Publicist Valentina Zanca interviews Professor David Harvey on his new book, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism.

Valentina Zanca: In The Enigma of Capital you explained why crises are essential to the reproduction of capitalism. Why are you now focussing on its contradictions? 

David Harvey: The main argument of The Enigma of Capital was that capitalism does not resolve its crisis tendencies but moves them around.  If, as Marx argues, crises are manifestations of the underlying contradictions of capital then a study of contradictions offers the prospect of developing a deeper understanding of how and why crisis tendencies get moved around and this is what I attempt to do in this book.

VZ: In your introduction to Seventeen Contradictions you say that your approach is unconventional in that it follows Marx's method but not necessarily his prescriptions. Can you expand on that?

DH: The more I became familiar with Marx's writings the more I became impressed with his critical method and his ambition to construct a "ruthless criticism of everything existing."  This method must of course extend to consideration of Marx's own conclusions.  In addition, many of Marx's conclusions are partial or incomplete while the conditions now prevailing in contemporary capitalism are in certain respects - such as technologies, divisions of labour, geographical reach, financialization - radically different.  Our task should be to construct an understanding of how capital works appropriate to our own place and time.

VZ: Of the contradictions you examine in the book which is the one that could prove fatal to the survival of capitalism as we know it?

DH: The two most dangerous contradictions in our own times are the imperative to sustain exponential growth in a situation where environmental stresses are becoming more and more serious.  But capital will not collapse of its own accord.  It will need to be changed by people actively seeking its replacement preferably by peaceful means.  For this to occur requires that the widespread alienation that many people feel be revolutionized from a passive state of powerless mourning (punctuated by ephemeral flashes of often random anger) to an active movement seeking to displace the current architecture of capitalism into something else.

VZ: The recent financial crisis doesn't seem to have provoked a radical re-thinking of economic and social policies at government level - at least not in the UK or most of Europe, let alone the US. Has the Left failed to seize a historic opportunity?

DH: The opportunities created by this crisis have not as yet been successfully seized upon by the left.  The danger is that discontent will be capptured by the far right in neo-fascist movements and this constitutes a clear and present danger to which the left should respond.

VZ: Is a post-capitalist world possible? If so, what would it look like?

DH: The elements of an alternative are already in place in the workers' cooperatives, the solidarity economies, the pursuit of the commons, the possibilities opened up by the internet and the vast increases in computational power.  An imaginative approach to these possibilities combining them into a global movement is not only possible but necessary given the grumbling crises that continue to reverberate around us, emphasizing the different contradictions and often magnifying them into deep social fissures.

Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism is out now.

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