The Enigma of the Enigma- my critique of David Harvey for the Left Forum

see the more recent, and far superior, draft here.


The Left Forum is next weekend at Pace University in NYC. I’m speaking on two panels on Sunday: David Harvey and Capitalist Accumulation; and a roundtable on Andrew Kliman’s new book The Failure of Capitalist Production.

Below is a rough draft of paper for the former panel. In case you were wondering, no David Harvey is not going to be at the panel. My paper is an attempt to summarize a longer paper of mine which critiques many of his positions on crisis theory, focusing primarily on his 1981 book Limits to Capital. There is certainly much editing in front of me in the coming week getting this ready for the Left Forum, but the draft below at least has the structure of the argument worked out. I am always glad to hear responses, feedback, criticism, etc.

The Enigma of the Enigma

The aim of this brief talk is to provide the beginning of a critique of David Harvey’s theory of crisis. But I have to start by saying how humbly I approach this task. Like many people, I am greatly indebted to David Harvey. In many ways Harvey was my first access into the world of Marx. His clear, articulate language, his passion for his subject material, and his patient dedication to pedagogy were a big influence on me, compelling me to dig deeper and deeper into the world of Marx and Marxism. The criticism I offer here is made with the deepest and most sincere respect for his work.

My critique is of 3 intertwined aspects of Harvey’s work: his rejection of Marx’s theory of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF), his theory of ‘overaccumulation’, and his use of this ‘overaccumulation’ as a framework for his geographical analysis.

Much of 20th century Marxism is defined by its defeats, both theoretical and political. As much as we have to learn from our elders, we also must remember that they have their origin in a certain time and place and that their approach to Marx is informed by this origin. For Harvey the time is the 1970’s and the place is the western academy. It is a time and place where Marxists were facing certain theoretical challenges that they were unable to respond to, forcing them to revise or reject key aspects of Marx’s value theory. They were also faced with the need to distance themselves politically from the horrors of Soviet Marxism and Maoism. This led to several distinctive characteristics of what I call here ‘the 70’s Marxist’.

Aspect 1: Anti-orthodoxy
The 1970’s was a time of challenge and defeat for Marxists but these experiences also opened up space for new approaches to Marx and to reappraisals. The bitter end of the Stalin-era (marked by Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956) provided a space for a critique of so-called “orthodox Marxism”, allowing for a reappraisal of Marx himself, not filtered through the politics of the Soviet era. This combined with a trend of academic Marxism, tracing itself back to figures like Paul Sweezy, who worked to establish more space for Marxian ideas in the academy by developing a non-sectarian Marxist tradition which often borrowed language and tools of neo-classical economics. On the positive side, this has led to some great scholarship and debates on many topics from dialectics to value theory to the labor process, revealing the great depth and richness of Marx’s analysis, and freeing Marx from the stodgy determinism of the Iron Curtain. On the other hand there has been too great, and often too superficial, a rush to distance oneself from this so-called “orthodoxy”, often confusing this “orthodoxy” with Marx himself (throwing out the marx-baby with the orthodox bath water). Public speak events require a ritualistic, undeveloped castigation of some aspect of Marx in order to prove to the audience that one is not a Stalinist. The charge of “orthodox marxism”, has too often been used as a rhetorical weapon to silence critics. Thinkers who have sought to defend key aspects of Marx from revision have been accused of dogmatism, inflexibility and sectarianism. A false-dichotomy between “open-minded reinterpretations” and “deterministic orthodoxy” is too-often erected as a substitute for a real argument. While I admire much of Harvey’s work as a Marxist pedagogue I also think that he sometimes suffers from this 70’s vibe of anti-orthodoxy. Limits to Capital, for instance, is riddled with dead ends and pointless asides spent critiquing Marx where there is no critique to make (for instance, the pages and pages spent pontificating about the transfer of value from fixed capital, none of which accomplishes anything, see my critique elsewhere). More relevant, Harvey seems to brush aside contemporary debates around the TRPF, dismissing these ideas as the work of orthodox dogmatists rather than actually engaging with them.

Aspect 2: theoretical retreat
As 70’s Marxists wrestled with their identity in the post-Stalin era they also had to fend off the theoretical assault of the Sraffian’s, the transformation problem, and the Okishio Theorem. The inability of Marxists of this era to defend Marx’s transformation procedure or the theory of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF) (discussed later)  produced a myriad of theoretical approaches, all attempting to rescue some aspect of Marx from the burning wreckage of Marxism, while erecting work-arounds, synthesis with other traditions, etc. The end result of most of these efforts was often pathetic, forcing many to abandon Marx altogether. Those who tried to remain within the tradition often were only able to do so by drastically reducing the radical scope of the Marxist project, adopting an entirely un-Marxist framework, focusing on the non-economic aspects of Marx, or creating vague reformulations which side-stepped these problems in a dialectical sleight-of-hand. “Marxian” replaced “Marxist”. I consider Harvey’s crisis theory to be such a vague reformulation.

But the vague reformulation, the work-around, is not the result of some reformist politics. Rather, it shows the fidelity of many thinkers to the Marxist project despite the theoretical obstacles in their path. But when we maintain fidelity to the ‘essence’ of Marx, while abandoning his logic we get ‘Marxiness’.

Aspect 3: do it my own way
It seems almost every book on Marx written in the last 40 years must have as a subtitle “a reinterpretation”, “a reformulation”, or “a critical appraisal”. Academic careers were made based on the uniqueness of one’s reinterpretation. Putting a distance between oneself and Marx certainly makes one more palatable to the academy. But I suspect that the larger factor in this is the nature of academic careers in general which tend to foster individualism and originality in theories. Harvey’s crisis theory is one of these original contributions. Much of his career is based on the reformulation of Marx’s crisis theory that he develops in his 1981 Limits to Capital. (But it is not wholly original. It begins by trying to vaguely reformulate Marx’s TRPF in order to side-step the Okishio Theorem. But it also attempts to use the language and tools of the Monopoly school though without the underconsumptionism usually associated with this school.)What emerges is a highly original, yet sometimes confusing, distinctly “Harveyian” crisis theory.

I don’t think it works for the following reasons: The language of ‘overaccumulation’ that he borrows from the Monopoly school cannot effectively explain the cyclical nature of capitalist crisis. The lack of a mechanism within the theory that creates this cyclical motion forces Harvey to ascribe too much explanatory power to the agency of political actors. Without the TRPF there is theory that can explain why capital would ever overaccumulate in the first place, that is, why there would ever be a shortage of profitable investment opportunities.  I think that these problems rob his geographical project of its potential power.

Let’s get into it…..

The Geography

Thinking back to my first encounters with Harvey’s writing, reading the Condition of Postmodernity as an undergrad, I remember the excitement that his geographical project had on me. In a college environment of identity politics and postmodernism, where culture was used to explain politics, where ‘meta-narratives’ were akin to totalitarianism, David Harvey’s ability to provide a fresh materialist analysis to culture was a breath of fresh air. By focussing on the way capitalist accumulation constructs its own version of space and time his writing was able to pierce through the fragmentation and nihilism of the dominant postmodern narrative, and provide a materialist framework with which to understand the lived experience of capitalism in all of its diversity and complexity.

Often as an undergrad I had been told that Marxist analysis was reductive, that it predicted a uniform lived experience, that it proscribed a politics that ignored differences between people, rejecting many forms of struggle to focus narrowly on workplace struggles. Harvey showed that it was possible to theorize a great diversity of experiences of capitalism as well as a great diversity of struggles against capitalism, within a marxist framework.

This is the real strength of his project. It represents some of the best aspects of the 70’s Marxist. Marxism of the 70’s needed to escape from the determinism and narrowed politics of the so-called ‘orthodox marxism’ of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. It needed to show that Marxism was an open, developing body of theory, capable of theorizing the continuing evolution of capitalism in all of its complexity and diversity.

But the 70’s Marxist too often threw out the Marx-baby with the orthodox-bath-water. Often times this was the best that could be done at the time as theoretical defenses of key aspects of Marx’s value theory had not been developed yet. MORE ON THIS BELOW. The best thing that could be done was to side-step these criticism of Marx, developing alternative approaches. Harvey’s work-around is this theory of over-accumulation.

What is missing in his theory?

For Harvey, capitalists are in a constant state of anxiety because they must turn their money into more money. They must constantly find new avenues for profitable investment. But the amount of value that needs to be valorized keeps increasing and so their task gets harder and harder. Eventually this growth reaches limits. It begins not just to accumulate, but to overaccumulate. The attempts of capitalists to overcome these limits is what particularly interests Harvey. Investments in fixed capital, public works, infrastructure, etc… The entire construction of physical space, and the organization of time are bound up in this attempt to deal with the overaccumulation of capital.

“The Marxist argument is, then, that the tendency toward overaccumulation can never be eliminated under capitalism. It is a never-ending and eternal problem for any capitalist mode of production. The only question, therefore is how the overaccumulation tendency can be expressed, contained, absorbed or managed in ways that do not threaten the capitalist social order.” (The Condition of Postmodernity p.181)

This becomes a very powerful tool for Harvey as it allows him to explain all of space and time, more or less, through the problem of overaccumulation, or surplus value absorption, or as he says in Enigma, the problem of surplus. But the problem is that his theory explains too much. Like his theory of Accumulation by Dispossession, the categories are extended too wide; too much is explained; it’s too easy.

