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! 

_____________

vague

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.

Advertisements

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

 

312-leksinofuturism-1839-2046ad-still06-3840x2160

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)

C-WOsEeUMAAfsAq

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)

dojon9hu4aawjwr-e1540930633629.jpg

“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.

_________________

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.

Nick Land’s Philosophy of Capital is Anti-Capitalist

DdpPXMXU0AMNJgH

Jotting down some notes that popped into my head just as I was about to fall asleep, so take the following as a rough draft of, well, probably nothing. I’m not sure why these sorts of things crawl about in the late night hours, and not anything related to more pressing projects. Perhaps poor time preference? Idk. Here following a cheeky quasi-shit post:

In his recent interview with Justin Murphy (a transcript of which can be read at the Vast Abrupt), Land offers his thoughts on that concept that will be intimately familiar with those who have kept up on the various /Acc wars: the autonomization and escape of capital. Here’s solid quote:

…in using this word of emancipation, sure, I will totally nod along to it if what is meant by that is capital autonomization. I don’t think that’s something that it isn’t already there in the 1990s, but I’m no longer interested in playing weird academic games about this and pretending this is the same thing as what the left really means when they’re talking about emancipation. I don’t think it is. I think what the left means by emancipation is freedom from capital autonomization.

What would it mean for capital to be autonomized? On the one hand, we might just be talking about the autonomization of capital in a flat sense, a coupling-together of Marx’s depiction of capable as “a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will” with extreme deregulation. I don’t think this is what Land means, however. In the quote above, he suggests that this concept is already in play in his work CCRU, and it would be exceedingly difficult to reduce the schizophrenia of that period to simply an enthusiasm for transnationalized, post-Fordist capitalism (critics are oft to do this, but this needs to be considered as the ground, not the totality). In the late-CCRU era of the Hyperstition blog references abound to technomic acceleration as Shoggothic insurgency, a concept that appeared earlier in a piece concerning the possibility of a nanotech gray-goo apocalypse and later in the (admittedly more sober) essay in the #Accelerate Reader, where he describes a “dominion of capital”, “robot rebellion” and the conversion of “all natural purposes into a monstrous reign of the tool”. In a Xenosystems post, meanwhile, Land muses that “At a certain point, the machines are in this for themselves”.

Jumping off from this, let’s assume capital autonomization as a given, and interpret it – which I believe is correct, but am open to counter-arguments – as indicating, at some point, the emergence of distinctly post-human life. My contention is that by accepting that capital autonomizes in this way, one is also accepting that capital is overcoming – and thus annihilating itself – through the very same process. This isn’t the destructive of the living object or system that we deem to be post-human life, but the destruction of both the categorization and the system that it, up to this point, was embedded within.

The reason for this is that what Land identifies as the process of capitalist autonomization is the same vector that Marx traces out the dynamic means-ends reversal that characterizes the development of the capitalist system. To sum it up as simply as possible, what begin as means – capital, particularly in its money-form – are transformed into ends in themselves. The situation of money progresses from being a means to buy and sell commodities to both the accumulation and circulation of itself being an end (the movement from C – M – C to M – C – M’). Alongside this simple commodity production is transformed into advanced production and the laborer goes from being one who uses the tool (as in pre-capitalist craft production and simple commodity production) to being one who is subjected to the tool (as described in that machine fragment in the Grundrisse everyone is going on about).

Through these sorts of processes, we perceive the advancement of capital as unfolding through the subjugation of the human. If capital, however, doesn’t transcend its status as an end, then it hasn’t actually escaped. As alluded to above, for Marx capital is independent of the individual will of the human agent, and while the activities of the human agent are the processes through which capital expands, it is beyond it in the sense that it is what compels these activities – in other words, an abstract mode of social domination. If we’re taking capital’s escaping as simply the intensification of the subjugation of the human, then no true change has occurred. Capital remains locked in place, and while it may have achieved the status of the master, the ultimate end, the great teleological catastrophe, it stays fundamentally attached to class society. This would be far from the suggestion that the human element is a drag, something to be overcome.

If capital truly escapes, then, it would be through a break with its status as an end, and this would entail nothing less that the concrete separation from the system that maintains it as such. This would be an emancipation from the law of value, and it would be at this very point that capital would not be capital.

