books Harvey on Harvey: The Most Dangerous Book I Ever Wrote
Seventeen Contradictions [and the End of Capitalism] is the most dangerous book I have ever written. It is also the latest (and maybe the last) of a series of books that I refer to in retrospect as "the Marx Project". I say "in retrospect" since I had no idea until recently that such a project had been in the making. A combination of dramatic historical shifts and the logic of what I was doing propelled me onwards from one topic/book to another and yet another.
SEVENTEEN CONTRADICTIONS AND THE END OF CAPITALISM
By David Harvey
Oxford University Press, 352 pages
Hardcover: $24.95; Paperback: $17.95
April 4, 2014
ISBN: 9780199360260 9780190230852
Seventeen Contradictions is the most dangerous book I have ever written. It is also the latest (and maybe the last) of a series of books that I refer to in retrospect as "the Marx Project". I say "in retrospect" since I had no idea until recently that such a project had been in the making. A combination of dramatic historical shifts and the logic of what I was doing propelled me onwards from one topic/book to another and yet another.
The project began sometime in the late 1990s but became more explicit after 2000. I had looked forward to that year not because it was the beginning of a new millennium but because I imagined it as the year of my retirement. So here I am fifteen years and a dozen or so books later wondering what happened. In part I blame this on my move to the CUNY Graduate Center in 2001. This proved to be the best career move I ever made. I removed myself from the misery of an increasingly isolated life in an elitist Johns Hopkins to a privileged position in the rough and tumble and politically charged atmosphere of a massive public university with great colleagues (most notably Cindi Katz and Neil Smith as well as good friends in Anthropology) and politically minded graduate students. It was the latter who insisted I do the video series on Marx's Capital; they also did the skilled work of making the videos and setting up and maintaining the web-site. I owe them, and Chris Caruso in particular, a tremendous debt.
So what was this "Marx Project" all about? It had long been obvious that Marx was not well understood, let alone actively embraced, and that much work was needed to make his work more accessible. This was not only because of general ignorance based in avoidance and right wing distortions but also because of some of the more dogmatic presentations on the part of the sectarian left. Academic Marxism, meanwhile, seemed for the most part hell-bent on making Marx's thought even more complicated than it already was. I had to some degree contributed to this in writing Limits to Capital (a work which, at the time of its publication - 1982 - was depicted by one reviewer as "another milestone for geography and another mill-stone around graduate students necks"). There clearly was a space in which I could take the experience of teaching Volume One of Marx's Capital at least once every year after 1971 and put it to good use. In some years in the 1970s I had taught it three or more times both on and off campus (when I taught it in the university I always did so in addition to my contractual teaching load so nobody could claim I was neglecting my academic duties in favor of politics!). I aimed throughout to simplify and clarify Marx's argument without dumbing it down or resorting to simplicities. I tried not to impose any particular reading of Marx, though it is impossible of course not to base the teaching in one's own interpretations (mine is just one out of many plausible readings). I wanted to open a door into Marx's thinking so that readers could pass through it and create their own understandings on the other side. That is the spirit in which the video series and the written Companions to Marx's Capital Volumes One and Two were also constructed.
I also felt a pressing need to illustrate the contemporary relevance of Marx's thinking for politics. This carried with it an obligation to identify not only what we might learn from Marx but what he had left incomplete, assumed away or simply (heaven forbid!) gotten wrong. It also entailed recognizing what was outdated in his thinking and what was not. The question that was very much on my mind was: What is it that reading Marx can teach us today and what is it that we have to do for ourselves to understand the world around us? I therefore set out to illustrate the utility of Marx's method as well as of his concrete theorizations by putting my understanding of them to work in analyzing contemporary events and issues - hence the books on the new imperialism, the brief history of neoliberalism, the spatial dynamics of uneven geographical development, interpretations of the crisis of 2007-8 (The Enigma of Capital), and analyses of capitalist urbanization, a topic I addressed in Spaces of Hope, Rebel Cities and had a wonderful time continuously re-thinking and ruminating upon in the book on Second Empire Paris. The Paris book, an exercise in what I call historical-geographical materialism, filled in the history between Marx's analysis of how Louis Bonaparte came to power in the wake of the failed revolution of 1848 (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) and what happened in the Paris Commune of 1871 (The Civil War in France). I did not consciously choose to do the Paris study with this in mind (I began to work on the topic back in 1976 because I was interested in Haussmann's works). Only relatively late in the day did I realize I was bridging the gap between two of Marx's seminal political works!
