In the strict sense, the unsold and discarded commodity is defrauded, too. Whether or not the commodity is valuable is determined only after the salto mortale of the exchange. The commodity that is not sold is entrapped in the form of “wanting in despair to be oneself” or in “sickness unto death” from Kierkegaard. Commodity may be seen as a synthesis of use-value and exchange-value only inasmuch as seen from the ex post facto stance, while such a synthesis does not exist ex ante facto. The value of a commodity can come into existence only after it is exchanged with another commodity, an equivalent.
Kojin Karatani, Transcritique: On Kant and Marx
In a close reading of Marx’s analysis of the commodity-form, Karatani ground the insurmountable persistence of the parallax gap in the “salto mortale” that a product has to accomplish in order to assert itself as a commodity:
The price /of iron expressed in gold/, while on the one hand indicating the amount of labour-time contained in the iron, namely its value, at the same time signifies the pious wish to convert the iron into gold, that is to give the labour-time contained in the iron the form of universal social labour-time. If this transformation fails to take place, then the ton of iron ceases to be not only a commodity but also a product; since it is a commodity only because it is not a use-value for its owner, that is to say his labour is only really labour if it is useful labour for others, and it is useful for him only if it is abstract general labour. It is therefore the task of the iron or of its owner to find that location in the world of commodities where iron attracts gold. But if the sale actually takes place, as we assume in this analysis of simple circulation, then this difficulty, the salto mortale of the commodity, is surmounted. As a result of this alienation — that is its transfer from the person for whom it is a non-use-value to the person for whom it is a use-value - the ton of iron proves to be in fact a use-value and its price is simultaneously realised, and merely imaginary gold is converted into real gold.
This is Karatani’s key Kantian/anti-Hegelian point: the jump by means of which a commodity is sold and thus effectively constituted as commodity is not the result of an immanent self-development of (the concept of) Value, but a “salto mortale” comparable to a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, a temporary fragile “synthesis” between use-value and exchange-value comparable to the Kantian synthesis between sensitivity and understanding: in both cases, the two irreducibly external levels are brought together. For this precise reason, Marx abandoned his original project (discernible in the Grundrisse manuscripts) of “deducing” in a Hegelian way the split between exchange-value and use-value from the very concept of Value: in Capital, the split of these two dimensions, the “dual character of a merchandise,” is the starting point. The synthesis has to rely on an irreducibly external element, as in Kant where being is not a predicate (i.e., cannot be reduced to a conceptual predicate of an entity), or as in Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, in which the reference of a name to an object cannot be grounded in the content of this name, in the properties it designates.
If there can be no revolution without literature, without fables that become action, that make history, at the same time, there can be no literature without revolution—no literature that does not in principle give us the power to say everything, to break free of the rules, to displace them, and thereby to institute and invent. As Marx would have it, it is impossible not to refer to a reign of freedom, one beyond the collective regulation of necessity, in which surplus work would no longer be an exploitive work, but rather art and invention. From Sade’s declared interest in ‘saying everything’ to Trotsky’s ‘everything is permitted in art’ to Blanchot’s ‘everything must be said. The first freedom is the freedom to say everything’ to Roque Dalton’s ‘ah, poetry of today, with you it is possible to say everything’ (here I refer to the El Salvadorian poet and revolutionary) to Derrida’s claim that literature is a ‘fictive institution which in principle allows one to say everything,’ literature names the event of absolute freedom. This is why, just as fabulous and precarious as the state it would threaten—it, too, is without guarantee, since everything is put in question—the revolution to which Blanchot refers names a moment of invention. No revolution without literature, then, also means no revolution without invention—and what is invented each time is literature, but literature as Marx understands it—which is to say: literature as what appears only in its disappearance, as what is never identical to itself, as what, never stepping out of history, engages changing historical and political relations, processes of transformation, and does so within a language that works to change further the shifting domains of history and politics, a language in whose movement the traces of the historical and the political are inscribed.
Eduardo Cadava,“Marx Before Literature.” In: Acta Poetica. 2010. (Trans from Spanish)
A radical publishing house, called Lawrence & Wishart, who at one time was connected to Great Britain’s Communist Party, is demanding the removal from the Marxists Internet Archive of the “Marx-Engels Collected Works”—hardcover books that sell for up to $50 a pop.
The archive has posted a message to its readers informing them that Lawrence & Wishart’s material will be removed April 30.
