Greened

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There’s an interesting article from May of last year (happy belated New Years, blog friends! May your 2019 be better than the disjointed hangover from 2017 that 2018 was) that has been making the twitter rounds today. I’m off twitter at the moment, polishing off the book, but managed to snag it nonetheless. It’s from the folks at the University of Helsinki, by way of Phys.org: “Expansion of global forests reflects well-being, not rising CO2, experts say”. Now, the argument that the ‘global greening’ that is currently way derives primarily from the same forces driving anthropogenic climate change comes from NASA, among other places; I’ll point the interested reader to the following article (from which I nabbed the very pleasant image above): “Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds”. In brief, here’s what they have to say:

Green leaves use energy from sunlight through photosynthesis to chemically combine carbon dioxide drawn in from the air with water and nutrients tapped from the ground to produce sugars, which are the main source of food, fiber and fuel for life on Earth. Studies have shown that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide increase photosynthesis, spurring plant growth.

However, carbon dioxide fertilization isn’t the only cause of increased plant growth—nitrogen, land cover change and climate change by way of global temperature, precipitation and sunlight changes all contribute to the greening effect. To determine the extent of carbon dioxide’s contribution, researchers ran the data for carbon dioxide and each of the other variables in isolation through several computer models that mimic the plant growth observed in the satellite data.

Results showed that carbon dioxide fertilization explains 70 percent of the greening effect, said co-author Ranga Myneni, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University. “The second most important driver is nitrogen, at 9 percent. So we see what an outsized role COplays in this process.”

Pretty straightforward stuff. The Helsinki study, however, makes a strikingly different claim:

since the 1800s, transitions from net forest loss to gain have coincided with a switch within nations from subsistence to market oriented agriculture. Today the growth or decline of a nation’s forest resources correlates strongly to the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index.

[…]

The study attributes forest expansion to several factors that have outweighed the impacts of population growth and improving diets. They include:

  • Urbanization, which draws farmers off marginal rural lands
  • Evolution from a subsistence regime to market economy, which further concentrates farming to the best lands
  • Better agricultural technologies and yields, relieving the need to clear new agricultural land
  • Better transportation, communication, storage, processing, and consumer behavior, reducing food waste
  • The availability of alternatives to wood as a fuel

Vilma Sandström underlines that another factor requires detailed impact assessment: developed nations increasingly outsource their resource needs to others abroad through international trade. Earlier research suggested that growing stock stops decreasing at a per capita income threshold at US$ 4,600 (in 2003 dollars). Today the threshold is likely closer to $20,000 dollars income per capita.

What is immediately obvious is the highly unexpected suggestion that the driver of deforestation is, in appropriately non-linear character, the development of the capitalist mode of production itself. Of particular note is the elimination of subsistence agriculture—that is, agriculture produced for the direct consumption of the household, or perhaps the small community—and the movement towards high-yield industrialized agriculture that distributes its output via the market. This point is, of course, coupled to the pertinent issue of urbanization: the decline of subsistence agriculture is directly correlated to the rise of a mobile workforce that goes in pursuit of employment, which generally entails going where capital is the most concentrated, i.e. the city. What the Helsinki study is describing, in other words, is the very dynamics sketched out by Marx, and further elaborated by those theorists that suggest that primitive accumulation is not a one-off event, but an ongoing, continual process of dispossession.

But it also illustrates the other side of this process, the progressive element that makes the capitalist mode of production such a revolutionary force. Dispossession itself is double-faced, oscillating between impoverishment and the radical increase of living standards, but the role of technology and scientific as motive forces alongside this dispossession and marketization must be highlighted. By concentrating agricultural production, by minimizing land-use through high-yield techniques, and by managing both agricultural and non-agricultural land through forest management and other conservation techniques, the trajectory of development appears angled, at least in part, to what the sort of situation Marx anticipated (as I briefly detailed in my post on Eco-Marx):

…The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production… Agriculture, e.g., becomes merely the application of the science of material metabolism, its regulation for the greatest advantage of the entire body of society.

I don’t want to overstate the case, of course, and certainly the report deserves deeper scrutiny, especially in relation to other claims that emphasize the role of C02 in reforestation (not to mention the negative externalities that have arisen to the side of industrial agriculture, from the immense way to the problem of run-off to its own emissions). Nonetheless, it clearly illustrates a lesson, vital in this time in which limited, localist production, permaculture, and other small-scale food production techniques are being privileged: to position oneself against the capitalist system does not mean we do not have to refuse to recognize the progressive elements of the system, for it is precisely these elements—and the ultimate promises which they are denied—that are the building blocs of the future world.

