Labor Between the General and the Restricted


There’s a remarkable similarity between the two following passages, the first a remark from the Grundrisse on the equation of production with consumption and Spinoza (apparently reiterating what Pierre Macherey has argued is a misreading by Hegel of Spinoza, though I don’t have a good enough handle on the nuances of this argument to comment on it much at all), the second on the importance of the ‘production of production’ from the beginning of Anti-Oedipus:

Production is also immediately consumption. Twofold consumption, subjective and objective: the individual not only develops his abilities in production, but also expends them, uses them up in the act of production, just as natural procreation is a consumption of life forces. Secondly: consumption of the means of production, which become worn out through use, and are partly (e.g. in combustion) dissolved into their elements again. Likewise, consumption of the raw material, which loses its natural form and composition by being used up. The act of production is therefore in all its moments also an act of consumption. But the economists admit this. Production as directly identical with consumption, and consumption as directly coincident with production, is termed by them productive consumption. This identity of production and consumption amounts to Spinoza’s thesis: determinatio est negatio. But this definition of productive consumption is advanced only for the purpose of separating consumption as identical with production from consumption proper, which is conceived rather as the destructive antithesis to production. (Grundrisse90)


It is probable that at a certain level nature and  industry are two separate and distinct things: from one point of view, industry is the opposite of nature; from another, industry extracts its raw materials from nature; from yet another, it returns its refuse to nature; and so on. Even within society, this characteristic man-nature, industry-nature, society-nature relationship is responsible for the distinction of relatively autonomous spheres that are called production, distribution, consumption… [but] the real truth of the matter—the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium—is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process (enregistrement), without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production, though they do so within the production process itself. Hence everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; productions of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference; productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. (Anti-Oedipus4)

These two passages describe, in ever-so-slightly different ways, a pair of distinct yet fundamentally entangled positions. The first of these is a general situations; relative to the developmental pathways of human civilization at the most total level, it is what produces transhistorical conditions. The second is a more historically-bound and situated situation. The necessary inseparability of the two lies in that the historically-situated is always the expression of the transhistorical current: the latter gives rise to the former, but it is through the variations of the former are the only ways that the latter can be understood.

Bataille’s distinction between a ‘general’ and ‘restricted’ economy provided an apt vantage points to examine the two sorts of systems that characterize this split. In a footnote to the above passage, Deleuze and Guattari write that “[w]hen Georges Bataille speaks of sumptuary, nonproductive expenditure or consumption in connection with the energy of nature, these are expenditures or consumption that are not part of the supposedly independent sphere of human production, insofar as the latter is determined by ‘the useful’. They therefore have to do with what we call the production of consumption” (Anti-Oedipus, 4). The production of consumption, then, oscillates around the equation of production with consumption as it occurs within the general economy. This economy is, for Bataille, a cosmological economy, composed of immense and violent circuits of energy that are discharged as pure expenditure. The burning fury of the sun is the source of expenditure par excellence: it continually pounds the earth with pulsing solar rays, and it is this nourishing gift of radiation—which for the sun is merely waste—that is the ultimate source of terrestrial organic evolution and the synthetic things that in turn evolve from. By drawing the equivalence between waste and excess, Bataille subverts the common economic logic that situates scarcity as primacy. Not simply abundance, but overabundance reigns over all. The consequence that follows from this proposition is the flipping of the logic that governs economic organization. It’s not a mechanism for the production and distribution of scarce resources, as the bourgeois economists maintain, but a machine designed to eliminate, as much as it possibly can, a mighty and permanent wave of excess that threatens to submerge everything:

Economic science merely generalizes the isolated situation; it restricts its object to operations carried out with a view to a limited end, that of economic man. It does not take into consideration a play of energy that no particular end limits: the play of living matter in general, involved in the movement of light of which it is the result. On the surface of the globe, for living matter in general, energy is always in excess; the question is always posed in terms of extravagance. The choice is limited to how the wealth is to be squandered. It is to the particular living being, or to limited populations of living beings, that the problem of necessity presents itself. But man is not just the separate being that contends with the living world and with other men for his share of resources. The general movement of exudation (of waste) of living matter impels him, and he cannot stop it; moreover, being at the summit, his sovereignty in the living world identifies him with this movement; it destines him, in a privileged way, to that glorious operation, to useless consumption. (The Accursed Share, 23)

The logic of the ‘restricted economy’ pertains to the various ways in which this dissipation becomes organized; read historically, this means that there are a variety of different forms that the restricted economy takes at various stages of civilizational development. The capitalist mode of production, in Bataille’s account, is a unique form of the restricted economy  in that it converts this dissipation into a drive towards accumulation—and it is for this reason, as Nick Land argues in Thirst for Annihilation, that the Marxian problem of overproduction the chronic “symptomatic redundancies of labour and capital” is able to rear its head (Thirst for Annihilation, 57).

