Hosseini, S A Hamed, and Barry K Gills (2024) Capital Redefined: A Commonist Value Theory for Liberating Life. London, Routledge. Open Access content is available for this title
In an age defined by capitalist systems that dominate our socioeconomic structures, the need for innovative perspectives and transformative theories has never been more pressing. “Capital Redefined,” crafted by S. A. Hamed Hosseini and Barry K. Gills, launches a pioneering scholarly endeavor to reconceptualize ‘capital’ and its intertwined value theory at a time when the resurgence of the ‘C word’ signals a reawakening of longstanding disputes and the emergence of new theoretical discourses. Their book is not just an academic endeavor but a radical manifesto-making framework that challenges the established norms of value theory in the context of capitalism.
This short essay explores the core themes and radical insights presented in the book.
The Necessity of Liberating Value from Capital
The book opens with a compelling argument for the urgency of liberating our notion of ‘value’ from capital (Chapter 1). Hosseini and Gills set the stage by illustrating how ecological and social crises are exacerbated by the pervasive influence of capital’s value regime. They emphasize the historical necessity to challenge the capitalistic definition of value, advocating for a radical retheorization that recognizes the detrimental impact of capital on essential resources of our planetary organized life.
The radical retheorization they advocate for is rooted in what they term a “commonist perspective.” This perspective seeks to redefine value in a way that transcends its capitalistic constraints, recognizing the intrinsic worth of more-than-human life-domain, human creativity, extra-human convivial and care-oriented relationships, and the emancipatory potentials of prefigurative politics. The commonist perspective, as outlined by Hosseini and Gills, is a holistic approach that values the interconnectedness of all life forms and the collective well-living of communities. It challenges the notion that value is a product of market transactions or economic output, instead proposing a more inclusive and equitable framework that acknowledges the diverse contributions to societal and ecological flourishing.
Rethinking Marxian Value Theory
In a significant thematic section (Chapters 2 and 3), Hosseini and Gills re-construct Marxian value theory. They acknowledge the strengths of Marx’s work while simultaneously pointing out its limitations in addressing the complexities of capital beyond traditional analyses focused solely on capital’s “inner organization.” This novel approach, by taking a critical realist lens, lays a foundation for an ontologically coherent framework that better captures the multifaceted nature of value creation and appropriation under capitalism.
True Value vs. Fetish Value
A central theme of the book is the distinction between ‘true value’ and ‘fetish value’ (explored across Chapters 1, 2, and 4). It critiques the traditional association of value with capital, introducing the notion of ‘true value’ as a counterpoint to the life-negating ‘fetish value’ created through capitalistic socio-ecological relations. This differentiation is crucial for understanding the book’s core argument: the need to redefine and reclaim value from the clutches of capitalistic exploitation.
In arithmetic terms, as authors argue, ‘true value’ is quantified as the surplus generated when the creative, liveable, convivial, and alterity-based sources of value produce more than is consumed by these sources and lost to entropy, with a positive adjustment for external factors. This surplus reflects the capacity of commonist practices to regenerate and sustain themselves and the environment over time, contributing to long-term vitality and resilience.
True value is in stark contrast to the ‘fetish value’ found under capitalist frameworks, where the relentless drive for profit leads to the decommonization of fundamental resources, diminishing the potential for creating true value. It is a testament to the potential that lies in recommonizing efforts that resist and reverse the decommonization of our shared world, advocating for a reorientation of society’s goals towards the collective well-living and the integrity of the life-domain.
Fetish value, as depicted through the metaphorical arithmetic provided, is a construct within the capitalist system that represents the distortion and preversion of true value. It is the outcome of a series of capitalist processes —abstraction, fetishization, and decommonization — that strip away the inherent qualities of creativity, livability, conviviality, and alterity from their sources, transforming them into tradable entities designed for profit.
Fetish value is defined as the sum of capitalist value produced minus the capitalist value used to regenerate the decommonized sources, adjusted by the deficit of true value under capitalism. This encapsulates the erosion of true value as capital expands, revealing a growing deficit wherein the magnitude of true value lost in the outer organization of capital exceeds the capitalist value produced in its inner workings.
Fetish value is thus the manifestation of capital’s inner and outer organization, representing the value perceived in commodities and services after they have been severed from their true value origins and repurposed for market exchange. It reflects the capital-centric perception of value, where the focus is on the potential for economic exploitation and profit rather than on regenerative and just outcomes.
Fetish value is a critical concept that highlights the inherent contradictions and unsustainable nature of capitalist value creation. It underscores the urgent need for a redefinition of value that recognizes and upholds the true sources of worth found in the fundamental commons and their role in supporting all forms of life.
A central pillar of the book is the call for a defetishization of value, challenging the widely accepted idea of its objectivity. The authors introduce their “commonist value theory,” effectively redefining capital as both the product and the infra-process of perverting the fundamental causes of true value into the causes of fetish value. As the product, it is the corporeal manifestation of fetish value, and as the infra-process, it is essentially the abstraction and appropriation of fundamental commons.
The Modular Architecture of Capital
In an innovative thematic discussion (Chapter 4), the authors introduce a modular framework to understand the “architecture of capital.” This framework is a blend of Marxian theory, critical realism, and Aristotelian causation theory. It provides a comprehensive view of how capital, as ‘fetish value,’ erases ‘true value’ and undermines life’s self-sustenance. The book redefines key concepts like abstraction, reification, and appropriation to elucidate the nature and operations of capital.
