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

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".

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:

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.

What’s the deal with Marx’s Capital?

What’s the deal with Marx’s Capital? That's the question I was asked to try and answer.

I think this is a very important starting point for the discussions we have been having, and it sums up neatly a point made repeatedly:

Brown (2003) argues that what is distinctive about the political rationality of neoliberalism as opposed to classic liberalism is the extension of the "entrepreneurial logic" to all human activities. "Whereas classic liberalism articulated a distinction, and at times even a tension, among the criteria for individual moral, associational, and economic actions (hence the striking differences in tone subject matter and even prescription between Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments), neo-liberalism normatively constructs and interpolates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life." (footnote 5, p. 292, "The Genetic Reinscription of Race", Nadia Abu El-Haj, Annual Review of Anthropology vol. 36, 2007.
That is, this is a look at the way in which capitalist in the present "constructs and interpolates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life."
This however is a moment a very long way down the road of categorial development from what capital is in its most fundamental sense, as the generalization of the commodity-form (the particular social form of the products of production), the labor-form (the particular social form of wealth-producing human activity), the value-form (the particular social form of wealth), the money-form (the particular social form of value), until we reach the total circuit in the capital-form, as self-valorizing, self-expanding, self-reproducing value.  The exploitation of living labor in order to produce a surplus in the form of value is not the social form as such, but its content.
To attempt to conceptualize this in terms of Marx’s Capital, it helps to have some sense of what Marx is and isn’t doing, especially in the first volume, since there is a great deal of confusion.  I just want to note here that I owe a great deal of my reading of Volume 1 to Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor and Social Domination, Werner Bonefeld’s work on primitive accumulation as succinctly expressed in Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy, and Nicole Pepperell’s as-yet unpublished PhD dissertation.

Capital is, as its subtitle says, a critique of political economy and this has several implications.  Firstly, Marx is not trying to explain capital or capitalist society as a rational, coherent, consistent system.  Secondly, he is not abstracting from capital’s actual functioning in order to produce a model.  Finally, he is not trying to provide a more accurate theory that fixes the limitations of classical political economy associated with Smith, Ricardo, Petty, Quesnay, etc.  As a critique of political economy, Marx produced a book that treats even classical political economy as a necessarily failed attempt to provide a rational, consistent, coherent account of a system and a society that in his view is fundamentally irrational, inconsistent and incoherent.  Marxists, generally a confused lot more interested in the workers’ movement than in the critique of political economy, take Marx’s work to be a proof of the necessary collapse of capital and a critique of capital by labor.  In that story, capital and the capitalist class are evil and labor and the working class are good.  Capital ends up being a book about the good guys and the bad guys in the class struggle.  However, this point of view has a lot of problems, not the least of which is that Marx’s own notion of life beyond capital, beyond class society, is a life not determined by labor, but determined by freely disposable time.  Marx’s critique of political economy is therefore a critique of all of its elements, of capital and labor, of money and the means of production.

This does not mean that Marx does not engage with political economy on its own terms.  Marx is not offering a criticism of capital or of political economy, that is, an attack from an external, superior standpoint, from better first principles.  Such a criticism would have to justify its first principles, a move that inevitably leads to either vicious circularity (a rose is a rose because it is a rose) or infinite regress (the first principle has to be justified by another preceding principle, which has to be justified by another even more prior first principle and so on.)  The problem of such criticism was recognized as far back as Aristotle in his Metaphysics and Sextus Empiricus in his Outline of Pyrrhonism and Outlines of Skepticism.  Marx therefore takes political economy at it’s word and accepts its categories as the terms of the discussion.  He then proceeds, much as Hegel does in his Phenomenology of Spirit, by allowing those categories to express their own failure, and by watching where each failure leads, takes us on a journey from the categories of capital and capitalist society as underdetermined and abstract to their more complete, complexly determined, and therefore concrete, expression.  This is not a historical trip, however, as the logical development of these categories does not follow their historical path.  In fact, commodity, labor, value, etc. as Marx first posits them in Chapter 1, are only able to be seen in their genesis at the very end of the book, where the historical production of the categories comes in only after their logical development.  This is why constituted classes do not appear in Capital until the third book and why the phrase “class struggle” cannot be found in volume 1.

