Re: [OPE-L] highest, last, latest, or no longer existing stage of capitalism?

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Wed Jan 26 2005 - 17:16:25 EST

------------- Original Message ---------
Subject: highest, last, latest, or no longer existing stage of capitalism?
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <>
Date:    Wed, January 26, 2005 5:05 pm

Delineating stages of capitalist development assumes that we can identify
turning points or breaking points at which quantitative changes created
qualitative changes in the operation of the social system. But that can be
 done in various ways, depending on the variables we are looking at.
Probably  the most useful way of looking at it is, in terms of the
formation and  development of a world market.

The idea of imperialism as the "final stage" of capitalist development
seems  to have been based on the division of the whole world into spheres
of  political and economic influence between the capitalist powers. This
idea  became mixed with the idea, very popular in the first half of the
20th  century, that the socialist transformation of society was imminent.

But leaving aside ideological fictions about the impending doom of
capitalism or the impending world socialist revolution, the historical
truth  is that imperialism was a characteristic of capitalism already in
the  mercantile era, i.e. in the 1600s and 1700s. That is obvious if you
study  e.g. Dutch history, Portuguese history, Spanish history and British
history.  All that has happened is that its forms have changed over time.

Capital accumulation (or capitalist economic growth) is among other things
 predicated on market expansion, and the political corollary of market
expansion was imperialism; this is also the thrust of Rosa Luxemburg's
definition. Just as the economic base of nationalism was the unification
of  the home market, imperialism signifies the conquest and integration of
world  markets.

In outlining the social reproduction of capital, Marx distinguished
between  the circuits of commodity capital (commerce), money capital
(finance) and  production capital (industry) - what multinational
corporations have now  achieved is the internationalisation of money
capital (financialisation) and  production capital (global production).
This is discussed by Robert Went in  his last book, but he refers only
tentatively to "a new stage of

The term "late capitalism" was first used by Natalie Moszkowska in the
1940s  and later adopted in German discussions. In using that term, Ernest
Mandel  for example implied a periodisation in terms of early bourgeois
society, the  heyday of bourgeois society, and late bourgeois society.

Alongside this periodisation, is the delineation of merchant capitalism,
freely competitive industrial capitalism, monopoly industrial capitalism,
and then neocapitalism or late capitalism where the multinational
corporation is dominant.

This kind of periodisation is based on the dominant organisational forms
of  business activity. But the periodisation is not necessarily very
accurate or  relevant - it often seems more an attempt to knit together an
orthodoxy  based on perceptions of a tradition, together with the
pretension that  Marxists know in advance in which way history is moving.
It often has more  an ideological or doctrinal function than a scientific
basis. I tend to  think that if we can understand the nature of our own
era, we are doing very  well already.

The delineation of "stages" or distinct epochs in the history of
capitalism  is really only as good as the research that underpins it. The
problem is  really that despite the mass of data and evidence, there have
been rather  few attempts by scholars to confront the empiria
comprehensively and trace  out the worldhistorical trends objectively, nor
to extend Marx's theory with  an analysis of foreign trade, the states
system and demographic patterns.  There are however many useful studies
dealing with facets of the research.

There are of course also plenty of speculative theories of globalisation
and  the "world system", but few of those have anything in common anymore
with  Marx's idea. I guess it is a difficult task and takes an enormous
amount of  work; few people are in a position to do it and you might well
argue that  the position of critical social scientists, qua funding,
autonomy and  research opportunities is increasingly precarious in
consequence of the  commercialisation of universities.

Suppose though that you can identify stages in capitalist development,
what  then? What do you know then? Does it enable you to predict the
future? Or  does it only justify or help orient a political policy? Or is
it a way of  sustaining Marx's theorem about the finitude and historical
transience of  capitalism as a mode of production?


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