Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Reconceiving Race and Capital


Communists in Situ recently reposted Jehu’s series of notes on privilege politics as a single post (alongside the also interesting and clearly related essay by Paul Mattick Sr., “The Scum of Humanity”), which I had not read in some time, and I have to commend them on doing so. While I will put forward a different way of conceptualizing racialization because I consider the labor competition thesis to be wholly inadequate, I have to say that I really do recommend reading the essays for their clear comprehension of competition between individuals within classes; the very good reasons that between (Marxist) privilege theory (Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism) and “orthodox” Marxism (With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with), “orthodox” Marxism is simply idiotic and why a real consideration has to begin with the dilemmas posed by privilege theory within Marxism; how elements within Marx’s own work, such as in the Critique of the Gotha Program, allow us to grasp the necessary internal differentiation within the class that will not simply be overcome by “the revolution”; and finally the point that the demand for racial equality is a demand that capitalism can in no way accommodate without destroying itself. Finally, Jehu makes other two points that everyone really needs to comprehend: the working class was never a single, internally cohesive class merely divided by “bourgeois ideology” foisted on it a manipulative capitalist class and the working class today is mostly non-white women on a global scale, so that the overcoming of capital won’t happen if it isn’t also the overcoming of race and gender as well as class.

As a minor prefatory note, I don’t generally use the term racism because it is commonly used to indicate some bad ideas in people’s heads, whether subjectively bad like prejudice or objectively bad produced by “the system”, frequently only taking into account the oppression of one race by another, but taking for granted the very production of race as a social category or form. At best, it refers to unequal relations of power between groups, which may be naturalized (as if races existed in nature, which many people certainly believe, including many people who should know better) or treated as socially constructed. For my part, I prefer the term racialization because it implies an ongoing process, of the formation and potential crisis of what I believe is an objectively produced social relation, as much as gender or class.

There is no need to address whether or not race exists biologically in any detail. The idea is as absurd as any other naturalization of relations of domination and has no standing in biology, though the rightward drift since the 1970’s has given the idea some limited credence even among those who ought to know better. The fact remains that genetic variation is greater within groups than between them in the human species.

The approach here assumes that any meaningful discussion of race is a discussion of relations of domination. This also means that nationalist approaches to race that would elevate the so-called black race or which accept race as positive will not be addressed as worth serious consideration. However, insofar as identity politics plays a great role in the present, the question of identity will have to be dealt with in some detail, especially as it pertains to intersectionality on one side and the class identity politics of the labor Left on the other.

Part of the difficulty of this discussion comes from a difference in approach. My argument is first and foremost not explanatory and sociological. Such a treatment would put forward a directly historical analysis or structural analysis, most likely trying to establish correct definitions, but this is not what I am working on. Rather, what is required is an adequate concept of the production of racial relations in capitalist society. Explanatory distinctions, definitions, and sociological categories already presume, whether they wish to admit it or not, whether they are aware of those commitments or not, a concept of their object and its validity.

What is missing in most Marxist treatments of racialization is not historical material or a structural analysis, but a comprehension of how racialization develops immanently from within capital, that is, without presuming its external or prior existence and without looking for explanations outside of capital. Racialization, as I am arguing it be understood, is specific to capitalist society, just as modern slavery is part of capitalist production. It would be a mistake to treat racialization as merely a continuation of xenophobia or older notions of race. Just as Marx conceptualizes the capital-labor relation, but does not engage in sociological discussions of class in Capital, so I believe we need to conceptualize racialization as a moment of the capital-labor relation, albeit in a manner closer to Roswitha Scholz’s conceptualization of gender as value dissociation (itself building on the work of Frigga Haug), rather than reducing race to an effect of class and without losing the specificity of either class or race.

This is an important task because previous conceptualizations of race, like gender, treat it in generally one of two inadequate ways. Marxists tend to treat it as a mere side-effect of class. Ellen Meiksins Wood formulates “race as ruling class ideology” in a classic manner as cited in Endnotes 3 in the essay on race, but your reference to labor competition is another variety of this analysis. However, this reductionism is still at the core of the analyses like those of Race Traitor/Sojourner Truth with “white skin privilege” or Theodore Allen’s alternative “social control” theory. Alternatively, from within liberal social theory, the identitarian analyses tend to treat race as a wholly autonomous, and maybe even anterior relation, to class. Intersectionality is the latest incarnation of this perspective because it poses race, class, gender, etc. as semi-permeable identities of equal validity, but it’s critique of identity is only a more sophisticated approach to identity c.f. Crenshaw, Collins, et al. Older approaches reflect something akin to feminist dual-systems theory, in which there is a racial order alongside the class order. Ironically enough the “white skin privilege” analysis of RT has become the foundation stone of liberal white privilege theorizing. While neither of us, as far as I know, accepts the identitarian analysis, it continues to have some critical success because the “race as effect of class” positions cannot grapple with the seeming autonomy of race nor the revelation of class politics as itself a kind of identity politics.

If one takes the point Theorie Communiste makes regarding the working class and class struggle, that the working class struggles as a class of capital and that it’s struggles are part of the engine of the development of capital, then class politics cannot avoid being identity politics. The collapse of the conditions in which working class identity still implied progressive politics has exposed more clearly the identitarian, non-universal quality class politics always had in relation to race and gender (and nationality, sexuality, etc.), whether in colonial settler states, slave states or under colonial regimes, none of which are mutually exclusive. However, the association of working class with white, male, heterosexual has become so lopsided today that “blue collar” in the U.S. is little more than a code phrase for white nationalism. The only way to overcome the limitations of these approaches is to comprehend class, race, and gender as forms of appearance of the inner contradiction of generalized commodity society, specific mediations of the capital-labor relation at different points/times in the total cycle of capital, grasping them as concrete forms of capital’s heteronomy, thus grounding each in capital and their overcoming as predicated on the overcoming of capital, and yet granting each its own determinations non-reductively, therefore not collapsing the effects and experience of each into the other without granting each of them the status of autonomous identities external to each other. Such an approach must allow for a comprehension of empirical material and in fact only an adequate conceptualization can help us grasp what is and what is not valid empirical data and in what way it is valid. There is no unmediated, brute reality, but there are facts in the sense of what is experienced and organized by the reigning ideas (in their variety), which must in some manner be addressed as objectively valid. In an untrue society, all manner of untruths are nonetheless valid.

Capital provides the ground for an adequate conceptualization of racialization because generalized commodity production and the complete capital cycle constitute wage labor as “doubly free” as the ground of the class relation between labor and capital. The importance of this doubly free labor is not only the freedom of the laborer from any means of reproduction other than their own capacity to labor, and thus freedom from any means to sustain themselves except the exchanging of their labor, but the fact that this labor can be freely sold for a wage (that is, that labor itself is a commodity exchanged for money like any other commodity). This relation between labor and capital gives rise, immanently, to law and contractuality because the treatment of labor power as a commodity implies an agreement freely entered between the worker and the capitalist. Hence Marx’s quip about the realm of exchange is both earnest and sardonic because one cannot remain in this realm, which is

“a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each.”

Marx’s point about the freedom to sell one’s labor is related to the wage-laborer being free relative to any particular capitalist or capital. Capital is not a relation of direct, personal forms of domination. Workers are not actually dominated by capitalists or the capitalist class, but by capital as such, by the fact that the means of survival must be procured using money and in order to get money, most individuals must sell their labor. As the next paragraph of that section indicates, this freedom does not extend into the hidden abode of production, which is why value-form and domination in Marx are not merely relations of circulation and exchange, but of production itself.

