Harvey “Crises, Geographical Disruptions and Uneven Development of Political Responses”

Seminar 1 – September 1, 2010

For next week’s seminar, we all read David Harvey’s “Crises, Geographical Disruptions and the Uneven Development of Political Responses,” which I’m sure will be available on davidharvey.org.

I found that this reading, after a summer of turning my brain into a bowl of oatmeal at the beach, at the movies, etc., was a definitely a good way to come back to school. Here are some points that I thought were quite interesting and helpful, both politically, for analysis of the sustained crisis, and, academically, for those of us who are theorizing the crisis as it meddles and explodes in the lives of people who live in the world:

In the first part of Harvey’s essay, he breaks down the many explanations provided for why the crisis happened:

  • the failure of regulation, like state regulation in the financial sector or controls over the “shadow banking system” or regulation of “big institutions” (not really sure what this is)
  • ignoring the many warnings that markets don’t correct themselves or the hypothesis that crisis is the self-correction of free markets
  • the crisis lies in the inherent depravity of some nations and cultures, the doings of what President Lula referred to as, “white, blue-eyed and out-of-touch-male world of Wall Street”

Harvey says its a little bit of all. I think what’s helpful about this breakdown is that it get to the core of what conservatives and neoliberals point to as the root of the crisis. Of course, later, Harvey discusses the arrival of “systemic risk” in the discourse of economists trying to fix the crisis, which to Harvey, sounds a lot like Marxian analysis of chronic problem of capital–crisis. But its helpful to think about these explanations because these are the very ways politicians, still wedded to free market capitalism and authors of current racist, xenophobic policies that shape work in the US and globally, are thinking about fixing things.

Harvey then lays out a historical-geographical timeline about the current crisis which can be found here. Basically following economic insulation of particular nation-states from 1945-80, deregulation of finance capital in the early 1970’s ala Thatcher and Reagan, mobile capital and the onset of globalization, rise of international competition and a shift of power to E. Asia, effectively 2 corollaries of power that arise from that accumulation of dispossesion and the primacy of finance capital over goods, the dependence on debt and bubbles!

Always useful info, always a good reminder.

Then, he is heavy into Marx, (which I love!). “Capital, Marx insists, is a process of criculation and not a thing.”  He re-establishes in this essay that capital’s main concern is to circulate and sustain growth, aka accumulate. And in the context of the crisis he notes “potential blockages” in the circulation of capital:

  • “State-finance nexus”: the problem between finance and production capital
  • Workers organizing
  • Running out of nature to exploit (even thought Harvey argues that nature’s limits are often defined socially)
  • Labor process and laborers slowing that process down, on purpose
  • Human wants as potential barrier, the reason why capital is always in search of compound growth and innovation
  • The last one, I’m not so sure, I understand but its called “Capital Circulation as a Whole”–damn, how could that be a potential block to capital? Ahhh, I wrote capital too many times!

Ok, 2 more things.

Harvey states that, “Capital moves its crisis tendencies around geographically as wella s systemically.” And he points to how the crisis happening in particular locations didn’t affect others in some locations. For example, the burst of the mortgage bubble in So Cal, Arizona, Florida, etc. didn’t really touch Canadian and E. Asian financial institutions because the systemic dispersion of finance capital, and its disorganized organization, developed unevenly.

Last, in his theorizing about a “left alternative,” he states that the problem left movements must contend with is “compound growth for ever is not possible.” That probably sounds annoyingly decontextualized. But earlier in the essay, he argues that “tomorrow’s growth creates the effective deman for yesterday’s expanded product. The effective demand problem today is coverted into a problem of finding profitable new investment opportunities tomorrow.” He’s arguing that this logic is not sustainable.

Therefore, he recounts Marx’s “co-revolutionary theory,” a dialectical unfolding of seven facets of the body politic of capitalism, which I will not state here because its 7 more things to type.

But basically Harvey is arguing that if the identified problem is as stated above and, the currently, failings of past movements and revoutions occupy and are obstacles to left movement-building, what we need to recognize is the need for a coherent anti-capitalist, revolutionary movement. He ends his essay with a sweet thought for a Friday afternoon, “why not also say, ‘another communism is possible’?”


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