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The Violence of Financial Capitalism (review)

From: Cultural Critique
Number 81, Spring 2012
pp. 133-140 | 10.1353/cul.2012.0017

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Published in early 2010, Christian Marazzi’s The Violence of Financial Capitalism is among the first of a number of sustained efforts to articulate a critique of financial capitalism with autonomist critiques of labor in post-Fordism.1 Indeed, Marazzi has already undertaken such efforts, most notably in Capital and Language, a text that reads the role of linguistic production in post-Fordist capitalism in light of the linguistic functions of financial markets characteristic of the New Economy. However, written during and in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis, The Violence of Financial Capitalism offers a reformulation of the correspondence between finance and post-Fordist labor that is shot through with the intensity and the urgency of the crisis itself. The republication of the text in 2011 with a new translation and afterword by the author is a welcome addition to a growing body of scholarship in critical financial studies as well as autonomist critiques of contemporary capitalism. The Violence of Financial Capitalism is a must-read for cultural theorists interested in working through broader implications of the contemporary crisis.

Preceding Marazzi, there is a rich tradition in Marxist thought, beginning with Marx himself, of theorizing precisely what Marazzi’s title suggests: the violence of financial capitalism. At the end of volume 1 of Capital,Marx (1977) sketches out the correspondence between the birth of financial institutions and the historical violence of primitive accumulation. Specifically, in the chapter “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist,” Marx signals that the rise of the modern banking system and finance are inextricable from emergent forms of colonial and imperial expropriation at the inception of industrial modernity. In the early twentieth century, Hilferding and Lenin expanded on the ties between finance and imperialism; more recently, David Harvey, in The New Imperialism, returned to Marx’s argument when outlining the connections between finance and contemporary forms of imperial violence in the development of his theory of “accumulation by dispossession.” Despite its seeming relevance to a discussion of the violence of finance, Marazzi only draws peripherally on the historical genealogy of the violence of finance Marx provides. Rather than a sustained, theoretical and historical address of its stated topic—the violence of financial capitalism—Marazzi’s focus remains on the contemporary crisis. For Marazzi, the contemporary crisis makes explicit the myriad ways that the financialization of the global economy since the 1970s has been intimately tied to transformations of labor processes in post-Fordism, and it is from an analysis of this dynamic that a theory of financial violence emerges in his text. In what follows, I trace his understanding of the violence of finance as well as outline what I find to be the most salient arguments of the book.

Marazzi begins The Violence of Financial Capitalism by offering a broad sketch of the 2008 financial crisis, its causes, its immediate aftermath, and the crises of global monetary governance it both signals and induces. Drawing on a diverse set of resources, from popular media such as The Economist to the dense theoretical analyses of Michel Aglietta, he begins by pulling together a unique narrative of the 2008 crisis that places the reader in medias res. Within the interior of its unfolding, Marazzi produces a set of provisional theses regarding the dynamics of the crisis rather than a totalizing account. This is both a strength and a weakness of the book, in that it avoids an artificial coherence in its narrative of what is clearly an ongoing phenomenon, but at the same time runs the risk of reproducing the impression that finance is something that is infinitely complex and beyond intelligibility. He works to mitigate the latter effect by providing an appendix of the terms of what he calls finance’s “esoteric neolanguage,” arguing that “it is under the shelter of this linguistic opacity that finance prospers” (123). Yet despite his effort at transparency, the sheer density of factual evidence that he provides, at moments, might engender the effect of such opacity in a reader not versed in the history, institutions, and discourses of finance. Nevertheless, he puts forward a set of important insights into the dynamics of the current crisis on a number of topics...



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