How can the boom in construction at the start of an economic boom (say the 50’s in the US) and the boom in construction that accompanies a credit bubble right before a crisis (say the 2000’s) both be a result of overaccumulation? Here the same geographical phenomenon, the rapid construction of spaces, exists at two very different places in the accumulation cycle. The dominant forces of a boom can’t be the same as those of a bust. We need a theory capable of explaining cyclical movement.

Harvey talks a lot about the creation of difference through the uneven development of capital in space. These differences are often due the contingent aspects of the flow of capital through spaces, local advantages and barriers, the irregularities of fixed capital, etc. This is all great and usefull. But his theory of overaccumulation also has a monotone quality to it, one that can’t theorize other types of difference.  Again, I refer to the long-term cyclical movements of profit rates, and the accompanying booms and busts which have occurred regularly throughout the history of capital. If overaccumulation is a chronic condition, this suggests a steady stagnation, not cyclical motion.

So I don’t think overaccumulation can explain the cyclical motion of  crisis. But I also don’t think overaccumulation can explain overaccumulation.

If capital is overaccumulating due to a shortage of profitable investment we need some theory of the growth of capital relative to investment opportunities- or, I should say, relative to profitable investment opportunities.

Historically theories of overaccumulation are associated with the underconsumption school of thought which argues that low wages create a situation of not enough consumer demand which means product can’t be sold, capital overaccumulates, etc. Harvey seems to endorse this thesis in Enigma, even though he critiques the theory earlier on in Enigma, and many of his earlier works. (This, I must confess, I find confusing.) His critique I agree with: capital has the ability to generate its own demand through the expansion of capital goods. (see Kliman’s new book.)

If Harvey rejects the underconsumption argument then what is the cause of overaccumulation? At his worst, Harvey sometimes seems to suggest that overaccumulation is its own cause and effect. Just the very fact that capitalism must constantly grow is used to suggest that this growth will hit a limit at some point. This aspect of his theory seems to have become more blatant since the crisis. It emerges quite strongly at times in Enigma and in recent speaking engagements. I think it is mostly a result of trying to communicate his ideas with lay audiences. But it has the danger of evoking an “anti-growth” aesthetic similar to the ‘small is beautiful’ politics of primitivists, anarcho-libertarians, apolitical environmentalists and hippies. It borders on vulgar populism. And it has no theoretical meat: he must provide a reason why capitalism can’t expand forever.

Now, Harvey does have a better answer to the question. He often argues that there are multiple Limits to capitalist production. This, for him, means that the specific limit operating at any particular place and time is contingent. Many of the limits Harvey talks about have to do with the temporal barriers to production generated by the complex overlapping of different turnover times, transportation, and the use of the credit system to overcome these limits, which generates its own speculative impulses.

This idea of a plurality of limits can seem attractive at first. It definitely gets anti-orthodoxy points due its ability to embrace many different interpretations of crisis. But I worry that it ignores the mechanism by which capital overcomes its limits: profit. Profit reapportions investment to areas with high return, and takes investment out of unprofitable areas. Now, of course this is not always successful for every individual capitalist. Of course there is a lot of unevenness due to all of the factors that Harvey discusses. But it is no good to just stress the limits and ignore the elephant in the room: the profit rate.

It turns out that capitalism is remarkably good at overcoming barriers. It is an overcoming marked by all sorts of violence and unevenness, but it is an overcoming. Now when a crisis erupts this is qualitatively different than the sorts of minor fluctuations and unevenness that I think Harvey’s limits imply.

If profit is the mechanism for overcoming these ‘little-limits’,  we need a theory about profit rates to explain the ‘big-limit’ that is a crisis. Of course, this is Marx’s theory of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF): technological change eliminates human labor in proportion to total investment which causes a long-run fall in profit rates. As profits fall, there are less opportunities for profitable investments, capital bunches up… it ‘overaccumulates’, crisis erupts.

Harvey isn’t willing to take Marx’s approach to the problem, even though his theoretical framework seems to demand to be completed by a theory of profit rates.

Why he rejects the TRPF

I suspect that Harvey’s gravitation towards developing some version of an overaccumulation theory is in many ways a result from his inability to find a way to make Marx’s TRPF work. 70’s Marxists wrestled with the TRPF and often came out rejecting the theory. They were up against the logic of the Okishio Theorem, which claimed the exact opposite of what Marx claimed: rather than labor-saving technology causing a fall in the rate of profit, Okishio aruged that it must always raise the rate of profit.

The inability of Marxists from this period to save the TRPF from Okishio led many, including Harvey, to develop alternative crisis theories. Math is math and you can’t argue with it. But you can argue with the presuppositions behind the math. This is what the TSSI does to the Okishio theorem. It questions the assumptions behind the theorem and shows that Marx’s theory of the TRPF is totally consistent. Because there now exists a refutation of the Okishio Theorem, I no longer believe it is defensible to just write off the TRPF in a current book on crisis. It also demands that we return to the debates around crisis that happened in the 70’s and reevaluate the conclusions that people like Harvey drew from them.

I have a rather detailed critique I have made of Harvey’s take on the TRPF in Limits, but here I will summarize:

Harvey’s chapter (it’s actually a sub-chapter) on the TRPF could be the poster child for the 70’s Marxist. It starts with a hint that there is something wrong with Marx’s theory, though it is very hard from the chapter to find out what this is. It begins with a very thorough, detailed description of all of the different possible criticisms of the theory, all of the counter-tendencies that might raise the profit rate, etc. One by one Harvey dismisses these critiques, arguing that they are not adequate to forestall a fall in the profit rate. Then comes this very interesting sentence:

“Van Parijs (1980), for his part, uses a proof of Okishio’s (1961) to show that capitalists, under competition, will choose techniques which necessarily reduce the unit values of all commodities (including labor power), and increase the transitional rate of profit to themselves as well as the social rate of profit, no matter what happens to the value composition, provided only that the physical standard of living labor remains constant.” (p. 185)

Now, nowhere does Harvey actually explain what this means or how this argument is proven. We are, I guess, just supposed to take the word of Van Parijs that we should take the word of Okishio. For a reader new to Marx, as I was when I first read Limits, this paragraph produces a deal of head-scratching. We have just read pages of elaborate details about the TRPF that turn out to be dead ends (failed critiques, counter-tendencies, etc.). Now we are finally given a definitive statement that the TRPF is wrong and David Harvey, the Marxist pedagogue, does not offer to give his readers any explanation.

This spectral appearance of Okishio becomes a turning point in the text. Okishio seems to be haunting the text. Harvey doesn’t want to directly confront Okishio. Instead he develops a very complicated and obtuse sidetrack about turnover time, credit and constant capital that attempts to rescue what it can of Marx’s crisis theory. In the end Harvey concludes:

“individual capitalists, acting in their own self-interest under the social relations of capitalist production and exchange, generate a technological mix that threatens further accumulation, destroys the potentiality for balanced growth and puts the reproduction of the capitalist class as a whole in jeopardy.” (p.188

This appears to be nothing more than a vague restatement of the TRPF. The only difference is that Harvey puts the question in the language of equilibrium states. It is hard to see how recasting the same theory in vaguer language really rescues it from Okishio. If Harvey had just left things here his work would probably not have been that note-worthy. But, Harvey doesn’t just leave things here. He uses this vague defense of Marx a springboard for his own theoretical riffing: In the next chapter the camera has panned away from the discussed of the limits to profitability and zoomed in on the issue of the rising surplus. Here the language of overaccumulation begins.


This strange, ghostly encounter with the repressed spectre of Okishio provides us with a template for the 70’s Marxist.

1. Sraffian critiques of Marx are side-stepped in an attempt to save Marx by being vague.
2. This vagueness becomes a platform for erecting original reformulations.
3. The reformulation takes on a life of its own, and the relation to the original debate is forgotten.
4. The reformulation is conflated or confused with Marx’s crisis theory.

In order to question these theories we have to interrogate each of these:

4. We must separate Marx’s own theory from those of the “Marxits”, “Marxian”, “Marxoid”, etc.
3. We must acknowledge and understand the original debates that gave rise to these reformulations.
2. We must interrogate reformulations and challenge them to be clear, not evasive.
1. We must challenge Marxists to deal directly with the charges of inconsistency that have been leveled against Marx in the academy.

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42 Responses to The Enigma of the Enigma- my critique of David Harvey for the Left Forum

  1. Michael says:

    Just a quickie: There’s probably a missing “no” in the following sentence: “Without the TRPF there is theory that can explain why capital would ever overaccumulate in the first place, that is, why there would ever be a shortage of profitable investment opportunities.”

    • Like I said: It’s a messy draft. I’m haven’t even started revising for stuff like that yet. I’m kind of behind preparing for the Left Forum. I’m just hoping for feedback on the general argument.

  2. Julia says:

    I should be at the Left Forum. When on Sunday are you speaking?

