Rough Theory

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Category Archives: Social Movements

Egypt – Signal Boost

Just reposting the link to a blog set up by regular commenter John, which has been publishing content from the uprising in Egypt. As of the present moment, the internet connection that had been enabling updates has been cut off, but the following was phoned in:

Tomorrow we will march on the palace

The last remaining internet connection in Cairo (the one we have been using to update this blog) has just been shut down (11pm Egyptian time). Sources say all the mobile phone lines will again be cut off tonight.

But despite the media blackout a million man march has been organized for 9am tomorrow morning, from Tahrir square to the presidential palace.

Spirits remain high, everyone knows that the time of this regime is over.

– Phoned in from Cairo, 11:10pm


In an indirect and incomplete way, some of the questions currently hanging in the comments here, I’ve addressed – sleepily – in a comment over at Nate’s… Rather than spreading the discussion across two sites, I thought I’d just post a pointer over there… Eventually (soon?), I’ll try to take up some of these issues over here…

Debasing the Superstructure

Okay. Let’s see how far I manage to get into this concept before other obligations draw me away…

I tend to dislike attempts to understand Marx’s analysis of capitalism in terms of categories like “base” and “superstructure”. This vocabulary is historically associated with dichotomous forms of theory that attempt to parcel out social experience into parts viewed as more foundational – and thus more “real”, or more causally efficacious – than other parts, which are viewed as more ephemeral or derivative. I tend to see Marx’s work as profoundly antagonistic to such attempts to parcel out ontological primacy, and I view Marx as generally dedicated to fluid and dynamic categories that cannot be well understood in terms of any sort of fixed and static dichotomous opposition.

At the same time, there is a potential rational core to this vocabulary – which is used by Marx himself, although much more rarely than one might expect from its prominence in the literature. This rational core does not, however, trace a divide between economic practices and other sorts of practice. It traces, instead, a relationship between high theoretical discourse, and more mundane forms of everyday social practice. And the relationship it traces is one in which high theoretical discourse too often operates as a sort of delusional apotheosis of everyday social practices whose impact on thought is disavowed by theorists who perceive themselves to have arrived at their various conclusions through the brute force of rarified intellect, rather than through the articulation of practical, bodily experiences collectively experienced by a mass of humanity far wider than the few participants in high theoretical discussions.

On this reading, the “base” is not some specific sphere of social action, but rather mundane practical experience in the broadest sense. This base of practical experience is, for Marx, generative of historical potential and insight – the selfsame potential and insight that makes its way into a “superstructure” of high discourse, where it is misrecognised as the product of disembodied and decontextualised thought. Marx seeks to “ground” the superstructure in the base by… debasing this rarified superstructural self-understanding, by dragging it back into the bodily space of collective practices from which it arises. He does this by showing how specific insights that high theoretical discourses claim to deduce – whether through empirical observation, conventional logic, or dialectics – are “deducible” only because these insights are presently being enacted in various mundane and everyday forms of practice that are widely experienced, and thus intuitively familiar, well before their formal theoretical articulations.

To the extent that these formal articulations cannot grasp their relation to everyday practices – to the extent that other forms of theory treat their insights as floating above mundane forms of social experience – these articulations will forever be the captives of the mundane forms they disavow. They will operate as the “apotheoses” of everyday experiences – treating the insights suggested by contingent practical experiences as deep and essential truths become manifest in history through the power of thought. As such apotheoses, they tend to perceive their relationship with practice in an inverted way: instead of recognising themselves as articulations of contingent practical possibilities, accidentally wrested from historical experience, they take their theoretical insights to be sui generis, and then conclude – apologistically – that any compatibility between the claims of the theory, and the mundane practices of collective life, means simply that the compatible practices can be objectively judged to be rational. Such theories, Marx believes, see social reality in an inverted form. By debasing the superstructure, by demonstrating that the sensibilities expressed in high theoretical discourse can be generated in mundane forms of everyday practice, Marx seeks to drag the apotheosis back to earth, and thus upturn this deranged mirror-image self-understanding.

Marx’s obsession with inversion and apotheosis starts very early, and continues through his latest works, although the resources he brings to bear to analyse everyday practice become much more extensive over time. The famous opening passage of The German Ideology, for example, mocks the Young Hegelians – characteristically, for Marx, by opening with a few sentences voiced from the perspective of the position being criticised:

Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and — existing reality will collapse.

These innocent and childlike fancies are the kernel of the modern Young-Hegelian philosophy, which not only is received by the German public with horror and awe, but is announced by our philosophic heroes with the solemn consciousness of its cataclysmic dangerousness and criminal ruthlessness. The first volume of the present publication has the aim of uncloaking these sheep, who take themselves and are taken for wolves; of showing how their bleating merely imitates in a philosophic form the conceptions of the German middle class; how the boasting of these philosophic commentators only mirrors the wretchedness of the real conditions in Germany. It is its aim to debunk and discredit the philosophic struggle with the shadows of reality, which appeals to the dreamy and muddled German nation.

Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose harmful results all statistics brought him new and manifold evidence. This valiant fellow was the type of the new revolutionary philosophers in Germany.

This “new revolutionary philosopher” tilts at the windmill of false consciousness, believing that, if only the right battles be fought at the level of concepts, freedom will follow. Without the idea of gravity, no one will drown. Evidence of material harm becomes more grist for the idealist mill – more proof of the harmful nature of the ideal, rather than a practical reminder of the material character of the problem to be solved.

In the next section, we continue to hear from the “new revolutionary philosopher”, sarcasm our guide that this position is not being endorsed, but enacted to establish this character – Marx’s fool:

As we hear from German ideologists, Germany has in the last few years gone through an unparalleled revolution. The decomposition of the Hegelian philosophy, which began with Strauss, has developed into a universal ferment into which all the “powers of the past” are swept. In the general chaos mighty empires have arisen only to meet with immediate doom, heroes have emerged momentarily only to be hurled back into obscurity by bolder and stronger rivals. It was a revolution beside which the French Revolution was child’s play, a world struggle beside which the struggles of the Diadochi [successors of Alexander the Great] appear insignificant. Principles ousted one another, heroes of the mind overthrew each other with unheard-of rapidity, and in the three years 1842-45 more of the past was swept away in Germany than at other times in three centuries.

All this is supposed to have taken place in the realm of pure thought.

A burlesque image – this is a comedy – we are meant to laugh along: the decay of a high philosophy generates a “universal ferment” in which the actions of “mighty empires” and “heroes” stage battles of world historical significance. The language is heady – but the reader is distanced from the passage by the opening and closing brackets: “As we hear from German ideologists” and “All this is supposed to have taken place in the realm of pure thought”. The tone is high dismissal. The perspective is tacitly panned back from the positions being criticised, the perspectives caught up in this “world struggle” in the mind.

The next paragraph – crudely, but the strategic elements are there – begins to suggest a more mundane set of experiences that operate similarly to the battle of the mind portrayed just above: the saturation of the market by industrial capital in a state of competition that becomes more frenetic as the market becomes more glutted:

Certainly it is an interesting event we are dealing with: the putrescence of the absolute spirit. When the last spark of its life had failed, the various components of this caput mortuum began to decompose, entered into new combinations and formed new substances. The industrialists of philosophy, who till then had lived on the exploitation of the absolute spirit, now seized upon the new combinations. Each with all possible zeal set about retailing his apportioned share. This naturally gave rise to competition, which, to start with, was carried on in moderately staid bourgeois fashion. Later when the German market was glutted, and the commodity in spite of all efforts found no response in the world market, the business was spoiled in the usual German manner by fabricated and fictitious production, deterioration in quality, adulteration of the raw materials, falsification of labels, fictitious purchases, bill-jobbing and a credit system devoid of any real basis. The competition turned into a bitter struggle, which is now being extolled and interpreted to us as a revolution of world significance, the begetter of the most prodigious results and achievements.

The great revolution of the mind, the text suggests, is being played out, over and over again, in a much more mundane register – and the results of that practical revolution are no more emancipatory than those playing out at the level of ideology.

This narrative move: starting internal to the perspective being criticised, but writing in a way that sends up that perspective, sarcastically destabilising it by exaggerating its worst tendencies, playing the perspective as the Fool – then the shift to a more mundane practical register, where similar self-conceptions and patterns are also being enacted – is a move I have argued is central to the narrative structure of Capital. While the analytical resources, I would argue, are much more complex in the later work, the critical style is similar: first send it up, then tear it down, by showing that there are other dimensions of social practice where the same sensibilities are being enacted. Capital will greatly modify the basic critical apparatus set out in this early work, and offer a much more nuanced theory of practice and understanding of capitalism. This specific impulse, however, is retained. Marx continues to find value in a burlesque representation of his opponents’ views, and in a constant debasement of other forms of theory by demonstrating how the forms of thought, and the analytical categories these theories deploy, are generated in specific forms of everyday social practices that are often oriented to crass ends.

When writing the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx wrestles systematically with the question of how to apply this critical impulse, not simply to positions he intends to dismiss, but also to positions he accords considerable validity. (Maddeningly, he then decides not to publish these reflections with the Contribution, feeling that they anticipate the results of his investigation… We therefore know them as the opening chapter to the Grundrisse manuscript, and they were not known in Marx’s own time at all…)

In this introduction, which I have analysed a number of times previously on this blog, Marx considers the great difficulty with which Adam Smith managed to articulate the simple category of labour – a category that, Marx argues, is on one level extremely old (it is genuinely true that people have always “laboured”, so the category picks out a phenomenon that transcends many different forms of social life). On another level, however, Marx points out that those other forms of social life themselves lacked this category – and that it was by no means an easy category even for Adam Smith to articulate.

One intepretive option would be to conclude that Adam Smith – genius that he was – finally discovered a phenomenon that had always already existed, but had previously never been recognised. He deduced through the sheer brute force of reason that, logically speaking, all forms of human intercourse with nature were, in their essential being, the same form of activity – a form of activity which he then christened with the term “labour”.

Marx is not happy with this option. Smith is a genius, sure. But his genius does not lie in deducing something that had always already been true. Rather, it lies in his sensitivity to the implications of a very recent historical shift – a shift that means that, in at least one dimension of practical experience, all manner of activities involving intercourse between humans and nature are being treated in collective practice as indifferently the same sort of activity. It is this practical enactment, for Marx, that renders plausible and potentially intuitive the development of the simple category of labour per se – the category that seems so abstract that it applies to all human societies, but a category whose abstraction is directly true, as a practical matter, only for us:

Labour seems to be a very simple category. The notion of labour in this universal form, as labour in general, is also extremely old. Nevertheless “labour” in this simplicity is economically considered just as modern a category as the relations which give rise to this simple abstraction. […]

It was an immense advance when Adam Smith rejected all restrictions with regard to the activity that produces wealth – for him it was labour as such, neither manufacturing, nor commercial, nor agricultural labour, but all types of labour. The abstract universality which creates wealth implies also the universality of the objects defined as wealth: they are products as such, or once more labour as such, but in this case past, materialised labour. How difficult and immense a transition this was is demonstrated by the fact that Adam Smith himself occasionally relapses once more into the Physiocratic system. It might seem that in this way merely an abstract expression was found for the simplest and most ancient relation in which human beings act as producers – irrespective of the type of society they live in. This is true in one respect, but not in another.

