the present, we can see the dialectical present as the irreconcilable fight to the end in which one side is going to prevail. This is a deep historical process in which the irreconcilability of the positions drive a process of political and social transformation, out of which a new political and social regime emerges.

This type of dialectical analysis which is directly derived from Hegel is formulated in idealist terms. That is to say, this is a struggle in consciousness, in ways of thinking. So there’s a dialectic between old and new ways of thinking, and the issue is which way of thinking will prevail. In Hegel’s case, will the new liberal French perspective, which Hegel supported, prevail, or will the old German feudal way of thinking prevail. For Hegel, this process is at the core of things, the struggle of ideas, so the dialectic is in the ideological realm. It’s a dialectic in literature, poetry, music, art, philosophy, theory. Marx then took that, and while he agreed, he said the real root of the dialectic is the contradictions in the mode of production.

So he took what was an idealist interpretation of contradictions, and said that these contradictions are materially based and embedded in a set of material relations, and in this case between the ownership of the means of production and the development of the forces of production. That then this concept is so Hegelian it has an ironic cast to it, for Marx argues that, quite unintentionally in the pursuit the developing capitalism and expanding it, the system itself lays the foundation for its ultimate downfall. Because there is a necessity in these contradictions in which capitalism necessarily develops in such a way that it also creates the political forces which will overthrow it.

For Hegel and Marx, this dialectical conception of history is a profound mixture of both a tragic and an optimistic conception at the same time. In other words, victory here is eventually won at a tremendous, unspeakable price.

On social wealth funds:

If one of the challenges to anti-capitalist action is that the left has no clear leader, perhaps a more significant one is that the left has no clear program. One example of a program the left might take up more broadly, as a way to propose rather than just oppose, is the macroeconomic management instrument often known as a “social wealth fund.”

Specific implementations of the general form differ, but the underlying idea is to challenge what we have already identified as the fundamental core of capitalism: private ownership of the means of production, through which labor is exploited. That exploitation is possible because the human heritage of innovation and increased productivity, which is ultimately the property of the public, has been stolen—that is, appropriated by capital. If the accumulation and increasing concentration of wealth is conditioned by this theft, it is further ensured by certain rights that have accrued to capital as a result of its power over the juridical apparatus. Any viable plan to socialize capital, to use capital for social purposes, must therefore involve encroaching on the rights of capital.

The social wealth fund encroaches on those rights and undermines private ownership by placing assets under the control of a public body. Very generally, firms are “taxed” in the form of stock, which is a representation of ownership, rather than being taxed in the form of currency paid to the state. Stock is a form of ownership, but also an asset that generates income through dividends. These dividends can be used to fund social services, which in some cases include universal basic income. The more significant intervention, however, is that a portion of dividends can be reinvested. In other words, dividends are turned into capital, but capital that is socialized since it is controlled by a public body.

There are, of course, many challenges to such a plan. Not least of which is that social wealth funds appear to be simply another technocratic solution to a fundamentally social problem. However, we should imagine these proposals as one way among many to build a movement by mobilizing people and engaging them in leftist causes, not as some ultimate solution. The term “social” obscures that social wealth funds have the potential to go beyond nationalizing or socializing assets. Rather, they are part of a broader struggle to subordinate capital. More problematic, however, is that in their current implementations these instruments often take the nation state as a given and so remain limited in their application to the problem of globalized capital. Since funds are modeled on taxes, they can only “tax” firms that are based in the country where the fund operates. However, funds can invest in publicly traded corporations outside their own nation-state, potentially extending their reach beyond these boundaries. The issue remains, of course, about who makes the decisions on which investments to make. Perhaps even more challenging is what happens when a national fund accumulates enough stock to significantly steer the decision-making process of multinational corporations. Given that the interests of nation-states are not always aligned, and given that national wealth varies widely among nations, such funds also have the potential to perpetuate certain inequalities in global decision-making processes.

