David Harvey’s ‘The Enigma of Capital’

The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of CapitalismThe Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism by David Harvey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent introduction to the question, “Why is capitalism so crisis prone?” Harvey begins with the events of the 2008 financial crisis and then moves to more abstract considerations such as the widely accepted need for 3 percent growth, the various barriers to this, including geography, labour relations, the environment, technology and so on. In all this, Harvey gives a fairly comprehensible account of his own brand of Marxism. Perhaps the most obvious omission is any sustained attempt to theorise ‘imperialism’, that is, the division of capitalism into competing power-blocks and the systematic exploitation of the third world by the first world. There’s something a bit scholastic and bland about Harvey’s exposition – if this were a novel, you’d feel like it was a bit mechanical – but luckily the content is enough to keep the book buoyant. In addition, it’s impossible to read this without thinking about the future. Though Harvey doesn’t do much with the notion of ‘epochs’ of capitalism (i.e. Late Capitalism a la Mandel), one can’t reflect on the fact that 3 percent growth is fundamentally unsustainable. While one can never rule out another long boom, the last one was brought about by a combination of massive capital destruction during World War Two and the technological revolution that occurred immediately afterwards. This suggests that we’re entering a period of ongoing, cycling crises where politics will become increasingly volatile. Radical movements of left and right, terrorism, civil war, state repression — all these make sense in the context of economic crisis. It’s hard not to foresee more of them in the future. If you’re interested in these things, this book is recommended.

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