Specters of  mechanical overproduction (source)

Deleuze and Guattari convert the Bataillean infrastructure into their productive ontology, thereby transforming the cosmos’ release of a cursed gift into the production of production, that is, into the movement from primary generative processes to the more narrow, yet still transhistorical, production processes (Jon Roffe has noted that when it comes to the relationship between Bataille and Deleuze and Guattari, the pair “have no  time for the entire thematic of transgression and its concomitants”, so it is telling that in this conversion process many of the transgressive elements are either forced into a new guise or discarded (Abstract Market Theory, 163, Note 15)). Nonetheless, the distinction between the general and the restricted is still constructive, and works well in thinking through not only through Deleuze and Guattari’s ultimately Marxian account of history (analyzing the historically-distinct forms of ‘restricted’ production in order to produce a baseline for developing a theory of how different productions of the subject occur), as well as returning to Marx himself .

In order to carry this out, a further distinction between a general-restrictive economy (not to be confused with the general economy) and a specific-restrictive economy must be posed, with each correlating, respectively, to transhistorical dimensions and historically-bound forms that express these dimensions. This can help navigate the problem-fraught space between Deleuze and Guattari’s elaboration of Marx and the writings of Marx himself. In a previous post on that topic, Andrew Culp raised the excellent point that “by claiming god=nature=industry at the beginning of AO, perhaps DG realize that they’ve put the labor theory of value into question. the problem is, of course, the labor theory of value defines the political dimension of marxism”. By analyzing (or, in a peevish maneuver, overcoding) the implications of their Spinozist-productivist equation with a diagram of a general economy, general-restrictive economy, and specific-restrictive economy, the question of the law of value can be properly re-injected back into their framework. This is because we are able to situate labor at a pivotal point between general and general-restricted economy, with passage between specific-restrictive economies serving to unveil variations of how this relationship unfolds in time.

All the elements to do this, of course, are present in Marx, and this simple fact threatens to overturn this perhaps overly-complicated presentation and render it redundant. But given the general state of confusion concerning the status of labor in Marx’s theory—something that inevitably leads to confusion about value), we’ll soldier onwards; this framework, after all, might also help communicate answers to those important questions.

As I discussed in my post on ecological readings of Marx, labor is positioned in the first chapter of Capital Volume I as a transhistorical force that, across time, has served as a mediating relation between humans and nature—or, between restricted and general economies. To quote the passage in full:

Men made clothes for thousands of years, under the compulsion of the need for clothing, without a single man ever becoming a tailor. But the existence of coats, of linen, of every element of material wealth not provided in advance by nature, had to be mediated through a specific productive activity appropriate to its purpose, a productive activity that assimilated particular natural materials to particular human requirements. Labour, then, as the creation of use-values, as useful labor, is a condition of human existence which is independent of all forms of society; it is an eternal natural necessity which mediates the metabolism of between man and nature, and therefore human life itself. (Capital Volume 1, Chapter 1: The Commodity, 133)

There are several comments to be had on this passage. First, labor is described here as a natural necessity, highlighting its status not only as something that mediates a particular relationship with nature, but is a characteristic of nature itself. What this further entails is that the status of the human is one who is subsumed in nature (they are continuous with it), while also being in opposition; this can be described in terms of somewhat reductive autonomist formula of being ‘within and against’, but also as a proper dialectical relation, the emergence of the opposite and their unity.

Second, relations of labor are intrinsically productive relations. The mediation of human and labor, of the general and restrictive economies, is also the link between the production of production and that ‘secondary’ production.