Further information on social wealth funds: https://www.peoplespolicyproject.org/projects/social-wealth-fund/

Concluding remarks:

The far right has won elections by speaking in nationalist terms, and speaking to the anger people feel over the last 30 years of living under a neoliberal agenda that has exported their jobs, cut their wages, and continues to minimize their social benefits. The established left in the US failed to acknowledge and admit to their role in the continuing detriment of their working population’s lives.  Trump, on the other hand, mobilized this angry core.

Prof. Robotham stressed the significance of the current critique and attack of global capitalism coming from the right in U.S. politics, when it traditionally has been the left critiquing this global model. He sees the ultra right as pushing their agenda best, which happens to be anti global capitalism in many ways.  The ultra right is leading a pushback against global capitalism, currently within the framework of traditional conservatism, but this looks like it could fall further to the right into an explicitly racist state, which would lead to a crisis in democracy.

In response to these strong forces it seems the left stands divided and unsure what to do. The usual liberalism defensive position has been “listen, it’s not as bad as you think, or as bad as they say.”  That’s the stance Hillary Clinton upheld.  That’s not going to cut it anymore.  People are angry and the left needs to step up with a clear platform that connects with the masses.

1. Marx’s dialectical and materialist conception of history helps us to think together the fundamental core relations of capital, which apply universally wherever a capitalist mode of production develops, as well as the deeply historically specific features of any particular instance of capitalism which emerge out of vastly different social and historical circumstances. But to what extent does Marx’s method of historical analysis, and the economic categories (such as labor-time) which inform historical and dialectical materialism, help us to understand non- or post-capitalist social formations? Is historical materialism a trans-historical social science or are its categories specific to capitalist societies? If the latter is the case, how might Marx’s conception of history be reconceived for a post-capitalist social order?

2. Professor Robotham stressed that the course of action of the left has to go beyond merely opposing the right. What economic proposals can the left present or utilize?

3. Another question this recent movement raises: Can a conservative, authoritarian project be fully realized within a bourgeoisie constitutional framework? (i.e. free press, free speech, freedom of assembly)

(10/24) ERIC LOTT

[lead bloggers: Jason and Pere]

During his talk, Eric Lott addressed the profound imbrication of race, class and revolution, making the case that as categories for analysis, race and class should never be separated. In this regard, Lott pushed back against class fundamentalists, like Adolph Reed Jr., who position race and racism as epiphenomenal to the class structure of societies with capitalist economies—particularly attending to an American context. Furthermore, Lott challenged the notion that race/racism can be understood outside of the scope of economics, cautious to avoid economic determinism by establishing a dialectical relationship between the two categories that is both causal and correlative, each mutually determining the other.

Lott based his thesis, if you will, on a reading of Capital Vol. 1 that described the issue of chattel slavery in America as a specter that continues to haunt the analysis of the “classical” capitalist economic formation (i.e. 19th century industrialized England) the volume presents. For Lott, the ample amount of times in which Marx refers to American slavery within the book counters popular claims that the issue is only addressed briefly in the volume’s final chapter on the working day; it also complicates a reading of capital accumulation that relegates chattel slavery to a primitive stage, making way for free labor once capitalist economic relations are fully developed: an undialectical “error” that Marx is consistently accused of making. Lott raised the following question with regard to how Capital Vol. 1 is read: How can chattel slavery be both an analogy for wage labor and its buttress? Lott suggests that the categories of chattel slavery and wage slavery may not have been clearly distinguished for Marx, each dependent on and interpenetrating the other in Marx’s developing understanding of capital. Lott notes that the issues of chattel slavery and racism in America go undertheorized in the volume, but insists that a close reading of the book shows that these problems and how they are imbricated throughout the burgeoning global capitalist system were never far from Marx’s mind.

Lott referred to what he called an “American Marx” to indicate just how interested Marx was in American affairs at the time of his writing, pointing to his dispatches in American newspapers as the New York Daily Tribune, his interest and correspondence with Lincoln, and his desire to immigrate to Texas in the latter years of his life. Lott emphasized the fact that the first volume of Capital was published shortly after the end of the American Civil War, claiming that this period in American history had a great impact on Marx’s growing understanding capital economic relations as well as that of revolutionary change.

