Global Capital, National State and the Politics of Money

Global Capital, National State and the Politics of Money

Kerr, Derek

This is a stimulating and thought provoking contribution to our understanding of money and state within global capitalism. Its stimulating nature resides in its successful attempt to break with the estranged outward appearances of capitalist society and to constitute a `conceptualised practice’ whose ground is living labour. The dynamic of living labour inhabits the book through the concepts developed and the engaging style of writing. As such, it is a complete and welcomed contrast to those dry and sterile accounts that are mesmerised by the thinglike appearance of money and either treat money as an aspect of economics or as an element of the framework within which class struggle takes place. Those accounts fetishize money in a way that contradicts our experience of money as a contested relation of power. This book edited by Bonefeld and Holloway, however, attempts to render intelligible that experience as it is an exploration of the `politics of money’, an exploration of money as a `form of social relations, a form of class struggle.’ (p.3). What is interesting about this book is the way in which this important reconceptualization of money is elaborated through three interrelated aspects of the crisis of capitalist accumulation. Thus the book examines the crisis of Keynesianism and the rise of monetarism; it analyses the relationship between the global economy and the nation state and the transformation of this relationship over the last two decades; and it supplies a critique of the politics of money. As the editors rightly point out, central to the whole discussion of money as a form of class struggle is the understanding that the other side of monetary instability is the insubordinate power of labour. This issue is taken up from different perspectives in the various contributions to the book.

The first two chapters of the book illustrate how both Keynesianism and monetarism were political responses to labour’s insubordinate power, responses that failed to channel that power into expanded surplus value production. According to John Holloway, the crash of 1929 was the final breakdown of the old order, necessitating the establishment of a new mode of containing the power of labour. Interestingly, this crash is seen to be the other face of the October Revolution of 1917. The `inner connection’ between these two faces of the crisis was credit. It was credit that also underpinned the Keynesian escape from the present and its concern with the future of capitalism. But that future was never reached as the enormous increase in money capital divorced from the exploitation of labour led to the abandonment of the Bretton Woods system and the breakdown of Keynesianism. According to Werner Bonefeld, the monetarist response was a concern with the preservation of the present through its attempt to strengthen the link between money and exploitation. This attempt raised the cost of servicing debt and led to the debt crisis of 1982. As Bonefeld shows, the Western world’s response to this crisis was a return to credit expansion with the result that the dissociation of money from production continued unabated during the 1980s. There is now a demand for a new consensus.

Chapter four by Christian Marazzi is interesting as it was first published in 1977 and was perhaps one of the first to conceptualise the crisis of the 1970s as one in which money as capital could no longer be converted into effective command over labour. This resulted in the monetarist offensive as a new phase of `monetary terrorism’. (p.85).

Chapters five and six utilise form analysis to consider how the political form of the global capital relation is constituted as an international state system in which the nation state is but a differentiated moment. For Peter Burnham, the state form is a specific mode of existence of the class relation, the moment of coercion, without which no class divided society can exist. Burnham provides an interesting account of the emergence of the capitalist state which leads on to an analyses of the global system as single system in which state power is allocated between territorial entities. He does not address why the ‘political’ fragmented into national states, but rather considers the implications of this fragmentation for national states today. Chapter six by John Holloway (first published in Capital er Class 52) is very interesting and stimulating. He makes a distinction between `the political’ and the national state. The political as a moment of the capital relation is a moment of a global totality in which the absolute contingency of space is epitomised in the existence of capital as money. The political finds expression in a plurality of territorially distinct national states. `Historically, the liberation of the relations of exploitation from spatial constraint was accompanied by the development of a new territoriality in the form of the nation state’.(p.124). What is significant, then, is Holloway’s point of departure for analysing the national state. The relation of the national state to capital is a relation of a nationally fixed state to a globally mobile capital. This makes it impossible to establish any simple relation between a national state and any particular part of world capital.

Chapters seven and eight continue themes raised in chapter four by Marazzi. Harry Cleaver considers the role of money as a weapon of command which is continually undermined by class struggle. However, at times in this chapter it seems that money is not a form of class struggle but a thing that can be used in a ‘repressive’ or ‘creative’ way or can by `used by the working class to accentuate the crisis…’ (p.168). The chapter by Werner Bonefeld is very interesting as it interprets Marx’s conceptualisation of money with a view to theorising money as a self-contradictory phenomenon of human relations. Here he seems to differ from some of the implications in Cleaver’s piece. `Capitalist exploitation of labour’, argues Bonefeld, `is not external to the money relation. Rather, it is constitutive of the money relation itself.’ (p.185) The chapter also considers the relationship of the state to money. For Bonefeld the state is the political form through which the social power of money exists.

The concluding chapter restates the central message of the book. Money is not a thing but a form of class struggle and the history of money can be seen as the movement of the composition, decomposition and recomposition of class relations. The chapter traces this movement from the early 1920s to the present and points to the fragility of capital’s containment of labour. For the editors, labour’s insubordinate power contains a message of hope. `Theoretically and practically, this power must be made manifest.'(p.225). This book makes an important contribution to this political task.

Copyright Conference of Socialist Economists Autumn 1996

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