According to the classical Marxist analysis (Roberts, 2013), crisis itself, through the destruction of capitals it leads to, is what usually allows the profitability of the remaining capital to come back to levels that encourage a new round of accumulation. David Harvey (2003), in The New Imperialism, conceptually refined the existing methods of over-accumulation crisis resolving. What he calls ‘spatial fix’ is the process by which capitals settle into territories hitherto virgin of capitalist relations within and beyond preexisting geographies thanks to the imperialistic establishment of profitable infrastructures. China is the most recent example: her purely political conversion to market in the late 1970s was a gigantic vacuum for unprofitable western capitals. Its ecological and urban explosion is symptomatic of this spatial fixation of capitalism. The problem is, late capitalism has almost extended to the whole planet. How can you spatially fix your crisis if there is no more new non-capitalist land to conquer?
Outside the space opera hypothesis, capitalism has proven an incredible capacity to artificially create new spaces of profit. Harvey’s point can be related to the early periods of capitalism (Robinson, 2004): its first epoch was made of ‘primitive accumulation’, the process by which people came to be separated from a common traditional mean of production through violent minoritarian expropriation that allowed money to create more money. This took the form of indebting, conquest, plunder, enslavement, among other things. Mutatis mutandis, according to Harvey, this process never really ended. He calls it ‘accumulation by dispossession’, an intensive form of imperialism which has followed capitalism’s course like a historical shadow. This accumulation nowadays takes many ancient aspects: new enclosures leading peasantry into landless proletariat in southern economies, welfare-state liquidation in Europe, war for resources and infrastructures reconstruction, and everything in between. New technical aspects are terrifying in potential: to be competitive, territories will have to privatize not only people’s environment, but their very cultural and biological self through intellectual and bioengineering patents. This commodification has no potential limit insofar as it does not confront enough discontent to counter it.
Harvey does not mean to say everything was better before, as he highlights progressive aspects of dispossession which led to better material conditions by abolishing feudalisms. Regressive aspects were sometimes answered by progressive resistances to protect social achievements or create innovative ones, but they mostly failed in the West after the neoliberal awakening of the late 1970s. As far as this ideology managed to impose flexibility and insecurity in late capitalist societies as cornerstones of the economic system, it led to the emergence of the precariat, as observed and theorized by Guy Standing (2011). But Harvey remarked in his Brief History of Neoliberalism (2007) that the neoconservative answer aim to ‘counteract the dissolving effect of the chaos of individual interests that neoliberalism typically produces’, through national and moral discipline. More and more, the precariat is blaming itself for its vulnerability, instead of blaming the system, and therefore tend to regress into this kind of propositions. For this reason, politicians do not need to listen to progressive propositions such as Standing’s advocacy of the unconditional basic income to get elected, which might be the single most frustrating fact in the world.
By: Aymeric Vassas
- Roberts, M., 2013. ‘Marx versus Keynes in the summer’, on thenextrecession.wordpress.com [Accessed 13/12/14]
- Harvey, D., 2003, ‘The New Imperialism’, Oxford University Press.
- Robinson, W. I., 2004. ‘Globalisation as Epochal Change in World Capitalism’, in A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class and State in a Transnational World. Johns Hopkins, pp. 1 – 32.
- Standing, G., 2011. ‘The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class’, Bloomsbury Academic.
- Harvey, D., 2007. ‘The Neoliberal State’ in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, pp. 64 – 86.