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Introduction Political Economics

David Harvey is one of the most significant contemporary Marxists. He started as a historical geographer. In 2009, he was the most-cited geographer in the world. Since the early 1970s, he changed the course of actions and began to study the problem of social justice. Harvey is a Marxist and, therefore, focuses on the economic component of inequality. He taught at the University of Bristol in the UK, Oxford University, New York University. His main works are: «Social Justice and the City», «Limits to Capital», «The Condition of Postmodernity», «Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference», «Spaces of Hope», «New Imperialism», «A Brief History of Neoliberalism», «Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development», «Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom».

This paper seeks to explain why David Harvey`s ideas are so significant for modern generation.

David Harvey is one of the most astute and politically significant left-wing social scientists. David Harvey is arguably the greatest living Marxist geographer. The architectural sweep and grandeur of his intellectual edifice know few equivalents within post-1968 Marxism, and certainly none within his home discipline of geography (Castree, 2007).

Applying Marx’s political economy in the new areas of social reality – the urban environment and space – he has made a significant contribution to the understanding of how capitalism defines everyday life. Harvey describes his first book, “Explanation in Geography” as an attempt to provide philosophical logic to the scientific method being applied to geography (Edward Arnold, 1969). These were the same scientific methods used with such devastation in waging imperial wars of the time (Brett, 2012).

His fundamental work “Social Justice and the City,” published in 1973, drastically changed the approach to the study of urbanization and capitalism. Harvey stated:

We live in an era when ideals of human rights have moved centre stage both politically and ethically. A great deal of energy is expended in promoting their significance for the construction of a better world. But for the most part the concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and neoliberal market logics, or the dominant modes of legality and state action. We live, after all, in a world in which the rights of private property and the profit rate trump all other notions of rights.

Harvey showed that urbanization, the city, and everything associated with it is a manifestation of the capitalist process. He opposed the influential urban theorist Henri Lefebvre, who in his book “Urban Revolution” stated that urban space is independent and separate, and even offers the possibility of an anti-capitalist way of life. However, Harvey showed again that the capital structures the space; the city’s political and cultural life is associated with them. Harvey said that the human focus should not shy away from the capitalist process because it is capital that is the dominant force in contemporary social and, therefore, city life.

“Social Justice and the City” opened new paths in such fundamental areas as urbanization, urban planners, rental housing, culture, and space. This book also influenced the intellectual life in general because Harvey’s reading of Marx makes it possible to understand the dilemma of urban space and to overcome the methodological problems of the social sciences. After all, Marx, according to Harvey, showed how, contrary to liberalism that was ruling the ball then and now, to bridge the gap between facts and values. It became impossible to talk about social phenomena as if nothing had happened, without evaluating them politically and even in practice.

Harvey’s new book “A Brief History of Neoliberalism” dissects one of the momentous events of the economy and social life of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is about a gradual turn of the world economy to socioeconomic policies that liberalized and placed market processes and the interests of capital at the center of all. Harvey consistently, in the spirit of orthodox Marxism, put the analysis of the mechanisms of the capitalist mode of production in the center of the consideration of any sphere of modern and contemporary history. This book follows the same principles. Harvey argues that neoliberalization is an in-depth penetration of capitalism into the political and social structures, and even in the cultural consciousness. Neo-liberalism strengthens the influence and the rule of capital; it also raises capitalism as a mode of production to the level of ethics, to the set of political imperatives, and even cultural logic. It is also a project of restore, enhance, and, in some cases, re-creating the power of economic elites. The essence of neo-liberalism, according to Harvey, is the turn to the right in the class struggle.

The ideas of Marx on the nature of capital are the source of this analysis. Capital is not just money, property, and one of the economic variables, among others. Rather, the capital is the organizing principle of modern society. It should be mentioned that in “The Grundrisse”, Marx explicitly states that the capital is a process that operates all other aspects of the current economic, political, social, and cultural life. It creates a system for the sale of labor, affects the value, purpose, ethics, and human, transforming human relationship with nature, with themselves, with the society, and is committed to redrawing the state in its measure. Neoliberalism, thus, is not something new in the history of capitalism. It is easier and even more dangerous after its intensification and rebirth in a pure form after decades of Keynesian “welfare state” and social-democratic experiments. Harvey stated: “…in writing it I found, however, that conventional versions of the Marxian theory of crisis formation were inadequate and that it was necessary to take a fresh look at the arguments on crisis formation laid out in Capital and, even more importantly, in The Grundrisse.” (“The enigma of capital and the crisis this time”)

Neoliberalism as Social Justice

Neoliberalism, as Harvey states, quoting the famous Dutch neoliberal Paul Trenor, values market exchange as the ethic in itself, capable of directing all human actions, and replace all the old ethical ideas. The importance of the relationship of the contract in a market area is emphasized dramatically. Public “good will” maximizes allegedly by maximizing the penetration depth and frequency of market exchanges, and all human activities seek to enter into the sphere of market dominance. However, Neoliberalism is not just arguments about ethics. The field of its greatest influence was the “neoliberal state”, where freedom is reduced to the freedom of the economic elite. “Their” freedom “represents the interests of private property owners, businesses, MNCs and financial capital.” The neo-liberal state defends capital expansion in breadth and depth and defines itself in opposition to the “entrenched liberalism” of post-war decades, when the “market processes and activities of entrepreneurs and corporations have been linked by a network of social and political restrictions and regulations, which sometimes hampered, but in other cases, paving the way to economic and industrial strategy.” .