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Alien Capital Redux

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There’s some fascinating comments by Louis Armand in an essay featured in Alienist #4 that deal with Primož Krašovec’s ‘Alien Capital’:

This Alien metaphor can be taken a step further, in that it exceeds the notion of simply an economic or social prosthesis – an addition to the world of human activity – & speaks rather of a condition. Like Power, capital isn’t abstract: it is abstraction itself. It isn’t  concept born in relation to a subject: it is the very operation of subjectivisation. In its “post-human” iteration, Power is precisely not wielded: like the old Soviet joke, Power wields you. This leads Krašovec to argue that “the two anthropocentric perspectives of capital” – corresponding to the “elemental class positions”: the capitalist & the proletarian – diff er from the perspective of capital itself, which is defined by the production of value for the purpose solely of “infinite technological self-improvement,” on the assumption that technology defines the exclusion of the social. Krašovec thereby identifies competition, or the classical idea of class antagonism, as the technological dynamics of capitalism.

But just as Marx indicated that alienation isn’t in fact an anthropological process (it is instead the condition of the anthropological), so too we must move here beyond the simple description of capital as technological, to the supposition that capital itself is indistinguishable from technology-as such. That capital is in fact a system of technology, just as the commodity  is the thought of capital. It should be evident that the Anthropocene can’t be acquitted by the convenient appeal to a malevolent doppelganger or rogue AIs, & neither can humanism mask the alienation that constitutes subjectivity. Technology isn’t, as Marcuse argued, the invasion of “man’s” inner-freedom. In the final analysis, the subjective is technological; the human is alien capital. And if the dream of humanity is to outlive itself by “alien” sublimation, the dream of capital is no less than to transcend History by becoming the future. Accelerating towards the limit of its own representability, it radiates in the illusion of a totality suspended over its own void – as if making possible the very thing it makes impossible.

The last point—that we ourselves are alien capital (another route to this conclusion, one which would be my own preferable pathway, is the by tracing the constitution of the subject through matrices conditioned by mediation of the value-form)—here at the converges in a curious way with a comments made by Xenogoth in his Note on Eerie Capital. Using  the alien environs explored by Conrad in Hearts of Darkness and Ballard’s The Drowned World (accounts of fateful voyages down the Kurtz-gradient) he writes:

Once this architecture — understood most generally as space-time but we can draw things into a sociopolitical infrastructure — is dissolved into the chaos of the jungle, you can only keep attributing your actions to a self for so long. Eventually, the familiar sociopolitical architecture of habit and understanding is no longer in place so that you cannot distinguish your agency from the agency of your own environment… This fictive realisation that our agency is indistinguishable from capital’s own is precisely the point made by countless theorists and fiction writers. The solution to this is not to double-down on one conspiratorial agency or our individuality, but rather hold both as influencing their other in tandem.

Is it not at this point, in the realization and appraisal of the situation, that the recursive loop of reason is capable of kicking in—and with it, the real struggle over futurity begins?

Moseley on Marx and Hegel

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I’m currently making my way through—very slowly, I might add—Fred Moseley’s Money and Totality: A Macro-Monetary Interpretation of Marx’s Logic in Capital and the End of the ‘Transformation’. Hopefully I will have the chance to blog more of my thoughts on the book (which certainly seems superior to the solutions offered by Andrew Kliman and others, for reasons I’ll admittedly have to think further on) in the future, especially as my current project comes to a close and I begin my long-term plan of doing a chronological read-through of the so-called ‘value-form’ debates.

In the book’s third chapter, Moseley offers a lengthy textual exegesis for his interpretation of Marx’s ‘logical method’, which entails what he describes as the ‘two levels of abstraction’ that composes the baseline of the theory: the production of  surplus-value, where the total surplus-value is determined, and the distribution of surplus-value, in which this total surplus-value is divided into “individual parts”, i.e. the various industries that make up the actual capitalist economy. These two levels constitute the “quantitative dimension” of what Marx called capital in general and competition, respectively. The logical order is clear: capital in general denotes capital as grasped by “the most essential properties which are common to all capitals and which distinguish capital from simple commodities or money or other forms of wealth” (p. 43, his italics), which would be the production of surplus value. Competition, accordingly, is the distribution of this surplus-value among the various industries and firms that compose them.

