III. Patterns on the Map
On the map resulting from this project, many of the patterns that emerged are relatively simple: for instance, the contrast between the crowded jumble of block quotes in Europe and the more barren regions, like sub-Saharan Africa and South America; or, the swoop of lines, in effect the map’s visual “trunk,” connecting England to India and to East Asia. These patterns are very straightforward—predictable, even—but lend the map much of its immediate visual force, clarifying in graphic form what is only intimated through writing.
However, more subtle and perhaps surprising patterns emerged as well. For instance, on this map only two relational lines run between non-European places. One leads from the United States to Africa; and the other is internal to the East Indies (Indonesian or Malay) archipelago. Both of these lines concern the flow of slave labor. Marx is generally unwilling to discuss simultaneous relationships between non-European places. For instance, trade relations between the United States and Japan go unmentioned in Capital. But he makes an exception for these two connections, which concern slave-based production. This would seem to shed light upon Marx’s understanding of how the geographic essentials of labor exploitation in the 19th century operated.
Another pattern on the Capital map concerns the non-European places Marx refers to with frequency. These are the United States, India, and Russia. On the map, the cluster of block quotes around each of these regions gives some sense of their demonstrative role in Capital. Thus, the United States interests Marx as a field of experimentation, in which the logic of capitalist production is realized at a larger and less inhibited scale. India interests Marx as a case-study within colonialism. Russia interests Marx as a site of non-capitalist modes of production.
The spatial patterns within Europe, the map’s busiest area, are also quite striking and in some cases surprising. Marx’s discussion of England often swirls around London (only just beginning to eclipse Liverpool and Manchester in commercial and industrial importance when Capital was being written), a literary tendency I attempted to capture in the layout of the London-related block quotes. Northwest Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are all thick with quotes, while France is surprisingly barren. In fact, in the whole of France only two cities are named, Paris and Avignon—fewer than the total in tiny Switzerland! Certainly, Marx was not ignorant of events in France. But Marx mostly looked to France as a valuable case-study in complex class formation and revolutionary socio-political processes—themes which mostly go unremarked upon in the pages of Capital, a treatise more focused on mapping out the logic of capitalism.
The map also highlights the relative absence of Eastern Europe from Marx’s geographic purview in Capital. The Ottoman Empire is named only once, Austria-Hungary isn’t mentioned at all, and Poland is mentioned only with reference to the assumed transience of Polish Jews. One might speculate what these geographic absences say about Marx’s own thinking. Perhaps, writing Capital in London, he had limited access to materials about certain parts of the world. Or perhaps a seemingly backwards political configuration, like the Hapsburg Empire, didn’t strike Marx as terribly interesting or important for the purposes of understanding the “laws of motion” within capitalism. Perhaps he doubted the receptiveness of Eastern European and Ottoman audiences. Whatever the true cause of the map’s unevenness, I hope the cartographic presentation will provoke readers into asking themselves questions about Marx’s seminal text they might not otherwise have asked.