Labor Between the General and the Restricted

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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)

and

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).

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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.

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Degrowth or Mastery? Note on ‘Eco-Marx’

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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 organs 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. — Grundrisse, Chapter 14.

The good folks over at the Synthetic Zero have debuted a new series of curated articles on the topic of “The Ecological Marx”, highlighting in particular “life-long interest in the relationship between our ‘species being’ and the life conditions within which we evolve as humans and as societies” as a means to gain some sort of purchase on how to deploy these theories in the context of climatological breakdown and the disjunction between industrial progress and ecological durability.

The first essay is one by Gareth Dale titled “The Emergence of an Ecological Marx: 1818-2018”, which posits an Eco-Marx against the oft-critiqued Promethean Marx (these are my terms, not Dale), not one unlike that which has been developed by various theorists like Jason Moore, Paul Burkett, and John Bellamy Foster. Following in the footsteps of the latter, Dale hones in on the so-called ‘metabolic rift’ theory that peppers Marx’s writings and spans the typical division of his work between a ‘young’ and ‘old’ or ‘mature’ phase. This metabolism is a reflection of the interdependence between human and nature which becomes ruptured and divergent with the advent of the capitalist mode of production. The classic example is that of the relationship between soil and agriculture: this production process requires a nutrient-rich soil, but with the arrival of industrial agricultural (Marx was writing in the context of the British agricultural revolution, which saw booming food production following alongside a rapid expansion of the population), the rate at which soil degraded accelerated. This had many implications, ranging from temporary food shortages to an increased demand for guano (usable as a nitrogen and phosphate-rich fertilizer), which in turn spurred the expansion of overseas markets, so on and so forth. Today, we might say that what Marx was grappling with was the persistence of externalities that necessarily arise from developmental processes, precisely due to the sort of metabolic interface that exists between the processes that characterize what we call civilization and those of nature.

For Dale, the realization of the Eco-Marx via the metabolic rift theory means

no longer can Marx be read as a cheerleader for economic growth or material progress. Those who continue to read him in this way should acquaint themselves with his metaphor of human progress under capitalism. It resembles, says Marx, “that hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain”.

The newly discovered ‘ecological’ Marx was a sharp critic of the growth paradigm, and in Volume One of Capital he draws attention to the trampling of the natural realm by bourgeois progress.

He then proceeds to offer the following quote from Volume One:

All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility…Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.

But does this, or the overall structure and position of the metabolic rift in the theory really imply a Marx that is against “economic or material growth”? The short answer to this is no, and the slightly longer answer is that to craft a Marx who rejects such things on these grounds to generate a Marx who is, in fact, anti-Marxist—and not in the sense of the pithy “I am not a Marxist quote”. I mean in the sense of a real theoretical antagonism. One would wonder, then, why one would even try to build such a theory through a Marxist frame?

Let’s unpack this a bit more.

Nature holds, as indicated by the metabolic rift theory, a central place in Marx’s philosophy. In the opening blast of Gothakritik (written in 1875, but not published until 1891), Marx tore asunder vulgar interpretations of labor-value theory by declaring “Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists!) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labor power”. These words called back to the comments made in the first chapter of Capital, that “[l]labour… as the creator 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 between man and nature, and therefore human life itself”. Part of what makes the capitalist mode of production unique to human history is the way that it takes ahold of this mediating labor-activity, capturing and twisting and compelling it towards ends that are alien to itself. As described in the quote used by Dale above, the worker comes to robbed, as the capitalist appropriates an increasing share of surplus value.

But whereas one might expect that the revolutionary solution is to create a situation in which the worker receives the full share of the proceeds of their labor, that is, the full value (as the mutualists both old and contemporary might have it), Marx throws a twist. A supersession of the capitalist mode of production entails getting out from under the law of value in full. The worker doesn’t receive the full value; instead, value is eliminated as a category and a substance that organizes society. What’s more is that this is already a tendency at work in the development of the productive forces under capitalism.

Thus we have the situation in which the solution isn’t to halt the undermining of this “source of wealth” or to dial back to some earlier, “original” form (as the above quote might be read as implying, if taken if complete isolation)—it’s to carry out this undermining in a way that capitalism will tend inexorably towards, but fall short of. Similarly, we should disabuse ourselves any notion that ceasing to ‘rob the soil’ will entail falling backwards towards some earlier state of socio-ecological regulation or to sidestep away from the level of development installed by the capitalist mode of production.

