Istvan Meszaros’

 “Beyond Capital"



Humbling Experience-  Illuminating, Frustrating, Tedious, Exciting, All the components of learning something are in the process of engaging this text.  Meszaros has seen farther than most of us, faster, clearer.


Strengths-  Raises our standpoint of understanding (352)

          1)  The focus on capital as. distinct from capitalism and the historical role of embryonic to mature capital as an uncontrollable sucking pump of surplus value.

          2) His insistence on the temporality of capital and capitalism, and his careful examination of the potential limits to capital.  Demonstrating that there      probably will be alternatives

          3) His grasp of the reciprocity of material and dialectical analysis, i.e., there are only superficial dialectics in the absence of materialism.

          4) His demonstration that capital, labor and the state are imbued within each other, distinguishing his analysis from others focused on the mere appearances of a base superstructure split.

          5) His insistence in the role of ideas as a material force, i.e., the necessity for self actualizing collective class consciousness as both precondition for and necessary component of assaults on capital.

          6) His commitment to democracy, workers control of every critical aspect of  life, as a material imperative-beyond a moral imperative-for the victory of communism.

          7) His analysis of what he calls post capitalist societies.  And his interesting argument about why the political appropriation of capital is sufficient to demark post-capitalist from capitalist societies..

          8) His clarity on what he calls the second order mediations of capital:  

          A) The nuclear family

           B) Alienated means of production

           C) Fetishist (as opposed to hum) production objectives

           D) Labor structurally divorced from control

         E) Capital’s nation status

           F) The uncontrollability of the market.

                             To which Joel Kovell adds

          G)  Cultural Hegemony--

                             and Lukacs later adds

          H) The Fragmentation of Labor


-  Each mediation imbued in the other, each sustaining the other, each carrying  the powerful DNA of capital into new generations.


-  Hence the real target must be the capital system as such, as a    whole, with all of its mediations and Meszaros suggests urgency                because capital is reaching its limits.


          So Meszaros offers a deepened grasp of what has been done and what is up.


          Now, What is the way out?



          Meszaros offers some clues:  mediations between today and the defeat of capital as a whole.


          1) Reestablishes the necessarily international character of the                communist movement.

          2) Suggests that what he calls socialist pluralism, common action         around a totality of demands none of which taken alone is                    necessarily socialist (Like jobs, education, health care, etc.) but        which taken as a whole cannot be met by capitalism.

          3) Points to the historical role of workers councils-a sign (as

          Luckacs says-311) that the class consciousness of the proletariat is on           the verge of overcoming the bourgeoisie outlook of its leaders.            Where the we/they dichotomy can be dissolved in practical action-     especially in the labor process (399).

          4) Rejects the economic determinism of capital whose standpoint         proclaims itself as  the highest obtainable stage of human evolution and suggests that the structural crises of capital may be immanent,    sufficient to sustain anti-capital break through.


                   But like Marx, Meszaros offers the conditions for what he calls an epochal shift-A revolution- but too too little on the way through--



On Meszaros’ Beyond Capital

Rich Gibson, 1999





          1)  While “Beyond Capital” does address what it is people need to know, about alienation on the one hand and surplus value on the other; while it details the structural and material relations and the crises built into the self-reproduction of capital - Meszaros gives us no route into how it is that            people who have been so easily molded as instruments of their own oppression for so long--how they will become conscious as an international working class.

          2) Meszaros’ denial that Fascism is an option for capital today leads him to minimize the ruthlessness of capitals personifications, and to over emphasize the potential of pluralist attacks on capital.   In this sense,     Maszaros is not clear on the mediations of reform and revolution.

          3) This undermines Meszaros rejection of parties of the Bolshevik type--While         he at the same time urges the primacy of extra parliamentary action.  If Fascism is really not an option,  then Meszaros “Socialist Pluralism” might have  a chance.  But Fascism has never disappeared from the scene, is not extinct, and there is no evidence that pluralism can defeat a ruthless organized opponent.

          4) Meszaros’ repetition of Marx’ old saw that socialism requires abundance, which is created in the Womb of capital, is suspect.  Capital’s death throes of counter-revolution are not likely to leave a legacy of abundance.  It’s something, even taken relatively, that we cannot count on.  What we will need is a profound understanding of Meszaros repeated insistence on equality and democracy in order to share scarcity. If there is “no half way house” (976,981) to socialism, then the role of communist consciousness, the solidarity of democracy and equality, even before any epochal shift will be pivotal--in the labor process and everywhere.

          5)       What is absent here-?- Two important things-

                      A)  Any serious discussion of the roles of racism and sexism.

                      B)  Any discussion at all of other failed socialist experiments,                      China/Albania whatever, which may have carried the struggle

          against  the authorization extraction of surplus value even further.

          6) Finally, there is a sense here that for anything truly epochal to happen, one must wait for the crisis of western capital (969/983).  This could be a long   wait.  At issue is how to build a movement anyway.


          We are still left with the questions:  how do people create democratic loving communities and simultaneously address an unjust, uncontrollable, disciplined system of exploitation?







Main Aspects:


            1)  Within any particular section of labor

            2)  Among different groups of workers in the same nation

            3)  Between the national labor groups

            4)  Metropolitan labor vs. 3rd world labor

            5)  The employed vs. the unemployed.

                  (Meszaros omits questions of race and sex)

With this in hand, I answer the question “Is there hope for the N. American labor movement?”  - With a qualified “No, not now.”  Surely not the AFL-CIO and there is little more hope for the grassroots movements Meszaros urges.


US Labor is:

            1)  Historically the AFL has served to divide workers within the

                 US along lines of

                        A)  Craft/Trade

                        B)  Race + Sex

                        C)  Employed/unemployed

                        D)  US/Everywhere  else

                        E)  Anti Communist/Communist


            The AFL-CIO is fundamentally undemocratic, impossible to reform.  The Teamsters for a Democratic Union failed.  And their obvious willingness to call the police for assistance should be proof enough.

            Current leaders of the AFL-CIO have never led a successful struggle of any size against capital.  While it is generally true that they do not want to fight.  It is also true that they do not know how.  They do, however, know how to disorganize job actions (Hormel, Detroit Newspapers, Caterpillar, etc.).

            It is also important to underline that while Labor’s numbers are in serious decline, down to about 12%, the combined forces of union leaders eager to protect their pensions and corporate owners eager to have union bosses control the work force (Ford’s/UAW pact efforts to organize plants for the UAW) will likely push up the numbers.

            The members of the AFL-CIO today are overwhelmingly white, over 35, relatively proved equal in relation to workers outside the US, and have habituated themselves to retreats and defeat (having watched them numbers cut by 2/3 and done not a thing).

            There is simply no reason to believe that there is a dynamic within the AFL-CIO that will lead to self actualizing collective consciousness--at least not for some time to come.

            So, if we are to believe that where there is domination there is resistance, and that people in the US interested in social pratice must place cadre with care whenever possible, just where is it that cadre should go?  They should go to school.