Since this is an presentation of the movement of the first volume, I am not going to try and reproduce the movement of the work as such.  Rather than a phenomenological development, such as Marx uses, this is a more severe style of presentation.  If you want the full working up and a more step-by-step analysis, you will have to read Capital and the commentaries I have mentioned.  There is no way around that.  This presentation is meant as a clarification and a statement of how I understand Capital and therefore is closer to Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy than the Phenomenology or the Logic.

The most succinct expression of capital as a movement is M-C-M', that is, money which makes itself into more money through the transformation of money into commodities that are then exchanged for a greater sum of money.  In this movement, the material forms change repeatedly, and different activities produce different changes, time is even transformed into space and space back into time, but all of this destruction and creation preserves the social form of wealth (value) and even expands it.  Each form is necessarily a vanishing moment, but a moment which must be passed through each time in order to reproduce and preserve capital as such, and this reproduction and preservation requires its self-expansion with each cycle.

How the cycle goes from M-M’ is a point of much debate.  In classical political economy and traditional Marxist Political Economy, M is spent on C, where C is means of production, raw materials and labor power.  C is then transformed in the production process ...p… and the outcome of which is C’, that is, a set of commodities with more value than what was purchased with M.  Thus when C’ is sold (we are assuming that it sells at its value, not above or below as it would in actuality), we now have M’, the original M+S, our surplus value.  

From this perspective, new value, surplus-value, has to originate in production.  Many people believe that Marx makes an argument for living labor as the only source of new value in the first chapters of Capital, but he does not.  The one point Marx makes about the production of value is that it cannot originate in exchange, in the idea that one buys low and sells high (chapter 2).  Robbing Peter to pay Paul on the total scale of the economy would not result in the production of value, but a zero-sum game.  I pay x+1 for a, but now I have to sell b for x+1 as well, passing on the cost all along the way.  Marx thus makes the point that new wealth in the form of increased value, has to come from outside of exchange.  

However, the idea that only living labor power produces new value, as opposed to machinery and raw materials, that is, dead or already expended labor turned into things, or even living labor in the forms of animals, causes a great deal of confusion. After all, machines and raw materials produce material wealth all the time.  Why don’t they produce value?  After all, value in Marx is objective.  It isn’t a produced in exchange nor is it determined by what people are willing to pay.  What makes human labor so special?  And if it is a question of living labor, why not the labor of animals? Marx is even skeptical of the value-producing capability of non-wage labor.

The first few chapters are thus hard to comprehend if you are looking for an argument there that Marx is not making.

The most common mistake is to think that Marx is in fact trying to put forward a coherent concept of value in Chapter 1.  What Marx is actually doing is akin to what Hegel does in the first three chapters of the Phenomenology of Spirit.  Marx is taking the most common conceptions of the basic forms and production of wealth in capitalist society and working them out in their self-contradiction.  Marx’s work, like Hegel’s, is concerned with the aporias of social forms and their concepts.  First comes the commodity which is a use-value and an exchange-value, the empiricist understanding of the form of wealth that a commodity is a thing that is a use-value to the buyer and an exchange-value to the owner.  The first use-value that is an exchange-value that concerns Marx is, albeit in a passing joke about tanning and hides, labor power itself, whose use-value is always first and foremost its capacity to produce exchange-values.  

This leads us to the second way of considering wealth, the rationalist analysis of the inner content of the commodity as embodied labor, of the split between concrete and abstract labor, that is, labor as the substance of value.  What becomes clear however is that the substance of exchange-value is not labor embodied in the commodity, as if labor were a chemical property of the commodity (and as if commodities could only be things), but the socially necessary labor-time.  Thus, the value of the commodity, a spatial object at this point, is temporal.  (In his unpublished manuscripts published posthumously as Theories of Surplus-Value, Marx makes it clear that commodities need not be things, even, as the labor of a clown is value-producing if the clown has sold his capacity for labor, his capacity for clowning in this case, to a capitalist who sells his services to someone, and who presumably also provides the clown suits, and other materials, thus investing in variable and constant capital.)  This is also the point in chapter 1 where Marx’s engages with measure and magnitude of value and where people believe Marx makes an argument for embodied labor as the substance of value.  

