Map of Riches

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Review of 'Spaces of Global Capitalism', David Harvey, Verso £14.99

David Harvey, the Marxist geographer based in the US, has done much to defend and develop Marxist theory over the course of a lifetime of writing and activity. He has also contributed much to understanding the present phase of capitalist development in two recent books, A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism and The New Imperialism. The latest instalment, Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Development, is a collection of three separate essays.

The first and longest essay is titled "Neo-Liberalism and the Restoration of Class Power". Harvey, like many others, sees the neo-liberal turn as a response to the slowing rate of capital accumulation at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s.

The test ground was neoliberal Chile under Augusto Pinochet, but Thatcher and Reagan were at the heart of the "restoration of class power" involved in the neo-liberal project as its proponents attempted to facilitate the conditions for capital accumulation. Harvey briefly documents some of the political struggle this has entailed, emphasising how the "neo-liberal state" has been a vital part of the process.

The war in Iraq is seen in this light as the military imposition of a pro-Western neo-liberal state. This is exemplified by the then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority Paul Bremer, who ordered in 2003 "the full privatisation of public enterprises, full ownership rights by foreign firms of Iraqi businesses, full repatriation of foreign profits... the elimination of nearly all trade barriers". The one exception was oil.

Neo-liberalism's implantation, diffusion and evolution has varied over time and place. But Harvey's overall analysis of the scorecard of neo-liberalism is that it has not been a success in terms of economic growth.

This is important given the claims that are made continually by everyone from the World Bank to Gordon Brown about the benefits of globalisation (read neo-liberalism), and how more open economies perform better.

It has, however, been a huge success as a redistributive project, shifting the balance of power and the distribution of wealth in favour of capital, and creating the conditions for new centres of accumulation - with varying degrees of success - in China, India, Russia and elsewhere, and so altering the uneven geography of the world economy.

This has created increases in inequality both socially - between the mass of the population and the upper classes - and geographically, between the poorer and more vulnerable countries and the rich ones.

So we have lived through "a whole generation of sophisticated class struggle on the part of the upper strata in society to restore or... to construct an overwhelming class power". There are increasing connections across the globe but also deepening unevenness in global development.

This is the subject of second essay, "Notes Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development". There is far too much contained in this essay to do it any justice in a review of this length, and much that could be developed out of it.

The final essay looks at "Space as a Key Word". The book is not entirely satisfactory as a statement of a general theory about the uneven nature of the development of capitalism - something you might expect because of the title given by the publisher.

And such a project surely would benefit from some discussion of Trotsky's notion of the combined and uneven development of capitalism.

Nonetheless it is useful to have a summary statement of Harvey's thinking on neo-liberalism, uneven development and space. He is, to my mind, always worth reading, probing and engaging with.