The spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism


To understand the history of architectural modernism and eclecticism as they emerged out of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must take into account the broader development of architecture over the course of the latter half of the nineteenth century. This development, in turn, must be seen as emerging out of the dynamic of late nineteenth-century capitalism, which had by that point extended to encompass the whole of Europe. For it was the unique spatiotemporal dialectic of the capitalist mode of production — along with the massive social and technological forces it unleashed — that formed the basis for the major architectural ideologies that arose during this period. Before the story of the academicians or the avant-garde can be told, then, some background is necessary to explain both their origin and the eventual trajectory they would take into the early twentieth century.

So while my aim is to eventually account for how a single social formation, capitalism, can give birth to these two opposite tendencies within architectural thought, the space required to give an adequate exposition of the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism is such that it deserves to function as a standalone essay. Certainly other trends, both cultural and social, could be understood as reflections of this underlying socioeconomic dynamic. It is thus my intention to post this as its own piece, before then proceeding to detail the way in which architectural modernism and eclecticism mirrored these dynamics.

The Cyclolinear Temporality of Capital

I. The temporal dialectic of capitalism

Capitalism does odd things to time. On the one hand, it standardized the measurement of time to obey the artificial pulse of the mechanical clock. This standardization was at the same time part of a larger project of rationalization that took place under the auspices of capitalism as it spread throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the first time in history, society was synchronized according to a single regime of time; its movement was as clockwork. This new temporal order replaced the traditional system of timekeeping, based as it was on the arbitrariness of convention and the natural cycles of the changing seasons and daylight. This sort of time, abstracted from all events that might take place under its watch, can be referred to as Newtonian time — pure, uniform, untainted by the messiness of historical change.

On the other hand, however, capitalism after a certain point seems to generate a new sense of historical consciousness separate from the abstract, Newtonian time with which it coincides. This is brought about by an underlying dynamic inherent in the composition of capital itself, located specifically in its value-dimension. For once capital began to revolutionize the basis of production in pursuit of what Marx termed “relative surplus-value,” a series of accelerating social and technological innovations began to send down shockwaves throughout the rest of society. This was experienced as a corresponding sequence of convulsive social transformations, continuously uprooting the time-honored organic social relations that preceded the rise of capitalism. As the process of capitalist production developed further into the early nineteenth century, this dynamic became more and more pronounced. Since these successive transformations could now be seen as occurring within the space of a single generation, a new consciousness of time arose around the notion of progressive “phases,” “stages,” or “epochs” of history. Opposed to both the mode of abstract time manifested by capitalism as well as the kind of historical temporality that preceded it, this can be referred to as historical time as it exists under capitalism.

The precise way in which capitalism gave birth to these two opposite modes of understanding time will be elucidated in the following. Their connection to the styles of architecture that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will only be possible after the elaboration of both the temporal and the spatial dialectics of capitalism have been completed.

The Decimal Clock from Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927)

The Decimal Clock from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)

A. Abstract, Newtonian time

Before the advent of capitalism, the workday was regulated by the organic rhythms of sunup and sundown, by the rooster’s crow and the dim fade into twilight. Time was measured, not by the mechanical regularity of the clock, but by much more arbitrary and conventional standards. For example, in seventeenth-century Chile, “the cooking-time of an egg could be judged by an Ave Maria said aloud.”[1] Even at the level of months and days, the calendar was less important than the events that occupied it. Planting-time, harvest-time, and the celebration of religious and secular holidays — these were the patterns by which precapitalist societies understood the passage of time. “In terms of the human organism itself,” observed Lewis Mumford, “mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action.”[2] The digital precision of time-measurement, to which we have become so accustomed today, would have been an utterly foreign concept to a person born prior to the rise of capitalism.

The mechanical calculation of time can be traced to the fourteenth century, when public clocks were mounted in cities and large commercial towns. Their impact on society at this point was still limited, however; the clocks’ accuracy was often in question. Some improvements were made in the seventeenth century with the introduction of the pendulum in the grandfather clock by Christiaan Huygens in 1656, which allowed for the isochronous measurement of time. Still, their circulation throughout society remained minimal.[3] The broader dissemination of chronometric devices took place in the first half of the eighteenth century, and only then it was the typically the gentry who would own a pocket-watch, as a symbol of their status. But it was the industrial revolution that first made the exact measurement of time socially universal. As Mumford explained, “[t]he popularization of time-keeping, which followed the production of the cheap standardized watch, first in Geneva, was essential to a well-articulated system of transportation and production.”[4] The British Marxist E.P. Thompson verified Mumford’s claim when he later wrote: “Indeed, a general diffusion of clocks and watches is occurring (as one would expect) at the exact moment when the industrial revolution demanded a greater synchronization of labour.”[5]

And why was the precise measurement of time so vital to a society founded on the exchange of commodities? Why did the workday have to be so artificially broken down into abstract units of time? For exactly the reason Marx explained when he wrote that

A use-value, or useful article…has value only because abstract human labour is objectified [vergegenständlicht] or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? By means of the quantity of the “value-forming substance,” the labour, contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale of hours, days, etc. [my emphasis]

Of course, this duration is not determined by how long it takes this or that particular individual to complete the production of a commodity. “What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article,” Marx then continued, “is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.”[6] Marx makes it clear that this time is abstract, in the sense that value is determined by the time necessary to produce a commodity through abstract, homogeneous human labor.[7]

And indeed, as Thompson demonstrates, it is no coincidence that the exact monitoring of time was increasingly enforced as the industrial revolution gathered steam. At both school as in work, lateness or tardiness of any sort were to be penalized with greater severity. Ringing bells were installed in the schools to indicate to students when one period was to end and another to begin. Workers were obligated to “punch in” with mechanical devices to keep them honest about the amount of time they had worked. A new ethos of timeliness, punctuality, and efficiency was encouraged. “In all these ways — by the division of labour; the supervision of labour; fines; bells and clocks; money incentives; preachings and schoolings; the suppression of fairs and sports — new labour habits were formed, and a new time-discipline was imposed.”[8] But the students and workers did not at first bend willingly to this new regime of time. The shift from the traditional, less methodical time required to complete a specific task (which Thompson called the “task-orientation”), to a strictly-regulated pace of work was not an easy transition. “The onslaught, from so many directions, upon the people’s old working habits was not, of course, uncontested,” recorded Thompson. “In the first stage, we find simple resistance. But, in the next stage, as the new time-discipline is imposed, so the workers begin to fight, not against time, but about it.”[9]

This fight about time would culminate, of course, in the struggle for the regular ten-hour workday, which Marx documented at length in Capital. Reacting to the outrage of the working class over the “spurious ‘system of relays’,” the British government mandated that clocks be readily visible to the workers to ensure that they were not made to work over the ten-hour limit: “‘The time shall be regulated by a public clock,’ for example the nearest railway clock, by which the factory clock is to be set. The manufacturer has to hang up a ‘legible’ printed notice stating the hours for the beginning and ending of work and the pauses allowed for meals.”[10] Because capital had previously sought mainly to maximize the amount of surplus-value obtained from labor simply by extending the number of hours worked as far beyond the value paid for the labor-process, i.e., through absolute surplus-value,[11] members of the working class were gradually made to work inhuman lengths of time.[12] Whereas before the working-class had objected to the strict regimentation of time-measurement in their labor, the struggle of the working class to restrict the number of hours they could be legally made to work entailed a certain acceptance of this new regime of time. “The history of the regulation of the working day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others over this regulation,” wrote Marx, “prove conclusively that the isolated worker, the worker as ‘free’ seller of his labour-power, succumbs without resistance once capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity.”[13] No longer did the spirit of the worker revolt against the close monitoring of his time. Thus did the worker (and urban society in general) internalize the new temporal order.

Here it may be worthwhile to briefly reflect on the way capitalism transforms the temporal dimension of social experience. On the one hand, it homogenizes time into a set of quantitatively equivalent metric units — minutes, seconds, hours, days. These units are effectively interchangeable; one minute lasts exactly the same duration as any other minute, regardless of the time of day. Such time, abstracted from any concrete events or occurrences that may take place in that time, is essentially universal — devoid of any particulars or peculiarities.[14] It is Newtonian time: pure, repetitive, and scientific. It is unsullied by natural or historical accidence. As the Marxist theoretician Moishe Postone puts it,

“Abstract time,”…by which I mean uniform, continuous, homogeneous, “empty” time, is independent of events. The conception of abstract time, which became increasingly dominant in Western Europe between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, was expressed most emphatically in Newton’s formulation of “absolute, true and mathematical time [which] flows equably without relation to anything external.”[15]

This time is, moreover, also cyclical. Of course, it cannot be claimed that nature has no cycles or rhythms of its own; but these natural cycles are organic and matters of quality. The artificial cycles of abstract time are mathematic and matters of quantity. Every day has twenty-four hours, and every hour sixty minutes. Each minute in turn has sixty seconds, and all these remain invariable quantities. Once one minute is over, another begins, and once an hour has passed another has started. Such is the nature of abstract, cyclical time.

All this is well and good conceptually, but when historically did this new sense of time-consciousness become normalized? At what point did the majority of society come to march to the tick of a synchronous clock? Our investigation thus far has suggested that it became increasingly prevalent and normative along with the contiguous spread of capitalism during the industrial revolution. But this brings us into a longstanding debate within the study of horology. To this point, it would seem that we have downplayed or dismissed the prior invention of the clock, such that our treatment of the subject has failed to acknowledge the longue durée of timekeeping itself. But there is often a great disconnect between the mere moment an innovation occurs and the generalization of its consequences to the rest of society. “Although abstract time arose socially in the late Middle Ages, it did not become generalized until much later,” asserts Postone. “Not only did rural life continue to be governed by the rhythms of the seasons, but even in the towns, abstract time impinged directly upon only the lives of merchants and the relatively small number of wage earners.”[16] Only later did this profoundly ahistorical mode of thinking about time arise historically, as part of the deep social transformations that were taking place at the time. The compulsion to synchronize the whole of society only took effect with the advent of capitalism. As Postone writes emphatically, “[t]he tyranny of time in capitalist society is a central dimension of the Marxian categorial analysis.”[17]

By the middle part of the nineteenth century, this form of time-consciousness, or time-discipline, had spread to virtually all of the more mature capitalist nations in Europe and America. Over the course of the latter half of the century, this way of timekeeping exercised an ever-greater degree of control over the thinking and behavior of the citizens of these nations. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, the practice of time-discipline would be apotheosized in its most systematic form by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who advocated a mode of scientific oversight and monitoring of all time-expenditure of employees. In his Principles of Scientific Management, he wrote that “[t]he enormous saving of time and therefore increase in the output which it is possible to effect through eliminating unnecessary motions and substituting fast for slow and inefficient motions for the men working in any of our trades can be fully realized only after one has personally seen the improvement which results from a thorough motion and time study, made by a competent man.”[18] At this point, the exactitude of one’s use of time was to be internalized and automated to the utmost degree, leading to an ideal of the standardization of all labor. The most thorough practitioners of Taylor’s theory, the husband-and-wife tandem of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, thus wrote: “Through motion study and fatigue study and the accompanying time study, we have come to know the capabilities of the worker, the demands of the work, the fatigue that the worker suffers at the work, and the amount and nature of the rest required to overcome the fatigue.”[19]

“Today I saw history riding on horseback.” — Hegel, 1806, seeing Napoleon ride through town after the Battle of Jena

B. Concrete, historical time

Just as society under capitalism was manifesting this abstract form of time, it was simultaneously giving birth to a new form of concrete time, distinct from the sense of concrete time that existed before the preponderance of commodity exchange in society. This concrete sense of time was not that of habit, convention, or task-orientation. It was rather a newfound sense of historical time, understood as a linear chain of events, or as a succession of “stages” leading up to the present. Along with this newfound sense of concrete, historical time came a new consciousness of time, specific to capitalism. What lay behind this new historical consciousness?

For one, it was the increasing dynamism exhibited by the new form of society under which they were living, such that time-honored social institutions and traditional practices now underwent a visible series of sudden and spasmodic transformations. Longstanding social relations were often uprooted and replaced within the span of a single lifetime. As Marx and Engels famously recorded in the Manifesto, “[t]he continual transformation of production, the uninterrupted convulsion of all social conditions, a perpetual uncertainty and motion distinguish the epoch of the bourgeoisie from all earlier ones.” This shift in the underlying socioeconomic basis of society entailed a corresponding shift in the ideological superstructure: “All the settled, age-old relations with their train of time-honoured preconceptions and viewpoints are dissolved; all newly formed ones become outmoded before they can ossify. Everything feudal and fixed goes up in smoke, everything sacred is profaned.”[20]

Zygmunt Bauman thus rightly credited “[t]he considerable speeding up of social change” as a necessary condition for the creation of this historical consciousness. This speeding up, he added, “was duly reflected in the…novel sense of history as an endless chain of irreversible changes, with which the concept of progress — a development which brings change for the better — was not slow to join forces.”[21] The notion of progressive historical development was aided, moreover, by the ongoing technical revolutions taking place in the field of production. This concept of a progression of stages was then conversely projected backward through time, in the interpretation of history. It is therefore no surprise that this period saw the emergence of thinkers like Vico and Hegel, who looked to the past and interpreted it as an unfolding of qualitatively distinct “phases” — as modes of consciousness or spirit as the torch of civilization was passed from one society to the next.

