Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Survival of Non-Capitalism

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Survival of Non-Capitalism

Article excerpt


This article explores the importance of non-capitalist space within the global political economy. The issue of how to categorise and understand space in so-called peripheral regions such as Latin America has been a contentious one. Whilst many radical analyses have focused on the dynamics of capitalism in relation to the geography of development, explaining how it has been able to survive and grow, this article makes the case for a more multi-linear theoretical framework with which to view the socio-economic landscape. This is inspired not only by the later writings of Marx but also the specific Marxian class analysis of those involved in Rethinking Marxism. Via a focus on Oaxaca in southern Mexico, this article highlights both the survival and the recreation of spaces of non-capitalism, and provides an argument for why we should consider these to be important for transformative action more broadly, whilst also discussing their potential limitations.


Capitalism, Mexico, Oaxaca, class, resistance, land


In his 1976 text The Survival of Capitalism, Lefebvre grappled with the problem of how, in spite of its internal contradictions, capitalism had managed to survive and prosper. The solution to this conundrum, he reasoned, was due to the ability of capitalism to occupy, produce, and transform space. It was this feature, as Marx and Engels (2000: 248) had previously recognised, that made capitalism such a revolutionary mode of production, and it was this same feature that continued to ensure capitalism's reproduction via its drive to expand. The corollary of this was that pre-capitalist spaces and social practices were (and are) constantly being displaced. Capitalism is, after all, a system that aims at the totalisation of its social relations (Lacher, 2006: 103-104). In other words, it seeks the conquering of pre-capitalist/non-capitalist space.

Marx (1974b: 879-880) identified the hallmarks of capitalism as: generalised commodity production by 'formally free' wage labourers, surplus value as the 'aim and determining motive of production' and lastly competition between individual capitals leading to a continual investment in the means of production, in order to expand profit. For many scholars, the key starting point of social analysis in our contemporary period has to be capitalism, and an understanding of its structural dynamics and contradictions (see inter alia Harvey, 2006; Smith, 2008; Robinson, 2004; Wood, 1995). The reason for this is the dominance of this mode of production within the global political economy. This is even more pertinent with regards to understanding agricultural societies. As Henry Bernstein (2010: 1-2) has argued, we cannot understand agrarian change in the modern world, including issues of food production, inequality, or job insecurity, without an analysis of capitalism. However, an alternative viewpoint argues that focusing our attention mainly on the dynamics of capitalism--what is termed 'capitalocentrism'--can become a highly disempowering political project (Gibson-Graham, 2006a, 2006b).

This article follows the difficult path of trying to draw insights from both theoretical positions. Nevertheless, in doing so, the primary focus is on non-capitalist spaces within the global political economy, with a particular empirical focus on Oaxaca in southern Mexico (where fieldwork was carried out in 2008, 2009 and 2015). Rather than examining how it has been that capitalism has managed to survive, grow and prosper, the article explores how non-capitalist spaces remain and why they should be considered important for transformative activity. The contention will be that the survival and reinvention of non-capitalist social practices and spaces have created a barrier to the further expansion of capital, and are now providing inspiration for alternative developmental trajectories. This has presaged intensified forms of social conflict between the state and indigenous peoples (Hesketh, 2013). …

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