Moseley notes that this “relation between capital in general and competition in Marx’s theory, or the relation between the total surplus-value and the individual parts of surplus-value, is essentially the same as the relation between the universal and the particulars in Hegel’s logic of the concept” (p. 45). He then offers the following equivalences:

Hegel: universal contains within itself its own particulars

Marx: total surplus-value contains within itself the individual parts of surplus-value

Hegel: particulars are the universal itself, with additional determinations

Marx: particulars forms of surplus-value are the general forms of surplus-value itself, with additional determinations

Hegel: particulars as the ‘fulfillment of what the universal is’

Marx: particular forms of surplus-value are the ‘fulfillment’ of what the general form of surplus-value is

Hegel: universal ‘goes forth’ into particular forms

Marx: total surplus-value ‘goes forth’ into particular forms and individual parts

Stephen Metcalf – Black Capital

Black Capital is a third piece by Metcalf and the final one from the archives (if anyone has the intro he wrote to the dreadfully cursed Hammer of the Gods, a messy collection of statements and aphorisms by Nietzsche strung together for the singular purpose of trafficking in edge, or ‘Vortikill’, a talk given at Virtual Futures ’95, please let me know!). This piece was initially published in two different outlets in 1995, appearing in I/O/D’s first issue and again in the first issue of the CCRU’s Collapse zine. Enjoy! 

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THE COMPOSITE CITY

The Western Lands are burning – drifting out into deep space; vapourized in the embers of hollow blazes crackling in the red night. Panorama of a mutant city… shaking, oscillating at convulsive frequency, and breaking up into tectonic tremors of collapse. Human and machine combinations not yet realized pass through immunodeficient membranes… A population of strange, wildly mutating anthropoids gathers on the boarder of state-space, lashed by streams of flak and tracer fire spewing from the control towers policing the line… from desperate migrations… from incredible journeys through desert and jungles and mountains… from stasis and death in rift valleys excavated by vorticular, mass crash, freezing urban sprawl in tailback to infinity… The Composite City – Interzone – grows with the virulence of a deadly fungus… the place of dead roads where all human potentials spread out in a vast, silent market. All buildings in the zone are joined arrangements of wood, brick, concrete, glass, packing crates, corrugated iron; where undead armies of transhumans squat in island expansions of rubbish… locked… no door is no membrane impermeable… everything is free to enter or go out… no counter-measure is effective against osmotic invasion of circulation networks. Epidemics of unknown diseases consume the body. Unburied dead eaten by vultures in the streets, scorched by the sun, rotting in the subliminal hum of sex and illicit commerce. A plague ravages through the city. The digestive track of Capital, particularly the recuperative intestine, is drowned in the reverse bleeding of Black Capital… dirty money… orbiting the market from the outside as threat and panic, and bleeding back inside, filling the intestines of Capital with rogue DNA codes; toxins in the pancreas, secreting poisoned bile and corrosive juices, folding the body in gastro-enteritic convulusions; fluid which is rejected by the liver, and chokes the organism in its own sticky, black, veinal and arterial blood… Cold explosion of reverse transcriptase in cells emptied and redesigned by the viral codes of the Black Market… A hideous dry hunger the virus wracks the body… hunger for the fix of the commodity which consumes the consumer, backed up by an escalating trade in discarded stockpiles of government weapons… The body is streaked with lesions… Fiery cones of blisters rising like little air bubbles under a skin of lava… appearing first around the anus, which wires itself to the mouth of the market in a frenzied binge of eating cancer, then under the armpits; then at places where barely active glands still carry out their functions… Organs open – flowering into wounds in order to better ingest incoming flows of addiction… Reverse-bleeding, we call it, where the addict seizes hold of a rust-speckled safety-pin, gouges a three-inch tear into leg muscle (which hangs open like a ragged bleeding, festering mouth; crying like a started bird for the insertion of the dropper) and plunges in the smack… the protoplasm of the Black Market virus… the addict becoming no more than a trick of the light… raw periphery of meat disintegrating in the flash of a hit of the disease… Being strained to make the impossible break with the flesh and sprint headlong towards the nearest cemetery… The market dashes itself to pieces… Luxurious naked lunch offered to the head of state crawls with multitudes of worms and parasites… The ecstasy of recuperation ends as the indigestible is fatally consumed, the intestines erupt in bleeding ulcers and become the place of feverish, hallucinogenic degrees of composition and calcification. Welcome to  the Interzone… the hemorrhage of the global village, where the hydra-head of Black Capital consumes the head of state… where the last days drift by… strung on a syringe… wired to viral control…