  3. MrEverpresent says:

    I always find that the first chapters of limits to capital are very much worked out. The more unfinished things in capital are vague in the book.
    It is as if he wanted to stick as closely to volume 1 as possible.

  4. This needs a lot of work. One of the limits that capitalism is coming up against is the environment, although technological innovation may assist capitalism in overcoming this barrier. Harvey states this clearly in Enigma. I realize this is a draft but you really need to expand on your critique of over accumulation by Harvey. That seems to be the crux of his argument which he goes into extreme detail on and your brushing over it.

  5. James says:

    I agree with this critique. However there could be a danger in over rejecting Harvey’s contribution. TRPF is, I think, complimentary to Harvey’s insistence that capitalism never really solves It’s crises; although it can delay them etc. TRPF is the mechanism which binds the heterogeneous crises manifestations together and determines their magnitudes.

  6. duvinrouge says:

    What’s your thoughts on Sam Williams’ blog?

    • I, unfortunatley, have not had the chance to really follow this blog as much as I’d like. I think that he really didn’t do a good job of critiquing Kliman’s “Reclaiming Marx’s Capital”, missing the main points. But I haven’t really followed all of his stuff on crisis theory.

      • duvinrouge says:

        What main points do you think he missed regarding Kliman’s “Reclaiming Marx’s Capital”?

      • I actually left a comment on his site at the time which I assume is still there. He seemed to get stuck on a few details that didn’t seem relevant at all the the TSSI. One was the concept of MELT (monetary expression of labor time) which is a rather universally accepted procedure (as far as I understand it). The other was Kliman’s use of a corn-model to illustrate some points. I felt he was not understanding the context and point of the Kliman’s corn-model. I haven’t read the post recently… this is just my memory of it. I think Kliman eventually left a long comment…

  7. Interesting read, i have been a follower of harveys writings and lectures for some time now myself, not for his preferences towards some of Marxs’ ideas but because of his ability to articulate the complexities of capital to the masses without having to lean on Marx to heavily, and because he is able to do this he wins the attention of the audience and the wider world.

    Personally i think you went to far in placing harvey into the bracket of ‘1970’s marxist’, for me harvey represents a timeless marxist, more in kin with the ethical aspects Marx brings to the table and much more so than the conflictual elements you made suggestions to in your piece. Harvey continually notes that he only wishes to bring some of the questions to the table, if we (left in general) get bogged in critiquing everything produced by the left then reproduction of that 1970’s environment will take hold (which in my opinion was as much about the dedicated attacks from the right as it was the lefts inability to defend itself).

    Im sure if we were to study every aspect of Harvey’s works we would find discrepancies, just as discrepancies were found in marx’s work, as it will be in many works to come, but these small discrepancies aren’t by definition fatal flaws in his over all theories and thus discrediting all work ever produced, and much of the respect Marx gained as an social critic and academic actually – imo – overrides some of the minor discrepancies, its not like we always hear about locks flaws is it yet the audiences people like Harvey and the rest of left have to contend with are filled with notions mediated from the right, purely to rubbish the debate surrounding the fundamental flaws in capitalism and its history – an extremely destructive history.


    • I am not arguing in this piece that Harvey’s theory of crisis is just guilty of minor, unimportant discrepancies. I am arguing that is is flawed to the point of incoherence.

      I think your remarks about discrepancies, fatal flaws and “overall theory” are too vague to make much of an argument. Yes I would agree that the essence of Marx has to do with his method, not the tiny details of his arguments. But this doesn’t mean that the details aren’t worth examining. If his approach is worked out systematically, as I believe it is, then the details are bearers or representations of the general approach. You can’t have a general approach that bears inconsistent and incoherent details. The debates over things like the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (which Marx called the most important law in political economy) and the Transformation Problem aren’t just debates over minor technical issues with no relation to Marx’s general approach. These theories are actually perfect representatives of the general approach. The controversies over these two theories bring to light fundamental differences in the theoretical approaches of bourgeoisie and Marxist thought.

      Also, there is no such thing as a timeless Marxist. In fact, the very idea of anything being ‘timeless’ is about as foreign to Marxist thought as you can get. People, including Marx and Harvey, are products of their times. Their thinking bears the mark of their time and place in history.

      I have no idea what you mean by saying that Harvey just “brings some questions to the table”. He very clearly stakes out theoretical positions (albeit often confused and incoherent positions) in his books, especially in regards to where Marx got it wrong and where Harvey has corrected him.

      “if we (left in general) get bogged in critiquing everything produced by the left then reproduction of that 1970′s environment will take hold”. So the left shouldn’t discuss ideas and critique each other constructively? We should keep our mouths shut and just be content to be part of some general, amorphous spirit of discontent with no coherent analysis? We should be afraid to have discussions over theory because we don’t want to appear weak to the right? I think what makes the Left weak is lack of theoretical discussion, not too much of it. I would imagine a healthy revolutionary moment would contain a great deal of discussion and debate.

      “his ability to articulate the complexities of capital to the masses without having to lean on Marx to heavily, and because he is able to do this he wins the attention of the audience and the wider world.”
      I am saying that he doesn’t articulate the complexity of capital to “the masses”. He just describes the world without any coherent analysis of it. What does it mean to “lean on Marx too heavily”?

  8. Hi again,

    il work my way backward through you reply..

    ‘articulate the complexities of capital without leaning too heavily on Marx’..

    I disagree with your assertion that he does not articulate it very well, he does explain it all very well imo. Capital (ie real capital not the book) is a complex and dynamic thing in its self, marx demonstrated just how complex it was from the perspective of a commodity in his book, capitalism, economics and business in general is a difficult thing to understand at the best of times, but despite the multitude of difficulties one might have in detailing the fine parts i personally think Harvey has done well to put forward a digestible montage of history, geography, contemporary economics and Marxist theory that is able to comprehended by both highly educated academic types and the general public at large.

    As for the left being overly critical of its self , well it is, its goes beyond critique into self cynicism and that in its self come with a very destructive element, i say leave the critique to the right and those who oppose the leftist view.

    I think i remember reading about Gramsci being defined as a timeless Marxist once, due to the fact his writings were made from a cell and transcended time due to his lack of external political and social influences (id have to check that).. It was a sloppy use of language on my part, but i still think there is are elements to much of marxs’ theories that transcend time, and imo Harvey takes some of those on-board in his own assertions. Lets remember that Harvey is a geographer first and foremost, if some of Marxs’ theories tie into his work as a geographer and particularly to issues related to poverty, degradation and social inequalities in general, then why not elaborate on them? For me the issue is the remarkable similarity in what was being written then and what’s being blogged and logged now, not just what’s been written about but the actual events in the world hold similarity to events in history.

    If Harvey is coming across as incoherent to you i suggest to you that its because of the systematic approach you have taken, learn to be more quantitative in your method, personally i approach Harvey from two perspectives, from that of the poor and that of the rich( Which incidentally is how i approached marx) id ask how could i , would i , benefit from this book / lecture / class , if i were a young radical how would it interest me, how could i use it? if i were a capitalist then id ask how could i use the feedback to create risk in my favour?, and so on… Recently Harvey was asked if he liked the fact his lecture at LSE was being co-sponsored by the capitalist machine he is vocally against , he simply but firmly replied ‘NO’.


    • Rather than just asserting that Harvey’s analysis is coherent perhaps you could address some of the specific critiques I have made in this essay.

      Gramsci was by no means a “timeless marxist”. His work clearly bears the stamp of the sorts of issues and debates that Marxists of his time were grappling with. Marx’s theories don’t transcend time. They are specific to capitalist society. Capitalism is a system, a total system. Marx’s analysis of capital is thorough and systematic. It is not a critique that you can just randomly borrow from in an eclectic fashion. Furthermore, Harvey does not claim to be just “taking some of Marx’s themes on board.” His book Limits to Capital is an attempt to systematically work out his revision of Marx.

      What appears at first sight as a rich analysis from Harvey is actually just the practice of description and labeling. Harvey is good at describing lots of phenomena that we experience in our lives, phenomena which concerns us. He then has a framework for labeling these phenomena with terms like “overaccumulation” and “surplus absorption”. This gives the reader the illusion that something has been explained and that everything is fitting together into a coherent framework. I am arguing in this essay that this is an illusion.

      “If Harvey is coming across as incoherent to you i suggest to you that its because of the systematic approach you have taken, learn to be more qualitative in your method”. I have no idea what you mean by this. I expect analysis to be coherent and to not use vague work-arounds to avoid criticism. This is the only way theory can progress and be relevant to the world. How is a method more or less qualitative? How are we supposed to have theoretical battles with the right if we aren’t worried about the coherence and correctness of our ideas?

      • I agree with Brendan.

        His book limits to capital is good on the non controversial elements of Marx. The book gets more vague when it leaves more familiar terrain (for example the last two ‘cuts’ on crisis theory).

  9. Qualitative *** edit “learn to be more qualitative”

  10. Hi again,

    Had a few days away sorry i couldn’t get back to your post sooner.