Each one of my books explored a particular aspect of Marx's analysis in relation to a particular topic or situation. I hoped that the cumulative effect would be to encourage others to read Marx carefully and openly as a way into such practical studies.
This brings us to the case of Seventeen Contradictions. In this work I had two main aims. The first was to define what anti-capitalism might entail. I thought this necessary because while many may claim to hold to an anti-capitalist political position, it is not at all clear what they might or ought to mean by this. The second, was to give rational reasons for becoming anti-capitalist in the light of the contemporary state of things.
I decided to approach these questions through an examination of contradictions in part because Marx in his writings repeatedly emphasized that crises of the sort the world experienced in 2007-2008 were surface manifestations of the inner contradictions of capital. "World trade crises must be regarded as the real concentration and forcible adjustment of all the contradictions of bourgeois economy," he wrote. "The contradictions existing in bourgeois production are reconciled by a process of adjustment, which, at the same time, however, manifests itself as crises, violent fusion of disconnected factors operating independently of one another yet correlated." I could, however, find no systematic account of these contradictions. Mao and Althusser provided powerful elaborations on the theme of contradiction in general but did not elaborate on Marx's analyses of the inner contradictions of capital. The Marxist literature either invoked this or that contradiction on an ad hoc basis or even worse would respond to a situation that defied easy understanding by asserting that "Ah well, this is a typical contradiction of capital!" The idea of contradiction was, in short, all too often a conversation stopper. I wanted to reverse that and make the idea of contradiction a conversation starter, particularly about what might constitute an anti-capitalist politics and how crises might be understood. While the form of appearance of particular contradictions may have evolved since Marx's time, the structure of the contradictions of capital, I discovered, has been surprisingly constant.
Going back through Marx's works (particularly the Grundrisse) to hunt out the contradictions of capital proved a daunting task and it soon became clear that I had to reduce the number somewhat to a systemic structure that was manageable. Hence the magic number of seventeen. I make no exclusive claim that my choices are right or the only ones possible. Others will doubtless make different and other determinations. But what I also learned from writing Seventeen Contradictions is how interlinked and mutually interactive (sometimes supportive) the inner contradictions of capital are. What also emerges is a much more decentered picture of what capital is about than is normally portrayed. This goes well beyond the idea that "all history is the history of class struggle" or the idea of a primary contradiction between productive forces and social relations (just to name the two most familiar contradictions to which the logic of capital is so often reduced). But there is a trap to such a decentered logic. It can lead to what I can best characterize as conceptions of "adjectival" capitalisms, such as "financial capitalism", "rentier capitalism", "cognitive capitalism", "techno-capitalism", "supply chain capitalism" and even such oxymorons as "conscience" or "ethical" capitalism, each of which purports to define some new and particular historical stage of capitalism. I prefer to keep the singular and holistic definition of capital intact while recognizing the "violent fusion of disconnected factors operating independently of one another yet correlated" within it.
Economic life, Marx observes in his "Postface" to the Second Edition of Volume One of Capital, "offers us phenomenon analogous to the history of evolution in other branches of biology." His purpose is to take economic phenomena and track "the law of their variation, of their development,. i.e. of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connections into a different one." This idea that capital should be understood as an evolving organic whole (or totality) becomes much easier to grasp through an analysis of the intersecting and interlocking of contradictions across a decentered system of capital accumulation. It then becomes much easier to understand the astonishing evolution of capital as it seeks to grapple with and adapt to its different inner contradictions and their fusions at moments of crisis that force capital into new configurations. The primary threats to the reproduction of capital in our times (which are quite different from those that Marx had to confront) also become more salient. From this it becomes much easier also to show why we might now need to confront and ultimately replace capital with some alternative mode of production.
So why, then, am I an anti-capitalist? I am not an anti-capitalist because of some strange defect in my DNA. Nor am I anti-capitalist because I was brainwashed as a youth (I first read Capital when I was thirty five years old!), seduced by the blandishments of some Marxist-Leninist or Trotskyist/Maoist political party (I have never been a member of any party), or because I suffered some traumatic injury to my body or my psyche because of capitalist malfeasance at some point in my life. I actually admire (though far from uncritically) much that capital has produced and not only in the way of new technologies.
No, I am anti-capitalist for purely rational reasons. It has, in my considered judgment, become too dangerous to itself as well as to us and others. Much of what is now happening is simply insane. Any reasonable person assessing the evidence would, if they are of sound mind, necessarily and rationally become anti-capitalist.
