Balibar and Transformation

Following on from my recent post about Etienne Balibar’s structural approach to Marx, I wanted to add some more thoughts about the transition between modes of production which Balibar covers in the last chapter of “Reading Capital“.

Balibar places the driver for change in the gap between ‘real’ subsumption and ‘formal’ subsumption, between the forces of production and the relations of production which (ought to) go with them. This is plausible, but without any sense of class struggle or actual revolutionary practice it feels like the engine of change is missing.

This contradiction – between forces and relations of production – could be seen as one of the contradictions driving change. However Balibar locates contradiction within the structure of a mode of production. Surely this leaves us facing a state tending towards equilibrium. If the structure contains both the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (among other ‘destructive’ tendencies) as well as the countervailing forces in the way outlined by Balibar then it must be able to continue to operate with these contradictions in place.

Presumably it could be argued that this creates a situation that is fundamentally unstable (essentially this might be thought of as similar to the proposition advanced by David Harvey in ‘Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism‘). I am not convinced that this is how Balibar presents the case. Rather he outlines a mode of production in almost abstract structural form, deliberately devoid of any ’empiricist’ link to reality to maintain it’s ‘pure’ form. In essence the end result leaves any move from one mode of production to another entirely contingent.

And perhaps the real challenge to Marxist thinking is that history might have demonstrated this fundamental stability to be ‘true’. The history of capitalism tells us that it can survive chronic instability and major crises and reinvent itself while remaining within the same basic mode of production.


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