To extend this a little, I would argue that in Capital labor is not identical with working class. Labor is the determinate social form pace Postone, Kurz, et al, whereas class actually is produced where labor appears in its exchange-form, as wage-labor. Class is exactly labor in its form as doubly-free, as freely exchanged. Race is the way in which the recognition/non-recognition of property in oneself and personhood before the law exists. Is this okay, or are we operating at the wrong level? The universality of gender and class relations qua value dissociation seems self-evident, since everywhere there is value, there is its dissociation, i.e. gender. However, is racialization at this level, at the diremption of labor between free and unfree, or at the level of personhood in the comprehension of the bearer or labor as a person or not as a person vis-a-vis the state and law i.e. the dual state? In reference to race, class and gender, labor is the determinate social form, albeit via dissociation at the dissociation value-productive/value-unproductive for gender, and at the nexus of the exchange relation as requiring freely contracting individuals as subjects of the law for race.

Nonetheless, this freedom of the world of exchange means that the social norm of the surface of capitalist social relations is individual freedom: persons entering into freely willed exchanges, the governance of which would be contractual law. The enforcement of contracts cannot be relegated to either party in the exchange or contract and thus arises a necessary third party invested with the power to enforce, hence the state form and the forms of legal relations appropriate to generalized commodity and exchange relations. Under such a situation, all individuals having property (at the very least Locke’s property in themselves) are also persons, that is, abstractly equal legal subjects pace Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

However, to be systematically denied the status of person, of abstract legal subject, indicates that this too is not a direct form of personal domination, hence not some pre-capitalist or non-capitalist form of domination. We should here not get caught up in sociological or historicist complaints that workers really do have less power than capitalists who employ them and slaves really are personally dominated by slave-owners because these objections miss the point that the compulsion to obey the dictates of capital doesn’t come from this or that person, but from the autonomization of an abstraction from our own control and the requirement to obey that abstraction (the injunction from capital isn’t “obey this boss” or “swear fealty to this man, obey the king”, but “get a job, make money” and “as a citizen, obey the law.”) In the case of racialization, the form of domination is still abstract and impersonal: the abstract determination of individuals as things as objects of the law, the determination of unfree labor as an indication of being an object of the law, a thing, rather than a subject of the law, a person, as a group. If class is a moment of the capital-labor relation grounded in the relation of the doubly free laborer to capital, race is a moment of the capital-labor grounded in the (absolute or relative) attenuation of the ownership of property, in oneself and in socially productive inorganic wealth. In other words, racialization is a process of the ascription of full freedom to sell one’s labor and to be treated as a person before the law for those racialized as elect versus those who cannot freely sell, do not freely control the exchange of, their labor and are not treated as a full person before the law for the those racialized as inferior.

This is not a collapsing of ‘base and superstructure’, but an argument about the conceptual comprehension of state and law as moments of the logic of the formation of the capital-labor relation. This is about the forms and their development logically, not yet their manifestation in historical time. The manifest forms of appearance are important in a complete working out of the relation. However, we must comprehend the logical forms that give continuity to capital’s self-reproduction, and only then do the manifest forms, as the changing expression of that logic over time, find their coherence. This is why I feel it is very important to attend to not merely the valorization process, but the labor process as the changing manifestation of the valorization process. In Marx’s work, the development of the forms and their appearance is a lengthy process which happens organically, that is, the categories and forms must develop out of their own process, they cannot be shot from a pistol. The historical presentation of originary accumulation is only addressed by Marx at the end of Vol. 1 once the categories through which that mass of material might make sense is already developed. The concrete as the outcome of many determinations can only be reached at the end and any attempt to start with the concrete poses a concrete which is immediate and hence false.

Therefore, what I am drawing on in volume 1 of Capital is only an implicit, not yet fully-developed conception of law and contractuality, but which is already inherent to the very basic forms of capital in its earliest moments. But just as capital produces wage labor in this doubly-free form, it also involves labor in not so free forms. Scholz has of course her notion of value dissociation vis-a-vis the relation of value and gender, which I think is the right track even though her presentation is quite poor because, like so many others, she fails to venture into the actual transformations of gender relations, instead talking as if the actual forms of appearance of value dissociation in 1848 would be the same as in 2016, and so she sounds like she is describing the 1950’s in her essay in the issue of the journal Mediations dedicated to the journals Krisis and Exit!. And yet the very crisis of the value form Kurz and Scholz point out elsewhere goes hand-in-hand with a crisis of gender, especially as capitalist development undermines the division of labor in reproduction as it turns more and more of its functions into commodities and the labor of the household is less and less done by only women. This actually leads to an intensification of gender enforcement in the areas which are not so obviously socializable: sexual reproduction. Hence the weakening of gender dimporhism alongside increasingly bitter struggles over reproductive rights and the hypersexualization of women and the blurring of the line between pornography, prostitution, and “normal” sexual relations.

When it comes to racialization, race arises where one group is constituted as having no property in themselves and thus is not a group of persons, that is, abstractly equal subjects of the law whether as people to be enslaved or even waged under conditions of contingency before the law or, as with so many indigenous peoples, as nature-like impediment to capital’s development and expansion for which capital has no use. The logic of race is the logic of a group (or more than one group, in fact) whose personhood is absolutely or relatively attenuated, their treatment as objects of the law rather than subjects of the law, and of a group, those in the racial group free to sell its property, including its property in itself, which represents person-hood as such. [add here point that even where there is formal legal recognition of personhood in the law, as in the United States after the 13-15 amendments, a wide variety of laws are put in place locally, regionally and federally that in practice undercut this recognition in both law and practice. Even after the legal forms of such undermining are largely removed, as has been the case in the United States since roughly 1968, as long as the institutions on which that racialization was founded remain intact, and the social hierarchies generated by those arrangements are not practically undone, then racialization will be reproduced through the typical mechanisms of interpersonal competition universal to capitalist social relations that Jehu points out in his series notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism.

However, we should understand this process in the same way as Werner Bonefeld suggests we understand Marx’s notion of so-called primitive accumulation. The central dynamic of primitive accumulation is the actual separation of the producers from the means of production, the historical breaking up of the peasant’s relations to the land and the craftsman’s control over their own tools and products and production, but process of separation as historical precondition becomes the inner logic of capital. For capital to persist, it must of necessity constantly reproduce the separation of the producers from the means of production, their products, and each other. There would be no reproduction of labor as determinate social form, no indirect coercion of money and market, without the reproduction of individuals as propertyless or rather with no property but their capacity to work for another. So it is with racialization, which is produced first through slavery and the distinction in early accumulation between free and unfree labor, between the labor of persons and the labor of non-persons. However, the distinction between persons and non-persons becomes a central moment of the state-form and the constitution of law in capitalist society, both between states (citizen and non-citizen) and within states (racialization as the attenuated and contingent status of citizenship for some groups who are internal to the state, as against another group is constituted through their entitlement to the fullness of citizenship as a group.) Historical precondition becomes logical dynamic.

Thus the historical, as opposed to the logical, exposition of racialization requires an exposition of the actual process of the accumulation of capital in which certain groups were enslaved (their labor exploited for the production of commodities, but denied the status of free wage-laborers), while others were wiped out (indigenous peoples as psuedo-natural, as impediments to the expansion of capital to be removed by elimination aka genocide.) However, that would entail an exposition on the concept, not the concept as such. And it would only be an exposition of specific historical moments under specific conditions. To tease out the arc of the phenomenal forms of racialization requires a working through of the transformations of of the phenomenal forms of capital vis-a-vis the labor process, law, forms of thought, etc.

For example, racialiazation under mono-crop agricultural slavery is expressed differently from Jim Crow de jure segregation which rested largely on personal servitude and rural agricultural penury, which is different from Northern de facto segregation in a waged work force where labor racialized as black was contingent to the wage as such (last hired, first fired, always expendable) and largely restricted to the worst, lowest skilled, lowest paying jobs. To be clear, to be contingent to wage labor not as an individual (all workers are contingent as individuals to successfully selling their capacity to labor, but not as to whether or not they have the right to sell their labor), but as a group, as opposed to the group racialized as entitled to waged work (an entitlement clearly felt in the self-consciousness of white workers in their own racialization of social welfare and rights to jobs), is also a form of unfreedom, albeit relativized and predicated upon an exacerbated and absolutized contingency, but which nonetheless finds its reflection in an actual lack of equal treatment as persons before the law (this lack of equal treatment is extremely well-documented and its systematic nature thoroughly analysed.)