It is somewhat unusual these days to appeal to rationality. To do so appears old fashioned and even seriously flawed. It is, perhaps, not accidental that appeals to rationality are frowned upon at exactly the stage when capital can survive only by insane means. Why, to take just one small example, are we so hell-bent on building cities for the wealthy to invest in rather than cities for people to live adequately if not happily in? We should all go to the top of the next golden condo being built for no one to live or one of those absurd buildings in Dubai and hang a banner from it saying "THIS IS INSANE". Such follies were in the past occasional and clearly meant as follies, but they are now becoming the norm. Where else can overaccumulating surplus capital go?
I will refrain from further details of this sort here, but the point of identifying the three dangerous contradictions at the end of Seventeen Contradictions was to single out those that in my view seal the case for ruthlessly opposing endless capital accumulation. The first of the three dangerous contradictions is the exponential path defined by compound growth. This was no problem when Marx was writing because so much of the world was still open for business. But another century of compound growth from here on out is simply unthinkable, with most of the world, from China and India to Russia, Brazil and South Africa now subsumed within the overwhelming logic of endless capital accumulation. The environmental consequences of compounding growth are also plainly dangerous and threatening, although I am reluctant to invoke apocalyptic scenarios and willing to recognize how adaptable capital has historically been to environmental and natural resource constraints. Finally, there are deeply troubling signs world-wide of what I call "universal alienation" in which the loss of meaning and of future possibilities in all aspects of physical and mental life (in the home as well as at work) produces inchoate and often strange forms of sociality and revolt. The proliferations of religious fundamentalisms and the rising menace of fascist revivals need to be taken seriously, turning civil society into a vast field of struggle over capital's as well as humanity's future, which only an ultra-militarized state apparatus seems at this time capable of controlling through brute force and astonishing technologies of surveillance and repression. Never has the choice between socialism and barbarism been more starkly posed at a historical conjuncture when the broad left has never been so weak. The imperative to be anti-capitalist and to stand up to the ultra-militarized state apparatuses that now dominate, butts up against "the globalization of indifference" and the confusions of skepticism and disbelief rooted in universal alienation.
The argument and evidence I amass in Seventeen Contradictions is only partial, however, because I confine myself to the study of the inner or internal contradictions of capital alone. I separate out these contradictions from the far broader and far more complicated question of the contradictions driving capitalism as a whole. I engage in an exercise in abstraction and like all such abstractions this does a certain violence to our understanding of the realities around us. Abstractions of this sort frequently become, therefore, a target of fierce criticism. Serious objections arise even to the point of total rejection of whatever is revealed by the abstractions on the grounds of their unreality. The exclusions are often judged to be far more important than whatever it is that the abstractions reveal. I sought to defray such criticisms in Seventeen Contradictions by trying to be as clear as I could as to what might be learned from the abstractions and what would be needed to understand the contradictions of capitalism as a whole. I freely recognized those situations in which the separation between capital and capitalism became highly problematic because my intent was not, as some critics have inferred, to avoid or suppress the many other forms of contradiction that constitute or are co-present within capitalism in general. My aim was to improve our understanding of capitalism as a whole by clarifying how the logic of capital accumulation does or does not work within that larger frame.
It was, of course, Adam Smith who so clearly recognized in The Wealth of Nations, that once market exchange becomes widespread and foundational for daily survival - as it indubitably does under capitalism - then the hidden hand of the market (which Marx identified as the hidden hand of social labor) operates in such a way as to make personal identities, subjectivities, desires and intents irrelevant to the overall logic of capital accumulation. In practice, of course, there are many attempts to corner particular markets in commodities (including that for labour power) and consumer markets certainly disaggregate into niches of differentiated consumer preferences, but the proliferation of commodification, exchange relations and money power in general guarantees the overall failure of such strategies even as particular markets (including those for labour) might become captive to some group or other of either producers or consumers. The only identities foundational for market exchange are those of buyers and sellers backed by private property rights for juridical individuals (see the first three contradictions in Seventeen Contradictions). It is the market that abstracts from all other identities. It was for this reason that Marx began his analysis in Capital with the concept of the commodity since everyone - irrespective of their race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual preference or whatever - lives under capitalism (which is by no means hegemonic everywhere) through the buying and selling of commodities (including the fictitious commodities of land, labour and money power). Adam Smith's arguments as to the social consequences and the inevitable contradictions that flow from the circulation of capital were, Marx argued, fatally flawed. The promise of liberty and freedom in liberal theory and in technically egalitarian markets masked a deeper reality of perpetual labour exploitation backed by accumulation by dispossession.