Marx’s enthusiasm for Lincoln’s prosecuting of the war, as well as Marx’s reading of Lincoln’s role in US political and economic history, provide possibilities for an expansion of his theory of revolution. Eric Lott read an excerpt of an article published in Die Presse in 1862 in which Marx wrote, “things are taking a revolutionary turn. Lincoln knows what Europe does not know… New England and the Northwest, which have provided the main body of the army, are determined to force on the government a revolutionary kind of warfare and to inscribe the battle-slogan of ‘Abolition of Slavery!’… So far, we have only witnessed the first act of the Civil War — the constitutional waging of war. The second act, the revolutionary waging of war, is at hand.”

For Marx, the American Civil War was nothing less than a world-transforming step due to what emancipation might mean for the development of a revolutionary proletariat, although he recognized that the slave question was less urgent for Lincoln than the maintenance of the Union—that after the war there could be a consolidation of capitalism. Nevertheless, the Civil War was the manifestation of a whole class, in that of the pseudo-aristocracy of southern planters, losing its privileges, a decisive victory in the class struggle and the history of the construction of a world proletariat.

In sum, Lott argued that Marx was not simply referring to chattel slavery for rhetorical effect to pierce the veil of freedom in wage slavery in Capital Vol. 1. Instead, the issue of chattel slavery in America as well as its racist component were essential to the continuing development of Marx’s understanding of capital. Therefore, contemporary claims that suggest that Marx had little to say about racial oppression as a system of domination are problematic; and here, Lott echoes elements of Kevin Anderson’s work in Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies.

On top of this, we, as young scholars and activists, were charged with the task of thinking through the entanglement of race and class without distinguishing one from the other or making one part of the contradiction primary. That said, we also have to consider what we think about this charge. Thus, we have prepared the following set of questions.


  1. In The Invention of the White Race, Ted Allen performs extensive archival research to demonstrate how race was created in America via legislation as a divide and conquer strategy, pitting newly labeled “white” indentured servants against their “black” counterparts in the late 1600s in Virginia. This strategy constructed poor “whites” as a buffer between the wealthy planter class and “black” slaves in order to prevent what would now be considered multiracial unity between the two oppressed groups, which had resulted in a series of revolts that threatened the then class-based system of dominance. When considering the relationship between race and class in America, might only focusing on chattel slavery as a starting point, and not the system of indentured servitude that gave rise to it historically, lend itself to readings of the race/class dialectic that see both sides of the contradiction as mutually determining without recognizing that the latter does seem to have given rise to the former? How might seeing the invention of race as a “divide and conquer” strategy either challenge or complicate the ways in which we are trying to think race and class together?
  2. With regard to practical application, thinking race and class together in the way that Lott proposed, suggests that to be anti-capitalist is to also be anti-racist and vice versa. The examples Lott provided to illustrate the problems associated with thinking one without the other, which he acknowledged were poor, were Berny Sanders, whose program for reform was class-based without much acknowledgement of racial disparity, and Hillary Clinton, who lacked a class analysis, but at least in her rhetoric and television spots, appeared (big difference between appearance and essence: #dialectics) to pay attention to the interests of “black” voters.

Of course, we know that the relationship between anti-capitalist and anti-racist programs cuts much deeper throughout the history of left activism than the example of the contradictions between two bourgeois politicians offers. A couple of things that immediately come to mind are the old CP USA’s Black Belt thesis and Black Nationalist politics. Does ensuring that we always think race and class together immediately call forth a critique of nationalism in favor of multiracial working class unity against a common oppressor and an exploitative economic system? What do we gain when we stress commonality between workers of all races in America in our theory and our political practice? What do we lose?

