Academic journal article Capital & Class

Capitalism, Mutual Aid, and Material Life: Understanding Exilic Spaces

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Capitalism, Mutual Aid, and Material Life: Understanding Exilic Spaces

Article excerpt

I would argue that a third sector should be added to the pre-industrial model--that lowest stratum of the non-economy, the soil into which capitalism thrusts its roots but which it can never really penetrate. This lowest layer remains an enormous one. Above it, comes the favoured terrain of the market economy, with its many horizontal communications between the different markets: here a degree of automatic coordination usually links supply, demand and prices. Then alongside, or rather above this layer, comes the zone of the anti-market, where the great predators roam and the law of the jungle operates. This--today as in the past, before and after the industrial revolution--is the real home of capitalism. (Braudel 1982: 229-230)


The new wave of anarchist history (Scott 2009) and anthropology (Graeber 2001) attests to the relationship between anarchist and Marxist scholarship. They differ mainly in emphasis: anarchists tend to emphasise cooperation, while Marxists have traditionally focused on exploitation and domination. The most recent anarchist scholarship analyses non-state spaces and practices that stand outside the logic of state and market, while Marxist analyses are still dominated by processes of accumulation and the capital relation. The aim of this brief intervention is to suggest that both approaches are needed. This essay is primarily a call for research and theorisation, rather than a fully developed argument. It is an invitation for further reflection on the nature of anarchist and Marxist scholarship. (1)

Our proposal is simple. One way to bring together the analytical strengths of anarchist and Marxist approaches is to focus on recent scholarship on non-state spaces, which we chose to call exilic spaces, and on their relationships to capitalism. Exilic spaces can be defined as those areas of social and economic life in which people attempt to escape from capitalist relations and processes, whether territorially or by attempting to build structures and practices that are autonomous of capitalist accumulation and social control. Our guides in this effort include Peter Kropotkin, the historian Fernand Braudel, the sociologists Karl Polanyi and Terence Hopkins, and the economist Albert Hirschman.


To analyse the historical development of world capitalism, we may follow a well-worn path. Marx is still unsurpassed in laying out the processes of accumulation, the hidden abode of labour, class struggle and the inherent tendencies of crisis and recovery within capitalism. Joseph Schumpeter, Alfred Chandler and others explain processes whereby innovations in the technique and organisation of large corporate capitalism drive outward shifts of productivity and periodic contractions. Analyses of world capitalism, from Luxemburg and Lenin to Baran and Sweezy and then to world-systems analysis, emphasise how the behaviour of giant monopolies and associated states produces an unevenly developed world economy, including subjugated zones that are not dominated by proletarian commodity production. These explain Braudel's second and third sectors (above) pretty well.

Yet Marx cannot help much in understanding cooperation and self-organisation from below, either by escape from capitalism or within its interstices. Recovering this 'waste of experience' requires a sociology of absences; that is, research into actually existing social practices and institutions that have been made non-existent and treated as unbelievable alternatives to the status quo. Real historical and contemporary existences are made absent by being labeled ignorant, backward, inferior, local, and unproductive. Then, a sociology of emergences constructs concrete, utopian and realist possible futures. The two sociologies are linked by de Sousa Santos: 'Whereas the sociology of absences amplifies the present by adding to the existing reality what was subtracted from it ... the sociology of emergences enlarges the present by adding to the existing reality the possibilities and future expectations it contains' (2012: 57). …

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