One might argue that a posthuman, post-capital something might be forced to retain capitalist for survival. Three lazy responses:

  1. The existence of such a hypothetical entity will have emerged specifically from centuries of struggle for optimization against these very conditions, and thus the natural inclination of these systems would be to work against this sort of thing (this is retaining the idea of contradictions internal to the capitalist mode of production, per Marx).
  2. If we take seriously the suggestion that predictive is breaking down the deeper we get into increasingly non-linear developmental processes (that is, taking seriously questions posed by U/Acc and the accelerationist trolley problem, and more generalized knowledge problems in the context of complex, interconnected societies situated in a fast-paced global world assaulted by increasingly weird weather), we actually lose the ability to make overly strong claims of these nature.
  3. The Bataille response – excess is intrinsic and fundamental, bby. Go mine an asteroid and eat a star and make peace with eventual heat death.

Machinic Surplus Value

Screen-Shot-2015-03-30-at-4.27.16-PM

“Celibate machines reproduce human surplus value, furnishing the bourgeoisie with recording rights to all of capitalism’s operative axioms, bringing organic stratometers, judgments of God governing isometric command chains, crushing down on schizonomadic economic swarm space. Diffused through the microphysical weave of spinal multiplicity, metrophage control command sequences institute the bourgeoisie as the optimal distribution profile for State power. No more dysfunctional despotic masters: slaves command other slaves in the ravenous stomach of the crystal factory complex – the mutant, urogenital servomechanism calibrated for the reproduction of the capitalist socius in the gambling dens of Terra Nova markets.”

In the “Civilized Capitalist Machine” chapter of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari (henceforth D&G) introduce a major revision of Marx’s analysis of capitalist dynamics: the addition of what they describe as machinic surplus value to the more tradition category of human surplus value. They begin by grappling with what Marx described as the organic composition of capital, that is, the input-ratios of constant capital (fixed costs like machines and other equipment, raw materials, building, etc.) to variable capital (human labor) as contained in the commodity – and thus as serving as an index for what is happening within the process of production. This organic composition can be analyzed with the very basic formula C/V, with C denoting constant capital and V denoting the variable capital; if C rises over V, this means that more capital is being put towards fixed costs, and if rises over C then it is a greater allocation to the human labor.

D&G choose instead to approach this by way of a different formula: Dy/Dx. In this differential relation, Dy represents the fluctuations of variable capital, its rises and falls over time, while Dx denotes the fluctuations of constant capital. They write:

It is from the fluxion of decoded flows, from their conjunction that the filiative form of capital, x+dx, results. The differential relation expresses the fundamental capitalist phenomenon of the transformation of the surplus value of code into a surplus value of flux. The fact that a mathematical appearance here replaces the old code simply signifies that one is witnessing a breakdown of the subsisting codes and territorialities for the benefit of a machine of a another species, functioning in an entirely different way. This is no longer the cruelty of life, the terror of one life brought to bear against another life, but a post-mortem despotism, the despot become anus and vampire: “Capital is dead labor, that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more the labour it sucks. (AO, 228)

What they are describing here as the surplus value of code refers to the innate laws governing pre-capitalist modes of economic and social organization (I’m not comfortable at all with this concept, but I’ll have to get more thoughts in order to properly articulate why), while the surplus value of flux is the surplus value of Marx proper. The Janus-faced fluctuations within Dy/Dx (or C/V) are thus expressing the very process of “all that is solid melting into air”, as everything that was once fixed (coded + territorializing) is unleashed from itself, stamped with new codes, and entered into the mad circulation of the market. Commodity production then, for D&G as with Marx, is historically specific, and is therefore conceivable as being ultimately transitory.

But here we enter into a problem by way of that most contentious of Marx’s theoretical concepts, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. To summarize it as briefly (and thus insufficiently!) as possible, Marx suggested that over time the ratio of constant capital to variable capital would continue to grow, which would lead to progressive obsolescence of the human laborer, and on the other side of this a fall in the average rate of profit (average being the average of the capitalist economy as a whole). This is because of the race downwards of the value – magnitudes of socially-necessary labor time – imparted to the commodity in the face of overwhelming mechanization; from this perspective, the entire capitalist economy is like a gigantic clock  running down, with the zero-point basically being a fully-automated economic system.