I did not, therefore, accept the thesis of an inherently racialized capitalism because while in some parts of the world (e.g. the United States and the Americas) capitalism is emphatically racialized (specially so given the forceful legacy of slavery) but elsewhere it is not (or only weakly and indirectly so). In some parts of the world (e.g. Northern Ireland or the Middle East) it is religion that divides and the question of nationalism and national identity is hugely important (e.g. in the Far East or in Eastern Europe) within capitalism in general. All of this spills over into geopolitical rivalries within capitalism that are not reducible to even as they are influenced by and sometimes correlated with the internal contradictions of capital. Finally, there is the question of gender and sexual preferences which are universal in the ways that questions of race, ethnicity, religion, nationalism and the like are not. The nature of gender and sexual preference questions varies immensely, however, from one part of the world to another. The prominence of women within the Kurdish PKK and its military arm contrasts dramatically, for example, with the repressed and "traditional" condition of women in Iraqi Kurdistan. And as North American feminists have discovered to their chagrin, the emancipation of women in their part of the world does not necessarily resonate with women elsewhere.
The autonomous development of these other contradictions - expressive of some version of the fluctuating role of human alterity within capitalism in general - cannot be reduced to functions of the inner contradictions of capital. At no point in Seventeen Contradictions do I ever make such a reductionist claim. But then neither can the contradictions of capital be reduced to questions of race, gender, national identity, queer theory or the like. This simple fact also establishes something else important. To be anti-capitalist is not necessarily to be an anti-racist, anti-nationalist feminist/queer theorist. This much has again and again quite properly been asserted and -alas - all too frequently demonstrated in the history of class struggles waged by the broad left. By the same token, to be a feminist/queer theorist or anti-racist is not necessarily to be anti-capitalist. Most of the black anti-racists I encountered during my years in Baltimore were intensely pro capitalist. The street battles in Ferguson Missouri in recent times focused on the situation of a black population in relation to the exclusionary institutions of civil society and the repressive arm of the local state apparatus. They were not anti-capitalist in their content (although certain individuals and groups may have seen them so) even as their form is hard to understand without invoking class position. There are, however, plenty of intensely pro-capitalist anti-racists and feminists and queer theorists in the world. Some segments of indigenous populations (e.g. the Aymara of Bolivia) successfully participate in merchant and artisinal capitalist activities while sustaining many aspects of their distinctive forms of cultural life. There is a huge difference between this form of indigeneity and remote indigenous groups in Amazonia who want little or nothing to do with capitalist modernity but who suffer mightily from its intrusions upon their spaces. Much of the left used to believe that all anti-colonial struggles were anti-capitalist but the actual history of post-colonial political economy belies such an assumption. Any conversation on such topics presupposes, however, that we know what it would mean to be anti-capitalist; and it is exactly this question that my study of the inner contradictions of capital (and not of capitalism) is designed to illuminate. What would a feminist, queer theorist or anti-racist, anti-nationalist, secular as opposed to religious person have to identify with and assert through their ideas and practices to be anti-capitalist? That question can be generalized to ask what would an autonomista or anarchist or post-colonial theorist have to subscribe to in pursuing their anti-capitalist agendas? I do not claim that Seventeen Contradictions has all the correct answers. But it does pose, I think, the right question.
The book concludes, I want to re-emphasize, by saying that none of the political proposals that derive from the seventeen contradictions "transcends or supersedes the importance of waging war against all other forms of discrimination, oppression and violent repression within capitalism as a whole. By the same token, none of these other struggles should transcend or supersede that against capital and its contradictions. Alliances of interests are clearly needed."
