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Horizontal Relations: A Note on Brenner's Heresy

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One fundamental assumption seems to underlie – explicitly or implicitly – every critique of Brenner I have seen: that there can be no such thing as a Marxist theory of competition, the ‘horizontal’ relation among many capitals, that does not presuppose the ‘vertical’ class relation between capital and living labour. To start (if not also to end) with the relation between capital and living labour is the only way to establish one's Marxist credentials (establishing those credentials does, by the way, seem to be the critical, even the sole, issue for those who engage Brenner's argument on that plane, without considering the empirical or explanatory power of his argument). In support of that assumption, more than one critic has invoked Marx's comment that competition does not produce or explain capitalist laws of motion but merely executes them, as their visible manifestation in the external movements of individual capitals. Predictably, too, some critics have gleefully turned against Brenner the charge he has famously levelled against other Marxists: that his focus on competition and the market makes him a ‘neo-Smithian’.


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