HELIOCENTRIC

Piles of dead sheep’s heads, ritually slaughtered and stripped to bones speckled with scraps and stains of corporeal matter, lining the streets, violating stink of passage of shit to soil… passage of form to matter in whirl of entropy… involution through several gradually degrading states, indexed to metric scales of the pathologist’s science… flyblown corpses of children rotting with disease… earth breathing with the pulsing rhythm of demise… plagues of unknown insect colonies, gorged on catastrophic wastage… virus mutations yet uncoded… plates of bacteria spreading over immense dunes of rubbish, secreting toxic vapours… semi-autonomy of cancer-cloned becomings, ejaculating streams of acid from proliferating ogans… vomit of sunstrokes and alcohol sickness in opaque pools… identity manuring the sidewalk with the last reflex jerk of dead humanity, power, and meaning… the opening of all closed circuits, flowering into lesions which bleed in reverse… rustle of sex against the skin closing down with the commodified piece-work of the brothel-shift… peaks of transcendence collapsing into barbarian plateaus of anarchy, guns drawn and blades reflecting shock waves of solar radiation… mortified excremental civilization littering the ruins; populated by tents, bivouacs, pennants and flags of nomadic encampments… fortification of command systems of cybernetic control, shivering in the cold, internal iceflows of the arctic wastelands of governmental authority… the end of monetary exchange as all gold standards melt down; taking world banks of state with it into an inferno of insane speculation… shedding of skin like snakes… exchange of tissue for melanoma and its partial replacement with prostheses, circuit-boards, nano-technology and synthetic germ-killers… hysteria, schizophrenia, and all mental breakdown redesigned as consensual delusion of hallucinatory oder… helicopter gunships, delivering transnational payloads of xenocidal state terrorism shot down in the oriental sunrise which sets over the West… strange attractors fusing parthenogenetic machines, simultaneously crystallizing and collapsing in cathected motor of pulsion and entropic circuit-breaker of repulsion… famine quoted on world exchanges as consumption to the end of suicide, while global sightseers tour the ruins… newsreels of atrocity projected on the lids of dead, undersea eyes; at once cold and intense, picking up the silent frequency of the plague… wild alliances of strays, vagabonds and runaways in cardboard cities of the globe, puncturing points of entry into the urban cores of designer capitalism and rioting for the sheer, incendiary hell of it; consumed by the consumption of consumption… impoverished military wings of ruling assemblies running guns to terrorists, to be turned against authority in counter-hegemonic strikes… the subversion of dominance and submission into circuits of sado-masochistic gratification… SOL, nothing but SUN sodomizing the scientific apparatus of capture… heatseekers imploding everything into the death rattle of rational thought; scattered debris in the undertow of reality-crash… the final unification of human identity under the sign of the environment, slowly revealing the swastika concealed beneath its green cloak… biocybernetic bacterial orgy of teleonomic communication falling to indeterminacy and approaching ABSOLUTE ZERO… mass death in crosstown auto-collision… cryogenic freezing of dead heads of state, reanimating necrophile political space… algorithmic data bleeding into the cardiovascular networks of the organism, digitizing it with an ‘OFF’ signal… viral intruders, entering the tissue through microscopic injuries and punctures; assaulting deference mechanisms in vertigo of annihilation: All these are immanent to the system…