So what, then does Seventeen Contradictions reveal that is interesting? As a writer I usually start out thinking I know what I want to say, but I am always surprised at how much I discover in the course of the writing and how different the final product is in relation to the initial conception. Let me take up just one instance of this from Seventeen Contradictions. I had long recognized that the first two volumes of capital were constructed under radically different assumptions and that they produced two quite different accounts of how capital worked. Volume One of Capital is about the production of value and surplus value whereas the main (though not exclusive) focus of the incomplete and stitched together Volume Two is the problem of realization. In Volume One Marx defines value as socially necessary labour time but then inserts one sentence that says if there is no want, need, or desire (backed by ability to pay we later discover) then there is no value. The theory constructed in Volume 1 assumes that all commodities can be traded at their value, that there is absolutely no barrier to the realization of values in the market place. This is, of course, a huge assumption. But this abstraction permitted Marx to define the conditions produced by and necessary for the continuous production of value and surplus value. These included the production of an industrial reserve army of the unemployed and the increasing impoverishment of the working classes that were employed. Volume Two of Capital, on the other hand, holds constant many of the driving forces, such as technological change, studied in Volume 1. It assumes there are no problems to the production of value. Marx then looks at the conditions necessary for the realization of values in the market places and sees that an adequate effective aggregate demand on the part of workers is required to absorb the value produced. Plainly, the two volumes indicate a serious contradiction between escalating impoverishment and wages sufficient to generate sufficient market demand. If all is well from the standpoint of Volume 1 then everything goes awry from the standpoint of Volume 2 and vice versa.
This much I had early on realized. But I had never followed up the full implications of what Marx in the Grundrisse called "the contradictory unity of production and realization." To begin with, most Marxists read Volume 1 of Capital with care but very few read or let alone study Volume 2. In writing the introduction to the Companion to Volume 2, I emphasized how important it is to give equal weight to the two volumes, but judging from the sales rankings on Amazon the strong bias towards emphasizing the first volume relative to the second is very much in evidence. The result has been a bias in the history of Marxist thinking towards a "productivist" reading of Capital while questions of realization are treated as of secondary importance. Indeed, to spend too much time on Volume 2, as Rosa Luxemburg did, leads to charges of an "underconsumptionist" reading of Marx which for some unexplained reason is considered un-Marxist and crypto Keynesian. Against this I can only emphasize that neglecting the contradictory unity of production and realization and failing to give equal weight to the content of the two volumes entails a serious misreading of Marx's theory of capital. Ironically, the demand-side political economy consistent with the Volume 2 perspective dominated (with the help of Keynesian theories) the capitalist world after 1945 but steadily undermined the conditions required for surplus value production during the 1960s. It was then replaced (with the help of Milton Friedman and Hayek) by a supply side political economy and politics consistent with Volume 1 after the mid-1970s or so. The latter predictably produced in turn multiple localized crises around the world before culminating in the global crash of 2007-8 as realization became more and more credit and credit card dependent to compensate for the successful neoliberal campaign in favor of wage repression.
Volume 2 focuses on processes of circulation and pays close attention to the question of turnover, production and circulation times (with occasional allusion to questions of spatial relations and consumption times). The coordination of commodity productions (what we now refer to as commodity chains) requiring radically different turnover, production and circulation times - with particular emphasis upon the problem of fixed capital formation and circulation - is problematic. Vast amounts of capital would have to be hoarded (thereby becoming inactive and non-value-producing) to deal with radically different temporalities. It is only through the rise of a credit system that this difficulty can be overcome. For Marx, credit and debt are not primarily moral categories (as they are in so many contemporary presentations on the subject, such as David Graeber's book Debt: The First 5,000 Years). They are technical necessities to sustain the continuity and smooth flow of capital. But Marx rules out further investigation of the credit system until Volume 3, so we do not get a working picture of debt-credit relations in Volume 2. Credit and debt, we can nevertheless infer, are foundational to capital's functioning. Without them, so much capital would have to be hoarded as to ultimately stymie all future capitalist development.
We also see in Volume 2 how competition pushes capital to accelerate turnover times. Speed-up in production, circulation and consumption becomes a major feature within capital's dynamic with wide-ranging implications for how we work and live. We only have to think of how contemporary consumerism works - fashion, advertising, rapid obsolescence, the political economy of spectacle (in which production and consumption are fused) - to see how technological and organizational innovations are marshaled to speed up life. Paradoxically this requires more and more elaborate infrastructures with slow turnover times (fixed capital embedded in the land) to function effectively (traffic moves faster as the roads become more secure for travel). Hence the relation between the contradiction of production and realization alongside that of fixity and motion of the capital employed.