At the political level, this historical understanding of time simultaneously grounded both conservatism and radicalism. In the former case, one saw the history leading up to the present as a demonstration of its necessity, while in the latter, one saw the present itself as merely transitory, as just another stop along the way in the moving train of history. Liberalism stood between these two extremes, in the static sphere of ahistorical Natural Rights. For the rest, however, this recognition of historical time dramatically impacted the way they viewed the world. And so, despite the volatility involved in the rapid upheaval of older social forms that came with capitalism, the memory that things had not so long ago been different granted to conservatives the hope for a return to “simpler times,” while for radicals it held the promise of leading to a more perfect, as yet unseen social arrangement.

But what was the actual dynamic in capitalism that necessitated this series of convulsive transformations? For it is easy to say that capitalism forced this state of chronic instability, but it is much harder to actually trace out the dialectical aspect of capitalism that compels its continuous flux. And so we must discover the specific origin of this dynamic, rooted in a dimension of capital itself.

A brief investigation into the constitution of capital will reveal that this dynamic is located in the value-dimension of capital. Value, when it appears in the form of capital, ceaselessly strives to augment itself through a process of self-valorization.[22] It here becomes clear that the Lukácsean simultaneous subject-object of history is not Labor as constituted by the proletarian class, but Capital as constituted by self-valorizing value, which assimilates the non-identical to itself through its own activity while remaining at all times identical with itself.[23] As Marx wrote, “[capital] is constantly changing from one form to another, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject.” Value is still the operative concept in its form as capital, however: “In truth,…value is here the subject of a process in which…it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value to itself is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization.” It thereby obtains an almost magical character: “By virtue of being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself.”[24]

Capital achieves this valorization through the purchase of labor as a commodity. Productive labor thus enters the process of capitalist circulation as a socially mediating activity necessary for augmenting capital. “[C]apital has one sole driving force, the drive to valorize itself, to create surplus-value, to make its constant part, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus labor.”[25] Labor, which uniquely possesses the ability to enhance the value originally invested in its purchase,[26] produces surplus-value for its temporary owner in either of the following ways: 1) by an absolute increase in the time spent laboring beyond the socially average time necessary to reproduce the value advanced;[27] or 2) by a relative decrease in the time required to produce an equivalent value below that same social average, since “the prolongation of the surplus labor must…originate in the curtailment of the necessary labor-time,” assuming the length of the working day remains constant.[28] The latter of these methods can only be accomplished by an increase in the productivity of labor by technical or organizational means, either by the introduction of new machine technologies or a more efficient division of labor.[29]

Historically, capital at first relied on the production of absolute surplus-value through the extension of the working day in order to valorize itself, until labor negotiations and parliamentary legislation managed to secure a normal working day through the famous Factory Acts. These set a legal limit on the maximum number of hours a worker could be assigned in a day.[30] Thereafter, capitalist production was generally forced to make do with the generation of relative surplus-value, which it achieved by the successive institution of cooperative action between workers, the detail division of labor in manufacturing, and the implementation of heavy machinery in large-scale industry.[31]

At this point, our digression into the inner workings of capitalism reconnects with the investigation of the unprecedented historical consciousness linked to the inner dynamic of capital. For it is the category of value undergirding capitalist society that is the source of its dynamism; the dynamic character of value in the form of capital is built into its very concept. The dialectical tension which characterizes capital always exists in potentia as part of its logic, but begins to unfold more rapidly with the general stabilization of the workday and the increased stress placed upon the generation of relative surplus-value.[32] Since relative surplus-value demands that the technical and social basis of production be constantly revolutionized so that productivity can be increased, but at the same time the rate of surplus-value thereby gained begins to vanish as soon as these technical and organizational advances are generalized, there is an overall “speeding up” of the production process. These frequent, usually violent speed-ups give rise to what Postone has called the “treadmill effect” of capitalist production, involving a “dialectic of transformation and reconstitution.”[33]

This is how an historical consciousness in the modern sense first manifested itself in society. For it was only with the further elaboration of the dialectic immanent to relative surplus-value that the concept of history as an unfolding progression of stages even became available. Postone explains: “Considered temporally, this intrinsic dynamic of capital, with its treadmill pattern, entails an ongoing directional movement of time, a ‘flow of history.’ In other words, the mode of concrete time we are examining can be considered historical time, as constituted in capitalist society.”[34]

C. Reflection on the temporal dialectic of capitalism

Examining these two distinct senses of time that emerge out of capitalism, we may briefly state the characteristics that differentiate them and determine the extent to which they interact. Some differences between the two should be obvious. One is abstract and homogeneous, the other is concrete and heterogeneous. The one is cyclical and repetitive, while the other is linear and unprecedented, irreversible, and unreplicable in its exact constitution. Abstract, Newtonian time is scientific, and can be measured mechanically, by the gears in a watch. Concrete, historical time, on the other hand, must be comprehended either organically (in precapitalist societies) or dialectically (under capitalism), as a dynamic sequence of forces and events.

But despite all their differences, it is not as if these two forces are divided by an unbridgeable chasm. Rather, they are intricately and dialectically intertwined. If anything, the two separate temporal elements combine to create the unique structure of capitalist development through history. While on the one hand society is being propelled forward through a series of irreversible transformations, on the other, the repetitious pattern of day-to-day, hour-to-hour routines of social production continue according to their usual cycles. The result is regularity alongside radical disruption, repetition with difference — and these are features specific to modernity,[35] not postmodernity, as Deleuze and Derrida would have it.

And so it is proper, when speaking of the dialectical motion of capitalism, to describe it as following a cyclolinear path of production and circulation punctuated by periods of boom and crisis. The “historical” element of capitalist time allows the way in which capitalism manifests itself to change over time, such that distinct phases of capitalism can be identified (liberalism/monopolism/imperialism/Fordism/neo-liberalism or “flexible accumulation”). The homogeneous, “repetitive” element of time under capitalism allows it to remain capitalism throughout all of its various phases, founded on the same principle of the supervaluation of value. Only the historical transcendence and overturning of this principle would produce a revolutionary outcome, only then could a postcapitalist society emerge.

Spaces of Capitalism

II. The spatial dialectic of capital

There is a spatial duality inherent in capitalism analogous to the temporal dialectic covered in the previous section. For there are two distinct types of space engendered by capitalism — both an abstract, global, and empty space as well as a concrete, hierarchical space composed of concentrated and distributed masses.

The former of these, abstract space, as constituted under capitalism, can be referred to as “Cartesian” space, just as abstract time was called “Newtonian.” And just as Newton considered the abstract time he described to be “empty” (i.e., devoid of real happenings or events), the abstract space that Descartes described was conceived as “empty” (i.e., devoid of real bodies). Or, in his own words, this sort of spatiality is “comprised in the idea of a space — not merely a space which is full of bodies, but even a space which is called ‘empty.’”[36] This space unfolds temporally, as capitalism spreads throughout the world. It carries the traits of universality and homogeneity: it makes no difference what particular, heterogeneous forms of culture and society it encounters. The abstract space of capitalism absorbs them regardless and makes them more like itself. Nor does it honor any national or traditional boundaries; geographical barriers likewise mean nothing to it.

The concrete space of capitalism, on the other hand, describes the very real spatial disparities and inequalities that emerge out of the inner dynamic of capital. It accounts for the antithesis of town and country, the unevenness of capitalist development, and the huge urban agglomerations that resulted from the concentration of capital in different areas of the world. This more concrete form of spatiality could be called, moreover, the “topographical” space of capitalism. For even within the limits of a single municipality, this type of space can be witnessed in the various sectors that comprise the city: the dirty factories and centers of production, the clean, slick financial district, workers’ housing, the more “upscale” estates of the urban elites, and the palliative parks and green spaces, which serve to interrupt the dense overcrowding of the city. Concrete space would also help locate the centers of state power — the government buildings, judicial courts, and jails. Finally, it would include the main conduits of capitalist intercourse, the highways and backstreets, the subway systems of major cities, the train stations and railroad networks.

Grandville’s “Bridge across the Planets” (1840)

A. Abstract, Cartesian space

Two main sources lay the groundwork for the abstract, global spatiality that developed under capitalism. The first is to be found in Marx’s works themselves, in both his early Manifesto that he co-authored with Engels, and later in his Grundrisse and the second volume of Capital. In the earliest of these works, the cosmopolitan, universal character of the capitalist social formation is taken for granted, as a sort of given. Marx mentions that the bourgeoisie are driven to the ends of the earth through their exploitation of the “world market,” and that this creates a new sort of global interdependency. In his later writings Marx identifies the actual mechanism by which capital is driven beyond any spatial limit, discovering it in the process of capital circulation. More specifically, it is through the development and enhancement of the means of transport and communication that pushes capital past its previous sphere of influence. Marx refers to this sort of spatial expansion as “the annihilation of space through time.”

The second major source for the globalizing dimension of capitalist spatiality is rather a bundle of sources from different authors. These authors were attempting to articulate a Marxist theory of a new phase of capitalist growth: imperialism. Rudolf Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Grigorii Zinoviev, and Nikolai Bukharin each were trying to make sense of the accelerating pace of capitalist expansion they were witnessing in their time. Each of them understood this phase of expansionist growth as a result of a crisis in the heart of capitalism, as the outcome of a new capitalist constellation. The specific terminology deployed to explain this phenomenon varied from author to author, but they all seemed to agree that it was related to the development of a new form of capital, “finance capital,” or (additionally) a new distribution of capital within the largest-scale capitalist nations, “monopoly capitalism.” Both of these phenomena involved an export of raw capital to territories that were largely virgin to capitalism, rather than the simple export of commodities . This entailed not only the development of these regions’ infrastructure and mode of production, but also a form of domination over the underdeveloped countries enacted by most advanced capitalist nations.

While the first two subsections will analyze the extension of this form of spatiality (i.e., how it came to encompass the world), the third will reflect more on the concept itself, its consequences and implications. It will spell out precisely what is meant by the concept of “abstract” space, and delineate the similarities and differences that our present understanding of the term has with respect to Henri Lefebvre’s identical term.

Late nineteenth-century German map depicting trade routes to Africa

1. Marx’s theory of the globalizing spatiality of capitalist circulation

Capitalism, from the moment of its inception, was in concept a global phenomenon. This is so despite the fact that it did empirically emerge under historically determinate, localizable conditions. Circumstances would have it that these conditions first fermented in England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries.[37] But it could nevertheless be contended that no matter where it arose, once primitive accumulation had reached the point where capital was able to reproduce itself with a surplus such that it could be reinvested, the socioeconomic system and the relations it entailed were bound to spread and eventually wrap the globe. To the extent that capitalism could be imagined to have hypothetically emerged in a different part of the world (even on a different planet), the logic of capitalist reproduction would in any case eventually require its extension beyond any spatial boundaries that had previously contained it.

