Reviewed by Jelle Versieren
The title of Everling’s book may be somewhat misleading because the book covers more than just a class analysis of the contemporary globalised economy. The recurrent theme is the rethinking of a classical Marxist analysis of class struggle throughout human history. It is a classical Marxist analysis for several reasons. First, Everling refers most of the time to the politically codified Marxist thinkers in a scientific way: Trotsky, Lenin, Ilyenkov, etc. In most cases orthodox authors do not add anything to the field of research. They just repeat and recapitulate their thought as if it were set in stone. Everling, however, does introduce new and important ways to use the Marxist concepts that could explain societal transformations. Second, his book expresses, in distinct ways, the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach in order to grasp the inner logic of the transformation of social formations. Everling is indeed a true heir of the tradition of historical and dialectical materialism. Such theoretical sophistication is accompanied by a remarkable flexibility in interconnecting themes from sociology, political economy, philosophy and anthropology. Finally, it is to the author’s great credit that he has brought back Marx’s central investigation of human relations and their objects in Grundrisse and The German Ideology as the mode of explanation of socio-economic phenomena.
The primary thesis, as Everling forcefully states in the first chapter, is that Marx provided the methodological tools to understand the general social dynamic of societies:
Karl Marx achieved a method of inquiry into human history and social relations that is premised on the investigation of human practical activity. Central to human practice is their reproduction through processes of social production. Humans produce themselves as subject and object through their class relations, as they occupy those social positions within that social production … As the dominant form of production becomes the premise for ever more human beings, those premises are simultaneously narrowed for the ruling class which reaches the limits of the form of its appropriation. (1)
Within this paradigm, he provides an interesting account of the dialectics of the abstract and the concrete as the fundamental categories of any attempt to break out of a purely descriptive scientific theory (9-12). Furthermore, Everling traces throughout the book the daily praxis of humans as activity and alienation by which becoming subject means to be produced by this praxis in an objective form. This double-sided interconnected determination functions as the central matrix of Everling’s analysis of the historical evolution of social production. For Marx, in this determination and process of objectification human praxis ‘human beings realize their human essence – their ‘species being’’ (Shortall 1994, 99). And, of course, the most important human objective ‘extension’ is labour which occupies a pivotal role in social production.
There is a lot at stake in clarifying the Marxist’s grasp on social production as a historical totality, because it explains the development of human subjectivity as external dependence within productive relations (4). This general assertion in the objective form of exploitation and appropriation reclaims certain aspects of the logico-historical methodology:
Human history is objective history. It is the history of the objective forms which humans create between and among themselves for their individual and mutual activity and their reproduction. These are the divisions of labor and their products, form of property, which humans create as the objects for their existence. These develop … in logical-historical relations which proceed from direct physical objectification, through the development of urban forms of existence, and through increasingly social and collective production. Human history is also objective in the objective forms of human subjectivity … in the objective social personifications through which we know humans as subjects (5).
Everling’s Marxist anthropo-philosophical concepts are the pivot on which his analysis of social production is being explained. He conceives this conceptual development of social production as the guiding tool for reconstructing the historical narrative of class struggle. The classical logico-historical method had been used within the value-form analysis of commodity production to explain the development of capitalism (Arthur 1997, 12-21). In the last decades it has become clear that the scientific sequence of research topics in Capital does not correspond with a historical narrative, therefore ‘the primacy of concepts is not determined by their historical primacy but by their primacy in modern bourgeois society’ (Shamsavari 1991, 62). Or, as Jacques Bidet has stated the problem, the interpretation ‘in terms of the categorial order by which the theory of the capitalist mode of production exists as a theory, totally excludes interpretation in terms of historical order: the transformation of the ‘forms’ into ‘stages’ empties the theory of its meaning’ (Bidet 2007, 234). Everling does not start with the conceptual framework of Capital, but instead decides going back to Marx’s investigation in The German Ideology (6-9). Everling’s arguments rely on his analysis of social production as the development of human subjectivity in which class struggle is determined by obtaining the objects of human activity. This struggle is ‘of a class in itself, as the condition for the reproduction of given classes. The struggles of a class for itself are the struggle for class power’ (6). Everling’s reassessment of Marx’s research method in The German Ideology parallels some of the central questions in the Marxian economic anthropology of Maurice Godelier regarding the connection between social relations, material production and mental representations of reality (Godelier 1986, 125-139). This analysis seeks to make clear that for example there is an interrelatedness and mutual determination between production, consumption and distribution within a totality (14-19).
If historical processes of social production produce shifting class relations, then human subjectivity will undergo conceptual changes. An ideological struggle for class dominance is inevitable. As Everling puts forward his thesis:
Humans create the phenomenal and ultimately ideal, conceptual forms of themselves and their products of social production through their relations to each other. As humans share certain universal forms of material production, they form classes. The logical-historical development of human social production and social existence posits their phenomenal forms as a relationship to them. It does this positing according to the logical-historical presuppositions within that social production and social existence and as necessary to the class contradictions within that form of production (24).