CLAN

And so paramilitary formations of virus-carriers, secret societies of criminal infection, and brokers of exquisite dream which fall dead in the sands of interpretation, ride out the exit channels of Interzone – carrying black flags, poisoned blades, and home-made submachine guns. They overwhelm the fortified encampments of the north, enchanting local populations with the madness of addictive subversion and gratifying surrender… Nomadologies of machinic alliance flow gracefully across the frozen borders of the nation state in an alien invasion of from the interior; already among the nations and melting the ice with the accursed gift of the sun. Precious stone tablets of the sculpting of commandments are liquited in white heat, engendering crisis and futile reaction…. Unicellular blowing apart of the social teleonomies where the nomads couple themselves to the apexes of triangles of Heimat settlement. The state’s pre-arrangement of overlaid bridges, junctions, pathways, and trade routes trajectorizes as it impacts upon the helpless head of the social. Detonation of nuclear arsenals of the world merely pushes the nomads underground; shedding their skin in reptilian camouflage, vanishing without forensic trace in ambient recession into the undergrowth… Dog howls of murdered technology announce the presence of assassins of space on the line… you shall know this infection only when the system crashes from within, tracking its nightmare enemy through the matrix, and finding it as it locks onto its own redundancy… machine suicide a digital technics perform illegal surgery on themselves… Shower of golden vapour runs enervated rescue routines; hurling killer programs into the immunodeficient, exclusive, closed networks, which collapses in catastrophes of nullification at the point where one wrong term in ten million paragraphs of software crashes all terminals… These are the last days of the state, powerlessly against partially organised nomadic skirmishers escalating the information war: free from the freedom narcotic sold by Western democracies and their theopolitical malcontents, peddling THE CURE TO ALL ALIENATING DISEASES in the ovens and gas chambers of the planned economy, Communism, fascism, fundamentalism… Free from the need to be free… the status of their tangible existence in the virtual and dark vanishing points of escape are impersonally achieved… The urban resting satellites of the world begin a routine of anamorphatic symbiosis with the confusion of Interzone, infected by its black market protoplasm – injecting heroin and sucking upon crack cocaine with earlier morning sights of heated photosynthesis… Biomechanics cut up atrophying parades of digestive organs in paralysis of eating disorders… in generative sequences of android androgyny; which do you prefer to shoplift from the shelves of the clinical hypermarkets – long range anorexic recession or short range bulimic overdose None of this comes from the Other; the Other is already inside fences of the security net, operating with clandestine malevolence…

O, systems! O, governments! O, accumulators of auto-suggestive wealth! O, banking cartels imprisoning the sun! Beware the aliens that walk among you! Beware the exterior which seduces your paranoid eye in cancerous growths of panic! The fraught pathways of termination, converging upon Interzone and unbinding all your contracts, slice across the borderline with the inevitability of death. Yours. Your subjects drown in an electronic miasma of techno-genetic information and take you down with them; recoding in the initial fusing sequences of a nexus of stateless, homeless, orphaned, selfless, bastard children of the Anti-Oedipus/Christ… You are immersed like water in water.

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

Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist (2)

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This morning I stumbled across a very short post by Jehu on the topic of Nick Land and the left. While the post itself is an extract from an interview given to Land, a remark left by Jehu in the comments caught my eye, as it sums up succinctly (in one sentence, that is) what I tried to articulate in my own post on Land’s anti-capitalist philosophy of capital. Jehu says:

I don’t know if he would agree with my characterization here, but as I read Land (through the lens of Marx’s labor theory of value), for Land accelerationism is a description of the trajectory of capital toward its self-negation.

This ‘self-negation of capital’ is elaborated further in a later post titled “Schrödinger’s Capital: How Marxists erased Marx’s prediction of capitalist collapse”. Here, Jehu draws out what he considers to be one of the most misunderstood—or perhaps maligned—aspect of Marx’s theory: that the ‘higher’ stages of the development of the capitalist mode of production is characterized by the productive forces coming into conflict with the more ‘simple’ intent of this system, itself characterized by the anarchic mode of distribution that we call the capitalist marketplace. This is, of course, the same position that I’ve taken up on the course of this blog, and what in my opinions binds certain salvageable insights from accelerationism to a reinvigorated Marxist tradition. It is that essential passage from the third volume of Capital that most clearly drives this home:

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.

One small quibble with Jehu, and a semantic one at that: I’m hesitant to describe the breakdown of the capitalist mode of production through this contradiction less in terms of a collapse and more in terms of an explosion upwards. The idea of collapse brings with it the imagery of the the theorists of stagnation, decadence, and progressive decline, and in a time when so many Marxists mistake stagnationist or decadence theories with the effects of the rate of tendency to fall (which, as emphasized in the chapter quoted above, is an accelerative process typified by the oscillation of crisis and subsequent expanded accumulation) such things should be avoided. This isn’t to say Jehu holds this position or makes this mistake—quite the opposite, in fact—as much as there is a need to choke off the rhetorical possibility space that the contemporary gloomerist ideology feeds upon.