The necessity of precapitalist social formations is a matter of debate; it is unclear whether there are necessary “stages” a nation or region must go through before arriving at capitalism. However, there can be no doubt that capitalism possesses this totalizing and compulsively expansive character once it comes into its own. In this sense, it can be distinguished from all the socioeconomic forms that preceded it, since these different systems can be said to have existed in relative isolation from one another. Oppositely, “[with capitalism, w]e are dealing with a new sort of interdependence, one that emerged historically in a slow, spontaneous, and contingent way,” explains Moishe Postone. “Once the social formation based upon this new form of interdependence became fully developed, however (which occurred when labor power itself became a commodity), it acquired a necessary and systematic character; it has increasingly undermined, incorporated, and superseded other social forms, while becoming global in scale.”[38]

For all these reasons mentioned above, the claim that capitalism possesses an innate globality can be justified. Insofar as capitalism could have potentially emerged anywhere and at any time that the conditions necessary for its existence obtained, the space it inhabits can be said to be abstract. The fact that it would expand outwardly and swallow all other social forms that come into its orbit, irrespective of their specific, concrete, distinguishing features, also attests to its abstractness. Regardless of national, geographical, or artificial boundaries, capitalism is able to transgress every border. “Through rapid improvement in the instruments of production, through limitless ease of communication, the bourgeoisie drags all nations, even the most primitive ones, into civilisation,” Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto. “Cut-price commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces undeveloped societies to abandon even the most intense xenophobia. It forces all nations to adopt the bourgeois mode of production or go under; it forces them to introduce so-called civilisation amongst themselves, i.e. to become bourgeois. In a phrase, [capitalism] creates a world in its own image.”[39]

Indeed, quite early in their careers, Marx and Engels recognized the international character of the capitalist mode of production. What in 1848 was limited to only a few of the more developed nations in Europe and North America would within the course of a century reach the remotest parts of the globe. Marx and Engels noted that capitalism had this unifying effect on all the nations and cultures of the world, such that for the first time there was truly a world market. Through this, the two young authors contended, this new global interdependence revealed itself:

Through the exploitation of the world market the bourgeoisie has made the production and consumption of all countries cosmopolitan. It has pulled the national basis of industry right out from under the reactionaries, to their consternation. Long-established national industries have been destroyed and are still being destroyed daily. They are being displaced by new industries — the introduction of which becomes a life-and-death question for all civilised nations — industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials but use raw materials from the ends of the earth, industries whose products are consumed not only in the country of origin but in every part of the world. In place of the old needs satisfied by home production we have new ones which demand the products of the most distant lands and climes for their satisfaction. In place of the old local and national self-sufficiency and isolation we have a universal commerce, a universal dependence of nations on one another. As in the production of material things, so also with intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common currency. National partiality and narrowness become more and more impossible, and from the many national and local literatures a world literature arises.[40]

With the consolidation of the capitalist mode of production, no longer were there so many discrete, disconnected, and incomparable societies existing in relative isolation from each other. In their stead there arose a single, monolithic, and all-encompassing entity called Society. Only in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries did authors first begin writing of “society” as such, rather than with reference to this or that particular society. And so also was it only with Comte, Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, and Weber — from the middle part of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth — that the discipline of “sociology” carved out its place amongst the division of the human sciences.

“Bourgeois society carried out the process of socializing society,” wrote the Marxist theorist, Georg Lukács. “Capitalism destroyed both the spatio-temporal barriers between different lands and territories and also the legal partitions between the different ‘estates’…Man becomes, in the true sense of the word, a social being. Society becomes the reality for man.”[41] Society treats its members, its constituent parts, as belonging to “a general whole that is substantially homogeneous — a totality.”[42] No longer do they appear as divided into qualitatively different estates in which membership was more or less determined by birth. Neither is society absolutely divided along national or regional lines, into fundamentally distinct societies. Instead, as Adorno noted, “‘Society’ in the stronger sense…represents a certain kind of intertwinement which leaves nothing out; one essential characteristic of such a society — even though it may be modified or negated — is that its individual elements are presented as relatively equal.” Appealing to the authority of a nineteenth-century Swiss sociologist, Adorno specified “the concept of society…as an essentially bourgeois term, or a ‘concept of the third estate.’”[43] Society, it would seem, is only as old as capitalism.

But what is it specifically about capitalism that compels it stretch outward, absorbing non-capitalist societies along the way? What is the root of its cosmopolitanism? It was the later Marx, in his groundbreaking Grundrisse for the critique of political economy, who would pinpoint the specific aspect of capitalism that lay behind its international movement. The lynchpin of capitalism’s global spatiality was to be “located” in its drive to open up new markets, in the realm of circulation, to reach greater and greater distances by revolutionizing the means of transport and communication. “The more production comes to rest on exchange value, hence on exchange, the more important do the physical conditions of exchange — the means of communication and transport — become for the costs of circulation,” observed Marx. “Capital by its nature drives beyond every spatial barrier. Thus the creation of the physical conditions of exchange — of the means of communication and transport — the annihilation of space by time — becomes an extraordinary necessity for it.”[44]

As the critical geographer and Marxist scholar David Harvey has noted, the centrifugal movement of capitalism relies upon a general improvement of the means of transport and communication, such that the turnover time (production + circulation time) required for commodities to realize their value is consequently shortened. Proportionate to the shortening of this turnover time, moreover, is the widening of the scope of capital’s potential reach. “The reduction in realization and circulation costs helps to create, therefore, fresh room for capital accumulation,” writes David Harvey. “Put the other way around, capital accumulation is bound to be geographically expansionary and to be so by progressive reductions in the costs of communication and transportation.”[45] The result of this continuous expansion is the creation of the “world market” Marx had talked about in the Manifesto. As Marx would later put it: “If the progress of capitalist production and the consequent development of the means of transport and communication shortens the circulation time for a given quantity of commodities, the same progress and the opportunity provided by the development of the means of transport and communication conversely introduces the necessity of working for ever more distant markets, in a word, for the world market.”[46] And so it is by the creation of this global market that capitalism inevitably “conquers the world,” imposing its logic onto the preexisting social structures with which it comes into contact:

[W]hile capital must on one side strive to tear down every spatial barrier to intercourse, i.e. to exchange, and conquer the whole earth for its market, it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time, i.e. to reduce to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another. The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time.[47]

Moreover, as David Harvey has pointed out: “Marx also argued that the historic tendency of capitalism is to destroy and absorb non-capitalist modes of production at the same time as it uses them to create fresh room for capital accumulation.”[48] Even beyond this, Marx identified the impetus for this tendency in the prehistory of capitalism, in the mercantilist push outward in “the age of discovery.” Mercantilism, which was primarily motivated by the search for precious metals, seamlessly laid the groundwork for commodity export to the colonies in the centuries that followed. “The hunt for gold in all countries leads to its discovery; to the formation of new states; initially to the spread of commodities, which produce new needs, and draw distant continents into the metabolism of circulation, i.e. exchange,” wrote Marx, in Notebook II of the Grundrisse. “Thus,” he continued, “in this respect, as the general representative of wealth and as individualized exchange value, it was doubly a means for expanding the universality of wealth, and for drawing the dimensions of exchange over the whole world; for creating the true generality [Allgemeinheit] of exchange value in substance and in extension.”[49]

This was the way in which Marx understood the global expansion of capital — its general extension throughout the world. The tendency that the young Marx and Engels identified in their Manifesto, regarding this new form of international interdependence, would thus later have its mechanism explained by Marx in his more mature reflections on capital. Through capitalism’s ceaseless drive to enhance its systems of transportation and communication, the commodities it produced spread further and further afield. The need for capital to constantly “annihilate” distances in space through the improvement of its locomotive forces ensured that any spatial barrier capitalism ran up against would not last long. From the age of discovery to the industrial revolution, Marx pinpointed the dynamic of capitalism’s global spatial growth.

American cartoon from 1888 depicting John Bull (England) as the Octopus of Imperialism

2. The Marxist theory of imperialism as a special phase of capitalist expansion

Beyond Marx’s own theory of spatiality as it pertained to the process of capitalist circulation, the later Marxist theory of imperialism also offered important contributions to the analysis of the spatial dimensions of capital. As is well known, the age of capitalist imperialism reached its height in the decades following Marx’s death, and so he did not articulate a theory of imperialism himself. The next generation of Marxist theorists who succeeded him, coming out of the Second International, however, were witnessing an unprecedented acceleration of the global expansion of capital. Its basis, it seemed to them, could not be explained by commodity circulation alone. Quite a number of Marxist political and economic theorists — Rudolf Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Grigorii Zinoviev, and Nikolai Bukharin — struggled to make sense of this apparently new phenomenon. A brief look at some of their work on the subject can help build upon the spatial aspect of Marx’s original theory.

Hilferding, building on Marx’s theory of industrial capital, analyzed imperialist expansion as part of his work on Finance Capital. Writing primarily on this new form of capital (finance capital), in which large-scale monopolist banks speculated and invested their money into equally large-scale industrial monopolies, Hilferding identified a new trend in the global network of capitalist production: the export of capital. The export of capital, he asserted, now took its place alongside the export of domestic commodities, as “the export of value which is intended to breed surplus value abroad.”[50] This injection of raw value into foreign industries or foreign infrastructure was an even more nebulous process than the export of the value embodied in commodities, which at least had the decency to take on physical form. As Lenin would later put it, in his own chapter on “the export of capital,” this new phase of capitalist circulation could be differentiated from its predecessor as follows: “Typical of the old capitalism, when free competition held undivided sway, was the export of goods. Typical of the latest stage of capitalism, when monopolies rule, is the export of capital.”[51] In this, he was echoing Hilferding. Zinoviev likewise stressed this point at the conclusion of his essay, “What is Imperialism?”, in which he stated that “[i]mperialism signifies the highest stage in the development of capitalism, in which not only commodity exports but capital exports as well occupy a place of quintessential importance.”[52]

For Lenin and Hilferding, the most significant motivator in the spread of imperialist international relations lay in ongoing crises taking place in the core of the capitalist world system. Because the surplus-capital generated in advanced industrial countries could no longer be invested profitably in the domestic sphere, the financiers of the new capitalism targeted the most underdeveloped countries, where they could then “open up” virgin territories for capital investment and fresh markets for the circulation of domestic commodities. “The need to export capital,” Lenin observed, “arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become ‘overripe’ and (owing to the backward state of agriculture and the poverty of the masses) capital cannot find a field for ‘profitable’ investment.”[53] Though generally imperialism at first helped modernize the transport networks and consumer goods industries of the territories subjugated to its rule,[54] Lenin, taking a page from the non-Marxist John Atkinson Hobson,[55] noted that eventually the capitalist associations of the occupying power began to overstay their welcome, leeching parasitically off of the wealth of the nation they had helped to develop.[56]

Bukharin, who in general followed upon the findings of Lenin and Hilferding, may have been the one most aware of the spatial dynamics implied by capitalism in its form as imperialism. Framing his analysis of imperialism explicitly in terms of the “world economy,” Bukharin proceeded to parse out the international division of labor, the international circulation of capital and commodities, and the international movement of raw materials from some countries to their use in manufacture in others. Everywhere he pointed out the intricate interconnection of the various spheres of economy, none of them existing in isolation from each other. Early on in his masterwork, Imperialism and World Economy, Bukharin thus traced out the spatial concatenations of capital:

The growth of international economic connections, and consequently the growth of the system of production relations on a worldwide scale, may be of two kinds. International connections may grow in scope, spreading over territories not yet drawn into the vortex of capitalist life. In that case we speak of the extensive growth of world economy. On the other hand, they may assume greater depth, become more frequent, forming, as it were, a thicker network. In that case we have an intensive growth of world economy.[57]

In this passage the spatiality of capitalism is obvious; as Bukharin has pointed out, the relations of the world economy could “grow” in two different directions: extensively, or intensively. With imperialism, the compulsive overproduction of capital led to a surfeit of surplus-value. This necessitated the extension of a nation’s capital into new regions of the world, where this overabundance of capital can be invested. “The development of productive forces moves within the narrow limits of state boundaries while it has already outgrown those limits,” wrote Bukharin. “Under such conditions there inevitably arises a conflict, which, given the existence of capitalism, is settled through extending the state frontiers in bloody struggles, a settlement which holds the prospect of new and more grandiose conflicts.”[58] The grandiosity of these conflicts is underscored by their spatial magnitude, the fact that these conflicts are taking place on a world stage. No sooner is a boundary erected than a new frontier presents itself.