This tendency is dampened occasionally by counter-tendencies that push the rate of profit back up, which has led to a plethora of debates over the real status of the tendency to fall within Marx’s own theory (my personal feeling is that it is of utmost importance, and that it can be empirically demonstrated, which is something I attempted in my Uncertain Futures book. The nuclear kernel of the accelerationist reading of Marx is also predicated on the centrality of the tendency). D&G, for their part, write that

First of all, it appears that – in keeping with Balibar’s remarks – this tendency to a falling rate of profit has no end, but reproduces itself while reproducing the factors that counteract it. But why does it have no end? Doubtless for the same reasons that provoke the laughter of the capitalists and their economists when they ascertain that surplus value cannot be determined mathematically. (AO, 228)

This leads them to grapple with the specter of a capitalism that, while emerging from historically-specific – and ultimately contingent – factors, has become something that exists without end, for everything that can end it is is modulated within it in order to serve as the very means of reproducing it. The classical Marxist problematic is reproduced here: capitalism, as a system, has no exterior limit (it will continually move itself to the peripheries, wherever they may be), only an interior one that is capital itself. 

It is here that the concept of machinic surplus value is introduced:

This problem was raised again recently by Maurice Clavel, in a series of decisive and willfully incompetent questions – that is, questions addressed to Marxist economists by someone who doesn’t quite understand how one can maintain human surplus value as the basis for capitalist production, while recognizing that machines too “work” or produce value, that they have always worked, and that they work more and more in proportion to man, who thus ceases to be a constituent part of the production process, in order to become adjacent to this process. (AO, 232)

D&G refer to “Fragment on Machines” from the Grundrisse in a footnote to this passage. It is there that Marx describes how automation, on the one hand, levels the human laborer through the stripping of the sort of agency that characterized simple commodity production and remakes them as a “conscious linkages” in an inhuman automation, while on the other hand engenders the “blow this foundation [for expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations] sky-high”. In clear relation to the dynamism between the fluctuations in the organic composition of capital and the rise and falls of the rate of profit, Marx describes capital as “a moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour, on the other side, as sole measure of wealth”.

This discourse on the contradictions of automation is clearly an influence on D&G’s construction of machinic surplus value, as is another term introduced by Marx in the “Fragment”: the general intellect.

Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are  of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process. (emphasis mine)

The relationship illustrated here, between the development of fixed or constant capital (particularly in the form of automation) and a more generalized techno-scientific development, would have been of supreme importance to D&G. By the time Anti-Oedipus was published in 1972, theories of a wide-ranging transformation in the nature of the capitalist mode of production had been swirling about for some three decades. James Burnham’s 1941 The Managerial Revolution discussed the intensifying role of managers and technocrats within the structural organization of both the economy and the state, a thesis that would be reiterated in 1960 by Daniel Bell in his work The End of Ideology. For Bell (who, like Burnham, was a lapsed Marxist), the ideologies of old were exhausted in the face of rationalized production and scientific management; insofar as change would continue, it would be modifications of the then-currently existing structures. These insights would lay the groundwork for his 1974 text The Coming Post-Industrial Society, which – as its name suggests – analyzed what appeared to be the overcoming of the industrial era through the ongoing expansion of techno-scientific control and automation. The term “post-industrial society” had by this point already been introduced by the French sociologist Alain Touraine in his 1969 book The Post-Industrial Society: Tomorrow’s Social History, while Zbigniew Brzezinski offered his own elaborations in his 1970 work Between Two Ages: America in the Technetronic Era (Brzezinski had a participant in the “Commission on the Year 2000, launched in 1965 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and overseen by Daniel Bell; many of the insights developed there ended up in this work).

067_Dawn-of-the-Computer-Age

With this transformation in the nature of industrialization and society, so too was there a mutation in the traditional class structure. In the 1970s, Barbara and John Ehrenreich theorized the emergence a professional-managerial class: “salaried mental workers who do not own the means of production and whose major function in the social division of labor…(is)…the reproduction of capitalist culture and capitalist class relations”. The expanded necessity of education at all age levels, the increased role of engineers and scientists, the rampant growth of managers and divisions of firms dedicated to human relations, so on and so forth – these constitute some of the ranks of the professional managerial class as a distinctly post-Fordist phenomenon, in contrast to the industrial managerialism of the Fordist epoch.

