On the Uses and Abuses of Marx’s terminology for Shoddy Analysis: Gerstenberger on Harvey.

Just wanted to point out some amusing instances when Gerstenberger calls out Harvey’s use of Marxian categories to firm up shoddy argumentation. Not that Harvey is a particularly egregious practitioner of this tactic. Its just that I think people should be called out more often on it. (don’t even get me started on fetishism!):

David Harvey’s use of the term “imperialism” implies a conception which takes the competition between capitalist states for granted. But his theoretical edifice is not quite as clear as that. What Harvey has been dealing with all along is the spatial dimension of the “logic of capital”. It derives from the fact that capital is constantly in need of a “spatio-temporal fix”20 (1982, 1989, 2001, 2003). Because of the tendency of over-accumulation the advantages of certain locations have to be made use of wherever they can be found. This suggests a geographical version of Schumpeter’s concept of “pioneer profit”. (Gerstenberger 2011 The Historical Constitution of the Political Forms of the Capitalist State. 72-73)


When Harvey writes that capitalist imperialism is the result of a dialectical relationship between the territorial logic of power on the one hand and the capitalist logic of power on the other (2003:184) then the reference to dialectics—as so often in the history of Marxist theory—only conceals the fact that no precise analysis of the relation in question is delivered.21 Indeed, Harvey himself remarked, that he has used the generic term of a territorial logic of power to obscure the absence of a theory of the state in his work (2007:67). (73)

This is an argument and a terminology which can be used to promote public debate. But if we insist that the theoretical concept of imperialism should be stringently developed we do not get very far with Harvey. According to him the economic content of neoliberalism is “accumulation by dispossession”. He wants us to accept this as a partial reformulation of Marx’s theory of “primitive accumulation”. But Marx termed “primitive accumulation” the separation of producers from their means of production and hence their subjugation under the laws of the market, while Harvey wants to include processes of redistribution in the concept. “Why would we want to classify as accumulation by dispossession the normal capitalist process of exploitation …?” asks Robert Brenner (2006:101; see also Fine 2006:143–147). In his response to this critique Harvey points out that the term “primitive accumulation” is only understood by people who know Marx, while those who do not, immediately understand what is meant by “accumulation by dispossession” in relation to pension rights, the privatization of water, the loss of health-care rights and other current developments (2006:158). If this is the endearing remark of somebody who, all along, has been striving to overcome the boundaries of academic discourse, it also makes it very clear that the term “imperialism” is used for the sake of political provocation. In theoretical terms, however, the foundations are not strong enough. (74)

Could also be why his book on Capital kinda sucks.

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in Heide Gerstenberger, Statederivation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the Uses and Abuses of Marx’s terminology for Shoddy Analysis: Gerstenberger on Harvey.

  1. eratostene98 says:

    Very insightful… Please, could you send me the Gerstenberger article?(My university seems that doesn’t have the right permissions) Thank you!

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