Luxemburg theorized the spread of imperialism in different terms than did Hilferding, Lenin, Zinoviev, or Bukharin. Rather than couching the problem in terms of “the export of capital,” she located the mainspring of imperialist expansion in the lending of international loans. Insofar as loans constitute a sort of capital investment, however, Luxemburg’s treatment of the subject is relatively analogous to that of Hilferding, Lenin, and Bukharin. As she phrased it in her economic magnum opus, The Accumulation of Capital,

[t]he imperialist phase of capitalist accumulation which implies universal competition comprises the industrialisation and capitalist emancipation of the hinterland where capital formerly realised its surplus value. Characteristic of this phase are: lending abroad, railroad constructions, revolutions, and wars. The last decade, from 1900 to 1910, shows in particular the world-wide movement of capital, especially in Asia and neighbouring Europe: in Russia, Turkey, Persia, India, Japan, China, and also in North Africa.[59]

Luxemburg likewise realized, along with Lenin and Hilferding, that the international loan system was at first beneficial to the accumulation of capital in the backward states, and to the development of its means of communication and transportation (telegraphy and railroads, etc.). Later, as both she and Lenin noticed, the benefits of the imperial-colonial relationship were outlived by the structures of domination it left behind. This dialectical interplay between the beneficence and maleficence of the imperialist involvement in subjugated colonies led to obvious tensions between the metropole and the periphery.[60]

What all five Marxist authors agreed on was the global effect that imperialism would have in extending capitalist relations to the remaining non-capitalist territories of the world. Zinoviev put it bluntly: “Modern imperialism is the social-economic policy of finance capital tending toward the creation of the most comprehensive economic territorial entities and world empires possible.[61] This, in turn, owed to the necessity of outward expansion entailed by imperialism. The spatial dimension of this new form of foreign investment (whether as “the export of capital” or “international loans”) existed in the aggressively expansionary political policies that resulted when domestic interests in foreign industry became endangered or as profits in exploited territories dwindled. The only hope for capitalism’s perpetuation seemed to lie in perpetual expansion. “[T]he export of capital is a condition for the rapid expansion of capitalism,” wrote Hilferding. “In social terms, this expansion is an essential condition for the perpetuation of capitalist society as a whole, while economically it is a condition for maintaining, and at times increasing, the rate of profit.”[62] Bukharin likewise saw this continuous outward push of imperialist expansion as an inevitable result of capitalism’s drive to reproduce itself in order to survive. “The entire structure of world economy in our times forces the bourgeoisie to pursue an imperialist policy. As the colonial policy is inevitably connected with violent methods, so every capitalist expansion leads sooner or later to a bloody climax.”[63]

This expansionist imperative gradually usurped older forms of bourgeois ideology that had existed prior to the advent of monopoly capitalism. All the more mature capitalist states were now compelled to spread their influence further across the globe. As Hilferding wrote, the old (post-1815) bourgeois ideal of a community of nations was replaced: “The ideal now is to secure for one’s own nation the domination of the world, an aspiration which is as unbounded as the capitalist lust for profit from which it springs. Capital becomes the conqueror of the world, and with every new country that it conquers there are new frontiers to be crossed.”[64] Taking up this thread of Hilferding’s analysis, Lenin remarked that “finance capital, literally, one might say, spreads its net over all countries of the world.”[65] Later, attempting to provide a comprehensive definition of imperialism, Lenin wrote: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development…in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”[66] Luxemburg’s assessment of the spatial dynamic of imperialism was largely in accordance with their views. “Imperialism,” she recorded, “is the political expression of the accumulation of capital in its competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment.”[67]

The historical specificity of this Marxist theory of imperialism, in all of the iterations it took during this period, should not be overlooked. The theorists we have discussed were each trying to account for the startling acceleration of capitalist expansion unfolding before their very eyes. Each of them understood this expansion as a movement of capital necessitated by conditions in the great metropoles of the world, leading to territorial domination and international competition amongst the major powers of Europe, the United States, and Imperial Japan. Modern imperialism was seen as a new phase within the capitalist mode of production, arising out of a new social configuration of capital. If this phenomenon had to be given a rough periodicity, it would probably begin in 1882 with the establishment of British hegemony in Egypt, running through the post-World War I mandate system, finally ending in 1947 with the independence of the Indian sub-continent, as the colonial systems began to disintegrate after the Second World War. The “imperialism” of more recent times bears only a passing resemblance to the imperialism theorized by Lenin et al.; neo-imperialism would probably be a more proper term. Regardless, they were describing a very real and new development of capitalism, as the abstract spatiality it possessed was extended to every corner of the globe.

3. The abstract spatiality of global capitalism

The space of capitalist imperialism thus seeks to consume everything that lies outside of its radius. It is a homogenizing space — it takes all that is different, heterogeneous, and external to it and makes them more like itself. The non-capitalist structures that capitalist imperialism brushes up against lose their identity to the all-encompassing logic of capital. If the abstract temporal aspect of capital can be called “Newtonian,” its abstract spatial component can be called Cartesian — almost an empty grid of length, breadth, and width. Considered in itself, it is thus a sort of vacuous res extensa, conceptually distinguishable from the objects that occupy it. In relation to the concrete objects it pulls into its fold, this space is wholly abstract, ethereal, and invisible. Yet it wraps them in its essence, imbuing them with its likeness. And so too does it encapsulate the social relations that are objectified in these products and their built environment. The space of capitalism leaves nothing untouched.

Moreover, this abstract spatiality of capitalism is sometimes intercalated with the dimension of its abstract temporality. These two aspects of capital can combine to form the conditions in which commodity fetishism and reification can take place. The isotropic character of abstract space of capital, taken together with the isochronous character of abstract time in capital, form a static and repetitive spatiotemporal structure in which the negation of historical time is possible. The consciousness that conditions are fluid, transient, and subject to historical change is eliminated within this sphere. “As labour is progressively rationalised and mechanised [the worker’s] lack of will is reinforced by the way in which his activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative,” wrote Lukács, in his seminal work on reification. “The contemplative stance adopted towards a process mechanically conforming to fixed laws and enacted independently of man’s consciousness and impervious to human intervention, i.e. a perfectly closed system, must likewise transform the basic categories of man’s immediate attitude to the world: it reduces space and time to a common denominator and degrades time to the dimension of space.”[68] Trapped within the stagnancy of this space, his mind dulled by the repetitive, mechanical labor, the worker is confounded by the seemingly timeless objective qualities of the things and conditions that surround him. Any trace of historical recognition is lost, and false consciousness sets in. As the French Marxist and intellectual Lefebvre put it, “this expulsion or erasure of time is directed at historical time.”[69]

Speaking of Lefebvre, it may be noticed that in his own work he developed his own notion of an “abstract space” emerging out of the dynamic of “abstract labor” under capitalism. Here might be a good place to spell out exactly how our use of the term in the present essay both intersects with and departs from Lefebvre’s concept. The chief difference, it will be seen, lies in Lefebvre’s conflation of the abstract and concrete spaces of capital, such that he desired to extract from the essence of abstract space an inner contradiction that in fact belongs to the concrete spatiality of capitalism. For it should be stressed, for the purposes of the present essay, that while abstract and concrete space are conceptually distinct, in reality they are closely bound to one another and in fact spatially overlap. This is perhaps why Lefebvre confuses the two. That this is the case will be made clear from the following exposition.

In his major work on the subject of spatiality, The Production of Space, Lefebvre developed his own notion of “abstract space.” From our description of the phenomenon above, it can be seen how his understanding of abstract space roughly coincides with the account given here. “Abstract space,” wrote Lefebvre, “is not defined only by the disappearance of trees, or by the receding of nature; nor merely by the great empty spaces of the state and the military — plazas that resemble parade grounds; nor even by commercial centres packed tight with commodities, money and cars. It is not in fact defined on the basis of what is perceived.”[70] In other words, this abstract space cannot be identified by the concrete objects that inhabit it.

As Lefebvre observed, the change undergone by society once engulfed by the abstract space of capital is more immediately noticeable in the altered relations of production rather than the actual products themselves. Lefebvre thus noted the manner in which “[t]he reproduction of the social relations of production within this [abstract] space inevitably obeys two tendencies: the dissolution of old relations on the one hand and the generation of new relations on the other.”[71] Wherever the abstract space of capital enters new territories, it tends to create the same concrete contradictions that exist throughout the capitalist mode of production. “It is in [abstract] space that the world of commodities is deployed,” wrote Lefebvre, “along with all that it entails: accumulation and growth, calculation, planning, programming. Which is to say that abstract space is that space where the tendency to homogenization exercises its pressure and its repression with the means at its disposal.”[72]

Another strong tendency of abstract space was highlighted by Lefebvre is its quantitative (and indeed “geometric”) character. In this, he parallels our own definition of abstract space as Cartesian. Like abstract time, this quantitative feature of abstract space gradually overtakes the qualitative spaces that exist before it. “Abstract space is measurable,” wrote Lefebvre. “Not only is it quantifiable as geometrical space, but as social space, it is subject to quantitative manipulations: statistics, programming, projections — all are operationally effective here. The dominant tendency, therefore, is towards the disappearance of the qualitative, towards its assimilation subsequent upon such brutal or seductive treatment.”[73] This space is eminently calculable, in its distances, its vortices, its contours. Through this space, for Lefebvre, the state can enact all of its political machinations. Thereby the old Baconian dictum that “knowledge is power” is vindicated: “we find that abstract space is hard to distinguish from the space of the philosophers, in their fusion of the intelligible (res extensa) with the political.”[74]

Lefebvre’s definition of “abstract space” comes into conflict with our own more when he collapses it with his separate notion of “contradictory space,” a space which in our own understanding of the term would belong to the concrete dimension of space under capitalism. In this vein, he wrote: “Abstract space is not homogeneous; it simply has homogeneity as its goal, its orientation, its ‘lens.’ And indeed, it renders homogeneous. But in itself it is multiform. Its geometric and visual formants are complimentary in their antithesis.”[75] Despite its tendency to create the same set of conditions everywhere it gains a foothold, Lefebvre here noted the antagonisms inherent in these conditions. For “abstract space harbours specific contradictions,” no doubt, yet it is not the same as these contradictions; it rather encases them.[76] It is more readily identifiable in the homogenizing tendencies to which it gives rise. Abstract space itself is selfsame; it is the concrete spatial relationships, the empire of objects that come under its rule, that manifest the numerous contradictions of the capitalist system. By carefully distinguishing the abstract sameness of the concrete differences from the concrete differences themselves, Lefebvre’s notion of abstract space is clarified and brought closer to our own.

Finally, the spread of the abstract space of capitalism — along with its imperialist extension — is wholly coterminous with globalization. And insofar as it effectively is globalization, it is literally the creation of the world (considered as a single, unitary entity). It is the radical dispersion of that which had hitherto been concentrated, the exosmosis of its being beyond all borders and spatial limits. It seeks to achieve self-enclosed equilibrium despite the vast inequalities it contains. This abstract spatial aspect of capitalism honors no boundaries and respects no local traditions. It permeates everything; it draws all of society into what Bukharin called “the vortex of capitalist relations.”

The City of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

B. Concrete, topographical space

Whatever the preexisting antagonisms of precapitalist societies may have been, once a new territory has been enveloped by capitalism’s ever-expanding abstract spatiality, it imposed its own pattern of contradictory relations upon it. The concrete institutions and forms of association that had been established prior to the spread of commodity-production to a region may have survived the sequence of violent upheavals that capitalism forced upon it, but their essence was forever changed. In some cases old contradictions vanished, only to see new contradictions arise. Whereas the abstract space of capital is conceptually empty, the people and objects that inhabit it are concretely embodied, and their contradictory and antagonistic relations to one another are concretely manifested.

Descending from the abstract globality of capitalism’s spatiality to the highest levels of its concrete incarnation, we arrive at the modern nation-state. We find ourselves asking a question that Lefebvre posed at a pivotal moment in his Production of Space. “How and why,” he asked, “is it that the advent of a world market, implying a degree of unity at the level of the planet, gives rise to a fractioning of space — to proliferating nation states, to regional differentiation and self-determination, as well as to multinational states and transnational corporation which, although they stem this strange tendency towards fission, also exploit it in order to reinforce their own autonomy? Towards what space and time will such interwoven contradictions lead us?”[77]

Indeed, one of the most concrete, yet contradictory, spatial novelties of the capitalist era was the invention of the nation-state. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the modern nation-state was (and remains) the concrete political expression of the bourgeoisie. This new national consciousness, or Volksgeist,[78] came into conflict not only with aristocratic-monarchical structures that had preceded it, but also with more regional and linguistic identities that did not conform to the established geographical boundaries of a given nation. At this point, in its unifying capacity, nationalism played an eminently progressive role in dissolving the feudal bonds of vassalage, and along with it the extended kingdoms and fiefdoms that had formed during the medieval era.

However, no sooner did the form of the nation-state attain ascendance over these antiquated social systems than it was superseded at the social and economic level by world capitalist intercourse. At this point, national structures were forced to negotiate the international character of commodity-production and universal trade while defending their own basis (and spatial borders) in terms of common populist bonds — whether ethnically or linguistically defined. Contradictions also arose between nations and the spatial distribution of capitalist development, with some parts of the world enjoying a high concentration of capital — with all the wealth and technological innovations brought with it — while others experienced a dearth. “Within [the] global framework, as might be expected,” remarked Lefebvre, “the Leninist principle of uneven development applies in full force: some countries are still only in the earliest stages of the production of things (goods) in space, and only the most industrialized and urbanized ones can exploit to the full the new possibilities opened up by technology and knowledge.”[79]

Some of the contradictory spaces that one finds under capitalism were not wholly engendered by capitalism. In fact, one of them predated capitalism by several centuries. The antithesis of town and country, for example, existed long before the abstract space of capitalism spread its net over both of these spaces, ever since feudal times. This antagonism remained prominent under capitalism, for example, but now in an exacerbated form. The town, formerly almost totally dependent on the countryside for food and provisions, now gained the upper hand. The countryside, in which most of the population had lived up to that point, now found itself subjugated to the rule of the town, with huge numbers of the dislodged peasantry moving to the cities to find work.