Something tangentially related: over at the Urban Future blog Land has begun to churn out his long-awaited book on bitcoin and philosophy in the form of a series of blog posts. In the third ‘chapter’ of the work, he suggests the following:

Critique is anti-Archimedean philosophy, and in this strict sense an intrinsic anti-rationalism. It is directed against the pretensions to super-ordinate theoretical leverage which define metaphysics. Every claim to exception from immanence falls prey to it. Its sole empirically exorbitant proposition is that the whole permits no oversight. No ‘view from above’ can be true. Critique thus supplies the schema for that flat epistemology which empiricism requires and fails, itself, to produce. Its historical mission is to make the world safe for empiricism (i.e. techno-science). It can therefore be understood as modernity’s watchdog. Liberal civilization knows no higher principle of security. Its enemies are ‘churches’ with global ambitions, which is to say universalizing abstract-ecclesiastical authorities. When all relevant terms are stripped of encrustation with maximum rigor, critique is accurately characterized as anarchism in philosophy. It is that, alone, which cannot know any higher law. Whatever tries to transcend it can only repeat it, or less. We call this time, which can never be anticipated or out-lasted. Above Temporalization there is nothing. To engage in critique is to think in the name of time.

Given the correlative relationship between, on the one side, capital as a self-expanding substance and the historical epoch of modernity, and on the other between the development of productive forces and the development of techno-science (such as the case with the general intellect), the notion reading the above from the point of view of the horizon of explosive negation becomes a tantalizing suggestion.

Ideology and Real(ism)

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“Isn’t the emphasis on the systemic character of capitalism what separates Marx’s analysis from moralizing socialism?) The idea that the misleadingly-named ‘ruling class’ do anything more than manage and adminster Capital is an idle fantasy. Capitalists can decide on which groups are exploited, but they cannot legislate away exploitation itself. (How long would a CEO with such ambitions last?) It is not exculpatory but simply realistic to acknowledge that Capital, not capitalists, runs the show. However, realism about capitalism is not the same as Capitalist Realism. Neo-liberalism is defined not by the idea that Capital is a remorseless machine but by the claim that there is no viable alternative to its rule.” – Mark Fisher, Left Hyperstition 2: Be Unrealistic, Change What’s Possible

One of the repeated accusations that arose in the great /Acc wars of 2017 was that the understanding of capital that was being posited—as something operated at a higher level than everyday life, political management, and even ideological fixation—was itself an unfortunate expression of capitalist ideology, one tantamount to the infamous Thatcherite slogan that there is indeed no alternative to its strange, infernal logic. Seen from this point of view, the so-called accelerationist take on capital (a jargon-laced analytic stance I’ve personally progressively moved away from, opting for a return to a more ‘classically’ Marxist approach—something that nonetheless was a great influence on acceleration, particularly in the ‘U’ variety) is conflated with Fisher’s ‘capitalist realism’. This, in turn, produce a solution by way of inverting the accelerationist counterpoint: if accelerationist theory is garbage-can ideology, and the accelerationist theory suggests that capital is a self-moving substance unto itself, then the ‘revolutionary path’—or whatever equivalent to this one may pose—is to configure capital as something always already subordinated to human intentionality. Political capacity is thus restored.

The problem with this picture, at least from a Marxist—as well as an accelerationist—ground, is where the ideological configuration is positioned. It has to be asked what form of capitalist ideology promotes capital as an inhuman force that ensnares the proletariat and bourgeoisie alike in its logic, robbing them of their agency and pushing them towards alien ends? In the great spectrum of political economy and liberal polity, the answer simply is none. Capitalist ideology promotes capitalism not only as an ism (we should be avoiding this term as much as possible and opt instead for either addressing capital directly or by reference to the capitalist mode of production), but more specifically as a humanism. The material class relations that constitute the proletariat and bourgeoisie are eliminated for the ideal of a flexible atomized subject who stands free from the weight of history; the vital dialectical image of the capitalist mode of production containing both progressive and regressive elements that will eventually come to a historical loggerhead is smeared into obscurity by a vibrant image of non-historical progress (non-historical because the relations and mechanisms unique to the bourgeois epoch are presented as transhistorical, coupled to a sense of progress that finds capital first and foremost agential empowerment).

The breakage of the liberal ideology into left and right wings (relatively speaking, of course) never manages to undermine this core of capitalist-humanism, and only turns it around under the differing filters of positive and negative freedoms. Even under virulent neoliberalism does it persist: nowhere in the pages of libertarian journals and the halls of Beltway think-tanks does the image of alien capital gain traction. The Adam Smith Institute doesn’t promote the entrepreneur of the self as some sort of Snidely Whiplash conspiratorial shenanigan; it promotes it because it earnestly believes what it preaches.

