07 April 2014

Alternative to David Harvey's 17 Contradictions

David Harvey's 2014 book, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, has received abundant media attention, including at the LSE. Overcoming the 17 contradictions of capital from the "foundational" through the "moving" to the "dangerous contradictions" points to "the end of capitalism" and its replacement by an alternative, "happy but contested future" of "revolutionary humanism". Contradictions are presented as something inherently to be overcome, whereas in truth, anything that moves and, in particular, anything living, i.e. self-moving, is a contradiction, since it is simultaneously both what or how, how much or where it presently is and what or how, how much or where it will be.

Harvey names the most fundamental contradiction as that between use-value and exchange-value. Anything valuable for use can also, secondarily, be exchanged for something else useful, a distinction that goes back to Aristotle that was taken up also by Marx. Exchange-value develops into money, and money into capital, resulting in a contradiction between use-value and capital as reified value in circular movement.

Harvey employs the example of housing, which is a basic use-value, that comes into conflict with capital invested in real estate because, unless you can afford it, you can't gain access to housing. Use-value here becomes a basic need, and human being itself is cast as essentially needy. Abolition of the contradiction between use-value and exchange-value, according to Harvey, would result in the satisfaction of human needs (through what kind of power play? see below). Human being is cast as (modestly) essentially needy. That it is essentially desirous is left out of account, or rather, (limitless) desire in human being is treated as a perversion of authentic human being into the alienated human being of consumerism as manipulated by capital in its striving to realize surplus-value. So capital is cast once again as the culprit, perverting and alienating human nature, a naive Rousseauian perspective that never fails to find a following, because it is most flattering and painless.

Flattery is the working-capital (not only) of left-wing, Marxist thinking, for the victims of capital are cast as essentially good-natured, their perversions being attributed to capital's manipulation of its objects of exploitation. That human being itself could be 'wilfully infinitely desirous' is not considered.

More to the point: left out of consideration is that human being itself is will to power, since anything living is an origin of self-movement, i.e. of power. Hence human beings' sharing the world with one another is always also a power play in all shades of meaning, since human beings exercise their abilities and powers not only competitively against each other, but also mutually for each other, co-operatively with each other and (mostly) indifferently next to each other.

Harvey does not consider that the exchange-value he wants to abolish is an historically developed mode of sociating human beings economically that, as such, is also a power play -- for better or worse, ugly or fair. If the mode of economic sociating via reified value (that historically enables also the modern, 'contradictory' sociated individual) is to be replaced historically, the alternative is also essentially an estimating, valuating, power play. Harvey, however, following Marx, is content to suggest "freely associating and self-creating individuals" as the 'natural' alternative. This is supremely naive for it leaves the question concerning social power and its relation to human freedom unposed. Is something resembling 'economic democracy' supposed to suffice?

I could go on at length and in detail pointing out the many important issues Harvey misconceives or misses. There is an alternative line of thinking that digs deeper, reconstructing and extending Marx's Capital, starting with the 'results' of the Sydney-Konstanz Project from 1984, and proceeding with my Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger (2000/2010) and Social Ontology: Recasting Political Philosophy Through a Phenomenology of Whoness (2008/2011).

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