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Exchanging without Exploiting

A Critique of Karatani Kōjin’s The Structure of World History

In: Historical Materialism
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After Transcritique: On Kant and Marx (2003), Karatani Kōjin’s new book The Structure of World History presents another engagement with Marxian theory from a ‘heterodox’ standpoint. In this book, rather than viewing The Structure of World History from the aspect of mode of production in the conventional ‘Marxist’ sense, Karatani shifts perspective to the modes of exchange. To this end, Karatani appropriates what he sees as Marx’s emphasis on ‘exchange’. In the present essay, by looking at the textual evidence, I critically evaluate whether this appropriation of Marx’s theory is justified. I furthermore contend that Karatani’s reading of the concepts of value, money, capital, and surplus-value from the standpoint of ‘exchange’ (i.e. circulation) arises from a grave misconstrual of Marx’s critical intent. Accordingly, Karatani neglects the critique of exploitation and the systematic production of poverty that informs the basic assumptions of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production.

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