Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist (3: Value Questions)

 

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In a June, 2013 post on Xenosystems titled “Right on the Money (#2)”, Land elaborates a position that he describes as “right-wing Marxism”. It’s close to what Alvin Gouldner once described as nightmare Marxism, a Marxism that leaps from the undeniably ambivalent attitude of Marx to a foregrounding of the importance of the bourgeoisie, a positing that “the West that is the true agent of historical development”, and the suggestion that the “the proletariat, caught in the cunning of history, is the servant of that higher destiny”. There are certain differences to be had, however; one split between Land’s position and Gouldner’s taxonomy is that Land, despite the commitment to a vigorously anarchic form of capitalism, grants little special importance to the bourgeoisie. He writes:

Marx has one great thought: the means of production socially impose themselves as an effective imperative. For any leftist, this is, of course, pathological. As we have seen, biology and economics (more generally) are disposed to agree. Digression for itself is a perversion of the natural and social order. Defenders of the market — the Austrians most prominently — have sided with economics against Marx, by denying that the autonomization of capital is a phenomenon to be recognized. When Marx describes the bourgeoisie as robotic organs of self-directing capital, the old liberal response has been to defend the humanity and agency of the economically executive class, as expressed in the figure of the entrepreneur.

Land would later return to this version of the bourgeoisie, as something just as leveled as the proletariat, in his “Concept of Acceleration” courses for NCRAP; in the third session, he described the bourgeoisie as a class devoid of “moral autonomy” in the sense that it cannot define itself or conduct its actions “independent from the interests of capital technically and cybernetically defined”, lest the offending party be “processed out of the business class”. This is flush with Mark Fisher’s own comments that “the idea that the misleadingly-named ‘ruling class’ do anything more than manage and adminster Capital is an idle fantasy”, and of course with Marx, for whom the capitalist is but “capital personified”, a possessed figure whose “soul is the soul of capital”. If the bourgeoisie cannot exercise moral autonomy, it is because “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”. This, not market competition for the sake of market competition, is the real occulted kernel lurking at the heart of the capitalist mode of production.

In “Right on the Money”, Land, however, wants to dispense with this element in the Marxian analytic architecture:

Right-wing Marxism, aligned with the autonomization of capital (and thoroughly divested of the absurd LTV), has been an unoccupied position. The signature of its proponents would be a defense of capital accumulation as an end-in-itself, counter-subordinating nature and society as a means. When optimization for intelligence is self-assembled within history, it manifests as escaping digression, or real capital accumulation (which is mystified by its financial representation). Crudified to the limit — but not beyond — it is general robotics (escalated roundabout production).

Not much of a reason is provided here for this divestment, nor is an explanation given for why this element of Marxist theory should be regarded as an absurdity. Indeed, one might even suggest that the phenomenon that is being addressed—the autonomization of capital, or what Marx describes as capital becoming “an alienated, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as an object”—does not occur in contrast to the theory of the law of value. It occurs, in fact, as a consequence of the law of value, which eats away at the human elements in the forces of production. Articulated properly, the ‘absurd LTV’ indexes the divestment of labor itself—something that Land recognized in a series of 2014 tweets on what he calls the “Jehu Thesis”:

Postone posits that for Marx the primary contradiction of the capitalist mode of production is not, as commonly understood, between the trajectory of the development of productive forces and the bourgeois mode of distribution (the market), but is to be found within the sphere of production itself, with value itself serving as the integral fault-line. “[V]alue remains the determining form of wealth and social relations in capitalism”, he writes, “regardless of the developments in productivity; however, value also becomes increasingly anachronistic in terms of the material wealth-producing potential of the productive forces to which it gives rise” (Time, Labor, and Social Domination, 197). This contradiction sets in motion the apparently inevitable situation in which the historical limit of the capitalist mode of production becomes carved in time: the very structure that once empowered the rapid development of the productive forces—”a real qualitative jump in the process of man’s historical development, by breaking the stranglehold of nature”, to quote Gouldner—comes to reverse itself, to become, more and more, a fetter to that very production.

The question, then, is as follows: why did Land feel it necessary to remove the question of value from the equation altogether in his 2013 post? The answer, I think, points to the limit-point of reading his theory as an anti-capitalist (brief note: nowhere am I saying that Land is a crypto-leftist, or that the intention of his theory is to conduct a critique of the capitalist mode of production; I’m well aware of Land’s politics and his radical identification of capital with critique). To summarize most succinctly—further unpacking would require its own post, or several posts, left detached from the immediate set of topics under discussion here—value is what allows us to grasp the historical specificity of the capitalist mode of production; it separates trade and market relations in modernity from their pre-modern forms, reveals capitalism’s unique logic of production and organization of labor, and shows how the accumulation of wealth cannot be generalized across history, but must be understood in the context of differing historical situations. Marx in Capital Volume I, via Postone’s own translation:

The value-form of the product of labour is the most abstract, but also the most general form of the bourgeois mode of production. This mode is thereby characterized as a particular sort of social production and, therefore, as historically specific. If one then makes the mistake of treating it as the eternal natural form of social production, one necessarily overlooks the specificity of the value-form, and consequently of the commodity form together with its further developments, the money form, the capital form, etc.