Nor did the character of the city itself remain the same. Once the seat of all political authority in medieval times, the commercial character of the city began to predominate over it in the era of mercantilism. This in turn was increasingly usurped by the industrial function of the city, as factory clusters became more prominent in the towns and the thin outline of blackened smokestacks rose to dominate the skyline.[80] Needless to say, these transitions were not accomplished according to any preestablished plan, and so new sites of construction were grafted upon the older neighborhoods and districts. The result was an intense agglomeration of contradictory structures existing alongside each other, the accumulated detritus of dead epochs. The old beside the new, the antiquated beside the modern, the sleek utilitarian warehouses next to the most atavistic façades — in short, the most concrete anachronisms imaginable could be witnessed in close proximity to one another. “Our world, like a charnel-house, is strewn with the detritus of dead epochs,” proclaimed the renowned urbanist Le Corbusier. The historical accretions of centuries of development piled upon one another, leaving the face of the city irrevocably transformed.

In the final subsection of our treatment of the concrete space of capitalism, the precise character of this concrete space, at both levels of analysis, will be clarified. The “topographical” nature of concrete space will also be further explained. Moreover, in reflecting on the nature of this form of space, we will be able to note the level on which it matches up with Lefebvre’s notion of “contradictory space.” Finally, taking a page from the Leninist/Trotskyist idea of “uneven development,” as well as from the young Ernst Bloch’s concept of “non-synchronicity,” the concrete dimension of space as constituted under capitalism will be concluded.

Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the Revolution” (1830)

1. The rise of the nation-state

Prior to the rise of the nation-state in Western Europe, the main forms of spatial organization were largely feudal in nature. That is to say, the space of political sovereignty was mostly concentrated in the hands of a number of separate patrimonial kingdoms, fiefdoms, and autonomous principalities. Power typically radiated from a monarch, who in turn divided the administration of his kingdom through the system of vassalage. Under this system, appropriated seigneurial rights were granted to individual lords in return for some sort of service, usually military in nature, whereby the lord entered into a contract with his superior in exchange for an oath of fealty, entailing a certain set of duties and obligations.[81] Occidental feudalism, based on the spatial distribution of lands or fiefs (referred to by Weber as Lehensfeudalismus) within a kingdom or principality, could have its political territories further subdivided through the process of sub-infeudation, in which a lord would obtain oaths of fealty from a number of sub-vassals, whose loyalty belonged to him.[82] On any one of these fiefdoms, regardless of level, there also lived subjects — “patrimonial dependents” who lived under the authority of the lord of their fief. To them, no political power was granted.

“The concept of the nation is a late arrival; it was alien to the Middle Ages,” noted Adorno, in his 1965 lectures on History and Freedom.[83] Indeed, the notion of a concrete “people” — linked to one another through geography, language, or common traditions and enclosed within defined borders — was nowhere to be found in Europe during the age of feudalism. There were only subjects who served their lords, who in turn served their overlords, all the way up to the monarch. Freedom and political authority was reserved for the few. Such was the nature of the feudal social formation.

The feudal order in Western Europe had itself emerged out of the disintegration of the Roman Empire.[84] In the East some of the larger imperial formations remained — the Byzantine Empire centered around Constantinople, and the Holy Roman Empire in the territories that had been conquered by Charlemagne and his Carolingian successors. These large imperial states existed alongside the more disparate feudal states to the west, where the political and economic topography was more broken up. Individual fiefs were more loosely affiliated with one another, through bonds of loyalty and mutual dependence. Nevertheless, at this point the structure was still deeply hierarchical. Still, it was here in Western Europe that the socioeconomic forces of capitalism would eventually first crystallize, and along with it the political form of the nation-state.

Foreign trade was not altogether unknown in the feudal epoch. It was just that such long-distance commercial activity was still limited, and so most of the exchange that went on took place in smaller spheres of town and country relations. Up through the thirteenth century, these spheres gradually widened their scope. During this period, “the various economic nuclei expanded therewith. New frontier lands were cultivated. New towns were founded. Population grew.”[85] Following this growth, however, a series of large-scale peasant revolts — alongside a long string of severe winters — taking place from the mid-fourteenth through the early fifteenth centuries led to population decline and a corresponding crisis in agriculture and trade. As Immanuel Wallerstein put it: “From about 1150 to 1300, there was an expansion in Europe within the framework of the feudal mode of production, an expansion at once geographic, commercial, and demographic. From about 1300 to 1450, what expanded contracted, again at the three levels of geography, commerce, and demography.”[86]

All this set the stage for the gradual uprooting of the feudal social configuration in the latter half of the fifteenth century, continuing on all the way up through the eighteenth century. Engels determined that this decline of feudal authority rested largely upon the rising importance of the production of goods in late medieval towns as well as on the newfound economic emphasis placed on money. The nobility, whose power resided chiefly in the value of their land and feudal holdings, now found themselves undermined by the more flexible value of commercial capital and primitive commodity export. By the late fifteenth century,

[m]oney was again becoming a general medium of exchange, so that the amount of it in circulation was much greater than it had been. Even the noble needed it now, and since he had little or nothing to sell, since also banditry had ceased to be easy, he was faced with the necessity of calling on the urban money-lender. Long before the ramparts of the baronial castles were breached by the new artillery, they had already been undermined by money; in fact, gunpowder could be described as an executor of the judgment rendered by money. The citizenry of the towns used money as a carpenter uses his plane: as a tool to level political inequality. Wherever a personal relationship was replaced by a monetary relationship, a rendering of goods by a rendering of money, that was the place where a bourgeois pattern took the place of a feudal pattern. By and large, of course, the brutal system of “natural economy” remained in most cases. Nevertheless, there were already entire districts where, as in Holland, Belgium, and along the lower Rhine, the peasants paid money instead of goods and services to their overlords; where master and man had taken the first decisive steps in the direction of becoming landowner and tenant; and where, consequently, even in the countryside the political institutions of feudalism began to lose their social basis.[87]

Wallerstein likewise cites the increased demand for and supply of precious metals as a major factor in undermining the feudal mode of production. Major technological improvements in the field of silver mining in central Europe were coupled with the discovery of the Americas, and along with it the rich deposits of gold that lay therein.[88] Commerce boomed, opening up the hitherto more isolated spatial networks of feudalism and exposing them to longer-range trade. “So it was that the feudality of all Western Europe was in full decline during the fifteenth century,” recorded Engels. “Everywhere cities, with their anti-feudal interests, their own law, and their armed citizenry had wedged themselves into feudal territories; had, through money, in part established their social — and here and there even their political — ascendancy over the feudal lords.”[89]

It was through these new commercial circuits that the spatial barriers of feudalism were eroded and the contours of the nation slowly began to emerge. Commercial capital laid the groundwork for a new spatial sensibility. “The new nationalities had arisen gradually out of the confusion of peoples which characterized the early Middle Ages,” wrote Engels. “This is a process, in which, as is well known, the conquered assimilated the conquerors in the once Roman provinces; the peasants and townspeople absorbed the Germanic masters. Modern nationalities are thus the creations of the oppressed classes.”[90] Insofar as the incipient bonds of national feeling slowly began to replace the old bonds of feudal obligation, nationalism emphatically marked an advance over what had come before. The initially progressive aspect of the principle of nationality should not be so easily forgotten, despite the reactionary character that national chauvinism and jingoism would later embody. “There have been periods when the nation had a highly progressive function,” Adorno remarked to his students. “I need only remind you how much the development of communications, and hence the forces of production in general, was advanced by the collapse of the barriers erected by the small feudal monarchies, the states generally referred to under absolutism as petty principalities.”[91]

Despite the survival of many of the privileges of the clergy and landed aristocracy all the way up through nineteenth century, the largely decentralized political structures of feudalism on the continent gradually gave way to the increased concentration of power in the hands of the monarch. Thus was the political principle of absolutism born. In Britain, of course, the king’s power was greatly limited by the parliamentary legislature, but the overall trend of political centralization remained in effect even here. Simultaneously, the loosely connected spatial network of feudal estates was replaced by the space of the nation, which spanned much further distances than its predecessors. Populations living hundreds of miles from one another now found themselves tied together by the common bonds of nationality — a shared language, religion, or set of traditions. “Once the language groups had been fixed and their boundaries established,” Engels argued, “it was natural that they should serve as established foundations for the building of states, that the nationalities should begin to develop towards nations.”[92]

The socioeconomic correlate of this political transformation of dynastic and feudal estates into primitive nation-states in the later part of the sixteenth century was the creation of what Wallerstein has called “the capitalist world-economy”: “The politics of the ‘second’ sixteenth century was oriented to the creation of coherent nation-states obtaining politico-commercial advantages within the framework of a nonimperial world-economy.”[93] The growth of broader national bonds of unity, over and above the tendency to identify with one’s region or feudal lord, was crucial for the development of relations of commercial exchange. Both of these trends tended to reinforce each other; increased commercial relations creating ties where there had been none before, and new national ties facilitating the extension of commerce. Adorno summarized this development:

[I]t was only with the creation of modern nation-states that something like a universal legal system was established — for example, that of safe conduct and the like; above all, that it was only by bringing large territories together and combining them into a single political unit that it became possible to organize large bodies of people in a rational manner and in harmony with the principle of exchange. For previously, under the feudal system, groups of people were only loosely connected with one another and in those circumstances could not be welded together into the totality of bourgeois society. It is difficult to overestimate these achievements on the part of the nation-state as contrasted with feudalism.[94]

The economic dimension of this new society founded on exchange was underlined in the growth of market demand beyond the feudal system’s ability to produce. “The feudal or guild system in industry could no longer satisfy the increasing demand from new markets,” observed Marx and Engels, in the Manifesto. Small-scale manufacture took its place. The guildmasters were squeezed out by the middle ranks in industry; the division of labour between different guild corporations gave way to the division of labour within the individual workshop itself.”[95]

Out of the chaos and upheaval that was generally taking place as the old feudal order began to crumble, the bourgeoisie in the towns thus increasingly came into their own. Against the aristocracy, their main rivals, they tended to forge an alliance with the monarch, whose dependence on the often-disloyal nobles for military support under the vassalage system was deeply resented. “It is obvious that the monarchy was the progressive element in this general confusion,” stated Engels. “It represented order in chaos, the developing nation as against fragmentation into rebellious vassal-states…The alliance between monarchy and bourgeoisie dates from the tenth century.”[96] The various rulers of Western Europe thus encouraged the growth of national sentiments against the fractional allegiances to different feudal lords. Wallerstein, in giving his definition of the nation-state, explained how these monarchs looked to forge nation-states out of their burgeoning empires: “A nation-state is a territorial unit whose rulers seek…to make of it a national society…[F]rom the sixteenth century on, the nation-states of western Europe sought to create relatively homogeneous national societies at the core of empires, using the imperial venture as an aid, perhaps an indispensable one, to the creation of the national society.”[97]

Turning now to the spatial dimension of the rise of nations, as compared with what had come before, we may take a page from Lefebvre’s analysis of the phenomenon. His treatment of the subject brings into sharp relief the continued hierarchical character of national development. “When considered in relationship to space, the nation may be seen to have two moments or conditions,” wrote Lefebvre. “First, nationhood implies the existence of a market gradually built up over a historical period of varying length. Such a market is a complex ensemble of commercial relations and communication networks.” The correctness of Lefebvre’s interpretation on this point is verified by our preceding investigation, which linked the spread of nationalism to increased commercial activity from the second half of the fifteenth century onward. “[This market],” he continued, “subordinates local or regional markets to the national one, and thus must have a hierarchy of levels. The social, economic, and political development of a national market has been somewhat different in character in places where the towns came very early on to dominate the country, as compared with places where the towns grew up on a pre-existing peasant, rural, and feudal foundation.”[98]

Despite the bourgeoisie’s reliance on the institutional framework of the monarchies to achieve this dissolution of the aristocracy-dominated feudal system, “[w]e may say,” along with Adorno, “that the nation is the specifically bourgeois form of social organization.” He continued to underline the historically determinate nature of this phenomenon: “[I]t is a form of organization because it has emerged historically in certain definite units, whether geographical or linguistic in nature, or whether otherwise defined. It does not simply exist, but has had to fight to establish itself in the course of historical struggles.”[99] Adorno stressed that, contra Hegel, nations by no means existed throughout history. They only came into existence by undermining the old feudal order out of which it grew, by severing the bonds of feudality and replacing them the relations of exchange. The nation-state is the political expression of the third estate.

Indeed, a brief glance at the history of bourgeois political philosophy will serve to demonstrate the way in which the concept of nationality gradually rose to the level of consciousness in their writings. However, as Adorno made clear, they considered the legitimacy of the nation-state to be grounded in natural law, rather than the material laws of historical reality. Nevertheless, beginning in the first few decades of the seventeenth century, and extending all the way up through Hegel, the major bourgeois theoreticians almost uniformly wrote of the “nation,” even if some of them, like Hugo Grotius, still thought feudal laws retained some legitimacy.

