Ana Dinerstein and Michael Neary (eds) The Labour Debate: an investigation into the theory & reality of capitalist work.

Author:Fleetwood, Steve
Position:Book Review

Ashgate, Aldershot, 2002. pp 245 + ix ISBN : 0-7546-1779-3 (hbk) 42.50 [pounds sterling]

Rejecting the fashionable notions that capitalism is no longer based upon labouring but upon consuming, and that Marxist political economy is redundant, this book deploys Marxist political economy to demonstrate the continuing centrality of labour in capitalism.

The introduction demonstrates the centrality of the category 'labour' in political economic theory via the work of Thomas More, Locke, Petty, Smith and Ricardo and the revolutionary ideas of the Levellers and Diggers. A retreat from the centrality of labour is charted from the post-Ricardian period, culminating in the 20th century where it became a sociological category. In this form it loses its critical capacity as it is 'overwhelmed by the complexities of diverse social movements' (p. 16) Marxism is affected by this retreat. Traditional Marxism treats labour too concretely when it lapses into 'workerism' and post modern Marxism treats labour too abstractly in its turn from the real. The aim of the collection is, then, to re-assert the centrality of labour and to do so by examining it as a real abstraction.

In the opening chapter John Holloway and Simon Clarke set out the debate. The central point for Holloway is that fetishisation is not a completed state of affairs, but a process where, through the value form, workers have both their creations and their act of creation snatched from them. Recognising that all social relations are in this perpetual process of re-production reveals struggle to be endemic to capitalism. This struggle, however, is not just high intensity political and industrial struggle, but the kind of low intensity struggle that occurs every time we resist being related to one another through the value form. Because Clarke's response is not restricted to Holloway's central point, the former's claim that 'the fetishism of social relations becomes an established fact' in a monetised society, remains under-elaborated Nor was I sure what Clarke made of the low intensity struggles deriving from the process of fetishisation. Whilst both had important things to say, they appear to have 'talked past' each other.

After a tour through orthodox theories of class, Werner Bonefeld uncovers the notion of primitive accumulation that is 'suspended' in the commodity form. Primitive accumulation, he argues, is not an historical epoch that predated capitalism, but rather a centrifugal point of...

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