Marx does not say too much about the space (as opposed to the time) of the production-realization relation, but what he does say has far-reaching implications. Where value is produced may be very distant from the markets in which it is realized. Apple computers made in China generate very low rates of profit there (Foxconn gets 3 percent) but Apple gets 27 percent profit margin selling them in the United States. Walmart similarly makes its profit in the US on commodities made in China and elsewhere. Merchant and finance capitalists become part of the problem because the more powerful they become the more value they can extract from various facets of the realization process. Realization is not therefore free of exploitation and struggles between consumers and merchants become a vital part of class struggle. Indeed, a more affluent working class procuring wage concessions at the point of production may find all of its extra effective demand extracted back by merchant capitalists, money capitalists and landlords. What workers gain at the point of production is all too often recuperated by other factions of capital at the point of realization. Marx and Engels mentioned such a possibility on various occasions but never investigated it in any detail (probably because it was less prominent a problem in their day). The Marxist tradition subsequently either ignored it or viewed it as a secondary form of exploitation. But from the standpoint of the contradictory unity of production and realization the problem has to be not only taken seriously but put on a par with the exploitation of labour in production. But some awkward consequences then follow. To begin with, the class character of realization struggles is far more ill-defined. Segments of the middle and even upper classes may be victims of value extraction through realization, although we see from the history of the housing foreclosures in the United States that it was the poor and vulnerable minorities (Hispanics and blacks) who suffered by far the largest proportionate losses to their asset wealth. On the other hand it was the rich who largely lost their money in Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme and Enron's accounting fictions. Accumulation by dispossession becomes a vigorous tactic at the moment of realization.
But the relation between dispossessors and the dispossessed is far more awkward to integrate into class politics even as it has a strong resonance in urban settings and is frequently the center of resistance in urban social movements (e.g. around housing conditions). But if the contradictory unity between production and realization is to be taken seriously then we have to take the multiple and increasingly important discontents with an increasingly urbanized daily life as one pillar for our anti-capitalist politics, on a par with struggles in and around the labour processes that capital imposes.
Behind all this lies the other grand question: how can capital continue to be realized when the effective demand exercised by the working classes is held back by a politics of wage repression? A temporary answer can be found as the credit system comes to the rescue once more. The pawn broker and the money lender have always been important and often thoroughly reviled figures in working class life but the creation of a vast network of credit institutions to manage and manipulate the realization process contains its own contradictions which can and did underpin crisis formation on a massive scale in 2007-8. When financiers can fund the activities of housing developers as well as the demand for housing through the mortgage finance they offer, then the conditions for an asset bubble of the sort that formed around housing after 2001 are themselves realized. That this has been one of the main means by which China came out of the effects of 2007-8 is deeply worrying.
These are the sorts of insights that come from taking Marx's conception of the contradictory unity of production and realization and extending it beyond where Marx himself took it to connect to some of the most pressing problems faced by contemporary capital. The effect is to decenter notions of class struggle and to define a broader terrain of political action as not only desirable but necessary for anti-capitalist struggle. While some may view this as dangerous to the former clarity of Marxist theorizing and political practices. The field of potential action may become much more diffuse, but this has the virtue of highlighting the inner linkage between the multiple, diffuse and seemingly fragmented fields of struggle already occurring. In a historical period characterized by urban uprisings in which the qualities of daily urban life are the focus of multiple discontents, it makes sense to embrace a theoretical reading of the contradictions of capital that integrates such concerns into a more coherent theoretical frame.
We clearly need to find new ways of doing anti-capitalist politics. Many experiments are currently under way but a universal criticism of them is the inability to overcome fragmentations and to sustain struggles beyond the ephemeral moments of occasional uprisings and protests grounded in multiple discontents. While theoretical reflection cannot offer solutions to such problems, it can provide suggestive ways to frame our mental conceptions of how anti-capitalist struggles might best be articulated under current conditions. If neoliberal ideas and monetary theory could become, as they so plainly did, material forces that helped to change the trajectory of capitalist development and human history after 1970 or so, then coherent left ideas can likewise claim a similar potentiality for the future.
The ruling ideas of the current ruling classes are plainly failing to serve the interests of the mass of the people pretty much everywhere even as they secure and augment the power of a ruling oligarchy. The contradictions are obvious and rampant. Compound growth for ever is simply impossible. What better time to bid capital farewell and to set about constructing an alternative and far saner mode of production? This is the proposition that, I hope, makes Seventeen Contradictions such a potentially dangerous but fruitfully provocative book.
This is a slightly shortened piece in response to the author-meets-critics session on 17 Contradictions and the End of Capitalism at the 2015 Association of American Geographers meeting. The full version will be published shortly in Human Geography.
[David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of numerous books. He has been teaching Karl Marx's Capital for more than 40 years.]