[Marxism] Video and Transcript: David Harvey Speaking in Salvador, Brazil on Marx’s Capital, Volume [part 1]

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Fri Jan 24 12:48:46 MST 2014

Harvey has some interesting ideas, quite dubious to me on first reading, 
such as perishable money as a means to restrict accumulation of capital, 
and the injunction, "abolish the private property-statecontradiction and 
replace it with common property rights, with of course money being a 
main form of the commons" - here the interesting point being the 
retention of money as medium of exchange [second-order mediation of the 
mediation?], simultaneously with the abolition of private property, and 
presumably therefore of exchange value. Feasible? There's a longstanding 
dispute about this. And he's been reading and re-reading Capital, 
exhaustively,  for more than 40 years.

But otherwise, I thought that this was a clear, simple introduction to 
some aspects of the first three chapters of Capital, with some asides on 
volume 3.

I send it in 2 parts, mindful of length restrictions but not sure of the 

Video: Speaking in Salvador, Brazil on Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 

Sep 5th, 2013

>From the description: David Harvey visited Brazil for an international 
seminar on Marx. This is the lecture he gave in Salvador (March 26th) on 
the publication of the Brazilian edition of his /A Companion to Marx’s 
Capital, Volume 1/, by Boitempo. With activities extending throughout 
three months and six Brazilian cities, the seminar featured Slavoj 
Žižek, Michael Heinrich and some of the most renowned specialists from 
Brazil and abroad to discuss the relevance of Marxism in times of global 

More on the International Seminar “Marx: the creative destruction” 

Thanks to Boitempo Editorial <http://www.boitempoeditorial.com.br/>

Professor Harvey’s remarks start around 14:00, and audio problems are 
fixed at 16:00.

Ok, it's my turn. It's wonderful to be here after nearly 40 years and 
this is a wonderful event. Your city has indeed changed a lot and in 
some ways, I suppose, when you drive past all the shopping malls coming 
from the airport, I think that you can see that this is a capitalist 
transformation, not necessarily a popular transformation.

The only sense of discomfort I have is I feel like I'm sitting on a 
throne, and since I hate monarchy I expect an assassin's bullet any minute.

What I would like to do is talk about the consequences of this double 
event which is in my view both hopeful and also positive. And since we 
don't have many positive and hopeful events these days to talk about, I 
hope you'll join with me in celebrating it. What we're celebrating is a 
new translation of Marx's Capital volume 1 by Boitempo, and I am 
reliably informed that this translation is far, far superior to the 
translation which went before, and it has the most updated versions of 
Capital including a great deal of information about where the text came 
from. So this is, if you like, a very positive development. It's 
accompanied by the hopeful thought that you might actually read it and 
learn from it. And from that perspective you have a little help, I hope, 
from me with the translation of my own Companion to Marx's Capital under 
the title "Para Entender o 'Capital'". This book that I wrote is a 
collection of lectures which are available free on the web, if you so 
wish. I gather that there are now some of the lectures which have 
Portuguese subtitles, so that you can use those or you can use this 
[pointing] in order to get through this [pointing].

The other thing I would say to you that might be a glimmer of hope to 
you if you are younger is that I actually didn't start reading Marx 
until I was 35 years old. And now I'm a little bit of an expert on the 
topic. So if you start earlier than me you'll be far ahead of me by the 
time you get to my age. I started reading it for one very simple reason 
- not because I was born a Marxist or I had parents who were Marxists or 
I was a member of a political party that was Marxist. I started reading 
it just looking for some explanations that I couldn't find elsewhere. I 
had moved from Britain to the US in 1969. Throughout the 1960s there had 
been in the US a whole series of rebellions, uprisings in New York, Los 
Angeles, Detroit, and in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin 
Luther King in 1968 something like 120 cities in the US experienced 
serious unrest. In the city of Baltimore to which I went, a large chunk 
of the city had been burned down, and tanks had been sent into the city 
to control a restive population. There had then been a whole series of 
urban rebellions, and as often happens there are two responses to events 
of this kind: one was the sort of right wing repressive, let's put 
everybody in jail response, and the other response was, well, we should 
use the police to stop this rebellion, to try to calm the situation, but 
we should really try to find out why these rebellions have been 
happening. And I became involved therefore in a research effort trying 
to figure out how and why these cities had erupted in the violent ways 
they had.

In the research effort, I brought to bear a whole set of skills in the 
social sciences and in statistical analysis and all the rest of it which 
were supposed to give me the tools to understand what had happened and 
why; and I increasingly found these tools were completely useless; that 
they really didn't help at all; that in fact they were a hindrance 
rather than a help. So I started looking around for some other way to 
look at the problem. And somebody said to me, well, maybe you should 
read Karl Marx. So, I thought, OK, I'm an academic, I'm curious, let me 
go read Karl Marx. And there were some grad students who thought it was 
a good idea, and so we sat down, about ten of us, and we tried on our 
own without any instruction to read this book.  The only conclusion that 
we came to at the end of a year, having spent the year reading the book, 
was that we had not understood a thing. We hadn't the faintest idea what 
this was all about. So there are two things you can do about this: one 
is to throw the book away, and the other is to say, well, maybe I'll 
read it again and see what happens.