The final way of considering the form of wealth is its absolute idealist (one might say Hegelian) form, as the form of value, or as exchange-value qua money, which includes a logical-genetic account of the value-form.  Marx begins with the relative form of value where two commodities face each other, one as the commodity and the other as the measure of the value of the commodity.  He moves on to the equivalent form of value where one commodity, still some manner of use-value, stands as the measure of all other values, much like cigarettes in a prison.  Marx then develops the account of the general equivalent, a commodity that largely has no other use-value than being the equivalent measure of value for all other commodities, and this is where Marx introduces the use of malleable precious metals such as copper, silver, and gold.  Marx ends with the final form, the money-form as the most perfect, empty and meaningless form of value.  With money, it is no longer necessary that money be present as a commodity as such, but stands in for value.  There is much discussion even today as to whether or not money has to be backed by a commodity of some sort, that is whether you need a gold backing or whether fiat money is actual money.  However, that is a question that requires the full development of interest and finance, which does not happen until Volume 3.  It would be a mistake to think Marx is in a position to answer that question at this very low level of development of money.  Here socially-necessary labor time as the substance and magnitude of value either exists as money, that is, is expressed in an other that everyone recognizes as its universally valid other, or it doesn't exist at all.  After all, a commodity that cannot be expressed as, exchanged for, money, isn’t valid as value, it is just a thing or an activity.  Marx thus works through all of the various conceptions of value and wealth in classical political economy, without so far presenting his own.  This is the second source of confusion.

Only with the fetishistic character of the commodity do we begin to get to Marx's notion of wealth in capitalist society, and this is because only here do we begin to get to the various moments of the commodity form not merely as a variety of binary distinctions that allow shape, measure, and transformation, but as the self-reproduction of the social forms themselves as forms of social domination.  Reification is a moment of this, but fetishism is more than that, it is our self-alienated activity, in the form of labor, as an objective form of domination that appears as freedom.  So while reification captures one aspect of fetishism, reification by itself does not automatically entail domination.  The full concept of fetishism requires that the reified product of our labor and that the labor itself constitutes that which dominates us.

It is very important to note at this point that if Marx has laid out contradictory, inadequate concepts of wealth and the form of wealth in the first chapter, this does not mean that the categories he develops there are simply false.  Much like sense-certainty, perception and understanding in the Phenomenology of Spirit, these categories as deployed by classical political economy are too abstract and underdetermined; they are not yet concrete in the sense of the outcome of many determinations.  After all, we know nothing of production, the labor process, circulation, or even profit, interest, and rent.  We only know value, labor, commodity, and money, but they will remain essential for Marx's entire work, but as these more and more actualized, determined forms.

As I have noted above, chapter 2 is really where Marx makes the point that value is not produced in the act of exchange.  He also spends a fair amount of time showing that the commodity, to truly be a commodity, must be produced for someone else, as an exchange-value, that it must be exchanged for money, for its other.  Something produced to be consumed, rather than exchanged for money, is not a commodity.  Something produced as a commodity is valueless if it is not sold, that is, value is only value as long as it is valorized, that is, value is only potential in production, but it must be actualized, realized, in exchange.

In chapter 3 Marx begins his deeper analysis of money's forms or modes of existence.  Key to this is the way in which money both represents and preserves value so that in the metamorphosis of the capital cycle, even when a commodity loses its body, its spirit is retained in the form of money and may go and seek a new body.

Only at this point do we come across capital proper, in Part II, "The Transformation of Money into Capital".  Now we see that capital is the self-valorization of value, as self-expanding wealth.   The end of capital, its telos, is not new commodities, but the endless expansion of abstract, infinite value qua money.  M' is ever the goal of capital proper.  Since money is pure quantity, this is a bad infinity, an infinite seeking for “one dollar more”.  Any and all C (raw materials, machinery, labor, finished goods) are merely means to an ever-expanding M'.  As such, the goal of production is not reproducing individuals (the reproduction of individuals in fact falls outside of the capital cycle and has its own, unwaged labor), but the reproduction of surplus-value qua money that can be reinvested to effect the expanded reproduction of capital on a continuously higher plain.  The dream of a perpetual motion machine is the dream of the perfect production of surplus-value without a breakdown.  And just as the perpetual motion machine is a fantasy, so too is capital as a perpetual motion machine, but that is a discussion for another time.