    Personally i felt your critique focused far too much on the wrong parts, what i feel when im reading it is that it was written from a pro capitalist and somewhat anti marx stance rather than the usual critique we might read from the left, i felt it leaned far to heavily on what are now indisputable facts about growth and profit, even more so in the last 10 years. Personally for me , chapter 3 of capital was easier to read than your critique of Harvey.

    Sorry if i gave the impression that we should leave all critique to others, of course not, that would be ludicrous , what i meant was that we should be more careful not to confuse ourselves with our own material, the need to be ever more complex in defining ourselves creates its own conflict, when whats needed is simplification of what is already far too complex a subject.

    I feel i need to reiterate that Harvey is a geographer and not a economist, any self respecting Marxist hates economists as far as i can tell. If there appears to be failings in his works maybe its because of this fact. Maybe the actual failing is in the many manipulations and misinterpretations of realisations and theories capital and its defenders are able to produce in its dynamism that actually create a situation where the waters are far too muddy to see through.

    So my question to you would be … “is this a critique of Harvey or a defence of capitalism”?


    • lifeisgood says:

      Wes G: Am a regular visitor to this site. Let me too put some words in here.

      Brendan[the blogger] is criticizing D. Harvey for his works{esp. “Limits”} and other Marxists who have been transforming and polluting ideas of Marx- the real Marx. This essay of his is an analysis of various trends of the 1970s Marxists who claimed to have found the incorrectness and inconsistencies in Marx’s works, and went on to rejig it.

      Clearly, such rejigging has resulted in complete blurring of Marx’s ideas, his views and his flow of thought. This is so because his ideas have been put aside and these enlightened individuals seem to have corrected[sic] him. Hence, a critique of this trend of ‘correcting’ Marx was needed since long. Brendan does it lucidly.

      This essay thus is ‘not’ a pro-Capitalism writing! Kindly bring a few citations that prove so. This is a critique of those Marxists who have only polluted Marxism, and more importantly Marx’s ideas. This essay thus stresses the need to understand Marx on his “own” terms, putting aside all these reformulations aside.

      • Hi (life is good)

        Clearly there are no ‘citations’ for how i interpreted a random blog.

        “”This essay thus stresses the need to understand Marx on his “own” terms, putting aside all these reformulations aside.””

        Which is why i made mention to “the manipulation of realizations and theories” and quite obviously a happening that occurred many times before the 1970’s. Personally i don’t see the point in critiquing Harvey on these issues. What is actually bredon saying that hasn’t been said before?

        Whilst on the subject of saying whats already been said, the quote i highlighted of yours above is also one way Harvey introduced himself on his on-line course for capital. I imagine that term gets used on many occasion with little action.

        If we are putting Marx in his own terms then why do people even debate the issue of values and profits, Marxs’ terms were of an anti capitalist stance, modes of living and production based on community, humanism, justice, ethics and a dash of classical Christian sentiment (which is fine by me), heading toward a better fairer future in unity if possible, passively if possible , but also iterating that the cause and its defenders are no push-overs. All very romantic in itself, but a worthy dream all the same.

        What would marx make of the blogosphere and the 24h media[tion] culture?

        Better still what would Marx make of our life in 2012 and of Harvey?

        What would he (Marx) make of sustainable growth?

        Which reminds me of this quote from a book called Marx in his own words by ernst fischer – “I bear no grudge and neither does Engels. Neither of us gives tuppence for popularity. Example of my dislike for any personality cult: during the time of the of the international i never allowed the numerous manoeuvres to acclaim me, be which i was plagued from various countries, to penetrate into the sphere of publicity, nor have i ever replied to them, except now and then with a slap”. – Marx/Engels 1953


  11. lifeisgood says:

    Wes G:

    “Clearly there are no ‘citations’ for how i interpreted a random blog.”- How can you accuse someone of being pro-capitalism who’s writing from a Marxist perspective? Then when asked to prove it, you say the above lines. If you cannot cite even a single sentence by Mr. Brendan that shows his alleged “pro-capitalism” stance, on what basis are you accusing him for being so?

    “Personally i don’t see the point in critiquing Harvey on these issues.” – Harvey has been reformulating Marx, trying to introduce his own ideas as this essay too reflects upon. Such transformations have not kept with Mr. Harvey’s assertion of ‘understanding Marx on his own terms’. Not just limits, you may go through his ‘Companion to Marx’s capital’ & you’ll find many instances of him rejecting/correcting/improving Marx’s ideas. This is the trend that is being questioned by this essay.

    “What is actually bredon saying that hasn’t been said before?”- I agree that this essay isn’t the only or the first to stress this need of understanding the ‘original Marx’. But this, in my span of knowledge is one of the first resource that successfully attempts to understand Marx’s own ideas, on his own terms- which Harvey, according to my understanding, only asserts, doesn’t observe it in his works.

    “the quote i highlighted of yours above is also one way Harvey introduced himself on his on-line course for capital. I imagine that term gets used on many occasion with little action.”- The action part is being dealt well here. Brendan’s “Law of Value” series is far more superior to many other sources of learning on this topic- not because its some piece of great intellectual complexity, but because its one of the most lucid & ‘marxist’ explanation of Marx’s theory of value. That’s action, which you seem to be unready to accept.

    “If we are putting Marx in his own terms then why do people even debate the issue of values and profits”- What does this exactly mean? People debate because of the ‘reformulations’, ‘recapitulations’ & alleged ‘corrections’ of Marx, that have polluted Marx’s own flow of thought. Resources such as this blog help a learner clear through all the mess that surrounds Marxism & understand Marx before understanding Marxism.

    “What would marx make of the blogosphere and the 24h media[tion] culture?”- Cannot comment on the ‘media[tion] culture’ aspect, but he would have cherished this concept of blogging, maybe he would have started his own blog to confront the vulgar economists spread everywhere, grandly claiming to have rejected him. How splendid that would be!

    “Better still what would Marx make of our life in 2012 and of Harvey?”- 2012’s life- another year in humanity’s historical journey through various social modes of production. Of course, he would have to explain the failure of previous attempts to pure Socialism. I am not qualified to comment on that issue. But would just remark that dialectically, the left has weakened, right’s force in the intellectual class struggle[my own term] has surpassed the left. Its time the left too puts a fierce intellectual battle rather than relying on Keynesian solutions.

    “What would he (Marx) make of sustainable growth?”- He would have laughed out loud on it. Maybe would have started another blog- “StopSustainingCapitalismYouIdiots[dot]wordpress[dot]com”! The very need to sustain an economic system through conscious execution of such concepts is a testimony of the fact that the Capitalist mode of production is not sustainable.

    • hi (life is good but a name would be better)

      I like you, can you rewrite brendans’ blog in english 😉 (poor joke)

      Im sorry if some of my language is in-understandable, i use many sociological phrases and terminology with a few of my own twists on words thrown in the mix (such as “manipulations of realizations and theories”), and still think the critique above misses the point of marx and focuses on an issue which imo has no ‘value’, imo it was only ever started to convince people about the inequalities capitalist society, thats now been done and dusted, its a fact today that we dare not deny , the critique might well be coming from a Marxian perspective , but not the one that counts. Who is the target audience? students you say? personally i think it would confuse the student more.

      If the left ever wins the day there will be no money to count- only the distribution of resources- so what’s the point in debating this over and over again? What i like is what Harvey is today discussing , and that’s the issue of power hierarchies and alternative modalities of structural arrangement, horizontalists vrs verticalist and so on and is also mentioned upon many times throughout Harvey writings. mix it up a little.

      On that im all for turning the world upside down, in fact we got pretty much everything we need already in place, what we dont have is a grand master jigsaw puzzler champion.


  12. lifeisgood says:

    Wes G:

    “still think the critique above misses the point of marx and focuses on an issue which imo has no value”-

    No. The above issue has tremendous value which, as I said before, you’re not ready to accept. Let me put it in this way. Previous attempts to Marxist alternative couldn’t be sustained. A non-Marxist would jump up saying ‘Marx was wrong’, but we as “students” of Marxism understand that’s not the case. Post USSR’s collapse, as I’ve been saying till now, ‘reformulations’ & ‘corrections’ of Marx’s theoretical apparatus began. This was the trend that gave birth to varied Marxists who, hardly qualify in the strict sense of term. On of them qualifies to be Mr. Harvey. You say he’s a geographer, so lets ignore his mistake. That’s a dangerous assertion. His influence on Marxist flow of ideas is strong, and is respected as an authority on interpreting Marx.

    Sadly, if you pay some attention to his writings, you’ll find statements such as “You can interpret Marx in your own way”, “See what meaning Marx has for you”, &c. Such is the methodology of his works that he treats Marx not as an objective truth but as a subjective source of knowledge. This means, he has varied meanings, which completely takes away the revolutionary zeal from him.

    This trend is purely academic. Academicians have been “misinterpreting” Marx. There are 2 issue here: 1). Correct theoretical interpretation, 2). Then follows correct political action. You can’t expect to have a successful post-capitalist project without successful theoretical apparatus. Till now, Marxism, especially at the hands of Academicians[like Harvey] has been unsuccessful to provide any valid theoretical force to the left.

