Some more on ‘Occupy’

After my recent post which mentioned the ‘Occupy’ movement in the context of Critical Theory I came across a section in David Harvey’s Companion to Marx’s Capital Volume 2 which talks about ‘Occupy’ in the context of Marx’s discussion of interest and money capital.

In this section, Marx is talking about the contrast between ‘functioning’ capital which is actively in use within the production process and ‘money capital’ which is held apart from the production process and loaned out at interest. Functioning capitalists are those who employ capital directly in the production process to create surplus value. Money capitalists are therefore those with an accumulated stock of money which they loan out at interest.

The thinking Marx develops here (Part 5 of Volume 3 on the division of profit into interest and profit of enterprise) has enormous relevance for modern capitalism. With much production (and therefore the generation of surplus value) having moved to the Far East, the accumulation of vast money resources during the earlier phases of capitalism has allowed the west to retain the illusion of dominance maintained by the fantasy that money generates a profit all by itself. You don’t have to fully accept the labour theory of value to realise that Marx surely has a point here, that there is something strange about the disconnected financial capitalism of Europe and the United States. The illusion that money itself can create more money (value) is surely misguided.

This has significant implications for thinking about the organisation of western capitalism, and it’s belief that it can successfully maintain itself despite the fact that the creation of much surplus value has moved elsewhere, and the signs of a geopolitical shift towards China after the 2007-9 crash are clear to see.

It also has implications for dissent and the struggle against capitalism in the west. As Marx points out, the relationship between money capital and functioning capital is one between capitalists, putting the emphasis within the economy on the tension between interest and profit, money and production for the division of surplus value. This tension, which has been very visible in the west with the financialisation of capitalism, is quite distinct from the ‘normal’ class struggle between labour and capital. It could perhaps be seen as at least part of an explanation for the slow decline in trade unionism in the west. In other words as production is progressively moved to China and the east, tension within western capitalism is founded more and more on the gap between bankers and the rest of capitalism.

And so we come to the ‘Occupy’ movement. It seems to me that this expresses that change in the tensions within capitalism perfectly. The focus of the movement is on banks and their control over the economy. And yet it also seems strangely unfocused, somehow missing the drive for fundamental change. Marx’s analysis makes clear that in the focus on banks and bankers they miss the target. Without necessarily meaning to, they are effectively fighting within the system. The challenge remains how to focus that anger on truly overthrowing the system itself, real change. Where is the movement leading the real struggle?


3 thoughts on “Some more on ‘Occupy’

  1. kagmi

    What do you think the real target is?

    My experience with the Occupy movement was that it started out focused, but fell apart over minutiae. In my time on the ground with Occupy, I witnessed a TREMENDOUS amount of infighting between left-leaning protesters whose tiny differences of opinion on their precise goals and tactics would balloon into schisms within the movement. Some very good work got done anyway, but in my local chapter we ended up with three different “branches” of Occupy, all run by leftists who were unable to cooperate because they weren’t exactly the same KIND of leftist.

    My personal opinion in recent years has been that a blend of capitalism and socialism seems to achieve the ideal balance; capitalism is useful for rewarding innovation, but unrestrained capitalism only lasts a few years before markets become fettered by monopolies. Socialism is profoundly useful for creating efficient public services from which all workers can benefit; there are some industries which it seems essential to socialize, and others for which socialization has historically been a disaster.

    I do wish we could lose the adversarialism between capitalists and socialists (and even between socialists and other socialists, apparently!) and realize what our true, material enemies are.

    1. fourharrisons Post author

      Thanks, that’s an interesting insight into Occupy from within. Certainly the left is weak, and it is a shame if that weakness had a negative impact on Occupy too. The factionalism of modern socialist politics really is barrier to successful protest. The wider point I was making is that Marx presents a (reasonably) coherent overarching narrative which informs dissent and protest.

      I confess to being an outside observer to Occupy. Because the left no longer provides that higher level of context within which protest is directed and organised however, Occupy ultimately fractured in exactly the way you outline. In that sense, I think I agree with you.

      1. kagmi

        One thing that was interesting to see with Occupy was that it was about 90% leftist…and 10% Libertarian. One of the best things I saw in that movement was actually the synergy between the two extremes; socialists would show up and train us on how to be legal observers and handle the governmental system, Libertarians would show up and train us on how to grow our own food in our gardens. Both those who wanted more government and those who wanted less of it seemed to strongly agree on their end goals, and I ended up seeing their values as complimentary.

        But that is a very complicated tangent for another time…

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