Neoliberalism and neoliberal state failed to reverse the political and economic achievements of the welfare state. That was the reaction of capitalist interests in the post-war decades. Using the analysis of the facts and hypotheses by French economists Gerard Dumesnil and Dominique Levy from their book “Capital insurgent,” Harvey argues that Neoliberalism was originally nothing more than a project to restore class power, “a political project to restore the conditions for capital accumulation and economic power of the elites.” The leitmotif of the Harvey’s book is that Neoliberalism is a revolution from above, the restoration of class rule.

The beginning of this revolution Harvey finds in Chile after Pinochet came to power. The military coup that overthrew Allende was followed by a tremendous neoliberalization of the state. One of the key aspects of the Pinochet regime was the privatization and destruction of all forms of capital controls. Although the ideas of neo-liberalism back to the earlier works of von Hayek and Milton Friedman, its first incarnation was in Pinochet’s Chile. It also allows Harvey to prove another important tenet – that neo-liberalism is liberalism only of the economic elite, that political liberalism just weakened. Harvey – as Karl Polanyi – fears that the neo-liberal regimes gradually negate the political democracy as the freedom of the masses will be limited in favor of the freedom of the few. Exclusion of economic institutions, such as central banks, from the scope of power of the majority of voters is the most important because Neoliberalism, especially in developed countries, revolves around the financial institutions. Harvey writes that Neoliberalism preferences “rule by decree and court decisions, and not democratic and parliamentary decision-making.”

U.S. and England followed Chile in the history of Neoliberalism. Thatcher and Reagan played decisive roles. The political culture of both countries began to rebuild in the neoliberal spirit. The emphasis on individual rights, the central position of the property rights, the culture of individualism, consumption, and market populism were used to obtain mass support for neo-liberal policies and, as a result – the rapid growth of inequality in the last twenty years. Political liberalism is losing ground to a more powerful one – economic liberalism.

Another topic that is undoubtedly important for Harvey, taking into consideration his experience in human geography, is the uneven spatial development of China. In the early 1980s, the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping, literally overnight, significantly liberalized markets and stimulated new economic elite. Extreme inequality between regions was the result of this decision. Coast cities that were home to industry and finance have become centers of economic power and activity, taking the surplus labor from the agricultural hinterland. Coast became rich, and backwoods plunged into poverty. Harvey observed that similar results were reproduced around the world: the growth of economic and social inequalities, marginalization of large groups of the population, and the concentration of capital in certain regions and among certain groups of the population. Neoliberalism means a return to the most profound forms of social inequality and injustice, typical for industrial expansion of the late 19th century in the West. For Harvey, capitalism always turns the same old rotten record.

The global expansion of capital is based on what Harvey called “accumulation through dispossession”. This concept, developed in the previous Harvey’s book “New Imperialism” (2003), means that the accumulation in the globalization continues by depriving the masses of the economic rights, the different forms of ownership and economic power. Here is how Harvey defines it: “I mean the continuation and spread of what Marx called “primitive accumulation of capital”. This includes the commodification and privatization of land with a violent expulsion of peasants …; conversion of different forms of ownership (communal, collective, state, etc.) to private (especially in China)”.

Speaking about imperialism, Harvey also stated: “When it came to think about imperialism, in general, I wanted to locate the notion of imperialism against the background of those kinds of processes, of production of space by capital accumulation.”

Economic Inequaly and Accumulated Capital

What does Harvey propose to get out of this situation? Undoubtedly, it is the connection of theory and practice. His analysis, again, contains some nuances and takes into account the political reality. Numerous social movements need to formulate a “broad opposition program,” in which the actions of the economic elites are regarded as radical subversion of traditional notions of equality and justice. Harvey is orthodox Marxist, so the crisis always looms on the horizon before him. The neo-liberal rhetoric of individual freedom and the promise of prosperity and growth slowly but surely reveals its falsity. Soon, Harvey believes, it will become obvious that the whole economic life and institutions exist solely for the benefit of a small class. Therefore, the theories that are similar with Harvey’s ideas need a medium of opposition movements. Dialogue of theory and practice is the only way to seize the initiative from the beginning of a new crisis – financial or some other. Harvey hopes that such a crisis will create a “mass movement for the revival of the political requirements of equality and justice, fair trade.”

Harvey is an outspoken anti-capitalist; he hopes that the reality of the vast economic inequality rips the mask from the rhetoric of neo-liberalism. Only then social movements will gain speed and move the whole society to the social, economic, and political change. However, politics and culture cannot be reduced to the mechanics of capital accumulation. Analysis of the structural mechanisms of Neoliberalism is extremely valuable, but both in the U.S. and China, there exists only a faint murmur and no signs of mass anti-capitalist movements. Harvey pays too little attention to the deep rooted culture of “social peace” in the American liberalism.

Harvey’s books offer extremely deep, instructive, and inspiring reading. His ordering of the latest manifestations of capitalist accumulation, especially the latest trends in economic inequality, changes in the cultural and political life of the city, and the logic of contemporary globalization are brilliant. Harvey’s ideas should take a leading role in the debate on globalization, economic inequality, and the destruction of democratic politics around the world. His history of Neoliberalism is “short” indeed, but the richness and depth of the content of his books are undeniable.

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