The corporate form has been interpreted in numerous ways since its inception. In this paper we elaborate upon Marx’ early interpretation of the corporation as a concept allowing for a specific rendering of control that facilitates accumulation of wealth. We argue that the corporate form in its present form is a far more complicated construct than it was in Marx’ time, with even larger capacity for accumulation of wealth and power.
To understand the corporate form as a specific instrument to organize the accumulation of wealth, we start with it historical development, where we find that the corporate form combines theoretical precepts in an extremely incongruous way. This results in the use of synthetic notions of the ‘subject’ and the group, which allows for the reduction of the corporate form to a synthetic ideal-typical reified singular ‘agent’ in neoclassical economics and a supra-individual group representation in law. Both notions come together in a synthetic ‘agent’ position for the corporate form which provides the basis for the treatment of the corporate form in ideas of corporate governance that emanate from law and economics.
These notions of the corporate form as a synthetic ‘agent’ provide an elusive corporate form, which can be understood as singular and multiple, as subject-like and as state-like, as locally constituted and as constituted in the area(s) of operation, and as national and supranational. We discuss how this synthetic ‘agent’ deflects localized applications of responsibility, liability, and tax regimes. This leads us to argue that such synthetic notions of the ‘agent’ exert a strong influence on macro-economic structuring by providing the basic building blocks that allows for the structuring of global value chains and global finance as endlessly malleable chains of such synthetic subjects in the international domain.
These developments towards a synthetic ‘agent’ have made the corporate form not only a more elusive construct than it was in Marx’ interpretation, but it is also more effective in the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a small transnational elite.