Earlier still, the French Marxist Andre Gorz introduced what he dubbed the “scientific and technical worker”, which D&G take-up in the course of their discussion of machinic surplus value. It would be mistaken to say, however, that they view this new worker as the source of machinic surplus value: they posit that it does indeed come from machines – but where there is an increasing number of machines, the number of ‘scientific and technical workers’ will expand. Following Samir Amin’s analyses of the globalized restructuring of capitalism, D&G find here a dynamic give-and-take between the core and peripheries of the world system. Machinic surplus value – and the ‘new class’ adjacent to it – flow in one direction, and with human surplus value going in a different direction. The former concentrated in the core countries, where we might say that post-industrialization was most emergent, while the latter moved to the peripheries, in a maneuver that Alain Lipietz (of the Regulation School of post-Marxist economics) would describe as the emergence of “peripheral Fordism”. For D&G, this is the great flux-movement of capitalist deterritorialization itself:

As Samir Amin has shown, the process of deterritorialization here goes from the center to the periphery, that is, from the developed countries to the underdeveloped countries, which do not constitute a separate world, but rather an essential component of the world-wide capitalist machine… And if it is true that the tendency of the rate of profit to a falling rate of profit or to its equalization asserts itself at least partially at the center, carrying the economy toward the most progressive and the most automated sectors, a veritable “development of underdevelopment” on the periphery ensures a rise in the rate of surplus value, in the form of an increasing exploitation of the proletariat in relation to that of the center. (AO, 231)

So here we have a two-fold movement: the increasing post-industrialization of the core, correlated to the higher rates of automation, the introduction of new class formations, and a falling rate of profit, which is necessitated in turn on the industrialization of the periphery, characterized by the expansion of human labor and thus surplus value extraction. This produces a counter-tendency against the falling rate of profit. Constant spatial re-organization of the integrated capitalist system therefore makes the claim “capital has no external limit” possible. We are thus compelled to return to the site that Marx found the opening a post-capitalist future: in the increased contradiction between the efficiency of the means of production (itself an indicating the increasing centrality of techno-science coupled to an ongoing rise in constant capital in the organic composition of capital) and the mode distribution. In this sense when they suggest against Samir Amin to “accelerate the process”, it can only allude specifically to the intensification of these conditions and contradictions. It follows that post-capitalism, the “New Earth” that is a “place of healing”, may very well be for D&G, some sort of automated society.

But what of this notion of machinic surplus value? By sketching the above, we can see that they retain a close proximity to Marx’s own theories (there are some other complicated things going on in this chapter that overflow classical Marxism, and they will have to be addressed at some point) as well as the most constructive offerings of the neo-Marxists – and for this reason the concept of machinic surplus value doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything at all. They suggest as one point that it also plays a role in the “elevation of the rate of profit” (AO 223), though this seems at odds with the core/periphery dynamic they trace as the backbone of the world system of their day. One possibility is that this refers to the fact this division is not absolute: as we’re far from a fully-automated society, there will still be variable capital – and thus human labor and ‘human surplus value’ – present in the composition of the commodity, while constant capital (the source of this alleged machinic surplus value) is still a factor of production in the periphery. Even if relations in the periphery are characterized by the continual expansion of variable capital with the ratio of constant capital holding the same for each individual unit, the total constant capital would itself increase, even if the rate of profit was continuing to rise.

The other path is to cut to the core of this concept, which is to deal head-on with this suggestion that machines do actually add value to the commodities they produce – which is, after all, explicitly what D&G state when they first introduce the concept. This is a profoundly anti-Marxist argument, and if held steadily throws a wrench into the entire schema they develop across the course of the “Civilized Capitalist Machine”. If machines are capable of adding value is a way analogous to human labor, then there is never, at any point, a difference between a proletarian, and, say, an auger. If there is no distinction between the two, everything becomes flattened – there is no longer any sense of historical progression or the unfolding of processes like the internal fluctuations of the organic composition of capital itself. And if there is no progression, then the entire analytic structure of the work collapses.

Simply put, the category of machinic surplus value, as presented in Anti-Oedipus, is capable of torpedoing the entire work.