    Understanding this trend, then critiquing it, then establishing Marx’s original ideas is crucial. Birth of ideas of Mr. Richard Wolff & alike is a product of failure of previous Socialist attempts. If you think we have enough tools available to oppose the ‘right’, you’re merely in delusions. Left is dominated by Keynesians and their “save capitalism” solutions. Forget about Communism, any sort of post-capitalist project is bound to fail with “incorrect” theoretical base[Keynesian here]. This is where a need to return to the original father comes in picture.

    Lastly, writers such as Richard Wolff, Andrew Kliman, Alan Freeman, Brendan McCooney, &c. are a product of this trend. Till we do not possess correct theoretical base, we cannot build a Socialist future upon it. Also, by “students” I mean we all, who are learning Marxism. Its an endless journey of exploring a giant body of literature. No matter how much solid an authority is, we all remain students[though at differing levels of expertise] of Marx, in broad terms.

    Brendan’s critique is not meant to be some full-fledge criticism of 1970s garbage, its a brief analysis. A separate book on this issue is needed, a single essay can’t help anyone express their views. But his analysis is extremely valid, correct & precise. Rather than using vague terms & vocabulary-mixing, he’s precise & to the point. If you want to criticize it, you need to being “Specific points”, which then will be addressed by the blog’s author. Trying to hit in darkness, will surely waste your as well as other’s energies, it will only baffle you more, and not help understand a given idea correctly. Regards friend.

    • Hi (life is good, seriously a name would be better)

      While i appreciate what your saying, [that] (your explanation) indeed could be one way of looking at the situation, but all this talk of ‘delusion and bafflement’ – apparently on my part – is for what reason? but to rubbish and ridicule my remarks? which i dont mind in the slightest if its done in a proper fashion, unlike this time where its being used to justify what i would call an ‘iffy’ argument. Of course we all have our opinions of whats important and not, and those opinions have bearing on our actions and beliefs and in turn have influence on how we interpret ‘others’.

      My original post was to defend Harvey, which is still what i’m trying to do now, not because of some misinterpretation of his words or his ‘purposeful’ misconstruing of Marx (which i don’t think he does to the degree mentioned on this page) which i some how fell into in my misguided and uninformed way. As i said though in a previous post i’m not coming from a purely Marxist position to defend Harvey or to criticize brendans critique for the sake of being critical, IMHO Harvey knows all to well the power, social capital and global hegemony the right has accumulated since the time of Marx and specially so in the last 40 years, and i agree with both you and brendan that the left has done its self no favours in that time, while the left were dithering about trying to understand these great and mystical economic theories coming out of the Chicago school and other well placed schools of thought the right were busy creating even more problems for us to dither over, most excellent example being this quote taken from a random paper i found by a student sociologist , his/her quote was from a aid to ex pres Bush jnr, taken from a new york times article, i think this sums up the lefts main problem

      “The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality —
      judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to
      just study what we do.”

      The “Container Model” Paradox: Borders, Frontiers and
      the State’s Own Image of Itself. (pdf can be had with a simple search)

      Which when i read myself i found very enlightening, because at the time i myself was struggling to understand the wider relationship between knowledge and power, between structure and agency, up until i read that small quote (and the whole paper) that i really understood how they all come together to create this kaleidoscope of misconception and misinterpretation, i could really see how the structure and the agents were in a push pull relationship and how that relationship can be manipulated and moulded at the will of those with a special interest to do so.

      A relationship i think Harvey is only too aware of, which is why i defend his position, because he walks a fine line , he understands more than others the [P]ower and whats at stake, he understands that while we push for change we at the same time have to embrace this system to survive.

      Yar , speak soon no doubt

      • lifeisgood says:

        Wes G:

        “he understands more than others the [P]ower and whats at stake”- I find myself in complete agreement with you on this. But you’re overlooking the particular aspect of Mr. Harvey that is being criticized here. You’d agree with me that he’s not an authority in Political Economy. Marx’s entire theoretical infrastructure[my own term] has his key theories of ‘Labour theory of value'[including Commodity fetishism theory], ‘Surplus value theory’ & ‘Dialectical Materialism’ at its base. Various Marxists have interpreted Marx, on these major fronts, variedly, the point now is to interpret him, correctly[to quote Mr. Kliman]. Which is what Mr. Brendan’s doing here. His understanding about Marxian Economics, to me, seems to be far better than majority of the bourgeois Economists criticizing Marx & many Marxists too. David Harvey, I find, fails on this crucial count. He has nothing to offer, in defense of these key theories of Marx. He rather is found introducing his alleged corrections of Marx. I think Marx is a far superior intellectual than him.

        On these three theories depends Marx’s entire theoretical apparatus criticizing the Capitalist mode of production. Criticizing the previous genre of Marxists who, maybe due to their academic, political, &c. compulsions went on to reformulate and correct Marx, becomes extremely important. In my understanding, no one qualifies to be the best authority in understanding Marx, than Marx himself. The above essay primarily throws light on this need. There is no criticism of all of Mr. Harvey’s ideas and theories, but only of those that claim to “correct” Marx. I find such claims[of having ‘corrected’ Marx] and such people absurd. Marx’s writing is very much clear, thorough & wide ranging, so as to refute majority of the illiterate objections to his theories.

        For rest of the issues, including right’s success against left upto now, I’d agree with you.

      • lifeisgood says:

        Out of curiosity I’m asking this: What does “yar” at the end of your comments mean? Regards. 🙂

  13. Hi, I come from a place that is traditionally well known for two things, one is merchant capitalism and the other is pirates.

    The reason is simple, i always get cuffuffled at the end of letters and replies, Yar (in a pirates voice) just sounds good in my head.

    • Wes,

      I find the entire angle of your criticism problematic and baffling. You say that you are defending Harvey but you haven’t actually provided any defense of Harvey in response to the specific arguments in my essay. On the contrary you have crawled down the slippery slope of the thought-police by asserting that one shouldn’t criticize David Harvey. I am of the opinion that critique is always permissible and that critique strengthens a movement. Humanity has already had an experiment with ossified Marxism where critique was policed and contained. It was the USSR and it was a disaster. If the object of critique can defend itself theoretically then this makes it stronger. If it cannot then it doesn’t deserve to survive. How could you possibly claim anything to the contrary?

      Well… here are the arguments you have attempted to make in defense of your anti-thinking aesthetic:

      1. My critique is too hard to read.
      Clarity is a big goal of this blog. I revise constantly for the express purpose of trying to make my writing concise and accessible, especially my video series. Sometimes I am more successful than other times. I’m sorry if this particular post was not accessible enough for you. Marx is also hard to read at times and requires patience and going over the text multiple times. Such is the nature of complex material. But regardless of whether or not you like my writing style this should have no effect on whether or not it is permissible for one Marxist to critique another.

      2. More problematic is you argument that we need more simplification of Marx. I hope that my blog is not interpreted as an attempt to simplify Marx. Capitalism is complex and thus Marxism is complex. When people rely on simplifications of Marx rather than on Marx himself then what ends of happening is that the interpreters… the simplifiers… become the voice of Marx. This might not sound like a problem at first until you realize how common it is for Marx to be misrepresented by the very people who claim to speak for him.

      In relation to seeing Marx in his own terms you say this, “Marx’s terms were of an anti capitalist stance, modes of living and production based on community, humanism, justice, ethics and a dash of classical Christian sentiment (which is fine by me), heading toward a better fairer future in unity if possible, passively if possible , but also iterating that the cause and its defenders are no push-overs. All very romantic in itself, but a worthy dream all the same.”

      I don’t think this really captures the essence of Marx at all. Rather it reflects a vague anarchism or utopian socialism: anti-capitalism based on abstract ethical postulates rather than anti-capitalism rooted in a dialectical understanding of the contradictions of a capitalist society. This highlights my argument that we need a better understanding of Marx and that we need to stop letting other people tell us what they think Marx was saying…

      3. David Harvey is a geographer and not an economist.
      If you are acquainted with Harvey’s work you should know that his entire geographical concept is based around his theory of ‘overaccumulation’ which is an economic concept that he claims is an improvement upon Marx’s crisis theory.

      4. My position is pro-capitalist.
      That is complete bullshit and you know it.

      5. “If the left ever wins the day there will be no money to count- only the distribution of resources- so what’s the point in debating this over and over again”
      A fair enough question… But for many in the ‘left’ there will indeed be money after the revolution. Rick Wolfe thinks there will be money and he calls himself a Marxist.

      When I began this blogging project I was often frustrated at the sometimes arcane debates I encountered between various Marxism theoreticians. I wasn’t always sure what the point was. As I probed I discovered that there were actually often quite distinct visions of communism and visions of how to get to communism at stake in these abstract debates. For instance, Andrew Kliman’s work on the transformation problem and the Okishio Theorem is actually tied rather closely to his understanding of the Law of Value and how to overcome it. Rick Wolfe’s take on crisis theory is quite closely tied to his vision of market socialism. Cockshot and Cotrell’s arcane mathematical models are actually an integral part of their vision of how to operate a planned economy. These are distinct theoretical takes on what communism is all about. They are issues worth debating. I hope that one day this blog will serve as a forum for some of those debates.

      But first we have to understand what the Law of Value is….