Indeed, as early as Grotius, we begin to see the more traditional rights of the family and servitude displaced by the higher “right of the nation.” “The less extensive Right, and which is not derived from the Civil Power, though subject to it, is various, including in it the Commands of a Father to his Child, of a Master to his Servant, and the like,” recorded Grotius, in 1625. “But the more extensive Right, is the Right of Nations, which derives its Authority from the Will of all, or at least of many, Nations.”[100] Thomas Hobbes, in his famous Leviathan, spoke of a “law of nations” in connection with the concept of sovereignty.[101] By the time that John Locke had written his Two Treatises on Government, he felt that he could readily appeal to “the History of Nations” in making his claims about proper governance.[102] In all of these cases, the “law of nations” was closely interlinked to the concept of natural law. Johannes Gottlieb Heineccius went so far as to claim that “the law of nations is the law of nature, applied to social life, the affairs of societies, and of independent political bodies.”[103] Probably the most mature and comprehensive definition of the nation came in Emer de Vattel’s 1758 Law of Nations, or Principles of the Law of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns. Considered in itself, “[a] nation or a state,” he wrote, “is…a body politic, or a society of men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by their combined strength.”[104] With regard to foreign policy, Vattel added: “Nations being obliged by nature reciprocally to cultivate human society, are bound to observe towards each other all the duties which the safety and advantage of that society require.”[105]

Outside of those who specialized in writing treatises on natural law, it was thinkers such as David Hume, Montesquieu, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and G.W.F. Hegel who would write more about the specific “spirit” or “character” of each nation. Hume, for his part, remarked that — despite the frequent exaggeration of the fact — “each nation has a peculiar set of manners, and that some particular qualities are more frequently to be met with among one people than among their neighbours.”[106] Montesquieu went even further with this belief, writing that each particular nation had its own concrete “spirit,” the content of which the rulers would do best to follow. “The legislator is to follow the spirit of the nation,” he advised, “when doing so is not contrary to the principles of the government, for we do nothing better than what we do freely and by following our natural genius.”[107] Herder, writing on the subject of national character in literature, asserted that there was an underlying unity to all the great literary works of a nation. “Just as entire nations have one language in common,” wrote Herder in 1796, “so they also share favorite paths of the imagination, certain turns and objects of thought: in short, one genius that expresses itself, irrespective of any particular difference, in the best-loved works of each nation’s spirit and heart.”[108] In attempting to define the particular character of the German people, Fichte was obliged to give a more general definition of what constitutes a “people” (Volk) is in general. “[A] people is this,” he wrote: “the totality of men living together in society and continually producing themselves out of themselves both naturally and spiritually; which collectively stands under a certain special law that governs the development of the divine within it.”[109] Hegel, weighing in on the matter, wrote conclusively that “the state, as the spirit of a nation [Volk], is both the law which permeates all relations within it and also the customs and consciousness of the individuals who belong to it, the constitution of a specific nation will in general depend on the nature and development [Bildung] of its self-consciousness.”[110]

But just as the bourgeois form of the nation-state undermined and negated the various feudal states that had preceded it, so too did that same original impulse that gave birth to its concept push it beyond its spatial borders shortly thereafter. The aggressively expansionary character of capitalism, which transgressed the spatial limits of every fiefdom and principality, which put an end to feudal isolation as a whole, was not content to remain enclosed within the borders of the newly-found political form of the nation. Samuel von Pufendorf, whose own work built largely upon the prior accomplishments of Hobbes and Grotius, was out of all the writers on natural law perhaps the one who best recognized the economic force that lay behind the form of the nation. He noticed the way in which the international ties of commerce already pushed the young form of the nation-states beyond the spatial borders that it established for itself. Pufendorf thus wrote that

most nations easily discovered, upon leaving their primeval simplicity, that vulgar price alone did not sufficiently further men’s daily increasing business and commercial affairs. For commerce used to consist only of barter, and the labors of others could be secured in no other way than by mutual labor or handing a thing over. But after our desires made us need so many things, and we, not content with goods produced at home, had tasted the delights of lands with a different climate, it was by no means easy for anyone to possess such things as another might wish to exchange for things of his that we desired, or that were equivalent to these. And cultured states, where citizens are distinguished by various ranks, require many sorts of men who could either not maintain their lives at all, or only with difficulty, if that simple exchange of things and labors prevailed.[111]

No sooner had the form of the nation-state appeared on the stage of world history than it was superseded by the outward push of the socioeconomic forces to which it owed its origin. “[Capitalism] has pulled the national basis of industry right out from under the reactionaries, to their consternation,” declared the Manifesto. “Long-established national industries have been destroyed and are still being destroyed daily.” By what were these older forms of industry being destroyed? “They are being displaced by new industries — the introduction of which becomes a life-and-death question for all civilised nations — industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials but use raw materials from the ends of the earth, industries whose products are consumed not only in the country of origin but in every part of the world.”[112]

But despite the fact the spatial limits of the nation-state — the political expression of the bourgeoisie — were being surpassed, even though its form was being rendered more and more anachronistic with each passing day, the form of the nation-state remained. State authority resisted its dispersion, partially because nationalism came to exert its own (and often highly pernicious) influence over society independent of the form of exchange. The bourgeoisie fought to retain its nationalistic political structures even as its economic influence extended far beyond the range of its national borders. Lenin regarded the development of nations as necessary precondition for the development of international politics, even as their narrowness and parochial structures inhibited the further growth of supranational bonds. “Nations are an inevitable product, an inevitable form, in the bourgeois epoch of social development,” wrote Lenin. “The working class could not grow strong, become mature, and take shape without ‘constituting itself within the nation,’ without being ‘national’…The development of capitalism, however, breaks down national barriers more and more, does away with national seclusion, and substitutes class antagonisms for national antagonisms.”[113] Here Lenin located the precise contradiction that arises with the further elaboration of the expansionary tendency of capitalism, beyond the limitations of the nation-state. Just as the nation-state was the negation of the political structures of feudalism, so was international capital a negation of the absolute political autonomy of the different nation-states. To this day, this unresolved spatial tension endures, even as larger confederations (the European Union, for example) attempt to overcome centuries of national divisiveness.

The Disurbanist Vision of the Reconciliation between Town and Country (1930)

2. The antithesis between town and country and the genesis of the modern city

Transitioning now to the next level of spatial concreteness as it appears under capitalism, we arrive at the central Marxist antithesis between town and country. Or, as Marx put it early on in his German Ideology, “[t]he division of labour inside a nation leads at first to the separation of industrial and commercial from agricultural labour, and hence to the separation of town and country and to the conflict of their interests.”[114] This is a space of even more intense contradiction than was witnessed between the formation of the national state, as its topographical tensions with feudal parochialism and capitalist cosmopolitanism took place on a more extensive level. The opposition between town and country predated capitalism by several centuries, but never existed in so exacerbated a form as it would assume under the society of exchange. During feudalism, Marx wrote, “[e]ach country bore in itself the antithesis of town and country; the division into estates was certainly strongly marked; but apart from the differentiation of princes, nobility, clergy and peasants in the country, and masters, journeymen, and apprentices and soon also the rabble of casual labourers in the towns, no division of importance took place.”[115]

Many of the conflicts that preexisted capitalism were thus carried over into the new period of development. Under this emerging social form, the relations that characterized this opposition would take on an increasingly complex and transformed character. While there had always been a degree of interdependence between the two, the traditional state of affairs was such that the town relied much more on the countryside than the countryside on the town. As the asymmetry of this reality began to shift in favor of the town under the new order, the rivalry between rural and urban interests became more and more politicized. “[L]ater the antagonism between those states which represent town interests and those which represent country interests, and inside the towns themselves the antagonism between industry and maritime commerce,” wrote Marx.[116] Despite their efforts to maintain their former dominance, however, the nobility, whose base of power resided in the countryside, were increasingly forced to cede power to the superior strength of the bourgeoisie living in the towns. “As early as the fifteenth century, the townspeople played a more crucial role in society than the feudality,” wrote Engels.[117]

And so it came to pass that capitalism “subjected the country to the rule of the town. It has created enormous cities, vastly inflated the urban population as opposed to the rural.”[118] David Harvey’s geographical analysis of this trend, stated early in the Manifesto, underscores the spatial dynamics of these contradictory spheres: “[O]nce in power, the bourgeoisie continued to pursue its revolutionary mission in part via geographical transformations which are both internal and external. Internally, the creation of great cities and rapid urbanization bring the towns to rule over the country (simultaneously rescuing the latter from the ‘idiocy’ of rural life and reducing the peasantry to a subaltern class). Urbanization concentrates productive forces as well as labor power in space, transforming scattered populations and decentralized systems of property rights into massive concentrations of political and economic power.”[119] Not only was the peasantry reduced to an even more subordinate social position, however. Even the feudal nobility saw its power decline as they began to rely on the towns to provide them with supplies: “[T]he needs of the nobility itself had so increased and changed that even they could not do without the cities: after all, it was in the cities that the noble obtained his own special ‘tools’ — armour and weapons. Domestic textiles, furniture and ornament, Italian silk, the laces of Brabant, furs from the North, the perfumes of Araby, fruits from the Levant, and spices from India: everything but soap he had to buy from the townspeople.”[120]

While we must reject Lefebvre’s passing remark in The Production of Space that the formal boundaries between town and country have been wholly erased[121] (they have only been blurred), he nevertheless offers a valuable analysis of the fundamental shift that took place in the history of capitalism. This shift was precisely the transition from the rule of the countryside to the rule of the towns. Lefebvre carefully traced out the topographical consequences of this fundamental change:

At one moment in the history of the European West, an event of great importance occurred, but one that remained latent because it went unnoticed. The importance of the city for the social whole became such that the whole seemed to shift. In the relationship between town and country, the emphasis was still on the countryside: real property wealth, the products of the soil, attachment to the land (owners of fiefs or noble titles). Compared with the countryside, the town retained its heterotopic character, marked by its ramparts as well as the transition to suburban areas. At a given moment, these various relationships were reversed; the situation changed. The moment when this shift occurred, this reversal of heterotopy, should be marked along our axis. From this moment on, the city would no longer appear as an urban island in a rural ocean. It would no longer seem a paradox, a monster, a hell or heaven that contrasted sharply with village or country life in a natural environment. It entered people’s awareness and understanding as one of the terms in the opposition between town and country. Country? It is now no more than — nothing more than — the town’s “environment,” its horizon, its limit. Villagers? As far as they were concerned, they no longer worked for the territorial lords, they produced for the city, for the urban market. And even though they realized that the wheat and wood merchants exploited them, they understood that the path to freedom crossed the marketplace.[122]

Lefebvre located this moment as having taken place at some point in the sixteenth century, after which society underwent a long series of spatial displacements, the movement of populations, and the annexation of formerly outlying agricultural space to the space of the city. While hesitant to assign an exact date to this transformation, he nevertheless felt that it occurred sometime between the years 1500 and 1600: “In the Western Europe of the sixteenth century ‘something’ of decisive importance took place. This ‘something,’ however, was not a datable event, nor an institutional change, nor even a process clearly measurable by some economic yardstick, such as the growth of a particular form of production or the appearance of a particular market.” Despite the difficulty in determining its chronology, Lefebvre maintained that “[t]he West was nevertheless turned upside down. The town overtook the country in terms of its economic and practical weight, in terms of its social importance; land ownership lost its former absolute primacy. Society underwent a global change, but one uneven in its effects, as becomes apparent as soon as we consider particular sectors, elements, moments, or institutions.”[123] Cities began a process of gradual “agglomeration” and internal (sectoral) rearrangement.[124] So at the same time, the space of the town itself was transformed. It became, in Lefebvre’s words, “urban” — and entailed what he called an “urban revolution.”[125]

During this period, the function of the city within society also took on a more central role. Its increasing concentration of the population, of the forces of production, etc., stood in complete contradiction to the thinning population of the countryside, its lack of industrialization, and its general provincialism. Urban space, urbanity as a whole, implied an ever-growing complexity and process of sophistication, while rural space, rusticity, implied an increasing simplicity and stultification. “The existence of the town implies…the necessity of administration, police, taxes, etc., in short, of the municipality, and thus of politics in general,” wrote Marx. “The town already is in actual fact the concentration of the population, of the instruments of production, of capital, of pleasures, of needs, while the country demonstrates just the opposite fact, isolation and separation.”[126] The town still parasitically consumed the surplus-production of the countryside, but its importance as a military and administrative center outweighed the role of the country as a provider of agricultural goods.[127]