  1. Marx recognized that slavery “existed among all nations since the beginning of the world” (Marx, “From letter written in French to Pavel Vassilyevich Annenkov”) but the slavery that paved the way for the emergence of Western capitalism had a unique quality that differentiated it from other slave systems in other societies of the past. Why slavery under capitalism is different to slavery in other societies and periods? What are the racial and economic new conceptions?
  2. As Marx’s writings on the American Civil War show, his political agenda and his theory were not limited on the emancipation of the white working class from factory work. Marx’s priority was a large-scale human emancipation, nevertheless, he used the concept of the class because of its relational character with the means of production and because he thought that it could bring together the greatest number of individuals to struggle against capitalism. What can we learn from the misunderstanding of the class concept? How can we reduce the tensions and disagreements in the left?
  3. As show works as Sidney W. Mintz’s Sweetness and Power, the plantation and the factory encompassed a single economic system. Global commerce in slaves and the commodities produced the rise of new industries and to wage-labor in the eighteenth century. Could you show the relationship between the slave trade and the creation of the modern finance system? What are the differences on both sides of the Atlantic?

10/16 Cindi Katz #2

[Lead bloggers: Erin, Megan, Austin]

Cindi Katz’s second presentation continued to address a significant lacuna in Marx´s work; that of the unwaged labor of social reproduction, which she introduced in the first presentation. She has also called this the “hidden abode of capitalism” and as in the preceding presentation, considered the centrality of this unwaged, so-called non-productive sphere to the functioning of capitalism and called on us to think about its potential as a center for oppositional practice.

In this week’s presentation Katz discussed what she calls “crisis of social reproduction” to express the expulsion of more and more people from employment and conditions of work and survival made increasingly precarious in recent decades. Katz encouraged us to consider how this has affected the practices and promises of social reproduction. With global capitalism, laborers have been vacated from the traditional workplace on a mass scale. The disintegration of certain markets and sites of production in global capitalism produces insecurity and competition, in turn producing migration on a national and international scale. Migration, where workers are reproduced in one territory and then produce in another, enables uneven capitalist accumulation and development to occur. This process also cheapens migrant labor as the labor is reproduced elsewhere with less regulation.

This week, Katz again facilitated questions from the audience to guide the lecture. One question was on workplaces that are sites where social reproduction has been commodified. Restaurants, babysitting, transportation, and education are all sites that straddle production and reproduction, making resistance in those locations especially multivalent. An example given by an audience member was fast food workers striking for better pay, or thinking about what kind of food they would like to feed their community. Katz pointed to Dalla Costa and James´ critique of traditional Marxism which has always imagined social reproduction as contained in the home.

The “crises of social reproduction” Katz invokes also involve the idea of disposability. In the “spatial fix” of global capitalism, extensively theorized by David Harvey, whole populations are increasingly expelled from employment, thus devalued, and deemed disposable. Katz discussed how the production of disposable populations involves dispossession, including the imposition of food insecurity on communities that had previously achieved food sovereignty though subsistence farming, with the new condition of food insecurity introduces competition among laboring populations and labor migration on a vast scale.

Katz posed the critical questions: how are these processes of expelling and making populations disposable invisibilized? As such, we would like to extend this question as to how regimes of visibility and invisibility serve to further disempower and enclose expelled populations.

As these processes of dispossession and expulsion become greater than the industrial reserve labor, such processes cut across classes and populations (while, as Katz discussed, also producing and naturalizing difference to make alliances unimaginable). Katz considered how the widening of the precarious expelled populations introduces the technocratic need to “manage” these populations. State strategies of managing the expelled populations approximates realms of “slow death” and “necropolitics” written about by other social theorists such as Achille Mbembe. Katz addressed a number of techniques used to manage crises in social reproduction:

