Academic journal article Capital & Class

Acorns and Fruit: From Totalization to Periodization in the Critique of Capitalism

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Acorns and Fruit: From Totalization to Periodization in the Critique of Capitalism

Article excerpt

Introduction

One of the essential legacies of state debate in Capital & Class has been a questioning of the separation and constitution of the 'economic' and the 'political' in capitalism. A series of political interventions within working groups of the Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE) in the 1970s subsequently came to shape state debate in and beyond Capital & Class, by 'asking what it is about the relations of production under capitalism that makes them assume separate economic and political forms' (Holloway and Picciotto, 1977: 78). In analysing the capitalist state, the basic arguments concentrated on theoretically and practically relating conditions of 'crisis', not as a consequence of an 'economic crisis' accompanied by a 'political crisis' in an exterior relationship, but rather as a crisis in and of the capital relation. Hence, it refers to 'a crisis of an historically specific form of class domination, a crisis of accumulation which involves the totality of capitalist social relations and therefore a struggle waged on every front and every mechanism, economic, political, ideological etc.' Overall, then, 'the development of the state must ... be seen as a particular form of manifestation of the crisis of the capital relation' (Holloway and Picciotto, 1977: 77, 79).

The contributions that came to comprise the approach of Open Marxism became distinctive in tackling the crisis tendencies of capitalism through an analysis of the state understood as a phenomenal form of the capital relation. It is striking that since these originative interventions at a time of capitalist crisis, in the 1970s, and up to the contemporary juncture of renewed crisis in the reproduction of capitalism in the 2010s, engagement with the wide and diverse contributions of Open Marxism has been wanting. (1) This is no more evident than across the contours of 'critical' international political economy (IPE)--especially constructivist and post-structuralist strands where so much attention is granted to the sources of 'economic crises', the role of 'endogenous' and 'exogenous' shocks to economic order, or conjunctural 'ideational' and 'material' factors in constituting the political economy of crisis, without so much as a sustained engagement with Marxist state debate. The charge of 'dogmatic pluralism' sticks to much IPE academic scholarship that excludes Marxism through a strategic non-engagement whilst, often, continuing to work within the reified forms of capitalism (Lacher, 2006: 107).

In contrast, direct engagements with Open Marxism on the question of radically rethinking state theory and capitalist development have mainly emerged in IPE from competing historical materialist approaches (see Bruff, 200%; Bider and Morton, 2003; Lacher, 2006: 53-8). One of the central charges against Open Marxism, despite its positive contributions, has been that 'there is a clear ambition to project a "totalising" theory, rooted in central organising principles, capable of accounting for the myriad contradictory forms of relations between capital, the state, and labour' (Bider and Morton, 2003: 473). This avenue has been pursued more stridently and recently through an examination of the foundations of Open Marxism: its totalizing ontology grounded in the capital relation. According to Ian Bruff (2009a: 333-4), 'for Open Marxism the assumption is that capitalist social relations are the singular constitutive source of human activity; all other social relations are merely expressions, in a different form, of this fundamental aspect of human social practice'. In a rejoinder, Werner Bonefeld (2009a) has charged that at the heart of the critiques of Open Marxism is a transhistorical conception of production. Specifically, he claims that there is a positivist regard to the analysis of capitalism within such critiques, which is attached to a transhistorical view of 'laws' of history. Citing Antonio Gramsci to enforce his point, Bonefeld states (2009a: 357):

Every 'acorn' wants to become an oak. …

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