Clarke on Fetishism and the problem of labour today

From the CSE Labour Debate:

“The problem of labour today is not a problem of a lack of consciousness or the lack of a desire to change the world. The problem is how to change a world which is, to a greater degree than ever before, driven by anonymous forces, dominated by the movement of money as the alienated form through which alone ‘the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear’. This is a problem that confronts the millions of people without work and without any hope of work; that confronts those driven to work for wages that do not even cover their subsistence in conditions that threaten their health and life; that confronts those who may be wellpaid but whose work is increasingly insecure and subject to the ever-greater intensification of labour. It is a problem that is being posed within the labour movement which, for all its faults, is the only collective expression of the interests and aspirations of labour, in hundreds of different ways, at every level and in every part of the world. In this situation progressive intellectuals have a responsibility to supplement the intellectual resources of the labour movement, to help to broaden its understanding and its horizons, to analyse the movements of capital, to contribute to the critique of the modern forms of vulgar economy, to find and learn from new ways of organising and new forms of struggle so that the labour movement can begin to reverse the setbacks and defeats of the last twenty years. It is only when the subordination of labour to the production and appropriation of surplus value has been abolished that the potential to minimise the burden of labour that has been created by the capitalist development of the forces of production can be realised. It is only when the labourers have recovered their free time from capital that they will be transformed into a different subject, free to discover the creative powers of their labour, which in all previous societies has been the privilege of a few, whose own freedom rested on the forcible appropriation of the products of the labour of others.”


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Kerr on Lefebvre

Greig Charnock’s recent important article , ‘Lost in Space?’, brings attention to Derek Kerr’s unjustly neglected article on Lefebvre in this issue of Common Sense.

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The Rhythm of Capital

Happy to find this, as part of my lecture tomorrow is on Lefebvre’s notion of Rhythmanalysis, its a website of video footage that provides a rhythmanalysis of Amsterdam. (link works now)

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On Adorno’s Relevance.

All to pertinent bit of an article i’ve been working on:

This Adornian analysis would thus start from the premises that contemporary capitalist society is a comprehensive negative totality reproduced according to the dynamic of Marx’s theory of value, accumulation and crisis. For exchange, and its dominating and antagonistic dynamic, is still key to society. Yet, in the light of the transformations Mattick points too such an analysis of late capitalism and post-industrial society could no longer hold that mass production, state management and international relations counteract this dynamic. Rather, since as I have shown, these modifications lead to a crisis, which in turn led to their own modification. It would then argue that as a result of the developments assayed in the previous section that the transformations in production technology, state administration and international global relations, no longer counteract the law of crisis by preventing the development of a contradiction between overinvestment and immiseration, but seem to encourage it, whilst still deriving from the law of value. For as Nick Dyer Witherford shows, investment in new technological development is now increasingly realized in the superfluity of sectors of the workforce due to technological advances such as mechanization, automation, roboticization etc. Moreover, the post-Keynesian state’s management of economic stability following the crisis has not consisted in full employment or welfare, but in bailouts and austerity leading to the further gutting of the welfare state and social provisions and the further accrual of state debt.. Finally, the continuing outsourcing of jobs to areas of the Global South previously unaffected by outsourcing continues to lower worker’s wages.

It would also point to how these developments have had the cumulative effect of undermining the material bases of integration that Adorno’s analysis pointed to. The western workforce is no longer assured full employment, let alone job stability, decent wages and a high standard of living. Instead, jobs are increasingly characterized by lower wages, the rise of service sector employment and contingency. Coupled with the diminishment of social provisions, the continued reliance on credit and the persistence of growing debt, and rising surplus populations leads to the conclusion that immiseration has reasserted itself. At the same time, despite automation and bailouts, the recovery has been anemic at best. Indeed, it seems like another crisis, or at least a significant downturn is in the offing.

