Advanced Introduction to Marxism and Human Geography 1789909465, 9781789909463

The Advanced Introduction to Marxism and Human Geography explores the fundamental aspects of Marx‘s conceptualization of

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Advanced Introduction to Marxism and Human Geography
 1789909465, 9781789909463

Table of contents :
Part I: Foundations
1 From historical materialism to historical geographical materialism
2 Marx and capital: an overview
3 Marx’s theory of value
4 Surplus value
5 The capital accumulation process
6 Capital’s development
7 ‘The factor(s) of cohesion’: ideology and state under capitalism
Part II: Geography and marxism
8 The urbanization of capital and struggles around the capitalist city
9 Marxism, nature and human geography
10 Capitalist geography and difference
11 Geographies of uneven development
12 The geopolitics of capitalism

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Advanced Introduction to Marxism and Human Geography

Elgar Advanced Introductions are stimulating and thoughtful introductions to major fields in the social sciences, business and law, expertly written by the world’s leading scholars. Designed to be accessible yet rigorous, they offer concise and lucid surveys of the substantive and policy issues associated with discrete subject areas. The aims of the series are two-fold: to pinpoint essential principles of a particular field, and to offer insights that stimulate critical thinking. By distilling the vast and often technical corpus of information on the subject into a concise and meaningful form, the books serve as accessible introductions for undergraduate and graduate students coming to the subject for the first time. Importantly, they also develop well-informed, nuanced critiques of the field that will challenge and extend the understanding of advanced students, scholars and policy-makers. For a full list of titles in the series please see the back of the book. Recent titles in the series include: Cities Peter J. Taylor Law and Entrepreneurship Shubha Ghosh Mobilities Mimi Sheller Technology Policy Albert N. Link and James Cunningham Urban Transport Planning Kevin J. Krizek and David A. King Legal Reasoning Larry Alexander and Emily Sherwin

Sustainable Competitive Advantage in Sales Lawrence B. Chonko Law and Development Second Edition Mariana Mota Prado and Michael J. Trebilcock Law and Renewable Energy Joel B. Eisen Experience Economy Jon Sundbo Marxism and Human Geography Kevin R. Cox

Advanced Introduction to

Marxism and Human Geography KEVIN R. COX

Emeritus Distinguished University Professor, Department of Geography, The Ohio State University, USA

Elgar Advanced Introductions

Cheltenham, UK • Northampton, MA, USA

© Kevin R. Cox 2021

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Published by Edward Elgar Publishing Limited The Lypiatts 15 Lansdown Road Cheltenham Glos GL50 2JA UK Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc. William Pratt House 9 Dewey Court Northampton Massachusetts 01060 USA

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Control Number: 2021938663


ISBN 978 1 78990 946 3 (cased) ISBN 978 1 78990 948 7 (paperback) ISBN 978 1 78990 947 0 (eBook)


Prefaceviii PART I



From historical materialism to historical geographical materialism Historical and materialist Historical and geographical materialism


Marx and capital: an overview 12 The commodity 12 Values14 Surplus value 15 Accumulation18


Marx’s theory of value 21 Introduction21 Mainstream concepts of value 21 Marx’s concept of value introduced 22 The tendential nature of the law of value 25


Surplus value The origin of surplus value Absolute surplus value Relative surplus value The distribution of surplus value The value of labor power 

2 3 9

28 28 30 30 33 34 v




The capital accumulation process Capital accumulation as expanded reproduction Accumulation and social reproduction The changing historical forms of accumulation Accumulation fund, consumption fund and the industrial reserve army of labor The overaccumulation of capital

39 39 40 42


Capital’s development Capital’s functional division of labor The socialization of production The increase in the ratio of fixed to circulating capital The ‘three-sector’ model New technologies and new products

47 49 50 52 53 55


‘The factor(s) of cohesion’: ideology and state under capitalism 58 Context58 59 Capitalist ideology The capitalist state 64


43 44



The urbanization of capital and struggles around the capitalist city 73 Urbanization and the socialization of production 73 The urban question? Or a class question? 74 Class contradiction in the living place 75 Transformations78 81 Ideological responses The state 83


Marxism, nature and human geography 85 Context85 86 The fetishization of nature Ecological Marxism 90




Capitalist geography and difference 94 Context94 ‘Difference’ in a capitalist society 95 Geographies of emancipation 99 ‘Difference’ for ever? 102


Geographies of uneven development 104 Introduction104 105 Spatial divisions of labor Two forms of uneven development 110 Countries114 Globalization117


The geopolitics of capitalism 121 Context121 122 The geopolitics of capital as a territorial politics From a geopolitics of class to a geopolitics of territory 130

Afterword135 Bibliography137 Index144


This book is, as the series title says, an advanced introduction. ‘Introductory,’ in the sense that it can be read by anyone without prior knowledge of Marx; ‘advanced,’ in that it requires a willingness to think through concepts and their interrelations. The hope is that as a result of reading this book, the reader will have a good sense, not just of the fundamental principles of Marxism, at least in its classical form, but also of how human geography can be read from that standpoint, and some of the crucial issues around which future research can pivot. It is the unintended fruit of years of teaching the material to graduate classes in geography, but ones that attracted students from other of the social sciences and from history. My understandings have been sharpened by bringing Marx into a relation with critical realism, and also the spatial-quantitative geography that in part provoked the subsequent interest in geography in Marxism, though that background will not be obvious. As an introduction it necessarily falls far short of the comprehensive treatment that David Harvey gave to Marx and geography in his magisterial Limits to Capital. But, like Harvey, I have found it necessary to divide the book into two parts. Human geography requires social theory. That means that before bringing human geography into the picture, it is vital to have a more abstract sense of the social logics in question. This has been the purpose of the first seven chapters, and they have a continuity to them. The second half, which takes up central themes in Marxist geography, consists of chapters that are more stand-alone in character, though links will obviously become apparent. In any discussion of Marx and geography, one name looms large. David Harvey’s contribution has been sine qua non. He is not only a geographer; he is presently and widely regarded as the most celebrated Marxist theoviii



rist in the world. His influence will be clear throughout this book. Words cannot express my gratitude for his pathbreaking work and insights. There are others whose work has been important. Dick Peet, alongside his own contributions to the literature, has been tireless in making sure that Marxist geography had a publication outlet, first in Antipode, and then more recently in Human Geography. I should also like to give special recognition to the work of Ray Hudson, Erik Swyngedouw, Dick Walker, Michael Watts and Michael Webber. Their work has been of inestimable value to my own thinking.

PART I Foundations


From historical materialism to historical geographical materialism

Marx is most celebrated for his work on capitalism and his theorizing of its dynamics: most notably through the three volumes of Capital. This was, though, part of a broader investigation which helps in making sense of that master work: what is known as historical materialism. This is indeed ‘historical’ in that it provides the tools for an interpretation of history. And it is materialist. This latter, because Marx assigns causal primacy to people’s relation with nature: a relation of production, involving the mobilization of materials and forces that are natural in their origin, including the ability of people to labor. Emphatically, though, it is a production that is socially mediated, that occurs under definite social conditions. It is in this context that, Marx urges us, we can, and should, understand the form of the state, dominant forms of consciousness, family structures and other aspects of social relations and not just the obvious direct social mediation provided by various forms of property relation and the division of labor, important as they are. It is this belief in the primacy of production, even while socially mediated, that has led many critics to identify Marx as ‘an economic determinist’ though in so doing they reveal the inadequacies of their own understanding of Marx. Marx was neither a determinist, nor did he see the economic as having any universal relevance since only under capitalism did people differentiate in their consciousness – and as a result of the social relations characteristic of capitalism – between the economic and the political. These are not easy ideas to assimilate. Let it be said for the time being that Marx understood social life in terms of a unity; a unity between individuals and others (as in the division of labor), between the individual and nature (as in the labor process), between power and production (as in the need for leadership in any labor process, given its social character). 2



Production inevitably occurred through a division of labor and within the context of certain, historically varying property relations. It mobilized naturally occurring forces and conditions. It had to be regulated socially, as in the norms governing who did what in the division of labor. And it required beliefs handed down from one generation to the next.

Historical and materialist ‘Materialist’ Marx’s conception of the social world privileges the act of production. Production is at the center of an understanding of society in all its aspects and that means the labor process: the process through which people take naturally occurring substances and mobilize naturally occurring forces, like their own brain and muscle power or that of a running stream, to convert them into things that are deemed useful. As he and Engels claim in The German Ideology: … life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life. (1846/1978: 48)

There are two things that we should note right away here. First, production is a relation to nature, both the nature around us and our own nature. We appropriate naturally occurring substances to satisfy our needs for food, shelter and the like. In that appropriation we draw on our own naturally given capacities for developing an understanding of the world around us, for our innate ability to develop modes of communication with each other, and the articulation of mind and instrument of labor. We intervene in our own nature, developing our skills; we develop. We develop our physical capacities, our understanding of the world, and our emotional responses, even while that development can be, and so far, has been, one-sided and highly inegalitarian: an emphasis on our ability to produce rather than on our social empathies, perhaps, and always in



an uneven manner. You need money to travel and become aware of the world in all its diversity. Second, production is always social. We always produce through other people, as in a division of labor, but also through knowledge and sets of instruments of labor (machines, knives, etc.) handed on by previous generations, as well as through a set of rules governing possession of the essential physical conditions of production: objects of labor and instruments of labor, and labor power. Note, parenthetically, that both of these propositions open up prospects of converting historical materialism into historical geographical materialism: the relation to nature is an obvious one; likewise, every social relationship has a geographic expression, as in spatial divisions of labor; and the relation to nature is also a spatial one, as in the current idea of food-miles or simply the fact that space is more accurately a matter of natural obstacles to be overcome or mitigated. It is in the context of this socially mediated relation to nature that we develop other aspects of our social life: our consciousness, our needs (always social, as in diet or the automobile), our institutions, including state forms, our technologies, modes of cooperation with others (kinship? contract?) and, as we will see in more detail, our geography: the geography of capitalist societies with their industrial towns and highly specialized agricultural areas is a very different geography from that of feudal England with its fortress towns, market centers and dominantly subsistence agriculture. In order to understand what is at stake in this materialist approach to the world, some contrasts are useful: 1. Marx put production at the center of things, but he could instead have emphasized the exchange of products or their consumption. It is certainly possible to use these as the fundamental starting point of our understanding. Mainstream economics uses exchange relations as its foundational conception.1 One might emphasize consumption as the starting point: how it is what people want that determines production. Marx was aware of these possibilities, but he was emphatic that everything started and returned to production. Production depended on exchange, certainly, but it was the demands of production that determined that exchange. If production required wage labor then, indeed, there had to be a labor market. Likewise consumption should be conceived more as fashioned by production than the converse;



otherwise there would be no advertising industry or even new, speculatively conceived, products. 2. Materialist and not idealist: ideas are undoubtedly crucial to production. As Marx emphasized in Chapter 7 on the labor process in Capital Volume 1: We pre-suppose labour in a form in which it is an exclusively human characteristic. A spider conducts operations which resemble those of a weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame by the construction of its honeycomb cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labour-process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally. (1867/1976: 283–4)

Ideas, though, have to be figured out in their material relations. It is not just the material character of the human brain that makes them possible. What it applies itself to is a function of dilemmas that are thrown up by relations to the material world, most notably through production, as Marx explained in his discussion of the labor process but also, we should emphasize, through the labor process seen large: as something social, embracing the division of labor, supporting institutions and existing discourses about it. Production not only poses problems to be solved through the development of ideas; it also facilitates those ideas, perhaps unintentionally. Here we might consider the way in which the science of geology developed on the back of the industrial revolution, through the observational possibilities opened up by mining and quarrying or the simple railway cutting, as well, of course, from the demand for a knowledge of what minerals might be exploited and their geographic distribution. There is a genre of popular writing that privileges the role of ideas, but they need to be placed in a material context. 3. Production is social. As Marx points out in his Introduction to the Grundrisse: “Individuals producing in Society—hence socially determined individual production—is, of course, the point of departure” (1857/1973: 83). And: “Production by an isolated individual outside society—a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness—is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other” (1857/1973: 84). The social character of production is conceived by Marx in very broad terms. It includes the



division of labor both within workplaces and between them, the use of shared means of production, like the assembly line, property relations, the role of the state and other institutions, and the world of ideas. Historically, before capitalism, kinship relations and those of social hierarchy would have been crucial.2

‘Historical’ We are talking about historical materialism. Society has a trajectory over time. More than simply changing, society and the people comprising it ‘develop’: as alluded to earlier, they develop in their material and mental capacities. This development is premised, first and foremost, on the increasing ability, through working together, to take care of the reproduction of people: their physical and mental capabilities. Once the growth of production becomes a social imperative, it is predicated on an increasing division of labor, and development acquires a one-sided nature. A person is a good carpenter but not good at much else. Through its demands for the expenditure of ever more labor, capitalism accentuates this one-sidedness, though to the extent that workers win a shorter workday, a five-day week, and holidays, this can be ameliorated. After time spent recuperating from labor, there may be time left over for free personal development. Changes in social relations, therefore, and broadly speaking, have been crucial to liberating the development of human capacities, eliminating some of the obstacles to it, while at the same time imposing new ones. How change in those social relations came about is surrounded by controversy. Capitalism was decisive, but how did it happen? How did the social forms preceding it, which limited development, give way? One answer is that it was a matter of contingent circumstance. Capitalism as a total way of social life, starting in production, and embracing all other aspects of society, starts to emerge sometime in the fifteenth or sixteenth century in Western Europe, most notably in England and in the Low Countries. On the one hand, there was the dissolution of feudal society. Hitherto, immediate producers had enjoyed access to the land. Land was not something for sale. People’s access to means of producing their subsistence was guaranteed. There was no market in land and nor was there a market in labor: since one enjoyed access to land to produce



one’s own food, there was no need for a wage. From the fifteenth century on, that would change. Feudal lords had had a right to a portion of the peasant’s product but they now moved to overturn his hereditary rights to access to land, to expel him, and convert his land into private property. In short, a crucial condition for markets in land and labor power made its appearance. In England, land would be rented out to the better-off peasants who would then hire those who had been expelled from the land. This separation is of major significance, as we will see, but there were other, complementary, developments. To the extent that peasants retained ownership of some land they might, in an attempt to enhance their subsistence base, diversify into spinning or weaving of wool. The raw materials would be delivered on credit by someone who would later pay for the finished articles, allowing for credit advanced, and then sell the finished product. To the extent that the small household producer ran into difficulties and became indebted to the merchant, then the spinning wheels and looms could be seized: another stage in separating immediate producers from the means of production. The machinery might then land up in one of the earlier factories, bringing the dispossessed together, again courtesy of money wealth. Where that money wealth was coming from was something else again. Merchants and usurers had long existed but in Capital Volume 1, Marx argues that the expansion of trading activity from the sixteenth century on was also important: “The treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement and murder flowed back to the mother-country and were turned into capital there” (1867/1976: 918). Briefly put, immediate producers were separated from the means of production in a diversity of ways – forcible expulsion, to pay a debt – and then brought together again by those with the necessary money, including that looted from the emergent colonies. In short, a diversity of conditions just happened to come together in Western Europe at a particular time in a process that Marx called ‘primitive accumulation.’ This is one explanation for the emergence of capital and the more convincing one. The other derives from other tendencies in Marx’s thinking of a more evolutionary sort. Instead of contingency, the focus is now on the contradictions of the development process as it is has occurred over



the millennia. Most famously, in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, he wrote: In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society … At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

The emphasis is on what he called the productive forces: the skills of the worker, the division of labor, the means of production available – all that affects the ability of the worker to produce; and the relations of production, defined here as property relations. The claim is that the relations of production facilitate the development of the productive forces, but only up to a point, after which they enter into contradiction with them and become, in Marx’s famous words ‘a fetter on their further development.’ Note, though, the sense here of an impulse to development that is frustrated and which seeks out some alternative set of social relations that will allow it to be realized. This is highly controversial and certainly much harder to verify than the emphasis on contingent circumstance.3 Still, contradiction remains a very important concept in the Marxist armory. It is absolutely central to development under capitalism and it is important to understand what Marx meant by it. Abstractly, a particular force, say, the forces of production, is structured by or dependent on, a particular condition; in this instance, the relations of production. But as that force develops, so what conditions it comes to act as a brake or counter-force, and limits it. For Marx, all societies hitherto, except those of hunters and gatherers typically referred to as primitive communist societies, are class societies, characterized by an exploiting and an exploited class. Capital accumulates wealth on the basis of the exploitation of the working class. The working class resists, which acts as a brake. A case to which Marx gives particular attention is the resistance of workers to increases in the length of the working day, which then led to the imposition by the state, of limits. One result of those limits was a redoubled effort to



increase exploitation within them: so improved machinery allowing each worker to produce more, but without any increase in the wage. This might then lead to further resistance around a subsequent problem of unemployment: perhaps a drive to extend the right to vote to all those in the working class and the introduction of unemployment compensation measures; but again capital would aim to suspend those limits once more, perhaps by moving production to another country. But the point is: under capitalism the class relation is of a fundamentally contradictory sort. Capital can suspend the limits posed to it, but they will inevitably reappear. Only when this class relation is abolished, Marx believed, would those contradictions, by definition, disappear.

Historical and geographical materialism Marx’s emphasis was on the historical and the way in which the social process changed over time. Nevertheless, in expounding his analysis, and significantly, he could not avoid reference to changing geographic relations. In the last part of Capital Volume 1, on the coming into being of capital through what he called ‘So-called primitive accumulation,’ he shifts register from the more abstract materials preceding it, albeit ones illustrated by empirical cases, to a more substantively historical account where the geographic is clearly present. There is discussion of the development of the home market as production in the countryside is revolutionized, as domestic industry as an adjunct for some is destroyed, and workers are regrouped in factories producing items for an increasingly prosperous farming and landlord class. There is copious discussion of the role of the colonies and the creation of wealth to be drawn on in the home countries in bringing together the dispossessed with the means of production; but also the problems of promoting capitalist development in hitherto relatively empty countries like Australia, where there was an immense amount of land that could be farmed for subsistence purposes, and regardless of the plans of some to farm it along capitalist lines. In other words, the geographic is an essential aspect of the social process and Marx could not avoid taking it into account in his more substantive discussions. In his more theoretical work this is lacking for the most part and has been an important challenge for those who wanted to



transform historical materialism into historical geographical materialism: but not an insurmountable one, as we will see. The social process is inevitably a spatial process. When people relate to one another, as in communication, or assembling for some purpose, they do it over space: they concentrate, they disperse, and concentrate somewhere else. Or they communicate through some intermediary that in effect brings them closer: email, parcel post and so on. Movement, concentration, dispersion are unavoidable aspects of social life and concentration can assume major proportions, as in urbanization. On the other hand, the apartness that is a necessary feature of our social relations, also allows for difference in the substantive character of the social process: so both interaction over space and geographic differentiation. Partly the latter is natural, albeit always modified by people and not in predictable ways.4 To produce under certain conditions, irrigation is necessary and this can necessitate a particular regime of water rights and institutions to enforce them. Coal mining can only take place where there is coal, but its exploitation depends not just on subterranean rights but on technologies of geological assessment, pumping, the raising of considerable sums of money to sink the pit, the construction of housing for the miners in areas where there might be very little, and lots more. One effect of capitalism has been to break down reliance on what is available locally. At the most extreme way of imagining this, more locally bound, subsistence societies have given way to more stretched out relations, to trade and greater specialization by area, all with implications for the social process, how it varies across space and yet remains unified. Thus Marx and Engels in Chapter 1 of the Communist Manifesto: The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country … it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood … In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. (1848/1998: 39)

More concretely, capitalist geographies are constantly changing and, when compared with pre-capitalist ones, from what little one knows



about them, at an often dizzying speed. Capitalism revolutionizes social relations, technology, the division of labor, the relation to nature, institutions; and as it does so, so this is reflected in geography, while pre-existing geography serves to structure in its turn, these other changes. Past geographies are not wiped out. To paraphrase William Faulkner, they are never dead; they are not even past. How technologies change geography in the USA reflects much about that country’s past, while the old pattern of Roman roads, believe it or not, lives on in Britain’s capitalist geography. However, before we can come to grips with the sorts of questions that these relations raise, we need to address just what sort of a thing capitalism amounts to. We start with the following chapter.

Notes 1. This is a conception echoed in what Robert Brenner (1977) has termed ‘neo-Smithian Marxism.’ 2. As, for example, in pre-capitalist forms of production in Southern Africa; see Jeff Guy (1987). 3. For an interesting defense, see G Cohen (1978). 4. This was something Marx recognized. Thus in The German Ideology: “The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men” (Marx and Engels 1846/1978: 42).


Marx and capital: an overview

The commodity For Marx, production is a vital human activity. This means that our relation with nature is of central significance. Through production we produce ourselves and others, as in the act of reproduction. But for Marx, production is a social act: it is mediated by social relations. Only in and through our relations with others do we relate to nature productively, and appropriate from it the use values essential to our physiological reproduction. Some of these social relations are defined by the division of labor and we will discuss these later. Others, however, are relations of property: the relation of master to slave, the relation of the landlord to his/her land. It is these relations that define particular modes of production like the slave mode, feudalism and capitalism. We tend to think of property as things: yours and mine. But to assert ownership is also to appeal to the institutions, possibly expressed through the state as laws, through which ownership is validated and enforced, and the powers/responsibilities that go along with it, defined. Under capitalism the essential property relation is the commodity which, by definition, means private property. Commodities have values both in exchange and in use. An article or service could not be an exchange value if it was not also a use value for the person willing to pay for it. In capitalism, people relate to each other as guardians of their respective commodities, the use of which they can alienate to others through acts of exchange. These may be such commodities as instruments of labor, objects of labor (i.e., raw materials), or their own ability to labor: what Marx referred to as labor power, which is, emphatically not the same as labor. Capitalism 12



is the production of commodities (use values for sale) with commodities (other use values which were purchased on markets). Markets can and have existed without capitalism. Indeed, they coexisted with feudalism in medieval Europe. But to the extent that labor power has become a commodity bought and sold on markets and is the dominant form assumed by the immediate producer, then, and only then, can production be rightfully referred to as ‘capitalist.’ So in order for capitalism to exist, labor power as a commodity must exist. This is an absolutely essential precondition. In turn, the precondition for this is what Marx referred to as the ‘double freedom of labor power.’ In order for people to seek wage work, two ‘freedoms’ must be satisfied: 1. The individual must have ownership of his/her labor power: it cannot be owned by another, as in slavery; nor can others have claims on it for some part of the time as in feudalism. Under the latter, the feudal lord could call on ‘his’ serfs for compulsory labor, either on the land that he possessed, or his demesne; for public works on roads, such as they were, or bridges. The latter was known as corvée labor. But the important point is, for capitalism to emerge, the worker must be ‘free’ to alienate it to another, but only for an agreed and limited period of time; otherwise it shades over into slavery. 2. The individual must no longer enjoy rights of possession in the means of production: in objects of labor like the land, or in instruments of labor like draft animals, ploughs, seed corn, etc.; i.e., the worker must be ‘free’ of the means of production – lucky her! Only if this ‘double freedom’ of labor power exists is it possible for people with accumulations of money to purchase the means of production – since they have been separated from the workers – and to hire those thus dispossessed or already deprived of them, to work with and on those means of production. In other words, workers have been placed in a situation where they have no alternative but to go and work for the capitalist for a wage. It is, in short, through the mediation of money1 that the immediate producers are reunited with the means of production from the ownership of which they have been so thoughtfully separated. This view of the origins of labor power as a commodity is in sharp contrast with the sense of choice implied by mainstream views of labor supply: labor supply as the outcome of a tradeoff between tastes for labor and tastes for leisure. For Marx, ‘labor supply’ implied markets in labor power, and people sought



wage work because they had no other way of providing for their means of subsistence. Moreover, wage labor was an historic category, unlike the ‘tastes’ of mainstream economics: it appeared at a particular point in history as a result of historic acts, most notably ones of dispossession. The process through which workers become ‘free’ of the means of production was called by Marx primitive accumulation. The history of resistance on the part of immediate producers to this dispossession testifies to its non-voluntary nature. But eventually the old struggles fade from memory, and they even come to see their propertyless-ness as an unexceptional, normal condition, but something that they might be able to reverse through sheer dint of application: for most, a very lofty hope.

Values Commodities always have values. The concept of value, though, is highly disputed. Marx had a very clear idea of what the value of a commodity was and how it was formed. In order to appreciate the distinctiveness of his contribution we have to introduce two other concepts of value: use value and exchange value. Commodities always have values in use. These values are qualitative in character, rather than quantitative, and derive from an object’s physical properties. Bread has a value in use deriving from its chemical composition which, in turn, performs nutritive functions. Clothing is useful because it helps to keep us warm, though it has other use values like helping to make us attractive to the opposite sex. Every commodity that is produced has to have a value in use since otherwise no one will want to buy it, though, and importantly, the fact that it might be useful to a customer may only become apparent once they are confronted with the commodity in question; nobody thought of cell phones as something missing in their lives since they had yet to be developed. Commodities have values. These are proportional to what Marx called socially necessary labor times. An obvious example: the value of an ounce of gold is much higher than an ounce of coal since so much more (socially necessary) labor time is embodied in the ounce of gold, as in the vast



amounts of earth that have to be moved and sifted in order to retrieve the gold. The ‘socially necessary’ labor time is determined technologically. With technical revolutions in coal mining the amount of labor time embodied in the average lump of coal goes down. Those producing with outmoded technology and hence taking longer to produce it will not, therefore, be producing coal that is more valuable: it will simply be of the same value as coal produced using the latest technique: ask the underground miners of West Virginia, whose coal has to compete with the coal of Wyoming which is mined from large pits by huge mechanical excavators. Exchange values, on the other hand, are different. They are determined by fluctuations in supply and demand. If the demand for coal goes up due, perhaps, to a shortage of oil, then its exchange value will rise above its value. This will encourage capitalists to invest in more coal mines so that eventually supply will increase, exchange values will fall and so converge once more on values: i.e., on socially necessary labor times. Exchange values or prices as we conventionally call them oscillate around values. The value of a commodity is like a center of gravity for its (temporally and spatially) varying price. This center of gravity is then displaced by technological revolutions in the production of the commodity in question and the spread of the technique to most of the producers so that it becomes ‘socially average.’ This approach is to be contrasted with what prevails in mainstream economics. Although classical political economy, as in Adam Smith and Ricardo, assumed some version of the labor theory of value, neo-classical economics substituted for it a subjectivist notion: that the value of a commodity represented the evaluations of its consumers. We will return to this notion shortly once we have discussed the idea of surplus value.

Surplus value Under capitalism, labor power is a commodity. Like other commodities it is produced by the expenditure of still other human labor time and so has a value. According to Marx, the value of labor power is equivalent to the values of the commodities – means of subsistence, shelter, clothing



– necessary to its production. We will have cause to discuss some amplifications of this basic idea later on, and some omissions, but for the present purpose this will suffice. So, and to repeat, labor power has a value: there is a socially necessary labor time involved in its production. In the nineteenth century, the socially necessary labor time for the production of bread went down as the virgin lands of the New World were opened up. This was the background to the debate in Britain over abolishing the (protectionist) Corn Laws. Manufacturers believed that the import of cheaper foreign grain would allow the price of bread to be reduced and subsequently the wages that they paid to their workers. But labor power is also a unique commodity. Unlike the other commodities that enter into a product in the course of its production (metal, machines) labor power can embody more value in what it produces than it itself is worth: more value, that is, than the capitalist paid for it, assuming that commodities, including labor power, always exchange at their values. The capitalist can extend the workday long after the worker has produced value equivalent to her own wage; so the worker produces more value than what her own labor power is worth. People also become more productive. As a result of harnessing the powers of nature (falling water, the heating powers of coal, gravity as in the use of chutes in factories, the specialized skills of the worker, the division of labor) socially necessary labor times fall: a worker can produce more in a given period of time than before. To the extent that this revolution in productivity affects the value of those commodities entering into the value of labor power, like food and clothing, then the value of labor power will fall. It therefore takes a shorter and shorter workday for the worker to produce value equivalent to the value of his/her own means of subsistence. Significantly, though, the workday does not end there. Rather, it is prolonged. A worker may produce value equivalent to the value of his/ her own labor power in just four hours but the length of the workday will almost certainly be longer. There is in other words a surplus value. This is the source of the capitalist’s profit. The magnitude of the surplus value relative to the value of the worker’s labor power is a measure of how much the worker is being exploited by the capitalist. In short, the fact that a worker can produce more than the value of her own labor power means that she can be exploited. Furthermore, given the desire of the money owner to cover not only her layouts for labor, raw



materials and instruments of labor but also something on which she can pay for her own living expenses, she will be exploited. However, there is also an incentive to produce a surplus or a profit that covers more than the capitalist’s own living costs, including any whims or fancies she may have. This is that major part of profit that is used to expand production as opposed to simply producing as much in the future as one produced before. In order to understand this drive we have to introduce the idea of competition. Capitalists lay out values for production: money for labor power, for objects of labor – what is being worked on in the form of raw materials, and for instruments of production, like machinery and an assembly line. The workers set the means of production in motion and commodities are produced for eventual sale. In order to start all over again, the capitalist must find a market for the products and so retrieve the values originally laid out, plus a surplus for the capitalist’s own consumption. There is, however, no guarantee of a market. Consumers may spend their money on the products of other firms since they are cheaper and/or because those other firms are producing goods that are more to their liking for various reasons. There is a good possibility, therefore, that either the products will not be sold so that the values laid out in their production will be lost; or that their prices will have to be reduced below their values. If the latter, then this may mean a loss of some profit, or even some loss of the values originally laid out. On the other hand, if the price of the commodity can be reduced, then the chance of making a sale increases. But in order to do this and at the same time retrieve the values laid out plus a surplus, costs have to be reduced. This means making workers produce more for the same wage, or the same for a lower wage. In either case, the wage worker is being squeezed. Capitalists decide what to produce without knowing what other capitalists are doing and without knowing ahead of time the precise magnitude of the market. In the context of this uncertainty, capitalists have to try to make sure that it is not their product which will fail to make a sale. There are diverse competitive strategies. In the early years of capitalism, Marx believed that capitalists had tried to reduce the risk of loss by increasing the length of the workday so that surplus value would be enhanced; if markets came up short then the capitalist had a large cushion of surplus value to be forfeited before he would have to forego the values originally laid out. Under mature capitalism, Marx empha-



sized competition through cheapening the product: through lowering the labor time socially necessary in its production. This would be done through technical innovation: equipping workers with faster machinery, and more specialized tools for particular roles in the factory’s division of labor, among other things. We should note, however, that capitalists also compete through the development of better or new products: products which, since nobody else is by definition producing them, may be able to command an exchange value above their value. So capitalism is technologically dynamic, and competition is part of the answer. But only part. As a stimulus to innovation it only makes sense if you have, as the shorthand puts it, ‘capitalist relations of production.’ This means that everything entering the labor process or process of production is bought on the market: labor power, raw materials and instruments of labor. If they are not, then the sort of cost-minimizing, technologically dynamic competition that we associated with capitalism may not occur. If instead of wage labor, commodity producers draw on their own labor power and that of their own family, then instead of technical innovation to keep their heads above water, they can always self-exploit: working longer hours, most notably. At the limit, and if a primary means of production is agricultural land, then they might decide to quit commodity production altogether and produce only for subsistence. So the sort of cost competition at the center of the dynamic of capitalist production presupposes the separation of immediate producers from the means of production and their employment for a wage; without that, the disciplines on the person producing for a market are reduced.