One might object at this point and suggest that just because we’re not going backwards doesn’t mean that Marx is continuing to endorse growth or material progress. But to the contrary—he absolutely is. For Marx, the capitalist mode of production as a historical epoch is something of a midway point in which humanity is gradually disembedding itself from domination by nature and coming, instead, to exert its own domination of nature. Hence the following questions from the Grundrisse:

…when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentials, with no presupposition other than the previous historical development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick?

The ‘previous historical development’ here refers, first and foremost, to the capitalist mode of development. This is not a Marx who sees as there being, as Howard Parsons interprets him (in Marx and Engels on Ecology), an absolute contradiction between the development of the productive forces with the “system of nature”. As John Clark points out in his own critique of Parsons, Marx sees this disjunction as less a critical contradiction and more a phenomenon of relative tensions that are capable of rupturing, from time to time, into something that can be detrimental to human development and flourishing.

Furthermore, it stands that if such an absolute contradiction exists as an element in the text, then Marx’s critique of Malthus becomes unintelligible elsewhere, as it posits that contrary to an ultimate limit to growth is a ceiling that is constantly extended and deferred through technological and scientific development. Neither of these were regarded as specifically contrary to the capitalist mode of production, and in the Grundrisse as well as the Gothakritik the Malthusian problem comes to be regarded as something that is solved precisely through what capitalism had already engendered.

This disembedding from nature and expansion of techno-scientific prowess are part and parcel of the same development processes that strike value out from the productive process, and we can easily take them as interdependent, mutually-reinforcing elements. This is because the elimination of value proceeds by way of accelerating gains in productivity, itself dependent on the increasingly mechanized character of production. This process, which is intimately tangled with explosive development of ‘techno-science’ (characterized in the Grundrisse as the general intellect), is inseparable from growth, as it continually marks greater productive capacities through more efficient processes.

At the limit—or barrier—of the capitalist production, a two-fold process unfolds. As the demand for labor is progressively shuttered, the mediating relation that it served, as that vital link between human and nature, is fundamentally and irrevocably transformed. As this occurs, nature itself is subordinated, brought under the control of an industrial system that is increasingly interlinked and automated. Marx’s vision, detailed in the fourteenth chapter of the Grundrisse, depicts how these two processes run together and open the historical beyond the capitalist mode of production:

…to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production.) Agriculture, e.g., becomes merely the application of the science of material metabolism, its regulation for the greatest advantage of the entire body of society. Real wealth manifests itself, rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself.

If there is Ecological Marx, it is at once also a Promethean Marx.

Plekhanov on Bergson

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Some interesting comments on Bergson by way of Georgi Plekhanov’s pen (Russian revolutionary and Marxist theoretician, opponent of Lenin and the Bolsheviks):

….we shall draw the reader’s attention to what might be described as the materialist element in Bergson’s views.

Here, for instance, on page 99 of his Creative Evolution, we read:

The vegetable manufactures organic substances directly with mineral substances: as a rule this aptitude enables it to dispense with movement and consequently with feeling. Animals, which are obliged to go in search of their food, have evolved in the direction of locomotor activity, and consequently of a more and more ample, more and more distinct consciousness. (p 99)

This means that the development of consciousness is conditioned by the needs of being. Apply this remark, which, incidentally, is only the translation into the language of contemporary biology of one of Aristotle’s most profound thoughts, to the explanation of the development of social thought and you will get the theory of historical materialism. Bergson, indeed, comes quite close to this theory, it might even be said that he is one of its followers. He writes:

As regards human intelligence, it has not been sufficiently noted that mechanical invention has been from the first its essential feature, that even today our social life gravitates around the manufacture and use of artificial instruments, that the inventions which like milestones mark the road of progress have also traced its direction. (pp 118-19)

This is one of the basic principles of historical materialism. But as will be seen by the reference in the footnote on page 119, Bergson was familiar only with the very vulgar variety of historical materialism represented by P Lacombe in his book Sociological Foundations of History. Marx’s historical materialism has remained quite unknown to Bergson, otherwise he would not have credited Lacombe with something that had been done much earlier and better by Marx. Being unfamiliar with historical materialism in its classical formulation, Bergson could not grasp the proper significance of the changing succession of relations of production in the process of development of human society.