Each of these moments would have to be grasped within the larger transformations of capital, not to mention the various contingencies that shape any and all social relations from place to place (slavery in Brazil did not produce race in the same way as it did in the U.S. or as it did in Haiti or Cuba, though in all of those places the racialization of society is indeed endemic and real.) And this also means that the crisis of capital is the crisis of the race-form, a crisis of the reproduction of the racial relation. We see today that the collapse of the necessity of living labor globally has eroded the distinction between black labor as collectively, racially contingent and white labor as entitlement to a wage and as racially guaranteed to the point that the contemporary intensification of racial hostility expresses the collapse downward, as it were, of those racialized as black to the status of expendable indigenous peoples and a regression to forms of unfree labor vis-a-vis prison labor and of those racialized as white to a loss of collective protection from the contingency of their labor, that is, to a condition that previously been the preserve of African-Americans.

The changing phenomenal forms of racialization only make sense, however, if we can also understand the continuity and the difference. The logic of racialization, its inner dynamic, does not change any more than the transformations of capitalism from 1850 to 2016 have somehow made the value-form invalid unless capital were to be overcome. Rather, to say that the value-form itself is in crisis, that capital has undermined value and valorisation through its own development, is to exactly say that is a crisis of the value-form. So we see today a situation in which living labor as such forms a smaller and smaller part of the production of wealth in capitalist society, even as it remains determinate of the social form of wealth. The crisis of class is thus not merely a crisis of the end of the working class as an estate, but also the increasing contingency of living labor to the production of wealth. If any particular labor has always had a contingent relation to employment by capital (capital always only needs an amount of labor, but not any particular laborer), one of the essential benefits of racialization was that white labor was differently contingent because certain kinds of labor, the best paying and most highly skilled, and the legal status of peronshood were essentially reserved for labor racialized as white. That is no longer the case. Capital has less and less need for anyone’s labor and racialization of the labor market is increasingly merely experienced by capital as illiquidity in labor markets (Adolph Reed Jr. makes this point in his essay on post-Civil Rights racialization.) Racialization thus increasingly only guarantees that African-Americans and Native Americans are disproportionately subject to mass incarceration and impoverishment, that they continue to be targeted for explicit political disenfranchisement, but people racialized as white primarily experiences this crisis as the failure of whiteness to grant security, experiencing a degree of contingency in relation to self-sustaining waged labor hitherto reserved for those racialized as non-persons. The increased anger and rage, especially of working class whites, is an anger and rage driven by the unconscious fear that the racialized bottom has fallen out, which of course to some extent it has. The psychology of this is expressed quite clearly in The Authoritarian Personality.

Further, I would say if the struggle over the working day and the wage are the rational forms of struggle of labor internal to capital, then the struggle for full legal recognition as persons before the law is thus the rational form of struggle against racialization within capital. Thus, from my perspective, the idea that reducing intra-class competition would go at the root of racialization in capitalist society is a non-sequitir.

I suppose this brings us to the matter of racism as about competition between workers. There are a number of problems with this idea that have been developed by other writers. Gregory Meyerson, in his summary of the differences between David Roediger, Alexander Saxton, and Theodore Allen (“Marxism, Psychoanalysis and Labor Competition”, Cultural Logic Vol. 1 Issue 1) presents a cogent set of reasons to reject the labor competition thesis as inadequate.

Firstly, racialization is not limited to the working classes. Any understanding of racialization has to take into account that it actually functions across the population as a whole.

Secondly, in the case of the United States for certain, during the first 200+ years from 1650-1860, Africans were rarely competing with Europeans/white Americans for jobs since most were slaves. Also, American Indians have almost never been in economic competition, so much as being a physical impediment to taking the land.

Thirdly, competition in no way can account for the especially murderous and cruel and systematic violence visited upon black people and American Indian peoples by whites as compared to conflicts between Anglo-American whites and European immigrants (Irish immigrants did not typically lynch, castrate and burn German or Italian immigrants and “native born” whites did not generally do this to European immigrants, though bloodshed and violence was not uncommon), whom they were actually much more in competition with for jobs since the majority of the Northern working class was Anglo-American and European immigrants and only a small minority of black people lived in the North before the migrations of WWI and WWII.

However, the idea that race is a product of the need of the capitalist class to split the exploited (as expressed in the work of Noel Ignatiev, Theodore Allen, and the like) is essentially a functionalist analysis, since race is assumed to have a function, and also to be the voluntary product of what still amounts to a class conspiracy. This is supposedly unlike class, which is a social form organically produced by the relation between capital and labor, and not merely the outcome of an ideology of divide and conquer. Racialization then is simply one kind of divide and conquer policy, that is, is still treated as an ideology as it is by the “orthodox” Marxists.

This is more or less sociological conspiracy theory, as if race were somehow the outcome of a collective class decision. Never mind that this approach assumes a semi-omniscient class perspective and intentionality to produce race that assumes race as something already able to be deployed, rather than as a product. At best, one might then argue for a process of trial and error in which the ruling class plays upon certain already existing differences, but then that begs the question “Where did these existing differences come from?” Competition between workers like competition between capitals only explains the mechanism by which antagonisms are reproduced and resolved, but it provides no ground for comprehending class, race, capital or value as such. It is essentially confusing the metabolic mechanism of an organism for the organism itself.

It may be that the ruling elites wanted to split the populations they exploited, but it is not clear that racialization was the only way to do this. I think Jehu does an excellent job of making this point clearly and repeatedly in his series. Solidarity is not the only outcome of the struggle between capital and labor. Competition, as noted above, is baked into exchange relations, and is more or less the normal state of affairs and class (and one might argue, racial and gender) solidarity only trump that intra-group competition when the struggle against the dominant social relations become rather pitched.

David Roediger, who has been a leading proponent of a different version of the racialization thesis, takes up its psychological dimension as rooted in the formation of capitalist labor discipline, deriving this in part from W.E.B. DuBois’ notion of a psychological wage. Roediger is much more serious about the psychological dimension of racialization, but it is unclear that he can address why racialization happens or its logical relation to capitalism. It seems more an outcome of something contingent, once again.

However, there is no need to think of race as 1) a contingent relation within capital and thus something that can be eliminated within capitalism, or 2) as a grand class plan to divide and conquer (even if it does this), or 3) as a mere ideology, rather than a relation of domination (though it is most certainly operative in the realm of ideas, relies on pre-existing ideas for some of its self-justification, and has deep psychological dimension, or 4) as a part of intra-class competition (which is most certainly is in many ways), nor finally as 5) a secondary relation of domination to class, which is the “real” relation of domination in capitalist society.

Noel Ignatiev’s analysis, which like Alexander Saxton, David Roediger, and Theodore Allen, was a discussion from within Marxism and about the possible conditions for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, is in many ways the weakest, but I want to point out a specific difference between his view and mine that I consider crucial. Race Traitor took up the argument that European immigrants who moved here had a choice about racialization, a choice of being white or a choice to be Americans. It is hard to express how profoundly this formulation misunderstands the connection between America as a particular capitalist state and its particular brand of racialization. I would argue that that notion is an inversion of the actual state of affairs, in which the only way to become American is to become white. This is not to neglect the contributions of African Americans, American Indian peoples, and Chicanos to the best of what this country is, but to recognize that what is best about America will eventually be what destroys it as a capitalist state. This particular formulation is what opens up what is in many respects a serious and engaging analysis of racialization by Ignatiev & Co. to appropriation by liberal privilege theory.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ideas Stirred up by Adolph Reed Jr.'s "How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence"

Original article here.  Also useful is this.  Jacobin Magazine printed a factually and theoretically deficient ISO criticism of the original piece and Reed responded in detail.  None of it really changes my thoughts on the matter of the limitations of Reed's analysis.

