1. When Marx speaks of "monopoly," he is speaking of the monopoly of capital, the monopoly by capital of the means of production. He is speaking of the organization of those means as private property of the capitalists. His critique of capital applies to that monopoly. Whether there is one capital or 101 capitals is immaterial to Marx's critique as it is immaterial to the inherent dynamics of capital accumulation.
There is, and is always, the monopoly by capital. There is almost never monopoly capital. And where and when there is, it isn't for long, and it doesn't matter. Competition is the external expression of capital's internal compulsion to expropriate surplus value; to accumulate, accumulate, accumulate; to exchange as much as itself with labor-power for as little as possible.
Monopoly by capital, producing concentration and centralization of capitals can no more supersede or suspend the dynamics, forces of its own reproduction, its own laws of value than a human can jump over his or her own head while firmly grasping both ankles.
2. The "vulnerability" of capital, the limit to its reproduction, is not that capital becomes incapable of "expanding the means of production;" that it can no longer amplify the productivity of human labor. "Historical limits" are not time-clocks, or "sell-by" dates. Historical limits are the boundaries of a specific social organization of labor. Historical limits are posited, absorbed, repeated, reproduced throughout capital's existence.
These limits do not suddenly appear when capital has "fulfilled its purpose, its so-called historic mission" because indeed capital has only had a single purpose, the expansion of value through the expropriation of surplus value. It's only historical mission has been the reproduction of capital. "Progress" is an ideological obfuscation of value, and has no meaning to capital apart from value.
Because capital does not lose its need for self-expansion, the limit to that expansion must be in its origin-- in the accumulation of the means of production as expanded value; as the condition of labor in opposition to labor itself. The historical limits of capital move through its history, erupting at the moments, during the periods when the very expansion of the means of production as capital has impaired their continued valorization. The labor process and the valorization process, the labor process as the valorization process becomes the mode of destruction.
"Progress," "stages," "development" have no meaning apart from this conflict between the labor process and the valorization process, a conflict where each recognizes itself in the other as loss..
Capital is at the very least not necessarily more "progressive" or more "productive" than the modes it demolishes.
Value is more destructive, of that there is no doubt.
3. It's the real accumulation of real assets that provokes, excites the conflict between means and relations of production, between production and valorization, not the proliferation of securities; not some explosion of speculative debt instruments; not asset-backed securities. The movements in these markets are derived, derivative, from the revalorization of accumulated capital. Assets, after all, maintain their value only to the extent that they give their value up incrementally, transfer it, in the valorization process; in the expansion of production. Assets maintain value only to the extent that profitability outpaces devaluation.
The original, the mother, the grand-daddy of all asset-backed securities is.....the bank.
4. "Things" are beginning to look up for capital, according to the reports in the bourgeoisie's favorite journals. Industrial production is recovering, even in Europe, although overproduction in the auto industry has hardly been remedied.
"Getting better" can mean the rate of deceleration has slowed; it can mean the rate of deceleration has gone to zero; it can mean some sectors see some improvement; it can mean some countries have seen some improvement.
It can also mean the attacks on wages, on living standards, on employment, liquidating the savings and assets of the once and now again poor have produced a revenue stream, a cash flow, just capable of re-floating, just for the moment, the good ship Lollipop.
It can mean that 2014 is going to be a very important year; when the debt embodied in commercial real estate mortgage backed securities cannot be repaid, not refinanced. It can mean that the decline in commodity prices, providing a bit of boost to industrial production, becomes a collapse in prices. It can mean the expansion of oil and gas production which has driven energy prices down becomes yet another threat to the rate of return on production and investment for the major petroleum companies... and we know what happens after that.
It can mean that 2014 is the year when the overproduced chickens come to their underwater homes to roost.
It can mean, The Shirelles to the contrary notwithstanding, that the darkest hour is just after the hint of dawn.