Accumulation What happens to surplus value? Part of it goes to landlords (rent), part to lenders (interest on loans), part to the state (taxes) and part is consumed by the capitalist. But how is it to be consumed? Personal consumption, while a temptation, is also a threat. In order to retain possession of the means of production and the privileges that go with that, capitalists have to remain effective in competition and guard against recessions in demand. This generates an interest in the appropriation of values on an increasing scale. This increased scale in turn can provide the basis



for a more effective cheapening of the product, so stealing a march on competitors. It can also provide a cushion for hard times. But in order to appropriate values on an increasing scale the surplus has to be laid out for more and more machinery, more and more labor power, and more and more raw materials: as opposed, that is, to devoting the surplus to increased consumption. In other words, the surplus has to be consumed, for the most part, productively. The subsequent increase in the values under the control of individual capitalists is known as accumulation. Capitalism is one of the modes of production identified by Marx. A mode of production is an articulated combination of relations and forces of production under the domination of the relations of production, as we saw in Chapter 1 when discussing the famous quote from the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Under capitalism the relations of production are commodity relations. For production to occur at all, the necessary preconditions must be purchased as commodities. The forces of production are the skill of the worker, the instrument of labor, the object of labor, and their configuration in the labor process as a whole, including the division of labor with other workers. All other things being equal, workers are more productive if they are more skilled and if they work with machinery that more effectively mobilizes the laws of nature, with raw materials that are more uniform in character, and in the context of a more divided division of labor, including the specialization of the machines the workers labor with. It is the relations of production under capitalism, the commodity relations into which the capitalist must repeatedly enter, which continually press him/her in the direction of developing: ever more productive configurations; ever more productive machinery and skills; discovering and exploiting objects of labor that in their form lend themselves more effectively to the action of the worker; or whose processing requires less waste,2 and so revolutionizing the forces of production. This process of capitalist development, however, is an antagonistic one. In its early phases, the ability of the capitalist to appropriate more and more surplus value depends on a lengthening of the workday; something in which the workers are unlikely to acquiesce easily. One of the major political conflicts in the early history of capitalism is that over the length of the workday. Once capitalists start revolutionizing the production process then new sources of antagonism emerge. Transformation of the labor process is in its immediate form a technical matter, which depends



on treating the worker as a replaceable object. Those with the old skills must go or be moved to new tasks within the workplace. The process of revolutionizing the labor process proceeds unevenly. Some firms are forced out of business by more progressive firms, resulting in unemployment. Alternatively, wages may have to be reduced if the firm is to stay in business. The antagonistic nature of capitalism can be understood in part by considering what it means to treat labor power as a commodity and how it differs from other commodities. Commodities like machinery and raw materials can be separated from their previous owners and be placed entirely at the disposal of the capitalist. Labor power is different. The capitalist obtains the use of that labor power for a specified period of time but it cannot be separated from its owner, the worker him/herself. When a capitalist purchases a ton of coal she knows what she is getting. When she purchases the right to use the labor power of a worker she does not. Coal will not resist the extraction of its caloric value but workers will resist the capitalist’s use of their labor power. Likewise, lumps of coal do not object to being treated as substitutable objects, nor yet do they object if they are unemployed. To treat a person as an object, which is necessary if the person’s labor power is to be treated as a commodity, is to threaten that person’s personhood. And the owners of labor power certainly object if they are unemployed.3

Notes 1. Not yet ‘money capital’ since money only becomes capital once it has increased in sum due to the extraction of surplus value that follows from the separation of the immediate producers from the means of production. 2. For example: workers attending blast furnaces will produce more pig iron per worker in a given period of time with iron ore that has higher iron content than where it has less. A more macabre example of developing the forces of production through attention to the form of the object of labor comes from the interest of meat packing firms in genetic intervention so as raise animals of a physiognomy that is as uniform as possible, which then facilitates an homogenization of the slaughter process. 3. For a good discussion of the distinctive character of labor power as a commodity, see Offe (1985: Chapter 1).


Marx’s theory of value

Introduction Marx’s theory of value is at the same time the most central, the most controversial and, in its presentation, the part of his work that people typically find most difficult to navigate. It is, however, absolutely crucial to an understanding of his arguments about class, accumulation and contradiction in capitalist societies. Some who claim the Marxist pedigree, like Wallerstein, the originator of world systems theory, believe they can do without it. Others, like Robert Brenner (1977) and his antagonist Jarius Banaji (2011),1 do without it, without making their position clear and, as a result, make themselves easy targets for critique.

Mainstream concepts of value As a starting point, consider how the concept of value is treated in mainstream versions of economics or even by many who consider themselves to be working within what they call ‘a political economy framework.’ Value here is simply exchange value: the money that some commodity exchanges for, or its price. It is no more, in other words, than what is on the label. Value in this sense has its determinants. In this regard, introductory classes in economics preach the doctrine of relative scarcity. As the relative scarcity of something increases, so its value increases; as it declines, so too does its value. Land becomes more valuable closer to the center of 21



the city because its supply is limited and the demand for it is increased. The labor of a doctor is valued more highly in terms of what she gets paid than that of a taxi cab driver since the supply of doctor skills relative to the demand for them is more limited. And so on. More than that, however, value in the sense of exchange value is what regulates the economy. So-called price signals are the determinants of resource allocations. As the demand for a commodity increases relative to its supply, so resources will shift into its production and away from the production of those where demand is decreasing relative to supply. Given the enhanced profitability resulting from increasing prices, capital will move in order to achieve a higher yield. Firms will also be willing to pay workers more money in order to produce the products that can make that increased yield to capital real. In short, exchange values are determined by the intersections of supply and demand curves and as those curves shift relative to one another, so exchange values will change precipitating reallocations of resources and helping to return those intersections to their previous positions. But the point is, the point that Marx raised: what determines those ‘previous positions’?

Marx’s concept of value introduced Instead of taking for granted the commodity form that follows from the emphasis on exchange and exchange values, Marx interrogates it. Just what is required, he asks, in order for items to be exchanged? To exchange loaves of bread for pairs of shoes? Items entering into exchange have some useful property for those who purchase them. Without that quality of usefulness they could never be commodities. But in the exchange of commodities, one use value is equated to another. In this process of equating, one abstracts from their natural properties and compares them according to something they have in common. What we think they have in common is exchange value, which in turn is a product of relative scarcity. But what determines the axis point around which exchange values fluctuate; what is it that they have in common other than exchange value and which, in turn, determines exchange values or, more accurately, their centers of gravity? That ‘something’ is that they are both products of labor. But not any kind of labor; rather, of what Marx called abstract



labor or value-producing labor. This is labor which abstracts from the concrete characteristics of different labors (e.g., baking vs. shoe making) and reduces them to what they have in common under capital: that they are the products of labor using the average techniques available in society, and hence of time-minimizing concrete labor. It is this abstraction which makes commodities qualitatively comparable (they are all products of abstract labor) and quantitatively comparable (socially necessary labor times or values) and determines exchange values or prices (the money form of values): … in the midst of the accidental and ever-fluctuating exchange relations between the products, the labor-time socially necessary to produce them asserts itself as a regulative law of nature … The determination of the magnitude of value by labor time is therefore a secret hidden under the apparent movements in the relative values of commodities. (Marx 1867/1976: 168)

We now know the substance of value; it is labor; and the measure or magnitude of value is socially necessary labor time. This applies to labor power as well as to finished products and to the machinery and raw materials employed in the labor process. Labor power is the commodity that the capitalist purchases and its value is equal to the socially necessary labor required to produce its means of subsistence,2 and this insight is basic to Marx’s theory of exploitation under capital. Value, however, is not to be confused with wealth. An increase in wealth is brought about by an increase in the quantity of use values. But if concrete labor times are being reduced, an increase in wealth can correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its value. Value does not come into the world with its origin in abstract labor stamped on it. One commodity is selected out so as to facilitate exchange: a commodity that is portable and easily divisible. This is the money commodity. Originally this would have been a precious metal, like gold or silver, its value reflecting its own substance as the product of labor working on a particular raw material and measured in terms of socially necessary labor time. For most of capitalist history, most paper monies were tied in some way to the availability of a precious metal into which they could be converted if people lost confidence in paper. The problem has been that supplies of precious metals are very limited and a failure to keep up with the demand for sufficient money as capital developed, so as to facilitate exchange of the growing torrent of commodities, was highly restrictive. Currently, monies are free from that sort of connection.3



Socially necessary labor is an abstraction that works behind the backs of those exchanging commodities. Take a particular commodity. Those firms which can produce more with less labor time, either direct labor time or the indirect labor time embodied in machines and raw materials, can sell for less than those using more, since their costs of production will be lower. Not only can they sell for less, competition means that they will be impelled to (and competition is, of course, the reason they continually try to minimize concrete labor times, either direct or indirect). To the extent that the new technique is adopted by others and becomes the average technique, or innovating firms edge out the others, so the price or value will fall. For sure, short-term changes in demand (due to the weather perhaps, as in the demand for snow shovels) or in supply (as in strikes) can shift prices around values, but as long as the average technique remains the same, so will the value. By the same token, commodities whose production using average techniques requires more labor time will have higher values: cars have higher values than bicycles and a pound of copper has a higher value than a pound of iron. As techniques change, and assuming that social needs remain the same, some labor – that which is not producing using average techniques – no longer counts as socially necessary. Assuming the emergence of new social needs, however, which is precisely how capitalist development functions, it can become once again, in newly emerging branches of the economy, socially necessary. In this way the sum of all labor time available to a society is allocated in such a way that it remains socially necessary, regardless of the particular branch of the economy in which it is deployed. A moment’s reflection will show that there is nothing especially remarkable about this. Regardless of the particular society we are talking about – feudal, slave or other pre-capitalist forms, the allocation of labor time so that all social needs are met is a central feature of their organization: labor has to be socially necessary; it would be madness to devote labor time to carving images and to neglect the production of food. But unlike in capitalist societies, it does not go on behind the backs of the producers. The peasant household plans its allocation of time in order to satisfy all its needs.



The tendential nature of the law of value The historical conditions under which the law of value can be said to apply are stringent. The separation of immediate producers from the means of production imposing a regime of cost competition on capitalists is fundamental, but is only realized gradually with the progressive development of capital as a social form. Consider this in more detail: the law of value specifies that commodities exchange according to their abstract labor times (i.e. socially necessary labor times). This means that there must be some mechanism by which concrete labor times in a particular line of production, times which could conceivably vary widely, converge on/are reduced to the socially necessary (i.e., using average techniques). That mechanism is competition, forcing capitalists to produce with what is the socially average technique. Theoretically, this state of competition should follow logically from the fact of the double freedom of labor power. Cost competition depends on it: a. First, the fact of wage labor means that capitalists can mobilize labor power so as to invade those branches of production where capitalists are not experiencing serious pressure on their costs simply because there is a lack of competition. It is this invasion which forces convergence on the socially average technique. b. Second, the double freedom of labor power necessitates competition in costs of production. The monetization of costs, the formation of labor markets, means that producers face the same production cost horizon; the only opportunity they have for lowering their production costs is through technical change, but then everyone else has that opportunity and incentive so that concrete labor times will converge on the socially average. This, though, is emphatically tendential. For a start, the separation of immediate producers from their means of production is still far from complete. The existence of the family farmer serves as a reminder of this. This is important. If not all inputs into the labor process are monetized, if (e.g.) the owner of the means of production draws on his/her own family for labor power, including him- or herself, then costs are subjective and not objective: the purpose of production becomes not the minimization of production costs in order to valorize capital and where the prices of inputs are determined socially (and therefore objectively), but simply the



reproduction of the family where costs are subjective rather than objective – the production unit could conceivably produce very inefficiently in order to produce enough at current market prices in order to survive, and the limit to this inefficiency would simply be their subjective tolerance of self-exploitation. There have been other barriers, though ones that have gradually been lifted. If capitalists are to move into sectors of the economy experiencing unusually high profit rates, with the result that competitive pressures will increase there, finance has to be mobilized in some way. But the development of stock and bond markets has taken time. Finance capital did not appear in the wink of an eye. You also need a banking system and credit histories. Likewise, labor markets are more or less imperfect. Problems of labor mobility, of the availability of skills, may make it difficult to mobilize the workers necessary to invade a branch of production where monopolies are being exerted, and so enforce the law of value. De-skilling of workers4 and the facilitation of the mobility of labor are clearly important here. Likewise the imperfection of labor markets may mean that capitalists in different labor markets face quite different production cost structures so that, again, the reduction of concrete labor times to the socially necessary is impeded. The big problem, though, is that of monopoly: the impossibility of invading sectors of the economy where monopoly power can be used to drive out competitors. The so-called ‘platform’ economy where the key to market power are network effects connecting clients to sellers, as in Amazon or Uber, is exemplary. The way in which airlines protect their so-called ‘hubs,’ where they dominate traffic, is another example. The relatively high fares, for which hub airlines are notorious, are a constant temptation for new start-up airlines. But, in virtue of their huge resources, and in an attempt to protect their hub privileges, the hub airline will match the low fares of the start-up and sometimes more, with a view to driving it out. There are two things we should note here. The first is that the drive to monopoly is built into capital’s DNA. It is not just a matter of the market power that relative size confers: the ability to negotiate lower prices with suppliers and demand higher prices from consumers. It is also that size



can confer advantages of productivity: a more intense division of labor, the advantages of large collective means of production like the massive sorting apparatuses that one sees in photos of Amazon distribution centers. In fact, this is a tradeoff always faced in attempts to regulate monopoly: market power vs productivity advantages. The second point is that the implications of market power and some control over prices can be exaggerated. It does not necessarily destroy competition in input markets: competition for finance or for highly skilled labor that has transferable skills, like systems engineers. Moreover, no monopoly is absolute, so that there are limits to market power. Amazon deals in thousands of lines, but many of these are available through other online distributors, if not all of them: there are things that you can buy online from Target and Walmart that Amazon sells and many firms now have their own online operations designed to avoid Amazon’s cut in the selling price. But what is profit anyway? Where does it come from? It is to that question that we turn next.

Notes 1. 2.

For a good review of Banaji’s objections, see Rioux (2013). Though, as we will see, Marx recognized that the determination of the value of labor power contained what he called ‘an historical and moral dimension.’ 3. Though as a result of the way paper money licenses compound growth, it has hugely deleterious implications for that natural storehouse on which capital draws for its raw materials, its labor power, and as a place to deposit its detritus. See Harvey (2020). 4. An ongoing process in capitalism: take the skill out of a task and it then expands the number of people who can perform it, with the result that the workers’ bargaining power with respect to the capitalist deteriorates and the value of labor power can be negotiated downwards. See Braverman (1974).


Surplus value

The origin of surplus value Profit is a central category in the social relations of capitalist society, and through his concept of surplus value, Marx revolutionized our understandings of it. The problem, as Marx saw it, was fairly straightforward. In putting together the conditions of production, the capitalist purchased what he called ‘objects of labor’ and ‘instruments of labor’ along with labor power. S/he would certainly want back all the money laid out plus a profit. The value of the raw materials would have to be incorporated into the final price that the capitalist asked for. Likewise the value of the instruments of labor. This was more difficult but not insuperable. The capitalist purchased, say, a machine, and had some expectation of how long it might last before it had to be replaced, either because it was beyond repair or because it was no longer competitive with the machines of other capitalists. The cost could therefore be divided up across the different units produced over that foreseeable period. Likewise, the value of the worker’s labor power would be calculated into the price. But then where did the surplus value represented by profit come from? In pursuit of the answer, Marx considers conditions of labor, instruments of labor and labor power in turn. There is no way in which the raw materials and the machinery can convey more value to the finished product than they contain. In consequence they are what Marx called ‘constant capital.’ Labor power is different: the secret of surplus value is that labor power is a use value with a peculiar property: it can produce more value than it itself embodies. This means that it is possible for the owner of money capital to extract surplus value by making the worker produce more value than his own labor power is worth. Accordingly, Marx defined it 28



as ‘variable capital’: it could be made to increase. Competition with other owners of money capital, moreover, means that the erstwhile capitalist has to, is compelled to, make workers produce more value than their own labor power is worth. This is the secret of profit and therefore capitalist exploitation. But how, in fact, is this surplus extracted from the worker? The question is closely bound up with time and the part it plays in Marx’s theory of value. Value is ‘socially necessary labor time.’ So, in the labor process, the process through which labor power is expended on objects of labor using various tools, machines or ‘instruments of labor,’ there has to be some time that is surplus to the time it takes to produce value equivalent to the value of labor power. The labor process, in other words, can be conceptualized as divided up into necessary labor time and surplus labor time; or, stated in value terms, the time devoted to producing value equivalent to the value of the worker’s power to labor and the time devoted to producing value surplus to the value of the labor power which the capitalist has hired. The way I have stated this immediately suggests one way in which surplus value can be extracted – prolong the workday beyond the point at which the worker would have produced value equivalent to the value of his/her own labor power. This is what Marx called surplus value in its absolute form: in this case, holding necessary labor time constant, surplus labor time is extended. Marx also defined surplus value in what he called its relative form. In that case, holding the sum of necessary and surplus labor time constant, necessary labor time is reduced relative to surplus labor time. Although there are ways of extracting absolute surplus value additional to extensions in the length of the workday beyond surplus labor time,1 workday length does allow one to easily illustrate what is at stake in this contrast between absolute and relative surplus value. Thus, absolute surplus value increases as the length of the workday increases. Relative surplus value is appropriated when reducing necessary labor time relative to surplus labor time, while holding the length of the workday constant.



Absolute surplus value The longer the working day, therefore, and holding necessary labor time constant, the more surplus value the capitalist can appropriate in its absolute form. The working day is a fluid quantity but it has limits. Its lower limit is defined by the fact that under capitalism it has to be more than necessary labor time. Its upper limit is more difficult to define but Marx identifies two determinations. The first is the fact of physical limits to the expenditure of labor power: after a certain point one just cannot go on. And the second are what he calls moral limits: the need for a certain part of the 24 hours to be set aside for rest and recuperation. The capitalist wants as long a workday as possible. The worker wants to reduce it, consistent with the peculiar nature of the commodity he/she is selling: a force that needs husbanding and protecting from irreparable damage. Force decides between these equal rights, that of the capitalist maintaining his right as a purchaser and that of the worker to conserve his/her natural powers. This is the context for political struggles over the length of the workday, struggles that have occurred in all the advanced capitalist countries. Capitalists recognize the damage they are doing to their (collective) workforce but competition one with another makes unilateral limits on the workday difficult. Marx says, somewhat ambiguously: Capital takes no account of the health and the length of life of the worker, unless society forces it to do so … But looking at these things as a whole, it is evident that this does not depend on the will, either good or bad, of the individual capitalist. Under free competition, the immanent laws of capitalist production confront the individual capitalist as a coercive force external to him. (1867/1976: 381)

Relative surplus value When we turn to examine relative surplus value in more detail it is important to distinguish between two ways in which it can be increased, one permanent and the other temporary. The permanent way in which surplus value is increased is through reductions in the value of workers’



means of subsistence: the latter is an elastic concept, as we will see. The result is that the value of labor power is reduced so that necessary labor time falls relative to surplus labor time (Marx assumes that the length of the workday is held constant). It can also be that an increase in relative surplus value is temporary, but no capitalist can know that ahead of time, not least because, as pointed out above, the means of subsistence are something historically determined. Assume, therefore, that some change in the labor process – faster machinery, a change in the detail division of labor, though they are both likely to go together – allows the time it takes to produce some unit of whatever it is – a pair of shoes, a refrigerator – to go down. Let us assume further, that it goes down by half. Assuming that the socially necessary labor time remains what it was, our enterprising capitalist can sell twice as many products at the same price as those she sold before the innovation in the labor process. She will, of course, take care to make sure that she prices hers just below that of her competitors, but that still means that she is going to get a windfall profit. Since workers are now producing twice as fast, but the price of the product remains virtually the same, they can produce value equivalent to their wage in half the time as before. Instead of a division of the workday into, say, five hours necessary labor time and five hours surplus labor time, necessary labor now falls to two-and-one-half hours, while, lucky capitalist, surplus labor time increases by half. What Marx calls the individual value of the product – that credited to the innovating capitalist – is now just half of what he described as its social value; the value at which the product can be sold. No wonder capitalists are keen to innovate. If this is an innovation in a subsistence or wage goods industry, or in one that produces capital goods for the same, then this is an increase in surplus value that will endure since it means that the value of workers’ means of subsistence has gone down. If it is not, however, if it is a reduction in necessary labor time in a luxury goods industry, then the increase in surplus value resulting from the innovation will be only temporary. As soon as the innovation spreads and the socially necessary labor time is halved, then we are back to where we were before: a division of the working day into five hours necessary labor time and five hours surplus labor time. Workers are now producing twice as fast as they were, but the value of the product has been halved; so they still have to work for five hours to produce value equivalent to the value of their labor power.



But to the extent that revolutions in productivity seize those branches of production producing wage or subsistence goods, or those providing them with means of production, then the reduction in necessary labor time will be permanent and will affect all branches of production. What drives forward the search for and application of more productive forces of production is the same competition that drives the capitalist to try and widen the difference between individual and social value, as per the paragraph above: “Capital, therefore, has an immanent drive, and a constant tendency, towards increasing the productivity of labor, in order to cheapen commodities and, by cheapening commodities, to cheapen the worker himself” (Marx 1867/1976: 437). Finally, there is one qualification to this argument: extracting surplus labor is all about the rate at which the means of production absorb the labor of the worker. The more the worker produces in a given time, whether through increasing his or her productivity, or through extending the length of the workday, the faster the capitalist’s money accrues surplus value. In most sectors of the economy this happens day in, day out. It is also an invitation to shift working since that, too, will increase the absolute mass of surplus value extracted in a given time. In short, surplus value can be increased for the capitalist to the extent that the velocity with which capital circulates can be increased: Constant capital, the means of production, only exist, considered from the standpoint of the process of valorization, in order to absorb labor and, with every drop of labor, a proportional quantity of surplus labor. In so far as the means of production fail to do this, their mere existence forms a loss for the capitalist, in a negative sense, for while they lie fallow they represent a useless advance of capital. (Marx 1867/1976: 367)

But in some sectors of the economy, there are limits to speeding up the rate at which capital circulates. The most obvious are those where one has to rely on natural processes. Agriculture is the classic case. Most of the capital there is immobilized as the wheat grows, the fruit tree goes through its annual cycle or as the hogs put on weight. There are clear attempts to speed that circulation up: faster maturing seeds; the poly-tunnels that give extended seasons to the production of some fruit or vegetables; or the confined animal feeding operations with their grotesque goal of speeding up the animal’s growth by limiting the energy they consume in moving around. But it remains a problem. This is one of the reasons given for the



endurance, even while being slowly whittled away, of the family farmer and goes back to our earlier discussion of the law of value.2

The distribution of surplus value Once extracted by the capitalist, not all the surplus value remains her property. Obviously, some of it has to go to pay the landlord from whom the premises are rented, just as another portion must be used to amortize loans that have been taken out to fund the business. Physical premises, and money stored under the mattress, are, from industrial capital’s standpoint, a waste of time, literally. Renting premises means that the money retrieved from selling them can be put into production and the process of soaking up more surplus value. Capital develops through the development of the productive forces and that can mean newer machines that allow workers to produce more value in a given time. In consequence, and confronted by competition, storing the money under the bed until it has reached a magnitude sufficient to pay for that machine, threatens loss of business and possible bankruptcy. Borrowing money on the assumption that it might even allow obtaining an advantage over the competitors is clearly in the capitalist’s mind. She will have to fork over some of the surplus value in the form of interest but the alternative could be dire. Some of the surplus value has to go to the retailers. One can certainly imagine a situation in which the retail function remains with the industrial firm so that it maintains its own shops. This, though, means incorporation of a branch of the division of labor that is quite different in its physical requirements, and so calling for different sorts of expertise, like recruiting shop workers rather than those on the assembly line. It also means a delay in the circulation of capital. As we have seen, the industrial capitalist wants her money back as quickly as possible so as to lay it out again for means of production and the hiring of labor power, and so extract more surplus labor. The alternative is for the product to be stuck on the shelf of a retailing outlet or in a showroom for at least some period of time. Hence the ability of the retail sector to claim a portion of the surplus as its own.3



Surplus value gets shared out, therefore, and industrial capital has its own reasons for sharing out the loot. There are still other redistributions. In the transactions among capitalists, relative size matters. To the extent that there are numerous component suppliers, the big assemblers can talk down prices. The same applies to other of capital’s division of labor. The ability of major retailing chains, like Walmart or Marks & Spencer (Rainnie 1984) to play one, typically small, supplier or sub-contractor off against another is very, very considerable. It also works in the relation between the big retail chains and the shopping center developers. So keen are the latter to land a big department store chain, since it will attract shoppers to the center as a whole, that they are willing to discount rent or even give the retail chain a cut on the rents that they get from everyone else. What is happening here, though, does not affect the principle of the extraction of surplus value as a class relation. Rather, it is all about the way that surplus value is divided up, just as more productive capitals will appropriate a more than proportional share because of their ability to undercut in terms of price, the less productive.

The value of labor power Clearly, in talking about surplus value, the concept of the value of labor power has central significance. Marx says that The value of labor-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labor-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this specific article. In so far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average social labor objectified in it. (1867/1976: 274)

But this is not nearly as simple as it sounds and requires elaboration. There are several things we need to consider here. Marx certainly recognized that ‘the necessary requirements’ of the worker, the commodities required in order to reproduce his/her labor power, could vary tremendously. As he wrote: … The number and extent of his so-called necessary requirements, as also the manner in which they are satisfied, are themselves products of history, and depend therefore to a great extent on the level of civilization attained by a country; in particular they depend on the conditions in which, and conse-



quently on the habits and expectations with which, the class of free workers has been formed. In contrast, therefore, with the case of other commodities, the determination of the value of labor power contains a historical and moral element. (1867/1976: 275)

But even this leaves too many dots to be joined up. There is a dynamic in the determination of labor’s standard of living here that is not as emphasized as it might be, even though Marx talks about how “the determination of the value of labor power contains a historical … element.” Of what does that dynamic consist? Obviously the organization of labor around demands for increased wages is part of that, but what might provoke those demands and how are they bound up with the logic of capitalist development? One window on this is opened up by thinking about the way in which luxury goods become wage goods. Capitalist development is technically innovative, not just in terms of how existing commodities are produced but also in the production of new commodities. Many of these start out as luxuries and so are not something that members of the working class find necessary to reproducing themselves. But luxury goods have a habit of being transformed into wage goods. They become necessities without which it becomes difficult to be a wage worker. The slow growth in the ownership and use of the automobile gradually transformed cities in terms of their built form, slowly eroded alternative modes of transport as options, and so made it almost absolutely essential as a means of getting to work. Workers now need wages of sufficient magnitude to cover not just the cost of an automobile but also the considerable expenses of maintaining, insuring and using one. Capital also plays an active role in converting luxury goods into wage goods. It wants to realize its product, and expanding markets is an obvious way of doing that; hence the power of the advertising industry, but also pressure on government to make available the infrastructure that complements the use of the new goods. You cannot persuade people to buy vacuum cleaners and TV sets unless they are hooked up to the electricity grid: an important factor in the decision of apartheid governments in South Africa to electrify the native townships, as they were called. Without the pressure of the electrical goods industries, it would probably have had to wait for the overthrow of apartheid.



