David Harvey’s most recent book is a superb short introduction to the analysis laid out by Marx in Capital, almost like a summary of his ‘Companion’ to the three volumes of Capital (Harvey 2010, Harvey 2013).
One of the concepts that I really like about Harvey’s analysis is the idea of there being seven different aspects or ‘moments’ to Marx’s analysis in Capital. I think this fits well with the outline of Marx’s use of dialectics given by Ollman. In particular, Harvey writes that to see any one aspect as dominant or determining misses the point:
The grand contest as to whether the productive forces or social relations should be viewed as the prime mover of capitalist development misses the point. It fails to situate Marx’s study of technology in the context of the totality of relations that constitute a capitalist social formation. It also assumes, for no good reason, that there must be a prime mover.
(Harvey 2017, p. 112).
The analysis of capital should be seen as a totality in all it’s complexity. To help with this Harvey takes a footnote from volume 1 (Marx 1990, p. 493 note 4) to identify seven ‘moments’, each representing a different angle from which to view the structure of capital.
These seven moments are:
- Relation to nature;
- Modes of production;
- Social relations;
- Reproduction of daily life;
- Mental conceptions of the world;
- Institutional arrangements (added by Harvey).
(Harvey 2010, p. 195)
The most important thing here is to see these elements not as a list, but as the separate facets of a single structure. Something like the faces of a seven sided dice, or seven different windows onto the interior of the same building. The structure itself is a single building, a united whole, which we can view from each of these angles and gain a slightly different perspective through each. Each one interacts with all the others, and any comprehensive analysis must account for all of them.
To argue that any one of these determines the nature of society therefore misses the point. Each one expresses an element of the whole. As Harvey notes:
No one moment prevails over the others, even as there exists within each moment the possibility for autonomous development… All these elements coevolve and are subject to perpetual renewal and transformation as dynamic moments within the totality.
(Harvey 2010, p. 196).
This it seems to me is the essence of Marx’s dialectical analysis. A complex and multi-faceted whole, that can be approached from a number of different angles each of which provides insight and helps us to approach the whole but none of which actually constitute or determine that whole. It provides a framework or reference for analysis, and therefore a key element in Marx’s relevance for today.
Harvey, David Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason (Profile Books, London, 2017).
Harvey, David A Companion to Marx’s Capital Volume 1 (Verso, London, 2010).
Harvey, David A Companion to Marx’s Capital Volume 2 (Verso, London, 2013).
Marx, Karl Capital, A Critique of Political Economy Volume 1 (Penguin, London, 1990).