Nowhere up to this point does Marx really make an argument for why only living labor, and specifically wage-labor, produces new value.  Nor could he because that is a question that requires a degree of concrete development of the concept of labor that we had not yet reached.  However, now we can venture some ideas on this, beginning with Chapter 7 and this will take up a large portion of the middle section of Capital, as Marx concerns himself with the absolute and relative surplus-value for 11 chapters.  Only in this discussion, of the first real mention of surplus-value and constant and variable capital can we start understanding the importance of human labor, and waged-labor in particular.

By this point in Capital, we know that when a capitalist buys a machine and raw materials, they are paid for in advance (the issue of buying on credit is irrelevant here because credit does not change that the capitalist must pay the full value of the machine; what it does introduce is a complication that we can’t approach adequately yet, the problem of interest), and once paid for lose value whether they are used or not.  In order to use them up for maximum valorization, capital thus must operate the machinery and use the raw materials as efficiently as possible, as close to 24 hours a day as possible in many cases, so that the value “stored” (embodied in the money spent in their purchase) in those machines is consumed and transferred as close to completely as possible in the commodities produced for exchange in order to make M'.  Also, a machine can only do what it is told to do, what it is designed for.  It's wear and tear can be delayed and mitigated by efficient operations and repairs (whether fixing a worn cog wheel or a bug in the program), but used up it will be.  Further, the competition between capitals to capture market share leads to a constant improvement in the productivity of labor and the need to surpass the efficiency of the existing machine or program.  This pressure to develop better machines and better programs makes the older machine or older program lose value (depreciate) even more quickly.  The ways in which additional surplus-value are squeezed out of labor forms the thread that runs through the distinction between absolute and relative surplus-value that Marx will develop in the middle section of the book.

Human labor power within the capital cycle, however, is novel.  As waged-labor, it is only paid for the time it is active.  Workers may also be thrown into and out of production.  The employer does not lose money if they lay people off, but they do if machines and raw materials lie idle.  The former is the problem of the free worker, the latter is the problem of the capitalist.  An interesting take on how this differs from slave labor is presented in the movie Burn.  Within the paid time of production, there is also variability as a worker produces more or less in a given time, but their wage does not generally change in that time.  Even in piece work, the form merely disguises the wage so that the surplus-value is already built into every piece.  Let’s stop and compare an hourly wage to a piece-wage in an 8 hours day.  In an hourly wage, a worker appears to be paid for every hour of labor, and this is true.  However, the wage is not the equivalent of the total value produced.  If it was, there would be no surplus-value.  And what is more important, it is not like the first 6 hours of labor produce the wage and the last two the surplus.  This is an illusion of the wage, however.  If the worker only works six hours, assuming the ratio of wages to surplus being the same (¾ to ¼), then in 6 hours, 4.5 hours would go to wages and 1.5 to surplus.  This is because every commodity is a unit of value and when it is sold, it will, as a unit, realize both value spent on wages and surplus.  So too with the piece wage, where a worker is paid per piece, the individual piece completed is also sold as a whole value.  The variability of the worker is also evident in changes in the pace of production.  Faster rates of production will use up the machinery and raw materials more quickly, but they don’t change the wage of the worker: the hourly wage or the piece rate remain what they are.  Increasing the rate of the worker is an increase in productivity of the labor, but it doesn’t increase the productivity of the machine or raw materials.  To do that, you have invest in different, more advanced machinery or discover and make use of more cheaply produced raw materials.  Finally, unlike a machine, a waged worker is both a seller of a commodity, and a buyer of commodities, that is, they are not merely object, but subjects of the capital cycle.