My thoughts developed around a dialogue with my friend Ralph Dumain about Reed's article on nonsite.org.

In my query to what he thought, Raph briefly replied that
"I have mixed feelings about this: I understand the general picture, and the issue of popular political ideology, but this seems too weak to grapple with the particularity of the problem and the nationwide terrorism against minorities, though it needs to be emphasized that this is a major manifestation of the class genocide now under way.

It seems to me that while poor whites have always been victimized as well, the racism is more direct with the police than simply being a byproduct of other disparities. Also, a class analysis would include the socialization of the personality types that choose a crappy career such as that of police officer."

- This prompted my following thoughts, related to how I am conceptualizing race, class, and gender in relation to capital.  These are provisional formulations, so I especially welcome feedback. I have made some significant edits, so this is more of a third draft. -

Agreed on both counts.  There is a lack of seriousness about the "authoritarian personality" (Adorno really nails this) that not only conducts this violence, but that justifies it (the whites who cravenly defend and even cheer on the cops and the obvious pleasure taken in the action of the police.)  Especially in the face of what Trump has not so much stirred up, but has given presidential candidate voice to, as their first Il Duce, it is a huge limit to not wrestle with this in a more nuanced way.  Addressing police violence as a class issue simply won't reach the white working class because the appeal to those folks right now is not simply a class appeal.  They are not merely frustrated white workers looking for a real "class political" outlet.  Their fear is with becoming de classe and de racialized (the loss of efficacy of racialization as white) and they believe they can stop that slide only by strengthening capital and the police state.  

The revanchist rage of the present around race, gender, and class is not about white supremacy, male supremacy or class entitlement, but the crisis of the expected supremacy and entitlement as complicated moments of the crisis of capital (what Moishe Postone has in a recent interview called the contradictory shearing forces of capital in the present.)  In other words, the efficacy of being on the "winning" end of the race and gender relation for those on the "losing but still legitimate" end of the class relation has been seriously undermined because the class relation is itself in increasing crisis.  - Again, following on Moishe Postone's comments, crisis does not mean a necessity of collapse, but like an asymptotic curve the crisis comes closer and closer to collapse without ever reaching it, and in the process intensifies those shearing forces as it comes closer to 0.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which legality, the status of being a subject of the law and thus a citizen and a legal person, rather than an object of the law and thus neither a citizen nor a person, both constitutes and is constituted by racialization.  In fact, class and gender as well cannot be grasped without such consideration, since all are moments of the constitution of labor in the relation of labor to capital, and thus also of capital to labor.  It is not just a matter of 'racist' ideology any more than class is a matter of 'classist' ideology.  The exchange relation of the worker is not only an inherently legal relation but a law constituting relation, a relating of two individuals as two property owners engaging in a contract governed by law and enforced by the state, constituting the personhood of both parties as subjects of the law.  To be in the relation of labor to capital where there is no exchange, e.g. slavery or non-potentiality as labor, is to be in a legally abject relation to capital and thus to the state.  The racial relation is fundamentally another moment of the relation of labor and capital, grounded in the specific constitution of freely exchanged versus unfreely exchanged labor, which both exist within the production process, no longer as persons but merely as variable capital, in the total cycle of capital.  This split occurs within the constitution of forms of law or recht pertaining to the constitution of individuals as persons, that is as subjects of the law, or as property, that is as objects of the law through which other persons achieve their legal status as persons.  Pace Hegel's Philosophy of Right, in the racialized universe of capital then not only is the class relation of freely exchanged labor an action between two parties now legally constituted as persons as the owners of property (in the case of the wage-laborer, they have Lockean property in themselves), but those racialized as non-persons and objects of the law are the property of persons and/or the state, and thus the negative of persons, thereby constituting an essential determination of persons.  Thus to threaten the racial relation is a way in which to threaten the personhood of those whose personhood only exists in exchange relations, but is always-already negated within the process of production wherein all labor, free or unfree in exchange, is reduced to variable capital, that is, to a moment of capital's subjectivity with the loss of our own as mere objective moment.

The "black race" in this country was constituted as one pole of the racial relation constituted through unfree labor, as non-persons because they were objects of the law with no ownership even of their own capacity to labor (as Locke would say, they were treated as not having property in themselves, which Locke found unacceptable and formed the ground of his rejection of slavery.)  Unable to engage in the free exchange of their labor, and therefore where they, not their labor, was the commodity and thus the property of another, they were denied standing before the law as subjects and thus as legal persons.  The end of slavery did not end this relation, as the place of labor racialized as black has remained largely within an unfree condition, from virtual indentured servitude in agriculture and personal servitude as household servants of whites and legally explicit political and social segregation in the Jim Crow South to the use of incarceration and racialized hiring and housing practices, and de facto political and social segregation in the North, provided a wide scope for maintaining effectively unfree forms of labor.  This same process found its legal expression in the ongoing refusal of legal recognition of people racialized as "black" as much as it enshrined personhood and legal subjectivity as "white", creating the situation in which the abolition of race would amount to the abolition of the personhood of whites and their self-identification with the law and lawfulness as such.  The power of this racialization post-slavery made itself felt as early as the Great Strike of 1877, in which white workers in St. Louis were convinced to return to work in no small part through being shamed by local politicians and newspapers for acting like (inherently) lawless blacks, albeit in uglier terms.  Time and again in the history of working class struggles, this appeal will be made with more or less effective force, alongside the primitive accumulation of capital for small-property-holding "whites" by the theft 
of "black" individuals' property and redistribution of it to "whites", as in the Populist Movement, where the promise to take black farmers' property from them and redistribute a portion of it to poor white farmers helped break the movement in the South.  This action is predicated on the idea that those racialized as black are inherently not persons and as such not entitled to property, unlike those racialized as white, which is itself the process of racialization in action.

Africa, as the centerpiece in the development of capital globally as the source of unfree labor, has continued to this day to bear the burden of a global racialization, including in the dependence of the highest tech industries on slave-labor conditions of raw materials extraction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  

A second element of racialization is not merely those destined for unfree labor, but those deemed unfit for labor or unincorporable, typically the various indigenous populations, who are then slated for genocide.  The various American Indian peoples of North and South America, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the Zulu in Southern Africa, and others form this other element of those not only with no property in themselves, but deemed also incapable of being property or exiting as an impediment to the appropriation of new property, typically of land to be turned into a commodity. Such a status not only involves a refusal of recognition as persons, but even as potentially variable capital.  Such persons are reduced to the status of mere elements of nature, wild animals to be culled in order to make way for progress.  This very attitude continues to this day, as evidenced in the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which all means are allowed, all state and corporate violence is acceptable, and the destruction and desecration of holy ground, having already taken place in order to erase the material proof of the claims of the Standing Rock Sioux, is justified on the basis of the rights of 'productive' property and its convenience.

If there seemed to be a moment when the needs of capital for labor were so great that Southern segregation became an impediment on the labor market, thus garnering significant white elite support for desegregation and at least formal, legal equalization (which was genuinely a problem for capital insofar as it still garnered distinct benefits from the unfree labor of those it racialized as black, and is what so-called black people have always intuitively grasped as an important struggle for their own liberation), it was also the end of the expansion of wage labor (
especially in the production of the means of production, ye olde Department 1 of Marx' reproduction schemas) thanks to the dramatic spread of microelectronics, chemical and biological engineering, and other methods of generalizing the automation of living labor, which has not been merely a tectonic shift from living to dead labor, but of the direct application of scientific knowledge to this process so that the workers who remain cannot even comprehend the production process as a mechanization of their own skills and consciousness.  The expulsion of labor power from the global market has caused not merely a shift of "black" labor from unfree to unwanted, and thus subject to intensified mass incarceration, but of much of the "white" working class' labor becoming redundant and/or servile (low-waged and unproductive vis-a-vis valorization.)  That is, the panic-inducing slide of many "whites" towards the position of "blacks", as unfree (albeit largely through a new kind of debt entrapment) or as only casually employable (labor qua class is always contingent, but there was the assumption that capital needed a growing amount of free laborers who were largely superior to unfree labor for all but the most miserable work, not shockingly frequently in agriculture and mining, as well as personal servitude, and that race in some sense secured the difference between who was contingent relative to this or that job and who was contingent to wage labor as such), forms the backbone of the current revival and intensity of racialism.  It is, as I noted earlier, not a white supremacy, but a fear-driven panic over white supremacy's loss of efficacy, a drive to reclaim a stability and "needed-ness".  The current racism, like the retrograde movements in gender relations, reflects a crisis of the coherence of race, not the strength of racialization.

