There goes a story that, when Che Guevara became the chairman of the central bank of Cuba, a journalist asked him if he didn’t need to be an economist for this new job. When confronted with this question, Guevara replied that this wasn’t necessary because: “he was a Marxist”. Arrogant as it may seem, this answer has some truth to it. Although derivates trading and other financial nonsense would probably make Marx himself dizzy, Marxism has a strong record of understanding the relation between production processes and its effects on society. I think that by looking at the bigger picture instead of focusing on minor details and easy answers, like blaming a crisis solely on the ethical attitude of bankers, it’s still possible to contribute to contemporary discussions from a Marxist perspective.
Take, for example, Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘Accumulation of Capital’ which she wrote in 1913. One of the core ideas in this book is that capitalism will, by its nature, always remain parasitic on a non-capitalistic outside. What is meant by this idea becomes clear if we try to make capitalism work in a world which exists just of two people. In such a world, one of these people would have to be a capitalist who would produce a certain product by acquiring raw materials and labour power. The other person would have to be a worker who makes this product by selling his or her labour power to the capitalist. Although it would be perfectly possible for the capitalist to make a product this way, it starts to become difficult when the worker would need to be paid. This would only be possible if the capitalist knows how to realize the surplus value of the product in question. Instead of paying the worker with the product it just produced, which would mean that there’s no profit, the capitalist would need to trade the produced product for something with a bigger value. This can only be feasible when we add a third, non-capitalistic, party to our world. If the capitalist would be able to trade the product with a person who lives on a gold mine for a couple pieces of gold, the capitalist would be saved. Not only would he be able to pay his worker, he would also make a profit. This means that, not only does capitalism needs someone or something which is on the outside of capitalism, it will also integrate this outside into the capitalistic system. For capital to accumulate, it needs permanent investments into more forms of capital or labour. In our hypothetic world, the third person would be a worker as well in no time. To survive the fierce competition on the free market, production needs to become bigger and more efficient.
Today, the exploitation of the outsides of capitalism which are needed to keep the system going is so disgusting that it almost becomes funny. The outside of the financial crisis in 2008 for example, seems to have been the future. Surplus value was realized by issuing out pieces of paper which stated that added value will probably be realized in the future. I don’t think I need to tell how ridiculous this is. The biggest victim of the realization of surplus value has always been nature though. Planet earth has always been the easiest target to sustain economic growth. It doesn’t seem we can save precious rainforests and indigenous tribes without combating capitalism.