By David Harvey

Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism
Editions:Paperback: € 13.99 EUR
ISBN: 9781781251614
Pages: 352
Hardcover: € 26.99 EUR
ISBN: 9780199360260
Pages: 335
ePub: € 7.59 EUR
ISBN: 9781782830085

You thought capitalism was permanent? Think again. Following on from The Enigma of Capital, the world's leading Marxist thinker explores the hidden workings of capital and reveals the forces that will lead inexorably to the demise of our system.

To modern Western society, capitalism is the air we breathe, and most people rarely think to question it, for good or for ill. But knowing what makes capitalism work--and what makes it fail--is crucial to understanding its long-term health, and the vast implications for the global economy that go along with it.

In Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, the eminent scholar David Harvey examines the internal contradictions within the flow of capital that have precipitated recent crises. He contends that while the contradictions have made capitalism flexible and resilient, they also contain the seeds of systemic catastrophe. Many of the contradictions are manageable, but some are fatal: the stress on endless compound growth, the necessity to exploit nature to its limits, and tendency toward universal alienation. Capitalism has always managed to extend the outer limits through "spatial fixes," expanding the geography of the system to cover nations and people formerly outside of its range. Whether it can continue to expand is an open question, but Harvey thinks it unlikely in the medium term future: the limits cannot extend much further, and the recent financial crisis is a harbinger of this.

David Harvey has long been recognized as one of the world's most acute critical analysts of the global capitalist system and the injustices that flow from it. In this book, he returns to the foundations of all of his work, dissecting and interrogating the fundamental illogic of our economic system, as well as giving us a look at how human societies are likely to evolve in a post-capitalist world.

Reviews:Martin Sandbu on Financial Times wrote:

"True to his title, the veteran geographer and anthropologist Harvey offers an analysis of 17 'contradictions' he believes to be inherent in modern capitalism. [...] Harvey uses the term 'contradiction' to denote a pair of forces or phenomena whose coexistence, while not logically impossible, is sustained in practice only through tension or conflict. When they become sufficiently acute, such contradictions are what provide an impetus for the forces of progress to overcome capitalism and its inequities. His examples are interesting but unoriginal. The chapter on 'endless growth' – supposedly necessary for the survival of capitalism and incompatible with that of the planet – echoes the 'limits to growth' debate that raged in the 1970s. Harvey’s contradiction between the prices of goods and the social value of the labour going into producing them is older still, harking back to Marx’s (erroneous) labour theory of value. Conventionally trained neoclassical economists deal not in contradictions to be overcome but in trade-offs to be calibrated. Unlike Marxists, they assume that a social outcome can be found that perfectly balances any 'contradictory' considerations [...] The difference matters. Even if we can all agree that something has gone badly wrong with financial capitalism, we might reach very different political conclusions depending on whether the source of the problem is a fundamental contradiction in the Marxian sense or just a bungled trade-off. [...] Seventeen Contradictions also proves that, when it comes to convolution, Marxists are the equals of the neoclassical economists they castigate. If Harvey means to convert waverers to his cause, this book – too doctrinaire to enlighten and too opaque to arouse – is not the way to do it."

Anon on Marx & Philosophy Review of Books wrote:

"David Harvey has three aims in Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (SCEC). First and mainly he wants to schematically analyze the contradictions of capital, the ‘economic engine’ driving the particular social formation capitalism. Second, he seeks to draw-out that analysis’s implications for anti-capitalist politics dedicated to creating a world substantially more democratic, egalitarian, and emancipatory than that which capital affords. Third, he aims to address what might cause the end of capitalism and, specifically, whether capital’s internal contradictions progressively undermine its conditions of existence. Although it doesn’t break substantial new theoretical ground, and nor is it without a few weaknesses of its own, Harvey largely accomplishes his main goal: to contribute to the ongoing debate on the nature of capital, the direction in which it is taking us, and what should be done about it. [...] On the whole, SCEC makes two important and broad contributions. Firstly and mainly it provides a strong and important schematic introduction to Marxist political economy by focusing on the contradictions of capital. Harvey wrote the book for a wide audience extending beyond the university and, as such, its clear prose and illustrative examples make it accessible to the non-expert. Equally important for any introduction is the quality of the guide. Although SCEC is not always up to date on the field’s current debates, it nevertheless strongly benefits from Harvey’s distinguished command of the scholarship. For those more familiar with Marxism and Harvey’s writings, the focused identification and elaboration of capital’s seventeen contradictions is still likely to provide insights by offering a conceptual map of capital’s contradictions and, perhaps, a different angle on familiar phenomenon [...] SCEC’s second main contribution is that it sketches some of the implications of its analysis for anti-capitalist movements. While undoubtedly brief, for which it has received some criticism, the lessons Harvey draws for left political praxis are valuable in developing a longer-term and broader-scale orientation. [...] Despite these strengths, criticisms can be made, and two stand out. First, the book’s main argument explicating capital’s contradictions would have benefited from, in places, clearer identification of the specific forces in a given contradiction and greater elaboration of why these force are necessarily in mutual conflict. [...] The second criticism pertains to Harvey’s treatment of the end of capitalism. While he is clear on his position – that capital’s contradictions do not guarantee capitalism’s end – his discussion doesn’t adequately address the existing literature on the subject."


Table of Contents of Seventeen Contradictions

  • Prologue - The Crisis of Capitalism This Time around
  • Introduction - On Contradiction

Part One: The Foundational Contradictions

  1. Use value and Exchange value
  2. The Social value of Labour and its representation by Money
  3. Private Property and the Capitalist State
  4. Private appropriation and Common Wealth
  5. Capital and Labour
  6. Capital as Process or Thing?
  7. The Contradictory Unity of Production and realisation

Part Two: The Moving Contradictions

  1. Technology, Work and Human Disposability
  2. Divisions of Labour
  3. Monopoly and Competition: Centralisation and Decentralisation
  4. Uneven Geographical Developments and the Production of Space
  5. Disparities of income and Wealth
  6. Social reproduction
  7. Freedom and Domination

Part Three: The Dangerous Contradictions

  1. Endless Compound Growth
  2. Capital’s relation to Nature
  3. The Revolt of Human Nature: Universal Alienation

About David Harvey

David Harvey is Distinguished PrDavid Harveyofessor of Anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate School where he has taught since 2001. He earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and was formerly professor of geography at Johns Hopkins, a Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics, and Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at Oxford. His research interests are cultural anthropology, urbanization, environment, political economy, geography and social theory, and advanced capitalist countries.