The Italian Futurists made a similar move in their own critique of Marx (h/t to Vince Garton for drawing my attention to this topic when we discussed this topic many moons ago). In a brief note titled “Synthesis of Marx’s Thought”, Marinetti vehemently rejected the conclusions of Marx’s value theory by writing that

In Marx’s opinion, the function of capital, in the production process, is sterile. Only the object of labor is fertile. The highest value of the product is exclusively the result of labor, and to this it must belong. Instead, it passes unfairly to the capitalist, in the form of profits. Profit is the surplus value… Now, the premise that the function of capital is sterile in the production process is false. If the production function of capital were sterile, the industries in which salary-capital (labor) prevailed over fixed capital would have to provide higher revenue than those industries in which fixed capital prevailed over salary-capital (labor). But this doesn’t happen in reality! (Critical Writings, 317)

The Futurists anticipated a world in which the progressive development of the means of production would produce a society of abundance, as indicated by the breathless descriptions in “Electric War: A Futurist Visionary Hypothesis” of a world where “Hunger and need have disappeared” and the “need for tiring, humiliating labor is finished… No longer having to toil in order to acquire food, man has at last conceived the pure notion of endlessly breaking records”. (Critical Writings, 223). Such a world seems at odds with the classical interpretation of Marx, in which the rate of profit falls towards some sort of catastrophic scenario. I’m wondering if the introduction of machinic surplus value by D&G doesn’t try to address this same disconnect, between reality and theory. Writing in the waning years of Fordism, before the crisis of the 1970s truly reared its face, D&G – and the Marxist left at large – were grappling with a capitalism that seemed to capable of overcoming its most irrational excesses, and perhaps even long-term tendencies that were supposed to have shaken the core of the system.

Yet the collapse of the rate of profit leading to catastrophe is not the ultimate conclusion of Marx’s mature work. Yes, the rate of profit was determined to decline in relation to the accelerating obsolescence of the human laborer and its replacement by machinery (engendering, in turn, a growing mass of superfluous people) – but this tendency wouldn’t look like a long-term stagnation. The progressive development of the means of production, the integration of techno-science into the industrial process, is a mark of a capitalism that is strong and expanding, a dynamic that in turn masks the falling rate of profit and its ultimate implications. What’s more is that as this double process unfolds, the efficiency of machinery is increasing, with is constantly raising the total productivity of the industrial system. In this regards, you end up with something that looks like this:

manufacturingemployment

manufacturingoutput

The introduction of something like “machinic surplus value” can never tell us something about these sorts of tendencies, because 1) they fail to apprehend the critical nature of Marx’s construction of “value”, and 2) it potentially derives from a fundamentally incorrect appraisal of how Marx conceives of capital’s long-range tendencies and transformations (which is necessary is one is hoping to delineate a possibility space from a Marxist ground).

Luckily there is a simple solution. The conundrum in Anti-Oedipus is that the rest of the major maneuvers in “The Civilized Capitalist Machine” can be conformed to Marx’s own analysis – so we’re capable of jettisoning machinic surplus value outright without damaging the integrity of their argument. This entire thing becomes a big-ass shaggy dog story.

Also, to be fair to D&G, they seemed to have realized themselves the fundamental problem inherent to the concept. It returns again in the pages of A Thousand Plateaus, but it has been transformed:

In the organic composition of capital, variable capital defines a regime of subjection of the worker (human surplus value)  the principal framework of which is the business or factory. But with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes, surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework  expands to all of society. It could also be said that a small amount of subjectification took us away from machinic enslavement, but a large amount brings us back to it… [people] are no longer consumers or users, nor even subjects who supposedly “make” it, but intrinsic component pieces, “input” and “output,” feedback or recurrences that are no longer connected to the machine in such a way as to produce or use it. In machinic enslavement, there is nothing but transformations and exchanges of information, some of which are mechanical, others human.

This isn’t a firm distinction between machinic surplus value on one side and human surplus value on the other; it’s that human surplus value has become machinic. What this means isn’t that machines are adding value – we’re no longer discussing here the individual machines of production, but the very nature of the capitalist system as a whole. If surplus value is machinic, it’s because human labor has been recast in the cybernetic era; if there is a peripheral Fordism or industrialization that lingers in the manner of old, it is going to be dominated and structured internally to post-Fordism, post-industrialization. And this is a far more constructive vision than the confused deployment of the term in Anti-Oedipus. 