Towards the end of Chapter 4, the authors ‘metaphorically’ present a series of arithmetic equations to delineate the proportional relationship between true value and fetish value; True value is not a fully subjective matter to be decided through deliberative democracy but rather has roots in objective, material and immaterial, relationships, within the domains of more-than-human communal life. Therefore, the inclusion of true value is not merely normative practice; true value is the subject of exploration, experimentation, and imagination.
In the capitalist framework, ‘capitalist value’ is abstracted from the so-called productive “labor,” the so-called “nature,” “social reproductive relations,” and “political organization”, which is then exploited to produce surplus capitalist value and capital’s growth. This infra-process is made possible through what the authors call “decommonization.” It results in a deficit of true value as the extraction of value by capital outpaces its regeneration and the potential for commonist value creation is weakened.
On the other hand, the commonist framework seeks to reinvigorate the true value that capital has diminished or erased. It aims for a surplus of true value, which is used to enhance the flourishing of life and address ecological and social disparities. The equations seek to represent this shift from a deficit of value, which is detrimental to society and the environment, to a surplus that benefits all forms of life.
In essence, these equations are not merely mathematical expressions but represent a critical theoretical insight into the transformative potential of recommonizing and the urgent need for a systemic shift towards valuing life over profit.
Labor Theory of Value in a Commonist Framework
A significant part of the book (Chapters 5 and 6) is dedicated to reconstructing the Marxian labor theory of value through a commonist lens. The authors explore how labor, seen as a perverted form of human creative power, is decommonized under capital. This exploration is crucial for understanding the socio-ecological and political implications of labor, commodified or not, productive or reproductive, in capitalist societies, and the potential for its liberation.
Challenges in the Age of Smart Machines and Climate Change
The book also addresses contemporary challenges to the labor theory of value, particularly in the context of smart machines, the growing role of social reproduction, and ecological crises (Chapter 6). Hosseini and Gills navigate these debates by incorporating their commonist approach, suggesting new ways to understand and apply their new labor theory of value in a rapidly changing world.
Differentiation between the Inner and Outer Organizations of Capital
Another unique feature of the book as depicted in Figure 4.4 titled “The Inner and Outer Organizations of Capital, inside and Outside Capitalist Relations,” is its attempt to offer a detailed conceptual map of how true value is generated, appropriated, and potentially reclaimed within and against the structures of capitalism.
At the heart of this system are the “four fundamental causes of true value outside capitalist relations,” which include Creativity, Liveability, Conviviality, and Alterity. These represent the ideal-typically purest forms of value, derived from commoning practices that are inherently opposed to the decommonizing processes of capitalism. Each of these foundational elements is subjected to “Decommonization,” a process through which capitalist mechanisms appropriate and distort these values for profit, leading to their transformation into “Capitalist value” and “Fetish value” within the inner organization of productive capital.
Within this framework, “Labor,” “Nature,” “Social reproductive relations,” and “Political organization” are identified as the compartmentalized components of capital that undergo “Abstraction,” a process that extracts and appropriate their inherent value, represented here by the red arrows pointing towards Fetish value that is inclusive of Capitalist value which is inclusive of “Commodity value” the subject of Marx’s value theory. This abstraction is the core operation of capitalism that results in products and services but also practices and institutions aimed at generating profit rather than fulfilling actual societal or ecological needs.
The transformative impact of “Re-commonization through resistance and restoration,” depicted by the green arrow, illustrates the potential for these distorted values to be reclaimed and redirected towards the creation of “True value.” This re-commonization is facilitated by struggles within and outside capitalist relations, signifying collective efforts to resist and reverse the processes of decommonization.
The grey arrows indicate the “Civilizing impact,” which, in this context, refers to the way capitalist structures seek to legitimize and maintain the status quo by presenting themselves as necessary for societal progress, even while they undermine true value.
Overall, the figure portrays a complex interplay between the extraction of value by capital and the ongoing resistance movements aiming to restore and preserve the commons. It highlights the dynamic tensions between the oppressive structures of capitalism and the transformative potential of commoning efforts, suggesting that the path to reclaiming and safeguarding true value is both a struggle against existing capitalist structures and a constructive process of building alternative systems based on the commonist principles of life and community.
The critical acclaim for the book has been exceptional. Prominent scholars from various fields have praised its substantial contributions to the reimagining of Marxian value theory. Leslie Sklair, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, hails it as a “challenging contribution” to our understanding. Paul James, Professor of Globalization and Cultural Diversity at Western Sydney University, emphasizes its relevance to the future of human productivity. Ariel Salleh, a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Queen Mary University of London, appreciates its open-ended approach. William K. Carroll, Professor of Sociology at the University of Victoria, Canada, finds it timely for our troubled times. James Goodman, Professor of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney, finds it essential for envisioning post-capitalist possibilities. Hans A. Baer, Principal Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne, describes it as an indispensable literary companion for those exploring revolutionary potentials. Jamie Morgan, Professor of Economics, commends its reimagining of value theory in the age of climate and ecological emergency. Ulrich Brand, Professor of International Politics at the University of Vienna, sees it shaping the debate about radical political strategies.
In sum, “Capital Redefined” is not only a critique of existing economic systems but also a framework for envisioning and working towards post-capitalist futures. The thematic structure of this rather short book allows readers to grasp the complexity of their arguments and the breadth of their vision. This work stands as an essential resource for academics, activists, and policy advocates engaged in the pursuit of radically progressive futures.