Capitalism, the infernal machine: An interview with Fredric Jameson

Aaron Leonard: You write, "Capital is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labour: it is a book about unemployment." Could you talk about why you think that is true?

Frederic Jameson: I know this is probably surprising for people who always think of Marx in political terms, but there is really very little mention of any political action in Capital. There is certainly the implication of the kind of society that could come out of capitalism and also of the contradictions that could lead to the end of capitalism and I am not saying that Marx was not political or didn't constantly think of political strategies, but Capital is not a book about that. It is a book about this infernal machine that is capitalism.

It is a book about unemployment in the sense that the absolute general law of capitalism, as he enunciates it, is to increase productivity — as a result, as he writes, "The relative mass of the industrial reserve army [the unemployed] increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth." I think this corresponds very much to what is happening in the present. I heard the most revealing thing recently from a venture capitalist, obviously annoyed by the constant talk of both Republicans and Democrats about supporting business so it can "create jobs."

He said look, "Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, I wanted to increase my payroll because I think it's good for the American economy." This is a pretty direct way of saying business does not exist to create jobs; it is there to make money. That is exactly what Marx lays out in Capital. There is no direct connection between productivity and creating jobs.

This was not so clear as long as Keynesian economics were being applied in certain countries — Keynes understood there had to be workers with enough money to buy all these goods being produced. Since Reagan and Thatcher, however, we get something more like the fundamental logic of capital Marx described. It is not just job flight to other countries; this is part of a worldwide process.

You want to bring factories back to the United States but on the other hand you want them to be productive? Well that means more and more automation and less and less workers, it is obvious. So I think there really is a profound contradiction between employment and what the system does. In that sense it seems to me, a political demand of the kind that there used for full employment is a demand for something the system can't possibly provide. More

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