From that point of view, anti-racism and anti-sexism actually do miss the point as they want to also build a politics on identities that are in crisis, and whose position is also slipping into worse states in the process.  Identity politics is itself an adjustment to the crisis of capital (typically referred to as neoliberalism, a confusing term not least because many people take it as referring to a new kind of "liberal", a weaker, guiltier, more self-involved person as opposed to "progressives", "radicals", etc., rather than to a new market liberalism in which all people should be subordinated to the imperatives of the market as individuals and subject to its dictates and their ability to meet them.)  For identity politics is a branding exercise of our marketable particularity which necessarily rejects the Enlightenment abstraction of a common humanity.  Often drawing on the fascist Heidegger for its critique of "humanism", it rejects universality as a brutalizing abstraction in favor of an "authenticity" (again, taken from Heidegger) of particular identities.  The most sophisticated expression of this current is "intersectionality", which attempts to wrestle with the aporias of identity thinking from within identity itself in order ultimately to preserve particularity and immediacy against universality and abstraction.  Here it is important to note that fleeing from all abstraction into a supposedly immediate, concrete particularity is to pretend that the reigning abstraction, capital, does not exist, and to pretend that capital does not exist in one of the first and foremost injunctions of neoliberal theory.  One of the aporias, after all, of identity theory is that identity is always an abstraction from every other aspect of an individual.  This is where intersectionality attempts to layer or weave identities together in order to understand that a black woman is not just a (heterosexual) black man mixed with a (heterosexual) white woman, but it does not posit the inherent falseness of race, gender, sexuality, but merely reproduces their dimporphism and undigested dualisms. Rather, it wants to produce a more nuanced identity, a kind of production of infinite identities, just as today every scholarly compartmentalization of fields of study has really collapsed into an infinite number of sub-fields in a proliferation of brands, actually a process of generating brandings through which one can market oneself, whether politically or academically. Intersectionality both complicates and naturalizes identity in a "safe for neoliberalism" fashion by also excluding the hidden universality of capital and the universality contained in the struggle against race, gender, class, sexuality, in fact against all identitarianism, that is, that all have to be a struggle against capital without somehow imagining that any one of them is privileged in the order of domination.

Insofar as the total cycle of reproduction of capital depends, has always depended on, labor as free and unfree, value-producing and labor power-reproducing, not only does the crisis of capital undermine the class relation (turning the contingency of any particular labor but the necessity of labor as such into the contingency of labor as such, thus turning proletariat into precariat), it also threatens to feminize and negro-ize (for lack of a better term to express the racial panic of so-called whites) the white man (or rather men as such and whites as such, as all of these relations are experienced as both singular identities and inextricably intertwined, bound together in the hidden universal of capital.)  Thus the hysterical reassertion of whiteness and masculinity in the age of actual increasing equalization of duties in the public and private sphere between men and women in all aspects except sex (and here I would argue the explosion of the porn industry and the hypersexualization of femininity is not merely about Internet accessibility, but tied to the way in which sex and sexual reproduction, both as making babies and making happy, becomes the singularly defining marker of gender dimorphism, of the distinction between man and woman.  It sure as shit isn't nearly as much about who does the dishes or watches the kids or takes out the garbage or does the laundry or brings home an income!  in the space of consumptive reproduction and the reproduction of labor power, a panicked, violently enforced hypersexualization is the only barrier to de-gendering.)

To come back to race, it is also complicated by the fact that while global capitalism has always been dependent on unfree labor and the making unfree of specific groups, the way that racialization itself played out is very complicated and does not appear universally present geo-politically (unlike class or gender), but always as specific and territorial, even.  However the racial dynamic of unfree labor has always been necessary for global capital at the level of its universal expansion as self-valorization.  For example, if the racial other to Europe seemed largely vis-a-vis colonialism, that is, a kind of Other 'out there', and thus only some outcome of colonialism (a particular moment, like imperialism, against the universality capital), at least until after WWI or even WWII with mass immigration into Europe of peoples from Africa and the Middle East, the racial other was present inside, say, Germany, in its relation to the Slavic peoples on its Eastern and Southern borders whom it sought to literally enslave.  The case may be most evident and familiar to Americans however in reference to England, as religio-racialization of the Irish began in the early development of agrarian capitalism unique in England.  The particular forms of this settler-state racialization and its extension into Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the United States of America may give an indication as to why formerly English colonies have been especially brutal racially, but in no way can we say that racialization was unique to those places.  Racialization is built into the constitution of capital through unfree labor time as also validly variable capital in the valorization of value and the constitution of social relations as legal relations vis-a-vis exchange and the production of individuals as persons and subjects of law or as objects and property.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Note on the Abolition of Labor

This is inspired by Edward's comment.

For my part, I think the abolition of labor has to be addressed at several levels.

Firstly, the abolition of labor is the abolition of labor as a determinate social form, that is, as the constitutive social relation for humanity.  To say that human beings will always engage in labor as a metabolic interchange between humanity and nature is not the same as saying that human beings will always engage in labor as the socially determinate relation between human beings.  The former is the general, trans-historical, aspect of labor, and the latter is Labor as socially determinate form of domination constitutive of capital.

Secondly, Marx rightly discusses the difference between the realm of necessity, of the performance of labor to reproduce human existence in whatever social form we find ourselves in, and the realm of freedom, which is the realm of freely disposed time.  In pre-capitalist class societies, as far as I know without exception, the realm of necessity was the realm of unfree labor, of slaves, serfs, etc. in their own minimal reproduction as most of humanity engaged largely in subsistence labor and as the portion of humanity engaged in surplus-wealth producing labor (only 33% of the ancient Greek population were slaves, but they produced the majority of surplus-wealth that did not come from the plundering of other peoples; most free Greeks were subsistence farmers who had a nominal freedom.)  The realm of freedom was explicitly the realm of not-working and the claim of the ruling classes was always a claim to free time, to unproductive activity: philosophy, politics, war, art, etc.

Pre-capitalist societies were generally the explicit, overt, direct relegation of the producers to the realm of necessity and of the ruling classes to the realm of freedom via the direct, personal domination of the laboring classes.  Under capital, the realm of necessity is conflated with the realm of freedom because the relations of domination are indirect and impersonal, even with a capitalist class because each and all must obey the logic of capital, the imperatives of the market and all come to freely sell their wares.  "Arbeit Macht Frei" was not just what the Nazis put above the entrance to Auschwitz, it is the mantra of capitalism and of much of the Left from Social Democracy to Leninism to Stalinism to Maoism to Trotskyism to Council Communism.

Communism is nothing if it is not the entering of all of humanity into the realm of freedom, of freely disposed time to do or not do as one pleases.  This does not eliminate the realm of necessity, but reduces it to a subordinate, non-determinate position in the relation of between it and freedom.  This is impossible if the majority of time of a human life are spent doing work for an alien power, as a slave, a serf, a worker, a taxed peasant, regardless of whether that alien power is a lord or a master or the abstraction of capital.  Only when necessary labor by human beings is reduced to a minimum of human time and the work freely chosen engages the mental, physical, and emotional faculties of a person can we reasonably imagine actual freedom for all of humanity, as opposed to the abstract freedom of exchange and democracy.  It is also the unity in difference of the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, rather than merely the victory of one aspect over the other (the fantasy of Utopian Socialism) or the enforced domination of one over the other (societie of direct domination) or the collapsing of one into the other (capitalism).

