Academic journal article Capital & Class

Revisiting the Regulation Approach: Critical Reflections on the Contradictions, Dilemmas, Fixes and Crisis Dynamics of Growth Regimes

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Revisiting the Regulation Approach: Critical Reflections on the Contradictions, Dilemmas, Fixes and Crisis Dynamics of Growth Regimes

Article excerpt


The basic features of the capitalist mode of production (CMP) and its nature as a distinctive ensemble of objects of regulation/governance are such that neither capital as a whole nor the capital-labour relation on which its contradictory and conflictual dynamic depends can be reproduced purely through market relations (Box 1). What most distinguishes capitalism from other forms of producing wealth is its treatment of labour-power as if it were a commodity. In short, the appropriation of surplus labour takes the form of exchange. This turns the labour market and labour process into sites of class struggle between capital and workers. This economic class struggle is overdetermined, of course, by juridico-political and ideological structures and struggles, the complexity of class relations in actually existing social formations, and the intersection of class with other social categories. Class struggle and competition are significant sources of capitalism's open-ended dynamic, and underpin the differential accumulation that reflects the ability of some capitals to grow through market and non-market means faster than others (or at least to suffer less in cyclical downturns and/or in periods of crisis). While the generalisation of the commodity form to labour-power is peculiar to capitalism, there are three other key categories of fictitious commodity: land (or nature); money; and knowledge, with corresponding forms of revenue (rent, interest, royalties) (on degrees and forms of commodification, see Jessop 2007). The relative weight of these fictitious commodities is one way (among others) to distinguish different stages of capitalism, different regimes of accumulation, and different modes of competition within the overall framework of the world market, which is the ultimate horizon of differential accumulation. Thus one might compare rentier extractive economies, regimes based mainly on absolute surplus-value, finance-led economies, and knowledge-based economies.

Capital as an object of regulation

No accumulation regime or strategy, on whatever scale (or scales) it is identified, can be completely coherent or fully institutionalised. This arises because of three key aspects of the capital relation:

* The incompleteness of capital as a purely economic (or profit-oriented, market-mediated) relation such that its continued reproduction depends, in an unstable and contradictory way, on various and changing extra-economic mechanisms whose presence cannot be guaranteed;

* The interrelated structural contradictions and strategic dilemmas of the capital relation. The resolution of some may exacerbate others, or at least require hard-to-achieve complementary solutions, the combination of which depends on different accumulation regimes, modes of regulation, and conjunctures; and

* Conflicts over the regularisation and/or governance of these contradictions and dilemmas as expressed in the circuit of capital and the wider social formation.

The first feature is addressed briefly above and included in the commonalities of capitalism depicted in Box 1, and should be familiar to readers of this journal. Accordingly, while not wishing to underplay the significance of this first feature, I will focus in this article on the second and third features.

Box 1. Some commonalities of capitalism

1. Wealth appears as an immense accumulation of commodities.

2. The commodity form is generalised to labour-power, which is
treated as if it were a commodity, although, like land, money, and
knowledge, it is in fact a fictitious commodity.

3. The duality of labour-power as concrete labour and abstract
labour time.

4. A specific political economy of time that continually rebases
abstract time, creating a treadmill of different forms of
competition, which tend to subsume more and more forms of social

5. The commodity and other forms of the capital relation involve
specific expressions of the core contradiction--hence, one or more
linked dilemmas between their use-value and value [or
exchange-value] aspects. … 
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