With industrialization, the physiognomy of the city experienced a new series of transformations, a number of concrete rearrangements and redistributions that led to a fresh set of contradictions. During the nineteenth century, the huge influx of the population from the countryside to the cities resulted in the growth of the cities not only extensively (i.e., moving outward), but also intensively (i.e., centralizing further). This meant acute housing shortages and overcrowding, of the kind described by Engels in The Housing Question, which he wrote in 1872. The greater concentration of industrial and commercial capital led to the supervaluation of the city’s core, such that residency in these districts rapidly became unaffordable to the majority of the city’s growing population. “The growth of the big modern cities gives the land in certain areas, particularly in those which are centrally situated, an artificial and often colossally increasing value; the buildings erected on these areas depress this value, instead of increasing it, because they no longer correspond to the changed circumstances,” recorded Engels. “They are pulled down and replaced by others. This takes place above all with workers’ houses which are situated centrally and whose rents, even with the greatest overcrowding, can never, or only very slowly, increase above a certain maximum. They are pulled down and in their stead shops, warehouses and public buildings are erected.”[128]

This increasing centralization of commercial and financial buildings within the city thus meant at the same time the decentralization of most residential property, including the workers’ hovels, on the periphery of the town. “The result,” Engels noted, “is that the workers are forced out of the centre of the towns towards the outskirts; that workers’ dwellings, and small dwellings in general, become rare and expensive and often altogether unobtainable, for under these circumstances the building industry, which is offered a much better field for speculation by more expensive houses, builds workers’ dwellings only by way of exception.”[129] Lefebvre saw this process of “suburbanization” as moreover a calculated product of class strategy, so as to dislocate the workers from the centers of production and thereby distract them from the immediacy of exploitation. The consciousness that had formerly been centered on the inequalities of production was now recentered on problems of transportation and consumption. “Little by little social consciousness ceased to refer to production and to focus on everyday life and consumption,” lamented Lefebvre. “With ‘suburbanization’ a process is set into motion which decentres the city. Isolated from the city, the proletariat will end its sense of the oeuvre. Isolated from places of production, available from a sector of habitation for scattered firms, the proletariat will allow its creative capacity to diminish in its conscience. Urban consciousness will vanish.”[130]

The rapid pace of the shifts and rearrangements entailed in this transformation of the city created a spatial dynamic wherein different sectors of the city were constantly being overhauled, refurbished, and redesigned. This, combined with the accumulated debris and detritus of decades, if not centuries, of urban development, led to some of the most extreme manifestations of what Lefebvre called “contradictory space.” “This urban space,” he wrote, “is concrete contradiction. The study of its logic and formal properties leads to a dialectical analysis of its contradictions. The urban center fills to saturation; it decays or explodes. From time to time, it reverses direction and surrounds itself with emptiness and scarcity.”[131] Countervailing social and economic forces, living and embodied anachronisms, conflicting and intermixing strata are all made concrete within the space of the urban. The convulsive pattern of historical time as it manifests itself under capitalism leaves its mark on one and the same space. Late-nineteenth century historicist high-rises are placed next to ultramodernist skyscrapers. Fruit-stands and food-stands, leftovers from the medieval marketplace, still line the sidewalks as cars and buses zip by along the streets.

This brings us to the most concentrated point of concrete spatial contradiction as it appears under capitalism. “Space itself, at once a product of the capitalist mode of production and an economico-political instrument of the bourgeoisie, will now be seen to embody its own contradictions,” wrote Lefebvre. “The dialectic thus emerges from time and actualizes itself, operating now, in an unforeseen manner, in space. The contradictions of space, without abolishing the contradictions which arise from historical time, leave history behind and transport those old contradictions, in a worldwide simultaneity, onto a higher level.”[132] Traces of the historical layers that build up over the ages are left in every contour of hyperurbanized space. One gets a sense of the feeling of “non-simultaneity” captured in a single moment, as described by the Marxist theorist Ernst Bloch in his 1932 essay “Nonsynchronism and Our Obligation to Its Dialectics.” “Not all people exist in the same Now,” remarked Bloch. “They do so only externally, by virtue of the fact that they may all be seen today. But that does not mean that they are living at the same time with others.” Outmoded, outdated timeframes persist into the present, scraps of paper advertising products that no longer exist, gutted payphones and boarded-off storefronts. Bloch continued: “Rather, they carry earlier things with them, things which are intricately involved. One has one’s times according to where one stands corporeally, above all in terms of classes. Times older than the present continue to effect older strata; here it is easy to return or dream one’s way back to older times.”[133]

Bloch, like Lefebvre, felt that all of these historical contradictions embedded in contradictory space could only be disentangled and objectively understood through dialectical analysis. They could only be understood in the fashion that Walter Benjamin explained in his Arcades Project, as “dialectics at a standstill.” Lefebvre detailed precisely how spatial contradictions came to encompass and contain historical contradictions: “The contradictions of space…envelop historical contradictions, presuppose them, impose them in the process of reproducing them. Once this displacement has been effected, the new contradictions may tend to attract all the attention, diverting interest to themselves and seeming to crowd out or even absorb the old conflicts…Only by means of a dialectical analysis can the precise relationships between the contradictions in space and contradictions of space be unraveled, and a determination made as to which are becoming attenuated, which accentuated.”[134] This tendency for new contradictions to overlap with or even distract from older conflicts was also reversible, such that contradictions left over from earlier epochs could just as easily crowd out the new. This much Bloch insisted in his essay: “capital uses that which is nonsynchronously contrary, if not indeed disparate, as a distraction from its own strictly present-day contradictions; it uses the antagonism of a still living past as a means of separation and struggle against the future that is dialectically giving birth to itself in the capitalist antagonisms.”[135]

3. The concrete spatiality of topographical capitalism

Our analysis of contradictory space as it comes to exist under capitalism thus can be seen to have been working on two different levels. At a still fairly high level of abstraction, one step removed from the global, we were able to witness the way in which the bourgeois form of the nation-state came into conflict with the spatial arrangements of feudalism. Commerce between cities undermined the separation and isolation of each feudality while also shifting the emphasis from landed or immovable value, as possessed by the lords, to commercial or movable value, as possessed by the merchants. However, just as the larger territorial entity of the nation-state emerged victorious over the system of individual fiefdoms and principalities, it found itself contradicted by the increasingly global system of trade that had first made it possible. And so one set of contradictions was replaced by another: the conflict between the feudal or regional and the national was overshadowed by the conflict between nationality and globality. Nationalism was forced to become a reactionary ideology in order to preserve its consistency, reinforcing its existence through the ideas of a common language, a common heritage, a common tradition. In this way did they divide themselves off from other nations whose social order was increasingly coming to resemble their own.

At the next level of our investigation, the contradictions involved became even more concrete. From the antithesis between town and country, the eventual triumph of the former over the latter, all the way to new transformations within the sphere of the city itself, contradictions between different forms of labor and different historical forces could be seen at every turn. The division between town and country, as Marx pointed out, was simply the division between agricultural and preindustrial (guild) labor writ large. The countryside came to resemble one vast farm and the townships began to function more and more like one big workshop. With the declining influence of the nobility in the countryside, and the increasing relevance of commercial and industrial capital, which were concentrated in the city, the city itself was redistributed and reformed. Urbanization forced the majority of the population outside of the town center into the suburbs and reorganized the city into a number of different sectors: a row of industrial factories, the centrally-located commercial, financial, and municipal buildings, and then the residential spaces along the periphery. Moreover, within any one of this spaces inside the seething whole of the city, one could find embedded localized historical contradictions — leftover remnants from bygone ages coexisting with present contradictions. The accumulated debris of earlier capitalist and precapitalist forms could be seen in the jagged contours of the present, old buildings against the new, modern buildings adjacent to medieval walls. Such was the constitution of concrete, contradictory space under the social form of capitalism.


The Totality



































[1] Thompson, E.P. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” From Past & Present 38. (1967). Pg. 58.

[2] Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. (University of Chicago Press. Chicago, IL: 2010). Pg. 15.

[3] Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pgs. 63-65.

[4] Mumford, Technics and Civilization. Pg. 17.

[5] Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pg. 69.

[6] Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1982). Pg. 129.

[7] “In order to act as such a mirror of value, tailoring itself must reflect nothing apart from its own abstract quality of being human labour.” Ibid., pg. 150.

[8] Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pg. 90.

[9] Ibid,. pg 85.

[10] Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 394.

[11] “[T]he value of labour-power, and the value which that labour-power valorizes [verwertet] in the labour-process, are two entirely different magnitudes; and this difference was what the capitalist had in mind when he was purchasing the labour-power.” Ibid., pg. 300. Marx later provides the formula for the rate of absolute surplus value as (surplus labor/necessary labor), or (s/v). Ibid., pg. 326.

[12] “We see then that, leaving aside certain extremely elastic restrictions, the nature of commodity exchange itself imposes no limit to the working day, no limit to surplus labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working day as long as possible, and, where possible, to make two working days out of one.” Ibid., pg. 344.

[13] Ibid., pg. 412.

[14] “Before the rise and development of modern, capitalist society in Western Europe, dominant conceptions of time were of various forms of concrete time: time was not an autonomous category, independent of events, hence, it could be determined qualitatively, as good or bad, sacred or profane.” Postone, Moishe. Time, Labor, and Social Domination. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1993). Pg. 201.

[15] Ibid., pg. 202.

[16] Ibid., pg. 212.

[17] Ibid., pg. 214.

[18] Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. From The Early Sociology of Management and Organizations, Volume 1: Scientific Management. (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY: 2005). Pg. 129. My emphases.

[19] Gilbreth, Frank and Gilbreth, Lillian. Applied Motion Study: A Collection of Papers on the Efficient Method to Industrial Preparedness. (Sturgis & Walton Company. New York, NY: 1917). Pgs. 14-15.

[20] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. Manifesto of the Communist Party. From Later Political Writings. Pg. 4.

[21] “It was only [the] idea of perfectibility [made possible by the concept of progress] which paved the way for utopia.” Bauman, Zygmunt. Socialism: The Active Utopia. (George Allen & Unwin Limited. London, England: 1976). Pgs. 18-19.

[22] “The circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The movement of capital is therefore limitless.” Ibid., pg. 253.

[23] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pgs. 75-77.

[24] Marx, Capital, Volume I. Pg. 255.

[25] Ibid., pg. 342.

[26] “[Labor is] a commodity whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value.” Ibid., pg. 270.

[27] “The prolongation of the working day beyond the point at which the worker would have produced an exact equivalent for the value of his labor-power, and the appropriation of that surplus labor by capital — this is the process which constitutes the production of absolute surplus-value.” Ibid., pg. 645.

[28] Ibid., pg. 431.

[29] “The technical and social conditions of the [labor] process and consequently the mode of production itself must be revolutionized before the productivity of labor can be increased.” Ibid., pg. 432.

“[T]he production of relative surplus-value completely revolutionizes the technical processes of labor and the groupings into which society is divided.” Ibid., pg. 645.

[30] Ibid., pgs. 389-416.

[31] Chapters 13, 14, and 15 respectively. Ibid., pgs. 439-640.

[32] “With the development of relative surplus value…the directional motion that characterizes capital as self-valorizing value becomes tied to ongoing changes in productivity. An immanent dynamic of capitalism emerges, a ceaseless expansion grounded in a determinate relationship between the growth of productivity and the growth of the value form of the surplus.” Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 283.

[33] “The peculiarity of the dynamic — and this is crucial — is its treadmill effect. Increased productivity increases the amount of value produced per unit of time — until this productivity becomes generalized; at that point the magnitude of value yielded in that time period, because of its abstract and general temporal determination, falls back to its previous level. This results in a new determination of the social labor hour and a new base level of productivity. What emerges, than, is a dialectic of transformation and reconstitution.” Ibid., pg. 289.

[34] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 293.

[35] Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. (Blackwell Publishing. Cambridge, MA: 1991). Pg. 129.

[36] Descartes, René. Principles of Philosophy. Translated by John Cottingham. From The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume 3. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1985). Pg. 228.

[37] “We have seen how money is transformed into capital; how surplus­value is made through capital, and how more capital is made from surplus-value. But the accumulation of capital presupposes surplus-value; surplus-value presupposes capitalist production; capitalist production presupposes the availability of considerable masses of capital and labour-power in the hands of commodity producers. The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn around in a never-ending circle, which we can only get out of by assuming a primitive accumulation (the ‘previous accumulation’ of Adam Smith) which precedes capitalist accumulation; an accumulation which is not the result of the capitalist mode of production but its point of departure.” Marx, Capital, Volume 1. Pgs. 873. The conditions by which primitive accumulation arose are described between pgs. 877-895.

[38] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 148.

[39] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pg. 5. My emphasis.

[40] Ibid., pgs. 4-5.

[41] “In its universe there is a formal equality for all men.” Lukács, Georg. “What is Orthodox Marxism?” From History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1972). Pg. 19.

[42] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. Pg. 72.

[43] Adorno, Theodor. Introduction to Sociology. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. (Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA: 2000). Pg. 30.

[44] Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Martin Nicolaus. (Random House, Inc. New York, NY: 1973). Pg. 524. My emphasis.