The value of labor power also includes the cost of special training. Every university student who has taken out a loan to pay for tuition expects to get some job that will provide compensation. Marx certainly saw the cost of training as being part of the value of labor power though obviously much of that cost is absorbed by the welfare state through the universally ‘free’ public education system. So the way in which this gets represented in what workers demand is indirect, and through the burden of taxes in particular. Talk about education also reveals what some might identify as Marx’s sexist tendency to take the labor of women in the home for granted. Given the standard gender division of labor at the time Marx was writing, and still to a considerable degree today, the labor of women contributed to the reproduction of labor power of wage workers in a very substantial way indeed in the form of food preparation and laundering, as well as maintaining the home. But this was not wage labor, so assigning a value to it in the sense of value theory would have been fraught with difficulty. Even so, the tendency has been for the value of labor power to represent to some degree the need to reproduce those particular use values. Migrant labor in South Africa represents a reverse situation in which the mines organized their labor recruiting exactly so as to avoid paying for the miner’s, otherwise, dependents (Wolpe 1980). In South Africa, the mining industry has historically been a major employer of migrant labor. Moreover, it was also a staunch opponent of the permanent urbanization of the miner along with his family. The reasoning behind this was that for a migrant worker, the worker’s family would stay behind in the native reserve and support itself by cultivating a plot of land, and grazing some cattle and goats. But, or so the argument went, bring wives and children to the city and wages would have to expand to support their subsistence needs, housing, and public services for them like schools.4 As Marx points out, the reproduction of labor power is a necessity in all modes of production. The incentive structures under which it operates, however, have varied in accordance with variations in production relations. As a class, the capitalist class has an interest in the reproduction of the working class. It is upon a healthy working class, well-fed and well-housed, educated to handle the tasks it is called upon to do, equipped with the means of transportation to get to the workplace, that its profitability depends. But for individual employers the logic of the situation



is one in which they can ignore whether or not the labor power of their workers is reproduced since they can employ others. This is in sharp contrast to servile forms of labor (slavery, feudalism) where this is not the case. In slavery, the slave is necessarily treated like other living means of production, such as livestock, and the same concern over the health and strength of the worker is expressed. If the slave drops dead from fatigue or ill-health then another has to be purchased at a considerable price (i.e., not the weekly or monthly ‘rent’ that the capitalist pays for use of the immediate producer’s labor power). The feudal lord, on the other hand, loses the serf’s dues and labor services. The same logic applies to investment in the skills of the wage worker, and to the air and water pollution that threatens the health of the worker. So the situation for the individual employer is a contradictory one. On the one hand, a healthy, well-fed workforce is desirable, but paying a wage to cover these exposes the employer to the competition of other capitalists. As a result, it is only through the state that the capitalist class can act in a way that will facilitate the reproduction of labor power: e.g., the passage of laws on health and safety in the workplace, the passage of laws governing public water supplies and sewerage, the passage of minimum wage laws, and laws governing the quality of housing, or the introduction of unemployment compensation so that labor will stick around until the next uptick in the economy. Note also, however, that from the standpoint of the individual firm the substitutability of the individual worker can be in question. This means that, for some, the employer’s logic may be different. In order to hang on to the worker, in order to ensure that he/she is healthy and able to deliver once the firm has made an investment in their labor power, a higher wage will be paid, along with, in the USA, healthcare insurance. So position in the (technical) division of labor makes a difference, since people in some positions are less substitutable than people in others.5 What we know for sure, though, is that capitalists can and will appropriate surplus value. Just what happens to it after it has returned to the capitalist who originally extracted it is discussed in the following chapter.



Notes 1. For example, speeding up the assembly line or restricting toilet visits. 2. The classic reference here is Mann and Dickinson (1978). 3. There are exceptions which prove the rule. One case is Burton’s, a British firm that manufactured suits-to-order. You visited a Burton’s store close to you – and there were very many of them – you chose your material, your style, and measurements were taken. This information was then communicated to the firm’s, appropriately massive, factory in Leeds. You would then pick the suit up later at the store where you placed your order. The United Colors of Benneton works on a similar principle, except that orders are communicated digitally, and aside from the design function, their manufacturing is sub-contracted. In both instances, the problem of inventory hanging around on shelves is avoided and the circulation of capital is not impeded. Note also the way in which computerization of checkout processes in supermarkets allows monitoring of inventory; as something appears imminently out of stock, the order goes through. Meanwhile, those items which sell more slowly will be re-ordered far less frequently and in smaller amounts. 4. This is a more general logic. Burawoy (1976) described its significance in discussing migrant workers in the USA. 5. This logic is the basis of (mainstream) dual-labor market theory (Doeringer and Piore 1971). According to this, labor markets could be divided into primary and secondary. Primary sector workers were the more skilled and experienced, often unionized, and on a higher pay scale, with more benefits, and also in line for internal promotion – what was called a firm’s internal labor market. Secondary workers were the obverse: lower pay, more transient, fewer benefits if any.


The capital accumulation process

Capital accumulation as expanded reproduction The immediate goal of the capitalist is to appropriate value in its surplus form. If she does not, and merely recoups her expenses for wages, raw materials and the like, how is she to live? Answer: by drawing on her capital. But that means that the next time she throws values into the market in order to valorize them, she will have less to throw in. Assuming that again she fails to appropriate value in its surplus form, she will either have to contract her expenses as a capitalist and so produce on a smaller scale; or she continues with the same expenditures for labor power, raw materials, etc., by obtaining credit from the banks. Further failure to appropriate value in its surplus form means that she will then either have to go to work herself as she gradually loses any money capital with which she can hire others; or she fails to repay her loans and goes bankrupt, which means the same thing. So, from her standpoint, appropriating surplus value is a necessity. But once that value is appropriated, so, too, is it necessary to put the larger part of it along with the money recouped for the expenses of production back into production. This means that in successive production cycles, our capitalist is appropriating progressively more and more value in its surplus form and laying out more and more money capital for premises, labor power, raw materials and the like. The values under the control of our capitalist are expanding. This is what is meant by the accumulation of capital. Accumulation is a necessity. Capitalists must expand or face possible extinction. Given the competition of other capitalists, the exigencies of markets, the need to constantly have an eye to the introduction of new 39



technologies, it is only thus that they can maintain possession of respective capitals – money, raw materials, instruments of labor – necessary to the extraction of surplus value. Having been appropriated, the larger part of the surplus value must be reinvested along with those revenues that represent the original values laid out for raw materials, machines and labor power. In short, too much can never be enough. Value is preserved by expanding it and competition acts as the coercive force that mandates that logic. But in order that this conversion of surplus value take place, the surplus in the society as a whole must exist in the form of appropriate use values: surplus means of production, and also means of subsistence with which to reproduce new labor powers. Surplus value is nothing if it cannot be converted into additional objects of labor, instruments of labor and, depending on changes in the labor process,1 labor power. But it is exactly in the material form of additional instruments and objects of labor that the surplus exists. There must also be additional labor power, but Marx says, “The mechanism of capitalist production has already provided for this in advance by reproducing the working class dependent on wages, a class whose ordinary wages suffice, not only to maintain itself but also to increase its numbers” (1867/1976: 727). We will return later to this issue of the expansion of social labor necessary to sustain the accumulation process and what can happen when that happy conjunction of affairs breaks down.

Accumulation and social reproduction Accumulation is not just a process of material production, a matter of capitalizing surplus value. It is a process of social reproduction and, in particular, a reproduction of those class relations on which the reproduction of capital as a mode of production depends. Out of the production process the worker obtains the value of her labor power and no more, so that it is only with extreme difficulty that she can put the money together to purchase the conditions of production, including the labor power of others, and become a capitalist in her own right. On the other hand, the capitalist gets back all the money he has thrown into production plus a surplus which can then be used to command the labor of even more



workers. The worker is reproduced as a worker since she gets enough, and no more, to renew her bodily powers for further wage labor; while the capitalist is reproduced as a capitalist since he gets out of the process all he threw into it plus a surplus which allows not only for his own consumption but extending his ability to command the labor power of others. The working class is reproduced, therefore, and so, too, is its dependence on capital. The wage suffices to keep body and soul together and no more. The separation of the immediate producer from the means of production is therefore reproduced: Individual consumption provides, on the one hand, the means for the worker’s maintenance and reproduction; on the other hand, by the constant annihilation of the means of subsistence, it provides for their continued re-appearance on the labor market. The Roman slave was held by chains; the wage laborer is bound to his owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is maintained by a constant change in the person of the individual employer, and by the legal fiction of a contract. (Marx 1867/1976: 719)

This does not mean that the particular people filling these different class roles may not change. Capitalists may go out of business and be consigned to the rank of wage worker. Some members of the working class may, by dint of unusual degrees of saving and perhaps overwork, or perhaps through the rents from a progressive acquisition of rental property, accumulate the money by which they can start their own business, hire the labor power of others and perhaps valorize their values over a succession of time periods so that the firm prospers. But the overall balance between capital and the working class has to be reproduced if capital is to be reproduced. If all members of the working class joined the capitalist class then capitalism would cease to exist. This is because capital depends on the production and appropriation of surplus value and without a working class there would be no surplus value. But clearly there would be, and are, adjustments long before that point is reached; for as the working class decreased in size so there would be upward pressure on wages forcing some capitalists out of business, and forcing still others into takeovers by other capitalist firms and their elimination.



The changing historical forms of accumulation Marx identifies primitive accumulation as a particular historical stage of the accumulation process. Primitive accumulation is the historic act of divorcing the immediate producers from the means of production: it is the accumulation of the means of production in the hands of the few through the overriding of legal rights, through violent appropriation, as discussed in Chapter 2. In talking about accumulation proper, that accumulation process we have already considered which reproduces the separation of immediate producers from the means of production, Marx finds it useful to make a further distinction: this is between the formal subsumption of labor to capital on the one hand, and what he called labor’s real subsumption or the specifically capitalist mode of production. In formal subsumption, Marx envisaged an early phase of capitalist development in which incipient capitalists hire immediate producers to work within the framework of existing labor processes. Technologies from pre-capitalist times would be the norm and surplus value would be extracted in its absolute form, in particular through extension of the length of the workday. In real subsumption, and in contrast, the capitalist actively intervenes in the labor process, reconfigures it, and equips the immediate producers with machinery that enhances their productivity. Now surplus value is appropriated in its relative form: holding the length of the workday constant, necessary labor is reduced relative to surplus labor, though as we saw in the last chapter, only in an enduring manner if the increased productivity occurs in sectors producing wage goods or capital goods for wage goods sectors. In considering these three ‘phases,’ it is important not to think of them in simple sequential terms. In the most advanced of capitalist societies, primitive accumulation is an ongoing process as small businesses go into debt, their machinery is sold off and former owners have to seek employment as wage workers. Likewise, although we might regard real subsumption as the norm in the advanced capitalist societies, there are still areas where instead of altering the technology, the immediate producers are subjected to long hours of overtime without extra pay, particularly in those sectors employing large numbers of illegals who are unlikely to go to the authorities to report breaches of labor law.



Accumulation fund, consumption fund and the industrial reserve army of labor Although in Chapters 23 and 24 of Capital Volume 1 Marx paints a picture of a reproduction process that takes place in a systematic, uncomplicated way, he did recognize that things might not be quite so smooth and that some sort of adjustment process would be necessary in order to maintain the proper balance between what he called capital’s accumulation fund and labor’s consumption fund. Out of the production process labor got wages in exchange for its labor power and the capitalist got back all her expenses plus a surplus which would then be put into further rounds of production. But what if labor’s consumption fund should increase relative to capital’s accumulation fund so that some portion of what had been surplus value had to be paid out as an addition to wages? This is the problem Marx considers at the beginning of Chapter 25 and in answer to which he formulates the idea of ‘the industrial reserve army of labor.’ His solution not only explains the fact of unemployment; he shows how it and its fluctuations are necessary to ensuring that labor’s consumption fund does not encroach on capital’s fund for accumulation. If wages rose as a result, say, of a shortage of labor, to the point at which surplus value was eliminated, then indeed the basis of the capitalist system would be threatened. But this will not happen. To the extent that that labor supply is insufficient to valorize values and, accordingly, wages rise, then a reorganization of the labor process and a subsequent increase in the productivity of workers and the unemployment of some could increase the labor supply and bring wages back down to a point satisfactory from the standpoint of capital’s valorization requirements. Hence, insofar as wages are determined by supply and demand, it is a supply and demand that are both controlled by capital: Capital acts on both sides at once. If its accumulation on the one hand increases the demand for labor, it increases on the other the supply of workers by ‘setting them free’ (i.e. by moving them from the active to the inactive), while at the same time the pressure of the unemployed compels those who are employed to furnish more labor, and therefore makes the supply of labor to a certain extent independent of the supply of workers. (Marx 1867/1976: 793)



The inactive part, the part that acts as a drag on the labor market and which the active part regards as its potential replacements, is what Marx called ‘the industrial reserve army of labor.’ The real subsumption of labor to capital, the active intervention of capital into the transformation of the labor process, is clearly crucial to the mechanics Marx describes: only thus can capital produce an industrial reserve army of labor when wage increases threaten the rate of accumulation. Marx’s discussion also suggests a reason why capitalists shift from formal to real subsumption: a growing shortage of wage workers which threatens accumulation can be turned into an excess of wage workers by improving worker productivity. This is in addition to the reason he gave in his discussion of the enactment of limits to the length of the workday: the elimination of possibilities for increasing surplus value in its absolute form. We should note here, though, that another way in which capitalists historically mitigated a shortage of workers and increasing wages was by an extension of the workday. Indeed, one of the points Marx makes elsewhere in Capital Volume 1 is that at the dawn of capitalism the tendency was to enforce, through government legislation, increasing workday lengths, rather than shorten them as occurred in the nineteenth century.

The overaccumulation of capital The accumulation of capital is not a smooth process; rather, it is crisis ridden. Accumulation can reach a point where there is surplus capital looking for an outlet, and also surplus labor power, over and above the typical industrial reserve army. Exactly why this sort of overaccumulation occurs has been hotly debated and both claims can find support in Marx’s writings. One argument locates crisis in the circulation of capital and a shortfall in demand that necessarily follows on from capital’s logic.2 This was referred to briefly in Chapter 2. In Marx’s own words: Every capitalist knows this about his worker, that he does not relate to him as producer to consumer, and [he therefore] wishes to restrict his consumption, i.e. his ability to exchange, his wage, as much as possible. Of course he would like the workers of  other  capitalists to be the greatest consumers possible



of his own commodity. But the relation of every capitalist to his own workers is the relation as such of capital and labour, the essential relation. But this is just how the illusion arises – true for the individual capitalist as distinct from all the others – that apart from his workers the whole remaining working class confronts him as consumer and participant in exchange,  as money-spender, and not as worker. It is forgotten that, as Malthus says, ‘the very existence of a profit upon any commodity pre-supposes a demand exterior to that of the labourer who has produced it’, and hence the demand of the labourer himself can never be an adequate demand. (1857–58/1973: 420; original emphasis)

Given, therefore, the fact that workers receive in wages less than the value that they produce, how is all the value produced to be realized? One has to take into account here the consumption of the capitalist class. The remainder is used to extend production, which necessarily means demand for new means of production and hence for workers who will then spend their wages on some portion of the value then produced. In short, the problem of realizing value is pushed off into the future through succeeding waves of money laid out to expand the production of capital goods. This, though, can be interrupted. While more and more value is produced, seeking an outlet, those outlets can dry up. The railroads of the settler societies were completed, so what next for the iron and steel industries of North America and Western Europe? The household appliance industries boomed in the 1950s and 1960s as households bought their first refrigerator but after that, and allowing for some increase in population and in replacements, what then? In other words, avoiding an overaccumulation located in circulation has required the creation of new outlets for capital: new products and new frontiers, and, for whatever reason, they may not be there. The other reason posited for an overaccumulation of capital is the tendency for the rate of profit to fall or TRPF, for short. Marx’s argument here was that the onward race, driven by cost competition, to have the means of production absorb more surplus labor, means that labor power is continually expelled from the labor process. Fewer and fewer workers put an increasing mass of means of production – objects and instruments of labor or in value terms, constant capital – in motion. This means, though, that it is precisely that element that produces surplus value – what Marx called variable capital, whose presence is being reduced. End result: the TRPF. Obviously, this has not happened, and Marx pointed out the fact of counter-tendencies. While the amount laid out for variable capital may be diminishing, that laid out for constant capital may be diminishing at an even faster rate: cheaper machinery, cheaper raw materials, for



whatever reason. Alternatively, the rate of exploitation of the workers remaining may increase as a result of revolutions in the production of means of subsistence or simply speeding up the labor process. In any case, overaccumulation is a fact of life periodically visited on the capitalist class, and most severely on the working class in the form of unemployment. Factories and workers, both, are idle. Rates of return are falling. Capital has nowhere to go. How, therefore, to get the show on the road again? Some capitals will be struggling more than others. They are going to go out of business and their (socially) obsolescent equipment sold off for scrap, which means that the competitive pressures on the remaining ones are diminished. Meanwhile, the labor power of workers is revalued downwards and the rate of exploitation can increase, all of which can lay the basis for a new boom in production, until, and inevitably, overaccumulation occurs once again, but never as it was in the past, and continually transforming itself. Capital ‘develops.’

Notes 1. 2.

Changes that might, for example, reduce the need for labor power. See e.g., Simon Clarke (1990b).


Capital’s development

Over its history, and since its clear emergence some 400 years ago, capital has changed immensely. In its external forms it is barely recognizable. The most obvious signs of this are in its technologies and in what is produced: from the age of the canal to that of the modern airliner; from simple calculations in a ledger to the computer; from a time when the term ‘tourism’ was unknown to the package holidays of today; the rise of the automated assembly line, and lots more. The same applies to its organizational features: from the family-owned store to the retail chain; from the single-owner business to the joint-stock company. In its concrete forms – modes of organization, technology, divisions of labor, products, even property rights1 – capital is constantly changing, driven forward by its contradictions; and to understand transformation, the concept of contradiction is indispensable. As outlined in Chapter 2, capital’s central contradiction that is the source of all others is the class relation: the fact of the separation of immediate producers from the means of production and their reunification through the money wealth of those who are, or will be, the capitalists. Capital accumulation depends upon the exploitation of the wage workers; but that exploitation in turn, sets up resistance which threatens to undermine the accumulation process. Workers are a problem and capital’s history can be written in terms of how to solve that problem; mainly by getting rid of them which, as we saw at the end of the last chapter, means periodic bouts of overaccumulation. Given the so-called ‘double freedom of labor power’ or, ‘the wage labor relation,’ all the logics of capital – exploitation, the law of value, accumulation, the creation of the industrial reserve army, etc. – become possible: they are contained within it. What makes them real is the competition conditional upon that same separation of immediate producers from the means of production. Capitalists lay out money for labor power and 47



means of production; but then they want it back. That means trying to sell what is produced, but with no assurance of a market. The drive to compete successfully then means one has to accumulate through the extraction of a surplus from the workers; and one has to accumulate so as to compete through investment in those new instruments of labor that will enhance the productivity of the worker, as well as creating the wherewithal to buy out the competitors. So: downward pressure on wages and conditions of work; the monotony entailed by an ever more efficient detail division of labor, and so alienation from the work process; treatment as a replaceable part; and the threat of unemployment as capital’s attempt to keep labor costs down. The class relation entails exploitation, therefore, but also, in response, resistance through the development of the labor movement: a struggle to maintain wages, to improve the health and safety of workers, to reduce unemployment through state action and to provide compensation for the unemployed. This in turn incites capital to ever newer ways of getting round these laws and driving accumulation forward: defining workers as self-employed agents, as in Uber; outsourcing to low-wage countries with more lax workplace laws; replacing workers with more vulnerable illegals; artificial intelligence; and new rounds of automation with the intent of expelling labor power from the labor process altogether. Certainly, in its fundamentals, the production of commodities with commodities, the separation of the immediate producers from the means of production, cost competition, capital is unchanging. But that means that its contradictions endure, even while their concrete expression might – will! – change. In its detail, in its timing, what has happened in the course of capitalist development could have been foreseen only with difficulty. In hindsight, though, it is utterly comprehensible. In this way, a number of – interrelated – empirical regularities can be referred back to capital’s distinct logics and these are the focus of this chapter.



Capital’s functional division of labor Today, capital divides clearly into four distinct and complementary divisions: • Industrial capital, where objects of labor – raw materials, semi-processed materials – are converted, courtesy of labor power, working with various more or less sophisticated instruments of labor into finished, or semi-finished products for onward sale. This includes not only what is usually regarded as ‘industrial,’ or what goes on in factories; but also agriculture, mining and forestry – i.e., anything involving the elements of the labor process outlined above. • Commercial capital, consisting for the most part of the retail and wholesale sectors, which sell to the final consumer. Also included would be the distribution centers of the big retail chains and of online retailers. • Finance capital, responsible for the financing of industrial and commercial capital. Loans are taken out for purposes of investment in new mines, factories and the like, and these come from a variety of sources: most notably banks, but also individual investors who do nothing but push money around in search of ‘deals.’ Money is also raised for purposes of expansion by new stock issues on the stock exchange and the sale of bonds. Commercial capital uses lines of credit to finance its inventories. • Property capital: All firms – industrial, commercial, financial – need premises. This is the branch of capital that is relatively recent: not much more so than the 1930s. A sphere dominated by ownership of premises by industrialists, retailers and banks has been replaced by developers who convert land into industrial estates, distribution centers, shopping centers and housing, and then either hold it for rent or sell it on to pension funds or insurance companies. These all complement one another. Industry needs sales outlets, finance and sites. Property capital finds a market in industrial and commercial capitals, as well as housing for the employees of both. It needs finance. It also needs commercial intermediaries, as in the form of real estate brokers. And so on.



This is a division that has emerged over time. Industrial firms have shifted in their financing models from one where they self-financed: money was saved up until what was needed for expansion was available. This model has by and large been replaced by one of borrowing from banks or floating new stock and the sale of bonds. Likewise, a pattern of buying and retaining ownership of one’s own premises – factories, shops, even housing for the workers – has been replaced by one of reliance on a specialized sector of developers. Partly this separation is a result of an increasingly fine division of labor: the development of respective expertises. Industrial capitals may hold large sums of money capital without any clear idea of what to do with them – something very apparent at the moment of writing. They could invest it themselves but they do not have that sort of specialized knowledge: better from the standpoint of increasing the value of their cash reserves, to delegate the function to a stock advisor or a bank. Likewise a retail chain thinking of expanding into a new city: where to locate? Real estate developers have the knowledge and will be happy to help. What ultimately pushes this separation forward has been the drive to speed up the circulation of capital, discussed earlier. From the standpoint of industrial capital, money tied up in real estate or sitting in the firm’s safe, is money that is not being used for production and the extraction of surplus value: better to rent the premises and use the money to expand production; or deposit it in a bank and get a share of the surplus value of those to whom the bank is lending and receiving interest (which is a claim on surplus value). Meanwhile, the problem of idle capital gets transferred, which helps to explain the eagerness with which new ideas are explored: new forms of real estate development to attract the customers; new financial products, like zero deposit mortgages.

The socialization of production From the earliest time, production has been cooperative, most notably through the division of labor: people performing different but complementary roles. This is something that developed in pre-capitalist times but slowly and as a result of changes of a quite random sort. Under cap-



italism this social character of production advances at a prodigious rate and in several related ways. First, the conversion of means of production and of labor power into commodities makes them, from the standpoint of capitalists, a shared resource. No longer are the immediate producers tied to a particular slave owner or feudal lord; and no longer is the land held in perpetuity, handed down through generations and not available for sale. Immediate producers, the land, are now something to be shared by all those who have the money wealth to hire or, in the case of real property, purchase. The same will happen with money itself. Stored as savings in banks, it is there for anyone with the necessary security to borrow and put into production. The development of other ways of accessing money capital like the stock market, are a refinement of this process. Second, at the level of the labor process, there is a deliberate seeking out of new forms of collaboration. On the one hand there is the development of the division of labor. Within the firm, the breaking down of the labor process into different stages, as in the assembly of an automobile, allows the use of more specialized tools which can facilitate production by shortening the time necessary for a particular aspect of the shared labor process: different sorts of hammer or screwdriver. This also means an economy of time in another direction; if a worker is occupied with just one tool rather than having to put one down and pick up another to advance the product to a subsequent stage of its transformation, then that saves time otherwise wasted: a form of extracting labor in its absolute form by filling in what Marx referred to as the ‘pores of the workday.’ This intensification of the division of labor within the firm has another advantage: the demands on the skill of the worker go down, the labor process is simplified, the job is de-skilled, which means in turn that labor power of lower value can be hired. The division of labor also occurs between firms: different products, obviously, but also firms producing components or semi-finished parts for others, as in the classic assembly industries, and also in something like chemicals. There again, there are firms specializing in so-called capital goods which are used in producing the products eventually purchased by final consumers: the machine tool industry, most notably. Each has its own technical expertise which helps account in part for the specialization: making steel is different from making automobiles. This is a technical



expertise which extends beyond the labor process to include an understanding of markets and sources of raw materials. Consider, secondly, how the socialization of production has advanced through the development of new instruments of labor; most notably those that require the cooperation of ever larger numbers of workers. Partly this is a matter of exploiting economies of scale: up to a certain point, it is cheaper to produce a ton of pig iron in a larger blast furnace than in a smaller one. In other instances, the use of shared means of production advances in conjunction with the division of labor. The assembly line connects the different specialized workers one with another; meanwhile, speeding it up encourages more intense labor – another way of filling up ‘the pores of the workday.’ Some instruments of labor are on a truly heroic scale: consider the modern railroad network and its ability to cut the time getting raw materials and semi-finished products from one factory to another: a sort of assembly line writ very large indeed. The production of electricity in power plants shared by all users was a major advance on the steam engine confined to one workplace.

The increase in the ratio of fixed to circulating capital The development of fixed capital indicates in still another respect the degree of development of wealth generally, or of capital. The aim of production oriented directly towards use value, as well as of that directly oriented towards exchange value, is the product itself, destined for consumption. The part of production which is oriented towards the production of fixed capital does not produce direct objects of individual gratification, nor direct exchange values; at least not directly realizable exchange values. Hence, only when a certain degree of productivity has already been reached – so that a part of production time is sufficient for immediate production – can an increasingly large part be applied to the production of the means of production. (Marx 1867/1973: 707; original emphasis)

The tendency of capital, inherent in its contradictory nature, is to replace living labor with what Marx called ‘dead’ labor. Factories, highways, bridges, railroads, machines, represent past labor and in that sense it is ‘dead.’ Living labor is what sets the machines in motion, including the trucks, the railway engines, the signaling devices. Otherwise put, the fraction of capital that is fixed tends to increase relative to that fraction that is



circulating: that fraction that is laid out for labor power and raw materials and that is recuperated virtually immediately subsequent to the sale of the product. Meanwhile, the cost of the machines is only defrayed slowly and this can be a problem. Machines, the machine tools used in a factory, the huge diggers used in open-pit mining, the various sorts of crane or excavator used in construction, are themselves the products of capitalist firms in stiff competition with one another. That means that innovation is just as important to them as it is to the other capitalists who will buy them. They know that capital in general wants machinery that will allow the worker to produce more and are bent on developing and selling it. But for those (purchasing) capitals, it is a poisoned chalice. This is because they may be in possession of an earlier generation of machinery whose cost to them has yet to be defrayed. If they do not buy the new machine and their competitors do, then they are at a disadvantage. This is a question not of physical, but of social obsolescence. It is a dilemma that every industrial capital confronts. This helps to explain the zeal with which some equipment gets used. It is not just that when it is idle, the money locked up in it is not being released and circulated so as to soak up more surplus labor; it is also that there is a risk of social obsolescence. This helps explain certain common capitalist labor practices, the most notable of which is shift work around the clock. Amortize that machinery as rapidly as possible so as to not get caught holding something that all of a sudden has become much less valuable than it was.

The ‘three-sector’ model A fourth empirical regularity concerns the division of labor, not so much in terms of its functions – industrial, commercial, capital, etc. – as in terms of its material content and how it develops over time. This is the division between so-called primary, secondary and tertiary sectors – it has been widely noted outside Marxism and defined there as the ‘three sector model.’ Marx did not use these categories but he would surely have recognized their relevance. Definitions vary but ‘primary’ typically refers to extractive industries that work directly with that nature external to human nature, like agriculture, mining and forestry; the secondary sector



is equally ‘industrial’ but it takes the iron ore, coal, timber, raw milk from the primary sector and converts it into iron and steel, machinery of all sorts, furniture, cheese and obviously lots, lots more. The tertiary sector, meanwhile, is highly variegated but typically includes commerce, finance, insurance, transport and lots of things that the state civil service does: social workers and teachers, for example. It is such a motley group of activities as to be barely coherent. Transport should probably be included under primary and secondary since it is an essential aspect of production: things are moved between mine and factory, between one factory and another, just as they are moved around inside the factory. The same applies to finance and insurance: they mediate primary and secondary production. Taking these categories at face value, there are clear tendencies in terms of employment for their relative significance to change over time. With the initiation of capitalist development, the primary sector tends to predominate, then giving way to the secondary sector; meanwhile, services start from a very small percentage of the labor force, but eventually overtake the secondary sector to employ a majority of the workforce. How, therefore, to make sense of this development? The growth of the secondary sector relative to the primary has long been recognized. Revolutionizing the productive forces with the unleashing of capitalism, particularly in agriculture, is clearly preliminary to the development of industry. On the one hand, it releases labor power for employment there; on the other, by vastly increasing the amount of food created by each agricultural worker, it creates the necessary subsistence base for industrial workers. There have been other, more concrete changes. The most notable of these has been the replacement of coal – typically labor-intensive where underground mining is the norm – by oil, which in its extraction requires very little labor power. What holds services together as part of a particular sense of capitalism’s division of labor, at least, is the way, in the first place, that they perform auxiliary roles (Walker 1985). Most notably, they act to facilitate the circulation of capital: think financial services, the retail trade, advertising. Second, there are those services focusing on the reproduction of labor power: education, health, services for the retired, commuter transport, all of crucial interest to capital, if in different ways. In some cases they renew the physical and mental powers of the worker or in others, like further education, improve them. In still further cases, like retirement homes and schools, they release labor power from households for wage work.