      • lifeisgood says:

        Dear Brendan, though your reply is to Wes G, to which I largely agree, I’d object to this specific remark of yours:

        > “I hope that my blog is not interpreted as an attempt to simplify Marx. Capitalism is complex and thus Marxism is complex.”- But it does simplify Marx! It helps to prepare a grounding to understand Marx’s complex works. For eg. your ‘law of Value’ series, literally simplifies Marx’s words on the given theory, and then helps to read Marx correctly. There are so many blogs/sites/&c. that put all sorts of misinterpretations of these theoretical concepts. Your blog does give a simpler/clearer understanding of Marx’s ideas.

        You cannot expect people to become as rigorous readers as you are, so as to understand the complexity of Marx & Marxism. If an idea cannot be simplified, it will end up having multiple interpretations as has happened with Marx’s Pol. Econ. By ‘simple’, I mean realistic & easy to grasp. Of course that doesn’t mean this blog makes the path smoother, but it does make the journey less cumbersome.

        > “This might not sound like a problem at first until you realize how common it is for Marx to be misrepresented by the very people who claim to speak for him.”- Yes it is. But this problem arises not out of simplification of Marx’s ideas, but by the “lack of simplification” of him. Multiple interpretations are possible only when an idea is vague and cannot be understood. You successfully explain some of Marx’s ideas, on his own terms. Till you do not simplify the complex body of literature, you can never have a unified opinion on Marxian Economics. Misinterpretations will keep occurring.

        Lastly, school of thoughts like the ‘Austrians’ are able to explain their ideas in extremely elementary fashion. This might have its own problems, but I find people taking up these as they’re easily able to understand it. There’s nothing bad if you simplify an idea on the original writer’s terms. Or else, we’ll keep alarming the “complexity bell” & bar many people from taking up Marx’s works for a serious study. Regards. Keep blogging!

      • lifeisgood,

        You bring up an interesting point here. I guess I have struggled with this questions in trying to justify what I am doing here with this blog. I suppose “simplify” could be taken to mean different things. My intention, as I’ve stated in other places, is not to ‘dumb down’ Marx. His approach is quite complex, it exists in many levels of abstraction at the same time, covers many disciplines, and is hard to grasp for these reasons. My intention is not to leave out any of this complexity for the sake of getting across some basic sound bite. When people take an approach of that sort of simplification they get things like Wes G’s vague summaries of Marx which just sound like some nonspecific popular notion of utopian socialism with no reference to Marx’s actual approach.

        On the other hand, communicating complex ideas in clear language that people can understand without too much fore-knowledge is a worthy goal. In this blog I am trying to convey as much of Marx’s complexity as possible, but in language that a contemporary audience can understand. There are many things in Marx that took me a while to figure out. I had to try a lot of different sources before I figured some things out. There are many other things I’m still trying to figure out. I hope this blog can be an aid to people in my own position: autodidacts navigating the complex theoretical world of Marx. I am most pleased when people write to say that they have been inspired by my blog to read more Marx, or write to say that I helped them understand an aspect of Marx that they hadn’t gotten before. I never intend to be a substitute for Marx. This is one reason I try to keep recommended readings at the bottom of all of my video scripts.


      • lifeisgood says:

        Dear Brendan, I think you’re doing the right & the most urgently needed task of bringing Marx- the original writer to a generation that is slowly divorcing from the rich literature that Marx has left for them. That surely doesn’t mean that the modern generation is ignoring him, they really do not get any opportunity to understand him, his actual ideas. Instead, in schools, colleges & universities globally[with a few exceptions], a summary of Marx’s thoughts is given, included in the history of Economic thought, then a critique is presented loudly proclaiming him to have got everything incorrect. Finally, the apologists of present-day society win.

        I find your blog a reliable supportive-resource in the process of grasping Marx’s Political Economy. Moreover, your ‘suggested readings’ give a better picture of the issue under analysis. Simple, here may be defined as ‘realistic, to the point & honest’.

        I had a query too, this isn’t related to the above essay. Are you aware of any audio recording of Marx’s real voice? I believe such a technology might not have been invented then, but there might be some possibilities. If you know any such web-resource which contains such an audio recording, do share it.

        –Keep Blogging!

  14. Hi Brandan & life is good

    Its been great talking, and i do agree with both of thee on a fair few things.

    Crisis theory and over accumulation ? lets get this straight, this idea is not Marxs’ nor is it Harvey, their interpretations of surplus were both correct based on the times they existed / existing.

    Marx being the hopeless romantic he was took the majority of his ideas from the late great Aristotle , my favourite being ‘use theory’ (well worth the look if your not to familiar) or what was called ‘usery’ in biblical terminology, and IS one of the main tools the current political economy utilises to their advantage. Or to put it even simpler “making two wrongs a right”.

    On Brendans specific points

    1 – Hard to read doest mean it reads like Marx, on the contrary. It just means its very hard to read, this in my opinion is because its written in some sort of honer to marxs, it tries to emanate Marx too much.

    2 – i personally hope your able to simplify but at the same time not lose the essence of the meaning, we need to take ‘simplicity’ into context, not get ahead of ourselves by reducing what we say as so it becomes retarded, but rather explain and define our complex thoughts into a simple yet power set of terminologies fit for the mass and not the few, i believe this was something marx also passionate about.

    3 & 4 – answered in part in the intro to this post, my remarks about ‘pro-capitalism’ were a little trollesque, and for that im sorry, i didnt mean to say your a pro capitalist and that your ‘using’ this here blog to muddy the waters, this was NOT what i meant, it was bait i admit, but i had meant pro in the sense of a justifiable defence in some capacity of this system we have in place now. As part of the critique.

    For some a deep and detailed explanations are needed to convince, numbers are more meaningful than words, if you get me.

    5 – I agree also with this, but this too is old as old boots, these tokens of exchange, symbolic tokens and ‘credits’ ,they maybe useful on the path but the destination doesn’t require them.

    final paragraph / 6 – I personally think this is a great blog (i dont agree with everything in it – ive not read everything in it yet) not just for the content, but also for the level of interaction ive received in reply to my posts, many bloggers don’t give a hoot about replies, ive found in many cases that if the blogger disagrees with a post he or she simply deletes it.

    So i tip my hat to that.


    • lifeisgood says:

      Wes G:

      I expected some amount of serious & worthy arguments from your side, at least after having a few words with you. Sadly, you fail to give anything worth replying to, except repetition of same old statements: “Marx’s hopeless romantic, Harvey’s correct”, &c. Such repetitive assertions, I repeat, bar you from studying and understanding Marx correctly & make you waste digital space as well as others’ energies through such argumentation.

      The worst of these is given by you as: ” lets get this straight, this idea is not Marx’s nor is it Harvey”- I really wish to know who then is to be credited for these theories if not Marx? Aristotle? Am not much into this issue, hence leave further replies on this to Mr. Brendan if he feels like replying these arguments of yours.

      But, “their interpretations of surplus were both correct based on the times they existed / existing.”- What is this? Surplus value WILL exist till humans exist and undertake production for satisfying their needs in terms of Goods & Services. Do you even have the most elementary idea of this concept? Surplus value has existed since the dawn of commodity production, and will exist till it goes on. Even after that, its existence will continue though not for market exchange.

      What is David Harvey’s interpretation of “Surplus value”? What is his theory of surplus value could you please share? As I said before, he has nothing to offer on these crucial theories that define Marx’s entire theoretical apparatus. How many times will I have to repeat the same things, in different comments so that you get it straight, only you know. Far from providing any interpretation, he merely rejigs words, concepts and puts rest of the things on Marx’s shoulder[Eg. His “Companion to Marx’s Capital].

      You please stop speaking grand things about Marx, which the modern bourgeoisie does every now and then. Please bring specific, detailed criticisms of Marx’s concepts/theories, as well as defenses of Harvey’s ideas, rather than asserting brazen statements. Those criticisms, if found having any seriousness, shall be replied soon.

      Lastly, “this in my opinion is because its written in some sort of honer to marxs, it tries to emanate Marx too much.”- Its bad manners to creep in someone’s else’s debate, but am doing so. Yes it does so. This blog is from a Marxist point of view, still you complain why that’s the case. Before attempting to make comments, kindly put in some time in researching what the blog is about & who’s writing it. Firstly you grandly proclaim this blog’s author to be pro-capitalism, which is tremendously idiotic, and you know it. Then you complain why is he writing from Marx’s viewpoint!

      Summing up, Harvey’s reformulation of Marx is a failure. His understanding of Marx might be scholarly, but not worth relying onto. The best person to understand Marx, is Marx himself. This blog successfully does that. Mr. Harvey fails to provide any theoretical base to the left. Moreover, commentators like you proclaim Marx’s ideas as specific to his time which in itself shows the tremendous need to stop appealing to ‘Harveys’, and start studying Marx. I’ve put in enough time. If you wish to contact me further, contact me at: ideasofmarx[@]rediff[dot]com, brackets added deliberately. Regards.

  15. Hi

    I thought it was quite obvious were we talking about surplus value/s in terms of profits, be it profitability in social capital, monetary capital and the many other values that can be capitalised on in the many ways it does.