The fact that the specific kind of labour is irrelevant presupposes a highly developed complex of actually existing kinds of labour, none of which is any more the all-important one. The most general abstractions arise on the whole only when concrete development is most profuse, so that a specific quality is seen to be common to many phenomena, or common to all. Then it is no longer perceived solely in a particular form. This abstraction of labour is, on the other hand, by no means simply the conceptual resultant of a variety of concrete types of labour. The fact that the particular kind of labour employed is immaterial is appropriate to a form of society in which individuals easily pass from one type of labour to another, the particular type of labour being accidental to them and therefore irrelevant. Labour, not only as a category but in reality, has become a means to create wealth in general, and has ceased to be tied as an attribute to a particular individual. This state of affairs is most pronounced in the United States, the most modern form of bourgeois society. The abstract category “labour,” “labour as such,” labour sans phrase, the point of departure of modern economics, thus becomes a practical fact only there. The simplest abstraction, which plays a decisive role in modem political economy, an abstraction which expresses an ancient relation existing in all social formations, nevertheless appears to be actually true in this abstract form only as a category of the most modern society. […]

The example of labour strikingly demonstrates how even the most abstract categories, despite their validity in all epochs – precisely because they are abstractions – are equally a product of historical conditions even in the specific form of abstractions, and they retain their full validity only for and within the framework of these conditions.

In this passage, Marx applies the same basic sensibility wielded in The German Ideology – but here in a manner that makes clearer how it is possible to preserve and validate the insights gained from practice. Marx doesn’t contest the validity of the simple category of “labour” – he just bounds this validity, by picking out the practices that have rendered the category socially valid. If we then want to look back on past societies, and apply this category, we can do this – as long as we recognise that we are looking back on past societies with our own eyes, with sensibilities that have been primed by practical possibilities that were not necessarily available in those earlier times. By the same token, we can apply these categories to look forward – toward forms of collective life that we would like to create. If we do this with some awareness of the contingency of our own categories, we are better positioned to understand the need for the development of new institutions (for those categories whose practical reality we wish to preserve, or to adapt into other forms), and we are better positioned for understanding how we can selectively inherit the practical potentials of our own time – an understanding that is more difficult to achieve, if we view our categories as arising from the discovery of timeless truths.

In this manuscript, Marx is still wrestling with how to understand the modern “simplicity” of labour sans phrase. The explanation he sketches briefly here – which grounds the phenomenon in the practical experience of being able to move readily between roles in a complex division of labour – is subsumed, in Capital, into an immensely more complex explanation that I won’t revisit in this post. What I did want to revisit, although it will be a familiar point to regular readers, is that this basic critical impulse remains central to the later work.

So, as I’ve argued, the opening chapter begins by sending up several positions of which Marx is critical – I’ve called them empiricist, transcendental, and dialectical characters. They could equally be called vulgar political economy, classical (or scientific) political economy, and a sort of vulgar dialectics. In all three cases, although this has largely gone unnoticed by all but a few commentators, the tone of the text is highly sarcastic, and the forms of argument are voiced in a blustering style, by characters engaged in a bit of performative self-puffery. While there are hints all through the text – in tone and word choice, in footnotes, and in textual asides – that this sort of burlesque is being performed, the most explicit early indication that Marx takes the forms of argument being displayed to be somewhat deluded comes in the form of a digression on Aristotle that I have analysed a number of times here in the past.

In the passages preceding this digression, Marx has put forward three forms of analysis, each of which, for all their differences, share a tendency to treat their insights as disembodied and sui generis, divorced from collective practice. Thus the empiricist figure treats consciousness as contemplative and takes for granted whatever interpretive insights leap to mind from reflection on how things present themselves “at first sight”; the transcendental character trusts in its deductive acumen and rational intuition; and the dialectical character trusts in its dialectical techniques that cleverly derive a series of schoolbook “inversions”. On one level, these figures disagree – they present conflicting interpretations of what the commodity “really is”. On another level, however, they share a similar orientation that affirms the power of the brute force application of a disembodied consciousness.

The digression on Aristotle is the first moment in the text where Marx flags how profoundly he disagrees.

The immediately previous section effects a tour de force of dialectical logic, one which has drawn its conclusions, purportedly, by examining the immanent logic of the category of the commodity. Marx then introduces Aristotle in order – quite mischievously – to ask: if it’s logic that has brought us to this point, then why didn’t Aristotle work it out? He goes on to show that Aristotle in fact considered the possibility that something like “value” might exist, that some sort of relation of equality might be implied by the act of exchange, etc. So the problem wasn’t a conceptual one – it wasn’t that Aristotle wasn’t smart enough to draw the conclusions put forward by the various perspectives Marx has been presenting in the chapter thus far. No, Aristotle considered these conclusions – and then rejected them. But why?

Marx is using Aristotle here in order to make it difficult to dismiss the point by claiming that lack of intelligence or lack of familiarity with logic caused the problem. If Aristotle failed to draw the conclusion, Marx suggests, then maybe it’s not logic or intellect that has led to this conclusion in the first place. Maybe the characters presented thus far in the chapter, who seem to understand their arguments to be driven by the brute force of their disembodied and decontextualised reason, have misunderstood the basis of their insights. Maybe something else is in fact required. Maybe intellect is not enough.

The other thing that is required – as Marx here makes clear – is practical experience. Aristotle failed to “discover” value, because value is, like labour sans phrase, a much more historically and socially specific beast than is captured by the forms of theoretical argument that are commonly used to demonstrate its existence and explore its characteristics. In Marx’s words:

The two latter peculiarities of the equivalent form will become more intelligible if we go back to the great thinker who was the first to analyse so many forms, whether of thought, society, or Nature, and amongst them also the form of value. I mean Aristotle.

In the first place, he clearly enunciates that the money form of commodities is only the further development of the simple form of value – i.e., of the expression of the value of one commodity in some other commodity taken at random; for he says:

5 beds = 1 house – (clinai pente anti oiciaς)

is not to be distinguished from

5 beds = so much money. – (clinai pente anti … oson ai pente clinai)

He further sees that the value relation which gives rise to this expression makes it necessary that the house should qualitatively be made the equal of the bed, and that, without such an equalisation, these two clearly different things could not be compared with each other as commensurable quantities. “Exchange,” he says, “cannot take place without equality, and equality not without commensurability”. (out isothς mh oushς snmmetriaς). Here, however, he comes to a stop, and gives up the further analysis of the form of value. “It is, however, in reality, impossible (th men oun alhqeia adunaton), that such unlike things can be commensurable” – i.e., qualitatively equal. Such an equalisation can only be something foreign to their real nature, consequently only “a makeshift for practical purposes.”

Aristotle therefore, himself, tells us what barred the way to his further analysis; it was the absence of any concept of value. What is that equal something, that common substance, which admits of the value of the beds being expressed by a house? Such a thing, in truth, cannot exist, says Aristotle. And why not? Compared with the beds, the house does represent something equal to them, in so far as it represents what is really equal, both in the beds and the house. And that is – human labour.

There was, however, an important fact which prevented Aristotle from seeing that, to attribute value to commodities, is merely a mode of expressing all labour as equal human labour, and consequently as labour of equal quality. Greek society was founded upon slavery, and had, therefore, for its natural basis, the inequality of men and of their labour powers. The secret of the expression of value, namely, that all kinds of labour are equal and equivalent, because, and so far as they are human labour in general, cannot be deciphered, until the notion of human equality has already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice. This, however, is possible only in a society in which the great mass of the produce of labour takes the form of commodities, in which, consequently, the dominant relation between man and man, is that of owners of commodities. The brilliancy of Aristotle’s genius is shown by this alone, that he discovered, in the expression of the value of commodities, a relation of equality. The peculiar conditions of the society in which he lived, alone prevented him from discovering what, “in truth,” was at the bottom of this equality.

From this point, it becomes clear that the forms of argument paraded onto the main text of Capital are part of this work’s distinctive presentational strategy – which will often present forms of argument that are intended to be the targets of the critique. This does not mean that the text is as dismissive of the conclusions reached through these arguments: Marx will often preserve a conclusion; the forms of argument displayed, however, are rarely the means through which Marx would support a conclusion himself, and they are quite often sent-up, burlesque renditions of forms of argument Marx regards as absurd, drawn in exaggerated outlines designed to caricature the original position, thus magnifying and clarifying the nature of its absurdity. And, even where Marx does preserve a conclusion, he often does so only in a perverse or counter-intuitive form – in a way that demonstrates that truths held sacred by particular theoretical positions can be retained only at the cost of acknowledging other truths from which that tradition would recoil in horror. Conclusions are preserved by translating them beyond the recognition of their original advocates, by bounding and limiting them to minuscule eddies within a vast torrent of conflicting social currents, by deriving them through forms of analysis that show their intrinsic interconnection with the basest elements of collective life.

The glee with which Marx effects this argument in Capital retains the sadistic emotional charge with which he excoriates his German ideologists. High theorists are to be made to confront the mundane practical origins that render their insights plausible, the most cherished and rarified sensibilities demonstrated to arise in the crass and common maelstrom of everyday collective life.

At the same time, however, the argument is reflexively fueled by Marx’s belief that human thought does not range very free from our practical experiences – we easily intuit only what we collectively do, and we think in doing before we articulate and distill those practical thoughts into any explicit form. Small shifts in apparently trivial forms of everyday collective experience thus serve as accidental incubators for new practical potentials – potentials which can be articulated theoretically – an articulation that can be practically important in its own turn, as an enabling force for active appropriation of accidental practical insights.

Architechtonically, Capital embodies this commitment – and this is one of the things that makes the text so very difficult to parse. It first does. Then it articulates. In the more explicit methodological reflections in the fourth section of the opening chapter, Marx states this explicitly:

Man’s reflections on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum, with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him.

The text is reflexive: Marx is not here talking only about other people – those flawed theorists out there who think in this peculiar after-the-fact sort of way. This is how he thinks of himself, when he is thinking about capitalism. This is how Capital is structured – as this sort of demonstration, then post festum process of making explicit what has just been done, in a way that makes it possible to articulate the doing in a way that increases the potential to appropriate our practical insights to construct alternative forms of collective life.

So the opening chapter stages this cryptic play. Then the second chapter says explicitly that, in this work, we will often be dealing with characters on an economic stage – a passage often misinterpreted since the playlike structure of the opening chapter, which is done, but not declared until after, is overlooked. Ironically, the passage in chapter 2 that makes this point explicit is itself often misinterpreted – as implying a base/superstructure analysis of the more conventional kind – as implying that Marx thinks that people are merely passive ciphers, determined by objective forces beyond their control. Instead, he thinks we are actors – in a rich sense. We do. And, in doing, we think. And through these thoughts and actions we create possibilities. Unanticipated possibilities, whose consequences we have not thought through or predicted in advance. And, having done this, we can – just possibly – think again, and in new ways opened up by our new practical experiences, and we can perhaps articulate, make explicit, and render more accessible for further practice new possibilities for future forms of collective life.