Just as the rise of the secondary sector depended on revolutions in the productivity of workers in the primary sector, so it is the vastly increased capacity of workers in the secondary sector that has allowed services to flourish. Other services are more truly part of industrial capital. The various hospitality industries are exemplary: hotels, the catering trades. Much of transport is another case, transferring materials from one firm to another and then to wholesalers or distribution centers. One way of making sense of this division is to put the secondary sector in the center. It rises on the back of the primary sector and then, through its products, like artificial fertilizers, agricultural machinery, irrigation equipment, new seed types, more mechanized means of extracting minerals, furthers the productivity of workers there. Meanwhile, a continuing transformation of the labor process allows the growth of services that mediate the circulation of capital and facilitate the reproduction of labor power. At the same time, it provides the equipment put to work in the service sector: the medical equipment, information technology, electric cookers, school buses and obviously, lots more.

New technologies and new products Marx’s emphasis was always on cost competition: most notably, though not exclusively, on the acquisition of ever newer instruments of labor which could soak up the labor of the worker more quickly. He says nothing about the development of new products, except to the extent that it is implicit in the development of new machines: i.e., the competition of firms in the capital goods sector to improve their products and to develop newer ones attractive to firms in the consumption goods sector keen to steal a competitive advantage over one another. Clearly, though, it is not only through the development of new technologies that firms compete, but also in the development of new and improved final products. Regardless, all the bigger firms have research and development departments with an explicit focus on product innovation. With respect to technologies, on the other hand, it is not true that they are all developed in order to be sold. Some are ones which would be hard to sell: technologies of production that firms develop, which cannot be patented, and which



spread by imitation. The spatial divisions of labor of firms as a particular sort of production technology are a case in point. There are advantages to splitting off the less technically demanding aspects of the labor process to separate plants at a distance (Clark 1981): most notably a reduced likelihood of demands for increased wages. More recently something called ‘just-in-time,’ initiated by Toyota (Sayer 1986), has spread rapidly as a way of reducing the costs of inventory and improving product control. Yet while the logic of product development, innovation and acquisition is clear enough, and has been realized in a veritable torrent of both new process technologies, and new products, their concrete form has been far less predictable. Who in the age of steam could have predicted either the electric motor or the internal combustion engine? Who could have foreseen the radio or the television amongst a dazzling array of consumer goods, one after another, in the history of things? The succession of products is not completely incomprehensible. They have tended to be built on the innovations of predecessors. Airplanes used internal combustion engines and the rubber tires for their landing wheels were pioneered in the automobile industry. Earlier, the automobile industry had got the idea of the rubber tire from the bicycle industry. Early models of the car used, like the bicycle, the chain principle to convey power to the back wheels; and the assumption that the vehicle should be powered from the rear was another legacy of the humble bicycle. In other instances, a technology has been used in industry prior to its transformation into a household consumption good. The refrigerator is a case in point. The home computer is a direct descendant of the huge machines once the monopoly of the army, big corporations and universities. In still others, the evolution required a clear eureka moment: McLean’s invention of the truly revolutionary container on the basis of the American (tractor)-trailer is classic. There again, there are limits to what can be proposed: the limits imposed by the natural sciences and the laws of mechanics. So the concrete development of capitalism in terms of its technologies and products has not been entirely unpredictable, but the degrees of freedom have necessarily remained quite substantial. *  *  * In short and in conclusion, capital is hugely dynamic. We might not be able to predict how it will change but it will certainly change. This



dynamic is owing to its fundamentally contradictory character. It depends on a fraught class relation that it constantly tries to suspend only for it to reappear once more. This raises an important question: given the unequal relationship which is capital’s necessary condition, how is it that any social process with capitalism at its center can possibly cohere? How does it manage to hold? We turn to that question in the concluding chapter of the first part of this book.

Note 1. As in recent claims for ‘intellectual property rights’ which takes the idea beyond the older one of the patent, to include things like branding and trade secrets.


‘The factor(s) of cohesion’: ideology and state under capitalism

Context The class tensions of capitalist societies are one of their dominating features. Every capitalist country has a labor movement aimed at pushing for legislation enhancing the condition of the working class, and every one has a capitalist class whose goal is to resist and make it easier for them to exploit the working class. Nevertheless, and remarkably, things do not develop to the point of serious revolutionary challenge. Capitalist societies manage to cohere. Working classes everywhere accede to their own exploitation. How is it, therefore, that the revolutionary ardor apparent one hundred years ago, has long been tempered and has given way to a reformism that simply allows capital’s contradictions to reappear in new forms? Poulantazas thought that the state was the factor of cohesion (Poulantzas and Miliband 1972). It was the state that provided a sense of shared dilemmas that could override class divisions. Ideology, though, the characteristic beliefs of a capitalist society, also contributes both in its own right and indirectly through the structure of the capitalist state and the way it then, in turn, contributes to a solidifying of characteristic ideological forms.




Capitalist ideology The subtitle of Capital is A Critique of Political Economy and, to be sure, a strong critical element is clear when reading it. Marx’s focus is classical political economy: people like Adam Smith and Malthus, along with more vulgar expositors of its principles. A major concern was to expose the ideological character of interpretations of, and beliefs about, capitalist society: ideological in the sense of illusory but effective from the standpoint of reproducing the (production relations) status quo and that ruling class which benefits from it. In other words, ideologies reproduce the system by shielding it from political challenge. And they do this as a result of the way the oppressed buy into them in virtue of their participation in those production relations. Two points at the outset. First, for Marx, ideas are conditioned by material practice, forged in the sphere of production. We develop our ideas in the context of engaging practically with the world so as to facilitate our ability to intervene in it. As we intervene, and starting from the most rudimentary of conceptions, so we modify our views in accordance with what seems to work. Production, though, always occurs through certain social relations and they make all the difference to the understandings of that material practice that we arrive at.1 Second, in Capital, Marx is not always in an explicitly critical mode. But when he is, we find him resorting to contrasts between what he calls form and content, phenomenal form and essence, or otherwise put, appearance and inner connection, illusion and reality. This has to do with his critique of political economy in the sense that under capital people are deceived by the appearance of things; there is a systematic inversion between content and form, capital’s essence or inner connection and its mode of appearance. Alternatively put, there is a rupture in capitalist society between our experiences of its social relations and their underlying reality. The realm of illusion, of appearance, is the sphere of circulation while that of production is where the deceptions are peeled away: the content. This point is most famously illustrated by something said at the end of Chapter



6 as the worker has just entered into a contract with Mr Moneybags; it merits a lengthy quote: This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all. On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his laborer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but—a hiding. (Marx 1867/1976: 280)

In short, equality is going to turn into inequality, since the capitalist is going to get far more out of the bargain than the owner of labor power. The worker is indeed, in the form of the wage, getting equivalent to the value of her labor power. But the capitalist, by so employing the owner of labor power is seeking to valorize her own money by extracting a value that is surplus to that value. The illusion is cemented by the form in which the worker is paid, or what Marx called ‘the wage form’: the fact that the exchange value the worker receives for her labor power is in the form of a statement documenting how much work was done in terms of time or objects produced.2 This implies that what the worker sells is something quantitative – labor expended – rather than command over a qualitative feature of people: their labor power with all that that implies for the possibility of exploitation. It is in these terms that we can understand the misleading nature of demands like ‘a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.’



In a similar sort of way, the freedom promised by the wage bargain is going to turn into unfreedom. For while she can take her labor power elsewhere she has to take it somewhere. The double-freedom of labor power is indeed ‘double.’ There is the nice, reassuring bit about the freedom of the worker to dispose of his labor power as he sees fit. There is also the second freedom which is the ironic ‘freedom’ from the means of production: so while one can indeed choose one’s employer, one cannot not choose an employer. In short, the worker confronts a monopoly of the means of production by the few, and hence a bargaining relation of a very unequal sort: one that will inevitably result in forking over surplus value, however much the worker is unaware of it and his consciousness continues to remain at the level of exchange. This, though, is to touch on only one aspect of capital’s deceptions. For, according to Marx, our relations with others under capital are then experienced as relations between things. For the capitalist the worker exists only as labor power, for the worker the capitalist exists only as representative of money capital. Our social relations assume a thing-like character because of their objectivity and impersonality, as in ‘the effects of the market’ on our well-being or ‘lack of capital.’ Capitalism separates but the effect is deceptive. It seemingly fragments social life into so many different parts that then interact as a matter of what he described as ‘external necessity’: Only in the eighteenth century, in ‘civil society’, do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations. (Marx 1857–58: 84)

We live in a world of binaries: labor/capital; agent/structure; ideal/ material; political/economic; and, as Marx points out above, individual/ society. This is in contrast to pre-capitalist forms of society. Dependence there was personal, as in the dependence of the serf on the feudal lord; now it is objective in the shape of the market. Our relations to others were experienced as internal, as defining who we were; now they are external as we seemingly make choices among possible employers. So while we cannot not sell our labor power, to whom we sell it is a contingent matter. If there is an original sin in this matter, a foundational separation, it is that of primitive accumulation where the immediate producer is sepa-



rated from the means of production, but in the process, as we saw in the double-freedom of labor power, endowed with rights in her own labor power, and so separated from feudal lord or slave owner. It is on that basis that capital develops through the socialization of production, deepening the separation as it goes: not just individual vs society, as in the quote, but, with the development of the division of labor, ideal vs material and, as we will see when we come to discuss the state below, political vs economic. This sense of separation is extraordinarily important. It is not just capital and labor, and individual and society that become self-sufficient, interacting in atomistic fashion. Rather, it is all aspects of the social process: discourse, institutions, the division of labor, technology and, yes, geography. Think likewise of some of the other binaries that have tormented social thought, like nature/society, culture/economy and, to bring it closer to home, place/space. These separations cannot endure. Social life is a totality of parts which are dialectically related to one another, a process of mutual definition, empowerment and constraint. The division of labor as we experience it under capitalism is irreducibly capitalist. The same goes for the state and the ideological forms that we are currently discussing, along with geography, institutional forms, accepted forms of discourse, social hierarchies and technologies. In turn, the accumulation process is conditional on these parts and the way that they function. Alternatively, take any particular part and understand it in terms of the others: not difficult. Accordingly, any centrifugal force triggers off processes that bring it back into line: states may act in a way that a capitalist class finds uncongenial, and as Mitterand famously discovered when he tried radical reforms during his first presidency in France, they will learn their lesson. Nevertheless, the sense of separation, of a fundamental fragmentation of the social process is extraordinarily powerful: deeply embedded in the material conditions of a capitalist society. The idea that we can understand the world in terms of a set of independent forces interacting with each other, like ‘independent’ variables in a multiple regression equation, is very, very common indeed – almost universal. It permeates not just everyday understandings but bourgeois social science. For neo-classical economists, public policy is just one more independent factor. Equally common are those treatments of social life which privilege one particular moment of the social process, ignoring all others, whether it be ecology, as in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (1997); technology, as in



Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat (1995); or discourse, as in Robert Downs’s Books that Changed the World (1956). As Marx made clear in his discussion of Luddism or machine-breaking, the use to which machines are put, the meaning that they have in the social process in toto, depends on the particular social relations of production then dominant.3 Likewise, in his discussion of Wakefield’s theory of colonization and the unfortunate Mr Peel, means of production can only function as capital where the double freedom of labor power applies.4 Nevertheless, this does not stop people from arguing that the development problem in sub-Saharan Africa is ‘lack of capital’ or the inadequacies of the state.5 In short, there are just so many mystifications standing in the way of penetrating capital’s secret. There is more to come. These particular objectifications entailed by the way capitalism is experienced also tend to get naturalized and dehistoricized; treated as universals that, in their turn, also deceive. We should remember that only under capitalism is the urge to ‘truck, barter and exchange’ generalized as everyone, of necessity, is drawn into relations of commodity exchange. But for Adam Smith the propensity was universal, dating back to the dawn of history. The danger of naturalization is patently political. Even while unintended, it makes what is historic into something eternal and therefore unalterable. Capitalism becomes not a social order but a natural one, and as a result it is pointless to try to do away with it. Struggle against capital as a mode of production makes no sense; it is here to stay and always has been. As Marx argues in the Appendix to Capital Volume 1: … it is evident even now that this is a very convenient method by which to demonstrate the eternal validity of the capitalist mode of production and to regard capital as an immutable natural element in human existence. The process of labor is nothing but work itself, viewed at the moment of its creative activity. Hence the universal features of the labor process are independent of every specific social development. The materials and means of labor, a proportion of which consists of the products of previous work, play their part in every labor process in every age and in all circumstances. If, therefore, I label them ‘capital’ … then I have proved that the existence of capital is an eternal law of nature of human production and that the Kirghiz who cuts down rushes with a knife he has stolen from a Russian so as to weave them together to make a canoe is just as true a capitalist as Herr von Rothschild. (1867/1976: 998–9)



The capitalist state Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the state has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests. (Marx and Engels 1846/1978: 79–80)

In contrast to previous class societies, an important feature of capitalism is the way which the extraction of surplus value relies purely upon forces of an economic nature: what Marx called “the silent compulsion of economic relations” (1867/1976: 899). Both the slave societies of antiquity and of feudalism relied on direct force or what has come to be called ‘extra-economic coercion’: slaves would be whipped, as indeed might be serfs who failed to provide feudal dues.6 But in capitalism there is an interesting separation: extra-economic coercion is expelled from the labor process and located in an institution separate from the economic, the state. Owners of money capital have the power to organize the labor process and to extract a surplus but that power is underpinned by law and the enforcement of that law by the state: the law of absolute private property and of contractual relations. The coercive power of the state then remains important in the process of primitive accumulation: the expropriation of land from indigenous populations, the slow withering away of peasant ownership through taxation, the law of bankruptcy.7 The state, therefore, underpins that double freedom of labor power that is the necessary condition for the capitalist mode of production. But as such it also has to take on responsibilities that private property and the competition of capitals one with another foreclose. Production depends on the creation of certain common conditions that go beyond the enforcement of private property rights. These include facilitating the creation of transportation links, and the shared infrastructure of cities like water supply and sewerage, through the law of eminent domain. Without that law, exclusively private rights in property would give the owner the right to hold out for an extortionate rent in exchange for a right of way, and thus frustrate the creation of that shared physical infrastructure necessary to the socialization of production. In the case of the necessary social infrastructure – the supply of money, the various forms of relief for the industrial reserve army (unemployment



compensation, the workhouse), the protection of labor power from the self-destructive impulses of capitalist competition – it is the competition between capitals that gets in the way. Private banks can be the ultimate providers of money, but competition with other banks can tempt them into undisciplined lending and result in inflation of their currency’s value and a loss of business confidence. As for laws to protect labor, to provide income supplements in case of unemployment, and healthcare, given the competition between capitals none of these will be provided unilaterally; and this because to do so risks subsidizing other capitals and giving them a relative advantage. The coercive power of the state with respect to all capitals allows the suspension of these contradictions; though that does not mean to say that they will not be posed in other forms, at other geographical scales, perhaps, as states find their powers compromised by the ability of firms to move beyond their jurisdictional boundaries. From the standpoint of the reproduction of capitalist social relations through the promotion of the accumulation process, however, this particularization of the capitalist state, its formal separation from the economy, can also be problematic. For if the state is formally independent of capitals, how can there be a guarantee that it will in fact underpin that process? How and why is the capitalist state ‘capitalist’? One answer to this is in terms of the direct involvement of capitals with the state:8 the pressures of business on the state through its various lobbying activities; the ability of capitalists to fund election campaigns; a congruence in social background and ideological formation between capital and those who hold elected and non-elected office in the state; the formation of understandings between state officials, elected or otherwise on regulatory boards and the businesses so regulated; and the power that businesses have in that relationship through the information and expertise at their disposal. A second approach asserts that whoever gets to hold a position in the state is immaterial; legislators do not have to share their concrete ideological formation in schools and university with the captains of industry for them to work in a way congruent with their wishes. Equally irrelevant are, say, the rules governing the funding of election campaigns (obviously very variable between one capitalist state and another). Rather, what is central to making the capitalist state ‘capitalist’ are the structural constraints to which the state is subject and the fact that it has its own reasons for ensuring that capital accumulation continues to occur. These reasons have to



do with the sources of the state’s own revenues. The last thing a capitalist state wants is a slowdown in economic growth since it will erode growth in its own revenues and therefore its ability to put together policies that can create winning coalitions at the next election. Likewise, a run on the currency as a result of a loss of business confidence can increase its burden of debts as it takes on foreign loans in order to bridge temporary shortfalls in revenue; or alternatively the rate of interest that foreign banks charge for funding loans for, say, state investments in public infrastructure, can increase. And to the extent that there is a crisis of business confidence and the economy contracts so more people are out of work, fewer find their standards of living improving, and there is demand for a change at the next election. While certainly relevant, what these explanations ignore is the importance of capitalist ideology in the most abstract sense. The state is capitalist to the extent that it reflects and acts in accordance with the ruling ideology; and the necessary involvement of all in the material workings of a capitalist society virtually ensures that that will be the case. But ‘virtually’ because in order for the state to so reflect that ideology, it has to mimic it, express its fundamental rules, and not least, those of ‘equality’ and ‘freedom.’ ‘Equality’ now, not in the sense of the exchange relation and how everyone’s money is as good as anyone else’s, but now equality before the law, where each has a vote, and can be elected to parliament, though clearly, as with equality in exchange, a deceptive one.9 Likewise, in the advanced capitalist states, one is ‘free’: but now free to express one’s opinions, form a political party, choose between them, even while the choices available are all bourgeois, and with no interest in overthrowing capitalist rule. Historically, those freedoms and equalities had to be fought for and they were fought for in the – now apparent – mistaken belief that it would make a difference. In all of the advanced capitalist countries, there is a history of exclusion from the suffrage that only gives way slowly to inclusion of the adult population as a whole. In Western Europe, a property franchise was common; a person had to own so much in property before being allowed to vote. Men were granted the franchise before women. In the USA, and in the former settler colonies, the indigenous population and people of color were long excluded from a state that clearly existed only for the (white) settlers. The great fear, of course, was that if the working class, the dispossessed, obtained the right to vote, then their class privileges would



be at an end. Clearly this did not occur. Democracy has proven perfectly compatible with the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production. Therborn sheds some light on this: One of the main reasons why nineteenth- and early twentieth-century liberals could deny the compatibility of democracy with private property was their dread that popular legislatures and municipal bodies would greatly increase taxation. However, they were disregarding the elasticity and expansive capacity of capitalism. … Rises in productivity make possible a simultaneous increase of both rates of exploitation and real incomes of the exploited masses. (1977: 30)

Concern about granting the franchise was not just about the possibility of punitive taxation of high incomes. It was also that an enfranchised working class would legislate reforms in labor law that would greatly enhance their bargaining power with capital and so threaten profitability. Therborn points out that these concerns disregarded ‘the elasticity and expansive capacity of capitalism.’ The reason they ‘disregarded it,’ however, was that those expansive capacities were not yet in evidence. ‘Freedom’ and ‘equality,’ thus achieved, have turned out to be a dubious prize. On the one hand, the labor movement was seduced into the parliamentary route that would inevitably result in its assimilation into the logics of the welfare state, as Przeworski (1980) described. It would commit it, through its party political representatives, to a competition for the vote of a (stratified) working class, and with the ‘middle classes’ more inclined to ally with the propertied and their anxieties about taxation and subsidizing those they regarded as the feckless. Leadership would assume new significance and those with the social as well as political skills would take over. The necessity for secrecy in securing deals would then seal the alienation of the voters from the leadership, as indeed Bachrach (1967) claimed it would in his concept of democratic elitism.10 They would have to be satisfied with modest distributional gains, of which the welfare state was the major achievement, and structural transformation would be impossible. Reformism is fine from capital’s standpoint. It means business as usual, even while the push to innovate and stay ahead of the demands of the taxman was intensified. In fact, it would be intensified in the form of the proliferation of new consumer goods. This was the affluent society defined by J K Galbraith in a widely praised book of 1958.11 Now the ide-



ological screws could be turned up a notch. The idea of ‘freedom’ could be given a new meaning: it became not so much a question of freedom to choose who to work for, always assuming that you could find somebody willing to employ you, as freedom to choose from the cornucopia of cars, washing machines, houses, lawn mowers and lots more. As Alan Wolfe (1982) argued, this would be the occasion for governments of all stripes to embrace the virtues of ‘growth’ and to compete in terms of mildly varying programs through which it could be accomplished. Henceforth, growth would become a crucial part of the state’s ideological armory: a means of securing mass support without challenging the prerogatives of capital. A new vocabulary would emerge around ideas of ‘trickle down’ and ‘raising all boats,’ and the danger of ‘killing the golden goose’ through redistributional policies that, on close examination, were far from radical. Rather, instead of equality of outcomes, the goal should be enhancing equality of opportunity (Parkin 1971: Chapter 4); though carefully avoiding mention of a contradiction that makes the latter unattainable in the absence of the former.

Notes 1.

“The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behavior. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these …” (Marx and Engels 1848/1998: 47). 2. As in piece-wages, multiplied by the ‘rate’ per object produced. 3. “It took both time and experience before the workers learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and therefore to transfer their attacks from the material instruments of production to the form of society which utilizes those instruments” (Marx 1867/1976: 554–5). 4. “First of all, Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative – the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things. Mr. Peel, he moans, took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means



of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 300 persons of the working class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, ‘Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.’ Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!” (Marx 1867/1976: 932–3). 5. Cox and Negi (2010). 6. It is important to note that the contrasting ideas of economic and non-economic coercion only make sense under capitalism, because only then does there seem to be an ‘economic’ moment that is separate from a ‘political’ one. It seems unlikely that such a distinction would have been drawn in this way under feudalism. 7. Taxation forces immediate producers to produce in part for the market, which then opens them up to some competition with others, the possibility of indebtedness, and then dispossession. 8. See the debate between Poulantzas and Miliband (Poulantzas and Miliband 1972). 9. Equality before the law has to be seriously qualified by the very fact of a market in the ‘best’ lawyers and the class prejudices of the judicial branch more generally. 10. See also Hindess (1971). 11. Galbraith, The Affluent Society, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

PART II Geography and marxism

As we embark on the second part of this short book, it is useful to situate the question of why indeed there should be a Marxist geography. This breaks down into two questions: why geography needs Marxism; also why Marxism needs geography. To start with the first: any social science, including human geography, needs a social theory. Human geography lacks one intrinsic to itself. This is in contrast to anthropology, economics and sociology, though all have very different sorts of takes, at least in their mainstream versions. Political science, on the other hand, is more like human geography: a borrower of the social theories of others. Human geography’s needs are distinct. It deals with a highly heterogeneous set of social relations. Economics can and does confine itself to the economic, but a particular definition of it in which exchange relations dominate: how, that is, markets, are the most efficient way of allocating scarce resources to desired ends. Anthropology, in accordance with its long-term focus on pre-capitalist social forms, has tended to emphasize kinship relations. Sociology is a bit broader, though with a dominant focus that goes back to its origin in the social dislocations of the nineteenth century: i.e., a focus on the normative and on social integration. Human geography’s needs are less channeled. The different systematic fields of economic, cultural, and political geography are suggestive. Adding to this complexity is the fact that historically it is a field that has dealt both with social relations over space, as in most work in economic geography; and how our relations with nature are socially mediated, as in political ecology.



In these regards, Marxist theory has much to recommend it. It embraces social life in its entirety; its fundamental materialist assumption is about the relation of people to nature, including nota bene, their own nature. Further advantages are that it can cope with change both social and ecological, that other sorts of social theory, like Weberian, classical and neo-classical economics, have difficulties with. This is because of its emphasis on contradiction and how change is an attempt to suspend it. Its major rival in human geography has been critical human geography, the products of which are now commonplace in the field.1 It has radical pretensions but is ultimately pluralistic in its approach. Explanation tends to be in terms of the interaction of diverse, more or less independent, self-sustaining conditions or forces. The contrast is with Marxism, which privileges the sphere of production and how it permeates, and is supported, by other facets of social life, including institutions, discourse and, of course, geography. Critical human geography also has trouble with transformation and this is because it lacks the concept of contradiction so central to Marxist understanding. In short, there are good reasons why Marxism should be the human geographer’s choice when it comes to social theory. But if geography needs Marxism, so does the reverse apply; Marxism can usefully expand its understanding of the world by incorporating the insights of human geography. Capitalism, or more accurately, the capitalist form of production, is the ultimate driving force of the contemporary social process: it shapes and makes use of, transforming as it goes, everything that it requires and controlling everything that might resist its onward march, though not always successfully. It needs supportive institutions, including a state; discourses that reinforce its social relations rather than undermine them; a division of labor; a relation to nature; and a particular geography or what Harvey referred to as a spatial fix. All these aspects are internally related to one another: they cannot act independently without being checked or facilitated by the others as their own necessary conditions. Things have to be located, and in a way that enhances the accumulation process. Geography internalizes all other parts of the totality of social relations just as they internalize geography: not just divisions of labor, therefore but spatial divisions of labor which can then be mobilized by capital as a wedge to undermine the resistance of the working class (Clark 1981); not just a capitalist state structure but a structure that reflects geographic difference while reinforcing ideas of



territory; and a new discourse that reflects how capitalist development encounters geographic difference – one of ‘location,’ ‘world cities,’ ‘commuting’ and the various ‘belts’ – axial belts, rustbelts, wheat belts, and so on. Marxism cannot ignore geography, therefore. It is an essential aspect of capitalist development. On the other hand, mainstream social theory can and does ignore geography; another reason why human geography needs Marxism. The remainder of the book is to be read with these claims in mind. Five chapters follow and each can be taken in a stand-alone way. While there are connections between some of them, they are not highlighted. Each, however, represents a continuing and major theme in Marxist writings about human geography.

Note 1.

For a critical review, see Cox (2016).


The urbanization of capital and struggles around the capitalist city

Urbanization and the socialization of production Capitalist development has led to immense change in the geographic distribution of the world’s population. This has included a dramatic shift from the countryside to the towns and cities, not to mention the emergence of entirely new cities. Most of the people in the capitalist world now live in dense concentrations of population, largely divorced from immediate connections with the surrounding countryside. The crucial question is: why? Simply put, it is a matter of the emergence of industrial production on a much, much larger scale than the humble handicrafts that had characterized the medieval town. The drive to accumulate that is a distinguishing feature of capitalism, is one that encourages the exploitation of any and all possibilities of producing on a larger scale. This is because it promises a more intense technical division of labor, more massive instruments of labor used by people working together, all yielding reductions in concrete labor times. Concentrations of workers then mean concentrations of people around the place of work. This is by no means all, of course; big factories attract their suppliers, and then the suppliers of the suppliers. A set of firms performing auxiliary roles in the emerging social division of labor of the town inevitably comes about: repair services, transport services, construction, not to mention all the retailing necessary to support a large residential population and the various public services. Size begets size, as in the classic case of economies of agglomeration. 73



The urban question? Or a class question? The capitalist city was and is a thoroughly contradictory place. On the one hand, it is necessary to the socialization of production and hence the accumulation process. On the other, it is conducive to resistance to capitalist rule: workers organize against it, and form political parties to curb its pretensions. Early on, the urban became a cauldron of class tension: at work, a capitalist class that pushed the working class to the wall, transformed old ways of doing things, old norms that worked counter to the logic of a pre-capitalist economy (Thompson 1971); and in the living place, a landlord class that added to the pressures. How would expression be given to discontent and alienation? The collective nature of work, the fact of working with others facing the same conditions, served to promote the development of a working class aware of its very different interests, social stakes that were in opposition, and continue to be in opposition, to those of employers and landlords. It would be in the factories and in the mines that the labor movement would be born: spontaneously breaking the machines that seemed to threaten unemployment, and then forming labor unions to contest wages, and health and safety, and ultimately to press for the right to vote; cooperative movements to sidestep the high prices of the grocery stores; and then Labour Parties, Social Democratic Parties and other parties of the left with the goal of legislating on behalf of the interests of the working class. Early on, people talked about an urban question. But it was, and remains, more fundamentally, a class question. The urban simply intensified tensions that had their origin at the point of production and in the living place. This was partly because of the way in which the concentration of workers allowed a sense of shared interests to emerge. A distinct feature of the age was the occupational community where people worked in the same industry, possibly for the same employer, living together, intermarrying in a way that promoted a convergence of opinion. In addition, to the tensions of the workplace were added those of living place anxieties around rent and eviction. The discontent, manifest in so many ways, struck at least concern in the capitalist class: how would resistance to their rule be defused so as to allow accumulation to continue? There were a number of different strategies. The fact that the joint stock firm was in its infancy, meant that



most firms were owner-operated. This opened up the way for a more personal approach to counter the impersonality of the workplace. Owners got to know ‘their’ workers by name and generally treated them as part of an extended family (Joyce 1980; Huberman 1987). The goal was to create a degree of personal loyalty to the firm and to negate the hostility that might surround the wage and conditions of work. A development of this would then be the model community: a mix of paternalism and the company town.1 The employer provided sanitary housing, communal facilities like a library and baths, perhaps outdoor recreational facilities, but excluded taverns. Libraries were seen as ‘improving’: if educated, the worker would understand his position and accept it. The tavern or public house was anathema: for the employer, it meant that the worker was wasting his money on drink, missing Monday’s work through a hangover and then demanding an increase in wages to make up the difference. In short, geography was defined as the problem. Rearrange the working population and the facilities available to them, and social peace would return. In other instances, national policy stepped in with a different spatial fix: push the working class out of the city with its high rents and dissolve the occupational communities so conducive to dissent and revolt. Through granting the right of eminent domain to the railroad companies, allowing them to purchase property along a right of way and then to clear housing to make way for stations, national governments facilitated the arrival of the railway into the heart of the city. People were certainly displaced, but the railway opened up the urban periphery to suburban development and promised some mitigation of the pressure on rents in the center of the city. Government mandates for so-called ‘workmen’s fares’ in exchange for the privileges granted the railroad would then give added impetus to getting workers on the train and lowering rents (Kellett 1969).

Class contradiction in the living place Capitalism had profound effects on everyday life, not least on its geography. In the cities and towns, it radically separated what had once been more spatially coincidental: instead of getting up in the morning, going out and checking on the cattle, perhaps milking them in a barn next to the house, now people ‘went to work’ and ‘came home’ at night. Workplace



and living place were henceforth radically separate. This was a separation that would then be deepened by ideas about free time and leisure. Before capitalism, play and work were more intermingled in their timing. Work had to be done, but one could schedule breaks as felt. Now, work was prolonged and disciplined and only after that were you free to dispose of your time as you wished: so ‘work time’ vs ‘free time.’ In addition there was something new that would only slowly acquire a name: ‘the commute.’ And parenthetically we should note here how our categories are rooted in material practice and the idea of ‘free time’ is a very gendered one. Capitalism drew on old ideas about gendered divisions of labor, and this is something to be addressed. The living place would be the site of a set of seemingly different conflicts, heightening the mystification of separation. The necessary condition for them, though, went back to the same source as conflicts in the living place around conditions of work and wages. Capital’s distributional implications would feed into living-place conflicts. The most fraught surrounded the question of housing. Early on, housing was often provided by the employer. But to the extent that provision could be externalized to a separate branch of the division of labor – something that in the beginning would take the form of a landlord class – then the industrial capitalist preferred to put her money into production. This meant that rent would be a separate object of conflict as landlords tried to extract as much as the market would bear, while tenants, squeezed by limits to their wage, resisted. Housing, its conditions and the rents charged, would become a major issue for the labor movement, as in demands for rent control and for the public provision of housing. There would be some amelioration but it is an issue that refuses to go away: intimately tied up with the contradictions of capitalism, it needs to have its workers housed, but then, through the activities of those charged in the division of labor with said provision, it fails. For the tenant, one of the responses to the question of rent has been to double-up, which has always been a major contributor to the spread of infection. Early on, the question of public health also embraced the lack of pure water and sanitary sewers, along with insanitary housing. Again, physical well-being as an issue continues but in new forms, most notably in air pollution; but only ‘most notably.’ There is also the question of social mix. The socialization of production, and hence the development of the technical division of labor, means that people with quite different levels of income have to live relatively cheek



by jowl. This has then made social mix a fraught matter, but one with a long and complex history. The desire for residential separation, realized in the form of chronic segregation, has morphed over time. In addition to widespread suspicions of the underclass on the part of the better off, have been added concerns about schools and the desire to keep those from poorer home backgrounds out. To some degree, money and its implications for competitive bidding in the housing market, work to help the bourgeoisie along with their hangers-on from the better paid strata in the technical division of labor, to keep ‘them’ at bay. But ‘they’ also want the neighborhood advantages of the better off: the better schools, distance from the drug peddlers, the petty thieves who are just as much a problem for them as for the better off. Social mix is therefore a political issue. Its fundamental condition, though, is not just material. It is intensified by the contradiction between social mix and capital’s value system. Capital accords status and respect to those with money; and if you have it, you have to display it through appropriate consumption. Accordingly ‘top’ people want to live in ‘top’ neighborhoods, unpolluted by the démunis: an important stimulus to exclusion, even while the excluders talk loftily about how apartments and high density homes do not pay their way in support of local schools; or, better still, how the areas planned in their midst for public housing are a bad idea because there is no bus provision. They want exclusion but they are ashamed to admit it: so progress of a sort. Ultimately, however, we should not lose sight of the intimate connection, the internal relation, between contradictions around production and those around the living place. As we have seen, urbanization is a hugely important aspect of the socialization of production but also highly contradictory. As the city becomes more attractive to firms in virtue of the depth of its labor market, the variety of its suppliers and business clients, its airport and its numerous connections, so there are congestion effects. Rising real estate values cut into profits. Air pollution can make it less attractive to the additional workers required by incoming firms. The journey to work becomes slower and more elongated as workers seek to avoid higher rents by moving further afield. These contradictions can be suspended by the densification of housing, by the construction of new freeways, and by increased suburbanization, but these attempts can founder on another contradiction: that between work place and living place. As we have seen, the capitalist mode of production



separates the two in a radical way and then constructs the living place as a retreat from the point of production: a retreat where one can get ‘closer to nature,’ free from the noise and fumes of traffic. Any attempt to densify or construct on the last available pieces of land will therefore be confronted by opposition.2 Silicon Valley is a poster child for all of these effects (Cox 2016b: 20–25): a rapid expansion of the local economy followed by housing shortages and rising land prices sensed as a crisis by the IT industry and something it has tried to mitigate as potential recruits to the labor force struggle to find housing; and when they do, they push for higher wages to cover the rents. Meanwhile, some of the smaller local governments have pursued exclusionary policies: keen to snag the new investments in production that promise enhanced tax bases, but not so keen on the new housing for the workers. All is not completely lost. A number of the manufacturers have reduced their need for labor in Silicon Valley itself by moving the less demanding aspects of the labor process to smaller towns scattered throughout the West.3 Bottom line: Contradiction is the key to understanding the transformation of the capitalist city, as indeed of any capitalist geography. This means tracing it back to the fundamental contradiction which is that of class. In the city, workers press for higher wages as congestion effects click in; workers resisting encroachment of new housing, new freeways or whatever into what had been sold to them as a retreat from the world of production. Meanwhile, as production has globalized, this has meant, on the one hand, increasing pressures in favor of urban growth: the big cities continue to grow; but, on the other, new opportunities for decentralizing production to points where the value of labor power is lower.

Transformations The capitalist city has clearly changed, both in its form and how it filters and expresses capital’s contradictions. The technical changes, most notably in mobility, and utterly transformative of urban life, could hardly have been foreseen, despite capital’s continual push to reduce its turnover time and the desire of workers for shorter commute times



so as to access the cheaper housing possible in the distant suburbs. The relations of production, broadly understood, have also changed, to some degree more predictably. The same applies to state policy. In addressing these changes, it is important to stress the degree to which they have been gradual. It is hard to periodize. Cities are dominated by the automobile and by a built form that both accommodated and stimulated its adoption. But it certainly did not happen within a decade, or even two. In fact, it is still happening as families become two-car, and then three-car or more as adult children get their licenses. Regardless, the Second World War is often taken as something of a watershed, but it is only after, say, 1955, that people start talk about the post-industrial city: a city dominated not by industry, as in the past, but by corporate headquarters and those services catering to their needs like corporate investment, corporate law, marketing services, consultants of all stripes; and then by the big research hospitals and universities.4 Clearly, a number of things came together for this to happen. Corporations split off their headquarters functions from their production, which has often gone to smaller towns; something to be discussed in Chapter 12 on uneven development. The growth of the research hospitals and universities is partly on the back of an expansion of the welfare state, particularly in Western Europe, and on the move to a labor market prioritizing formal qualifications. But, fundamentally, the post-industrial city is a product of capital’s changing division of labor and how that has been expressed spatially; something driven on by capital’s contradictions and the goal of speeding up the circulation of capital, as we saw in Chapter 6. The other big change has been the rise, alongside industrial, commercial and financial capital, of property capital, remarked on, again, in Chapter 6. It takes more concrete shape in the form of the so-called ‘development industry,’ hugely complex in its structure, some firms more vertically integrated than others, but characterized by an underlying logic of practice which can be summed up in two ways. First, a shift in the balance between custom building and speculative building where construction takes place ahead of demand. Custom work has not been eliminated, but it is now, more often than not, orchestrated by the developers who, among other things, create and sell lots. But the big office buildings, the shopping centers, the tract housing developments go ahead, by and large, without purchase or rental agreements ahead of time. And second, the speculative element then means that property capital is hugely competitive; not so



much in terms of cost as in product. It is an industry characterized by a succession of ever newer real estate products: the strip shopping center; the shopping mall open to the sky; and then, the enclosed shopping mall. The speculative character of property capital sets in motion a process redolent of that producing the reserve army of labor, but now producing a reserve army of housing, which has to be somehow eliminated if it is not to act as a drag on rents. Property capital controls both demand and supply. On the one hand, there is supply in the form of the allure of the new product: the up-to-date housing with two, now perhaps three, garages. This, though, diminishes demand for the ‘out-of-date’ ‘old-fashioned’ housing, perhaps with smaller rooms and no garages, so a housing surplus is created in older parts of the city. And even if you want to live there, the banks, through their control of mortgage credit, will make sure that you set your eyes on the suburbs instead. This is the notorious ‘redlining,’ where banks demur granting loans for the purchase of real estate that, in virtue of competition from the new stuff out in the suburbs, is probably going to lose value and therefore be a quite risky sort of collateral. In an analogous process, the rise of the suburban shopping center catering to suburbanizing populations, emptied out retail space in city centers and, in general, lowered property values there. This would be the context for attempts to revive the central city, or, more accurately, the fortunes of those holding real estate there for profit. These took formal shape in what was known as ‘urban renewal’ – an interesting piece of ideological double-speak, given that the people pushing it would not have cared less if their property had been located somewhere else, but suffering similar falls in value.5 How this played out varied between Western Europe and the USA. In the former, the decline of the central city was delayed by the strong opposition of the center city retailers, and particularly the small, local, owner-operated stores to the creation of what were known in Britain, at least, as ‘out-of-town’ shopping centers. Capital is mobile, but it also has to be fixed, generating conflicts to be reviewed in the final chapter.



Ideological responses There have been two dominant understandings informing policy. One has been more revealing of the underlying tensions of capitalist society than the other, without actually identifying their root cause. This is to understand them as a function of unequal incomes: a matter of the more affluent vs the less so, and the ability of the former to create a city that works for them but not for the poorer. In part this has worked without much in the way of direct state intervention. Gentrification is a classic instance, the wealthy displacing the poorer simply in virtue of the competitive bidding process. The distribution of physicians tends to track closely the income geography of the city. There are the food deserts that recall an earlier literature on how ‘the poor pay more’ (Caplovitz 1967); lacking the easy mobility of the more affluent, their ability to shop around is limited and they are often confined to small mom and pop stores with extortionate prices. Territorial struggles have then kicked in. An exclusive suburb comes with ‘good’ schools, open space and views of distant countryside. But to enforce that exclusivity and the advantages it provides, since lots more cherish it, you need the help of the state, either in the form of exclusionary land use of a formal sort, which is the American case; or of an informal sort: British Greenbelts were never intended as an exclusionary weapon but that is how they are now used, with knock-on effects for gentrification of villages as housing in nearby cities becomes more scarce. These privileges of money – since you need it not just to live in an exclusive suburb but in a small greenbelt village – have then become politically fraught. It does not take much imagination to see that one solution would be a dramatic redistribution of income. This, though, is to bring us full face with the contradictory nature of capital: while there can be some redistribution of income, and some countries are more equal than others, it can only be within very stringent limits. Not least, it could, through the saving it would encourage among the less affluent, reduce inequality in wealth and investments in the stock market and enhanced pensions for all. But that is to encroach on the separation of immediate producers from the means of production: what you do not want is a working class that through its stock market gains or early retirement provisions is less interested in working on capital’s terms – what it is willing to pay as a wage and its conditions



of work. Policies that promise redistribution of income cannot deliver beyond a certain, quite limited point. Parenthetically, this is an excellent example of what happens when some aspect of capitalist society is taken in its all too obvious apartness and treated as the key to reform: the capitalist totality of which it is, in fact, an internally related part, will bite back. The other response in the way people have thought about the city has been through what one might call ‘the urban ideology’: a dysfunctional geography that can be handled by deploying a technical expertise – the planners, the municipal engineers, the public health officials. This ideology made its appearance very early on, and led to a romanticization of the countryside and what had been lost: an anti-urbanism that threads through the thinking about model communities at one extreme to fascist ideology at the other (Cox 2016b: 68–72). Abolishing the big city was never on the cards: the gains it provided for the socialization of production, capitalist style, were too much to risk losing. Instead, the effort has been to plan urban geography by keeping noxious uses away from residential areas; making sure that people live in sanitary housing by the application of building and housing codes; by the work of municipal engineers in ensuring potable water and the evacuation of sewage; and through the oversight of public health officials. In short, a bureaucratic response that can gain public approbation because the state is seen, falsely, as a neutral agent attending to society’s problems and with reference to a supposedly objective, bias-free knowledge. But, of course, none of this comes remotely close to the (class) truth, and the property industry has been quick to mobilize these powers of local government to its purpose: a planning that complements their own; the extension of water and sewer lines to their particular developments; pressure to upgrade housing codes and so enhance demand for their – naturally – upgraded housing; opposing changes in land use plans that will affect demand for their developments; and claiming how their shopping center developments will generate employment without reference to the employment elsewhere that will, as a result, be reduced.



The state The difference that urbanization makes to the way capital’s contradictions take on an enhanced intensity has long been recognized by the way in which states have organized themselves territorially. For the most part, cities have been treated as separate units of local government, cementing further the urban ideology. The distinctiveness of so-called ‘urban problems’ has then been further recognized in what is sometimes called ‘urban policy.’6 Nevertheless, in all capitalist countries, stronger in some like the United Kingdom, weaker in others like the United States, there has been a steady change in the topography of power from which the central branches of the state have emerged as the big winners. Countries have become integrated spaces of accumulation, to the extent that it makes sense to talk about ‘the national economy.’ The subsequent mobility of capital and of workers has meant a sharpening of the class struggle at the national level: a national organization of the labor movement in order to counter the wage-cost competition of capital, while capital has sought the help of the national government in countering labor’s pretensions. As government expanded, so, in virtue of the possibilities of capital and the wealthy playing one local government off against another by moving around in search of lower taxes, more central branches had advantages in raising the money. Accordingly, local governments are limited in what they can do by national regulations. Money is made available but on the terms of the central government. In a context of the uneven development that is typical of capitalist societies, this is a source of tensions of a territorial sort: claims that some cities are getting more from the central government than their fair share, whatever that is; and accusations of territorial exploitation where some cities receive less from the central government in expenditures than they provide in the form of revenues, often a dubious argument and one which, in any case, serves to underline the way in which territory trumps class in common understandings. The other argument is that of the specificity of cities: how central government fails to appreciate local contexts in, say, its planning policies or its ‘one-size fits all’ education or housing policies.7 This has occurred once more against the background of appeals to the territorial: to the national, to the city, to city government, which has enhanced the power of those ideological responses that work to counter, whether intendedly or not, those of class.



*  *  * The territorial character of the city and of struggles around it will be picked up again, and put in a wider context in the final chapter. For now we should note that aside from a discussion of health and sanitation in the city, ecological issues have been by and large bracketed. Yet, any and every socialization of production, whether a city or a country, is an ecological project. Capital inevitably engages with nature, whether it is the natural powers of workers in the form of labor power, or the nature that is appropriated as raw materials, fashioned into instruments of labor or employed to speed up the labor process. It is to the questions raised by this ecological relationship that we turn next.

Notes 1.

Examples include Saltaire and Bournville in England and Pullman on what at the time was the edge of Chicago. 2. The so-called ‘garden grabbing’ case in England is classic. See Cox (2016b: 266–70). 3. Historically, capitalist firms wanted to concentrate workers geographically whether in the form of a large workplace employing thousands or because of the advantages of proximity to other firms. This concentration facilitated, in many ways, the formation of strong labor movements keen to curb capitalist pretensions. In Flanders, this led to policies of housing and rail subsidies aimed at keeping the workers in the countryside (De Decker 2008). It is a contradiction, however, that endures and one that has led to attempts to move production away from larger concentrations (Clark 1981). 4. For a good discussion, see Mollenkopf (1983: 20–36). 5. For an excellent discussion of the (class) politics of urban renewal, see Marc Weiss (1980). 6. Intriguingly, cities are not units typically recognized in electoral systems. The need for approximate equality of populations across voting districts means that smaller cities are part of larger districts, while big cities are divided up. 7. This, ironically, is an advantage of highly centralized states like France. Education and police are national responsibilities, but the so-called field services know that they will get nowhere if they do not cooperate with urban government and achieve some mutual understanding.


Marxism, nature and human geography

Context Human geography has had a long history of involvement with questions of nature, at least with that nature that is external to people, or what was known as the ‘natural environment.’ Up until the 1960s, it is fair to say that it occupied the center ground of the discipline. Human geographers studied the relation between people and their natural environment, their strategies of adaptation, how environmental conditions affected the geography of settlement, land-use, and lines of movement. This focus underwent significant retreat during the 1960s, as ‘space relations’ became the touchstone of thinking and research. This suggested that space was something independent of nature, as in talk about the ‘friction of distance’; but on closer inspection the ‘friction’ turned out to be that of the underlying natural material (Sayer 1985): going was slower over mountains, and often easier along rivers than over land. This exclusion of space from questions of nature continues in human geography, and is limiting. Meanwhile, and outside the field, there were other changes in a wider public consciousness that would affect its future development. From the 1960s on, the relation to nature as defined thus, started to receive wider critical attention, as in milestone contributions like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), the Ehrlichs’ The Population Bomb (1968), and Garrett Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons (1968). Anxieties about air and water pollution became widespread and then an explicit focus of concern of the US federal government with the formation in 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency. In human geography’s radical wing, which began to take shape in the early 1970s, these concerns would be 85



echoed in something called political ecology: the very title emphasized that power had now entered into discussion of human geography’s interest in nature. This is a field that still retains a strong radical core, but Marxism, while overlapping, provides somewhat different emphases. The relation to nature is absolutely fundamental to Marx’s understanding of people in their social relations. The most obvious expression of this is the relation that is external to the human being: the object of our labor in order to secure means of subsistence. It is also, though, a matter of how people relate to their own nature and their ability to intervene in it, something that is naturally given as Marx explained in his famous description of the labor process: Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature. He develops the potentialities slumbering within nature, and subjects the play of its forces to his own sovereign power. (1867/1976: 283)

This purposeful intervention then continues outside the labor process narrowly conceived. People eat and drink. They take care to protect themselves from infection. They intervene in their own reproductive behavior. They build shelters to keep themselves warm, and then heat those shelters.

The fetishization of nature In the section of the Grundrisse on pre-capitalist social formations, Marx takes a different but complementary take on the labor process. In the quote above, he is referring to the labor process outside of any particular social conditions. Here he changes tack, comparing how the individual relates to the natural conditions of his labor under pre-capitalist forms with how it is under capitalism. In the former, he has “an objective mode of existence in his ownership of the land, an existence presupposed to his activity, and not merely as a result of it; a presupposition of his activity



just like his skin, his sense organs, which, of course he also reproduces and develops etc. in the life process, but which are nevertheless presuppositions of this process of his reproduction …” (1857–58/1973: 485; emphasis in the original). The advent of capitalism requires the sundering of this unity. Immediate producers are now separated from the land as their possession; land as the necessary precondition for their activity which then mixes with the land to transform that unity without losing its organic character. Henceforth they confront those natural conditions as the possession of someone else: as something external to them and to which they relate contingently depending on, for example, the state of the labor market and state rules regarding the length of the workday and age of retirement. Nature becomes a thing, to be confronted on the coal face, to be manipulated, or to be experienced as the picturesque by a trip into the countryside. It has become isolated as a force in itself, devoid of those social relations that make these meanings possible; another of capital’s separations, therefore, and something ahistoric, as if those who lived in the Middle Ages enjoyed the English countryside. This has several effects of an exquisitely ideological character.

‘Natural’ disasters This was an early focus of political ecology, in part a reaction to common perceptions, but also to how those understandings were endorsed by academic research, as in work on the ‘perception of natural hazards’:1 how did people understand events like floods or storm surges and how did those understandings affect how they reacted? The repertoire of ‘natural’ disasters was quite limited here but not in the public mind where floods joined with famines, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis and, more recently of course, new infectious diseases, all widely understood as ‘natural disasters’ or, in the parlance of the insurance industry, ‘acts of God.’ The critique of this idea took early shape in a discussion of the idea of famines as natural disasters. A series of famines in the West African Sahel had been so designated, but Michael Watts (1983a: 245–57; 1983b) set out to show how these were not just a matter of periods of low rainfall and therefore ‘natural.’ Historically, the social relations of production had been such as to insure against serious food shortage. French colonialism, with its taxes indifferent to year-on-year variation in weather conditions, its insistence on the production of cash crops for sale, and the collapse of the grain stores put in place by pre-colonial rulers, then exposed peasants



to food shortage. In other words, famine was far from natural. It was very closely bound up with production relations and, in this instance, the attempt to impose the rules of commodity production on peasants. More generally, there seem to be two major arguments against the naturalness of ‘natural’ disasters. The first is the one that Watts highlighted: particular social relations of production can make people more or less vulnerable to climatic shifts, wildfires or floods. The second is that natural forces are not as natural as one might assume. Once one incorporates people into our understanding of nature and of environmental change, then things look different. Deforestation upstream obviously enhances the likelihood of flooding and of soil erosion. Climate change is increasing the intensity of hurricanes and of the damage that they cause, but people are far from innocent with respect to that change, and capitalism and its embrace of fossil fuels is a major culprit.

Malthusianism A common line of reasoning when talking about capital’s contradictions has been what is known as ‘malthusianist.’ One might claim that Thomas Malthus is at the origin of that, but that is to give him a little too much credit. In a world where nature in the imagination is sprung loose from its social relations, it is an almost obvious response to issues of shortage and scarcity in the world.2 Malthus’s argument was that the rate at which population grows exceeds that at which food resources increase. This relation would be checked by purposeful intervention into reproduction, as, for example, through abstinence; or by the effects of famine, war and pestilence. The fact that he recognized the role of purposeful behavior suggests that his view of the world was not crudely biological. Nevertheless, the idea of some balance between people and resources has continued to weigh heavily in understandings of economic history and development. Esther Boserup’s (1965) theory of agricultural intensification is taken as a refutation of Marx since she saw population growth as something that would stimulate increased food production, but the underlying assumptions of a fundamentally biological relation controlling human life remained in place. The role that production relations historically played in raising agricultural yields went unremarked. Highly ambitious was Wilkinson’s (1973) ecological theory of the industrial revolution as enunciated in Poverty and Progress, with the intriguing subtitle An



Ecological Model of Economic Development. Wilkinson assumed some state of ecological equilibrium in which population was held in balance by rates of environmental exploitation. Like Malthus, he saw reproductive behavior as important to maintaining this balance. The initial question then becomes: what upsets this equilibrium so that the exploitation of nature can be intensified and population can increase? He has no good answer to this, but his subsequent logic is clear. As population pressure increased, the industrial revolution in Western Europe was initially a substitution of mineral resources for land-based ones: e.g., coal for firewood, and steam trains for horses, which allowed land to be switched from producing hay to producing food crops. Such substitutions necessitated increased capital equipment and tools and an increased workload which in turn necessitated the need for more technical substitutions. The competition for scarce resources then led to a breakdown of communal land arrangements of the sort prevalent under feudalism, the privatization of land and the emergence of a class society. In other words, who needs capitalism to get the industrial revolution going when natural processes can take care of it?

‘Nature’ as a consumption good An early reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the growth of cities was what is now known as the Romantic movement, apparent in literature, music, art and intellectual life as a whole. What is interesting about it for our purposes here, is its exaltation of a world that was largely past; most notably, the supposedly unspoiled aesthetic virtues of the rural. Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey is classic:3 the contrast of a sylvan scene far from the turmoil of the city. This is a particular version of nature: as something to be sensually experienced, explored and enjoyed as a leisure time pursuit. This remains an extraordinarily common feature of life under capitalism; of its discourse and of its practice. Without it, it is hard to make sense of organizations like the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, or the Ramblers’ Associations and the Cyclists’ Tourist Clubs so common in Great Britain at the turn of the century, nor practices like the second home in the country. Again, it is something that capital has sought to commodify, adding new elements to the landscape like the seaside resort, the spa town, the Sunbelt retirement community or the (leafy) suburb. It is not simply a selective externalization of nature as a thing in itself that is important: a contrast to the nature that is equally external but experi-



enced as the sweat, toil and dust of a construction site or the horrors of a slaughterhouse. In its material expressions and practices it is also something enabled by the very specific disciplines of capital as a mode of production. What ensues with the rise of the capitalist workplace is a rigorous separation between work time and what will become known as ‘leisure’ time: the day versus the evening; the work week versus the weekend. State provision for holiday time and retirement age would then broaden out this demarcation between work time and time outside of work. This has then allowed for new forms of the commodification of nature.

Ecological Marxism Since the early 1990s, a new literature has emerged; this in the context, initially at least, of growing anxieties about the exhaustion of fossil fuels, most notably oil; and latterly, the very real prospect of global warming. The emphases vary, some more or less confining themselves to the depletion of ‘resources’ (Altvater 2007; Moore 2012, 2014); and others which are more all-embracing.4 The essential take-off point is that they focus on a contradiction between accumulation and nature as we know it; something already apparent in Marx but which he did not emphasize except when addressing labor power as a natural force.5 That there is a contradiction worth attending to is clear. Yet insofar as it is a question of increasing costs of minerals, foodstuffs and labor power, it is a challenge that capital has shown itself capable of suspending time and time again. Nature has its own metabolisms, its own growth cycles, its own conditions: seeds are planted, germinate and then take their own sweet way in maturing to the point at which they can be harvested; people need to be fed and have some period of rest, at the very least; trees can take years before they can be harvested as lumber; there are climates in which plant growth is possible year round, but only if water can be made available; elsewhere, there might be sufficient light but insufficient warmth. Coal takes millennia to form and requires very particular climatic conditions; its formation is on such a different timescale as to be irrelevant. Carbon dioxide eventually gets assimilated through processes of photosynthesis, chemical weathering and absorption by the oceans, but at a rate vastly slower than that at which it is being ejected into the atmosphere.



Capital, on the other hand, has its own logics, and these require that nature be bent to its ways; it is something to be mastered, controlled and diverted to the production of surplus value. The biotic processes on which agriculture depends have been a particular frustration since they tie capital up for a lengthy period of time; whereas capital’s goal is to maximize the rate at which it circulates through its different phases so as to mop up more and more surplus labor. The labor power of people is equally a natural force with its own logics. Unlike a machine, people are intelligent, sentient beings and these attributes are not left outside when they enter the place of work. When the capitalist starts replacing them with machines they will react; unlike, that is, the machines that were replaced by the new ones. In short, nature is a problem for capital. It has to conform to capital’s logics but how to do it? It is something to be mastered and is. The animal reproductive cycle from birth to the ominous ‘market weight’ can be and is shortened through so-called ‘confined animal feeding operations’ or CAFOs. The logic: hinder that movement of animals which simply wastes the energy that they convert from their feed, and that, along with growth hormones, will allow them to put weight on faster. Capital can then circulate more quickly, and so absorb more surplus labor. As for field crops, genetics has done, and continues to do, wonders in speeding up growth to maturity. The supposed triumphs of capital over nature are legion: e.g., irrigation, fish farming, poly-tunnels, monoculture. And when the rate at which a resource is used exceeds its natural rate of replacement, find substitutes. If the West runs out of water through excessive drawdown of aquifers and use of the Colorado River, there are always the Great Lakes and desalination plants. And so on. Sustainability can even be something that works to capital’s advantage: e.g., recycling scrap iron, copper and aluminum yields a much cheaper product than when starting with the original ore.6 When profitability is threatened by other industries higher up the polluting scale, then that is also an occasion to get involved. The push to limit the polluting activities of CAFOs has found ready support in the tourism industry anxious about lakes closed to swimming and boating or beaches fouled by green algae. Legislating to control acid rain was helped by the fact that the low sulphur coal producers of the West were keen to edge out their high sulphur rivals in the Midwest and Appalachia (Cox 2016b: 47–9).



Global warming, on the other hand, is certainly quantitatively different, and possibly qualitatively so, too. Quantitatively, it is a matter of time. Intervening in the life cycles of animals in order to speed up their maturity, using poly-tunnels to extend the growing season, or even recycling iron and steel, copper and aluminum, can bring rewards relatively quickly.7 Global warming, though, is something that has been building up since the steam age. It shows strong runaway tendencies as positive feedbacks kick in; as, that is, the reflective properties of snow and ice disappear along with it, and as methane gases are released with the melting of the permafrost. There are technologies that could mitigate it, most notably the various ‘green’ energies available through harnessing wind, sun, tides and geothermal. There is also talk of carbon sequestration, and not just through photosynthesis. But adopting them brings us to the qualitatively different character of this particular contradiction. First, there is the resistance of the fossil fuel industry and those downstream users, like the power companies and the automobile industry. This resistance is owing to the quite massive fixed investments that have been made and which stand to be devalued to the extent that more climate-friendly energy technologies take over: not just the extraction installations, therefore, but the power stations, the pipelines, factories dedicated to producing internal combustion engines, and even the myriad gas stations. The sprawling, energy-intensive city has long posed an obstacle to moving to more sustainable urban forms (Walker and Large 1975). Second, this is a global problem that requires coordination on an appropriately global scale. Historically, contradictions have been more localized and subject to state intervention. As an essential part of capital’s division of labor, states have played an important role in mitigating ecological crises and facilitating suspension of the contradictions. Some outstanding examples include the 1930s initiatives of the Roosevelt administration to curb soil erosion: the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, including programs of tree planting to impede wind erosion, and the construction of ponds to limit runoff and hence soil erosion, is regarded as a very considerable success. The disastrous London smog of 1952, widely claimed to have resulted in 12,000 deaths, was the trigger for the Clean Air Act of 1956. In a context where coal was the fuel of choice for domestic heating and was used extensively in industry, the Act allowed for the establishment of smokeless zones and subsidies to households to convert to cleaner fuels.