So we read it again the following year, and by the second year it really 
began to make a lot of sense; but a lot of sense in its own terms, and 
its own terms were the conditions prevailing in England in Marx's 
lifetime in the 1850s and the 1860s. A lot of what he wrote in Capital 
didn't seem to fit very well in a world where there was a welfare state. 
Where the state was intervening in the economy, where it was not purely 
competitive capitalism, it was monopoly capitalism. In other words, the 
world that we were living in was not the same world that Marx described. 
So there was some difficulty in taking Marx's ideas and using them to 
directly understand the society that was going on around us.

One thing I can assure you of right now is that that problem does not 
exist today. Because in the last 30 or 40 years of neoliberalism we have 
gone back to that world that Marx described.

So that, actually, when you read this book now you get recognition page 
after page after page. And this I can tell you after teaching it for 40 
years. And when I first started teaching it, people would say, well, 
let's think more deeply about how we can use some of the ideas. Now, I 
don't have to make that argument at all. I can take descriptions of the 
labor processes in China, in Bangladesh, and I can put them in Marx's 
chapter on the working day where he describes the conditions of labor in 
the English working class, and you wouldn't know the difference. You 
could take what it's like in the Bangladesh factories producing clothing 
for Walmart and the other major stores in the United States, where 200 
people died because they locked the doors and the fire just spread like 
crazy. Those are the sorts of things that are mentioned in Capital 
volume 1, and those are the things that are occurring around us today.

But back then, it was still a little bit difficult to make the argument 
that the work made sense. But I got a great deal of encouragement and 
understanding of Marx's relevance from a very strange source. I was 
working a lot in Baltimore on conditions in the late 1960s and 1970s. I 
was collecting a lot of information. I was talking about what was going 
on through housing finance, what was going on through landlordism, what 
was going on through tenants' movements and public housing, I was 
talking about all of these things. I was talking about federal public 
policies, and I had to write a big report and submit this report to the 
bankers, to the landlords, to the federal officials and the city officials.

And I started the report by saying, well, you really need to think about 
housing from two perspectives: one is, you have to think about housing 
as a use value. What is it useful for? And you can think about all the 
things it's useful for, for shelter, for construction, for family life, 
for creating social relations, for securing a certain privacy, so 
housing has a set of use values which are foundational for peoples' 
daily living.

But the other side of it is, it has an exchange value. That is, it takes 
a certain amount to build it, it takes a certain amount to maintain it, 
it takes a certain amount to gain access to it.

So, there are two systems at work here: one is the use value system and 
the other is the exchange value system. And the problem is that the 
exchange value system is arranged in such a way as to not provide 
adequate use value to a large segment of the population. So, the problem 
for all of us is to think of a different way of structuring the exchange 
value system to provide adequate use value to the population. And then 
we won't have riots in the streets because there are such lousy housing 

And I went through this analysis and the bankers said, god, that's a 
great way to look at things. The landlords said, you know, we thought 
you were an economist who would talk about demand and supply and all 
that sort of rubbish. This is a great way to think about it. The city 
authorities said, this is a great way to think about it. And then 
someone said, where did you get it from? I did not dare say that it's 
page one of Marx's Capital volume one. But it is. If I had said that, 
they probably would have all said, let's leave. There's a ghost in the 
room, it's Karl Marx, omigod, he's going to kill us all, he's going to 
put us all in prison. So I never mentioned at all about where the whole 
idea came from. And they thought it was great.

And I thought, you know, if Marx's basic remarks on page one of Capital 
make so much sense to so many people so easily, when all of the 
economics texts don't make any sense whatsoever, then I'm going to stick 
with Marx. And I'm going to find out more about what Marx has to say.

The second thing I found was that I had to write a lot about the finance 
and the financial system. And this was a complicated thing even back 
then in 1970-71. But in writing about it I found that I had to ask a 
very, very simple and even silly question: What is money? Now, I'm 
teaching a class on money this semester, and I asked all the students, 
What is money?  And nobody knew what to say. And I suspect a lot of you 
don't know what money is or how to think about it. So here is this 
strange situation in which we use something every day, we spend much of 
our lives striving to get it, much of the rest of our lives just trying 
to dispose of it and get something else with it. We obsess about it, we 
lust after it, we get greedy about it, but we don't know what it is. 
Isn't this a strange situation?

So, how is money created? Who creates it? Where does it come from? And 
why does it flow around the way it does? And in order to get at that, I 
decided, well, I have to go a little further than page one of Capital, I 
have to go to the first three chapters.

And there you learn something very interesting. What comes up is the 
idea that money is a claim on social labor. That is, it's a claim on 
social labor directly, or on the product of social labor. It's a claim. 
You get it, and then you claim your right by spending it. So, it's a 
claim on social labor, which means that it is also a representation of 
social labor. Exchange value can't exist without a measure. You need 
something with which to measure it. And what you measure it with is money.

