David Harvey and The Enigma of Capital

by presentensions

Photo by Robert Lee, from the Cal Historian’s Eye Archive

In The Enigma of Capital, David Harvey quotes the early 20th century tycoon, banker, Treasury Secretary and depression profiteer Andrew Mellon, who said, “In a crisis, assets return to their rightful owners.” Harvey adds, “And so it will be this time around unless an alternative political movement arises to stop it.”

This book theorizes a geography of capital, one where crises are fixed to minimize risk to the contemporary Mellons and other corporations-as-people, and where suffering is socialized among the people with the least resources to stop it. Harvey argues that these financial crises are never-ending, always moving, and that capitalism has evolved (by purposeful reconfiguration and reinforcement) to accumulate wealth and power and for the very few by the dispossession of the very most.

The way out of this, Harvey argues, is a “balancing of class forces […which] depends upon the degree to which the population rises up and says, ‘Enough is enough, let’s change this system’.” Are we going to start questioning Capitalism? The answer surely depends on who “we” is referring to, and where “we” live, the degree to which “we” are failing and ashamed of it, and whether “we” have access to a community that can/will socialize support and engage conversations about alternatives to oppression.During the most recent Occupation, we began to model methods by which socialized microcommunities might develop viable, local, self-contained alternatives to global crisis capitalism. We also began the long, experimental process of working out the discursive alternatives to capitalism, since it’s very hard to visualize, discuss, and plan for a world after capitalism when there are only confused, impossible silences in the spaces where those words should be.

This was not the “enough is enough” rally of the masses that Harvey hopes for, though. His is not the book to reach or rally the most dispossessed— not because they can’t understand it, or because burdened intellectuals haven’t yet had the time to dandle each of the poor over a knee and read them revolutionary bedtime stories— but because people don’t tend to see themselves as a part of systemic crisis. What we see—and feel— are microcommunities in acts of suffering and sacrifice: our families losing their homes and their dignity; our friends getting laid off and remaining perpetually unemployed; our neighbors and their kids running around one day, and being foreclosed and quietly gone the next. Your favorite bookstore in town becoming the only bookstore, and then it was gone too, and so are the rest of the small businesses. Maybe you go to more funerals than weddings. Maybe what you could once count on and even take for granted as your community is now splintered beyond recognition. That’s how the crisis of capitalism comes off the page, and how it is accessed, and how it is made real: the revolution begins close to home, among friends, when what we stand to lose outweighs the sacrifices we have to make to save ourselves and the people we care about.

And perhaps gradually, gradually these microcommunities will turn to each other for survival, grow stronger, more sustainable and better organized to find each other and share what they’ve got. If this last part sounds shaky, that’s because we haven’t gotten there yet, and there’s no language for it yet. The space between the Occupy model of nationwide microcommunities was swiftly shut down by riot police in almost every city, and for now we’ve turned back to the page, which is a full stop.

– Alaska Quilici, 9-5-11


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