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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marx and the two removes

Last year, I did a rather hasty reading of the chapter on circulation work in Capital, Chapter six. In thinking about homo economicus, I’ve returned to chapters five through seven and thought more seriously about Marx’s analysis – his counter-magic - here. For Marx, in writing these chapters, is taking aim at an idea that took root in Mill and has now blossomed, abundantly, in every apology for the insane incomes of CEOs that one finds strewn across the pages of the mainstream economists today. Marx, in one of those dense/light passages in which he specialized (in which the heavy machinery of his concepts seems, at the same time, to be making the moves like Fred Astaire showboating), wrote, in Chapter 5:

The circulation time [Umlaufszeit – orbital time] of Capital thus puts limits overall on its production time, and thus its valorization process. And actually it puts these limits on the latter in relation to its own duration. [-R:that is, the duration of circulation time] This can vary a lot, either increasing or decreasing, and thus limit in very different degrees the production time of capital. But what the political economy sees is that which appears, namely the effect of the circulation time on the valorization process of capital in general. It grasps this negative affect as positive, because its consequences are positive. It insists even more on this semblence as it seems to deliver the proof that capital possess a independent mystical source of self-valorization apart from the exploitation of labor, that flows to it out of the circulation process. We will later see how even the scientific economists can be deluded by this semblence. It is, as will be shown, strengthened through various phenomena: a. the capitalistic mode of calculating profits, wherein the negative ground figures as positive, since for capitals in different spheres of investment, where the circulation time only functions differently, as longer circulation times serve as the ground of the elevation of prices, in short, as one of the grounds for the equalization of profits; 2. the circulation time constitutes only one moment in the circulation time, as the lateer includes the production time or reproduction time. What is due to the latter, seems due to the circulation time. 3. The conversion of commodities into variable capital (workers wages) is conditioned through its previous metamorphosis into money. By capital accumulation the conversion into additional variable capital occurs in the circulation sphere, or during the circulation time. The accumulation thus resulting seems to be owing to the latter.”

My translation, I should say.

As always, in Marx, the moment of demystification is the moment in which the images in the camera obscura of ideology are reversed – this is Marx’s deep connection to Michelet’s witch, who reverses the sacred verses in order to find the material truth about society.

Marx’s distinction between the two spheres starts an analytic process by which a new definition of value, or a new way of seeing value, is slyly introduced. In Chapter 6, as we will see, there is a fleeting reference to the difference between value for – or from the perspective of – society and value for the capitalist. The circulation worker, as Marx will make clear, is formally exploited like the production worker – her time is exploited – but not in terms of the surplus value she produces. She produces an instrumental value in terms of the sphere of circulation, but – as circulation produces no value – she cannot produce surplus value.

I will go more into that in another post. But let me hastily draw some large conclusions. I think we can find, here, the basis for a model of modernization that moves forward in “two removes” – the remove from nature and the remove from production. When Peter Drucker, in the sixties, began to popularize the idea that capitalist economy had entered a new phase with the domination of the ‘knowledge worker’, there was a core of truth in his idea, even if it was the realization of conditions that had long been the case: in modernization, the sphere of production is not only the sphere in which value is produced, but it is also marked down for shrinkage – like agriculture – as it becomes occluded by the sphere of circulation. The importance of clerk literature – Gogol’s discovery of the banal – comes about as the sociological and existential consequence of the fact that the supposed duality between culture and nature is really a threefold matter, which the circulation worker feels in his or her bones – not only does ‘culture’ block nature, but so does production. The sense that the movement of paper – or bytes – is removed from value sinks, of course, to the bottom of the collective consciousness – it is a much repressed truth – and yet it continually returns. It is in these sociological and existential conditions that homo economicus is introjected into the developed economies, and, in as much as they represent the iron and inalterable path in which all parts of the world market are moving, the destiny for the populations of all developed countries, who are not only on the treadmill of production, but that of circulation as well.

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