Elliptical Critique

Light posting for the moment, as it’s the beginning of our term here, and so things are quite hectic, but I wanted to pick up on one small point that had occurred to me in the course of responding to one of roger’s recent posts on Marx.

I’ve written quite a lot, at various times, on how I understand Capital to be putting forward a series of partial perspectives that are each looking on out specific aspects of an overarching process that is far more complex than any one of those perspectives is able to capture. This is a strategy that, I believe, weaves its way throughout the text, such that no particular moment gives us “the” critical standpoint of the text. This critical standpoint instead resides in the ability to move around amongst the available perspectives, constantly looking back over our shoulders at previous perspectives and seeing how the phenomena they described appear when viewed from a different standpoint.

One of the things revealed by this sort of fluid standpoint, I believe, is that the “same” social practices or social phenomena can carry multiple consequences – only some of which are easily visible from any particular point of view. In this context, categories like “capital” or the “commodity” – the categories often central to recent “new dialectical” interpretations of Marx – pick out what I have called “emergent effects”: these are categories that describe very complex patterns of aggregate social behaviour that are not caused by one type of social practice alone, or even by a few types of social practices operating together, but instead by the joint operation of a very wide array of social practices, none of which is immediately oriented to achieving such an aggregate effect.

Capital sets out to show – and this is its connection with Darwin’s work – how, in the absence of an overarching Designer or Plan, it is possible nevertheless for aggregate social practices to generate non-random results. To do this, it re-assembles the array of social practices Marx takes to be essential to achieving these peculiar aggregate social results, in order to show how the various bits of the array each generate some consequence that contributes to the peculiar overarching historical patterns Marx sets out to analyse.

One goal of the text, then, is to answer the question: how could a complex pattern of aggregate social behaviour come into being in the absence of a designer or a plan? And one could add: without this pattern arising from some essential characteristic of human nature, social life, or the material world? For Marx’s project differs from Darwin’s in that he is committed to showing the contingency of the patterns he describes.

This goal is important, but it is not the only goal governing Marx’s presentation in Capital. The text would be considerably simpler – but also much more one-sided – if the point were just to show how a particular sort of unintended consequence were generated if and only if a very specific array of social practices were operating in tandem.

Another important goal of the text is to explore all of the other consequences and implications of the social practices that – when they operate in tandem – generate emergent effects like “capital”. Because these other consequences and potentials are also dimensions of social experience for indigenous inhabitants of capitalist societies. Thus, when Capital unfurls the array of practices that must operate together to generate specific aggregate results, it also tarries over the more immediate consequences of each practice in the array, exploring the phenomenological experience of social actors who engage in that practice, often as this phenomenological experience shifts from moment to moment during the execution of the “same” practice, and also exploring the more immediate effects each practice generates for other social actors and for the material world.

These more immediate effects are often easier for social actors to discern – and might, in fact, be common to many periods of human history. What has changed for some practices is instead the more indirect effects these practices generate only because they are currently contributing to a complex system that is historically new. This distinction – between immediate effects that may be consciously intended or are at least easier for social actors to discern – and indirect aggregate effects that result from the simultaneous performance of many different kinds of social practices – is one of the reasons, in Marx’s account, that is it so difficult for social actors to grasp the ontological status of the phenomena observed by political economy.

Political economists don’t know “where to have” categories like “value”, because these categories express the emergent effects of many different practices – effects that are not intended, and that often do not resemble – or even “contradict” – the more immediate effects of the very same sorts of social practices that help generate this aggregate result. In this situation, the aggregate effects can come to seem like ontologically spooky results of capacities for self-organisation inherent in the material world, so long as humans keep out of the way. The contingent social basis for this “self”-organisation can come to seem mysterious and opaque. Marx believes that he can deflate this mystery – that he can demonstrate that political economy is being metaphysical in treating phenomena as “given” – by showing how aggregate effects can be produced by the combined operation of social practices whose immediate consequences may bear no resemblance to the aggregate phenomena they generate.

One side effect of this analysis is that it shows how the “same” social practices can generate “contradictory” consequences – depending on how far downstream the analysis follows the consequences that a specific social practice can generate. As Capital moves through various perspectives, what Marx is often exploring is what social tendencies look like, at the precise moment that social actors are engaging in specific forms of practice. Marx goes through dozens of forms of practice in this way – often breaking what we would casually regard as the “same” practice (like “using money”) down into sub-practices that involve very different sorts of actions and performative stances.

Then, quite brilliantly, he links up specific forms of political economic theory to the way the world looks, if you are using the perceptual and conceptual resources engendered by some specific form of practice. In this way, he establishes how, and to what extent, specific forms of political economic are “socially valid”: he shows that a specific theory expresses fairly well the forms of social experience that arise when people are, e.g., selling goods, or paying off debt, or earning interest. He then moves onto another practice, and shows that very different possibilities for social experience are opened up by that practice – and thus retroactively criticises earlier perspectives by showing that they capture only a very small part of the social experience available collectively to us.

In this way, political economic theories are revealed to be partial representations of some small dimension of social experience. They might be perfectly accurate as far as that small slice of experience is concerned, but they are guilty of over-extrapolation: they hypostatise that dimension of social experience and behave as though it operates in isolation, unchecked by the operation of any other practices. As a result, they arrive at a very poor sense of the dynamics and tendencies of capitalist production as a whole.

In Capital‘s third chapter, Marx steals from Hegel an interesting image for expressing a social “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 time same constantly flying away from it. The ellipse is a form of motion within which this contradiction is both realized and resolved. (198)

In capitalism’s much more complex elliptical movement, poor forms of theory operate like someone who sees only one dimension of the ellipse, and doesn’t understand how that dimension is checked by other, contradictory tendencies. So they rightly see that one tendency is that two bodies are constantly falling toward one another, and they declare that the fundamental law of motion is that they shall crash! Or they rightly see that one tendency is that two bodies are constantly flying apart, and they declare that the fundamental law of motion is that they shall become ever more distant from one another! These perceptions aren’t products of poor reasoning, exactly – they are based on the genuine experience of their object. It’s just that they fail to grasp how complex that object is, in practice, and so they arrive at a much simpler, much more linear, understanding of how its dynamics will play out over time.

In roger’s recent series of posts, one recurrent touchstone has been how to understand passages where Marx seems to imply that money dissolves everything – that all relationships become fungible, all hierarchies dissolve, all solids melt into air. I would suggest that the way to understand such passages is as perspectives – perspectives that are partial, that are valid only contingently, and only in bounded ways. Marx ventriloquises such perspectives, showing how the laws of motion of capitalism appear from their standpoint – and he also tries to show what aspect of everyday, mundane practical social experience engenders the sensibilities that have been articulated theoretically into this form. But he does not use these passages to make fixed ontological claims – even historically contingent ones. He does not claim, e.g., that relationships “are” fungible – he claims that there is a dimension of social practice that if it were looked at in isolation from all other social practices would imply that this could be the case. The perspective that claims this, however, operates with a significant blind spot: it doesn’t acknowledge the effects of the many other social practices that stand in the way of realising this implicit “telos” of one small dimension of a complex whole.

At the same time, however, having a dimension of social practice – however small – that suggests the possibility to dissolve all social hierarchies: this is incendiary. Recurrent social experience – even if fleeting – with a dimension of social practice that suggests this sort of contingency has a potentially corrosive effect. The potential to transform hierarchies, to burst through barriers, is placed on the experiential table through countless mundane practices that are not in themselves transformative, but that can be articulated (as Marx does in the Communist Manifesto) to transformative ends. By themselves, these practical experiences point in no specific direction: capitalist “creative destruction” is as compatible with the notion that all barriers can fall, as is the mobilisation for a future egalitarian society – an explicitly political articulation and appropriation of this reservoir of collective experience is required. But the initial corrosive force – the introduction of a nagging possibility for transformation – first arises, in Marx’s account, in a very mundane way – as unintentional as the aggregate forms of social coercion that Capital also analyses.

Capital seeks to tease out these tacit potentials, as they arise in a wide array of everyday practices whose indirect consequence also happens to be the reproduction of capital. There is nothing in the practical constitution of these potentials that suggests that, left to their own devices, they would necessarily drive historical development in some specific direction: our practices generate accidental possibilities; something active is required – a new selective inheritance that cites different moments of our history – to break free of the elliptical movement that, at present, truncates the development of specific potentials, constraining them into a form compatible with the continued reproduction of the unintended whole.

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.)

The Inverted World

So one of Nate’s recent posts has generated my bedtime reading for the past several days – Marx’s Wage Labour and Capital, an early work updated by Engels after Marx’s death, and his 1865 “Value, Price and Profit”. The former I have read before, but not recently. The latter I’m not sure I’ve ever read – if I have, I’ve thoroughly forgotten the content. Both works are interesting as self-popularisations – expressing Marx’s own attempt to simplify and prioritise elements from his work for a more popular audience.

From the standpoint of my own attempt to unpack and make sense of the textual strategy of the first volume of Capital, reading pretty much anything else by Marx has a particular kind of strange effect. On the one hand, his terminology in other works, particularly, but not exclusively, earlier works, is often very loose compared to the unfolding of the argument in Capital (which is not always itself consistent, but which reads, to me, much more consistent than anything else of Marx’s that I’ve read) – and, even where the terminology is reasonably consistent within a work, the sense of a term may be subtly, or even dramatically, different from the senses on which the first volume pivots. The first volume of Capital is also a “scientific” text – as Patrick Murray expresses it, Marx’s only “scientific” text – where the sense of “science” here is Hegelian: a science is something that does not step outside its object – something that reflexively accounts for its own categories as immanent moments of the relation it is analysing critically. The “point” of this kind of “scientific” analysis – as I’ve tried to express in many posts – is not to debunk the categories being analysed, but rather to locate them – to situate how our collective practices generate these particular categories as “practical truths”. Once this sort of “scientific” analysis has been carried out, the categories themselves can then be deployed – with an appreciation of their bounds and limits that derives from the “scientific” analysis itself, but without the need to replicate the massive apparatus that a reflexive critique requires. “Value, Price and Profit” in particular does this – relying on and, in places, even closely paraphrasing moments from Capital, but leaving aside the complex textual metastructure that allows Marx, in Capital to destabilise the categories in order to express at each moment their relational determination within the overarching social configuration he is trying to capture in this text.