American fuel economy legislation is another, if a more controversial and contested, case. But this time round there are no serious means of coercion on a global scale. So it might indeed be pertinent to ask: is global warming the ultimate ‘natural disaster’?

Notes 1. For an incisive critique of this work, see Watts (1983a: 239–42). 2. Compare Harvey: “There is … nothing more ideologically powerful for capitalist interests to have at hand than unconstrained technological optimism and doctrines of progress ineluctably coupled to a doom-saying Malthusianism that can conveniently be blamed when, as they invariably do, things go wrong” (Harvey 1996: 149). For discussion of a more brutal resort to ‘the laws of nature,’ see Mike Davis (2002) on Late Victorian Holocausts and the Malthusian reaction of British officials to famine in India. 3. More precisely: Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798. 4. An important contributor has been James O’Connor (1991) and his ‘second contradiction of capitalism.’ See also Panitch and Leys (2007). 5. Among other quotes, this: “Capitalist production collects the population together in great centres, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil … But by destroying the circumstances surrounding that metabolism … it compels its systematic restoration as a regulative law of social production, and in a form adequate to the full development of the human race … All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility … Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker (Marx 1867/1976: 637–8). 6. Eighty-six percent of all the steel in the world is recycled; copper is about 30 percent and the recycling rate for aluminum in the USA is 65 percent. 7. Though the latter depends on the rates of physical obsolescence which consign products including those metals in their composition to the scrap heap.


Capitalist geography and difference

Context From the 1960s on, there was the beginning of a sea change in how people in advanced capitalist societies saw themselves and their interests. At the center of this were a revived women’s movement and the non-racial movement, spearheaded by people of color. Both targeted what they believed to be a denial of those rights of equality celebrated first, by capitalism through the labor market, and secondly through the state and its claims to be democratic. This generated interest among social scientists, including human geographers, but initially of a quite empirical nature: documenting the various forms of inequality and how they were expressed in, say, the geography of labor markets. But by the 1980s this was morphing into claims about the fragmentation of experience and a celebration of difference that would go under the heading of ‘the posts.’1 To differences of gender and race were added those of Europe and the Rest in concerns about Eurocentricity. Yet in considering this literature, we should be aware of just how much discussions of difference have settled into a fairly conventional, even uncritical, set of substantive foci: predominantly gender, race, Eurocentricity, and sometimes the native/immigrant distinction. For on closer inspection, this particular umbrella is much more expansive as in nation, religion – a hugely important divide still in Northern Ireland and a major issue in France around the Muslim presence – and, to bring the discussion closer to conventional understandings of capitalism, stratum, as in the various gradations from upper to lower ‘class.’ 94



‘Difference,’ rather, should be understood as anything that can be conceivably aligned with, and mobilized for, purposes of material and symbolic advantage in the struggle for class privilege. And one has to be impressed by the way in which ever new ‘differences’ get produced, to the general surprise of everyone. One of the most recent is that distinguishing between the ‘left behind’ and, presumably, those ahead of the curve. These differences then get reflected in capitalist geographies. To a very significant degree, women and men still live out their lives in a segregated way: not just the living place/workplace distinction, but women’s workplaces vs those of men. In earlier days the separation was even more radical: life for most men revolved around the bar or the pub and ‘going to the game,’ something from which, by and large, women were excluded (McDowell and Massey 1984: 199).2 Control of immigration is standard around the world, helping generate that global apartheid of which Titus Alexander (1996) complained. The significance of difference for a Marxist understanding of the world, is the way it often cross-cuts class and poses obstacles to labor organizing. It can divide the working class in damaging ways. The city of Liverpool in England had six parliamentary constituencies before the Second World War, but in a context of strong sectarian divides, it had to wait until 1945 to elect its first Labour Party MP.3 In the Netherlands, the so-called ‘pillarization’ of society, principally along religious lines, long impeded the development of class politics. This dampening effect is not necessarily the case. Difference can simply reinforce existing class divisions: historically Quebec tended to divide very roughly between a French-speaking working class and an English-speaking capitalist one. In other words: ‘difference’ is an important issue for Marxist geography.

‘Difference’ in a capitalist society The dominant left-leaning claim has been to accept the implicit pluralism of the posts: that class, patriarchy and race are all independent forces that interact one with another. This has come in a number of different forms. Those of a critical realist persuasion have argued for patriarchy as a separate structure of social relations (Foord and Gregson 1986). A more



common argument has been what is called ‘intersectionality’ and about which there is now a quite massive literature. This accepts Marxist views of class as a major cleavage, but one that exists alongside and interacts with others, notably those of gender and race. These arguments stand in an awkward relation to Marx’s totalizing approach in which all aspects of the social process internalize one another, but in which the accumulation process and its contradictions is the motor of change through which those internal relations get reworked. In short, race and gender are particular, possibly transient ways in which the contradictions of capitalism play themselves out. This is clearly a very broad brush. So how should we proceed? An important starting point is to recognize that capitalists as a class are structurally indifferent to differences of race and gender and, one can add, differences of religion or nationality. As Ellen Meiksins-Wood claimed, “The first point about capitalism is that it is uniquely indifferent to the social identities of the people it exploits” (1988: 5). In light of how things have worked out in practice, this might seem a quite outrageous claim. But how can capital afford not to be indifferent? Cost competition and the thirst for surplus labor means that capitalists have to, in conventional parlance, hire the best person for the job regardless. This does not mean that capital will not exploit conceptions of difference to the extent that they facilitate cost competition. Meiksins-Wood again: “On the other hand, capitalism is very flexible in its ability to make use of, as well as to discard, particular social oppressions … (and) is likely to co-opt whatever extra-economic oppressions are historically and culturally available in a given setting” (1988: 6). Gold mining in South Africa could never have taken off without the ability to super-exploit Africans: the gold ore was simply of too inferior a quality for it to have been otherwise; ultra-cheap labor was a necessity (Callinicos 1981; Jeeves and Crush 1995). The exclusion of Africans from the suffrage, in turn predicated on their supposed racial inferiority, would make all the difference to the imposition of a low-wage regime. Equally, small clothing workshops in London take advantage of patriarchal relations to drive costs down: women work as much because they see themselves as subordinate to male relatives as for the wage (Mitter 1986). This does not mean that the long-term logic of capital is not to do away with these sorts of discriminations, and the record shows that this is in fact happening, if slowly and unevenly.



However, and importantly, what Meiksins-Wood says about capital also applies to labor. As a class it has an interest in indifference to ‘difference’; only then can it prevent capital taking advantage as it did in South Africa and in the small clothing workshops of London. As it is, it often seems as if the drawing of lines between men and women, black and white, Roman Catholic and Protestant, originates in the working class and then gets taken advantage of by capital. Just why the working class is so vulnerable is an important question. We broach it by asking, given the obvious advantages of working class unity, why have things been so slow? Why, despite all the progress, are white males still seemingly dominant among the vast mass of working-class people? An exemplary case is, again, that of the South African gold mining industry.4 At the start, from the development of commercial gold mining in the country at the beginning of the twentieth century, there had been a racial division of labor in which whites were the supervisors, controlling the blasting of rock, and the ones involved in more intricate mine face operations. Africans occupied the more menial positions of clearing the rock away and putting it in the wagons to be taken to the surface. Learning by watching and the invention of a mechanical drill would later mean that Africans could be substituted into the better paying positions, albeit at a lower wage, which, of course, was the motivation. This met with violent resistance from the white labor unions.5 Their revolt was put down, even more violently, by the government; but the white mining unions then helped vote in a different one that would legislate job discrimination in the mines. In short, class compromises have been an obstacle to implementing race and gender discrimination.6 It is also the case that white males have managed to turn an initial job market advantage into a more enduring one. Higher wages have translated into advantages for children: the ability to expose children to valued cultural experiences, the ability to buy into housing in areas with better schools, even the ability to pay private school fees. These are advantages denied to the vast majority of black children. A dominant position in some workplaces then makes it hard for women and blacks to get a foothold as the informality of some job markets can privilege existing workers in the recruitment process. What is at stake here? Is it fundamentally about a racial or gender identity? Or is this simply an appearance, something taken advantage of in pursuit



of something else? I want to suggest that it is the latter and that racial and patriarchal constructions, not to say denigrations, are a mere means to something quite different. Rather, what is being pursued are those things most valued in a capitalist society: wage labor vs non-wage, employment vs unemployment, salaries vs wages, and the bigger the better, and control of how money will be spent. These are an object of struggle. Old conceptions of difference are drawn on, some of long standing, like gender, some more recent as in ones about race that arrived with empire; or new ones are constructed, in order to structure labor markets to the advantage of white native men, like citizen vs immigrant status. The goal is to monopolize wage labor, earnings and employment: a struggle that tips over into the living place and attempts to ensure that privilege gets reproduced as in the advantages enjoyed by the children from better-off homes, most obviously in the case of race; but also through the way in which discourses about gender and race become ‘common sense’ and inflect the differentiated behavior of teachers towards their pupils and the content of children’s books.7 In short, the subordination of working-class people to capitalist ideology is fundamental to understanding the production and reproduction of difference. And once it is in place, capitalists will take advantage of it in pursuit of surplus value. This is not a complete answer, since once the mechanisms and conceptions of difference are in place, forces of a cumulative nature enter in, but it is the most fundamental piece of the puzzle. The struggle for status on capitalist terms divides people, and the parts assume, literally, ‘lives of their own’ and an uneasy compromise papered over by a sub-culture of resistance. The gender divisions of England prior to the 1960s, referred to earlier, were a way of life, reflected in media representations and gendered hierarchies.8 More recently the significance of a masculinist culture, based on gender stereotypes, has become evident: there have been notorious instances of this in American police and fire service stations. The same applies to racial segregation; the same hierarchies, representations and, on the side of African Americans, one has to assume, a dull resistance expressed in a humor in which whites serve as targets, and a counter-culture that says ‘to hell with you people.’ These arguments become particularly powerful when one steps away from the standard fare of difference discourse. National difference, sometimes cemented by notions of hierarchy as a relic of empire, is a case in point. The ‘foreigners’ are a threat because they intrude on a way life with one that can be radi-



cally different; a situation very similar to that of the police and the firemen who want to protect a masculinist culture that they find comforting. Social stratification is another and hugely important site of differentiation, as Pierre Bourdieu outlined in his book Distinction. There is, though, something singular about this case. In principle, gender and racial, religious and national difference can be flattened. What this would mean is that class relations would show no correlation with these particular sources of difference: if African Americans comprise 20 percent of the population, then one can certainly anticipate a (capitalist) world in which they are 20 percent of all the lawyers, the university professors and, indeed, of the janitors – likewise for gender and national/immigrant distinctions. This explains the emphasis of the women’s movement and the non-racial movement on affirmative action. But differences in class relations, most significantly here, in social stratification cannot, by definition, be eliminated. Working-class people can be upwardly mobile and those in the more affluent strata, downwardly so; but to abolish social stratification is to abolish capitalism. There have to be poorer people, including the unemployed, to act as a discipline on the wage demands of those immediately above them in the stratification system. There have to be the so-called improvident, the wasters, and the idlers if there is to be any meaning to the struggle to escape that world and be accepted into the values of the capitalist one: values of money, steady work, a home in the suburbs, one’s own car, foreign vacations and even second homes.

Geographies of emancipation To return to those differences – gender, race, religion, nationality – to which capital, driven by its logics of cost competition and the extraction of surplus value is structurally indifferent, we also have to confront the question of what it takes for this indifference to be realized in practice. White men, at least those in the working class, particularly in its lower levels, have a record of opposing women and African Americans in better paying positions and have marshalled respective discourses in defense of their claims. Nevertheless, the empirics do suggest that over time the indifference of capital to these sorts of distinctions can be brought to fruition. There is still a long way to go, but arguably women and blacks in


both the USA and in Western Europe are, on average, in a much better position both materially and in acceptance as equals, than say, 50 years ago. So what has to happen? The good news is that once it happens, there is no going back. The bad news is that contingent conditions are highly significant. I draw on the case of gender to illustrate these points. As a starting point, it is useful to think about just what the working-class, patriarchal family amounted to in the industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Brenner and Ramas (1984) have argued that the gender division of labor then practiced – the male breadwinner and the female homemaker – had a rationale. The goal was children who would, from an early age, go out to work to swell the household budget; children who would then delay marriage and continue to live at home into their early twenties, all the while bringing in money. Whatever the reasoning, the large family and the ‘little worker’ were features of the time. What would eventually discourage this was the introduction of mass schooling and a minimum school leaving age: something opposed by the mass of the population while vigorously pushed by middle-class reformers (Zelizer 1994). Birth rates went down, and the ‘little worker’ would henceforth become, in Viviana Zelizer’s words, the ‘priceless child’: an object of parental consumption and something to be cultivated to realize, vicariously, their own frustrated ambitions. But most crucially for the emancipation of women, the domestic workload declined. This would then be deepened through the mechanization of the household, most notably through various electrical appliances. Women’s labor time, in other words, was increasingly available waiting to be exploited, but in a highly patriarchal society, there were limits to it; most notably women were, it was argued, physically incapable of the sort of work that men did. What would then make the difference would be the massive expansion of service employment in the postwar period, beginning with the welfare state and continuing through to the bureaucratization of the corporation. These were decidedly not jobs that were inappropriate for women. Rather, their stereotypical attributes of attention to detail, empathy and patience with clients now came to be emphasized. The result has been a quite massive growth in female wage employment as a fraction of the total. The passage of money into female hands has then revolutionized domestic relations: a degree of economic independence


has given them an independence of men; so later marriage, if at all, and higher divorce rates. This has then increased the impetus to break down remaining barriers to female employment: what has been called ‘the glass ceiling.’ But was there a logic to capitalist development, at least in hindsight, that could explain the emergence of these conditions? Empirically, among the advanced capitalist societies, they were universal, but does that say anything about necessary tendencies in capitalist development? Mass education was inevitable, and for diverse reasons that had nothing to do with the anxieties of middle-class women about the young being exposed to the diverse hazards of the workplace from an early age. Rather, there were civic reasons stemming from the desire of the state to impart a sense of national belonging; but also the school as training ground for a life of obedience and punctuality in the capitalist workplace. And once electricity became a source of energy, it was only a matter of time before there would be an electrical goods industry that would then mechanize the kitchen and the household more generally. Likewise the expansion of services: how else to understand the expanding office sector except in terms of capital’s deepening division of labor, the bureaucracy needed to hold the corporation’s various bits together, the splitting off of various functions like logistics, marketing and product design? The expansion of the state in response to the contradictions of capital would then provide an additional source of demand for female workers. There is, though, something about this discussion that is misleading – the emancipation of women from whom? Presumably the dominance of men and their accession to Marx’s happy hunting ground (for capital) of ‘Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham’ (1867/1976: 280). It is an indifference to ‘difference’ on capital’s terms and not that of the working class taken in its entirety. Men as a whole do not celebrate this sort of female emancipation since it deprives them of some of their privileges. The working class remains divided, still unable to realize its interest as a class exploited by capital as a whole, and an exploitation that will continue, including by the exploitation of difference, until it is overthrown.


‘Difference’ for ever? From this limited point of view, the case just discussed might seem to suggest that capital’s structural logic of indifference to gender, race and so on can work, even while it might be slow. Likewise, there is no disputing that the position of African Americans, while still leaving a great deal to be desired, has improved relative to whites since the middle of the twentieth century. We should, nevertheless, be careful in drawing conclusions from this about the possibility of a difference-less world. It is not just that social stratification is not going to go away since capital’s own logics demand it. It is also that even while some differences can be flattened, new ones are going to appear. The structural position of the working class, the dominance of capitalist values, and the diversification of the working class in terms of the technical division of labor require it. Some have to be subordinated, discriminated against, so that others can retain a modest position in the capitalist pecking order or even improve on it. In England, before the Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians arrived in the 1950s, it was the Irish who were the outcasts. And before that, manual laborers were regarded as a race apart, possibly inheriting their supposed improvidence, drunkenness and ignorance over generations. In apartheid South Africa, the more urbanized African held their rural counterpart in contempt; something overlooked by more conventional understandings of that regime. Post-apartheid, it is refugees from the rest of Africa who are the threat. One has to be impressed by the way in which old differences can suddenly acquire an enhanced significance. Capitalist urbanization has been a particular site for this sort of formation. The way in which later arrivals in the city are superposed on earlier ones has been reproduced many times, often producing a sharp politics of difference that has then been the foundation for changes in state form. There are some quite remarkable parallels between the nationalisms of the Quebecois and the Afrikaners of South Africa (Cox 2002: 195–203): an anglophone urban population in the major cities, notably Montreal and Johannesburg; a backward countryside of French-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking peoples who had been there long before; and then an urban migration which puts them at the bottom of the ladder, confronting an occupational structure in which the linguistically alien are predominant. Organization around ‘difference’


was, in both instances, the way chosen to usurp those in the working class above them, and achieve the dominant capitalist values. All this suggests that capital’s tendency to indifference to ‘difference’ has to be regarded as, indeed, ‘tendential’ to which will be opposed, as long as capitalism is around, that is, tendencies towards the creation of ever new ‘differences’: something inscribed in deeply held values of what it means to work in capitalist society and what life’s purposes should be. And to the extent that success is achieved, it is to be secured by kicking away the ladder for those underneath; while those standing lower down are trying to displace you, drawing on discourses of difference, of long-standing oppression, as indeed in the cases of Quebecois and Afrikaner nationalism reviewed above. The shifting pattern of uneven development, therefore, as indeed in those two instances, has been a crucible of the capitalist politics of difference. It is the focus of the next chapter.

Notes 1. See Cox (2014: 102–15). 2. Women were still being formally excluded from British pubs as late as the 1980s. Where they were allowed in, they were expected to sit in the snug room, separated off from the tap room, which was for men only, supposedly to protect their more delicate sensibilities from the boorish behavior of men together, spitting into the sawdust trench on the floor that paralleled the bar itself. 3. See Jeffery (2017) for an extended discussion of Liverpool Toryism. 4. See Luli Callinicos (1981) for an excellent discussion. 5. The Rand Revolt of 1922. Intriguingly one of the miners’ slogans was ‘Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa.’ 6. Another compelling case is recounted by Cynthia Cockburn in Brothers (1983). 7. Nancy Fraser (2000) has come close to this thesis, arguing for the replacement of identity-based conceptions of recognition with one that is more  status-based, and responding to what she describes as ‘institutional subordination.’ 8. It was perfectly fine for a woman to be the headmistress or principal of an elementary or primary school but not of a secondary school. Likewise, there might be room for a female mayor but not a female Prime Minister or President, to put the divisions at their starkest.


Geographies of uneven development

Introduction It is clear to even the most uninformed that capitalist geography, considered abstractly, is highly uneven in its development. A simple index like life expectancy or the per capita consumption of electricity varies hugely across the world and even across the cities of the more developed countries. Immediately, to talk about development and its geography raises the crucial question of exactly what it is we mean by the term. Marx would have acknowledged that how we currently understand it is very narrow. Development, for him, meant the development of the person, and in order for that to occur, the capitalist form of development was a necessary, if painful, precursor. Commonly, when people refer to variations in development they are talking about per capita incomes. This is unsatisfactory and highly contestable. Ultimately, under capitalism, development means the development of the productive forces: the ability of the immediate producer, equipped with instruments of labor and working on objects of labor, to produce more. The product assumes the form of value which is then divided up. Incomes as a measure of development are inadequate because of the way value is transferred elsewhere and those who produce the wealth are deprived of the developmental advantages it might endow. Is it actually the case that Monaco or Santa Barbara is more developed than Wolverhampton or Colorado Springs? While we can agree that capitalist development, at least at the level of use values, means the development of the productive forces, it is also resistant to easy definition because of the way geography is engaged with in that process: something quite different from the transfer of value from centers 104


of industry to the shareholders or owners of the corporations living elsewhere. Through the socialization of production, there are relations of mutual dependence among those in the technical division of labor that yield an enhanced product even while its sharing out is highly contestable: more ‘skilled’ workers typically claim a higher share, but what exactly is ‘skill’? The way in which ‘difference’ gets embedded in the division of labor adds a further wrinkle. This is, though, a socialization that is itself unevenly developed so that to talk about ‘uneven development’ is not entirely improper. The socialization of production in terms of the division of labor, the articulation with the state, including educational institutions, is far less developed in, say, Uganda than it is in Denmark. On the other hand, because the socialization of production also has a scalar geography, particular places in less developed countries can be incorporated into much wider (spatio‑) socializations of production. Accordingly, Uganda can borrow the benefits of socialization elsewhere through the importation of more advanced equipment, through the advice of international consultants, and the introduction of knowledge through multinational corporations. This then introduces the possibility of value transfers from the less developed to the more developed countries. Accordingly, levels of income are, once again, quite deceptive with regard to where value is produced.

Spatial divisions of labor In an important paper published in 1979, Doreen Massey drew a contrast between two concepts of the spatial division of labor, fraught with implications for how one might think about uneven development. There was, she argued, an older one, based on specialization in particular products; in the United Kingdom, the ship building concentrations on the Clyde in Scotland, on the Tyne and Wear in England and on the Laggan in Northern Ireland; the woolen district of West Yorkshire; the cotton district of Lancashire; the metal products of the Black Country; and the coalfields. Alongside this sort of geographical specialization a new one was emerging, displacing it as some of the older specializations shrank under the impact of competition from the Newly Industrializing Countries; this was a spatial division of labor of the individual firm, one based less on


particular final products and more on a partition of a particular labor process into its constituent parts. She differentiated between what she called ‘clone’ and ‘parts-process’ divisions of labor, though there were clearly lots of hybrid formations. In the clone form, numerous plants owned by the same firm produced the same final product; the headquarters function, and perhaps research and development, might be located somewhere else. In a parts-process spatial division of labor, as typified by assembly industries, various sub-assemblies might be manufactured in branch plants, drawing on components from yet others, before moving on to a point of final assembly. In this instance, the component producers might be under the same corporate umbrella or act as sub-contractors. She developed her argument with particular reference to the United Kingdom, but it obviously has wide applicability, and not just within countries. There have been at least two globalizations: periods marked by rapid growth of international trade and investment. The first lasted from about 1870 to 1914 and had its characteristic geographic division of labor much as Massey imagined her first type: very broadly, there was a division between Western Europe and North America, on the one hand, and the producers of foodstuffs and raw materials elsewhere in the world: so copper from Chile, rubber and tin from Malaysia, and wool and wheat from Australia in exchange for manufactured products, both capital goods and consumer products. The second globalization is the one which took off in the late 1970s and is now, very possibly, on the verge of petering out. An important distinguishing feature has been the development of spatial divisions of labor of the second sort – clone and parts-process divisions, in various sorts of combinations – spanning the globe and taking in, at any one time, both more developed and less developed countries in relations of corporate ownership or sub-contracting. Examples are well-known and include something like Nike, which has its headquarters and research and development function in Beaverton, Oregon, in the Portland suburbs, but whose manufacturing is done almost entirely at plants in East Asia; or the way in which corporations have off-shored some of their more standardized office work to locations in India (for English-language firms) and to Morocco (for the French). But the examples are legion and have been the object of considerable research.


Geographic specialization of the first type endures, but often now overlain by that of the second, in fact adopting some of its logics as firms come to produce at numerous different locations: coal companies with their headquarters in some major American city, owning mines around the country; or the sub-contracting relations between the big meat companies and the cattle and hog suppliers, often clustered close together in proximity to the meat packing plants; but again, the headquarter office is likely to be elsewhere, away from all the unseemliness of the production line. Likewise, on a global level, one spatial division of labor overlaps another: Malaysia is home to production sites for firms based in the United Kingdom and the USA, but its function as a producer of rubber and tin, inherited from the first globalization, endures. The separation out of headquarters functions, marketing, finance and overall superintendence, has promoted the growth of larger cities. These are the locations with the airline connections necessary to administering a far-flung corporation, the cultural facilities prized by at least some of the executive class, and already outfitted with a sizeable middle-class population reproducing the sorts of skills in demand. And as they have clustered, so the banks, the lawyers and the accountants have become still more concentrated, as part of the characteristic division of labor in the post-industrial city discussed in Chapter 8. The larger ones, with their relatively dense clusters of multi-national corporations, have now been absorbed into a new category: that of ‘world cities.’ Meanwhile, actual production is likely to go on in smaller towns, though some can be of considerable size: branch plant towns, but embracing a significant spectrum of activities, from those requiring more experienced, perhaps technically qualified labor, to those requiring much less. So a town like Derby, in central England, a city of about 250,000, would tend to fall into the first category in virtue of the presence of Rolls-Royce’s jet engine division and a major rail engineering plant owned by the Canadian multinational, Bombardier. An American equivalent would be Milwaukee, a much larger city, but equally heavy in engineering industries. For every Derby or Milwaukee, there is a more prosaic branch plant town specializing in more mundane assembly work. These are the more de-skilled parts of the labor process that are more location indifferent and so subject to the temptations of places where the value of labor power is significantly lower: small towns virtually anywhere, therefore.


This is a crude characterization as all these functions can be found in very large cities, but corporations do try to keep at least the more basic, easily learnt parts of the labor process, at a distance.1 Something similar happens with the multinationals, as in the case of Nike, exploiting the cheap labor of the Newly Industrializing Countries, but also food corporations like Chiquita which produces and sells bananas: the HQ is in Charlotte NC, the R&D in Cincinnati, and the production, of course, in Latin America, most notably Ecuador. The significance of this for development is how this separation of functions can be the basis, and is often the purpose,2 of securing a particular division of the value produced: how value, in other words, tends to be transferred upwards, from less developed to more developed countries; from branch plant to head office and shareholders. Discussion here has tended to focus on international transfers. The assumption is one of commodity chains stretching between corporations in more developed countries and producers in the less developed, and typically orchestrated by the former, but with differences in market power at different points in the chain. A common image is of a major corporation in the developed world which controls access to final markets through its branding powers, while suppliers compete against one another in industries in which entry costs are relatively low. The garment industry is a classic case. In the same way, the processing and distribution of foodstuffs like coffee, cocoa, tea and, increasingly, bananas has tended to lodge in the hands of very large firms that dominate final markets (Barry 1987: Chapters 2–4; Murray 1987). Their brand names give them a market power that is difficult to break. The producers of the raw cacao, coffee beans, however, are numerous and easy to substitute for by the Western buyers so they can drive a hard bargain and pocket the difference. A more recent example involves the big US retail chains that source from less developed countries, most notably China: their buying power is immense, based as it is in a huge retail market and they can use this power to play off one sub-contractor against another, which then means a wage squeeze for the worker (Heintz 2006). The surplus value that is pumped out is then enhanced by the fact that the value of labor power in less developed parts of the world is that much lower, while the retail chains can sell them at the price prevailing in Western Europe or the USA.3 Importantly, this sort of exploitation does not involve any increase in the mass of


surplus value; rather, it is a redistribution subsequent to differences of power in the exchange relation. The same sorts of relations occur within the countries of the more developed world, not to mention across multinational organizations like the EU, particularly since the accession of the former communist states of Eastern Europe, but in a quite bewildering diversity of ways. This takes us back to the relation between branch plants, particularly those that for a variety of reasons, can pay low wages – lower skills or a more feminized, even immigrant workforce (compare Mitter 1986), for example – and firm headquarters; but also between sub-contractors, often in sectors that are relatively easy to enter, like clothing and so highly competitive, and the retail chains (Rainnie 1984). This is a story that has then repeated itself across the EU as the big corporations of the more developed Western European members hive off their production to the lower wage countries of Eastern Europe. How otherwise to explain the rise of Slovakia as a major country for auto assembly? In other words, there is a drain of value away from those places where the branch plants or sub-contractors are located to elsewhere. It is important to recognize what is going on here. The language of unequal exchange represents the process as a territorial one, but obviously, that is merely coincidental. Geography helps in facilitating the process of value transfer but it is a transfer from the working class to a managerial class and the shareholders. Lower value labor power means that wages can be held down, while the product is sold at its social value, undercutting firms caught on the wrong foot in this process of dispersing the production function. The more skilled branch plant activity is less subject to this sort of value skimming since the computer programmers, the polyvalent maintenance workers, even the line workers, have abilities that are harder to replace. Aside from transfers to the managerial element in the headquarters cities, there is distribution in a geographically more diffuse way to where the shareholders live. Within countries, the way value gets transferred is harder to trace. Looked at internationally, it is not so difficult. One might say that through the relation of its retail chains to China, the value is being sucked out by the USA. But it is not an abstract entity like the USA that is doing the sucking. Rather, the big winners are the shareholders, and those with shares in the big retailers are dominantly American; the stock sold on


national stock markets is for the most part sold to nationals. Track them down and you’ll find them bidding up housing prices in places like La Jolla CA and Naples FL.

