Capitalism in crisis

El Lissitzky, Proun 1 D from Proun, 1920


Commentary on the recently published book by Paulo Nakatani and Rosa Maria Marques.

Capitalism in crisis brings an interpretation, admittedly positioned in the field of the Marxian critique of political economy, on the determinations of the economic crisis in contemporary capitalism. For Paulo Nakatani and Rosa Marques, the capitalist crisis is only understandable taking into account the current place and weight of certain forms of capital existence, namely interest-bearing capital and fictitious capital.

In this sense, the book seeks to present elements for an understanding of how such forms assumed centrality in determining the dynamics of accumulation, constituting the main definers of economic and social relations in contemporary capitalism. More specifically, they invite the reader to reflect on a central question: how interest-bearing capital, especially in its fictitious capital form, determines the dynamics of capitalist accumulation in recent decades, and, with it, the specific, “financial” form , assumed by the crises of capital?

This issue is addressed over four chapters, which can be thought of as organized into two parts. The first part (chapters 01 and 02) is dedicated to exposing the fundamentals with which the authors work. They draw attention to important aspects of the being and movement of capital in order to better understand the autonomization of forms of capital, resorting, above all, to books I and II d'The capital of Marx.

It is exposed there that both capital in general and particular capitals have their existence determined by the need for valorization of value, and depend on continuously changing form for that to occur. Capital must repeatedly transform itself from money into commodities (means of production and labor power), which will enter the productive process and be transformed into new commodities pregnant with surplus value, which will, in turn, be converted again into money (in amount greater than the amount initially advanced).

Then, cyclically: DMFTMP…P…M'-D'. The movement of capital is therefore understood as its change of form, which is a prerequisite of the valorization process. This means that whenever the movement of part of the capital is interrupted, that part of the capital ceases, even temporarily, to function as capital, and, in the production process, there is always some portion of the capital stopped.

This problem of changing form and passing through production (focused on by Marx, above all, in Book II ofThe capital), is at the basis of a point that is presented by Nakatani and Marques and is of fundamental importance: that “each individual unit of capital can and must be continuously and at the same moment under the three autonomous forms: money capital, commodity capital and productive capital ” (chap. 01, p. 11).

The part that is in the form of money, the capitalist will not keep it hoarded: he will lend it (applying it, for example, in debt securities, or depositing it with a bank or financial operator that, in turn, will invest in financial assets), with the aim that this part of the capital earns interest, even without going through the production process commanded by him.

Thus arises a separation between moneylender capitalist and active, or functioning, capitalist (developed by Marx in Section V of Book III ofThe capital). This reinforces a particular form of capital: interest-bearing capital. The authors draw attention to the fact that it is a form in which fetishism and reification assume their highest degree, since, in it, money generates more money (M-D'), without going beyond the point from the lender's point of view, through the mediation of changes of form. However, the increase of money manifested in interest originates in the surplus value created in production by another fraction of the social capital.

The authors' position echoes what is sustained by Marx in chapter XXI of Book III d'The capital, when he demonstrates that capital never appears, in circulation, as such. Capitalist wealth is ultimately reduced to the greater or lesser power to appropriate other people's labor: such appropriation need not take place through direct participation, in production, of the particular capital to be valued. It can occur, for example, through capturing the remuneration of borrowed capital at interest, when these are paid by a certain capitalist who took a loan and who, in fact, commands a certain productive process. problem of distribution of surplus value within the capitalist class.

This last point, full of consequences well developed by Marx in Book III of The capital (especially in its Sections IV and V), at the same time helps to understand the detachment and indicates the connection between the so-called “financial market” and the so-called “real” economy (generator of goods, employment and income originating from the production of goods). goods and services)” (chap. 03, p. 45), and constitutes one of the presuppositions of the book by Nakatani and Marques.

It is from the latter that the second part (chapters 03 and 04) focuses on an examination of the category of fictitious capital and its forms of manifestation today. More precisely, the authors settled at that moment in exploring the developments of the following point: “to the extent that money came to represent value, [...] the quest to earn money without going through the hardships of production [need to change shape of capital, times of interruption of movement, etc.] is imposed” (chap. 04, p. 55).

They proceed with the examination of the five particular forms under which fictitious capital presents itself today: public debt; bank capital; share capital; derivatives; the cryptocurrencies.

This quest to earn money without going through the hardships of production stresses each particular capital, and is at the base of the phenomenon that the authors name “hypertrophy of fictitious capital”. Such hypertrophy begins, according to them, in the 1950s in the USA, and half of the 1960s in Europe, with the phenomenon of “financial accumulation” resulting from the “centralization of non-reinvested profits and family savings in financial institutions with the objective of value them in the form of investment in financial assets (currencies, bonds and shares)” (chap. 03, p. 41).

The authors expose the processes that would have contributed to it, until it reached, from the 1980s onwards, what they call the “ubiquity” or “dominance of interest-bearing capital” over industrial capital – which is defined, in turn, as “the capital involved in the production of goods” (chap. 03, p. 53, note 9). In addition, they point out that this dominance would have been technically made possible by the “formation of integrated currency and capital markets that, with the advancement of the computer network, allowed business to be carried out between several countries almost in real time” and “accelerated transfers of money”. capital from one part of the world to another, whose integrated financial markets function 24 hours a day” (chap. 03, p. 47).

Once such dominance is established, the authors explore three far-reaching consequences on the economy: the development of fictitious capital inhibits productive capital, since it offers the possibility of high returns without the need to immobilize capital in production; priority is given to the profitability of fictitious capital over the measurement of profits (which, it is claimed, reduces the margin for engaging in long-term policies on the part of companies and establishes a compromise between capitalists and the upper fractions of salaried workers) ; Unemployment levels rise and pressure to reduce wages.

These points converge to a situation in which efforts are made to compensate for difficulties in valuing production in the sphere of production (for example: limit for lowering wages and extending working hours) by obtaining income in the financial sphere. This phenomenon determines the movement of each particular capital, representing a trend of movement of capital in general, in such a way that the dynamic center of accumulation starts to be based on the expansion of forms of interest-bearing capital, especially fictitious capital (chap. 04, p. 55).

This leads to an examination of the current, apparently financial, form of capitalist crises. As a result of the previous demonstration, the authors claim that the dominance of the interest-bearing and fictitious forms of capital cannot be understood, as other interpretations support it, as a mere distortion of capitalism, but rather as a logical unfolding of this mode of production and life.

The 2007-2008 crisis is at the center of this study, starting from the survey of its antecedents with the fall of the Nasdaq in 2004 and extending the analysis to the current trends. After a more detailed exposition of the vectors that converged to trigger that crisis and the particular ways in which it manifested itself, we move on to the discussion of the measures taken to overcome it and how the situation of the post-crisis world economy turned out.

This exposition leads to several questions, among which is whether it would be possible and desirable to overcome the problems pointed out by remaining within the framework of the capitalist mode of production itself. If yes, how? If not, how to overcome such a way of life? These are questions whose answers the authors preferred to leave open, and the challenge is thrown to the reader.

*Annabelle Bonnet, PhD in sociology from the École des Hautes Études em Sciences Sociales (EHESS), she is a postdoctoral researcher at the Graduate Program in Social Policy at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (PPGPS-UFES).

*Victor Neves, is a professor, linked to the Department of Theory of Art and Music (DTAM) and the Graduate Program in Social Policy (PPGPS) at UFES.


Paulo Nakatani and Rosa Marques. Capitalism in crisis. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2020.


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