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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Dixi et salvavi animam meam.

But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

Marx’s God was entirely higher order of divine beast, who had in his hand a bill of indictment linking the thread counts of every yard of sack cloth to the bloody fingers of its blind seamstress.

As I have indicated, Marx’s well known doctrine according to which the contradictions of capitalism vow it to a perpectual cycle of crisis became a polemical weapon to move socialism to an accomodationist position, one in which the governing class, periodically repenting its evils and reforming its regulations, would thus turn away the evil that otherwise would be done to them by the proletariat.

It was over this issue that the lion roared his last great roar – which, as is well known, discomforted the lion’s supposed heirs. One of the costs of inheriting holy writ from a man who is still alive is that the author can unexpectedly round on the adorers. When Marx received the Gotha program, around which the Socialist Democratic Worker’s Party was to be organized, he recognized the imprint of his old antagonist, Lassalle. Old antagonist, and yet co-worker –for it was through Lassalle that Marx’s name became known in Germany. After Marx’s death, Engels, who was, now, the revered elder, found that nevertheless, times had moved on, and Marx’s intemperate remarks (had the prophet gone senile?) were not the kind of things to be published for everybody to read. Marx’s glosses are scathing - about the rhetoric of the program, about the nationalism, about the idolatry of the state, about the peace and democracy platitudes that disguised the police state, about the sentimentalizing of work, about the desire to chase women – witches once again! - out of the public sphere, and seemingly willing to pick nits concerning labor and labor power.

But Marx never made a mountain out of a molehill that did not, to his eye, contain a Himalayan potential. Lassalle’s men, Marx saw, had moved communism backwards: back to a theory about distribution. Back to the pre-scientific socialists.

Marx never wrote a book entitled “Distribution”. The point of Capital was not that the system of distribution was unjust – rather the point of Capital was that the system of production was inhuman, a contradiction at every point of what the definition of the human that had emerged in the great revolutions that had founded our modernity.

Lassalle, of course, won. At least he has up until now. Marx’s demand is so total – involving as it does the dissolution of classes as the result of the overthrow of capitalism – that the reader, even today, instinctively flinches. Leon Bloy, Marx’s Catholic antithesis, has the same fierce sense of demand, which, for him, is the essence of divinity. God demands that you eat his flesh and drink his blood. And all of civilized Christianity, and every truism about family, and every attempt to make that demand the equivalent of being good, is an absolute falling away from the divine. The absolute, in the fallen world, always takes on the mask of the banal.

… In the Grundrisse, Marx clearly sets out the contradictions inherent in capitalism, the sum total of which expresses itself in crisis.

"First of all, there is a limit, not inherent to production generally, but to production founded on capital. This limit is double, or rather the same regarded from two directions. It is enough here to demonstrate that capital contains a particular restriction of production -- which contradicts its general tendency to drive beyond every barrier to production -- in order to have uncovered the foundation of overproduction, the fundamental contradiction of developed capital; in order to have uncovered, more generally, the fact that capital is not, as the economists believe, the absolute form for the development of the forces of production -- not the absolute form for that, nor the form of wealth which absolutely coincides with the development of the forces of production. The stages of production which precede capital appear, regarded from its standpoint, as so many fetters upon the productive forces. It itself, however, correctly understood, appears as the condition of the development of the forces of production as long as they require an external spur, which appears at the same time as their bridle. … These immanent limits have to coincide with the nature of capital, with the essential character of its very concept. These necessary limits are:

(1)Necessary labor as the limit of the exchange value of the potential of living labor, or of the wage of the industrial population;
2) Surplus value as limit on surplus labour time; and, in regard to relative surplus labour time, as barrier to the development of the forces of production;
(3) What is the same, the transformation into money, exchange value as such, as limit of production; or exchange founded on value, or value founded on exchange, as limit of production. This is:
(4) again the same as restriction of the production of use values by exchange value; or that real wealth has to take on a specific form distinct from itself, a form not absolutely identical with it, in order to become an object of production at all.
However, these limits come up against the general tendency of capital (which showed itself in simple circulation, where money as medium of circulation appeared as merely an evanescent thing, without independent necessity, and hence not as limit and barrier) to forget and abstract from:
(1) necessary labour as limit of the exchange value of living labour capacity; (2) surplus value as the limit of surplus labour and development of the forces of production; (3) money as the limit of production; (4) the restriction of the production of use values by exchange value."

These internal limits of capitalism are the key to the surface problem of distribution. Because production is tied indirectly to use value – on the one hand, the use value, to the capitalist, of the working time he buys, and on the other hand, the use value to the potential consumer of the commodity – there is no direct connection between the use value of the product and the quantity in which it is manufactured. It is, as it were, manufactured blindly. But in as much as the more the capitalist can exploit the laborer, the more surplus value he gains, the tendency is weighted towards overproduction. This is rooted not directly in the conditions of the marketplace, but more fundamentally to the conditions of production under capitalism. In as much as circulation work is subject to the same logic, it, too, will be overproduced. Every time we pick out a region of commodification in capitalist society, we will find the tendency to overproduction. Thus, to use Arlie Hochschild’s example of the emotional labor of the airline hostess – it, too, will be subject to overproduction. If the smile is your asset, you will find – as Hochschild’s interviewees affirm – that you never stop smiling. Emotional labor consists in producing, after all, the signs of emotion. Whether these signs are ‘real’ or not is as immaterial to the enterprise as the advertising slogans on the juice can are immaterial to the grocery store that sells it.
Thus, production is both limited by the incentive system that draws it forth to continually misalign itself with total use value – giving us, for instance, more pills for male pattern baldness, and less research into malaria – and is compelled to offer ever more commodities and ‘choices’, ultimately driving down the level of the realization of the value of these things for the capitalist.

At the end of the Gotha program, Marx signs off with the latin sentence we are quoting as the title of this post. It means, I have spoken and saved my soul. This must be the last sentence in my little book on Marx. As the critique of the Gotha Program might be Marx’s last roar, it is important to note that he was a lion to the very end.

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