Among other consequences – and as you would expect – these self-popularised works are much easier to read than Capital. When I bury myself in the textual strategy of Capital for too long, I always forget this: that Marx isn’t, so to speak, congenitally cryptic about his own substantive claims – that the esoteric textual strategy of Capital derives from the attempt to come up with a mode of presentation that expresses certain substantive claims about the peculiar, practically reflexive, character of the process by which capital is reproduced. Where Marx isn’t attempting to be rigorous in this very peculiar sense, he actually is capable of saying directly what he means. I often get startled by this, after spending long periods reconstructing the sense of over-subtle passages in the first volume of Capital, only then to stumble across Marx, in effect, chatting away about the point in a quite direct way in some other writing. This unfortunately doesn’t mean – at least, I don’t believe that it does – that Capital can be cast aside, in favour of other works where Marx speaks more plainly: there are things the first volume of Capital does, that are not done in other places, there is a systematicity and internal consistency to this volume compared to other works, and the very presentational form of the work itself makes a substantive argument worth unpacking in its own right. Nevertheless, I often feel a bit peculiar when shifting from the maddeningly indirect way the first volume of Capital makes its points – a form of presentation that always leaves interpretation feeling precarious and risky to me – to other works that state key points more baldly.

I’m thinking about this today because “Value, Price and Profit” concludes on a point I’ve been arguing (in work not yet on the blog… more on all this soon) is suggested by the dramatic structure of the first volume of Capital. In a concluding section titled “The Struggle Between Capital and Labour and Its Results”, Marx has, on the one hand, outlined the necessity for a struggle between labour and capital in order for labourers to realise the value of their peculiar commodity of labour power. This discussion positions the struggle between labour and capital as essential – but in a peculiarly qualified way. Marx argues first that the working classes must engage in this sort of struggle over the terms of the labour contract:

These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

The structural tendency of the system is such that this particular sort of struggle is required in order for labourers to receive the value of their commodities: this form of struggle, in other words, takes place within the ambit of commodity-determined production, and is part and parcel of this form of production. Moreover, failure to engage in this form of struggle may render other forms of political contestation impossible, subjectively and objectively. However, so long as political contestation remains restricted to this terrain, this contestation operates as a moment of the reproduction of the capital relation – mobilising ideals and forms of organisation that do not point in a fundamental way beyond the logic of commodity-determined production. What is needed, Marx argues, is a mobilisation that, however much it may begin from this sort of immanent contestation, reaches for ideals and forms of organisation that point to the abolition of commodity-determined production as such. Marx writes:

At the same time, and quite apart form the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wages system!”

After this very long and, I fear, tedious exposition, which I was obliged to enter into to do some justice to the subject matter, I shall conclude by proposing the following resolutions:

Firstly. A general rise in the rate of wages would result in a fall of the general rate of profit, but, broadly speaking, not affect the prices of commodities.

Secondly. The general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages.

Thirdly. Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. The fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.

In the first volume of Capital, this sort of argument is made in a strangely subtle way. On the one hand, the narrative arc of the opening chapters, through the introduction of the category of labour power, marks out a dark parody of Hegel’s Phenomenology. In Hegel’s drama, when consciousness confronts the inverted world and comes to realise that it has been its own object all along – when consciousness achieves self-consciousness – this is an achievement of spirit. In Marx’s parody, when we finally grasp the wealth of capitalist society, and come to the realisation that this wealth is not an object “outside us”, but rather is us – that labour power is the substance of value and the emergence of the “free” labourer a necessary historical condition for generalised commodity production, it is the capital relation itself that is described in the vocabulary Hegel uses for the Geist: a blind, processual, process of domination – a runaway production become an end in itself and achieving domination over humankind – is what is “realised” once the subject-object dualism is undermined in Capital. At the dramatic moment where Hegel whips aside the curtain to reveal self-reflexive consciousness, Marx stages a very different kind of dramatic pivot in his text:

We now know how the value paid by the purchaser to the possessor of this peculiar commodity, labour-power, is determined. The use-value which the former gets in exchange, manifests itself only in the actual utilisation, in the consumption of the labour-power. The money-owner buys everything necessary for this purpose, such as raw material, in the market, and pays for it at its full value. The consumption of labour-power is at one and the same time the production of commodities and of surplus-value. The consumption of labour-power is completed, as in the case of every other commodity, outside the limits of the market or of the sphere of circulation. Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face “No admittance except on business.” Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.

This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.

A similar dramatic downturn follows the other major “self-realisation” of labour portrayed in the first volume of Capital: the story of the achievement of the normal working day.

On the one hand, the text speaks here with enormous sympathy and evident pride for the achievements of the working class struggles that culminate in the achievement of the normal working day. The poignant concluding passage of the chapter rings with the historical significance of this triumph:

It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity “labour-power” face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no “free agent,” that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him “so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.” For “protection” against “the serpent of their agonies,” the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling. by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death. In place of the pompous catalogue of the “inalienable rights of man” comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear “when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins.” Quantum mutatus ab illo! [What a great change from that time! – Virgil]

At the same time, this conflict is positioned in the text as taking place within the ambit of commodity-determined production, with workers banding together in order to realise their rights as commodity owners – albeit of a very peculiar commodity. In the drama staged in this chapter, the conflict over the working day begins:

The capitalist has bought the labour-power at its day-rate. To him its use-value belongs during one working-day. He has thus acquired the right to make the labourer work for him during one day. But, what is a working-day?

At all events, less than a natural day. By how much? The capitalist has his own views of this ultima Thule [the outermost limit], the necessary limit of the working-day. As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value, to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour.

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.

If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.

The capitalist then takes his stand on the law of the exchange of commodities. He, like all other buyers, seeks to get the greatest possible benefit out of the use-value of his commodity. Suddenly the voice of the labourer, which had been stifled in the storm and stress of the process of production, rises:

The commodity that I have sold to you differs from the crowd of other commodities, in that its use creates value, and a value greater than its own. That is why you bought it. That which on your side appears a spontaneous expansion of capital, is on mine extra expenditure of labour-power. You and I know on the market only one law, that of the exchange of commodities. And the consumption of the commodity belongs not to the seller who parts with it, but to the buyer, who acquires it. To you, therefore, belongs the use of my daily labour-power. But by means of the price that you pay for it each day, I must be able to reproduce it daily, and to sell it again. Apart from natural exhaustion through age, &c., I must be able on the morrow to work with the same normal amount of force, health and freshness as to-day. You preach to me constantly the gospel of “saving” and “abstinence.” Good! I will, like a sensible saving owner, husband my sole wealth, labour-power, and abstain from all foolish waste of it. I will each day spend, set in motion, put into action only as much of it as is compatible with its normal duration, and healthy development. By an unlimited extension of the working-day, you may in one day use up a quantity of labour-power greater than I can restore in three. What you gain in labour I lose in substance. The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things. If the average time that (doing a reasonable amount of work) an average labourer can live, is 30 years, the value of my labour-power, which you pay me from day to day is 1/365 × 30 or 1/10950 of its total value. But if you consume it in 10 years, you pay me daily 1/10950 instead of 1/3650 of its total value, i.e., only 1/3 of its daily value, and you rob me, therefore, every day of 2/3 of the value of my commodity. You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges. I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place. You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity.

We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.(bold text mine)

Between equal rights, force decides: this is a form of struggle determined by the structural indeterminacies built into the process of the reproduction of capital itself – a decentralised Foucaultian conflict that does not contravene the power relations built into the process of the reproduction of capital, but rather constitutes one of the moments for the reproduction of those relations. It is therefore not surprising that, in spite of the palpable compassion and pride with which this chapter reports the outcome of this struggle, what follows on this achievement, in terms of the dramatic structure of the text, is not a discussion of emancipation, but rather a discussion of relative surplus value – that is to say, a discussion of the particular form of surplus value extraction that results from the successful self-assertion of labour as a commodity owner.

This pivot in the text has sparked any number of debates over whether Marx is making a logical/analytical point, or describing some sort of temporally-identifiable historical shift. While I’m sympathetic to reading the point as logical, rather than as historical, I want to suggest that the more relevant point may instead be political: Marx is saying something here, through the structure and staging of the dramatic narrative of the text, about the limits of particular forms of working class mobilisation and political ideals – specifically, he is making here, subtly, the argument he makes explicitly in the passage I’ve quoted from “Value, Price and Profit” above: that not all forms of contestation, just by dint of being contestation – that not all struggles important to the working class, just by dint of being important to the working class – are revolutionary forms of conflict. Instead, the text suggests, some forms of conflict are actually part and parcel of the reproduction of the capital relation, expressive of the tendencies and of the immanent indeterminacies of that relation – vitally important for the humanisation of capitalism, crucial for their impact on the material and social forms of everyday lives, important for what they might open for a future politics – but in and of themselves not pointing beyond this social form.

So living labour – to the extent that it attempts to realise itself as living labour – participates in the reproduction of capital. This is half of the largest-scale “inversion” that structures the first volume of Capital. The other half relates to dead labour – the vampire, the were-wolf, the reanimated undead creature with no heart in its breast that survives only by constant infusions of lifeblood from the living: the graphic language of the text leaves no doubt of the horror that results from the domination of dead labour, so long as the capital relation continues to be reproduced. If the text expresses an evident pride and compassion for the struggles of living labour, it expresses an equivalent condemnation of the monstrous figure of dead labour.

And yet… In this text, capitalism figures as a Hegelian “inverted world” – a world in which what is overtly good and noble, gives birth to its opposite, participating in the reproduction of a form of domination, and what is overtly a form of domination, generates the conditions of possibility for emancipatory transformation. It is the monster – genuinely horrific in current conditions – that provides the seeds around which future emancipation can crystallise – but only to the extent that living labour – what is genuinely noble in the existing context – is destroyed. This is the major narrative inversion around which the first volume of Capital pivots – this passionate, maddening, over-cryptic plea to recognise that capitalism gives the “practical truth” of Hegel’s “inverted world”, such that emancipatory political mobilisation precisely requires a speculative reach beyond the characteristics that all things have, as they are suspended within the capital relation, and to the characteristics that these things might have – if only we can appropriate them, redeem them, reconstitute them in a new form.

No time to edit… Apologies…

Conversations on History, Memory, and Agency

A very nice cross-blog discussion on conceptualising agency has been underway for some days now, spiralling out from Sinthome’s original post on Scene and Act (readers from here might be amused at the thesis precis I seem to have decided to write in the comments over there – I appreciate Sinthome’s patience with the rather extended off-the-cuff reflections I’ve posted on my project in the comments at his site). The related post over here led to a nice conversation in the comments – which raises, amongst other topics, the loose coupling of agents with contexts, due both to the porousness of context and the selectivity of agents. Sinthome has now picked up on some of themes in a new post over at Larval Subjects, which has in turn drawn an extended response from Wildly Parenthetical. What I wanted to try to to here was to pick up on some elements of both of these most recent responses – with the caveat that it’s been an exhausting day, and so this may end up being more of a pointer to interesting discussions elsewhere, than a substantive contribution.

