Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Fragment on Crisis, Contradiction and Critique (Updated)

Once again, very very tangentially related to discussions of the current crisis. And deeply underdeveloped.

My contention is that Marx understands the “standpoint” of his critique to be potentials that could be released by a reconfiguration of the “materials” that we have made available to ourselves in constituting a particular aspect of our present form of collective life. It is not incidental to his critique that he understands it to be possible to grasp core aspects of the present form of collective life in terms of contradictory social forms, nor is it incidental that he understands the present form of collective life to be crisis-prone. Neither contradiction nor crisis per se, however, directly provides Marx with a standpoint of critique. Instead, contradiction and crisis tendencies are presented, in his analysis, as distinctive qualitative characteristics of the process by which capital is reproduced.

Marx makes the point that contradictions and crises are characteristic of the reproduction of capital, rather than phenomena that by themselves point beyond capital, in various places. I’ll archive two quotations on the subject here – from Marx’s discussion of the means of circulation in chapter 3. First on contradiction:

We saw in a former chapter that the exchange of commodities implies contradictory and mutually exclusive conditions. The further development of the commodity does not abolish these contradictions, but rather provides the form within which they have room to move. This is, in general, the way in which real contradictions are resolved. For instance, it is a contradiction to depict one body as constantly falling towards another and at the same time constantly flying away from it. The ellipse is a form of motion within which this contradiction is both realized and resolved. (198)

Then on crisis (and the relation between the possibility for crisis, and the contradictory character of the form, is particularly clear in this quotation):

Circulation bursts through all the temporal, spatial and personal barriers imposed by the direct exchange of products, and it does this by splitting up the direct identity present in this case between the exchange of one’s own product and the acquisition of someone else’s into the two antithetical segments of sale and purchase. To say that these mutually independent and antithetical processes form an internal unity is to say also that their internal unity moves forward through external antitheses. These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other. Hence, if the assertion of their external independence proceeds to a certain critical point, their unity violently makes itself felt by producing – a crisis. There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity, between use-value and value, between private labour which must simultaneously manifest itself as directly social labour, and a particular concrete kind of labour which simultaneously counts as merely abstract universal labour, between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things; the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction. These forms therefore imply the possibility of crises, though no more than the possibility. (209)

Crisis figures here as the violent assertion of the underlying unity of antithetical moments of a social relation. Crisis is implied by the qualitative characteristics of that relation itself. In and of itself, neither the contradictory character of the relation, nor the crisis tendencies through which that contradictory character sometimes manifests itself, point beyond this relation.

This point is separate from the question, now being discussed at a few other blogs, of whether a historical period characterised by crisis is ripe for the development of a movement oriented to emancipatory social change. My personal opinion is that this latter question cannot productively be discussed abstractly, because I don’t see how the answer is amenable to generic theoretical determinations: theoretical analysis can cast light on how a particular kind of crisis could represent, not a breakdown of a social system, but rather a distinctive mode of social reproduction for a peculiar form of collective life; this is a far less complex question than whether some particular historical juncture might provide a fertile ground for the right kind of political struggle.

Updated to add: Reid Kotlas from Planomenology has a nice post up, discussing the cross-blog conversation on crisis, contradiction, and possibilities for transformative political practice. Among other things, the post picks up on elements of the comment above, linking these reflections to some of the concepts I’ve outlined earlier. A quick excerpt:

What would Bartleby politics look like for us, here on the ground level of the economy? Nicole at Rough Theory weighs in on the debate concerning crisis and change, and her response is quite instructive for our problem. She reminds us that the crisis and contradictions generated by capitalism are, for Marx, not necessarily elements of its collapse or overcoming, but rather, only part of the reproduction of capital. The question of emancipatory change, which for her is bound to the standpoint of critique, the genesis of a position capable of really breaking with the logic of capital, cannot be posed abstractly; it is not a question of ‘is this the right time?’ or ‘what kind of conditions does it require?’. It is a practical question of bringing about such positions through the reconfiguration of the ‘materials’ of social being – the ‘social but non-intersubjective element’ that she has previously discussed, which I would not hesitate to identify with the Symbolic order itself, or rather, the way subjects are bound up in it through organizations of jouissance. By intervening directly in the organization of collective praxis, which is to say, arrangements of enunciation and production, we can engender such a critical standpoint.

Or maybe I can put this another way. It is not that we must figure out some more radical form of organization, so as to bring about a break with capitalism. The question is how to organize collectively in line with a break that is already structurally presupposed in capitalism (the proletariat position), but that is at the same time rejected from assumption or possession, that is dis-inherited or foreclosed. It is not a question of bringing about a critical standpoint, but of enacting the necessary exclusion of its possibility, through the circulation of praxicals (indices of collective praxes, constellations of discursive and productive arrangements) that do not point toward capital as a pure possession of productivity, as the fullness of the yield of production. This latter notion is probably quite enigmatic at the moment, but it is what I am attempting to develop in my thesis (which is complete and will be posted here soon), and in my preliminary formulations of a practical model of schizoanalysis, which is, for me, a collective reorganization of the social/non-intersubjective materials of symbolic structures and relations of production.

Keep an eye on Planomenology, then, to see how these points are elaborated and developed. (Apologies for lack of a more detailed comment on these points – buried away working at the moment, but will hopefully resurface again soon.)

About these ads

2 responses to “Fragment on Crisis, Contradiction and Critique (Updated)

  1. Pingback: Economic Alien(ation) « Planomenology

  2. Pingback: Bartleby on Main Street (Schizoanalysis 2) « Planomenology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: