A Lack of Companionship: A critique of David Harvey's Account of Capital (Chapter 1)

The Common House (Unit 5E) 5 Pundersons Gardens, E2 9QG

David Harvey is the dominant commentator on Capital in English and many Capital reading groups use his video lectures or his book – A Companion to Marx' Capital – to guide them. Capital can be a daunting book and David Harvey's commentaries have encouraged many to pick it up and work through it. This, in principle, is a valuable project as much can be learned about the world we are forced to live in from that old book.

Yet, those who read A Companion to guide them through Capital in order to learn about the capitalist mode of production will be disappointed: it neither gives an adequate account of what Marx said nor of the capitalist mode of production.

In this meeting we want to focus on A Companion's failure to grasp what value and the value forming activity – abstract labour – are. A Companion does not inform the reader what value is – access power to social wealth – and has nothing to say about labour being reduced to pure toil – “expenditure of human brains, muscles, nerves, hands” (Capital, p.134).

Instead it exclusively concerns itself with the magnitude of value, i.e. for how much a commodity exchanges. Hence, Marx's charge against political economy also applies to his most prominent commentator: “Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of value of the product.” (Capital, p.132)

All this might seem like a scholastic exercise by people who care about old books instead of, say, the poverty all around us. However, it is important to highlight these problems not because they misrepresent Marx, although this is often the case, but because we think that David Harvey's account in A Companion does not adequately explain the commodity, money and capital; in short capitalism. Harvey's failure to grasp these fundamental concepts is the premise for him proposing futile solutions to socially made poverty. When David Harvey proposes oxidisable money against accumulation this does not only reveal his ignorance of money but also and more fundamentally of commodity production and the poverty it entails.

The purpose of our workshop is hence not so much to point out that David Harvey wrote a bad book, but to encourage people to pick up a copy of Capital in order to understand the misery all around us.

We have written up our critique of the account in A Companion of chapter 1 of Capital at http://critisticuffs.org/texts/david-harvey/.