These appear, deceptively, as technical reasons, but there is a significant theoretical point to be made.  What wage-labor does, as being also the seller and buyer of commodities, is reproduce the capital relation itself.  In selling their labor and in buying commodities as their only means of acquiring their existence, the waged laborer reproduces capital as a self-produced form of domination.  Machines and raw materials are a means to an end in this process, but they cannot of themselves reproduce a social relation.  They don't have a "social relation".  The beginning of this point is certainly in the earlier chapters, but it really begins to come to light starting in chapter 7.  This is how I take Marx  when he says:
"We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. 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." (italics mine- CDW)

From first to last, this paragraph not only distinguishes human from animal labor, but also implicitly from machines.  This is especially evident in the last sentence, where the implication is that the more labor is performed for an end that is not our own, the more close his attention is forced to be.  That is, where the will and intellect belongs to another, so too the force applied to our attention belongs to another.  None of this applies to a machine or raw materials, but only to human labor.

Thus waged-labor is also different from unwaged labor in several key respects.

Waged-labor is itself a commodity, which is purchased by a capital for the purpose of the production of other commodities whose first use-value is that they are exchange-values (the doubled nature of use-value, as its use for the producer of the commodity as an exchange-value and the use of the commodity for the buyer which makes is exchange-worthy, is generally ignored in the Marxist literature as much as in classical political economy), to be sold in order to make more money that will be reinvested as expanded capital.  Waged-labor is performed exactly for a wage, that is, in return for money.  If waged-labor sees its activity as C-M-C, from the point of view of capital waged-labor is either a part of valorization of value or it is a cost of production.

Waged labor is also free in the doubled, capitalist sense: free to be sold to any buyer, for a specific duration, for which it is paid an equivalent (hence a relation of equality as an exchange of equivalents between equally contracting parties, therefore a relation not merely of law, but constituting law); free from any property, any commodity, that might be used to reproduce its owner, except the commodity labor power, i.e. the capacity for labor.  The wage-laborer is thus also a buyer of commodities.  Unwaged laborers have to get means of subsistence in some other manner, generally a relation of some kind of dependence on someone who has money (wage-laborer, land owner, capitalist.)

Nothing precludes reproduction in the broad sense from being commodified.  The distinction is not per se between reproductive labor and productive labor, but between unwaged, private labor and waged, public labor.  That reproductive labor was once primarily household labor that was private and unwaged does not mean that it has to remain primarily so.  Reproductive labor can certainly be commodified and thus waged, public labor with its product produced as a commodity.  This was the case from fairly early on, as food stuffs, clothing, housing, etc. were bought and rented, but their maintenance and preparation, as well as a whole host of other aspects like childcare and entertainment, were not.  The only restriction on the commodification of most elements of reproduction is that at some point, the cheapness of goods and services depends on the relatively low wages of those producing those goods and services.  The specific situation in the U.S. in the present depends on the Wal-Martization of commodities, that is, the production of extremely cheap goods that drive primary producers to extremely small rates of profit.  This does not tend to make the laborers in these enterprises into consumers, and it hurts the accumulation of capital by the producing capital.  For example, if I am a Chinese manufacturing company making dog food to Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart is able to control the access to the market so tightly that it can dictate acceptable costs of production.  The company is forced to maximize both the squeezing of the workers’ wages and their other costs of production, and even then their rates of profit can be terribly low (Cornered by Barry C. Lynn has an excellent discussion of this.)  Now, while the workers are making a wage that may expand buying power marginally, between the low wage and low profit, this kind of production tends to make the development of an internal market that allows for economic expansion rather limited.  This creates its own tensions between the various capitals and in term of development.  It has also gone hand-in-hand with a general extension of debt, which allows consumption to continue through the perpetual promise to pay Tuesday for a hamburger purchased today.  Thus the tendency for reproductive labor to be private, unwaged labor doesn't simply go away.  Nor does unwaged, private labor magically become commodity-producing labor that is part of the cycle of capital's self-valorization of value.