That the works will be removed ahead of May Day “is just grotesque,” wrote Scott McLemee, the intellectual affairs columnist for Inside Higher Ed. In an e-mail, he said he suspected academics might boycott the London-based publisher.
From a Marxist perspective, understanding the link between them, or between knowledge and politics, requires a theory of social abstraction. More precisely, the Marxist account of ‘real abstraction’ would provide the key required for the strategic articulation of cognitive abstraction with social abstraction. But if, as Alfred Sohn-Rethel maintained, the latter asymmetrically determines the former then the reassertion of their symmetry will be summarily dismissed as idealist delusion. By the same token, the varieties of representational modeling that, on Srnicek and Williams’ account, are supposed to yield cognitive traction on the abstract dynamics of capital will be disqualified in advance by the claim that such representation is congenitally blind to its own social determination. This demotion of representation follows from the bald claim that capital’s real subsumption of intellectual labour reduces all scientific representation to calculation, aping the abstractions of the value-form. But this in turn invites perplexity as to what exactly distinguishes ‘good’, i.e. cognitively virtuous and politically emancipatory abstraction, from ‘bad’, i.e. cognitively deficient and politically reactionary abstraction. How do the abstract categories of the Marxist dialectic – capital, labour, value-form, commodity, circulation, production, etc. – succeed or fail to map contemporary social reality when deployed in competing (and often politically antagonistic) explanations? What theory is fit to recognise ‘the real movement abolishing the present state of things’ in conditions of real subsumption?
I want to broach this question by contrasting accelerationism’s attempt at tracking the ‘real movement’ with that of Jacques Camatte, whose text The Wandering of Humanity is not only contemporaneous with those of classical accelerationism but shares their central premise – labour’s complete integration into capital – while drawing a radically different conclusion. Capital’s ‘domestication’ of humanity is to be countered not through the Nietzschean overcoming of the ‘all too human’ (the unleashing of desiring-production, etc.) but through the human community’s complete exit from the ‘community of capital’ enforced under real subsumption. Camatte’s analyses in many ways prefigure those of contemporary proponents of communisation. The group Endnotes define communisation as ‘the direct destruction of the self-reproducing relation in which workers as workers – and capital as self-valorising value – are and come to be.’ But as we shall see, Endnotes reject Camatte’s account of the logic of subsumption as well as his claim that human communities can withdraw from capital’s self-reproducing relation. They argue (rightly, in my view) that there can be no exit from the capital relation because it constitutes us: ‘What we are is, at the deepest level, constituted by this relation, and it is a rupture with the reproduction of what we are that will necessarily form the horizon of our struggles.’ Thus there can be no secession from the capital relation, only its abolition. Communisation is the name for this abolition-in-process. This is a lucid and compelling thesis. But it is the exact sense in which we are constituted by the capital relation, as well as the link between the cognitive and practical conditions for its abolition, that I would like to examine below. The rationale for doing so is the following: although radically antagonistic, communisation and accelerationism can be usefully contrasted in such a way that each illuminates the other’s blindspot in the articulation of cognitive and social abstraction.
1. — The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object [der Gegenstand], actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object [Objekts], or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in opposition to materialism, was developed by idealism — but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects [Objekte], differentiated from thought-objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective [gegenständliche] activity. In The Essence of Christianity [Das Wesen des Christenthums], he therefore regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and defined only in its dirty-Jewish form of appearance [Erscheinungsform]. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.
2. — The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking, in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
3. — The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change [Selbstveränderung] can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.
4. — Feuerbach starts off from the fact of religious self-estrangement [Selbstentfremdung], of the duplication of the world into a religious, imaginary world, and a secular [weltliche] one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work, the chief thing still remains to be done. For the fact that the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must itself be understood in its contradiction and then, by the removal of the contradiction, revolutionised. Thus, for instance, once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must itself be annihilated [vernichtet] theoretically and practically.
5. — Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants sensuous contemplation [Anschauung]; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.
6. — Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man [menschliche Wesen = ‘human nature’]. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence is hence obliged:
- To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment regarded by itself, and to presuppose an abstract — isolated - human individual.
- The essence therefore can by him only be regarded as ‘species’, as an inner ‘dumb’ generality which unites many individuals only in a natural way.
7. — Feuerbach consequently does not see that the ‘religious sentiment’ is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual that he analyses belongs in reality to a particular social form.
8. — All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.
9. — The highest point reached by contemplative [anschauende] materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society [bürgerlichen Gesellschaft].