Thirdly, Jehu's point that "the higher stage of communism is exactly the point where there is no longer any connection at all between the activity of the worker and her needs" hits the nail on the head.  For this to be the case, we cannot speak of human beings defined by their labor or even labor being life's prime want.  This does not mean that people will not choose to pursue medicine or the study of nature and the cosmos or aesthetic production and do it for many hours a day.  Rather, it means that even if an individual stopped and chose to lay on their back in the grass and listen to the wind in the trees, they would not cease to have their needs met.  I would say, to be picky, that at this point there is no such thing as a worker, rather, the tighter formulation would be to say that "there is no longer any connection at all between the activity of an individual and her needs".

EDIT:
I rain into some rather interesting discussions of a book I am reading that is germane to this conversation, called Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams.  The book is itself quite interesting, alongside Paul Mason's book Postcapitalism.

I recommend the discussions on this at the following links as follow-up to the question of a world without work:

https://libcom.org/blog/wrong-work-two-perspectives-abolition-work-03012013
https://thedisorderofthings.com/2015/11/05/why-we-cant-let-the-machines-do-it-a-response-to-inventing-the-future/
https://thedisorderofthings.com/2015/11/04/postcapitalist-ecology-a-comment-on-inventing-the-future/
https://thedisorderofthings.com/2015/11/11/reinventing-the-future/#more-11229

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Note on "Use-Value" and "Useful" in Capital

Jehu has been having an extended argument with the Value-Form reading of Marx at his blog, which is of mixed interest. However, in this post he takes up whether or not military goods are use-values and useful, and thus whether or not they are potential values and sources of surplus-value or if they are "fictitious capital", as the kids say these days.

They key to Jehu's notion of useful is clear in his last paragraph:

"While the value-form school denies labor is the source of value, their approach to value paradoxically ends up saying all labor expended in our society which is realized in prices, no matter how unnecessary and even toxic to life [italics mine - CDW], produces value. In the value-form school argument, all labor produces value when the product of that labor is sold for money[italics mine - CDW]."

The first problem to note is that this is a moral evaluation of useful and use-value. I don't mean this in a strictly negative way, but to point out that the idea of "useful" is already treated in a specific way.

So the first question is, is Marx using a moral evaluation of use-value and usefulness? Not primarily. Rather, Marx's notion of useful and use-value operates largely on other levels.

Firstly, I would suggest that the concept of use-value in Marx is, from the beginning, not a strictly universal concept, that is, there technically are no "use-values" in non-capitalist societies because there is no value. There certainly are "useful" things in all societies, things that exist and have meaning in that society because they are used purposefully. Food, generically speaking, is transhistorically useful in this sense and Marx certainly conceptualizes use-value as the capitalist social form of transhistorical usefulness, as one moment of the social form of wealth. However, use-value only arises as a term in relation to value, in the split of value into use-value and exchange-value. In the absence of Marx working through the rationalist division of the commodity as a value into use-value and exchange-value, the notion of use-value would have no meaning. Use-value is a value-theoretic concept, the particular social form of a universal, that is, of some things being useful to some people. Just as Marx makes the point that "eating" is universal, but what is eaten and how is always particular and those aspects tell us something about who is eating. The universal only has existence in and through the particular, that is, there is no universal as such except as a bare abstraction, and at the same time the particular would be merely contingent if it was not also universal.

I would suggest this argument depends on us being wholly immersed in capitalist society from the first sentence of Capital. Marx is not arguing about use in a transcendental, trans-historical sense as such.

Secondly, use-values are use-values in relation to capital not only as a prerequisite for something to be exchanged (something without use-value cannot be sold because it has no use for anyone, and in the world of political economy no one would exchange something for nothing), but because they serve valorization as the other aspect to exchange-value. If a commodity can only be an exchange-value if it is a use-value for someone else, in turn, a commodity is only a use-value for capital if it can be used in the production of commodities, that is, for exchange.

As a side note, one distinctly Hegelian dimension to Marx's writing is his understanding that all relations cut both ways; in this case that 1) use-value is and is not transhistorical, 2) use-value is determinate of the validity of the exchangeability of a commodity and is simultaneously determined as useful to its seller only as exchangeable. I'm making this point because of all of the anti-Hegelian nonsense, which largely gets its Hegel from traditional Marxism, and which fails to grasp that one of the key aspects of Hegel's way of conceptualizing that Marx carries into his own work ("dialectical" conceptuality) is not simply contradiction or opposition (which are not the same in Hegel), but the self-contradiction of each pole of an opposition, that is, Hegelian doubling. Marx is intimately aware of this doubling and the inadequacy of the binary oppositions in the kind of thinking Hegel relegates to the Understanding and whenever one sees some kind of antinomy or binary in Marx, one should be aware that generally it indicates a conceptual inadequacy Marx is presenting in order to surpass.

Thirdly, while Marx never abandons use-value, exchange-value, concrete labor, abstract labor, etc., he will point out their limitations as inadequately developed and justified by political economy, without abandoning them, much as Hegel critiques the underdetermined, abstract quality of sense-certainty, perception, and the Understanding, even as he will return to them again and again later in the Phenomenology of Spirit as more and more richly determined.

Fourthly, it is a mistake to assume that Marx has had his final say on these concepts at the beginning of his work. In fact, the beginning of the work is necessarily where the concepts appear in their most underdetermined fashion. The separation of the producers from the means of production here appears only as an assumption which will eventually have to be validated in the results of Capital, so it is only fully fleshed out in the last chapters of Capital on originary accumulation and, as Werner Bonefeld has argued in his essays on it, that originary accumulation is not merely historical - which would be a historicist explanation, something Marx is actually never guilty of - but becomes the structural precondition of all accumulation. In other words, all accumulation is the reproduction of the separation of the producers from the means of production, the reproduction of the determinate social relation (Capital) and its constitutive social form (Labor).

To this end, the concept of use-value comes up again and again. Use-value is thus embedded within value and valorization (chapter 1), later within production (starting in chapter 7), and then within reproduction and circulation (Vol. 2 vis-a-vis the departments.) It is not merely about what is useful to individuals, but about whether or not a commodity is sufficiently useful for buyers to exchange money for them, whether it is useful for capital (for production undertaken for the generation of surplus-value), and then whether it is useful for the reproduction of either capital or labor.

In its first moment, therefore, the use-value of a commodity comes closest to the moralistic view of a useful thing for a person because some person with money has to want the thing, and here it is only considered as a thing of use in consumption. After chapter 7 Marx develops the idea that labor is what is useful for capital because it is the determinate social form of the production of abstract wealth, of value and, most importantly from the point of view of capital as self-expanding, surplus-value. Labor is only useful for capital if it contributes to valorization.

What kind of labor contributes to valorization? Is it the kind of labor that produces a commodity as a material thing, as is seemingly implied in the first chapters of Capital? This is, after all, what many critics of Marx argue, that he has a self-contradictory notion of value and labor in this section. However, before Marx completed Volume 1, we know that in his notebooks published as Theories of Surplus-Value, Marx has a famous and under-appreciated discussion of what makes labor valorizing in his discussion of the labor of a clown. Marx's humor and fine sense of irony, much like Hegel's, is rarely appreciated, so the joke is generally missed (as are all the jokes in Capital, especially in footnotes, as Nichole Pepperell has brilliantly written on in her dissertation and her excellent Uncomfortable Science blog.) Marx distinguishes between two ways in which the clown might labor. In the first, the clown sells his labor to a family and then goes about his clowning for them. This is explicitly not capitalist labor or value-producing, this is just a service. However, if the clown is employed by a capital(ist), is payed a wage because he/she sells his/her labor as a commodity, and has his/her clown services (the product of his/her labor) sold as a commodity to customers, we have entered the realm of the value-form, of value-producing labor, The product of labor need not be a material thing, but can be a service, a material relation if you will, because what determines the validity of the labor is its usefulness for the capital as a commodity it can sell and its usefulness for the consumer, in this case, enjoyment or entertainment.