  1. Increased investment in prisons and carceral institutions — state money spent on policing and incarcerating expelled populations; involves the further militarization of public spaces, neighborhoods, schools, etc. and administration of social death
  2. Increased investment in the military — increased investment in the military in order to absorb excess populations and to secure borders
  3. Migration — strategy for imbalances in labor populations; Katz discussed the role of gang labor in migration and what it means when viable labor is not found in the new site
  4. Space-time expansion and excessive commutes — globalization has produced a “space-time expansion” in which the working day and week is extended; one way people managed to be employed is by making excessive commutes, which Katz discussed as taking more time on a certain kind of social reproduction.
  5. Working multiple contingent jobs — people manage to be employed in precarious conditions by working multiple contingent jobs; the cutting of benefits and the general movement of laborers from the formal wage economy to the informal economy decreases the social wage; the general shift to informal economies as jobs and wage labor becomes a less secure source of income.
  6. The dual spectrum of managing how children grow up as managing security within precarity — on one hand, the packing of resources into time (e.g. piano lessons, sports) with hopes of increasing life chances as life’s work value decreases; happens along a class spectrum; while on the other hand the carceral state’s criminalization of youth and children from expelled populations as “waste” thus prematurely dimming their future possibilities through unequal access to education, health care, and jobs, often tragically resulting in premature death or imprisonment, due to the policing and militarization of such communities.
  7. Managing who gets access to resources through borders and bureaucracy — producing and denying ‘illegal alien,’ undocumented populations. The sinister allegiance of detention centers with the carceral state to detain undocumented migrants; often resulting in extreme human rights violations such as sexual abuse, violence and torture occurring within the actual detention centers. The lack of access to the judicial system to review migrant cases; wherein they seek asylum from persecution from war, religious discrimination, extreme forms of gender and sexuality discrimination involving violence and community expulsion, dispossession, human trafficking, and indentured servitude in the form of sex work.

Katz asked us how we can think dialectically about questions of social reproduction so that we are not managing conditions of social death but instead mobilizing resources to prefigure a world we want to live in by engaging the sphere of social reproduction as a generative source of practical and pedagogical  alternatives to ¨capitalism´s¨ exclusions and violences. We would like to raise this question again here.

Finally, Katz discussed the environmental aspect of social reproduction and social reproduction as a materialist question. This entails thinking about the environment not as “free gifts of nature” but as resources mobilized and the physical setting for social reproduction. Katz discussed the degradation of the built environment as capital moves from one site of production to another (Katz described this as “vagabond capitalism”) and things like overfishing, water crises, and climate change as crises in social reproduction. We can think about how this degradation relates to the process of dispossession we discussed. Katz mentioned, for example, the appropriation of land from subsistence farmers and indigenous farmers that forces them into the cash economy. The arenas of social reproduction also include disinvestment in the environment and the mobility of labor.

Discussion questions:

  1. How is the theme of invisible labor in what Katz calls the hidden abode of capitalism, a source of convergence or divergence between feminist and Marxist concepts of space?
  2. How can we think dialectically about questions of social reproduction rather than “managing” excess populations? What are ways of making the expelling and disposal of excess populations visible?
  3. As Katz mentioned, Dalla Costa and James state that “Capitalism is the only system where the children of the working class are educated with the interest of the ruling class in mind.” How can we think of social reproduction (or Marx’s superstructure) as a site for the staging of subversions of the social order of capital?
  4. As our construction as “neoliberal” subjects occurs in the realm of social reproduction, how can the realm of social reproduction be used to dismantle and reimagine alternate possibilities for the political economy?  As the realm of social reproduction includes the affective and pedagogical labor to make all the normative codes of society sensible, how can this realm be reappropriated to make these norms insensible?
  5. How does thinking about social reproduction as a materialist question help to join together feminist, Marxist, and environmental justice politics? What are some examples of this kind of political action and what can they tell us about the challenges and potential of organizing around social reproduction?