Both of the new posts in the discussion express a level of uncertainty over how to think the possibility for agency – understood in this discussion, in terms of the possibility for the introduction of something new and unanticipated into a situation – with the tools provided by the theorists who provide major reference points for each interlocutor – Deleuze, for Sinthome, and Merleau-Ponty, for Wildly.

Sinthome, concerned with questions of individuation, begins by drawing out a tension that arises in Deleuze’s work. On the one hand, Deleuze provides powerful tools for thinking about individuation as a process intrinsically connected to a certain milieu – thus avoiding the perils of abstraction (which Sinthome, following Hegel, understands in terms of severing an entity from the relational network that constitutes that entity). This approach, however, leaves uncertain how agency might be thought, risking a determinism in which an agent is conceptualised as nothing more than an actualisation of potentials of a pre-personal field not of its own making. Such a determinism, however, sits in tension with the evidently critical impetus of Deleuze’s thought – with his avowed criticism of philosophies of identity, and his preference for philosophies of difference. Sinthome wonders whether a performative contradiction or tension might lie between what Deleuze says and what he does – as Sinthome expresses this:

Supposing that for Deleuze it is the intensive differences that compose being that are doing all the work (what Deleuze refers to as intensities, inequalities, or asymmetries in Difference and Repetition), there is a curious contradiction between Deleuze’s account of the nature of being and individuation, and what Deleuze actually does. On the one hand, Deleuze gives us an ontological vision of being as composed of pre-personal, asymmetrical intensive differences resolving themselves in the form of the actual entities we see in the world around us. There is no centralized control here, no plan, no goal, etc. Here we are actualizations of the intensive differences into which we’re thrown and develop and our thoughts are the epiphenomena of these processes (like Freud’s differential unconscious where there is no centralized homunculus controlling thought, but rather just a play of energetic differentials producing thought).

Yet on the other hand, Deleuze, at various points, expresses a preference for difference over recognition and identity, for the nomadic over the sedentary, for the anarchic over the state. That is, for Deleuze, philosophy is guilty of having chosen models of recognition, identity, the sedentary, and the state, and the philosopher of difference is exhorted to choose difference, nomadism, and the anarchic (literally the “without principle”). Yet if we are patients of our thought rather than agents of our thought, how can there be any question of choosing one way or another? If I am a thinker like Kant, wouldn’t I simply be actualized in such a way as to model phenomena in terms of recognition, identity, the sedentary, and the state? Wouldn’t this decision be out of my hands? My point is this: The presence of these judgments and decisions in Deleuze’s thought, at odds as it is without what looks like an ontology that would prohibit these sorts of decisions, indicates that his philosophy is haunted by an agent or agency even if this agent or agency isn’t itself explicitly theorized. The question would be one of rendering such a conception of agency explicit in an ontology that is otherwise so scenic in its orientation.

I should stress that Sinthome is cautious on the specific question of whether Deleuze might square this circle at some point in his work – the object of this post is rather to use this discussion of Deleuze to open the problem of how to think agency within relational philosophy. Sinthome does this by first sketching how a similar problem arises in sociological attempts to correct for abstracted forms of individualism, by drawing attention to conditions not of individual’s choosing, which are then viewed as leading to individual behaviour. Such approaches pose the question of how it becomes possible to think beyond the sociological “scene” in which we are all embedded – and the potential paradox of the sociologist who appears to abstract themselves from the very scene to which they are drawing attention. Sinthome riffs on an expression of Luhmann’s to underscore the point:

As Luhmann liked to say “we cannot see what we cannot see”. And what we see least of all is the place from which we see.

A solution, Sinthome suggests, may require thinking through what he calls the “circumference” of the “scene” – the boundaries of the context through which the agent is individuated. Sinthome draws particular attention here to the temporal boundaries of the field of individuation – to the ways in which our “context” is not a perpetually synchronic, bounded instant, but instead riddled through with strands linking us to other times, due to potentials sedimented in memory, language, and archives that offer avenues for individuation not easily located in a single “context” as conventionally understood. While our receptivity to these potentials is of course also mediated through our individuation in some particular present, the particular cross-connections that our present develops with some specific past are not solely and purely determined by the present. Sinthome seems to point here to something that reminds me of a Benjaminian constellation:

Historicism contents itself with establishing a causal connection between various moments in history. But no fact that is a cause is for that very reason historical. It became historical posthumously, as it were, though events that may be separated from it by thousands of years. A historian who takes this as his point of departure stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. Instead, he grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one. Thus he establishes a conception of the present as the ‘time of the now’ which is shot through with chips of Messianic time.

This line of thought reminds me that I need to develop much more the peculiar way in which I take capitalism to sediment and reproduce particular pasts, while also encouraging particular orientations to history – I mention this here only as a placeholder to myself, and as a supplement, not a corrective, to the suggestions Sinthome makes in his post. In the discussion Sinthome and I were having here, before he pulled his points together into this post, I had also suggested that “circumference” can be thought within a context – particularly when context is not conceptualised as some sort of qualitatively uniform substance or (to take the old-fashioned term still current in some of the foundational sociology I periodically foist on the reading group ;-P) “spirit” of a time, but where context itself is viewed as process and as constellation – and therefore as intrinsically presenting those individuated within it with a multiplicity of forms of individuation, in which different moments of the “same” context can open radically different possibilities, providing experiential exposure to conflictual potentials. I plan to develop these points in greater detail, if I can manage to lay the theoretical groundwork adequately through the work I’m doing on Marx. None of this, however, deflects the claim Sinthome is making: that our experiential reach is not circumscribed by some temporal boundary that cordons off and hermetically seals our own time from others – and that aleatory or, for that matter, conditioned reaches across time can react back in substantive ways on our own historical moment. Sinthome brings these points back to Deleuze in his concluding reflections:

As Deleuze will say, all of my loves are a repetition of that love that was never present. Here there is an amorous attachment, a trace memory, that perpetually interferes with the determinative factors of the successive and simultaneous, guaranteeing that I am never quite in or of my time.

It would seem then that the place to look for something like agency in Deleuze would be in these temporal facts, in his discussions of repetition (especially the second psychoanalytic account of repetition in chapter two of Difference and Repetition), where Deleuze shows how the mnemonic is a condition for the spiritual. Perhaps here, in these amorous attachments and identifications we begin to see something like the possibility of an agency within an immanent field of individuations.

Wildly, though uncomfortable with the vocabulary of “agency”, pursues a parallel set of concerns with reference to the possibility for the development of a subject, and the concept of “sedimentation” in Merleau-Ponty. Focussing on developing terms that grasp an embodied subjectivity, Wildly discusses the ways in which our experiences carve grooves or paths of least resistance into which our future experiences then also tend to be channelled by default. The question for Wildly then becomes how the perception or experience of otherness becomes possible, once “sedimentation” is posited to operate in terms of the metaphor of ever-deepening channels into which new experience falls – if “what I can see is shaped by what I have already seen”. Wildly both notes, and criticises, Butler’s suggestion that the subject can never reproduce perfectly, arguing that Butler’s approach reinforces an individualistic concept of agency that itself requires contestation. Wildly’s real concern, however, is the tacit universalism of the notion of sedimentation itself: the underlying model of uniform modes of embodiment that seems to figure as an abstract negation – as something not itself a positive or contestable form of embodiment, but simply a sort of “shell” or empty form into which positive contents fall. “Sedimentation” functions here as natural – as a fate – and what then varies is only what particular content comes to be sedimented. Is there some way, Wildly asks, to think of this form – of sedimentation itself – as something contestable? In her own words:

The problem with conceptualising of subjectivity as a product of such sedimentation is that it creates little space for movement: if the only way that an experience is permitted to matter (to the embodied subject) is through the filter of what has already occurred, then difference as difference won’t be perceived. It can’t be, for we have no way to see what we have not already seen. The new other that I encounter thus remains comprehensible insofar as he or she is understood as ‘like’ what I have seen before. That which exceeds that graspability doesn’t, on this conception of the embodied subject, even figure for me.

In other words, we wind up with something totalising here, if we trust that the very nature of the body is one that shapes itself through sedimentation.

Wildly suggests that the notion of sedimentation, in spite of its best intentions and its political mobilisation in the service of certain kinds of denaturalisation, might itself naturalise something quite pivotal, covering over the possibility of a more shattering and disruptive experience of otherness – something that might alter the default sedimentary “frame” that otherwise shapes and normalises new experiences in the mould of the old. Wildly holds out the possibility for a more anarchic type of encounter, one that “offers me an elsewise, another way to be… a way of being in the world unlike what has been, and unlike any other…” Something in light of which the tacit positivity of the sedimentary body can be revealed, not as a neutral form into which specific contents are deposited in time, but as itself a contentful structure – not a neutral or natural fate that must befall us, but only something experienced as natural until disrupted by the possibility for another way of being in the world.

Wildly will know that I have a weakness for arguments that reposition forms as contents 😉 I’ll be writing more in the weeks to come on the discussion of “physiological labour” in Capital, which will loop back to these concerns in a very indirect and distant way. Lots of room here for further discussion and elaboration.

The summaries above do justice to neither post – readers should look at the originals. And apologies to Sinthome and Wildly if I haven’t adequately captured what you were each trying to say, and also apologies that I’ve found so little to add – my main reaction to both posts is that I need to take up these issues in work I have underway, and so the impact of these posts on me will likely not be visible until I work the concepts up into more formal writing.

We Are a Million in the Streets. Why Should We Go Home?

I was looking up some material on May ’68 this evening – Marxists Internet Archive has a wonderful eyewitness account, particularly sensitive to the details of how various formal working class “representatives” behaved during the uprisings. It’s a story, among other things, of attempted control of the events by various organisers – and of the moment of spontaneity that overflowed such attempts.

image from the May 68 uprising

Lots of anecdotes of this sort:

Although the demonstration has been announced, as a joint one, the CGT leaders are still striving desperately to avoid a mixing up, on the streets, of students and workers. In this they are moderately successful. By about 4-30 p.m. the student and teachers’ contingent, perhaps 80,000 strong, finally leaves the Place de la République. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have preceded it, hundreds of thousands follow it, but the “left” contingent has been well and truly “bottled-in.” Several groups, understanding at last the CGT’s manoeuvre, break loose once we are out of the square. They take short cuts via various side streets, at the double, and succeed in infiltrating groups of 100 or so into parts of the march ahead of them, or behind them. The Stalinast stewards walking hand in hand” and hemming the march in on either side are powerless to prevent these sudden influxes. The student demonstrators scatter like fish in water as soon as they have entered a given contingent. The CGT marchers themselves are quite friendly and readily assimilate the newcomers, not quite sure what it’s all about.


The part of the march in which I find myself is now rapidly approaching what the organizers have decided should be the dispersal point. The CGT is desperately keen that its hundreds of thousands of supporters should disperse quietly. It fears them, when they are together. It wants them nameless atoms again, scattered to the four corners of Paris, powerless in the context of their individual preoccupations. The CGT sees itself as the only possible link between them as the divinely ordained vehicle for the expression of their collective will. The “Mouvement du 22 Mars,” on the other hand, had issued a call to the students and workers, asking them to stick together and to proceed to the lawns of the Champ de Mars (at the foot of the Eiffel Tower) for a massive collective discussion on the experiences of the day and on the problems that lie ahead.