The third point concerns how Marx rises from this general condition to the specificity of labor relations under the capitalist mode of production. Insofar as Marx’s critics are concerned, the category of value is something that can only be grasped through narrow economic lenses, which is why they are so ready to pull the rug out from under the labor theory of value for a theory of value that operates at the level of appearance. For these bourgeois economists, value is but a measure of social valuation, itself an aggregate of individuals valuating in accordance with their personal preferences. Marx’s understanding of value cannot, however, be properly understood from the point of view of social valuation in this way, because it is intended to articulate how this society itself is produced by the economic relations. Value-theory is an analysis of the specific-restrictive economy that is the capitalist mode of production, but it follows from what Marx says above: because labor mediates a relationship between humans and nature, it also becomes the force that mediates relations between humans. Or, more properly, it imparts itself as social mediation.

It’s not just labor-time, but labor-time as well, that becomes transhistorical. In the discussion of communal production in the Grundrisse, Marx writes

On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle etc., the more time it wins for the other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on economization of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production adequate  to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his time correctly in order to satisfy the various demands on his activity.

In Time in Marx, Stavros Tombazos translates the bold passage above as the far-less unwieldy “every economy is an economy of time” (Time in Marx, 13). As he further points out, the word economy being used here shouldn’t be thought in a narrow point of view (i.e. like those given by the bourgeois economists), but should be seen first and foremost as an form of organization—a reading consistent with the above and with the Bataillean notion of a restricted economy. This means that social mediation can also be framed temporally, as distilling the economy to time itself highlights the way in which time, or the experience of time, becomes organized. If there is variation between restrictive economies, which is to say variation between the way labor-as-mediation materially manifests, then there is variation in the experience of time itself.

All of this is made abundantly clear in a short passage found in Marx’s Letters on Capital:

That this necessity of distributing social labour in definite proportions cannot be done away with by the particular form of social production, but can only change the form it assumes, is self evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change, in changing historical circumstances, is the form in which these laws operate. (quoted in Time in Marx, 14)

In pages of the Grundrisse these natural laws themselves seem to shake. Even if time still determines the post-capitalist economy, social mediation is transformed as the dominant logic swings from labor-time to time outside of labor (which is why Jehu is so adamant that the progressive elimination of labor-hours is the only real means of realizing “a so-called ‘post-capitalist society'”, or why Postone argues that Capital should not be understood as a “critique of capitalism from the standpoint of labor… [but] a critique of labor in capitalism” (Time, Labor, and Social Domination, 5)). What this implies is that which exists beyond the capitalist mode of production—what the capitalist mode of production is incubating within itself—must be understood as qualitatively and quantitative different from every social formation that has existed. It implies nothing less than the breakdown of the very logic of the so-called restricted economy.



Screenshot from 2017-08-11 15-39-20

Recently I started reading Tudor Balinisteanu’s Violence, Narrative, and Myth in Joyce and Yeats: Subjective Identity and the Anarcho-Syndicalist Tradition. The first chapter proceeds with a very interesting comparison of Yeats’s gyres of creative destruction as recorded in “The Second Coming” and Sorel’s account of the Myth of the General Strike:

…, on the one hand, for Yeats, the two cones represent contrary tendencies within the self. On the other hand, as Yeats put it, ‘this figure is true also of history, for the end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction’. At the moment Yeats was writing he perceived that the life gyre was sweeping outward, having almost reached its greatest expansion: ‘all our scientific, democratic, fact- accumulating heterogeneous civilisation belongs to the outward gyre and prepares not the continuance of itself, but the revelation as in a lightning flash, […] of the civilisation that must slowly take its place’ Critics have noted that Yeats’s fear of the forthcoming disintegration of human civilisation was brought ashore by ‘the blood-dimmed tide’ of historical events… Such frightening falling apart of established authority, mere anarchy loosed upon the world, inspired in Yeats the apocalyptic vision of the beast which struggles to become born in the violence of the world’s remaking. But this violence is a whirl of contrary tendencies: even though destructive it is also darkly creative. As Bakunin would have it in ‘The Reaction in Germany’ (1842), ‘the passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!’ The revolving gyres unravel the world at the same time as they weave a new one: a terrible beauty is born in which both grace and violence are manifested.

Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’ is of course but one example, a most expressive one, of the perception of contrary tendencies within the modern consciousness, a consciousness in which grace and violence set each other in motion even as they revolve in opposite directions. Another expression of this dynamic can be found in Georges Sorel’s work… [it is] not so much the idea of disrupting the economy that matters to Sorel, as the idea of a narrative capable of accommodating those images which best represent the aspirations of social agents in a way that compels a joining of the fictional narrative subject and the subject of action. One finds that Sorel’s picture of the general strike has features in common with Yeats’s apocalyptic vision of the approaching of a new age, even though, it seems, Yeats feared what Sorel welcomed. While both visions of the future to come are seemingly steeped in violence, this is not merely the violence of force, but also the violence of recreation. Yeats fears the possibility of ‘new creation gone wrong’, but not the violence of creation. Sorel values the violent break with retrogressive patterns of social action, produced through the rejection of Utopias and consent to participate in the unanalysable unity of vision in which narrative subject and the subject of action inhabit each other, but not destructive violence or mere anarchy loosed upon the world.

Sorel’s position regarding the general strike as social myth expresses a movement toward unity at the levels of history and the self which in terms of Yeats’s figure of the gyres would correspond to the gyre’s movement to its place of greatest contraction. That would be the place of becoming the subject of a myth expressed in an imaginary picture (of the general strike) which embodies all the aspirations of a social group (the Socialists) giving precision and rigidity, or, rather, coherence and strength, to philosophical and political thought on social change. At the same time, this movement toward unity in the myth involves a movement toward disintegration in the sense that it expresses a complete break away from the tenets of the age which passes. This chasm which widens the opposition between the faithful and the faithless makes visible the contradictions of the established social world, thus fragmenting it and bringing it to a point which in Yeats’s figure would be that of a gyre’s greatest expansion.

Cue Amy Ireland, in The Poememenon:

When applied to the task of historical divination (our interest here), the waxing and waning of the gyres can be charted in twenty-eight phases along the path of an expanding and contracting meta-gyre or ‘Cycle’ which endures for roughly two millennia and is neatly divisible into twelve sub-gyres (comprising four cardinal phases and eight triads) each of which denotes a single twist in the larger, container Cycle. According to the system as it was originally relayed to George Yeats through the automatic script (an exact date does not appear in the Speculum Angelorum et Hominis or Judwali teachings), the twelfth gyre in our current—waxing—Cycle turns in 2050, when ‘society as mechanical force [shall] be complete at last’ and humanity, symbolized by the figure of The Fool, ‘is but a straw blown by the wind, with no mind but the wind and no act but a nameless drifting and turning’, before the first decade of the twenty-second century (a ‘phase of crisis’) ushers in an entirely new set of twelve gyres: the fourth Cycle and the first major historical phase shift in two thousand years.Laying Yeats’s awkward predictions (which he himself shelved for the 1937 edition of A Vision) to one side, the system provides material for the inference of several telling traits that can be combined to give a rough sketch of this imminent Cycle upon whose cusp we uneasily reside. Unlike the ‘primary’ religious era that has preceded it—marked by dogmatism, a drive towards unity, verticality, the need for transcendent regulation, and the symbol of the sun—the coming age will be lunar, secular, horizontal, multiple, and immanent: an ‘antithetical multiform influx’. The ‘rough beast’ of ‘The Second Coming’, Christ’s inverted double, sphinx-like (a creature of the threshold) with a ‘gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, will bear the age forward into whatever twisted future the gyres have marked out for it.

In ‘Teleoplexy’, as the most recent, succinct expression of accelerationism in its Landian form (distinguished from the Left queering of the term more frequently associated with Srnicek and Williams’s ‘Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’), Land draws out the latent cybernetic structure of the Judwalis’ system and employs it to reach a similar catastrophic prediction, although the somewhat restrained invocation of ‘Techonomic Singularity’ dampens the rush of what has previously been designated as ‘a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch’ in which ‘[z]aibatsus flip into sentience as the market melts to automatism, politics is cryogenized and dumped into the liquid-helium meat-store, drugs migrate onto neurosoft viruses and immunity is grated-open against jagged reefs of feral AI explosion, Kali culture, digital dance-dependency, black shamanism epidemic, and schizophrenic break-outs from the bin’. Like the Judwalis’ system, the medium of accelerationism is time, and the message here regarding temporality is consistent: not a circle or a line; not 0, not 1—but the torsional assemblage arising from their convergence, precisely what ‘breaks out from the bin[ary]’. Both systems, as maps of modernity, appear as, and are piloted by, the spiral (or ‘gyre’). As an unidentified carrier once put it, ‘the diagram comes first’