    The point being in defining surplus value in this way is to emphasis the inequality/ies and negative externalities that are produced in the ways we attain those valuable capitals, the ways we horde them, the ways we re-make them, in the societal processes and institutions we reproduce and maintain to control them, in the general reproduction of the capitalist society and its history as a whole – in all its dynamism.

    Focus is all to clearly pointed at the good that is produced when these surpluses are utilised, this is surly about highlighting the ways those negative goods are produced as a consequence. This is where people get caught in a game of numbers and blame. Everyone playing Pin the tail on the donkey on a global capacity, basically in conflict with one another as to who is right and wrong. This should not be the point.

    You make an awful assumption that im not well read in Marx or that im getting ‘bad’ information or not understanding what i have read myself. This is your error, its your assumption based on what you define as ‘Marx’s own terms’ , surely none of us can claim to put Marx on his own terms as none of us can live the path Marx took or live the life he did, he was just a random person, born in a random time with its unique random conditions,we can only guess at the best, id argue that that is a fundamental mistake to make on anyone’s part including Harvey.

    Im a fan of much of what Marx wrote,his writing clearly explained to me how fundamental parts of society work, i took from it what i saw necessary to the world as i see it, much the same way all human beings do, am i being selective? am i ‘missing the point’? i have to argue my corner and say ‘NO’, to argue against would imo put me ‘in the box’ – so to speak, but even i am not naive enough to rely solely on Marx, he himself had to rely on others, which is what i do, if anything im defining Marx on his own terms.

    I liked how Castells played on marx when he said ‘the oppressed oppressing the oppressors’, but i suppose he wasn’t defining marx on his own terms either? a vicious circle you might say.


    • Wes,

      In all due respect I think that all of the content of your recent posts borders on trollishness and for that reason I am ending this discussion here unless you are able to actually engage, IN SPECIFICS, with any of the content of the original post.

      I’m not sure if you mean to be a troll, but it is a slippery slope. Let me just sum up a few things that have led me to the conclusion that this conversation is going nowhere:

      1. It began as an argument about whether or not it is okay to critique David Harvey from a Marxist perspective. However you have never given any defense of this position, rather vague assertions. I have argued that critique is always healthy. You have not responded, just sidetracked the debate with a confusing jumble of statements.

      2. You have critiqued the clarity of my post in completely vague and un-constructive terms. If you were to say something like “I find the discussion of the Okishio Theorem in your post to assume too much prior knowledge. Why don’t you say this….” Then we could have a conversation. But making vague accusations doesn’t really provide any basis for further conversation.

      3. You continue to make ridiculous, vague statements as to what Marx was “all about” without any specific substance to them and without any clear relevance to the original conversation (whether or not it is okay to critique David Harvey). I don’t agree with you about any of your statements as to ‘what marx meant’ but I also can’t respond to them very well because they are couched in extremely vague, impressionistic terms. I don’t think that you are actually trying to have a conversation about any specific idea of Marx’s. Without specifics there can be no conversation.

      4. There is no clear line of argument being established here. You are not replying to specific criticisms and you fail to make specific criticisms. Rather vague generalities are being thrown up. When one approach seems to fail another is thrown up irresponsibly without any need to relate to what has already been said. You are not holding yourself accountable for your own statements.

      [Finally, just for clarity…. ‘paragraph 6’ of my last comment was part of point 5: I am arguing that these sort of theoretical discussions are extremely relevant for our vision of a communist society and how to get there. I am not arguing for the existence of money in a communist society. But some marxists do and their arguments are related to their understanding of crisis and other issues that I talk about in this post.]

  16. lifeisgood says:

    Wes G:

    “I thought it was quite obvious were we talking about surplus value/s in terms of profits, be it profitability in social capital, monetary capital and the many other values that can be capitalised on in the many ways it does.”- From where does this alleged surplus profit, &c surpluses arise? Recourse to production of commodities answers that. That’s what Surplus value for Marx is, which he keeps yelling about in his Volume 1, explaining how the capitalist mode is exploitative. How can you decide and assume something that hasn’t been told or spoken about during our conversation as well as in the essay above? You yourself are making assumptions based on your understanding about Marx’s economics, and expecting others to do so.

    I really find myself unable to put any more time in what you’re writing here. You’re very much baffled as to what’s the point of debate here. From defending Harvey, you’re now explaining what should be the definition of Surplus value, what are Marx’s own terms, &c.

    You’re make a very incorrect assumption that no one can explain what’re Marx’s own terms. As I said above, only Marx can explain it. His work, I repeat, explain whatever is needed to understand his works. Will you now say that even Marx can’t explain his own terms? Also, stop trying to bring the time-space temporariness of various writers including Marx. He was very clear on this when he & Engels went on to develop dialectical materialism. Their ideas are specific, only valid till the Capitalist mode prevails.

    “You make an awful assumption that im not well read in Marx or that im getting ‘bad’ information or not understanding what i have read myself.”- No. I make no such assumption. If that were the case, i won’t be putting in time here! I questioned your understanding about “Surplus value”- which you prove correct by your first few lines of latest comment.

    “This is your error, its your assumption based on what you define as ‘Marx’s own terms’ “- Where did I “defined” Marx’s own terms? The entire point of this essay above and my conversation with you is to take recourse to Marx to understand his own terms. How much time should I speak the same things so as to make you understand a simple fact, which the left must recognize now at least.

    “surely none of us can claim to put Marx on his own terms”- And where did anyone, including me claimed so? I and this essay[according to me] is yelling loudly at around 100+ decibles to let Marx explain himself, rather than relying on ‘Harveys’ & other Marxist writers of 1970s. Marx CAN be understood on his own terms, only if we rely on his works, or at the most some of Engel’s works too.

    “he was just a random person, born in a random time with its unique random conditions,we can only guess at the best.”- That’s the primary problem with allegedly Marxist, leftist, &c. people who think that Marx cannot be understood on his own terms, and thus keep on making feeble attempts at correcting, reformulating & rejigging Marx’s theories.

    “took from it what i saw necessary to the world as i see it”- There are truths- objective truths of every mode of production, these truths,or laws if you want to call it so, keep changing with differing modes of production. These objective, historically specific laws are what am stressing on, which can be understood only by recourse to the father of Marxism- Marx. Its not about your subjective understanding of World, but about searching the objective truths of every mode of living[shaped primarily by the economic life]. Marx does it lucidly for the next generation. Sadly then, except a few scholars- Rubin for eg., there has only been “Do it My own way” era- as Brendan calls it. Hence, let us please keep our subjective lenses aside for some time, and make our understanding about the objective truths better, so as to equip ourselves with realistic tools to change the world.

    “am i being selective? am i ‘missing the point’?”- YES you are. And you’re missing the points I’ve pointed above. Rest, you decide what’s your choice.

    “but even i am not naive enough to rely solely on Marx, he himself had to rely on others, which is what i do”- Maybe true. But you shouldn’t compare your reliance on others with his. You rely on others to build up your understanding of world “as you see it”. Pre-defined assumptions about world always lead to incorrect visions and outlook of the world. He depended on some, to find the objective laws of motion of the capitalist mode, which in the course of his writing, he criticized- including Aristotle, Hegel & others’ ideas. If you’re assuming the social-material conditions of yours equivalent to Marx, I’d say, you’re only fooling yourselves.

    “if anything im defining Marx on his own terms.”- After this long conversation, you’re asserting that you’re defining him on his own terms. Now how do you know what his own terms are? Based on your subjective ‘outlook of the world”? Marx provides no visions of world ‘as he sees it’. He rather provides us with objective laws of the said mode, so as to build a better world, free from subjective utolpianism. Your viewpoint very much reflects the utopian socialism that Marx & Engels criticized thoroughly. Anyway, am no one to comment on how you must look at the world or not, but its more fruitful if we recognize that Marx’s entire theoretical structure is valid- logically as well as historically. Even the staunchest bourgeois critics of Marx- for eg. Bohm-Bawerk, had to concede to the concrete validity of Marx’s theoretical structure, thus leaving the only option of attacking his initial assumption. That’s where the need to put the garbage of 70s[and others] and after arises.

    “I liked how Castells played on marx when he said ‘the oppressed oppressing the oppressors’, but i suppose he wasn’t defining marx on his own terms either?”- As I’ve said above, only Marx can define his own terns, and he CAN do so, given that we put aside, I repeat, Harveys and Castells.

    Lastly, I find you assuming that I believe Mr. Brendan’s “defining” Marx’s own terms. That would be a gross failure on your side to understand Marx and his works themselves. I only say, and you can find these words in my comments, that he stresses the need to return to Marx, on his own terms. It’d be absurd to claim that anyone, other than Marx ca define his own terms. And as I’ve pointed above, Marx doesn’t have some utopian, quasi-ethical “terms” based on which he explains the world “as he sees it”, but discovers the laws of motion of the said mode. These do not require some absurd ‘terms’, set in advance before the critical analysis, but need a prejudice-free, extremely realistic view of the world, as IT IS, and not as one ‘sees it’. His method is popularly called ‘Deconstruction’, a method that begins from the reality rather than some buffoonish subjective worldviews.