At this stage I sample for the first time what a “service d’ordre” composed of Stalinist stewards really means, All day, the stewards have obviously been anticipating this particular moment. They are very tense, clearly expecting “trouble.” Above all else they fear what they call “debordement,” i.e. being outflanked on the left. For the last half-mile of the march five or six solid rows of them line up on either side of the demonstrators. Arms linked, they form a massive sheath around the marchers. CGT officials address the bottled-up demonstrators through two powerful loudspeakers mounted on vans, instructing them to disperse quietly via the Boulevard Arago, i.e. to proceed in precisely the opposite direction to the one heading to the Champ de Mars. Other exits from the Place Denfert Rochereau are blocked by lines of stewards linking arms.

On occasions like this, I am told the Communist Party calls up thousands of its members from the Paris area. It al so summons members from miles around, bringing them up by the coachload from places as far away as Rennes, Orleans, Sens, Lille and Limoges. The municipalities under Communist Party control provide further hundreds of these “stewards” not necessarily Party members, but people dependent on the goodwill of the Party for their jobs and future. Ever since its heyday of participation in the government (1945-47) the Party has had this kind of mass base in the Paris suburbs. It has invariably used it in circumstances like today. On this demonstration there must be at least 10,000 such stewards possibly twice that number.

The exhortations of the stewards meet with a variable response. Whether they are successful in getting particular groups to disperse via the Boulevard Arago depends of course on the composition of the groups. Most of those which the students have not succeeded in infiltrating obey, although even here some of the younger militants protest: “We are a million in the streets. Why should we go home?” Other groups hesitate, vacillate, start arguing. Student speakers climb on walls and shout:

“All those who want to return to the telly, turn down the Boulevard Arago Those who are for joint worker-student discussions and for developing the struggle turn down the Boulevard Raspail and proceed to the Champ de Mars.”

Those protesting against the dispersion orders are immediately jumped on by the stewards, denounced as “provocateurs” and often manhandled. I saw several comrades of the “Mouvement du 22 Mars” physically assaulted, their portable loudhailers snatched from their hands and their leaflets torn from them and thrown to the ground. In some sections there seemed to be dozens, in other hundreds, in other thousands of “provocateurs.” A number of minor punch-ups take place as the stewards are swept aside by these particular contingents. Heated arguments break out, the demonstrators denouncing the Stalinists as “cops” and as “the last rampart of the bourgeoisie.”

A respect for facts compels me to admit that most contingents followed the orders of the trade union bureaucrats. The repeated slanders by the CGT and Communist Party leaders had had their effect. The students were “trouble-makers,” “adventurers,” “dubious elements.” Their proposed action would “only lead to a massive intervention by the CRS” (who had kept well out of sight throughout the whole of the afternoon). “This was just a demonstration, not a prelude to Revolution.” Playing ruthlessly on the most backward sections of the crowd, and physically assaulting the more advanced sections, the apparatchniks of the CGT succeeded in getting the bulk of the demonstrators to disperse, often under protest. Thousands went to the Champ de Mars. But hundreds of thousands went home. The Stalinists won the day, but the arguments started will surely reverberate down the months to come.

And from Daniel Cohn-Bendit, prescient:

“Explain to us”, Cohn-Bendit said, “why the Communist Party and the CGT told their militants to disperse at Denfert Rochereau, why it prevented them joining up with us for a discussion at the Champ de Mars?”

“Simple, really”, sneered Catala. “The agreement concluded between the CGT, the CFDT, the UNEF and the other sponsoring organisations stipulated that dispersal would take place at a pre determined place. The Joint Sponsoring Committee had not sanctioned any further developments.”

“A revealing answer”, replied Cohn-Bendit, “the organizations hadn’t foreseen that we would be a million in the streets. But life is bigger than the organizations. With a million people almost any thing is possible. You say the Committee hadn’t sanctioned anything further. On the day of the Revolution, comrade, you will doubtless tell us to forego it “because it hasn’t been sanctioned by the appropriate sponsoring Committee.”

Note: other May 68 materials in English here and in French here.

Fragment on the Working Day

To celebrate Labor’s victory in Saturday’s election, I thought it might be appropriate to post some rough thoughts on Capital, volume one, chapter 10 – The Working-Day.

Note that, since I haven’t worked up to this chapter in the systematic reading I’ve been trundling through recently, these comments will be much more provisional than my other recent posts on Capital. Corrections, as always, are welcome.

This chapter always reminds me of the William Morris quotation that I probably reproduce a bit too often:

men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name…

The main line of political drama that plays out in this chapter involves a story of strange reversals: apparent working class victories are thwarted, or provoke rapid political reversals, or unexpectedly rebound to the benefit of capital – until what appears initially as a “decisive” victory of capital brings about its in own reversal, in the form of the effective mobilisation of the working classes and the final achievement of a legislated normal working day. Only after the discussion of this working class victory does Capital open up to the discussion of relative surplus value and to the development of machinery and modern industry – suggesting yet another complex consequence of political struggle anticipated by none of the participants: the strengthening and routinisation of the drive of capital for ever-increasing levels of productivity.

At some point, I hope to return to this narrative of unintended consequences more adequately, on the basis of a more thorough exposition of the chapters leading up to and out of this section of Capital. For present purposes, I want instead to draw attention to some of the interstitial metatheory that peeks through long quotations from the factory inspectors and accounts of the popular press. This chapter contains some of the more surprising and unexpected metatheoretical material in the first volume of Capital – specifically opening questions of the determinate limits of what can be predicted by this theory of capitalism – what the theory can say, and cannot say, about the sorts of struggles likely to arise, and how those struggles might play out. At the same time, this chapter begins to thematise the relationship between capital, state regulation, and the journalistic public sphere. This chapter’s particular “immanent voice” – captured in long quotations, interspersed by Marx’s own sardonic commentary – is that of state bureaucrats (factory inspectors) and journalists – as well as the voices of capital as played out in these emergent public spheres.

First some brief background – with the caveat that, as I’ll need to summarise this argument quickly here, the broader strategic intent of this economistic-sounding argument won’t be clear – I’ll hopefully be able to come back to all of this more adequately at another time.

Previous chapters have already established that there is something strange about commodities of the human sort. Somehow, such commodities manage to be sold for their full value – and yet, somehow, surplus value emerges from this transaction. Marx is aware, of course, that all sorts of swindles and abuses may prevent labour power from being sold at its full value, but he brackets these potentials because, as he puts it somewhere, an entire society cannot grow materially richer by stealing from itself: somewhere, somehow, a kind of surplus is produced and, on the level of society as a whole, such a surplus does not arise solely from unequal distribution, however unequally distributed wealth might be: a surplus must somehow be generated. But where could a surplus come from, if labour-power is bought and sold at its full value?

Marx answers this question by introducing a distinction between the costs of the reproduction of labour power, and the value derived from capital’s use of labour-power for a specific duration. Labour’s exchange value, then, is its cost of reproduction (speaking here, although it may not yet be quite clear in the text, across capitalist society as a whole – individual labour powers, like individual commodities of all kinds, may be purchased for prices above and below the actual cost of reproducing those empirical labours – a clinical-sounding point with devastating human implications). Labour’s use value, however, is the role it plays in generating surplus value. Thus it becomes structurally possible for labour (again, across the whole of capitalist society) to be bought and sold at its full value, while still also generating surplus value.

Continuing to skip superficially through the previous chapters, surplus value production takes place, according to Marx’s argument, in that period during which labour works in excess of whatever time would have been necessary merely to reproduce labour power. The sum of the time spent on both necessary and surplus labour constitutes the working day.

Marx voices this as though he is speaking of individual labourers, the wage required for their personal subsistence, and the length of their personal working day. It becomes clearer in chapter 11, on the Rate and Mass of Surplus Value, that Marx – as I’ve been noting above – intends these categories (like all his others) to be indiscernible at the level of immediate empirical experience at levels of abstraction below that of capitalist society as a whole, as its dynamic unfolds over time:

The labour which is set in motion by the total capital of a society, day in, day out, may be regarded as a single collective working-day.

More on all of this at some other time. For the moment, I intend these flashbacks and flashforwards simply to provide a bit of context to understand how the chapter on the working day slots into the text. With this out of the way, just a few brief points on the chapter itself.

The chapter on the working day explores the consequences of a structural variability or intrinsic indeterminacy at the heart of capitalist production. On the one hand, previous chapters have established that the rate of surplus value production hinges on the proportion of the working day devoted to necessary labour vs. the production of surplus value. On the other hand, no intrinsic structural determination governs the absolute length of the working day. This combination – the structural importance of the rate of surplus value production within the working day, absent a structural determination of the duration of the working day – defines a space of conflict. Marx initially describes this conflict from the perspectives immanently available to the process of commodity exchange, in which labourers and capitalists face off as sellers and buyers of the commodity labour-power, each determined to receive the full value of the exchange:

We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides.

Here, where the forms of subjectivity that inhabit the sphere of commodity exchange reach their limit – where equal rights claims offer no basis for selecting one right above the other – Marx opens up the space for force. The “free” sphere of commodity exchange is presented here as immanently generating an impasse that points to the existence of further perspectives that lie beyond the sphere of commodity exchange, but are nevertheless connected immanently to that sphere. Marx says here:

Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class. (italics mine)

Class conflict is the mode in which the determination of the working day presents itself – expressing the perspectives available with the sphere of commodity exchange, which divides capital as buyer, and labour as seller, or the commodity labour power. This presentation (remembering that Marx tends to use this term for how some particular dimension of capitalist society “gives” itself, but where this particular “given” is not the only possible perspective that can cast meaningful light on what the “given” perspective describes) expresses a socially meaningful binary relationship generated within the sphere of commodity exchange. This presentation is not, however, identical with the empirical actors whose skirmishes play out in practice over the long process of political struggle that results in the eventual determination of the normal working day. Instead, the complex and nuanced stories Marx presents in this chapter are filled with diverse social actors combined into complex collective arrays whose allegiances frequently shift in response to circumstances that are clearly presented in the text as contingent – as something the theory of capital does not attempt to predict or regard as foreordained. The binary categories of class conflict therefore do not seem to be intended to grasp the immediate empirical identities of collective actors, but rather to capture a genuinely bifurcated set of structural consequences that arise from a much more diverse set of empirical conflicts.

Of course, as with any other immanently-available perspective unfolded in Capital, class categories can also become the nucleus around which subjective self-experiences of social actors can crystalise. And, as with other immanent-available perspectives unfolded in Capital, class categories can be confused as naturally inhering in some particular empirical group – can be confused, that is, for categories of immediate empirical experience – instead of being seen as real abstractions expressing the collective enactment of a particular structural relationship.