[…]

Life is a creative action, an ‘élan’. Matter is the halting of the élan, the cessation of the creative action. We are sure that nowadays many Russian readers will find this both easy to comprehend and profound. We congratulate them heartily, and wish them further penetration, under Bergson’s guidance, into the essence of life seen from its internal aspect. To those who are not attracted to the present philosophical fashion for idealism, we shall, in ending this long review, offer the remark that Bergson in his intuitive philosophy makes two great errors.

First, the attempt to observe the process of the formation of reality from its internal aspect is condemned in advance to dismal failure; nothing has ever, or can, come out of it but a dense fog of mysticism. Why? Spinoza gave the answer already in Proposition 23 in Part 2 of his Ethics.

Secondly, the process of becoming, about which Bergson has such a lot to say, is understood by him very one-sidedly: the element of existence is utterly missing. This, of course, facilitates the decomposing of ‘the material world’ into a simple ‘jet’, which he advocates in the interests of his mystical idealism: but thereby he transforms dialectics into simple sophistry, as has been made clear from the history of Greek philosophy.

Bergson sympathises with Plotonius, which is quite natural and could not be otherwise. But that Bergson has an attraction for certain theoreticians of French syndicalism is one of the most ludicrous misunderstandings known in the history of philosophical thought, so rich in misunderstandings. It demonstrates the low theoretical level reached by the theoreticians of French syndicalism, so low that, in fact, they cannot fall any lower.

____________

There can be little doubt that it is none other than Georges Sorel who is the largest of Plekhanov’s final comments here. He was, after all, the primary theoretician of the syndicalist movement at its most powerful, and had argued for the unity of Marxist thought with Bergson’s philosophy (though he was far from the only one).

Sometime soon—tomorrow evening at the earliest—I’ll post a rather rough translation I’ve put together on the correspondence between Bergson and Sorel, which hopefully will illuminate further the ins and outs of this little triad.

The Two Marxisms

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Salient reflections from the pen of Alvin Gouldner:

In one part, then, Marxism is a philosophy of praxis; in another it is a “science”–i.e., the political economy of the laws of capitalism. Marxism is thus a tensionful conjunction of science and politics, of theory and practice. Its topic is the objective socioeconomic conditions imputedly requisite for socialism. Its object in addressing this topic, however, is not only understanding but also a revolutionary practice aimed at changing the world. It must accomplish this, as all politics does, partly by appealing to and arguing with people, by attempting to persuade them through rational discourse and promises. For politics never assumes that since “history is on our side” we may wait for things and people to come our way; but it premises that outcomes depend upon the active mobilization of people. So Marxism is both: science and ideology; rational understanding and political practice; “reports” about the world and a “command” to do something to change it.

Yet there is also an irreducible tension between the call to do something now and the warning that those who do not wait for appropriate conditions or use scientific guidance are dangerous adventurers or mere “utopians.” Marxism as science premises that some things will happen without men’s rational foresight and whatever their efforts. As a politics, however, it also premises that events depend crucially on people’s efforts, struggle, capacity for sacrifice, and self-discipline. Indeed, while all politics premises that men “must seize the time,” science premises that things have their own nature and rhythms.

The two readings of Marxism briefly outlined here have, in part, grown up around the nuclear tension between voluntarism and determinism, between freedom and necessity. Both of these readings, let me hasten to insist, are a true part of Marxism. We are not faced with only a seeming contradiction that can be glibly resolved by claiming that one side is false, revisionist, opportunist, misguided, not really Marxist, while the other is the authentic, genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, true revolutionary article.

Our Two-Marxisms thesis maintains that both are in fact structural differentiations of a single originally undifferentiated Marxism; that over time the “two” emerge in part out of an effort to reduce the real internal tensions of original Marxism. Indeed, the Two Marxisms could not emerge as structurally distinct tendencies but for the fact that both are truly present in Marxism. Their conjunction in ordinary Marxism is recurrently productive of tensions and of a tension-reducing segregation of the inconsistent elements, by insulating them from one another into two (or more) distinct and boundaried systems of ”elaborated” Marxisms, Critical and Scientific Marxism.

As I will document, Marxism did indeed say that capitalist society was governed by blind and necessary laws to which persons were inescapably subject; it is also true that Marxism treats persons as free agents who will not only do what they must, but who can respond to appeals and be won over even against their own class interests. There is thus both determinism and voluntarism in Marxism.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Marx, it looks even more different still:

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

Mode-Shift

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At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production — antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence — but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.

-from Marx’s preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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