Skip to main content


Showing posts from April 4, 2010

metaphysical subtleties

I’m most dissatisfied with the fact that, in the interesting comments in my post on circulation work, I squirted a darkness as of squid ink over the issue at hand. Since the point is important – the place (or not) of productive and unproductive labor in Marx – I’m going to make a brief post that will only make sense to those who’ve read the comments thread. I think the question is mired, a bit, in another issue. Undoubtedly, capitalism contains a heterogenous mix of incompletely capitalist economic forms. A woman who works as a maid, or a groom in the stable on a rich man’s estate, are not much different than a craftsman who runs his own shop. What Marx calls simple circulation locates a stage in the development of capitalism, in which the valorization process is, as it were, immature. The maid’s service in the house is paid for immediately. If she is exploited, it is not because the people who pay her are using her to create capital – at least directly. As a self employed person, she

Commodities and Reality, or Balzac and a peach

I found a reference to a conversation recorded by Leon Gozlan between Vidocq and Balzac in Robb’s biography of the latter. I went to Gozlan (o, the things you can do on the Internet!) to read it myself. I am not sure what to make of Gozlan, who may well have been heavily fictionalizing himself. In any case, he sets this story about the time that Balzac was trying to cut Les Paysans for its serialization. Readers of LI will remember that Marx chose to illustrate the force of the capitalist system, as it borders older, archaic modes of production, with the story of Les Paysans. According to Gozlan, the process left Balzac tired and discouraged. Vidocq, who was among the company who had gathered at Balzac’s place one night, saw this, and said: “I say that you give yourself a lot of pain, Monsieur de Balzac, to create stories of the other world when reality is before your eyes, near your ear, under your hand.” “Ah, how charming, you believe in reality! I would never have supposed that you

Haunted by the circulation worker

I was talking to a friend the other day about Marx… do I talk about anything else, lately… and I explained that Marx just can’t be right when he writes that that “circulation” work does not produce value. In fact, as I have discovered, the secondary sources, those offshore oracles, are generally silent about circulation work. David Laibman has a good run down on the topic, concluding: “Of the three significant definitions of unproductive labor – socioeconomic, evaluative and analytic – the first is operational but uninteresting; the second operational but unanchored in value-theoretic categories; the third ambition in the value-theoretic sense, but unoperational, and therefore invalid.” In other words, let’s smack our hands together and say, enough of this nonsense! Unfortunately, mine is a life of few experiences, and simple pleasures. Wordsworth, a man of independent means who wanted a life of few experiences and simple pleasures, had the rentier income that allowed him to go tromp