The consequences of this confusion are ambivalent: marking a site for creative political potential, but also for misrecognition.

On the one hand, the availability of forms of subjectivity associated with class identity makes it possible to create movements of empirical social actors united around a resonant class identity – to seize potentials latent in a real abstraction, and create a transformative movement of empirical social actors who mobilise around these potentials and this identity.

On the other hand, the assumption that some particular identity will necessarily or naturalistically inhere in the members of specific empirical groups – like the assumption that some given commodity will sell at its value – can be mistaken: the practical, empirical affiliations and responses of social actors can be expected to be much more diverse and fluid than the binary class categories suggest. On another level, a “naturalistic” misunderstanding of class categories can render more likely a politics oriented to the realisation of the working class as a working class – a form of politics that is vital in the contest to humanise capitalism, but that by itself does not point beyond capitalism. (Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue, for example, polemicises against this kind of vision of working class politics in the beautifully titled The Right to Be Lazy, arguing that the working class should not assert its “right to work” – its rights as sellers of labour power in the labour market – but rather assert its “right to be lazy”, its collective potential to contest the endless productivist drive characteristic of capitalist accumulation.) All of this, however, deserves a much more elaborate treatment than I can provide here – I’ll leave these points inadequately developed for now, and move a bit further along in the text.

In the development of this evocative chapter, Marx explores the historically unique boundlessness of capitalism’s drive for surplus value. The language in these sections – of were-wolves, vampires, and other animated creatures preying on living labour – deserves an analysis in its own right (I have made previous gestures at this here), as does the analysis of decentred and diverse small-scale conflicts, reminiscent in many respects of Foucault. For present purposes, I’ll leave these issues aside, and draw attention to the voices that speak in this portion of the text: state officials and journalists (even the voices of capital, in this section, are addressed to or through one of these). Marx has unfolded the possibility for such voices immanently from within his discussion of the conflict of equal rights that remains irreconcilable within the categories available within the sphere of commodity exchange alone: between equal rights, force decides – the force, in this case, of legislation and the public sphere. The story Marx unfolds in this chapter describes these forms of force as responses to capital’s own boundless drive for surplus extraction – a drive that is coercive on individual capitals, and that therefore requires a countervailing universal force. He thus describes the gradual emergence of enforced limits on the working day as the “negative expression” of the boundlessness of capital’s own drive for surplus value:

If the Règlement organique of the Danubian provinces was a positive expression of the greed for surplus-labour which every paragraph legalised, the English Factory Acts are the negative expression of the same greed. These acts curb the passion of capital for a limitless draining of labour-power, by forcibly limiting the working-day by state regulations, made by a state that is ruled by capitalist-and landlord. Apart from the working-class movement that daily grew more threatening, the limiting of factory labour was dictated by the same necessity which spread guano over the English fields. The same blind eagerness for plunder that in the one case exhausted the soil, had, in the other, torn up by the roots the living force of the nation.

He further recounts the ways in which such constraints were initially exceptionalised (enacted for certain categories of workers – children, then women, then men in some industries but not all) – and, in this form, were initially largely unsuccessful – until, with periodic reversals and surges, constraints grew more and more universal, and thus more “adequate” to capital. A tipping point in the English story comes when large industry’s own need for predictability in the production process, combined with the fear of social unrest from the working classes, drives the development of a legislated normal working day. Marx makes clear, however, that this sequence of events was by no means uniform across different countries – that local circumstances and random events fundamentally shaped the course of the political contestation. The text suggests that the theory of capitalism Marx is outlining can make sense of the emergence of a particular kind of defused contestation, of key political ideals that would resonate during such contestations, of some of the complex consequences – many of these initially unintended by the social actors engaged in political contestation, but nevertheless plausible and intelligible with reference to the theory – that flow from various moments in this contestation, and of the form of political resolution “adequate” to prevent capital’s own boundless drive from undermining the reproduction of labour-power on which capitalist production itself relies. Yet the text also treats an enormous amount as contingent: this chapter does not suggest that a theory of capitalism will provide a vision of predictable, linear, theorisable historical outcomes from a process of political contestation, such that the theory can specify structural conditions that drive in one direction alone, and that will outweigh the effects of local situations and contingent events in determining the success or failure of specific political initiatives.

Much more needs to be said, and I’m conscious that much of what I’ve already written is extraordinarily underdeveloped and, in this form, deeply problematic – this is an intensely rich chapter, and I am not doing justice to its argument. But it’s getting very late here, and I need to call it a night. Unfortunately, I probably won’t get back to Capital for the next few weeks – many other things on my plate right now. Apologies for these various forms of truncation – at some point, I intend to get back to this. But it will be a while…

Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 1: Random Metatheory

My previous post in the series on the first chapter of Capital has prompted a nice set of meta-theoretical questions from Nate, revolving loosely around the question of whether some of my formulations suggest the need to breach the immanent frame of the analysis. This discussion is still continuing in the comments, but some of the questions that have come up in that discussion strike me as potentially relevant for the main line of analysis of Marx’s text.

What I want to do in this post, is not so much answer Nate’s questions directly, as use the thought-space that those questions have opened as an excuse, first, to explore some of the implications of this reading of Capital for how we can conceptualise critical judgements about competing forms of theory and practice generated immanently within capitalism. And second, to talk a bit about how this kind of theory involves a form of relativising, locating, or situating dispositions (intuitive forms of perception and thought) by demonstrating at least one dimension of collective practice in which such dispositions are enacted, without, however, reducing dispositions to the theorised form of enactment (i.e., without claiming that the theorised form of enactment is the only space in which such dispositions are enacted), and without automatically undermining the validity of such dispositions (i.e., without acting as though situating a disposition by itself suffices to debunk the insights or potentials that disposition expresses).

Although I will use examples from the first chapter of Capital to explore these issues, my goal here is a bit different from my goal in other posts in this series: here, I will be deploying a particular reading of Marx without, however, trying to render this reading plausible with reference to the text of Capital. I may use some occasional quotations for illustrative purposes, but I’ll leave for the other posts in this series, the issue of whether I can defend this kind of reading textually. I will also not be concerned here with whether the reading I’m deploying is making a defensible argument about capitalism: my concern is rather to explore the form of the argument, the sorts of moves the argument makes, regardless of the content. By limiting the post in this way, I will try to bring some of the meta-theoretical implications of this reading a bit more clearly into view.

Okay. Where to start. I think the easiest way to organise this discussion is to explore (in a very, very superficial way) one example of a set of dispositions that Marx begins to “situate” in the first chapter of Capital – an example that relates to dispositions we might be tempted to associate with the study of the natural world (note that, in the discussion with Nate below, I have sketched a partial second example, relating to dispositions that we might associate with the study of history). These dispositions are related in complex ways to how social actors might be tempted to orient themselves in practice – they thus carry potential political implications, even if these implications might not be immediately clear when Marx begins his analysis.

The first chapter begins to suggest that there is some way in which we are enacting, in collective practice, a kind of social indifference to different forms of labouring activity. This indifference does not extend to all dimensions of collective practice: in some dimensions of practice, the variegated qualitative forms in which labour is expended remain collectively important. In at least one specific dimension of collective practice, however, we are treating a wide range of empirically distinct labouring activities as, in some respect, qualitatively the same – and thus enacting a practical equality of types of human labour (a practical equality that, significantly, takes the form of a coercive and normalising indifference to empirical labouring activities).

Because of how we are enacting this equality, however, it is not immediately obvious that we are the ones enacting it. The argument for why it is not immediately obvious – for why it might be structurally difficult for us to recognise our own collective hand in constituting various forms of labouring activity as equal in at least one dimension of collective practice – is complex, and not fully laid out in the first chapter of Capital. Very roughly, in terms of what is visible at this early stage in Capital, the argument involves a claim we are enacting a collective indifference to the qualitative diversity of labouring activities “behind our own backs” – unintentionally and coercively – through a form of mutual compulsion that we are not individually or collectively setting out to generate. This particular form of unintentional mutual compulsion possesses certain specific qualitative characteristics: it is “universalising”, “lawlike”, and coercively “normalising”, and manifests itself via quantitative relationships that seem to govern movements of the products of labour. It also drives a constant process of transformation of concrete labouring processes, thereby constituting such processes as contingent and potentially ephemeral. It confronts individuals and social groups as an alien force outside themselves and beyond their control, to which they must adapt. Investigation can lead to the discovery and description of some of the lawlike principles of this form of compulsion. These discoveries, however, do not by themselves dissolve the coercive force of this compulsion, which, although contingent and grounded in human practice, is not “imaginary” or subject to individual control.

Note that, at this stage in the text, when the category of capital itself has not yet been unfolded, the metaphors for this impersonal social compulsion tend toward the “Newtonian” – toward metaphors of universal, abstract, mathematical laws. As we approach the category of capital, the metaphors will become more organimistic – more vitalist. I’ll discuss this shift more adequately in relation to Marx’s text at a later point. (This point begins to suggest how I would eventually like to answer a question posed by Joseph Kugelmass some weeks back about why the model of capitalism I’ve been pointing toward seems to resemble some thematisations of evolution and complexity theory. I suspect that, in asking this question, Joe might have been tugging on some of the threads he has now written into a fantastic post at his own site and The Valve. Just as a quick side note – Joe: I haven’t forgotten your question: perhaps it will be becoming a little bit clearer why this is a particularly complicated question for me to answer, even though it’s an important question to ask… Some of your questions on uneven development from that same comment, incidentally, also lie in the background of some of my discussions in the previous post in this series – albeit very abstractly, at this point.)

For the moment, I simply draw attention to the fact that the account in the first chapter is not intended to be complete, and note that Marx will eventually ground other dispositions, aside from the lawlike universals that concern him here. In any case, when Marx draws attention to specific qualitative characteristics associated with unintentional forms of impersonal compulsion, he is setting up for an analysis of why there is an intrinsic, immanent, “structural” risk that certain specific moments generated by collective practice within capitalism, might plausibly be interpreted, not as peculiar dimensions of our social environment, but instead as qualitative characteristics of asocial material nature. The argument here is both extremely complex and irritatingly tacit in Marx’s text, and I can at best be gestural at this point. But Marx is suggesting that a complex combination of factors – the unintentional nature of the compulsion, its impersonal character, the fact that it manifests itself through the movements of “things”, the way that other elements of social practice become, by contrast, “overtly” social (demonstrated in practice to be arbitrary and contingent, and forced to adapt themselves to this more impersonal form of social compulsion) and a number of other factors – combine to render it plausible for dispositions to emerge that interpret this dimension of social practice as asocial.