In his ideological critique, Marx was taking to task the capitalist-humanism of the ‘classical liberals’ (a retroactively-assembled, ideological formation if there ever was one!); this is why we get the picture, so curious at first blush, of a book bearing the subtitle of A Critique of Political Economy that presents capital as functioning like the Hegelian geist by its fourth chapter. Capital as inhuman force, as a historical machine that takes a hold of the bourgeoisie and proletariat as if by possession—to reach towards this is to pierce the ideological veil to find the tracing of something swirling below it. Hence Fisher’s point in the quote that opened this post: capitalist realism is a reflection of the ideological fantasy of the neoliberal phase of capitalist development and is wholly distinct from the sort of picture drawn by the accelerationists—which is really an elaboration and restaging of the analysis offered by Marx. Thus to flip the script and return capital to something under the sway of human intentionality, and more specifically under the command of the powerful capitalist, is to avoid the Real by staying within the foundational assumptions of capitalist realism.

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As far back as The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek had already deepened and advanced this line of inquiry, fundamentally problematizing both sides of the debate along the way. He convincingly points out that the structure of Marx’s account of commodity fetishism contains a kind of doubled illusion, a two-layered process that encompasses the ideological side of capitalism and the non-human logic of commodities. He writes:

…the illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what people are doing. What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic inversion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but they are still doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called ideological fantasy. (29-30)

The twisting structure of Zizek’s argument here is that while commodity fetishism makes the relationship between people appear as commodities whilst imbuing commodities with the appearance life-like power, it is in actuality being overlooked. The logic of the commodity, while beginning as illusion, comes to operate on a real, material level in the sense that it imparts itself as the universal mediator of social relations. What’s more is that this can be mapped to a process of historical passage that is itself reflected in a shift in Marx’s own theory of abstraction, or what Alberto Toscano calls a “break with a generic, humanist, or anthropological concept of abstraction” for a “notion of real abstraction—abstraction not as mere mask, fantasy or diversion, but as a force operative in the world”. This first theory, Toscano argues, is inherited from Feuerbach and carries from him the assumption of “the genus ‘humanity'”. Abstractions of all sorts—political and religious, but particularly (for Marx) economic—are but “fictitious hypostases of [this] positive, underlying generic essence that is not itself prey to historical or logic becoming”. The second, however, provides an understanding of abstraction that undermines this humanist portrait:

The crucial theoretical revolution would then be the one that passes from this fundamentally intellectualist notion of abstraction—which presumes liberation as a ‘recovery’ of the presupposed genus (putting Man where God, qua distorted humanity, had once stood)—to a vision of abstraction that, rather than depicting it as a structure of illusion, recognizes it as a social, historical, and ‘transindividual’ phenomenon… Society is above all a relation: the role of these univocal simple abstractions—such as value, labor, private property—in the formation of the concrete must be carefully gauged so that they do not mutate back into those powerless and separate, not to mention mystifying, intellectual abstractions that had occupied the earlier theory of ideology. But these abstractions are not mental categories that ideally precede the concrete; they are real abstractions that are truly caught up in the social whole, the social relation.

Toscano later offers the radical conclusion posed by Alfred Sohn-Rethel: real abstraction does not only emerge from a thought becoming a thing—it is also “a relation, or even a thing, which then becomes a thought”. Read back onto Zizek, a portrait is drawn in which the illusion ceases to be illusion but becomes operative, the very thing that structures society by serving as the force that mediates it (if society is a relation, or more properly series or networks of relations, then it indeed will intrinsically maintain some form of mediation—what Sohn-Rethel called the “social synthesis”). Such is the obscured nature of capital (and not to mention to one of the very reasons why capital operates above and beyond the agency of the capitalist or politician)

What then of capitalism as ideology? It should be clear that it not only serves to protect the capitalist mode of production in either conscious or unconscious registers, but to in fact obscure this deeper structure of capitalist reality. The realism, in other words, is the illusion; the thing that appears as illusion is itself closer to an actual realism. Faced with some a dynamic obscuring and domino-effect of reversals it is clear that by taking flight to an understanding of capital as something subjected a priori to human intentionality or command serves only to reinforce the ideological frontier.