10. — The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society or social humanity.
11. — Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
— Karl Marx, Theses On Feuerbach, 1845
Considering the social capital in its totality, the movement of its accumulation now causes periodical changes, affecting it more or less as a whole, now distributes its various phases simultaneously over the different spheres of production. In some spheres a change in the composition of capital occurs without increase of its absolute magnitude, as a consequence of simple centralisation; in others the absolute growth of capital is connected with absolute diminution of its variable constituent, or of the labour power absorbed by it; in others again, capital continues growing for a time on its given technical basis, and attracts additional labour power in proportion to its increase, while at other times it undergoes organic change, and lessens its variable constituent; in all spheres, the increase of the variable part of capital, and therefore of the number of labourers employed by it, is always connected with violent fluctuations and transitory production of surplus population, whether this takes the more striking form of the repulsion of labourers already employed, or the less evident but not less real form of the more difficult absorption of the additional labouring population through the usual channels. With the magnitude of social capital already functioning, and the degree of its increase, with the extension of the scale of production, and the mass of the labourers set in motion, with the development of the productiveness of their labour, with the greater breadth and fulness of all sources of wealth, there is also an extension of the scale on which greater attraction of labourers by capital is accompanied by their greater repulsion; the rapidity of the change in the organic composition of capital, and in its technical form increases, and an increasing number of spheres of production becomes involved in this change, now simultaneously, now alternately. The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus population; and it does this to an always increasing extent. This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production; and in fact every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically valid within its limits and only in so far as man has not interfered with them.
But if a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost. Independently of the limits of the actual increase of population, it creates, for the changing needs of the self-expansion of capital, a mass of human material always ready for exploitation. With accumulation, and the development of the productiveness of labour that accompanies it, the power of sudden expansion of capital grows also; it grows, not merely because the elasticity of the capital already functioning increases, not merely because the absolute wealth of society expands, of which capital only forms an elastic part, not merely because credit, under every special stimulus, at once places an unusual part of this wealth at the disposal of production in the form of additional capital; it grows, also, because the technical conditions of the process of production themselves — machinery, means of transport, &c. — now admit of the rapidest transformation of masses of surplus-product into additional means of production. The mass of social wealth, overflowing with the advance of accumulation, and transformable into additional capital, thrusts itself frantically into old branches of production, whose market suddenly expands, or into newly formed branches, such as railways, &c., the need for which grows out of the development of the old ones. In all such cases, there must be the possibility of throwing great masses of men suddenly on the decisive points without injury to the scale of production in other spheres. Overpopulation supplies these masses. The course characteristic of modern industry, viz., a decennial cycle (interrupted by smaller oscillations), of periods of average activity, production at high pressure, crisis and stagnation, depends on the constant formation, the greater or less absorption, and the re-formation of the industrial reserve army or surplus population. In their turn, the varying phases of the industrial cycle recruit the surplus population, and become one of the most energetic agents of its reproduction. This peculiar course of modern industry, which occurs in no earlier period of human history, was also impossible in the childhood of capitalist production. The composition of capital changed but very slowly. With its accumulation, therefore, there kept pace, on the whole, a corresponding growth in the demand for labour. Slow as was the advance of accumulation compared with that of more modern times, it found a check in the natural limits of the exploitable labouring population, limits which could only be got rid of by forcible means to be mentioned later. The expansion by fits and starts of the scale of production is the preliminary to its equally sudden contraction; the latter again evokes the former, but the former is impossible without disposable human material, without an increase, in the number of labourers independently of the absolute growth of the population. This increase is effected by the simple process that constantly “sets free” a part of the labourers; by methods which lessen the number of labourers employed in proportion to the increased production. The whole form of the movement of modern industry depends, therefore, upon the constant transformation of a part of the labouring population into unemployed or half-employed hands. The superficiality of Political Economy shows itself in the fact that it looks upon the expansion and contraction of credit, which is a mere symptom of the periodic changes of the industrial cycle, as their cause. As the heavenly bodies, once thrown into a certain definite motion, always repeat this, so is it with social production as soon as it is once thrown into this movement of alternate expansion and contraction. Effects, in their turn, become causes, and the varying accidents of the whole process, which always reproduces its own conditions, take on the form of periodicity. When this periodicity is once consolidated, even Political Economy then sees that the production of a relative surplus population — i.e., surplus with regard to the average needs of the self-expansion of capital — is a necessary condition of modern industry.