However, Marx's thinking on usefulness and use-value goes further. In Volume 2 of Capital, Marx discusses circulation and reproduction and the two departments. Department 1 involves reproducing capital qua means of production and Department 2 involves reproducing labor as expanded labor power. At this point, Marx notes that a commodity and the labor that produces it is only a use-value if it contributes to the reproduction of the means of production or of labor power. Our fine friend the clown, a wage-laborer to Clown Temps, Inc., has his services sold to people who are entertained by his services, which may certainly refresh them in order to then go back to work and might in fact entertain their children as future labor, thus contributing to the reproduction of labor. Further, the sale of the clown's services results in a surplus to the employing entity, which can then reinvest the value in the existing means of clowning (costumes, clown cars, balloons, etc.) and in the labor of the clown qua wage, but the surplus may also be used to engage in expanded clowning, whether more clowns or the selling of clowning videos or live clown streaming.

I would argue that this means that state ownership of the means of production does not in-itself mean that the production is not adding to the accumulation of value. The issue is never who owns the means of production, but whether the activity conforms to the capitalist social form. If the state owns a concrete factory, pays its workers a wage, sells the concrete to construction companies, and the factory makes surplus which it plows back into expanded reproduction, it is doing nothing differently from any other owner of capital.

Finally, we should note that, for Marx, artistic works that are not reproducible don't count as values. If the commodity cannot be reproduced, then it isn't a commodity. All that monetization indicates in this instance, is that someone is willing to part with income they would otherwise spend on something else, not that it contributes to the production of value. In fact, it might detract from the accumulation of capital in some small way.

This certainly means that many forms of labor that crass Marxism looks down its nose at, such as computer programming and flipping hamburgers, are in fact socially valid useful labors, producing use-values as long as the programmer and line cook are employed as wage-labor by a capital who sells their service as a commodity, and the programs and hamburgers go to the reproduction of capital and/or labor. The materiality of the commodity is not at issue. The harmful or helpful nature of the commodity is not at issue. Even the social form of the labor, taken in isolation, is not adequate.

Does this lead to a conflation of use-value with the problem of productive vs. unproductive labor? After all, lots of labor and a variety of products of nature have a use-value for capital without necessarily contributing to the production of value.

For example, in Historical Materialism Vol. 4, Murray Smith, taking a view similar to Fred Moseley, proposes that two types of labor are essentially unproductive: labor expended in the circulation of commodities and labor expended in supervision. Moseley notes the unproductive aspect of both as essentially 1) labor involved in the changing of titles to a commodity and 2) enforcement of labor discipline.

The first is useful, but unproductive, labor because...

"Circulation labour is labour related to the exchange of commodities and money, including such functions as buying and selling, accounting, check processing, money exchange, advertising, debt-credit relations, insurance, legal counsel, securities exchange, etc. Marx argued that circulation labour does not produce value and surplus-value because exchange is essentially the exchange of equivalent values. Circulation labour only transforms a given amount of value from commodities to money, or vice versa."

As for supervisory labor, as Marx notes in the beginning of Chapter 7 of Capital, supervision of the worker because...

"He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be."
Does this mean that use-value isn't necessarily connected to exchange-value? Was the entire point that use-value is always-already the social form in which usefulness is made actual in capitalist society therefore false?

That would be an incorrect conclusion.

Firstly, these unproductive labors are certainly use-values for capital within the total circuit of capital, activities that are necessary for the completion of the circuit and the maximization of efficiency in labor-time. Secondly, like everything that counts as a use-value to capital, they can be monetized. In a peculiar reversal of the typical conception of the relation of use-value to exchange-value, in which something can have exchange-value because it is a use-value, being expressed as an exchange-value, that is, being expressed in money, gives something a use-value. Arguably, the hypertrophy of this aspect of the doubled relationship of exchange-value to use-value within society as a whole is a central proposition of Guy Debord's notion of spectacle.

Murray Smith proposes an interesting way of thinking about where this unproductive labor falls within the circuit of capital, since most Marxists who accept the notion of unproductive labor treat it as part of Constant Capital (but not Fixed Capital), but that is beyond the scope of this note. He and Moseley both see the extensive expansion of non-productive labor since WWII as the second greatest source of the declining rate of profit, alongside the increasing organic composition of capital.

Neither Smith nor Moseley are really considering whether or not the production of military goods purchased by the state would count as value-producing. In fact, based on their conception, there is no reason that the production of military goods or luxury items for non-workers would not be values, that is, part of surplus-value production. For example, it seems that even if military goods are not productively consumed, their production and purchase, even if it is being paid out of taxes, is going towards expanded reproduction of new capital and labor, and, maybe because it is coming out of tax money, is essentially a redistribution of wealth from workers' incomes to capital.

On the other hand, if we think of it from the perspective of use-value in the sense in which Anselm Jappe uses it, then the scope of unproductive labor in the economy is much, much larger than Smith or Moseley account for, putting even greater pressure on the rate of profit. Military production, among other kinds of production that do not reproduce either department or, to put it another way, which cannot be productively consumed, would essentially be what is called "fictitious capital". However, it may be worth asking if "productively consumed" here is not just sneaking a moral category back into the discussion. If tanks are produced and purchased by the state, could they be productively consumed? If the tanks are used to overthrow a hostile regime and secure access to resources at a lower cost, were they unproductively consumed? Or to put it differently, what constitutes "productively" in our "productively consumed"? I would suggest that once again, we can only work through by paying attention to the doubling in productively consumed.  After all, the productivity of the tank for the producer is not in question, as they sold it for a profit.  However, since the tank cannot be consumed by another capital as capital (as means of production, raw materials or labor power) and cannot be consumed by workers as part of the reproduction of labor power, that is, since tanks cannot be productive in the sense I believe appropriate to Vol. 2 of Capital, then overall they are not bearers of value and do not add to valorization, but constitute a loss from the total social value, as the money going to unproductive production could have gone to value-producing capital.

More importantly, however, is whether or not the non-identical conceptualizations of value-producing labor here can work together or are they mutually exclusive. We have two very different conceptions of what would allow us to conceive of a distinction between productive and unproductive labor. The Smith/Moseley conception distinguishes between labor that adds value and labor that does not, but it's use-value is not in question, as it is most certainly useful, insofar as capitalist reproduction cannot take place without exchanges, changes of title, etc.. Instead, what is at issue is whether or not the labor contributes to the production of the commodity directly, but what if the commodity is the activity? Isn't the service the commodity? In which case, if the labor is the commodity itself, a particular activity, wouldn't that drive us back to the distinction between useful and not useful in the sense used by Anselm Jappe, which I have suggested is certainly present in Marx's work?

One thing I can say for sure is that I have not seen anything in the conceptualization by Smith/Moseley that would necessarily be rejected by Value-Form theorists. In fact, Smith considers himself a value-form theorist. As such, there is no basis for saying that value-form theory necessarily precludes distinguishing between productive and unproductive labor, though as I point out, if labor services can be commodities then there might be a problem with the way Smith/Moseley draw their distinction. It is possible that Arthur, Tony Smith, and the various Neue-Marx Lekture reject the the distinction between productive and unproductive. Jappe's conception is not necessarily at odds with Moseley and Smith. His point that "it has to be “productive labor” in the capitalist sense (that means that it does not only consume capital but helps to reproduce it)", is not far from their conception, since circulation and supervisory labor "consume capital" but do not help to reproduce it insofar as they aren't the labor actually producing the commodity, but a policing labor and therefore a faux frais of the requirement of capital to impose "close attention".