Lecture #5: Social Reproduction and Marxist-Feminism

Definition of social reproduction

Katz defined social reproduction as the “daily and long-term reproduction of the mode of production and the labor power that makes it work,” or as the “messy and fleshy” everyday occurrences and cultural forms that make a mode of production seem sensible and natural. She stressed that social reproduction is an ongoing practice, and one that has lead to considerable struggle throughout history. Specifically, questions of how much capital, the state, or the household should bear the costs of social reproduction have been central to the development of capital. Social reproduction itself is not revolutionary, Katz argues, because its function is to continue divisions and social structures. However, by recognizing its importance and dislodging the point of production from its privileged position in theorizing revolution, analyzing social reproduction opens up a wider field of possibility for political action. This type of theory has been overlooked by masculinist Marxists who often view the cultural forms that social reproduction produces as belonging to the “superstructure,” and ultimately as being determined by the mode of production in a unilateral way.


Geographies of social reproduction

Katz stressed that capital has always been global. What we need to think about when we discuss globalization is instead the increasing fluidity of production, compared to the relative fixity of labor. This process creates disparate labor pools with different social wages, pitted against each other, and exerting downward pressure on wages and benefits in the global north. Rather than naturalize this race to the bottom, Katz framed this apparent competition as a strategic project on the part of capital: capital creates the creations in both the north and south, simultaneously producing and preying on cheap labor. The ways this differentiation is naturalized and made common-sense — dividing the workforce along various lines and lubricating both exploitation and circulation — is a key part of the work of social reproduction. Transforming the sphere of social reproduction into a truly revolutionary arena means recognizing the nature and amount of work that goes on there. The role of nature in work becomes literal as Katz briefly touched upon our natural environment. While Marx’s spaces of inquiry typically revolved around the factory and machinery, Katz argues that the involvement of Marxist feminists created linkages between the role of labor in contending with questions of environmental justice.  


Marxism, Feminism

A crucial early marxist feminist text that informs Katz’s analysis of social reproduction is Della Costa and James’s 1972 essay “Women and the Subversion of the Community.” Della Costa and James understand capital as necessarily destructive pre-capitalist forms of family, production, and community – this latter which they treat not as any group of people but as specifically communal (and now subverted) forms of being together. With the transformation of production, the role of social reproduction in the household is re-structured to serve “the production of that special kind of commodity, labour power.” And as long as revolutionary action is limited to the site of production and not social reproduction, they argue, those in charge of the latter – viz. housewives – will always be restricted to a supporting role. Della Costa and James challenge the women’s movement of the 1970s to resist a platform of integration into capitalist control and the double shift. “The role of housewife,” they argue, “behind whose isolation is hidden social labour, must be destroyed.”

Katz provided several examples of marxist feminist attempts to intervene in social reproduction. Drawing from Della Costa and James, Katz emphasized that withholding reproductive labor and redirecting it to communal efforts does not in itself stop the reproduction of a fragmented workforce. Similarly, things like the family wage may aid in accounting for the labor of social reproduction, but it banks on patriarchy for its effectiveness. Therefore, Katz asserted that things such as the wages for housework movement should be viewed as a stepping stone rather than endpoint of an anti-capitalist struggle.


Discussion questions

Katz discussed the recent US teachers strikes as responses to state disinvestment from education. How might we approach the importance of controlling social reproduction with the ongoing defunding and privatization of its institutions/primary channels?

Many of our previous discussions of anti-capitalist action revolved around actions that occurred outside of private spaces — through organized labor, regulatory practices, or alternative modalities in banking, etc. However, Katz notes that that …”the global and the intimate happen in the arena of social reproduction… it inheres in it the possibility of unmaking since it inheres in us, not outside.” What, then, are the possibilities of anti-capitalist action within the home, among the “messy and fleshy” contradictions of social reproduction?

We discussed withdrawing reproductive labor from the process of maintaining capitalism, and many of the examples were on a local and every day scale. What might global and long term anti-capitalist activity in the realm of reproduction look like?

Katz touched briefly upon the relationship of Marxist-feminism and our natural environment. How can we extend a feminist reading of Marxism into other fields of study, such as the science of climate change?


