Recent years have seen a revival of innovative historical studies of American capitalism. They differ in key respects from the social history of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, which likewise took capitalism as a central concern. The older social history focused on the organization of labor, in the double sense of how work was organized in the process of production and how workers organized themselves in trade unions, political parties, and social movements. Much of the new history of capitalism focuses instead on the organization of capital, particularly finance, pushing earlier concerns about labor and class to the margins. In this essay, Jeffrey Sklansky relates the gap between the history of finance and the history of labor to a long-standing tendency to conceive of capitalist relations in terms of an essential dichotomy of labor and money. He argues that the labor-versus-money divide has not only thrown into stark relief the profound tension between the imperatives of productivity and profit but has also tended to distort or disguise the basis of capitalist development in class struggle. To do so, he examines the assumptions underlying the older and newer approaches and critiques a handful of leading new works on the history of early American finance. Finally, some suggestions are offered for bringing the new focus on finance to bear on the still-pressing questions at the heart of the older history of labor, through the study of class struggles over the means of payment as well as the means of production.
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Jeffrey Sklansky; Labor, Money, and the Financial Turn in the History of Capitalism. Labor 1 March 2014; 11 (1): 23–46. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-2385381
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