Two forms of uneven development Doreen Massey distinguished between two different sorts of geographic specialization: one between corporations and the other within them. In 2001, John Weeks drew an equally significant contrast. This was between what he referred to as ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ forms of uneven development. ‘Primary’ uneven development resulted, at its base, from variations in production relations: while no part of the world has been left untouched by capitalism, some are more purely capitalist than others; in some there are still clear pre-capitalist remnants. Uneven development of the secondary sort then resulted from the effects of competition and technical innovation within the more purely capitalist parts of the world. His point was that capitalist production relations are the motor of development as we know it. Through the pressures of the working class they are the necessary condition for a competition among capitalists whose result is the socialization of production: the development of the division of labor, the exploitation of means of production in common, all with a view to constant capital in the form of instruments and objects of labor, soaking up more surplus labor which can be thrown back into production on an expanding scale. According to Marx, however, it started in the English countryside with the revolutionization of the productive forces in agriculture (1867/1976: Part 8). The separation of immediate producers from the means of production and reuniting them through money wealth inaugurated capitalist development on the land. Tenant farmers committed to paying rent, had to produce for the market. This, in the context of competition with others, provided the incentive for increasing the productivity of their workers. Fewer were needed and this created a pool of labor power for industry; meanwhile, increasing agricultural production meant that industrial workers could be fed. The accumulation of wealth in the countryside then created a home market for industrial capital. As Charles Post (1982) later affirmed, the course of development in much of the USA outside the South, would be very similar: farmers might own the


land, but it had been purchased with a mortgage, which again meant that they had to sell; the same cycle of increased agricultural productivity as the basis for industrial development would repeat itself, albeit with labor power supplemented by immigrants who had been subject to dispossession elsewhere. On the other hand, and as Marx himself pointed out in his discussion of the unfortunate Mr Peel,4 where capitalist production relations do not apply or are present in only a partial form, then development is going to be retarded. And indeed there are large parts of the world that still fit that category. This was the basis for Weeks’s idea of uneven development of the primary sort.

Primary Sub-Saharan Africa is an important example of a case where capitalist production relations apply in only the patchiest manner. Over large parts of the sub-continent, with the exception of parts of Southern Africa, most notably South Africa, land is not privately held. Access to land is the prerogative of the tribe and granted by a chief to males on marriage. This has been an obstacle to the development of the productive forces (Cox and Negi 2010). Even if they wanted to, those who occupy land cannot obtain credit to develop it since the land is not private property and so cannot be offered as collateral for a loan. And even if through saving and reinvestment, a peasant manages to develop the land to which he enjoys access, there is no way in which he can drive others out of farming through his ability to undercut them on the market, and so buy them out and take advantage of economies of scale. The point is that the sort of security offered by tribal tenure implies no need to produce for sale. There is an incentive, but it is primarily through the need to pay state taxes, and those who occupy the land cannot be deprived of it. As a result, farming for subsistence is still important. Development of the productive forces is retarded: immediate producers are not released for wage work in industry, and the division of labor, along with the home market, develops very slowly. In short, that socialization of production on which capitalist development depends, struggles to take off. In other cases, land might be private, but the immediate producers have been secure in their access to land, while having limited incentive to develop it. Such was the case with the minifundios of Latin America (Feder 1971) or the share cropping and labor tenancy that was characteristic of much of South Africa until the 1970s (Morris 1980).


In an important intervention, Henry Bernstein (2001; 2006) has argued that the fact that agrarian revolution might be stymied in some parts of the world, is now of limited account. His claim is that as a result of the global trade in foodstuffs, industrialization can take off without any development of the productive forces in the countryside. He does not say where the labor power will come from but one can reasonably assume that in virtue of population growth, it will be available. In the meantime, the growth of agricultural production in North America and in Western Europe has been the necessary condition for aid to less developed countries taking the form of cheap food. This, however, reduces the viability of peasant production, thus generating a desperate search for wage work to supplement declining incomes. A further challenge is the encroachment of agribusinesses, intent on export crops, and taking over by force (Thomson 2011); or, alternatively by agreement with a government which holds rights to land formerly held by tribal chiefs, land once occupied by peasants, as the literature on ‘land grabbing’ in Africa affirms. The result is diminishing access to land and a desperate search for supplements in the informal economy or in migratory labor. This has been the context for two developments. The first is the emergence of movements of the landless or land-scarce pushing for land reform that would enhance their access to land: the Landless People’s Movement in South Africa and the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil are some of the better known examples. The second has been the explosive growth of cities in the developing world with the mushrooming of informal settlements and of a population lacking opportunities in wage work and struggling to get by through what is known as the informal economy: selling goods on the street, the sale of medicinal herbs sourced from rural areas, or simply acting as a car guard in exchange for the possibility of a tip. As Mike Davis has argued, “Urbanization … has been radically decoupled from industrialization, even from development per se” (2004: 9); in short, a very different form of urbanization from that discussed in Chapter 8.

Secondary According to Weeks, uneven development of the secondary sort is what characterizes those parts of the world where capitalist production relations have been generalized. What produces it, and as its contours shift, what Storper and Walker (1989) referred to as ‘capital’s inconstant


geography,’5 is the competition of capitals, both to continually lower their costs by revolutionizing production in all its aspects, and to innovate in terms of new products. New products have the potential to dramatically change geographies: the rise of the package holiday in Europe in the 1960s spelt the demise of resorts in Northern Europe and a boom along the Mediterranean coast of Spain, just as earlier the invention of electricity reshaped industrial geography in the United Kingdom, liberating it from the coalfields. New institutional forms can range anywhere from the new spatial divisions of labor adopted by firms and whose significance was underlined by Massey, to something like the EU which, through eliminating customs barriers over a wide area, led to closures and relocations as marketing strategies changed. This is to oversimplify. More often it is a juxtaposition of conditions that allow, even impel, change in the contours of the space economy, producing new growth areas and new rust belts. The package holiday was made possible by more than the twinkle in the eye of some travel agency. Cheap jet transport, and rising incomes helped, along with changes in sex mores as in the ‘sun, sand and sex’ sobriquet. Electricity was only part of the reason for the growth of industry in England, in what came to be known as the axial belt.6 The new consumer goods industries looked for strategic locations close to the market, and London and the Southeast, extending up into the Midlands were where they were. The fact that London itself accounted for a major part of the British market – just short of one fifth of the total population in 1939 – accentuated this gravitation. But London had long been the center of the British economy. So although capitalist geography is inconstant, it also shows some durability. This is particularly the case with larger cities. In virtue of more developed divisions of labor, less one-sided than smaller, more specialized towns, they demonstrate an ability to reinvent themselves, or at least provide congenial conditions for capitalists aiming to exploit their distinct resources in order to, unintendedly, give a city a new economic base. In the 1930s, London was a major center of production for secondary industry; it had financial services, but not on the current scale. Moreover, as corporations have separated headquarter functions from production, the bigger cities, with their better-developed transport connections, have exercised a gravitational pull.


When we examine this durability at a global level, it is even more apparent. There have certainly been changes since the beginning of the twentieth century, most notably the great leaps in development in East Asia. But North America and Western Europe still dominate. The industrialization of East Asia then seems to confirm another fact of world economic geography: that there is a northern hemisphere bias. The settler societies of the southern hemisphere, most notably those of Latin America’s Southern Cone,7 Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, have developed but on a very limited basis: a distinct position in the global division of labor, as producers of raw materials and foodstuffs and with limited industrial capacity. The fact is that geography matters in the direction that development takes. The ability to exploit economies of scale is unevenly developed8 and gives firms in East Asia, North America and Western Europe a cost advantage that frustrates further industrialization in the southern hemisphere. On the other hand, this argument assumes that capital is global in its relations: something not to be taken for granted, as we will now see.

Countries It is also the case that countries differ in their patterns of uneven development. There is more than a suggestion that the economic geography of the United States is much more dynamic, more ‘inconstant,’ than that of the West European countries.9 Not only does the center of gravity of American urbanization shift to a degree that finds no peer in Western Europe or even Canada or Australia, as the frontier of urbanization shifts, so the newer, growing cities expand at impressive rates. In part it is a function of historically inherited patterns of urbanization. Consider, for a start, France and the United Kingdom. In terms of patterns of urbanization and transport networks, we are talking about two highly centralized countries. London and Paris had always enjoyed a pre-eminence in their respective countries simply in virtue of being capital cities; this had led to an embryonic convergence of the highway network, such as it was. From the early nineteenth century, though, they pulled away to a remarkable degree, dominating their respective urban systems, and as they did so, becoming the centers of their railroad net-


works and later, freeways and airline connections. The USA was always different. No city has ever dominated to the degree of London or Paris. New York was big but has now been overtaken by Los Angeles, while Chicago still remains dominant. Meanwhile an earlier set of major cities in the old Manufacturing Belt has been overtaken by upstarts like Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Miami and Seattle. Partly this has been a matter of the sheer size of the USA and the way in which, despite the aridity of large parts of the country, the population is so dispersed; no one city could provide the functions of a London or a Paris to the rest of the country. This in turn, though, has had implications for the rapidity of change in the various space economies. London and Paris have always been an overwhelming point of attraction for new investments, like those of the 1930s in the new consumer goods industries, including household goods and automobile production,10 simply in virtue of first, the consumer market that they themselves provided; and second, because they sat at the very center of national distribution networks. In the USA it has been different. The geography of investment opportunities, of possibilities of new growth industries taking root and establishing themselves, has been more even. Furthermore, the size of the country’s home market offers a scope for economies of scale that promise explosive growth. Features of the American state have then clicked in to give an extra push to this dispersing impetus. At the heart of this is its extreme decentralization: a radical federalism allied to the delegation of powers and responsibilities, by the states, to local governments. Three particular expressions of this seem apposite. The first is a history of banking regulation designed to limit tendencies to the centralization of ownership and so monopoly. This goes back to the reforms of the Progressive era and the introduction of limits to bank branching across state lines and in many cases, across county lines. Since the 1970s, these restrictions have been progressively dismantled, but what it meant was an enhanced interest on the part of banks, particularly where there were limits to inter-county banking, to promoting local growth. There they could monopolize local savings – something interestingly overlooked by the Progressives – but they needed outlets for loans. This was never the case in the West European countries where, aside from Germany with its Bank deutscher Länder, banking tends now to be concentrated among a few, with virtually country-wide branching.


Second, and again in contrast to the West European countries, considerable swathes of labor law are a state responsibility. The center piece of this is undoubtedly the – misleadingly named – right-to-work clause of the 1947 Taft–Hartley Act. This gave the states the option of declaring themselves ‘right-to-work’ states meaning, essentially, that the union shop was banned; which in turn made it much harder for the labor unions to organize. Their coverage across the country is uneven. The South and the Great Plains states, and the Mountain West11 are uniformly in the right-to-work camp but battles have recently been won in the old Manufacturing Belt in Michigan and Wisconsin. The geography is certainly coincident with some of the rapid, even startling, urban growth in the USA, as in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Austin, Dallas and Houston in Texas. Respective states vigorously market themselves, foregrounding right-to-work status as an aspect of their favorable ‘business climate.’ To emphasize: this is foreign to other of the advanced capitalist countries where labor law is centralized and, so, uniform. In Chapter 7 we discussed the capitalist state and why it is capitalist. Clearly, though, while all capitalist states have similar structures – a radical separation from the economy, certain characteristic forms of provision and at least in the advanced capitalist societies, formal democracy – closer up they can be seen to differ. There is always some provision for the representation of more local or regionally based interests but in the USA it has assumed almost dramatic proportions. Given the country’s size and the possibilities of rapid, localized growth based on the huge market represented by the USA, this has given uneven development an unusual instability. State structures, however, are part of a broader, more organic set of social relations. In particular, they cannot be divorced from the class nature of respective national capitalisms. The sort of decentralization of some aspects of labor law, as in the Taft–Hartley Act was only possible in the context of a relatively weak labor movement. In the USA, and unlike Western Europe, there are no parties representing the working class; and at the time Taft–Hartley was passed, the Democrats were actually a strange coalition of labor union support and the plantation, segregationist South, keen to keep African Americans in their place (Farhang and Katznelson 2005). Countries (taken in toto), class relations, state structure, and the sheer size of the home market, matter and affect the way in which Weeks’s uneven development of the secondary sort unfolds.


Globalization The conditions of uneven development have then played out over successively larger spaces of accumulation. In talking about the emergence of national and then global space economies, there has been a tendency to emphasize the cheapening of long-distance transport: a succession of innovations stretching from the canal, through the railroad and steam ship to the container and air transport. This is to oversimplify. Monies have been revolutionized in their spatial reach. The creation of state monopolies in the supply of money displaced local banks that showed alarming tendencies to run short of it when depositors came to withdraw. The growth of international trade would then generate a demand for world money and the gold standard would be its first incarnation. Since the abolition of the modified gold standard in the early 1970s, the dollar has performed the necessary lubricating function. The other condition that tends to be overlooked is the law of property and contract. Without some uniformity, and one solicitous of capitalist interests, foreign direct investment and the international loans that give continuity to exchange in difficult times would be greatly reduced. Competition for inward investment reproduces these arrangements: property and contract law as an important aspect of what has come to be known as ‘business climate.’ The increasing geographic reach and development of capitalism has then been the occasion of what Trotsky called ‘the whip of external necessity’ (2009: 4). The ‘necessity’ to which he referred was directly economic in the form of the ability of corporations in more developed countries to nip development in other countries in the bud, and so to frustrate their development projects; and also military – how to prevent subjugation by force to the capitalist sway of some other country. This, he argued, could be and had been the occasion for state intervention aimed at catching up: something greatly facilitated by the fact that one could import the most up-to-date technologies and organizational forms from the more developed countries. On the other hand, he also saw that development of this sort would have to be ‘combined’ with pre-existing forms of development and practice and that this could generate contradictions. This thesis, along with Gerschenkron’s (1952) later additions regarding catchup, has received increased attention in the context of the most recent round of globalization and a neo-liberal gospel that has lauded the virtues


of openness to trade and foreign investment. The cases of the so-called Newly Industrializing Countries have given rise to the idea of the developmental state. East Asia, particularly South Korea, Taiwan and China, have been the focus. Through state control of the banks and hence finance for industry, selective tariff protection, and a state-orchestrated build up of industrial skills, proceeding from simpler labor processes, notably cotton textiles, through iron and steel and shipbuilding, to automobile and telecommunication equipment, catchup has clearly occurred.12 This has entailed limits on multinationals that have their own views about development planning, typically involving the transfer of value elsewhere, as discussed earlier. But it can also work the other way around where multinationals are so hot to get into a particular market, they are willing to negotiate some collaboration on more advanced aspects of their particular labor processes, transferring skills and knowledge in the process. This is relatively straightforward for China and its huge domestic market but much harder for a country like South Korea. As a universal means to promoting development in the rest of the less developed world, however, we need to be skeptical. It is not just that success has been conditional upon the existence of strong states, with control of the banks and the ability to coordinate what capitalists there are, around a development plan. It is also the reality of the division of labor on a global scale. Just as a world where everyone is a lawyer is an impossibility, so is that the case for one in which all countries are not just industrial but producing the skills- and information-intensive goods to which orthodox economists give the label, ‘higher value added.’ And to argue that all countries can be simply more balanced in their growth, with a representation of both agriculture and industry, goes against capital’s contradictions, the result of which is pressure to seek markets on a worldwide scale. The rise of China as an industrial country, moreover, radically alters the prospects for developmental states elsewhere. Its huge internal market allows it to exploit economies of scale, which along with relatively low wages, promise major incursions into world markets for industrial goods, allowing it to curtail industrial growth there. The economist Dani Rodrik (2016) has referred to ‘premature de-industrialization.’ The relative shrinkage of industrial employment first noted in the advanced capitalist countries of North America and Western Europe, is now appearing in less developed countries, like Brazil, India and South Africa. Little wonder,


therefore, at the ‘urban growth- without-industrialization’ that Mike Davis (2004) referred to. The struggling peasant is caught between two forces: not just the squeeze on her earnings from the land but also the diminishing prospects of wage labor through which to supplement them. *  *  * In discussions of uneven development, countries often provide a framework for discussion, along with regions: a mute canvas against the background of which play out the various dynamics of shifting spatial divisions of labor and uneven development according to the two distinct logics enunciated by John Weeks. However, uneven development and its shifting geography can incite reactions of a highly territorialized sort and capitals have often been more than willing to mobilize ideologies of that nature and to call on respective states, or their various local and regional branches to defend and enhance the national/regional/local economy – read ‘spaces of accumulation’ – on which they have come to depend. This has been the basis of a geopolitics of capital that has indeed tended to more obvious territorial expressions but which has also been mobilized more directly in the ongoing struggle with labor, as we will see in the final chapter.

Notes 1. See Gordon Clark (1981). 2. Ibid. 3. This is to discuss the question of unequal exchange without reference to Emmanuel’s (1972) contentious work. For a rebuttal but a restatement that succeeds in showing the empirical fact of unequal exchange, see Foot and Webber (1983). 4. See note 5 in Chapter 7. 5. More inconstant in some cases than in others. See Cox (2018; 2019). 6. The area anchored by Leeds and Liverpool in the north, stretching through the English Midlands, to southeast England. See Fawcett (1932). 7. Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. 8. See Cox (2018) on the case of the USA. 9. See my blogs on Unfashionable Geographies: ‘The Dynamics of Uneven Development and the American Exception’ (https://​kevinrcox​.wordpress​ .com/​2019/​05/​29/​the​-dynamics​-of​-uneven​-development​-and​-the​-american​ -exception/​ ), and ‘Uneven Urbanizations’ (https://​ kevinrcox​ .wordpress​ .com/​2018/​03/​30/​uneven​-urbanizations/​).


10. Paris more than London, since it had both Citroen and Renault; but the London area included Ford at Dagenham and the new Morris motor works was only 60 miles away at Oxford. 11. With the exception of Colorado and New Mexico. 12. Alice Amsden wrote compellingly on the South Korean case; see, for example, Amsden (1990).


The geopolitics of capitalism

Context How the spoils of capitalist development are to be divided up is fought over at all levels of the political hierarchy: between regionally based groups, between cities and between countries. These appear as territorial struggles rather than ones of class: who gets what, where. They are seemingly about rust belts and new growth areas, about once hegemonic countries like the United Kingdom contesting with upstarts of their time, like Germany and Japan; and now, perhaps, soon, the United States, contesting with newly industrializing countries, most notably, in terms of its size, China. And they are about the competition not just of countries and regions, but of particular cities for inward investment and for government policies that will favor them rather than others. At the international level, this is the conventional stuff of what is known as geopolitics. But there is also a geopolitics of regions, of cities and conventional geopolitics cannot afford to overlook them. Regardless, all of these look as if geopolitics is a politics of territorial conflict and competition that overrides class interests. This would be a mistaken conclusion. As we learnt earlier, competition under capitalism has as its necessary condition the class relation. Cost competition is more than it seems; fundamentally it is about squeezing more surplus labor out of the working class and at an increasing rate. The same applies to the conditions underlying territorial competition and conflict. The crucial entry point is the socialization of production. In its various expressions, the point is to speed up the circulation of money capital so that, in the form of the means of production, it can soak up more surplus value. It 121


tends to be localized at some scale or another. It requires physical and social conditions that are hard to move around, or to change, which makes adjustment that much more difficult, for there is no guarantee that value will continue to flow through the social relations of any one (localized) socialization. Herein lies the key to the geopolitics of capitalism. Its typical form is competition of a territorial sort, but that should not distract from the fundamentally class nature of the process. This has been more apparent at some periods of capitalist history than at others. We should not be misled by the current moment when it seems to be all about territory. There have been times when geopolitics was much more obviously about class than it is today. And one does not need to look too closely to see that underneath the current hubbub about territory, capitalist interests in extracting surplus value from the working class are still going about their business.

The geopolitics of capital as a territorial politics Capitalist development proceeds through the socialization of production, the goal of which is to speed up the extraction of surplus value. It assumes characteristic forms in the division of labor and means of production in common, respectively, but now projected onto a spatial plane: the socialization of production is always a socio-spatialization. Regardless of the scale at which it occurs, within the factory, within a city, among the cities and regions comprising a country, or the countries making up the global economy, the division of labor is always a geographic one, as we saw in the last chapter. The same goes for the shared physical and social infrastructures which mediate production: not just the physical premises where production occurs or the massive shared instruments of labor, like the assembly line, the oil refinery or the blast furnace, but the highways, railroads, ports, and electricity and communication networks that perform an auxiliary function for production processes. They have to be located in a particular configuration if they are to facilitate the circulation of capital. Likewise, without housing for the workers, there can be no production. There are also the obvious social infrastructures like a reliable means of exchange and the rule of law. Most crucially, the class nature of production means that there has to be some sort of accommodation between capital and labor: a class compromise, however uneasy it might


be over the longer term. The state is important in this but so, too, are the circumstances of particular industries. The changing balance between capital of a fixed sort and that which circulates, discussed in Chapter 6, means that capital can be under pressure to avoid lengthy strikes: equipment cannot stand idle when there are big loans to pay off. A case in point is the automobile industry, and this can set a pattern for its penumbra of suppliers who, unless they can manage their own labor disputes, stand to lose orders. These physical and social infrastructures facilitate the circulation of capital within a particular space, but a space that has its limits. Cost competition puts pressure on speeding up the movement of capital. Things cannot be so stretched out over space as to mean that some capital is failing to circulate at what Harvey (1985a) has called its socially necessary turnover time: something crucially defined by transport technology and the cost involved and the time it takes to circulate commodities. In short, the socialization of capital occurs within what one might call a space of accumulation or, more conventionally, a space economy. Spaces of accumulation have a hierarchical aspect: particular cities or urban agglomerations or regions are sites of accumulation within a wider spatial division of labor and with shared physical and social infrastructures, which is the material basis for common notions of local, regional and national economies. They have their own distinctive physical and social infrastructures conditioned by a position in that wider spatial division of labor through which value must circulate: coalfield communities are different from places dependent on assembly line industries and both differ from so-called post-industrial cities in both class relations and housing stock, and the reproduction of labor power. Complex geohistories can then add a particularity to labor relations, as in the US South, but also in particular towns or urban clusters, like those of colliery villages, taken in toto, or manufacturing towns (Moore 1974; Warde 1988). The result is that spaces of accumulation occur at different geographic scales and can be regarded as mutually presupposing. But given the contradictions of capital, this is a particular geography that cannot endure: rather, in the words of Storper and Walker (1989), and as discussed Chapter 11, it is a geography destined to be ‘inconstant,’ and for any number of reasons having to do with the continual urge to find some competitive advantage and the class pressures that sustain that search.


Within the wider space of accumulation, represented by a particular country, there are changes, by definition unforeseeable, that can threaten the economic base of particular urban agglomerations or regions. Nobody foresaw the sorts of new spatial divisions of labor that Massey (1984) discussed. But de-skilling of the labor process or organizational change in corporations aimed at curbing wage demands from the less skilled (Clark 1981) would result in some relocation of production to smaller towns and undermine at least some portion of the economic base of other towns and, in cities, that of particular neighborhoods. This is one sort of technological change. Others have nothing to do with de-skilling but can revolutionize the geography of a space of accumulation, challenging some economic bases while enhancing those of other cities or regions. New products can have new geographies that impact on the investment patterns, generating booms in new locations, pulling in workers, and disinvestment elsewhere. The changes can be fairly quick as in the rise of new cities on the back of electricity or the collapse of the British seaside town, both discussed, again, in Chapter 11. The changes may also germinate over a long time period and then be geographically widespread in their effects. Silicon Valley is the original stimulus to the digitalization of more and more of economic life. Without it, something like Amazon and the damage it has done to small town economic bases across the USA, heavily focused on retail, while deepening those of larger cities through their distribution centers, is hard to imagine. Changes in transport technologies with a very long history – the railroad, the steamship, the jet airplane, the container – have then helped create new spaces of accumulation at still larger geographic scales. As we saw, there have been two notable globalizations. The first tended to fortify the industrial and mining towns and port cities of the more developed world on the basis, first, of cheaper raw materials and foodstuffs, some of which would be the condition for entirely new industries, like the cacao bean and rubber; and second, through providing new markets for capital goods: investments in the railroads and port facilities necessary to get the raw materials out. The most recent globalization, conditioned by the container, the huge bulk carriers, and the neo-liberal moment has been different: an international division of labor that has had devastating effects on the classic heavy industries and coal mining of Western Europe and North America, and then on a lot of branch plant employment. The result has been a new expression, ‘the rust belt’; and the decimation of


small town economic bases everywhere as their branch plants have moved to the likes of Mexico, Eastern Europe and East Asia. This has been the occasion for a seemingly new politics of location: attempts to restructure local and regional economies and struggles over state policy. The most dramatic expressions of these tensions have been first, the election to the US Presidency of Donald Trump, on the basis of a populist program of Make America Great Again, targeted at what have been dubbed the ‘left behinds’ of small towns bereft of their branch plant employment, and at rust belt populations still reeling from the closure of steel mills, relocations of manufacturing to the American South and a changing geography of automobile production, largely under sponsorship of the Japanese transnationals (Mair et al. 1988). And then, second, in the same year of 2016, the decision of the British electorate, by a small margin, to quit the European Union: again, strong ‘leave’ sentiment across the rust belts of Northern England, but echoed by similar sentiments in France, with a very similar geography, and support for the EU-averse National Front.1 Emphatically, though, there is nothing particularly new about this sort of thing. In the 1970s, the coalfield areas of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia struggled with the challenge from the cheaper coal from open pit mining in some Western states. This would reach something of a climax in the context of the Clean Air Act of 1993 and the attempt to protect the high sulphur coal of the former from the low sulphur competition of Western coal (Cox 2016b: 47–9). Earlier still, in Great Britain, Joseph Chamberlain’s tariff reform movement was aimed at protecting the metal working industries of the country’s ‘Black Country’ to the west of Birmingham while appealing to other areas believed to be suffering from the competition of rapidly expanding industry in Germany. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the migration of cotton textile industries to the American South would create something of a regional crisis in New England (Cox 2016b: 75). The difficulty is that in order for production to occur, there has to be a degree of fixity in the landscape. As we have seen, if the socialization of production is to occur, then factories, offices buildings, railroads, highways and airports have to be built, along with housing and schools for the workers, a water system and one to dispose of sewage. A lot of physical capital is locked up in that built environment, some of whose


expense may yet to be amortized. These connections are not all obvious. It is not just the workers who have to worry about their mortgages but the banks too. The closure of a major employer ripples throughout the local economy: workers have trouble paying their bills, including their taxes; the auto dealers will be down in the dumps; the local construction industry will slow down; the firms that serviced the now closed-down plant have to chase new contracts that will be hard to find. Nobody wants to buy property there, so values go down. All capital investments are highly speculative. A lot can go wrong between assuming the debt and paying it down, and it often does. That is far from all. Again, and as we saw, the socialization of production requires a tissue of social relations between the different agents: between the banks and other businesses, between employers and workforces, between one worker and another, between firms comprising the same division of labor – component suppliers, repair services. This is a structure of social relations important to the flow of value through an area and hard to reconstitute somewhere else, where profitability and employment opportunities might be more attractive. Relocation is costly in terms of the time it takes to build up comparable relations. Businesses have long-standing connections with banks: relations of trust that take time to develop. The majority of workers depend for their employment on word of mouth passed on by friends and relatives: hard to replicate that in some new place where you do not know anybody. At one level, this is a contradiction between capital’s necessary mobility and its necessary fixity. Mobility is necessary if accumulation is to continue, if the laws of value are to be obeyed and concrete labor times minimized. Equally, in order to minimize those concrete labor times, there has to be production and this entails a chunk of fixed capital which slows down its circulation. Ultimately it is about the impetus to accumulate and the continuing effort to suspend the contradiction of the class relation so that accumulation can indeed occur: always seeking out those new opportunities to lower concrete labor times or simply increase surplus value by exploiting workers whose labor power, in virtue of where they live, is of lower value. The contradiction is one shared by capital and labor, which is the reason that contesting the inconstant geography of capital is so often through various forms of class alliance: businesses joining with workers in calling


for regulatory relief that will, as the saying goes, ‘level the playing field’ with those upstart johnnies elsewhere; or coming together behind efforts to replace the leading industries that have been lost: trying to convert Detroit into the next Silicon Valley, or for some small town in the Midwest, attracting in an Amazon distribution center or a corporation’s call center to replace the branch plant that has upped and left for China. But what came to be known as ‘restructuring’2 in the aftermath of the de-industrialization of the late 1970s and 1980s, is not necessarily easy, and is often politically fraught. As discussed in Chapter 11, the larger, more diversified cities or regions find it easier to shift their economic base. They have a more representative division of labor, often with small firms that can take advantage of new opportunities; they have a more varied housing stock that can be converted to new purposes. For smaller, more specialized towns, it can be more difficult: purpose built housing for miners is not easily convertible, not to mention a rather narrow spectrum of skills and a severely limited local division of labor that works against the germination of a new economic base. Class compromises have to be reworked. It might be easier to do in a small town with a monopsonistic employer who can threaten to move unless there are pay cuts, particularly in an insistent discursive environment of the sort that Margaret Thatcher reminded us with talk of ‘There is no alternative.’ It is not just that workers will experience a decline in a standard of living to which they had become accustomed; a set of expectations entailed by a particular class compromise. It is also that they have made purchases of long life, notably housing, that have to be financed. Restructuring in the old auto assembly cities of the USA, once heavily unionized, has been particularly difficult in the context of the Japanese transplants and their factories in smaller towns, drawing on a workforce from surrounding rural areas with, so far, limited interest in unionization. On the other hand, it does not necessarily require some long-term decline to generate a territorial alliance around growth issues: around the desire to ensure that value continues to flow through a regional or local economy. Investment in the socialization of production – in individual plants, in urban infrastructure, in the ‘soft’ investment of forging links with others in a wider division of labor, creating some compromise with labor – is always a bet on the future and often a very long-term one. A particular space of accumulation is not just something to be defended; it also serves as a base for expansion into new markets. The threat of capital’s


inconstant geography is just as real for not being realized but kept at bay. As in the accumulation process of the individual firm, the capitalist does not wait for the bankruptcy lawyers to come knocking at the door but takes steps to avoid it. Wider spaces of accumulation, rather, are to be structured to the advantage of a particular country or region. Urban politics in the USA has long been dominated by developers keen to promote the growth of ‘our’ city, but they form coalitions with local governments anxious about the property taxes that they might lose if a shopping center goes elsewhere; and with residents who will support the ‘right sort of development’ – something of which the developers are keenly aware. The nineteenth-century struggle for empire, both formal and informal, and continuing into the first half of the twentieth century, was exactly of this genre, securing sources of raw materials and markets for capital goods like railways and for consumer goods for the settlers. The formal nature of the empires of that time has been exaggerated; there were equally informal ones secured more by complementary positions in the international division of labor, by the long leash of loans, and then by cultural ties: the British in Latin America’s Southern Cone (Ferns 1953; Winn 1976) or the Germans in Eastern Europe after the First World War are classic cases. Imperialism continues but now virtually entirely through these informal means. Use is made of a particular space of accumulation, in this case a national one, to structure the world to one’s own advantage. American dominance of the global economy had long been in the offing, at least since the 1920s. Institutionally it would then be secured by the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944, at the heart of which was a modified gold standard under American control; something highly contested by the British, desperately trying to cling to a global economic hegemony which by then was clearly beyond their grasp. Bretton Woods is long gone but in its place, the Americans have been able to exploit the sheer size of the national economy to impose the dollar as the world money;3 and then to use supposedly global institutions, like the IMF, to impose ‘solutions’ to the debt problems of other countries that will work to the advantage of American corporations (Wade and Veneroso 1998). Regardless of scale – country, region or whatever – all these territorial coalitions make clear ideological appeals cross-cutting those of class. The references will be to territorial identities: ‘our country/city/region.’ The fact that many workers own property will be happily engaged with by business interests, as in ‘protecting our property values.’ Region will be set


against region: how London is getting the lion’s share of infrastructural spending by the British government. Ideas of territorial exploitation, therefore – not class exploitation, please note – loom large.4 The public agenda is one of ‘growth’ or ‘revival’ with the sense that everyone will gain from national, regional, local effort, regardless; whereas the goal is actually to revive business profitability in whatever way necessary, even if it means attracting in cheaper labor from elsewhere, or using government money to ‘modernize’ production in a way that is going to put large numbers out of work. It can also be that these sorts of, seemingly territorial, struggle spill over into ones around the territorial structure of the state. The rest of England is unlikely to break away from London and the Southeast, but uneven development across the regions has stoked the fires of independence movements in Scotland and in Wales. Scottish business has long railed about British interest rate policy: inflationary pressures in London and the Southeast prompt the Bank of England, the British central bank, to raise interest rates, even while there are no such pressures in Scotland. These sorts of anxiety are particularly strong among smaller businesses which are more regionally concentrated in their activities. In Italy, on the other hand, it has been interests in the wealthier, more industrial North of the country which have taken the lead in a move to create an entirely new state. The view has been that the Italian government has long acted as an intermediary to transfer ‘their’ taxes to support through various transfers, people in the South. Growth in the North is being held back, it is claimed, by a Southern population, cross-cutting the classes, long viewed as somehow lacking: one territorially based population against another, therefore, with class interests barely getting a look in (Cox 2002: 21–4). The geography of territorial struggle varies, and this is because countries matter. Territorial struggle has long been a major feature of American politics for reasons having to do with its distinctiveness as a social formation and the peculiarities of its state form, again as we saw in Chapter 11. The relative weakness of the labor movement in the country has made it easier to seduce workers into territorial forms of politics. The highly decentralized form of the American state – a radical federalism and delegation of various developmental responsibilities from the states to local governments – has then not only encouraged but facilitated territorialized forms of capitalist politics (Cox 2016b: Chapter 8). In the more centralized states of Western Europe and with a history of more intense class


polarization, the territorial seductions common in the USA have been less in evidence, at least at more local levels. Which brings us to the history behind all this.