Further reading

Dalla Costa, Mariarosa, & James, Selma. (1972). Women and the Subversion of the Community. Bristol, UK: Falling Wall Press. [PDF]

Katz, Cindi. (2006). Messing with “the Project”. David Harvey: A critical reader, 234-246. [PDF]

Katz, Cindi. (2001). Vagabond capitalism and the necessity of social reproduction. Antipode, 33(4), 709-728. [PDF]

Katz, Cindi. (1996). Towards minor theory. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 14(4), 487-499. [PDF]

Pratt, Geraldine. (2004). Working feminism. Temple University Press.

Wright, Melissa. (2013). Disposable women and other myths of global capitalism. Routledge.

Lecture #4: Finance Capital and Capitalist Production

[Lead Bloggers: Kathryn, Luca, and Patrick]

This week, David Harvey discussed and elaborated on Marx’s analysis of the role of finance and interest-bearing capital in the broader capitalist mode of production.

The topic had been curiously undertheorized in the Marxist, heterodox, and even mainstream economic literature through most of the 20th century. This absence is particularly odd, given the fundamental centrality of financial instruments to infrastructure construction, long-distance trade, and urbanization.

And yet as debt has increased massively relative to GDP, across the OECD and most recently in China’s consumer-debt-and-concrete urbanization boom, such issues have spurred more attention and analysis. Across the OECD, consumer debt and sovereign/public debt have ballooned to fill the consumption gap created by stagnant real wages and eviscerated corporate taxation since the early 1970s. In the wake of the extend-and-pretend pseudo-resolution of the 2008 financial crisis, the role of finance in capitalist production, circulation, and distribution has become impossible to ignore.

Classical economists often alternated between seeing financial activity as purely epiphenomenal to productive activity, or as parasitic and prone to destabilizing rounds of speculation. Mainstream modern economics, however, has often treated finance as having a neutral effect on the economy, merely facilitating exchange and having little effect on production—an attitude embodied in the fact that most governments did not include financial activities or profits in their GDP calculations until the 1970s. Since then, there have been both glib celebrations and strident critics of the growth of finance, either as one of the “most productive” sectors in the world (according to Lloyd Blankfein), or as an increasing rentier drain on productive investment and a dangerous, casino-style speculation introducing systemic risk that threatens the very “real economy” it supposedly facilitates (see Mazzucato 2018).

Harvey’s primary argument, first laid out at length in 1982’s Limits to Capital, is that finance actually performs necessary functions in smoothing out interruptions in capital circulation, closing gaps in turnover time between industries, and acting as a central nervous system for capital as a whole, ensuring that capital can move more nimbly and quickly where the market feels it’s most needed—i.e. toward the highest profit rate on offer. By unlocking capital trapped in productive or commodity form, and tapping its expected future cash value, finance speeds up turnover of the total capital in society and thus intensifies the aggregate production of surplus value.

Just like merchants and landlords—not to mention states—money lenders existed before capitalism but are tolerated by the productive capitalist class given the specific functional roles they can perform to secure the conditions for expanded capital accumulation. These actors receive a portion of the surplus value produced in production in return for speeding up capital turnover (so industrialists don’t have to wait to find an individual buyer for every product produced before starting another round of production) or by allocating individual plots of land towards their “highest and best use” for capital (by squeezing inefficient producers off the land and redistributing it to more efficient producers whose activities meet the desires of the market).

Finance makes hoards productive, by ensuring that production can begin before a hoard is amassed (as in an industrial loan), that savings can be unlocked from their waiting place (as with interest-bearing savings accounts), that a house or car can be bought long before a worker has saved up the sticker price (realizing the commodity capital more quickly), or that liability for the inevitable risks of long-distance trade or long-turnover projects can be pooled (as with insurance). Finance keeps capital on the move through the circuit by preemptively releasing it from discrepancies in timing—at least until the loan is due.

Financiers receive their share of surplus value in the form of interest, a kind of “price” paid for the time-limited use (i.e. rental) of money. Harvey argues that such functions (again, as with the state provision of infrastructure, courts, and regulation) are not strictly speaking productive of value, just as Marx argues in Volume I of Capital that a machine cannot itself produce value: such investments rather create the facilitating conditions through which workers can produce surplus value at relatively higher rates of productivity.