Everling emphasises that only a Marxian analysis can provide a coherent account of the interconnections between ideology, social production and class society. For him, these changing conditions – the age of imperialism – caused the theoretical aberrations within social-democratic, Stalinist and some neo-Marxist thought. Stalin, Kautsky, Sraffa or Dobb accepted the commodity relations – price, profit, wage – as being the essence of capitalism in the form of neo-Kantianism or positivism (27-36). Everling’s forceful argument for redeveloping a theory of social production is an impressive declaration of loyalty to the explanatory power of the labour theory of value by detour of anthropo-philosophical concepts.
Everling’s constant circling back to this theory of social production has the advantage that he can easily compare the different pre-capitalist societies according to class relations, appropriation of surplus, forms of property and socio-spatial phenomena (37-50). However, Everling’s understanding of capitalism is more or less a classical exposé of the first chapters of Capital, albeit heavily influenced by Ilyenkov’s reflex categories of the value-form analysis (51-66). Through this value-form analysis Everling shows that capitalism is determined by the contradiction of social production and capital as production of exchange value-producing forms or the contradiction between the equivalent and relative forms of exchange value. Everling also highlights the consequences for human activity, but does not elaborate the centrality of the objectifying force of technical processes (Levine 1978, 213-222).
The next stage of Everling’s analysis involves demonstrating in chapters 5 and 6 how the capitalist state played a central role in the formation of private property as the dominating force upon social production. Everling’s perspective on long-term changes in capitalist production and the function of the state is a tale of perpetual instability. He describes the rise of the bourgeoisie during the French Revolution, the qualitative differences with the German case, the downfall of laissez-faire liberalism and the rise of modern colonialism, imperialism and monopoly capitalism. Monopoly capitalism signals the contradiction between the expanding value chain and the social demands for necessary use values. Monopoly capital posits itself as universal subjectivity ‘through the concentration and centralization of capital … monopoly corporations made the social life of actual human subjects external to themselves … state and law are forms of class relations within this spiral’ (68-69). The extended socialization of social production by centralisation and concentration is therefore contradicted by the narrow investment demands of monopoly capital. The basic tenets of imperialism are being explained by Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism combined with an account of the rise of fascism in Germany and Japan.
In chapters 7 and 8 he presents a classical but comprehensive account of the interaction between capitalist crisis and proletarian resistance. Chapter 7 is a general historical synthesis of anti-imperialist struggles and reformist tendencies in social-democratic parties. The next chapter is somewhat disappointing, because it merely synthesises the political writings of Lenin and Trotsky, combined with the reformulations of Tony Cliff, on the Russian Revolution. Everling does not add anything new to his presentation of one of the greatest events in human history. Everling is highly sympathetic to the Leninist ideas of how to construct a socialist society and envisages Stalinist regimes as being state capitalist under the aegis of an all-encompassing bureaucracy.
The last two chapters, ‘Globalization and class struggle’ and ‘Dialectics of the present class struggle: the laws of capitalist development’, are more original and conclude Everling’s analysis of social production. In these chapters he connects the anthropo-philosophical concepts of social production with a Leninist analysis of imperialism and the current socio-spatial phenomena of globalisation: urbanisation, urban division, the creation of the metropolis and its periphery, the rise and fall of middle class consumption, and the economic transformation of transnational corporatism in the age of American imperialism.
Capital’s ongoing crisis of valorization is a crisis of the contradiction between socialization and private appropriation. It is a crisis of capitalists’ ability to realize the conditions for their own class existence. This crisis appears as the falling tendency of the rate of profit and leads to its being offset especially through imperialism. Imperialism globalized capitalism and created crises in its ability to export capital and to find labor and resources consistent with its needs for valorization … The transnational corporation (TNC) is dominance over conditions of global production in the reproduction of the imperialist bourgeoisie as class. TNC’s are the intensive exploitation of labor on a global scale in the increase of the rate and mass of surplus value (136-137).
The current crisis proves that the credit system is not capable of superseding the contradictions of the capitalist world economy. This kind of expansion increasingly shows the limitations of capitalist production, therefore ‘capitalist society becomes ever more fantasy and illusion and … capital can ever develop as a self-relation with less and less reference to actual social production’ (138-139). Currency speculation, outsourcing of low-paid jobs, deindustrialisation in the imperialist countries, the built-up of the military complex and neo-colonialism are the result of this apparent moribund economic system.
If there is ever the possibility of an alternative system, any theoretical reflection should start with a critique of the current situation in regard to the deprivation of our social existence. To become an universal social subject means to go beyond concepts which belong to the subjectivity of private citizens (154-155). Class struggle still implies struggle against commodity fetishism and therefore the struggle for social space against private interests. The question remains how the distortion of human interaction by exchange relations can be altered and which kind of strategy needs to be developed to counter the ideology of utilitarian individualism. Everling calls for a renewed concept of global social struggle, by which the old organisational forms such as trade unions are becoming obsolete. Change is necessary, but Everling fails to set out a new way of self-organisation.
4 January 2011
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