From a geopolitics of class to a geopolitics of territory In thinking about geopolitics it is useful to go back to one of the founding texts: Halford Mackinder’s Democratic Ideals and Reality (1919), most commonly known for its enunciation of the Heartland Theory. As pointed out elsewhere (Cox 2019a), there is more to Mackinder than meets the eye. You do not need to look too closely to see that capitalist dynamics were at the center of his analysis. He recognized that it was the drive to accumulate that was inciting the search for markets on a global scale and generating conflict not just between countries, but between labor and capital, and possibly organizing internationally. His answer was more balanced development within countries so that the pressure for overseas markets would diminish.5 This should be accompanied by a balanced development across the regions of the country as a whole; class cohesion within communities would replace class tensions across them: “If the real organization of the Nation be by classes and interests – and that is the alternative to organization by localities – it is quite inevitable that the corresponding classes in neighboring nations will get themselves together, and that what has been described as the horizontal cleavage of international society will ensue” (Mackinder 1919: 130). And while Mackinder was writing this, his American geopolitical comrade-in-arms, Isaiah Bowman, was speculating on the global future of the United States, but in a different modulation. It was the country’s expanding frontier, he argued in the final chapter of The New World, that had acted as a safety valve for class tensions. The frontier was now filled out. To alleviate class tensions, the USA would have to look outwards for new markets so that working-class aspirations could be sated by the economic growth that that would allow. The context for these claims is of major significance. Mackinder and Bowman were both writing at approximately the beginning of what Eric Hobsbawm (1994) called the short twentieth century. He dates it from the beginning of the First World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union in


1990. I am more inclined to date it from the Russian Revolution of 1917. The particular interpretation that I am going to give this is of a big but barely recognized story: the way in which the challenge of the international labor movement was pushed back, domesticated, and then crushed. The territorialization of politics, and geopolitics as we now know it, is the other side of that coin. There are two related dramas. The first played out internationally. From the standpoint of class struggle on a global scale, the First World War had been a surprise. There had been copious evidence prior to that, that the ruling classes of the world should pay attention to the revolutionary demands of a significant part of the labor movement.6 The fact that Germans, Brits and French so happily went to the trenches suggested that the worry had been premature. The Russian Revolution of 1917 would then be a wakeup call, and the alarm bells would go on ringing into the 1920s with the abortive revolutions in Germany and Hungary and a more general labor unrest that would reach a peak in that decade; a high point never repeated (see Silver 2004: Figure 1). As Mann (1995) has outlined, the counter-attack would then be on. He outlines three particular forms of this: the resurgence of religion in politics through Catholic labor unions and political parties; the legitimation of rule by appeal to a supposedly class-neutral expertise; and nationalism. We should note in passing that the particular mix and the intensity of the reaction varied. It was different in France, Germany and Spain, than it was in Great Britain and in the United States. In the former, more backward countrysides, sometimes dominated by the Church and large landowners, lent industrial transformation a more fraught character. This was because the struggle between capital and labor overlay anxieties about secularization and on the part of the big landowners, a shunting aside from a former predominance (Rosenberg 1934). Moreover, what Mann does not refer to is the significance of what some have called Europe’s civil war (Graham 2005; Traverso 2016): a struggle by the ruling class to reimpose its dominance and played out most vigorously in Franco’s triumph and subsequent bloodletting in Spain and in the repression of the labor movement by other fascist countries. Meanwhile, the ruling class in France and Great Britain was quite happy to allow this to happen; Nazi Germany intervened in Spain but they did not. According to one view (Pauwels 2020), the French ruling class was utterly complicit in German victory in 1940, since it would facilitate not just curbing, but extinguish-


ing the pretensions of the working class. Working-class resistance would continue during the war through the communist-dominated resistance movements. It would only be finally settled, at least for the time being, with the end of the civil war in Greece in 1949: again, we should have no doubt which side ruling classes elsewhere, including the British and the Americans, actively supported. This is not to argue that the Second World War was not also about global hegemony: not just countering the threat of Germany and Japan to the USA’s ambitions but also the USA putting a nail in the coffin of the British Empire through the way it negotiated its war aid deals: no shared anglophone sentimentality there! Germany led the charge against the USSR but Britain and the USA were fine with that; it was the long-term implications of German victory for domination of the global economy, and therefore the implications for the US business classes that worried the Americans. Once the war was over, the struggle against the working classes of the world would continue in the form of the Cold War: the attempt to push back what would come to be called the ‘evil empire’ and save capitalism for the world. Countries like Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and those of Southern Africa, would now be accorded heightened importance in geopolitical calculations. Why capitalism prevailed in this particular struggle, aside from the huge advantage in material resources that it was able to deploy, is complicated, but we can get a better sense of what happened by focusing on how the struggle unfolded within individual countries. For alongside the internationalization of politics represented in the classical geopolitics of Mackinder and Bowman, there was also a nationalization of politics that would provide the second part of the drama, gathering speed after 1945, but whose foundations had been laid earlier. Within the labor movement, battles between more radical and more accommodating elements had occurred everywhere in the couple of decades around the turn of the century. With the extension of the franchise to all men, the more accommodating would gain the upper hand. Henceforth, it would be the parliamentary road that was taken; little short of disastrous for the workers’ movement, as elections required class alliances and short-term improvements instead of structural transformation (Przeworski 1980).7


This would then play a role in the fragmentation of the working class into so many unanchored individuals: customers of the political parties rather than participants in their respective politics. The slow disintegration of the classic sites of the labor movement in exclusively working-class communities, the fragmentation of (loosely) extended families (Cox 2020) and the corresponding emergence of what Habermas (1973: 77) would call ‘familial-vocational privatism’ would be further nails in the coffin. Globalization would be the coup de grâce, bringing de-industrialization in its wake and the collapse of the ‘evil empire’ (Clarke 1990a). The labor movement everywhere is in tatters and this despite the huge disparities in wealth that ruling classes have been able to establish: a return to conditions not seen since before the Second World War (Harvey 2007: 16–17) and reflected in a geography which, judging from the election of Trump and Brexit, has facilitated a territorialization of politics entrenching ruling classes further. This is, one might argue, a very West-centric view, but this is how it played out, because outside of the heartlands of global capitalism one encounters social formations of a quite different nature, as John Weeks (2001) urged when referring to uneven development of the primary sort: the difference between social formations of a more purely capitalist nature, and social formations which retain strong pre-capitalist elements, where capitalist development has struggled to take off. If it does not take off, then the sort of class relations that one associates with the capitalist world are not going to be apparent: no struggle for democratic rights, therefore, and state forms that are scarcely capitalist (Cox and Negi 2010). Anxieties about communism in Southern Africa and Central America in the later stages of the Cold War were always overblown and, in one sense, revealed a Eurocentricity of which others have complained in a quite different context in arguments about the politics of difference: so-called post-colonialism (Cox 2014: 111–15). The assumption was that in post-colonial Angola, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and so forth, you could count on a serious working-class challenge. Given social relations there, with their strong pre-capitalist forms or at least residues, that was always an absurd assumption, one verified by the superficial nature of the communist regimes that emerged and which were inevitably short-lived. But Eurocentricity lives on. The assumption now is one of ‘failed states,’ which is to attribute to those countries to which the sobriquet is applied a particular state norm: that of a capitalist state. The problem is that they cannot be regarded as such, because respective social


formations are scarcely capitalist to begin with. But the easy stigmatization continues and is absorbed into a new (geo)politics of difference.

Notes 1. See Cox (2016c). 2. In the urban and regional development literature, this was an idea that surged to the fore in the 1980s, as in the British localities project (Cooke 1989). See also Clark et al. (1992). 3. Every country needs dollars, since, as a result of the size and diversity of the American economy, it is likely that they will need to trade with the USA for at least something. See McKinnon (2001). 4. How this gets expressed at the national level is often a matter of the balance of taxes sent to the central government and how money in various forms gets distributed across regions or, in the USA, states (Massey 2007; Cox 2016b: 11–12). In the metropolitan areas of the United States, a common complaint from revenue-stretched central cities is that suburbanites make use of city services without contributing to their financial support. 5. As it happens, a naïve idea given capital’s contradictions and the imperatives to expand outside a home base. 6. See, for example, Suzanne Berger’s (2013) discussion of the French labor movement during the first globalization. 7. The supposed high point of this engagement would be the postwar welfare state, but, as Myrdal (1960: Chapter 9) reminded people at that time, its national character tended to foreclose a more equal development across countries and the liberation of the working class on an international level.


Marx is a challenge because his view of the world is so alien to that which is the received wisdom in capitalist societies and how that wisdom reflects and reinforces dominant practices. This is true not just of the lay world but also of the academic one, and not least in human geography. After an initial burst of enthusiasm in the 1970s, for most human geographers Marxism has become a curiosity; something that fascinates like something mildly titillating but which makes no lasting impression. When he speaks at the geographers’ academic conferences, the attendance for David Harvey will typically be standing-room only; but after that, not much happens, or if any lessons are learnt, they are rather superficial ones. Human geography is still waiting for that revolution in thought that seemed to be the promise of the 1970s. If indeed that is still because of the challenge of Marx’s arguments, then I hope that this book will help shine a light. In the first part, I set out the major arguments, and where useful, drew on bourgeois social science as a contrast. The second half comprised some applications to topics which are a focus not just of self-identified Marxist geographers but of human geography as a whole. Again, this is a different light on themes like nature, uneven development and difference. The chapters are stand-alone but the interrelations should be evident. The geopolitics of capitalism is hard to talk about without some reference to difference and the assignment of blame as in the idea of ‘failed states.’ There are other topics that I might have focused on. There is an important Marxist literature on landscape as a central concept in human geography; the work of Denis Cosgrove and Don Mitchell comes to mind. I would like to have given more focused attention to the significance of countries to historical geographical materialism, but space considerations precluded it. Beyond providing some initial enlightenment, my aim has been to get the reader to the point where they can engage with some of the rich literature that is Marxism in human geography. David Harvey’s contributions are to the fore here. I would suggest The Enigma of Capital as a useful 135


bridging point to more challenging reading. The latter would include his magisterial Limits to Capital, in which ‘limits’ is in part geographic irony: the limits to Marx’s understanding of capital, in that he did not develop its geographic aspects; but also the geographic limits that capital continually seeks to overcome. Limits to Capital is central to developing a more profound understanding of the arguments laid out in this book. But anything by Harvey, and there is a lot of it, is rewarding. Other books (and articles) on the reading list should include those by Denis Cosgrove, Ray Hudson, Don Mitchell, Dick Peet, Eric Sheppard, Erik Swyngedouw, Richard Walker, Michael Webber and Jane Wills. There are also the honorary Marxist geographers, most notably Mike Davis. There are some critical human geographers worth following: I always read what Roger Lee, Linda McDowell, Ron Martin, Erica Schoenberger and Allen Scott, among others, have to say and invariably find it rewarding. And the work of Doreen Massey, alas now deceased, was invariably highly stimulating. In addition, this should be the moment for expanding an understanding of the Marxist arguments developed in the first part of the book. Capital Volume 1 has to be at the top of this list. David Harvey has provided an excellent guide to this in his A Companion to Marx’s Capital: absolutely indispensable. His website https://​davidharvey​.org/​includes some excellent lecture courses that can be followed on YouTube. There are also the journals: Human Geography is dedicated to Marxist work; Antipode carries some useful contributions. Outside of geography, I find useful (in no particular order of preference), Capital and Class, Historical Materialism, International Socialism and New Left Review. Marx’s work and that of those who have drawn on his ideas, sheds an entirely new light on the world. It is a light on the world as a totality, unrelenting in its sheer scope and intellectually exciting. It is a world to be rediscovered therefore, and not least, a human geography.


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absolute surplus value 29, 30, 42 abstract labor 22–3, 25 accumulation 18–20, 39–47 capitalist cities 73 coercive state power 64 historical forms 42 nature contradiction 90 social reproduction 40–41 spaces of 83, 117, 119, 123–4, 127–8 accumulation fund 43–4 Alexander, Titus 95 Amsden, Alice 120 Bachrach, Peter 67 Banaji, Jarius 21 Bernstein, Henry 112 Boserup, Esther 88 Bourdieu, Pierre 99 Bowman, Isaiah 130, 132 branch plant towns 107, 109, 125 Brenner, Johanna 100 Brenner, Robert 21, 100 ‘business climate’ 117 CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) 91 capital 12–20 accumulation 39–46, 47 circulating 32–3, 44–5, 50, 52–4, 123 sphere of illusion 59–60 velocity 32–3, 50, 91, 121 class relations 8–9, 47–8 development of 35, 47–57


difference and 97 ecological relationship 84 fixed 52–3, 123, 126 geopolitics of 122–30 global relations 114 ‘inconstant geography’ 112–13, 123, 128 labor subsumption to 42, 44 machinery for 53, 68 ‘malthusianist’ contradictions 88 nature and 91 overaccumulation 44–6, 47 socialization of 62 supply and demand, controls both 43 surplus value 33 urbanization of 73–84, 102 working class balance 41 capital goods 51 capitalism 10–11, 18, 71 commodity production 12–13 competitive strategies 17–19 contingent circumstance 6 development under 8 difference and 94–103 geopolitics of 121–36 ideology under 58–69 naturalization 63 nature/labor separation 87 social relations 2 technologies/products 56 value of labor power 27, 35 capitalist cities 73–84 capitalist state 58–69, 116 Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring 85 Chamberlain, Joseph 125


cities 73–84, 107–9, 112–15, 121, 123–4, 127 class contradictions 19–20, 75–8 difference 95–8 geopolitics of 122–3, 130–134 class alliances 126–7 class relations 8–9, 36–7, 40, 47–8, 57–8, 99, 133 class struggle 74–5, 83 climate change 88 clone divisions of labor 106 coercion economic 64 extra-economic 64 state 64–5, 69 cohesion, ‘factors of’ 58–69 Cold War 132, 133 commercial capital 49 commodification of nature 89–90 commodities 12–14, 24 labor power as 12–13, 15–16, 20, 23 value of 12–15, 22 commodity relations 19 competition 17–19, 24, 26–7, 47–8 class difference 96 cost 18, 25, 45, 48, 55, 83, 96, 99, 121 geopolitics 121, 123 globalization 117 product 55–6, 124 productivity and 32 state power and 65 confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) 91 constant capital 28, 45–6, 110 consumption 4–5, 18, 45 consumption fund 43–4 consumption goods 56, 67–8, 89–90, 115 content–form inversion 59–60 contingent, capitalism as 6 contradiction 7–9, 47–8 accumulation/nature 90 capital 81, 83, 88, 126 class 75–8 fixity/mobility 123, 125–6


global scale 92 production/living place 77–8 urbanization 74–8, 83 corvée labor 13 Cosgrove, Denis 135 cost competition 18, 25, 55, 96, 121 countries 114–15 territorial struggle 129 uneven development 114–15 crisis circulation 44–5 tendency for the rate of profit to fall 45 critical human geography 71, 136 Davis, Mike 112, 119 decentralization 115–16 de-industrialization, premature 118 demand 22, 24, 43–5, 80 democracy and capitalism 66–7 de-skilling 26, 124 development 3, 6, 7–8 geopolitics and 130 income variations 104–5 luxury goods 35 meaning of 104 socialization of production 111 workday lengthening 19 ‘development industry’ 79 developmental states 118 Diamond, Jared 62 difference 94–103 division of labor 19, 53–5 between firms 51 functional 49–50 gendered 36, 76, 98, 100 geopolitics 122 international 124 social life 62 socialization of production 50–52 spatial 56, 71, 105–10, 113 technical 37, 71, 74, 75, 100, 103 double freedom of labor power 13, 47, 61–4 Downs, Robert 63 dual-labor market theory 38 ecological Marxism 90–93


ecological theory 84, 88–9 economic forces 64, 69 economic regulation 22 economics, defining 70 economies of scale 114, 118 education and labor power 36 Ehrlich, Paul and Anne 85 electoral systems 84 emancipation 99–101 empire-building 128 Engels, Friedrich 3, 10, 11 equality 60, 67 before the law 66, 69 of opportunity 68 Eurocentricity 94, 133 Europe’s civil war 131–2 exchange relations 4 exchange value 12, 14–15, 21–2, 109 failed states 133–4, 135 family 2, 18, 25, 36, 100–101 Faulkner, William 11 fetishization of nature 86–90 feudalism 6–7, 13, 37, 64 finance capital 26, 49 First World War 131 formal subsumption of labor to capital 42, 44 form–content inversion 59–60 franchise, struggle for 66–7 Fraser, Nancy 103 ‘free time’ 76 freedom 13–14, 47, 61–4, 67–8 of opinion 66 Friedman, Thomas 63 functional division of labor 49–50 Galbraith, John K 67 gender difference 94, 96, 99–100 gender discrimination 97–8, 103 gendered division of labor 36, 76, 98, 100 gentrification 81 geopolitics of capitalism 121–36 Gerschenkron, Alexander 117 global warming 92–3 globalization 10, 106–7, 114, 117–19, 124, 133

Habermas, Jürgen 133 Hardin, Garrett, The Tragedy of the Commons 85 Harvey, David 71, 93, 123, 135–6 hegemony, global 128, 132 historical geographical materialism 2–11 historical materialism 2–11 Hobsbawm, Eric 130–131 housing question 76, 77–8, 80 human geography and Marxism challenges to 135 distinct needs of 70 insights 71 people-nature relationship 85–93 idealism 5 ideology 58–69, 81–2 dehistoricizing 63 economic/political 69 naturalizing 63 reproducing difference 98–9 separating 61–3, 76, 90 urban 82 income inequality 81 income measures and development 104–5 income redistribution 81–2 individual value of the product 31–2 industrial capital 49–50 industrial reserve army of labor 43–4 industrial revolution 88–9 informal economy 112 instruments of labor 28–9, 52 ‘intellectual property rights’ 57 international division of labor 124 ‘intersectionality’ 96 labor capital contradictions 126 condition of production 28 ‘dead’ 53 difference and 97 industrial reserve army of 43–4 living 52 nature and 86–7 subsumption to capital 42, 44 value of 22–3, 108


labor law 116 labor power as commodity 12–13, 15–16, 20, 23 double freedom of 13, 47, 61–4 equality 60 limits of 30 markets in 21, 38 as natural force 91 protection of 65 reproduction of 36–7, 40–41, 54–5 value of 15–16, 27, 28–9, 31, 34–7, 109 labor process 3, 5, 19–20, 106 nature and 86 socialization of 51 surplus value 29, 31 labor supply 13 labor time socially necessary 14–16, 18, 23–5, 29, 31 land 6–7, 21–2, 86–7, 111–12 law, equality before 66, 69 law of value 22–4 leisure time, idea of 89, 90 living place 75–8 location, politics of 125 luxury goods 35 machinery 53 Mackinder, Halford 130, 132 Malthus, Thomas 59, 88 Malthusianism 88–9, 93 Mann, Michael 131 market power 27, 34, 108–9 market theories 38 Marx, Karl Capital 2, 5, 7, 9, 43–4, 59–60, 63, 136 Communist Manifesto 10 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy 8, 19 The German Ideology 3, 11 Grundrisse 5, 86 Marxism, challenges of 135–6 Massey, Doreen 105–6, 110, 113, 124 materialism 2–11


means of production 13–14, 40, 45 shared 52 Meiksins-Wood, Ellen 96–7 migrant labor 36 Mitchell, Don 135 Mitterrand, François 62 mobility of capital 126 mobility of labor power 26 modes of production 12, 19 money capital 20, 39 money commodity 23 monopoly effects 26–7 Myrdal, Gunnar 134 national difference 94, 98–100, 102 ‘national economy’ 83 nationalization of politics 132, 134 ‘natural’ disasters 87–8 nature 85–93 as consumption good 89–90 fetishization of 86–90 labor time 16 production relation 3 social relations 2 objects of labor 28–9, 49 obsolescence physical 53 social 53 O’Connor, James 93 opinion, freedom of 66 opportunity, equality of 68 overaccumulation of capital 44–6, 47 parts-process divisions of labor 106 patriarchy 95, 100 Peel, Mr 63, 69, 111 political ecology 86–7 political economy 21, 59–60 political forces, state power 69 politics of location 125 nationalization of 132, 134 and territorial forms 129 population growth 88–9 Post, Charles 110 post-colonialism 133


post-industrial cities 79, 107 ‘the posts’ 94 pluralism of 95 Poulantazas, Nicos 58 pre-capitalist production relations 110 pre-capitalist society 24, 61, 86–7, 133 see also feudalism; slavery prices and abstract labor 23 primary sector 38, 53–5 primitive accumulation 7, 9, 14, 42, 61, 64 private property 64 product competition 55 production 3–5, 17 commodities 12–13 forces of 8, 19, 20, 104, 111 living place, in contradiction with 77 nature relation 3 pre-capitalist relations 110 relations of 8, 18, 19 social forces of 5–6 social relations of 4, 12, 59 see also socialization of production products individual value 31–2 innovation and capitalist development 55–7 social value 31–2 profit rate, tendency to fall 45 profit and surplus value 28 property capital 49, 79–80 speculative nature 79–80 property franchise 66 property relations 12 property rights 64 Przeworski, Adam 67 race and difference 94, 96, 99–100, 102 racial discrimination 97–8 racial segregation 98 Ramas, Maria 100 real subsumption of labor to capital 42, 44 redistribution of income 81–2 redistribution of surplus value 34, 108–9

‘redlining’ 80 reformism 67, 82 regional geopolitics 121, 123–4, 127–9 relative scarcity and value 21–2 relative surplus value 29, 30–33, 42 reproduction capital accumulation as 39–41 of labor power 36–7, 40–41, 54–5 social 40–41 resource shortage 88–9, 90 ‘restructuring’ 127 retail sector 33–4, 108–9 Ricardo, David 15 right-to-work laws 116 Rodrik, Dani 118 Romantic movement 89 rust belt 124, 125 Second World War 132 secondary sector 38, 53–5 service sector 54–5, 100–101 slavery 37, 64 Smith, Adam 15, 59, 63 social forces, production 5–6 social formations 133–4 social infrastructure 64–5 social mix, class contradictions of 76–7 social process 9–10 social relations capitalism and 2 development and 6 of production 4, 12, 59, 126 thingification of 61 social stratification 99 social theory 70–72 social value of the product 31–2 socialization of production 50–52, 62 and geopolitics 121–2, 125–7 and uneven development 105, 110–111 urbanization and 73, 76 socially necessary labor time 14–16, 18, 23–5, 29, 31 socially necessary turnover time 123 socio-spatialization 122 peculiarities of agriculture 32–3 sociology 70


spaces of accumulation 123–4, 127–8, 134 spatial division of labor 56, 71, 105–10, 113 state 58–69, 116 American 115–16 class relations 8–9 coercive power 64–5, 69 countries and variations in state form 116 developmental 118 ideology and state power 66–8 neutrality 82 particularization of 64–5 suspending contradictions 65 territorial struggle 83–4 territorial structure 129 Storper, Michael 112, 123 stratification, social 99 subsistence 7, 23, 31, 40, 111 subsistence goods 31, 32 substitutability labor power 37 nature 91 resource shortage 89 subsumption of labor to capital 42, 44 supply 22, 24, 43, 80 surplus value 15–19, 28–38 accumulation 39–41, 42–3, 45 circulating capital, velocity of 32–3, 50 distribution of 18, 33–4 economic forces 64 uneven development 108–9 sustainability 91 taxation 67, 69 technologies 55–7, 92 tendency for the rate of profit to fall (TRPF) 45 territorial alliance 127, 128–9 territorial competition 121 territorial politics 122–34 territorial struggles 81, 83, 119, 121, 122, 129, 133 tertiary sector 53–4 Thatcher, Margaret 127 Therborn, Göran 67


thingification 61–3 of nature 87, 89 three sector model 53–5 totality 8, 62, 80, 134, 136 totalization 96 Trotsky, Leon 117 TRPF (tendency for the rate of profit to fall) 45 Trump, Donald 125 turnover time 123 unemployment 9, 43, 46 unequal exchange 109, 119 unequal incomes 81 uneven development 83, 104–20, 133 combined 117 countries, importance of 114–16 northern hemisphere bias 114 primary 110, 111–12, 133 secondary 110, 112–14 urban ideology 82 urban question 74–5 urban renewal 80, 84 urbanization 73–84, 102, 112, 114, 123 politics of difference 102–3 without industrialization 118–19 use value 12–14, 22 value 21–4 capital accumulation 39–40, 45 commodities, of 12–15, 22 division of labor 108 income measures 105 labor power, of 15–16, 27–9, 31, 34–7, 109 law of 25–7 mainstream concepts of 21–2 productive forces, development of 104 theory of 21–7, 29 and unequal exchange 109 value-producing labor see abstract labor variable capital 29, 45 ‘wage form’ 60 wage goods 31, 32, 35


‘wage labor relation’ see double freedom of labor power Wakefield, Edward Gibbon 63, 68–9 Walker, Richard A 112, 123 Wallerstein, Immanuel 21 Watts, Michael 87–8 Weeks, John 110–111, 112, 116, 119, 133 Wilkinson, Richard W 88–9 Wolfe, Alan 68 women emancipation of 99–101 exclusions 103 Wordsworth, William, Tintern Abbey 89

working classes divisions 95, 97, 133 labor power 36–7 patriarchy 100 reproduction of 41 resistance of 8–9 subordination of 98 territorial politics, and 132 urbanization 74 working day, length of 8, 16, 19, 29–31, 42, 44 workplace–living place separation 75–7 Zelizer, Viviana 100

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