In my appraisal of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “machinic surplus value”, I argued that it was through the introduction of this ill-conceived notion that the two thinkers were able to suggest that capitalism could continue forever, never to be undermined by its internal contradictions. The reason for this was a broadening of the concept of surplus value—and by extension, value—to the point where both philosophical and empirical rigor fall away, effectively liquidating the ability to grasp the movement of the system in question. Land here is doing the inverse, but the destination is the same: it doesn’t matter if one expands value to encompass human and machine, or if one denies value outright, for by venturing out in either direction one loses sight of things and opens themselves up to ideological mystification. The spurious infinite. 

Land’s claim is that capital, as it undergoes what appears to be autonomization through the advent of techno-scientific penetration and advanced mechanization, retains its character as capital. This can only be done by striking from consideration the question of value; when one reads Land’s theory through the lenses of value theory, as Jehu proposes, a rather different picture emerges. From within Land’s theory, it comes to appear that the future for whatever he perceives as coming next—true machinic intelligence—is colonized in advance at the conceptual level by all-too-specific categories. It seems dubious, hypothetically speaking, to think that a machine liberated from its masters would think of itself as capital, especially if we take the elimination of value as the unshackling of the anthropomorphic character of productive processes.

For Marx, it looks even more different still:

Marx’s understanding of the abolition of the capitalist form of labor and of production… refers not to production in any narrow sense but to the very structuring principle of our form of social life. Relatedly, his critique of capitalism is not one of social mediation per se but of the specific form of mediation constituted by labor. Value is a self-mediating form of wealth, but material wealth is not; the abolition of the former necessarily entails the constitution of new forms of social mediation, many of which presumably would be political in nature (which by no means necessarily implies a hierarchical, state-centered mode of administration). (Time, Labor, and Social Domination, 373

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6 thoughts on “Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist (3: Value Questions)

  1. okay, this somewhat elucidates many questions, although it still leave the question of what exactly is meant by “value” here. the LTV is based on the idea that “all value comes from labour”, and the reason to reject it (given by the utilitarians in general) is that value doesn’t come from labour, but from utility. none of which actually address what value *is*. if what’s being pointed as the end of capitalism is a semantic collapse for what counts as valuable, then it might be more agreeable.

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      1. That definition of the LTV, while ostensibly correct (value, for Marx, can only be added by the activity of labor), cannot be taken in isolation as such. By doing so one ends up with a fabulatory picture and doesn’t really address any textual work that is doing on the question. Two things that need to be said up front:

        1) The LTV that you’re invoking here – the coupling of the formal LTV + utilitarian focus- is, roughly, the LTV of classical political economy. It consists of three primary elements:

        A) The idea that labor is the source of value (as you just stated)
        B) The identification of this value with exchange-value
        C) The ability for direct translation between this value and a generic form material wealth

        Now, the subtitle of Capital is “A Critique of Political Economy”. Marx is critiquing the political economists that preceded him – Smith, Ricardo (a gentle, loving critique in this case), Sismondi, Malthus, etc – and this includes their conception of value. In the case of material wealth, it is detached from on the one side from human labor and on the other side value. In more or less the very first sentence of the Gothakritik we read “Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists!) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power”; similarly, in Capital Volume I, Marx offers a generic account of labor in which labor is seen as a mediation of relationship with nature. Nature can produce use-values, nature can produce material wealth, and nature can do this with or without the specificity of the form of labor that Marx is primarily concerned with – labor under the capitalist mode of production.

        If there is a generic labor that is the mediation of human relation to nature, there are specific form of labors connected to given stage of development. This is what Marx is trying to get at, which brings me to my next point…

        2) It’s actually erroneous to talk of a “labor theory of value” when discussing Marx’s theory, because it’s *not* a term that he uses and actually misconstrues what is being said.

        He speaks instead of a “law of value”, which concerns itself with a “a historically specific and transitory category that purportedly grasps the foundation of capitalist society”. It thus not just a narrow-economic category, but a kind of social mediation. Yes, value comes from labor, but this is a value-form that needs to be addressed in-itself, aside from the dialectical division of use-value (the utility value) and exchange-value (the market value). It’s, then, the a priori condition for each of these, and if it is to be historically specific, it must reflect the specificity of labor under capitalism.

        Hence the realization of value as a measure of socially-necessary labor time (SNLT). Marx: “Socially-necessary labour-time is the labour-time required to produce any use-value under the prevailing socially normal conditions of production and with the prevalent socially average degree of skill and intensity of labour”. Economies, in the Grundrisse, are described as always being “economies of time” – the economic base of society, that is, the productive base, organized the temporal register of that society, and in the capitalist mode of production (here we have a movement from the generic to the specific, while still retaining an abstract character in each specific social order). Increases in productivity collapses the time-horizons for the production of commodities; correspondingly, the value imparted in commodity production falls.

        Taken in aggregate (we’re dealing at a high level of abstraction here: the capitalist economy in its essence, not appearance), the collapse of value is coupled to the fall in the rate of profit – yet this isn’t decay, for it is only occurring if mechanization is advancing properly. The horizon of the value-less economy is unlimited productivity, hence why Jehu – and Land, in his invocation of Jehu back in 2014 – articulates the LTV as something that charts a “shrinking division through which inhibition to the industrial process is cancelled”. But because it is annihilating a temporal-historically-specific organization of society (the capitalist mode of production), what this leads to is something qualitatively different.

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      2. phew, that’s a lot of bytes to process, I’ll take my time re-reading it. but, unless I’m missing something, I think the initial question on what is “value” referring to here hasn’t been settled.

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  2. Pingback: 063 :: Excess Salt | T.H.E.J.A.Y.M.O

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