Now, money is a peculiar sort of measure. In some respects, it's a bit 
like kilos and seconds and all the other measures we have. But in other 
respects, there's something very odd about it. Because, while it is like 
kilos and meters and all the other measures we have, so that you can say 
that this is so many units of the measuring rods which we have. But the 
peculiarity is that you can actually buy the measure. You can't buy 
meters and you can't buy kilos. You can only buy kilos of potatoes or 
meters of cloth, but you can't buy meters and you can't buy kilos. You 
can't buy seconds. You can buy seconds of labor, but you can't buy 
seconds. But you can buy a 100 dollars. And you pay for it with 
interest. So, you actually can buy the measure of value. So, there is a 
trading going on of the measure of value, which is very strange.

So, the measure of value has a value, which is the interest rate. And 
you then have to ask the question, who sets the interest rate? And where 
does it come from? And why does it move in the way it does? There's a 
complicated answer to that, so I'm not going to try to give you the 
answer here right now. I may get into it later.

But the point here is that money has two features, and as a 
representation it is also a measure, a representative measure of social 
labor. Now, the thing that is absolutely critical to understand is about 
representation. That it represents accurately in some senses and 
invariably lies in others. I can say that to you because, being a 
geographer, I know about maps. Maps are famous for being very accurate 
in some respects but totally false in others. There is the whole problem 
of map projection: how do you take a globe and project it onto a flat 
surface? There's no one answer. And if your map is accurate in terms of 
directions, it lies about areas and it lies about shapes and so on. And 
if it's accurate in terms of areas, it lies about directions. So, we've 
all got this idea that, if we look at the map of Greenland, we've got 
this huge, huge space. In fact, it's not anywhere near as huge as that 
in reality, it's just it looks that way in terms of the map projection. 
In other words, the map lies at the same time as it tells a certain 
truth. Money is exactly like that. It tells a certain truth, but it also 

And one of the things that happens in the act of representation is you 
represent the generality of social labor usually and initially in one 
particular commodity, gold, very often accompanied by silver, so 
sometimes it's bi-metallic. So, what you're saying is that social labor 
is represented by gold. But the thing about gold which is different from 
social labor is this: social labor is a social relation. It therefore is 
immaterial, and it cannot easily be appropriated in a material way. But 
you can steal gold. You can mine gold. You can do all kinds of things 
with gold. So, the measure of value is a representation which has 
material qualities which can be appropriated by private persons.

Which I think is a crucial thing. That money is a measure which has a 
value which can be appropriated by private persons. Money is therefore 
the primary form of wealth. It is therefore the foundation of capitalist 
class wealth. And no wonder we lust for it; no wonder we struggle for 
it; no wonder we want always more of it. Because it is a form of social 
power which can be appropriated by private persons. At the same time, it 
can only be a form of social power appropriated by private persons 
because it lies. Because it's false. That's what you learn from Marx's 

And it actually leads you straight into one of the other things you 
learn from chapter one, which is the idea of fetishism. Fetishism is 
about a disguise, what it is that hides a reality. Marx argues the 
commodity hides their history. Therefore, the market hides what has been 
happening to people. We go into the supermarket, we take some money, 
which is a representation of social value, and as a private act we 
appropriate the potatoes or the peppers or whatever. We gain the 
commodity, we bring it back home, we make dinner. We know nothing about 
the social labor that the money represents. We know nothing about the 
social labor incorporated in the commodity which we have purchased. We 
know nothing about the social relations of that labor. So, in effect, 
the transaction in the supermarket is a fetishistic transaction. It 
hides the realities that exist behind it.

Now, I used to love to teach the beginning geography class, because in 
the beginning geography class I'd always start with the question, where 
did your breakfast come from? It's very interesting. You should think 
about it. And you start watching, and the students say, well, I got it 
from the deli or something and you say, well, now, come on, where did 
the sugar come from? I don't know. Well, let's find out where the sugar 
came from. And pretty soon, you find yourself back down the chain in the 
Dominican Republic, in the sugar cane field, with workers being paid a 
pittance, with actually the direct producers who are being paid not very 
much, and the mill gets something, and you suddenly see behind what's on 
your breakfast table a whole chain of activities, people, sometimes 
working in onerous [?] circumstances, in many cases appalling 
circumstances. So, I used to like to persist with this question, where 
did your breakfast come from? And I'd always get someone in the second 
week who would say, I did not have breakfast this morning. In which case 
I would ask the question, well, let's talk about dinner last night.

And this is of course precisely the point: that we would die if we did 
not rest upon this whole world of commodity production and commodity 
exchange, a world we know nothing about, a world in which we make 
transactions with this mysterious thing called money, and with the aid 
of these mysterious things called commodities.

And what Marx tries to say is that it is the task of the analyst to 
de-fetishize what we are encountering. To get behind the surface 
appearance. To really think about what is going on behind the market, 
beyond the supermarket. And really then ask ourselves, is this the kind 
of world we want to live in? And if we don't think this is the kind of 
world we want to live in, then maybe we should set about changing it. 
Changing it so that the exchange value system does not have the power 
that it has.

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