The Costs of Weaponizing Emancipatory Politics: Constituting what is Constitutive of Capitalism

Naeem Inayatullah and David L. Blaney


Scholarly learning often challenges one’s politics. For example, we wanted to diagnose the ills of capitalism so we turned to Marx. In his work we found a profound critique but also an appreciation of capitalism’s progressive credentials. Indeed, we now believe it is Marx’s generosity to capitalism that allows his deep diagnosis.1 In modern society, Marx claims, humans individuate themselves within a system that constitutes them as legal equals and constructs a sphere of individual freedom. Simultaneously, capitalism expands and differentiates needs while producing material capacities that satisfy those needs (Marx 1973: 156, 241-3, 496). These possibilities are linked to capitalism’s greatest achievement: a process of expanded wealth production. As Marx puts it, “Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labor beyond its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of a rich individuality, which is the as all-sided in its production as in its consumption” (Ibid: 325). Yet the promise of rich individuality is thwarted where “this complete working out of the human content appears as a complete emptying out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing down of all limited one-sided aims as the sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end” (Ibid: 488). That external end is capital accumulation. Here, Marx strikes a delicate balance. His critique is ruthless, but his analysis is nuanced: the gains associated with capitalism are real relative to past social formations but they are limited by the organization of capitalism itself and bought only dearly.

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