Oddly enough, the aspect of reproduction that is least easily commodifiable, at least in a general sense, is reproduction itself, that is, having children.  Is it any wonder then that the most brutal struggle being fought over the control of women’s bodies today would be reproductive rights and sexual control?  Here I think it is the moment that appears the most biologically-restricted that is the most highly socially mediated.  The control of women’s bodies in reference to having children is about the control of future labor power in the most embodied sense, that is, literally over the supply of future labor on the one side, and over the future inheritors of wealth on the other.  The case of Purvi Patel is instructive, if terrifying, in the lengths to which the state will go to assert that as not merely the bearer of a child, but as the possible bearer of a child, a woman has no rights that cannot be sacrificed to future capital.

My argument is two-fold: that waged, public labor cannot exist without unwaged, private labor, and that unwaged, private labor was predominantly the labor of reproduction and is the key to the gendering of human beings in capitalist society.  As reproductive labor is increasingly commodified and wage-labor is increasingly reproductive and personal service-providing labor in Department 2, due to the extensive increase in the organic composition of capital in Department 1 in particular and thus the shrinking number of workers in the production of means of production and raw materials, labor is increasingly feminized, that is, the very values of affective, emotive, interpersonal engagement that were previously disparaged against masculine values, are now prized.  We are living through a crisis of gender that on the one hand has a politics of liberation of woman as a positive, particular identity and a politics of ressentiment at its limitations, and on the other hand, a politics of the revelation of masculinity as merely an identity, as particular and not universal, and thus a politics of ressentiment at the increasing loss of its value and worth.  Neither is grasped as a crisis of capitalist social forms tied to a crisis of accumulation and of value itself.

This crisis does not entail that value is no longer produced.  Waged-labor has not ceased to exist.  Money is more, not less, essential to the procurement of the means of life, the goal of economic activity is more than ever profit.  In fact, to return to the paragraph with which I opened this letter, the present moment of capitalist society, which many call neo-liberalism, "normatively constructs and interpolates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life."

The problem is that while this interpolation may turn everyone into a little capitalist in outlook, but it doesn't resolve the crisis of the valorization of value, which has translated into a shrinking number of workers in value-producing labor.  What happens when more of the population is engaged in labor that is purchased as a service rather than as value-producing labor?  Keeping in mind that as more and more labor is not value-producing, but is itself service labor that provides surrogate private labor functions, the purchasers of that commodified reproductive labor have to make enough money so that it is cheaper to buy the service as a commodity than to perform the labor oneself.  This is a dilemma, as the more people perform service jobs, the less value labor produces, the less likely the mass of laborers are to have the money to buy waged reproductive services.  The state provides a certain relief, but in the U.S. this is also maintained by debt and the Wal-Mart-ization of the economy, predicated on the dramatic lowering of global wages thanks to the entry of India and China’s massive populations into the global market as producers of commodities for Department Two.  It seems unlikely that the commodification of private, non-value producing labor can be maintained alongside stagnant or decreasing rates of wages and a decreasing mass of wages in value-producing industries.  Between high-value labor in production areas with a very high organic composition of capital, where the mass of value produced is increasingly more important than the rate of value, and service production that is nonetheless value-producing, but with low-value labor, a lower organic composition of capital, low value per unit, and relatively low productivity, the rate of surplus value is relatively high, but the mass of surplus value is considerably smaller.  In short, wages and income not generated from value-producing spheres of production are a deduction from the total social value produced.  If the income and wages from value-producing spheres decreases, this puts a limit on the amount of services that can be monetized.  In fact, the present period is exactly like this, but under conditions in which all of life is monetized.

The question of unfree, unwaged labor in relation to capital is certainly not easy either.  This is labor that is in many respects treated like means of production, that is, is bought and paid for in full.  And yet, the unfree, unwaged laborer is still human.  They can still reproduce themselves, they can perform a surplus and a variety of activities that allow a difference between the price paid for their labor and what they produce.  Also, whether or not the means of subsistence are bought by the owner of the laborer or is a relative pittance of a wage whose options of expenditure are significantly curtailed by the threat of violence, the means of subsistence are nonetheless purchased as commodities.  Thus even unfree, unwaged labor that produces commodities finds itself in the general cycle of capital.  This is what I hope to develop later.

If we consider the relationship of free to unfree labor in commodity production, we can think of it as a relation of contingency and necessity.