David Harvey: Dispossession or Expropriation? Does capital have an "outside"?/David Harvey: espoliacao ou expropriacao? Ha "lado de fora" do capital?

Author:Fontes, Virginia
Position:Resena de libro

The Marxist geographer, David Harvey, has formulated a seemingly identical thesis to the one we are supporting here. However, there are important differences that should be highlighted. In particular, the opposition between expropriation and dispossession, as well as his work on externalities or those 'outside' production.

Harvey forged the term "accumulation by dispossession" (2), which he opposed to accumulation by expanded reproduction (3). Accumulation by dispossession, for Harvey, indicates a contemporary modified rebirth of an archaic form (primitive accumulation) that reestablishes its expansion as well as impacting fully capitalist countries. This process involves the elimination (dispossession) of rights and establishes the capitalist control of collective forms of property (such as nature, waters, knowledge), thereby increasing accumulation. He emphasizes how this current expansion is a form of robbery, the "original sin" of primitive accumulation, so that the current over-accumulated accumulation does not cease (Harvey, p. 119). There is a continued expropriation of rural workers, yet this now also includes the dispossession of assets and rights in fully urban and capitalist situations.

Let us look closely at some problematic assumptions of his argument. Harvey assumes that Marx understands the expropriation as an original ("primitive") moment, which would then carry on in an expanded and normalized process of accumulation, although subject to crises. For this reason, he describes the current situation as accumulation by dispossession, as it is qualitatively different from the traditional, productive, and enlarged, form of capital: "The implication is that primitive accumulation that opens up a path to expanded reproduction is one thing, and accumulation by dispossession that disrupts and destroys a path already opened up is quite another" (Harvey, p. 135). Hence the idea that normalized capitalism would soften the speculative and fraudulent features of two "primitive" moments (Harvey, p.123).

Indeed, Marx does argue that once the peasants have been violently expropriated the "normalized" economic coercion over the "free" workers would replace this explicit violence. However, in several passages of Capital, as previously shown (4), [1] Marx reiterates that the expansion of capitalist social relations presupposes a continuum of successive expropriations, that go far beyond those already "freed" workers (also mentioning the expropriation of minor capitalists).

Moreover, the historical expansion of capitalism never corresponded to an entirely "normalized" form, since it never waived speculation, fraud, sheer robbery, and primary expropriations, which were enlarged by it. Productivity improvement, or the increase of judicial exploitation (legal and covenanted) of the labor force in central countries, was accompanied by permanent expropriation, as well as the recreation of compulsory forms of work in the peripheries, which could no longer be considered external to capital. The shift towards Industrial Capital in the nineteenth century enforced the brutal colonization of Asia; the intense and technologically driven production under Fordism, provoked violent struggles, alongside increased colonization, and two world wars. Finally, the so-called Welfare State "glorious years", in some countries, coexisted with fierce dictatorships imposed throughout the most distant parts of the planet: the Middle East, Latin America (with remarkable truculence in Central America), in Europe itself--Greece, Portugal, and Spain--and Asia, with special regards to the appalling situation in Indonesia.

In many countries, the subalternization of workers was carried out under extreme conditions, with strong military support of the core countries, especially the United States. Thus, the normalized versus predatory capitalism duality does not seem to sustain itself. Instead, peculiar patterns and connections according to each historical moment, in which dominant capitalist forces (either in core countries or others) take advantage of disparate social, historical, and cultural contexts, creating subaltern populations under imbricated unequal relationships. It uses, as well as recreates, traditional springboard ways of expansion. The violence of capital is permanent and constitutive: the mass production of expropriation in many ways depending on the scale and concentration of capital, has never been reduced or "normalized" when we take a global perspective. Moreover, such a phenomenon is not necessarily an outcome of the coexistence between capitalist ("normalized") and non-capitalist (primitive) countries, on the contrary, it is the product of historical forms of unequal capitalist expansion, which takes place within countries and in the relationships established between them. Nonetheless, all of them increasingly respond to the same social dynamic. In other words, capitalist relations correspond to the ever more truculent expansion of expropriations, normalizing the increasing existence of the masses who are compelled to sell their labor power and whose availability, from this standpoint, does not demand direct coercion by the exploiting capital.

Harvey also distinguishes "productive accumulation" from "predatory accumulation", although he marks its overlap: "Capital accumulation indeed has a dual character. But the two aspects of expanded reproduction and accumulation by dispossession are organically linked, dialectically intertwined." (Harvey, p. 144, emphasis added). The latter currently dominates the former--being at the heart of neoliberal and neoconservative practices. This duality leads Harvey to emphasize the rupture between class struggles--whose relevance today drops--and the multiple and scattered existing identifications within populations, stemmed by "the inchoate, fragmentary, and contingent forms taken by accumulation by dispossession." (Harvey, p. 142). Yet, he proposes the reconciliation of both conceptions. His underlying conception of social class slides from a central form of social life organization--which can only consciously express itself through the constitution of common experiences--to an identity or cultural modality. His accumulation antithesis leads him not to realize the correlation between the multiple expropriations and the huge increase in workforce availability to capital ("free as birds" as Marx stated). The working class expands because of the pressures of capitalism, revealing its current fragmented and competitive configuration, beneath a tragic...

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