Further, if the distinction is primarily normative, as it is in that statement by Jehu, then there is no basis for it in Marx. Whether Marx's conception of use-value as it develops over the course of Capital in the way I have indicated, or that used by Anselm Jappe, or the conception used by Smith and Moseley, it is never a primarily normative concept. It is immanent to capital as a totality. That it comes into conflict with the ethical is not something to deny, but that problem is internal to the conflict over what is useful to actual individuals and what is useful to capital as a form of domination.

I believe there is still a conceptual difficulty with Jappe and Smith/Moseley, however, and this is around the idea that particular labors can, in and of themselves, be useful products as services, whereas both their conceptions lend themselves towards only conceiving of commodities as things.  I am going to call this "the clown problem" because clearly in Marx's conception in Theories of  Surplus Value, it is the social form of labor that determines it as value-producing, not the physicality of the product of the labor.  If I am right about the 3-fold (at least) determination of use-value and therefore the distinction between productive and unproductive labor in Marx's work, then there also is no contradiction in Marx's conception of value but a contradiction in the conceptions of those who mistakenly believe Marx fully worked out his concept in the first three chapters of Volume 1 of Capital,



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Some notes on “Schrödinger’s Capital”: The neoclassical core of the value-form argument

The original article is here.

Marx only works through the concept of labour power when he does because, like a proper student of Hegel, he knows you cannot fully develop a concept without it being worked up to or it functions as an ungrounded assumption, therefore he can't have a completed concept of labour power in chapter 1.  He also knows that you have to work from within the categories of political economy itself, that is, you have to follow the immanent logic of the arguments, not introduce your own "first principles" ex nihilo.

He has to work through the notions of value presented by rationalism, empiricism, and Absolute Idealism, so that he can lay out the limits of each concept.  Abstract labor is thus not the same as labor power, though he refers to it as labor abstracted from any actual labor, that is, as potential.  By the time we have gone through the critique of earlier conceptions of value (binaries of use-value vs. value, concrete labor vs. abstract labor, and then the form of value or exchange-value leading to the money form as value), all of which are partial truths, but therefore also untrue because partial, he lays out the ground of value in the fetish characteristic of the commodity.

He then has to talk about the role of exchange in the REALIZATION of potential value.  Commodities are not bartered, they are an exchange of equivalents.  Money is the necessary social form of exchange-value because it is only through a commodity that is the (empty) universal, the pure, immediate concept of value.  Money allows exchange to take place without any direct consideration of the use-value of the commodity by the producer, and it retains value, that is, despite the change of form of value, it retains it's substance as a quant of wealth.  Money is also one kind of materialization of value in exchange (just as we started with the commodity as the first materialization of value) and it is essential in a system of indirectly related values that the validity of the common substance (labor), and its magnitude (value)  magnitude, and that magnitude of the substance is measured by the socially-necessary labor time.

This is why Marx spends chapter 3 discussing what money is, at this point and insofar as it has been developed.  Commodities cannot circulate as commodities, and generalized commodity production therefore cannot be the general form of human social relations, if commodities are not exchanged for money, if their value is not realized in a universally recognized form independently of their use-value and of concrete labor.  This is why Marx moves from money as measure of value to medium of circulation, to money proper (hoarding, means of payment, and universal money.)  It is with universal money that we see money achieve it's perfected form: "it strips off the local garbs... It is only in the markets of the world that money acquires to the full extent the character of the commodity whose bodily form is also the immediate social incarnation of human labour in the abstract. Its real mode of existence in this sphere adequately corresponds to its ideal concept."  It is necessary to keep in mind that there is no way for this to be Marx's completed concept of money in his work because it would have to deal with states and the world market, which we know Marx never got around to completing, but the first working up of money that allows us to conceptualize capital.

Note that when Marx gets to The General Formula for Capital, we now have a circuit, a movement of valorization in which value moves through different forms (commodity, money) which are intended to preserve (and in fact increase, but we are not there yet) the magnitude of value through the entire cycle.  Capital is not the means of production or money or commodities, it is really the entire circuit in which money, labor, means of production, commodity are all nothing more than moments of capital in its extended self-reproduction.

The Value-Form people get stuck in thinking that because exchange via money is a necessary condition for the realization of a measurable magnitude of value (substance), the substance is created in the act of exchange.  They conflate value as potential versus actual.  Exchange does not create the value-form of social wealth, rather it validates how much of the magnitude of that substance COUNTS.  If none of the commodity is sold, the commodity does not COUNT, is not validated, as value, but this has direct and dire cnsequences for the producers because the result is bankruptcy and unemployment.  The substance of the commodity, abstract human labor, is already a commodity, and since it is already valued, we do not enter capitalist production until we already have spent money on labor and means of production.  This becomes the ground of the bare minimum required to reproduce the conditions of production, that is, the amount of value that must be validated or realized in exchange for the process to happen again is already the potential value, independently of and prior to the exchange of the commodities produced.

Money does not equal value-form.  Exchange-value is the mode of appearance of value, that is, value only becomes visible in exchange because in an indirect system of social reproduction there is no direct measure of the validity of the labor-time of this commodity versus that commodity; there is a dynamic, indirect validation of labor-time based on its social necessity (that is, based on its labor-time in relation to other labor-times.)  Money is the universal, meaningless, empty, but necessary form of appearance of exchange-value expressed as price, and the price at which the commodity sells is the validation of the amount of socially necesssary time in its production.  This price may be above or below what would allow for the reproduction of the amount originally spent in the first place, and we only learn out of the exchange the validity of the value, how much of it counts.

The Value-Form milieu in effect ignores the fact that the first commodity for Marx is labor-power, which as he says in chapter 6, having sold its hide, heads off for a tanning (and since now labor-power is going from the realm of exchange, where it too was a commodity exchanged for money, for the universal equivalent, it must now go into the hidden abode of production for a good tanning.  To put it another way, the current value-form milieu seems to want value without labor or production, which I would suggest is a side-effect of the transformation of capitalist society in the late-20th and 21st centuries as noted in different, potentially complementary ways, by Krisis, Exit!, and Postone on one side, and Robert Meister and Randy Martin on the other.  Norbert Trenkle's "Labour in the Era of Fictitious Capital" is succinct on this point, and if we consider the value-form milieu as succumbing to the financialization of capitalism and the mass expulsion of labor from the production process, we can see the root of their hypostatization of money.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Some Notes on Things I've Been Reading

Reclaiming Work, Andre Gorz, 1999

This is an exceptionally interesting little book which affirms my conviction that Andre Gorz remains one of the most overlooked radical thinkers of the late 20th century.  I will post some notes on here as soon as I can transcribe them.


Interview with Anselm Jappe at the Brooklyn Rail

"Value cannot be created by decree, only by a real labor process—and it has to be “productive labor” in the capitalist sense (that means that it does not only consume capital but helps to reproduce it). Money can be created by decree—but when it does not correspond to the real amount of labor that it is supposed to “represent,” it has no “substance” and loses its value through some form of inflation (although for decades now the explosion of massive inflation has been deferred by parking large sums of fictitious capital in stock markets, real estate markets, and so on). Here the Critique of Value finds itself in sharp contrast to nearly all left-wing economists, who are generally just neo-Keynesians."

The point I put in italics is really what I find interesting vis-a-vis the notion of productive labor.  This is the clearest, most succinct reasoning as to why military production is unproductive, since military commodities cannot be used to reproduce constant or variable capital.  This is also why production of luxury goods for non-laborers is unproductive, unlike "luxury" goods consumed by potential laborers which goes toward the reproduction of labor power.

The Total Capital-Consumption Cycle - Draft

This is kind of my take on the total capital-consumption cycle as I see it relating to race, class and gender.  I'm not enamored of images and picture thinking in general, but sometimes they are productive.  This was inspired by reading Roswitha Scholz on value-dissociation.