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Introduction to Periodizing Capitalism

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Part of the Palgrave Insights into Apocalypse Economics book series (PIAE)

Abstract

Periodizing capitalism and theorizing its stages of development is a research field that originates with the writings of Karl Marx. However it is also taken up in the post-WWII era by non-Marxian economists and sociologists. Two major epistemological strategies are deployed in it: the attempt to identify an essence or constant of capitalism from which transmutations of capitalism and its stages are derived; and the stylizing of empirical history to set out salient features of a period of capitalist development. This chapter summarizes the major approaches to periodizing capitalism and the ordering of the material in the book.

Keywords

  • Capitalism
  • Stages of capitalist development
  • Epistemology in political economy
  • Karl Marx

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As will be discussed in Chap. 6, capitalist change had largely been theorized within the field of Marxist studies as following the general course of history where, as cited in the famous “Preface”, at a certain point, the development of the forces of production in society “come into conflict with the existing relations of production” to commence an area of revolution and change. This animated early followers of Marx to scour his writings on capitalism for references on how that process comes about. As the next chapter shows, Marx’s followers fixated upon Marx’s statements about the “organizing” of capitalism as the antechamber for socialism and believed the earliest trends toward enlargement of businesses were precursors of Marx’s vision. While Marx’s general theory of the course of history known as historical materialism is not “wrong”, and captures some enduring truths about epochal historical change, it does not explore, nor make reference to, the specificities or dynamics of any one historical economy. Of all the historical economies, it is capitalism that Marx studied exhaustively. And there are vital epistemological and ontological warrants for Marx’s lifelong lucubration upon capital and capitalism. What will be revealed as discussion as this book proceeds is that, as per Marx’s own emphasis and theorizations of capitalism, there is a more fundamental and specific “contradiction” that drives capitalism than the general historical contradiction Marx posits between the development of the forces of production and relations of production in the “Preface”. This is the signal lesson from the second basis for thinking about periodization of capitalism in Marx’s work that revolves around his theorizing of capitalism as a “pure” theory of capital.

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Westra, R. (2019). Introduction to Periodizing Capitalism. In: Periodizing Capitalism and Capitalist Extinction. Palgrave Insights into Apocalypse Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14390-9_1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14390-9_1

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

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