This has led to contentions that Marx or maybe even socialism is back. Indeed the erosion of the material conditions of so many might suggest that class consciousness is, or soon might be, re-emergent. Yet this does not seem to be the case. Certainly there have been a number of populist anti-austerity movements in the west in the wake of the 2008 – such as occupy. There has also been a wave of left, or at least anti-neoliberal, electoral successes; including not only Syrizia and Podemos, but the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour in the UK and the surprising popularity of the Sanders campaign in the USA. Yet the rhetoric of these movements and electoral campaigns were predominantly characterized by calls for fair governance, and often a return to the very type of administrative governance of the mid-20th century Adorno describes above: not the abolition of capitalist society. Moreover, the case can be made that regressive anti-austerity and anti-government movements, such as the Five Star Movement, Trump and the Brexit campaign have been more successful than progressive ones.

This leads to a rather grim diagnosis. For it seems not only that capitalism’s crisis tendencies have reappeared, but also that the modifications to industrial society have failed to revive profits whilst exacerbating rather than counteracting misery. Finally, this very process continues effectively unopposed. Insofar as class consciousness is still integrated into society the only conceivable alternative may even be much worse.

Yet I contend that such a diagnosis points to the contemporary relevance of the aspect of Adorno’s thought this article has focused on. For as I have shown, in contrast to the popular conception that he abandoned the critique of political economy following Dialectic of Enlightenment, not only the law of value but the law of crisis can be seen to have been essential aspects of his critical theory of society and indeed his periodisation of late capitalism and industrial society. Moreover, as I have also argued, such an interpretation points to suitability of an Adornian analysis of contemporary society. For it seems very much the case that the process of reproduction in contemporary capitalist society still hangs over us a doom in a time now marked by pronounced misery and the reassertion of capitalism’s crisis-prone dynamic perpetuated by the very social institutions that had once counteracted it. If this is the case it would seem to behoove contemporary critical theory to follow Adorno aligning the critical theory of society and the critique of political economy in order to critique the reproduction of this crisis prone exchange dynamic.

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Surplus Population, History and Obstinacy

Negt: “You could put it like this: The labor power that capital can tie down by dint of Taylorism is markedly decreasing in both capitalist countries and Third World countries. More and more living labor power is slipping out of capital- ist production processes. This must have political consequences, which will also affect the formation of theories. Take, for instance, the industrial reserve army [of labor, produced by permanent unemployment]: In Marx’s thinking it had an economic function that was clearly defined, namely, to increase wage pressure, but it was not to last for all eternity. Today, by comparison, we have a structurally growing industrial reserve army that is tending toward including the whole of society and, increasingly, threatening to cut labor power off from reality. I can’t say what this specifically means in terms of changes to the formation of theories; History and Obstinacy is an attempt to  represent these changes in both their form and content and not merely to list them as economic principles.”



The fewer opportunities a subject has to appropriate these productive forces, the more often the latter turn into destructive forces. This is one of the core issues in our theory of labor power. It is not only that a growing number of work- ers—and also a growing number of labor characteristics—are unemployed in capitalist labor conditions; it is also that in the long term, these characteristics are being scrapped by being deobjectified.


Knödler-Bunte: Assuming you are right that norms of achievement and their corresponding instances of somatization disappear, what means do people (having fallen out of work or having withdrawn from it) now use to constitute their own subjectivity? Alternative projects are certainly not enough—particularly from the point of view of society as a whole. Does the identity of the ego not specifically need to be interrupted through objectification?

Negt: I think it is quite conceivable that the classic concept of alienation is no longer valid. If individuals today are plunged into a condition of alienation by a loss of objects yet are barely able to achieve the necessary distance from it in view of that experience of loss, then the question is within what context can the capacity for practical critique be honed? I don’t believe that this condition of alienation—when it takes on mass dimensions—will just be experienced on a private basis. By now alienation, as a condition, has already reached the ruling class and thus a qualitative leap has been made.”

— The History of Living Labor Power: A Discussion with Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge

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Backhaus on Fetishism

“The subject of my work is basically only one thing: the problem of fetishism. It presents itself in three ways: as the the objectivity of the economic object, then as the problem of its contradictory structure, ie as the problem of unity and difference, and finally as analysis on the basis of non-empirical theories.” H.G. Backhaus introduction to Dialektik der Wertform.

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Clarke on Fetishism

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