The problem for capital as a whole, Harvey argues, is that all of these facilitative powers are inextricable from the same qualities that give them their inherent tendency toward speculative mania and crisis. Without allowing people to own forms of property that allow them to gamble on expected returns and thus “mortgage and foreclose upon the future,” the ability to bridge these gaps will grind to a halt, and capital will have to take much more winding and slow paths through its ever-expanding circuit.

Further, as is clear from the 2008 financial crisis, such functions may pose a whole host of larger problems for a broader economy. The increasing importance of financial activity for productive corporations like General Motors, who finance purchases of their own cars is one example, possibly diverting investment from the “real” economy into such rentier operations. Further, the use of debt as a political tool has as become especially clear: indebted workers may particularly fear to strike and miss payments, unscrupulous lenders may accumulate devalued assets through foreclosure, and states are disciplined toward particular courses of policy action (as with IMF-led structural adjustment programs or the anti-Keynesian architecture of the European Central Bank). Meanwhile, many financial institutions can lend profligately despite significant moral hazard, assured that any risk they take big enough as to be systemic will be covered by a public bailout, nationalizing private losses as public debt.

These developments raise significant questions for anticapitalist strategy, regarding the nature of this mushrooming of financial assets and the balance of class forces given assetization.

Discussion Questions

1. Have increased returns on finance drained investment away from job-creating activity in the “real” productive economy, thus contributing to unemployment and a weak bargaining position for workers? What kind of empirical evidence would we need to determine whether capitalism has been fundamentally transformed by the growth of finance, perhaps shifting the balance of power within capitalist society away from industrial capital and toward financiers? What are the strategic risks of overstating the shift from surplus value production via labor exploitation to “value-grabbing” through debt, rents, and asset seizures? What are the risks of ignoring such transformations if they are happening?

2. The 2009 decision under President Obama to bail out the banks rather than mortgage-holding homeowners stirred considerable debate over alternative ways out of the crisis. Would a more social-democratic or anti-neoliberal government have been able to move toward the democratization of finance and ownership within capitalism from that moment, or would they still be disciplined by international currency markets and “investor confidence”? What kinds of “people’s structural adjustments” are possible through the electoral route, and what are the dangers of such language being co-opted by those who seek to create a simple truce between capital and labor and have abandoned the end goal of a truly democratic control of the economy? In what sense are such interventions anticapitalist? Could any kinds of finance reforms constitute partial, “non-reformist reforms” toward socialism?

3. One of the most pernicious historical forms of right-wing criticism of capitalism has taken the form of attacks limited to the parasitic, amorphous, and world-controlling power of  “banksters”—as though capitalism would be moral, stable, and bountiful for all if it weren’t for Goldman Sachs charging high rates of interest. These anticapitalist analyses, which run back at least to Martin Luther, often let industrial capitalists or “small businesses” off the hook, and see shadowy “foreign” financiers (the “globalists”) as the primary source of economic instability, nation-undermining political interference, and working-class suffering. They have most famously (but not only) taken the form of antisemitic conspiracy theories, as when the Nazis taught children that the horrors of British imperialism were the result of Jewish control of the British state. This web of spooky stories, like 9/11 conspiracy theories and the alt-libertarian “Zeitgeist” movement had a certain currency among some people coming to consciousness during the Occupy Wall Street movement, and are a lot easier to get across to most people, graduate students included, than all three volumes of Capital. How does an anticapitalist movement realistically assess the power of finance capital, resist the draw in our own analysis of fairy tales that make up the “socialism of fools” (as August Bebel defined antisemitism), and—most importantly—ensure that a more structural and less demonological analysis of capitalism can empower capitalism’s victims to understand, organize, and change their situation?


Harvey, David. 1982. The Limits to Capital. London and New York: Verso.

Mazzucato, Mariana. 2018. The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy. New York City: PublicAffairs.