The implications of this go beyond the claim that this “impersonal” dimension of social practice is thereby “naturalised” and shielded from critique. The suggestion here is also that our practical experience of this dimension of capitalism “primes” us to “expect”, or sensitises us to the possibility, that asocial environments will possess certain specific qualitative characteristics (note that these characteristics can be mutually exclusive or contradictory of one another – as always, Marx tends to try to capture capitalism as an unstable unity of opposites): that the asocial world is quintessentially “material”, for example, and that such a world exists “outside us”, as an object for human contemplation or manipulation; that the asocial world is governed by impersonal universal laws best captured via mathematical models; that the asocial world (or elements of it) has vitalist properties and should be seen as in some sense a self-determining organism; etc. Again, I am not trying here to do full justice to these suggestions in Marx’s text, but more to open a sense of the scope of the argument and a feel for the way the argument is intended to operate. The important thing here is that there is a complex argument in Marx’s text about the ways in which we unintentionally render ourselves open to certain possibilities through our experience as social actors enacting and engaging with moments of capitalism.

Okay. Here a complex dance begins. I’m going to make the claim that, in unfolding this kind of argument, Marx is not trying to reduce everything we think and perceive back to specific moments in capitalism. First, the theory of capitalism is bounded – it doesn’t capture everything in contemporary experience, and it in fact explicitly defines certain things as contingent (or, at least, as untheorisable), from the perspective available to this specific kind of theory. A simple example of this kind of defined contingency can be found in Marx’s discussion about the conflict over the working day, expressed in the famous passage:

We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.

What this passage suggests is that Marx can theorise that a particular structure of social conflict is intrinsic and likely to recur under capitalism, and he can even say a bit about the forms in which this conflict will likely be articulated (about plausible self-conceptions of political subjects and about likely forms of self-organisation, for example). He cannot, however, theorise the outcome of the conflict in any particular instance: force decides. Marx’s descriptions of actual political conflicts in Capital express this combination of contingent and “theorisable” elements – Marx is clearly comfortable with the boundedness of his theoretical framework, and with the tools it can provide to orient action, even though there are also limits to the reach of the theory (which have to do, interestingly, with limits to the compulsions that characterise capitalism itself: it’s not necessarily a good thing, strictly speaking, to inhabit a context amenable to this form of theorisation – the possibility for this form of theory itself is a testament to the existence of a particular form of constraint). As I continue to move forward through the text in future posts, I’ll no doubt have occasion to draw attention to other examples of this sort of self-bounding of the theory.

Second, the fact that a particular form of perception and thought is enacted in a specific moment of capitalism, does not mean that this form of perception and thought cannot also be enacted in some other way in collective practice. Just to take a throwaway example: Marx makes an extremely complex argument about the specific ways in which a kind of human equality is enacted in collective practice in the reproduction of capitalism. This doesn’t mean, however, that human equality is not or cannot be enacted in completely different ways (in fact, it is actually essential for Marx’s critique that it at least be possible to enact certain dispositions in different ways, else the abolition of capitalism would necessarily entail the abolition of forms of perception and thought that Marx clearly wants to preserve and views as integral to a more emancipated form of collective life). So, a particular group of people may well constitute some local environment in the present time that enacts some kind of human equality in a particular way that is separable from the ways in which a particular kind of equality is unintentionally played out in capitalist reproduction – or a human collectivity in the future might devise very different (less abstract and formal, etc.) ways of enacting human equality in a very different form of social life.

Third, even if Marx successfully establishes that a particular form of perception and thought arises as a moment in the reproduction of capitalism, this kind of argument does not by itself invalidate the entirety of this form of perception and thought. Again, let’s take the issue of human equality as an example. Marx’s argument here (and please forgive that I am stating this very, very roughly, and without trying to establish the plausibility of the argument, but only to give a sense of some of the “moves” involved) is that, in some dimension of collective practice, we are coercively enacting an indifference to the variegated qualitative forms of commodities – including commodities of the human sort – by treating those commodities, in collective practice, as bearers of a common, qualitatively homogeneous social substance, which Marx calls “value”. Sticking to the terms set out in the first chapter, we are (at first unintentionally) collectively treating commodities (including humans) as “intrinsically” material objects that possess supersensible essences and are governed by impersonal universal laws, but which can also be contingently pressed into arbitrary and ephemeral social roles. By engaging in this unintentional practice, we inadvertently constitute a situation in which “the notion of human equality has already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice”.

This prejudice has a strange, “counterfactual” character, since it is not based on any extrapolation or conceptual abstraction from our experience of empirical humans, but rather on our experience of a “real abstraction” generated in collective practice (I realise the nature of this argument will probably not be completely clear at this point – this is one of the issues I hope to thematise more precisely as I continue moving through Capital). It is therefore socially plausible that a belief in human equality should arise and spread, in conditions in which humans are in other dimensions of social practice treated profoundly unequally. This belief may then provide the motive force for the emergence of social movements that mobilise to transform other dimensions of collective practice, in order to enact the equality already being practised elsewhere. (Note that the qualitative form of equality sought politically – abstract, formal, and universalising, for example – can also be primed by the qualitative characteristics in which equality is coercively enacted in the course of capitalist reproduction.)

When social actors set about trying to understand the basis for this belief in human equality, however, they run the risk of not grasping the social genesis of the impersonal dimension of capitalist practice in which this equality is being unintentionally enacted. This risk does not reflect the potential that social actors might make a “mere” conceptual error or suffer from a defect in cognition, but is rather a risk grounded in the determinate qualitative form of specific moments within capitalism. If social actors fail to grasp this social genesis, then they might, for example, conclude that human equality is natural, while the various forms of inequality that confront us on all sides in other dimensions of social practice, might strike them, by contrast, as artificial: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”

When they try to explain the basis for this “natural” equality, they might interpret it in biological or physiological terms – Marx suggests that this is a socially plausible interpretive move when he mentions that we treat commodities as material objects in at least one dimension of social practice. Or they might interpret this naturally equality more “spiritually”, in terms of the supersensible essence – the ghost in the machine – that also emerges in our collective enactment of the commodity form.

By “grounding” these interpretive moves, by suggesting that it makes a certain social sense or reflects a certain immanent plausibility that these sorts of interpretive strategies would arise, Marx is not necessarily debunking the entirety of the claims associated with these interpretations. His argument suggests that we are “primed” for, or may find it more “intuitive” to arrive at, specific kinds of interpretations – that these interpretations seem “always already familiar” to us, and therefore lie ready at hand – in part because they do express and are adequate to particular aspects of the context in which they arise. This does not mean that these are the only interpretations possible, or that it is “predetermined” that social actors will make specific interpretations – only that they have a certain social plausibility (since Marx treats capitalism as a complex and multi-layered social form, there are always multiple plausible perspectives, such that forms of perception and thought are neither random, nor are they fully theoretically determinable) . Probabilistically, it is likely that certain kinds of interpretations will arise, given the specific qualitative characteristics of our collective practice. Marx’s argument also suggests that the existence of such interpretations can deflect our attention from the ways in which, to continue with the example, we are enacting a certain sort of equality (coercively) in collective practice. But it leaves open the possibility that these interpretive moves might themselves be subject to validation (and contestation) in their own terms (albeit with a complex potential for cross-interference between moments within capitalism and other elements within collective practice).

To explore this just a little bit more: take, as an example, the notion, mentioned above, that there might be a biological basis for human equality. Marx argues that we enact a kind of equality in collective practice by treating commodities as though they are partake in some qualitatively homogeneous social substance, which he calls value. Commodities might vary in how much of this social substance they embody, but they all share this common qualitative social “essence”. He also argues that there is a determinate risk that this common social substance won’t be recognised as social, but will instead be interpreted as “material”. If, in commodities of the human sort, this social “essence” is misinterpreted as a biological substance, this opens up certain deeply ambivalent potentials. It becomes plausible, for example, to investigate how biologically similar humans actually might be to one another, and to open up for a “secular” investigation of the human form. There is potential in such an investigation for uncovering new grounds for the assertion of human equality, as well as for other scientific and medical discoveries that increase our mastery over our own physiological states. There is also, however, great risk that biological difference – gender, race, disability, simple biological variation from the “norm” – can become inflected in terms of a lack of the common “substance” that renders us equally human – that a biologised notion of the potential basis for human equality could increase the vulnerability to a situation in which biological difference is taken as an “objective” or “material” refutation of the possibility of human equality, and received (given our “priming” to view the “material” as asocial and impersonal) as something more “objective” and less contingent than forms of inequality that appear to result from practices that we are “primed” to perceive as “overtly social” – and therefore as arbitrary and ephemeral.

One reason for exploring the links between such potentials and risks, and capitalist reproduction, is that it makes it a bit easier to understand why certain kinds of theories may recurrently arise (and be defeated, and arise again) so long as capitalism continues to be reproduced: capitalism itself may (in nonintuitive ways) be priming dispositions that render social actors receptive to specific interpretive schemas. At the same time, the sorts of social practices that might be directly associated with the reproduction of capitalism, need not be the sole or even, in particular periods, the primary ways in which particular forms of perception and thought are “primed”: other forms of institutionalisation and other types of social practice that are more contingent in relation to capitalist reproduction may operate to reinforce or to diminish the force of our experiences in engaging with, and extrapolating from, specific moments immanent to capitalism.

On another level, the ability to demonstrate that some particular set of dispositions plays a role in capitalist reproduction, does not by itself “debunk” those dispositions: capitalism may, for example, prime us to be open to many new potentials that we value and wish to retain. Theorising how we might open ourselves to such potentials simply prepares us to understand a bit more about how our own appreciation for specific potentials (and, no doubt, relative insensitivity to others) is located – is something that exists for us, in ways that we can potentially come to understand a bit better. This process of understanding our own locatedness then also potentially renders more readily available a movement across the various moments and perspectives that are available to us, rather than a default glide into whatever perspective happens to lie most closely to mind… But this is an issue for a different metatheoretical discussion.

It’s late, I’m becoming very tired, and I have a very long day tomorrow (apologies, as well, that I’ll be very unlikely to be active online over the next couple of days). I had wanted to do much more with the sorts of things I’ve discussed above (I’m particularly self-conscious about this topic, as there are folks lurking about who know far more about the specific issues, well outside the confines of a theory of capitalism, than I ever will: if it needs to be said, I’m not making grand claims for the power of a theory of capitalism to thematise such issues in a general way, but rather suggesting that there is more potential for interconnection and cross-fertilisation than might appear if Capital is read, for example, as a straightforward “economic” theory). In part, I’m realising that I’m hampered by not having gotten further in the discussion of Capital and, in part, I need more time and space for much greater nuance that I’ve allowed myself above – hopefully the resultant post won’t be too irritating, but will be taken as a sort of promissory note that I can hopefully cash in, in a less superficial way, at some later point.

Previous posts in this series include:

Fragment on Textual Strategy in Capital

Reflections on the “Greatest Difficulty”

Nature and Society

Value and Abstract Labour as Real Abstractions

An Aside on the Fetish

Human Labour in the Abstract

An Aside on the Category of Capital

Value and Its Form – from Deduction to Dialectic

Subjects, Objects and Things In Between

Not Knowing Where to Have It

Cartesian Fragment

Relativism, Absolutes, and the Present as History