    Friend, now I hope Mr. Brendan & you discuss your ways out, if that’s desirable on both sides. I’ve already put enough time in here. If you wish to contact me now, I’ve shared my mail id above in my last reply. Regards.

  17. Way out of what? Lets just say all the mentioned theorems are wrong, that the motion in the flows are archaic depending on ones standpoint be ideologically or spatio-temporally. The more you focus on the small details the more complex they will become, they will get lost in a quantum world of never ending dialectics, lost in that mosaic of translations, interpretations and numbers.

    I fully understand why Marx had to go down that path, his TIME was somewhat different to ours, to speak out against the system in the free manner we take for granted was unheard of then, and those that did were – well you already know.

    And i still stand by my remarks, even if you cherry picked them to deface my comments. Says more about you than i.

    Good day. (no yar this time)

  18. lifeisgood says:

    Wes G:

    I do not know toward whom your latest comment was directed to. Assuming it was toward me, thus you choose ignoring Mr. Brendan’s reply that shows your absolute confusion, am replying briefly. This shall be my last comment on this topic.

    “Lets just say all the mentioned theorems are wrong, that the motion in the flows are archaic depending on ones standpoint be ideologically or spatio-temporally.”- No they’re not. Merely by asserting something you do not prove it. Why do you keep doing the same old thing. You do not provide even a single defense of your assertions except that you stand by them! That’s not the way you approach a conversation & defend someone[D. Harvey here].

    There are NO theorems, please stop using mainstream language. These are objective laws, specific to a particular mode of production. That mode of production has exemplified today, will you now say that we do not live under Capitalist production? Why are you unnecessarily debating when you do not have anything to offer other than such vague assertions? And where’s Mr. Harvey’s defense gone?

    How can these objective laws be “archaic” when we still live under the particular mode of production that Marx lived under? Are you going to believe the surface superficiality of mainstream belief that today’s capitalist mode if extremely different than before? If so, then you’re only fooling yourselves & others.

    “depending on ones standpoint be ideologically or spatio-temporally”- Again the same old repetitive ad-absurdum. Marx’s works & his critique of contemporary mode of living establishes concretely, the specific “objective” laws of motion, denying them is denying that there’s capitalism at all! I believe you wouldn’t indulge in that now. I’ve repeated this several times, he doesn’t provide any worldview from his “ideologies, &c.” but discovers specific laws, specific to the mode of production that we live under today. Till this mode remains, these laws remain concrete & valid. The only way to make them archaic is to remove from roots the capitalist mode.

    I won’t be putting in any more time in this. Kindly contact me on my mail id if needed. Regards.

  19. Deleting comments now…

    What ever next? rubbishing all criticism with claptrap and academic wank? Doh, you tried that already.

    You academic wannabe types with your stubborn egotistical ways,and self appointed authority, you make me laugh 😀

    Good luck with your irrelevant critique of Harvey, your going to need all the luck you can muster me thinks.

    Marx in his own terms, that one still makes me chuckle 😀 , you guys should do stand-up.

    • Wes,
      You have obviously lost your cool in this discussion and ceased to be able to think objectively about your position. I have already laid out what I find trollish about your comments. I will continue to delete them until you can actually engage with specifics and stop dealing in vague generalizations, personal attacks, and evasion. All opinions are welcome here as long as they are in the spirit of constructive dialogue and don’t degenerate into this sort of juvenile name-calling. I am far too busy to waste my time with that.

      Thank you,

      • Hi bredan

        I fully admitted that some of what id wrote was ‘trollesque’ And YES i have my back up a little, and rightly so, this is the WWW not your house/home, when you upload material to the world wide web you offer it up for criticism, cynicism and diatribe , even if you dont like it.

        You critique of Harvey is unfounded, the theorem you suggested to me is nothing more than numbers, just numbers. Society cannot be a numerical certainty nor can its sub systems.

        As Marx said “Society is no solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing”

        And if i see anything that suggests it is otherwise i tend to hit it for six. Call me petty if you like, we all have our quirks.

        Now if you can show me one economic theory that allows for that change i might be persuaded to inject that knowledge into my thinking and into my replies (though if its from an economist i very much doubt it can be trusted), we both know that this is impossible due to the infinite and somewhat quantum nature of humanity.

        This is one of the realities we face in the 21st century, we have come to realise that humanity and the society its creates is an ‘dynamic open system’ , the dynamism of capitalism proves this fluidity, it also proves the inability of its own being in that process. i linked to a quote from the previous bush government showing exactly where we stand to the ever changing set of mediated realities we face. the right wing capitalists have made vast gains toward imposing a set of closed system principles upon the globe and its economy, personally i feel to criticize Harvey in this time is irresponsible, yes, critique it if you genuinely disagree with his assertions.

        But, if his assertions were made in error due to the manipulative theories and knowledges presented since the 70’s onward to muddy the debate, which is what i think has happened here, then he should be told to his face. If he respond to your criticisms what do you think he would say? i think he would agree with you to some extent then remind you of the things i have said.

        What i wouldn’t want to happen is the public debates that take place between thinkers in literature, such debate like the one between Giddens and Beck ie structuration and risk , where the focus was to monopolise the debate in order to bring attention to themselves, and sell books,and dictate the flow of society in effect, well the rest im sure your well aware of if your a follower of such things. Basically people writing for the sake of writing , attention seeking really.

        I had a tutor like you once, he claimed all the authority with his terminology and assumed importance. He would say things like “its all far to general” and “you must try to be finer in your explanations”. i passed that year despite me being so wrong all the time.

        Id be happy to proof read or comment on a critique that doesn’t lean on economic claptrap to justify its position, hit me up on the twatter if you decide to do one.

      • “this is the WWW not your house/home, when you upload material to the world wide web you offer it up for criticism, cynicism and diatribe , even if you dont like it.”
        This is my blog and I get to decide what level of discussion happens here. I am interested in furthering the discussion of Marx, not devolving into mud-slinging and people talking past each other.

        “You critique of Harvey is unfounded, the theorem you suggested to me is nothing more than numbers, just numbers. Society cannot be a numerical certainty nor can its sub systems.”
        After dozens of comments like this, completely vague, you have not given one single defense of Harvey in response to the very detailed and specific criticism in my post. Until this happens there is no basis for discussion. I can’t respond do a comment like “your critique is unfounded because it uses numbers. Society is more than numbers.” Because this is so vague and general that it could means many different things or nothing at all. I have no idea what you mean by this. It seems more like a way to end a discussion then actually begin one.

        “personally i feel to criticize Harvey in this time is irresponsible, yes, critique it if you genuinely disagree with his assertions.” Well, I disagree with Harvey’s crisis theory and I am critiquing him. You seem to have a problem with this but you can’t substantiate your reason with any argument.

        “But, if his assertions were made in error due to the manipulative theories and knowledges presented since the 70′s onward to muddy the debate, which is what i think has happened here, then he should be told to his face. If he respond to your criticisms what do you think he would say? i think he would agree with you to some extent then remind you of the things i have said.”

        Well, Harvey was supposed to actually be on a panel with me a couple years ago but he backed out. He was also invited to the panel at the Left Forum where I gave this paper but he declined to come. So I do not know what he would say. I don’t think he would respond with any of the things you have said because you have not actually made any coherent argument. But, unlike you, he would probably respond to the details of my paper by discussing the plurality of limits capital faces in its cycle, and filling in the gaps in his argument with lots of descriptive detail as is his style.

        “…where the focus was to monopolise the debate in order to bring attention to themselves, and sell books,and dictate the flow of society …Basically people writing for the sake of writing , attention seeking really.” So when Harvey revises Marx and sells lots of books with his theory that is ok, but when I (a non-academic who writes this blog purely out of a love of the material, who has no books to sell or any reputation to further) critique him in my tiny obscure corner of the internet this is self-promotion for its own sake? What am I promoting? What am I gaining?

        “Id be happy to proof read or comment on a critique that doesn’t lean on economic claptrap” What, pray-tell, is this claptrap you speak of?

        “I had a tutor like you once”…. wow, why I am I still talking to an admitted troll who continues personally attack me because he can’t actually defend Harvey from any of my critiques? I need to stop engaging with you. You have sucked me into your troll-web too many times now. I should know better. You are wasting my time. Goodbye.

      • lifeisgood says:

        Dear Brendan, this commentator[Wes G] is merely engaging into ad-hominems. He’s unable to make any argument against your views. Don’t waste your time with him! Rather, continue drafting your videos. There are a whole lot of people who rely on your blog to understand Marx’s works in the most original manner possible.

        This reminds me of an article of yours where its pointed out that Internet hasn’t made us more contextual but rather mere information searchers, always wanting everything at fingertips. Such conversational events testify those words.

        Suggestions: Allow me to make three suggestions-

        1). If you could include ‘pdf’ or ‘mobi’ or both format-files of your essays[posts] along with the posts, that would be splendid.

        2). If you could ever write an article explaining the ‘Theory of State’ as per Marx’s views, that would be very nice.

        3). If you could ever write an article on ‘different types’ of Communism, i.e. varied visions of Communism that currently exist, that too would be very nice!

        Regards & Cheers.
        Keep Blogging!

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