[45] Harvey, David. “The Geography of Capitalist Accumulation: a Reconstruction of the Marxian theory.” From Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. (Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh, England: 2001). Pg. 244.

[46] Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 2. Pg. 329.

[47] Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 539.

[48] Harvey, Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. Pg. 251.

[49] Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 225.

[50] Hilferding, Rudolf. Finance Capital. Translated Morris Watnick and Sam Gordon. (Routledge & Kegan Paul. Boston, MA: 1981). Pg. 314.

[51] Lenin, Vladimir. Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalist Development. Translated by Yuri Sdobnikov. From Collected Works, Volume 22: 1915-1916. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, Soviet Union: 1964). Pg. 240.

[52] Zinoviev, Grigorii. “What is Imperialism?” From New International. (New York, NY: December 1941).

[53] Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalist Development. Pg. 242.

[54] “As long as the export of capital served primarily for the construction of a transport system and the development of consumer goods industries in a backward country, it contributed to the economic development, in a capitalist form, of that country.” Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development. Pg. 329.

[55] Hobson noted “the habit of economic parasitism, by which the ruling State has used its provinces, colonies, and dependencies in order to enrich its ruling class and to bribe its lower classes into acquiescence.” John Atkinson Hobson. Imperialism: A Study. (James Pott & Company. New York, NY: 1902). Pg. 205.

[56] “The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labour of several overseas countries and colonies.” Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalist Development. Pg. 277.

[57] Bukharin, Nikolai. Imperialism and World Economy. Pg. 28.

[58] Ibid., pg. 106.

[59] Luxemburg, Rosa. The Accumulation of Capital. Translated by Agnes Schwarzschild. (Routledge. New York, NY: 2003). Pg. 399.

[60] “In the Imperialist Era, the foreign loan played an outstanding part as a means for young capitalist states to acquire independence. The contradictions inherent in the modern system of foreign loans are the concrete expression of those which characterise the imperialist phase. Though foreign loans are indispensable for the emancipation of the rising capitalist states, they are yet the surest ties by which the old capitalist states maintain their influence, exercise financial control and exert pressure on the customs, foreign and commercial policy of the young capitalist states.” Ibid., pg. 401.

[61] Zinoviev, “What is Imperialism?”

[62] Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study in the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development. Pg. 365.

[63] Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy. Pgs. 141-142.

[64] Hilferding, Finance Capital: A Study in the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development. Pg. 335. My emphasis.

[65] Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalist Development. Pg. 245.

[66] Ibid., pgs. 266-267.

[67] Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital. Pg. 425.

[68] Lukács, Georg. “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” From History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. (The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA: 1972). Pg. 89.

[69] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 96.

[70] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 50. Lefebvre’s notion of abstract space was slightly more bound up with the Fordist structures of bureaucracy than my own, but in general is largely the same.

[71] Ibid., pg. 52.

[72] Ibid., pg. 307.

[73] Ibid., pg. 352.

[74] Ibid., pg. 308.

[75] Ibid., pg. 287.

[76] Ibid., pg. 52.

[77] Ibid., pg. 351.

[78] “The principles of the spirits of nations [Volksgeister] are in general of a limited nature because of that particularity in which they have their objective actuality and self-consciousness as existent individuals, and their deeds and destinies in their mutual relations are the manifest [erscheinende] dialectic of the finitude of these spirits. It is through this dialectic that the universal spirit, the spirit of the world, produces itself in its freedom from all limits, and it is this spirit which exercises its right — which is the highest right of all — over finite spirits in world history as the world’s court of judgement [Weltgericht].” Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1991). Pg. 371, §340.

[79] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 65.

[80] “It was the rise of the mercantile city, which was grafted onto the political city but promoted its own ascendancy, that was primarily responsible. This was soon followed by the appearance of industrial capital and, consequently, the industrial city…We know that industry initially developed near the sources of energy (coal and water), raw materials (metals, textiles), and manpower reserves. Industry gradually made its way into the city in search of capital and capitalists, markets, and an abundant supply of low-cost labor. It could locate itself anywhere, therefore, but sooner or later made its way into existing cities or created new cities, although it was prepared to move elsewhere if there was an economic advantage in doing so. Just as the political city resisted the conquest — half-pacific, half-violent — of the merchants, exchange, and money, similarly the political and mercantile city defended itself from being taken over by a nascent industry, industrial capital, and capital itself.” Lefebvre, Henri. The Urban Revolution. Pg. 13.

[81] Weber, Max. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, Volume 1. Translated by Ephraim Fischoff, Hans Gerth, A.M. Henderson, Ferdinand Kolegar, C. Wright Mills, Talcott Parsons, Max Rheinstein, Guenther Roth, Edward Shils, and Claus Wittich. (University of California Press. Los Angeles, CA: 1978). Pg. 235.

[82] Ibid., pg. 256.

[83] Adorno, Theodor. History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965. Translated by Rolf Tiedemann. (Polity Press. Malden, MA: 2006). Pg. 103.

[84] “Western Europe feudalism grew out of the disintegration of an empire, a disintegration which was never total in reality or even de jure. The myth of the Roman Empire still provided a certain cultural and even legal coherence to the area. Christianity served as a set of parameters within which social action took place.” Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System, Volume 1: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. (Academic Press. New York, NY: 1973). Pgs. 17-18.

[85] Ibid., 21.

[86] Ibid., pg. 37.

[87] Engels, Friedrich. “The Decline of Feudalism and the Emergence of National States.” Translated by John K. Dickinson. From Marx and Engels’ Collected Works, Volume 26: Friedrich Engels, 1882-1889. Pgs. 556-566.

[88] “The demand for bullion…remained high. Between 1350 and 1450, the silver mines in Serbia and Bosnia began to develop and became an important source until the Turkish invasion of the fifteenth century cut them off from western Europe. Similarly, beginning in 1460, there was a sudden rise of silver mining in central Europe, made possible by technological improvements which permitted the exploitation of what had been theretofore marginal mines. Perroy estimates that between 1460 and 1530 silver production quintupled in central Europe. Nonetheless, the supply was not keeping pace with the demand, and the search for gold by the maritime route (thus, for Sudanic gold, circumventing North African intermediaries) was unquestionably one consideration for the early Portuguese navigators. When, therefore, the discovery of the Americas was to give Europe a richer source of gold than the Sudan and especially a far richer source of silver than central Europe, the economic consequences would be great.” Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, Volume 1. Pgs. 40-41.

[89] Engels, “The Decline of Feudalism and the Emergence of National States.”

[90] Ibid.

[91] Adorno, History and Freedom. Pg. 107.

[92] Engels, “The Decline of Feudalism and the Emergence of National States.”

[93] Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, Volume 1. Pg. 265.

[94] Adorno, History and Freedom. Pg. 107.

[95] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pg. 2.

[96] Engels, “The Decline of Feudalism and the Emergence of National States.”

[97] Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, Volume 1. Pg. 33.

[98] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 112.

[99] Adorno, History and Freedom. Pg. 105.

[100] Grotius, Hugo. The Rights of War and Peace, Book 1. Translated by Jean Barbeyrac. (Liberty Fund. Indianapolis, IN: 2005). Pgs. 162-163.

[101] “Concerning the offices of one sovereign to another, which are comprehended in that law which is commonly called the law of nations, I need not say anything in this place, because the law of nations and the law of nature is the same thing. And every sovereign hath the same right, in procuring the safety of his people, that any particular man can have, in procuring the safety of his own body.” Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. (Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis, IN: 1994). Pg. 233.

[102] “Thus, though looking back as far as Records give us any account of Peopling the World, and the History of Nations, we commonly find the Government to be in one hand, yet it destroys not that, which I affirm, (viz.) That the beginning of Politick Society depends upon the consent of the Individuals, to joyn into and make one Society; who, when they are thus incorporated, might set up what form of Government they thought fit.” Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1988). Pg. 337, §106.

[103] Heineccius, Johann Gottlieb. The Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations, with Supplements and a Discourse by George Turnbull. Translated by George Turnbull. (Liberty Fund. Indianapolis, IN: 2008). Pg. 323.

[104] Vattel, Emer de. The Law of Nations, Or, Principles of the Law of Nature, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, with Three Early Essays on the Origin and Nature of Natural Law and on Luxury. Translated by Thomas Nugent. (Liberty Fund. Indianapolis, IN: 2008). Pg. 81.

[105] Ibid., pg. 261.

[106] Hume, David. “Of National Characters.” From Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary. (Liberty Fund. Indianapolis, IN: 1987). Pg. 197.

[107] Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws. Translated by Anne M. Cohler, Basia C. Miller, and Harold S. Stone. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1989). Pg. 310.

[108] Herder, Johann Gottfried. “On the Characters of Nations and Ages.” From Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political Writings. Translated by Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin. (Hackett Publishing Company. Indianapolis, IN: 2004). Pg. 119.

[109] Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. Addresses to a German Nation. Translated by Gregory Moore. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2008). Pg. 103.

[110] Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Pg. 312, §274.

[111] Pufendorf, Samuel. On the Law of Nature and of Nations. From The Political Writings of Samuel Pufendorf. Translated by Michael J. Seidler. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 1994). Pg. 196.

[112] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pgs. 4-5.

[113] Lenin, Vladimir. Karl Marx: A Biographical Sketch with an Exposition of Marxism. Translated by Clemence Dutt. From Collected Works, Volume 21: August 1914-December 1915. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, Soviet Union: 1964). Pg. 72-73.

[114] Marx, Karl. The German Ideology. From the Marx-Engels Reader. Translated by Robert C. Tucker. (W.W. Norton & Company. New York, NY: 1978). Pg. 150.

[115] Ibid., pg. 153.

[116] Ibid., pg. 151.

[117] Engels, “The Decline of Feudalism and the Emergence of National States.”

[118] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Pg. 5.

[119] Harvey, David. “The Geopolitics of Capitalism.” From Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. (Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh, England: 2001). Pgs. 373-374.

[120] Engels, “The Decline of Feudalism and the Emergence of National States.”

[121] “Formal boundaries are gone between town and country, between centre and periphery, between suburbs and city centres, between the domain of automobiles and the domain of people.” Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 97.

[122] Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution. Pg. 11.

[123] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 268.

[124] “Urban space as a whole was heterotopic compared with rural space until the reversal began in the sixteenth century in Europe, which resulted in the invasion of the countryside by the urban fabric. During the same period, the outlying areas remained strongly heterotopic. Crisscrossed by long, poorly equipped thoroughfares, ambiguous spaces, they harbored populations from different origins: cart drivers and mercenaries, traders, seminomads forced to settle outside the city, limits, often suspect and sacrificed in time of war. After a time, the city began to merge with these outlying areas, to assimilate them by annexing them to its more active neighborhoods, inhabited by merchants and artisans. This led to urban agglomeration and the ensuing strong sense of popular unity that is solidified by struggles with a monarchical state. It wasn’t until the rise of the bourgeoisie that this trend reversed. Popular elements were expelled from the center to still rural peripheral heterotopies, which have since been changed into ‘suburbs,’ habitat receptacles, typified by a highly visible form of isotopy. In this sense, heterotopy corresponds — but to a limited extent — to the anomie discussed by sociologists. Anomic groups construct heterotopic spaces, which are eventually reclaimed by the dominant praxis.” Ibid., pg. 129.

[125] “[B]y ‘urban revolution’ I refer to the transformations that affect contemporary society, ranging from the period when questions of growth and industrialization predominate (models, plans programs) to the period when the urban problematic becomes predominant, when the search for solutions and modalities unique to urban society are foremost.” Ibid., pg. 5.

[126] Marx, The German Ideology. Pg. 175.

[127] “The town and its site live off the surrounding country, exacting tribute therefrom both in the form of agricultural produce and in the form of work in the fields. The town has a two-sided relationship to the country, however: first as an entity which draws off the surplus product of rural society, and secondly as an entity endowed with the administrative and military capacity to supply protection.” Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 234.

[128] Engels, Friedrich. The Housing Question. Translated by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. From Marx and Engels’ Collected Works, Volume 23: 1871-1874. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, USSR: 1988). Pg. 319.

[129] Ibid., pg. 319.

[130] Lefebvre, Henri. “Industrialization and Urbanization.” From Writings on Cities. Translated by Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas. (Blackwell Publishers. Malden, MA: 1996). Pg. 77.

[131] Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution. Pg. 39.

[132] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 129.

[133] Bloch, Ernst. “Nonsynchronism and Our Obligation to Its Dialectics.” Pg. 22.

[134] Lefebvre, The Production of Space. Pg. 331.

[135] Bloch, “Nonsynchronism and Our Obligation to Its Dialectics.” Pg. 32.

9 thoughts on “The spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism

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  6. Excellent piece. Comprehensive and informative to those of us still grappling with the nuances of Marxism in- with- the context of 21st Century ‘Capitalism’ although I think the term ‘Capitalism’ doesn’t even begin to describe the messes we are in.

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