Capitalism and the Dialectic: The Uno-Sekine Approach to Marxian Political Economy

By Kerrigan, Dylan | Capital & Class, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Capitalism and the Dialectic: The Uno-Sekine Approach to Marxian Political Economy


Kerrigan, Dylan, Capital & Class


John R. Bell Capitalism and the Dialectic: The Uno-Sekine Approach to Marxian Political Economy, Pluto Press: London, 2009; 256 pp.: 9780745329338 £25 (hbk)

In this rigorous study of the dialectic of capital, author John Bell uses the insights of the late Japanese economist Kozo Uno and his colleague Thomas Sekine to provide conceptual tools that improve Marxist conomy for an English speaking audience. Over nine chapters, Bell connects the genuine capitalism that Marx theorised to today's situation of 'Capitalists beyond capitalism'. He does this through the theoretical insights and corrections to value theory of Uno, who viewed Marx's three volumes of Capital as incomplete, and an unfinished exploration of the inner logic of capitalism. Building on Marx's foundations, Uno worked to better understand capital's logic by revising the dialectical theory of pure capitalism. Bell reconstructs this abstract conceptual theory of a pure capitalist society, offering the British liberal capitalism of the period 1820-1870 as the closest history has come to producing such a society.

The text walks the reader through Uno's 'levels of analysis' approach, and improves our understanding of what capitalism is and whether or not a stage of capitalism still prevails today, or whether capitalism's logic has been undermined in an 'ex-capitalist transition'. Passing through each stage of capitalism's development, Bell's dialectic of capital carries the reader through three doctrines. In the doctrine of circulation, during the time of mercantilism, commodity, money, value and capital forms emerge. In the doctrine of production, during the era of liberalism, the wealth accumulated in the sphere of circulation is poured into the production process of capital and the circulation process of capital becomes self-mediating (the reproduction process of capital). During the doctrine of distribution in the time of imperialism, which begins in the late-19th century, profit, rent and interest become reified and converted into a commodity. In this last doctrine, capital has become self-perpetuating and self-augmenting. It now distances itself from the production of use value because capital becomes a commodity that inherently bears interest and is always circulating. This final stage reveals the inner logic of capital, and demystifies the production of surplus value today. This is Bell's 'disintegration of capitalism'. The production of surplus value is decoupled from use value, labour and other commodities. This process is most clearly illustrated in today's massively leveraged finance capitalism, with its mechanisms of wealth creation such as derivatives, currency speculation and credit default swaps that are detached from any relation to use value.

To improve the authority of his dialectical analysis, Bell takes seriously Uno's analysis that Marx's dialectic did not parallel Hegelian logic closely enough. Adhering to this Unoist insight, Bell returns to Hegel's Science of Logic to more fully conceive the laws and operation of capitalism. Each doctrine, for example, corresponds to equivalents in Hegel's Logic such as being, essence and concept. This closer correspondence to Hegel's structure continues throughout the text and improves the reader's comprehension of the motion of the dialectic. For readers, the inner logic of capitalism driving the historical reproduction and viability of capitalist society now becomes analogous to its software or programme.

Uno's 'levels of analysis approach' refreshes Marx's original text as well as further clarifying its focus, and lays the groundwork for the final two chapters of Bell's book, at which point the author does a good job of making what was a fairly demanding read far more accessible. First, the text employs the stages theory of capitalism's historical development to demonstrate the economic policies that allowed capital to manage its production and reproduction of use values so successfully across different epochs.

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