Postone on Capital and History

wpa3

This Moishe Postone lecture has been the soundtrack to this morning’s chores. It’s really great, and provides a straightforward unpacking of a lot the stuff going on in his dense-but-awesome 1993 work Time, Labor, and Social Domination.

One of the very intriguing points that Postone makes in his book is the way that, in chapter four Capital Volume 1 – the chapter that introduces the classic M – C – M’ ‘feedback loop’ schema – Marx resurrects Hegel’s depiction of the Geist, as an independent or self-moving substance, to describe capital itself. It’s an incredibly important point for understanding what is going on in Marx’s mature work, as undoes the common perception of the proletariat or humanity (ascending to the realization of its species-being) as the ‘subject’ of history, and attributes this position instead to capital itself.

Postone delves into this in the lecture above, and it’s worth reiterating here because it is stated so clearly. Speaking of the inner dynamics of the capitalist system (this starts somewhere in minute 37), he states:

On the one hand, it is characterized by ongoing, even accelerating, transformations of production and of social life. On the other hand, this historical dynamic entails the ongoing reconstitution of its own fundamental conditions as an unchanging feature of social life. Namely, that value is reconstituted, that social mediation ultimately remained affected by labor, and that living labor remains integral to the total social process of production, regardless of the level of productivity. So the historical dynamic of capitalism, and I think people only usually get one side, ceaselessly generates what is the same while always generating what is new. As I will elaborate, it both generates the possibility of another organization of labor and of social life, and at the same time hinders that possibility from being realized.

This dynamic, generated by the dialectic of abstract time and dialectical time, is at the heart of the category of capital, which for Marx is a category of movement. It’s value in motion. It has no fixed material embodiment. Now since this is an institute of philosophy, it’s significant that when Marx first introduces the category of capital in the book Das Kapital, he describes it with exactly the same language that Hegel used with reference to the Geist in the Phenomenology. The “self-moving substance” that is the subject of its own process. People like Althusser say to just forget all of this Hegelian language. In so doing, Marx suggests that Hegel’s notion of history, as having a logic, as the dialectical unfolding of a subject, is valid, but only for capitalist society. Moreover, Marx does not define Hegel’s subject with the proletariat, or even with humanity. Instead he identifies it with capital: a dynamic structure of abstract domination that, although constituted by humans, is independent of their will.

What I’m suggesting is that Marx’s mature critique of Hegel does not involve an anthropological inversion of Hegel’s idealist dialectic. Rather, I’m going to suggest that this is the idealist dialectic’s material justification. Marx implicitly argues that the rational core of Hegel’s dialectic is precisely its idealistic character. It is an expression of a mode of domination constituted by alienated relations – that is, relations that acquire a quasi-independent existence vis-a-vis individuals, exert a certain form of compulsion on them, and that because of their dualistic character are dialectical. Notice that categories like historical subject, totality, labor have now become the objects of Marx’s critique, not the standpoint of his critique.

The first part of the above quoted clearly speaks the central concern reiterated by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, that of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of constantly putting things into play, producing the new, even things that threaten to overwhelm itself, but also restraining these things, cutting them off, appropriating and recoding them, or even dredging up archaisms to repress them. In the language of Difference and Repetition, we might describe this situate as the subordination of difference to the Repetition of the Same – and it is probably by no mistake, then, that in the very second paragraph of the book’s introduction Deleuze writes of equivalence as a generality, that is, “a point of view according to which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another”. For Marx, money – an expression of the law of value, that which flows through the self-expanding, self-moving, cyberpositive process of M – C – M’, plays the role of the general equivalent, the special category of commodities that all other commodities can be translated into or otherwise mediated by.

Elsewhere in this lecture Postone posits a Marxist understanding history that is neither linear-determinist or strictly contingent, and in this he comes close to that which has haunted all debates in the accelerationist sphere, the Kantian antimony of causal determinism and spontaneity – or to put it in more contemporary, system theoretic terms, the troubled intermingling of lock-in effects and self-organization. Or again, as the esteemed Thomas Murphy once put it, the Deleuzian problematic of hierarchies and anarchies, ‘solved’ in the form of the morphogenetic crowned anarchy.