Many Marxisms/Many Communisms.

Jodi Dean has a new post on Value-form theory. While it should come as no surprise I disagree with her criticisms of value-form theory, I think the piece is an interesting illustration of how different readings of Marx lead to different conceptions of communism.

For instance Dean’s criticism of Endnotes interpretation of value:

At the same time, there is something here that feels elite and surgical, like an extraction or excision of workers and their productive labor. It’s like the people who matter, in their material work and lives, somehow don’t matter anymore. It’s as if the real movement of people as the actuality of communism is jettisoned. My discomfort here is part and parcel with my dislike of emphases on alienation and reification. Those seem designed to show how capitalists are also trapped and oppressed, how everyone is caught in a bad system. I don’t buy it. I think that there are elites who benefit from the system, who like the system, and who even if they are somewhat alienated would gladly pay for their privilege with a little alienation. In fact, I think complete disalientation is an illusion.

is reflected in what I take to be her conception of the overcoming of value and communism:

So the good thing about the value form is that it equates different kinds of labor in the form of abstract labor power. The problem with capitalism is that it doesn’t go far enough in this direction. Instead, hedge fund managers are somehow more valuable than school teachers or factory laborers. Uneven equalization is thus equalization as the proletarianization of the rest of us while the very, very few at the top are unique, singular, and super-rich. It’s like the long-tail (power-law, 80/20 rule) version of employment. I don’t think, then, that the equalization I support would count as abolishing the value form. I think it would be better describing as realizing it (in keeping with the already ongoing liberation of labor from the commodity form via unpaid labor).

While these ideas are not part of the Marxist discourse I am a part of, and don’t resemble my understanding of Marx or communism, I’m curious to find out more about Dean’s work and where her interpretations come from. Is anyone familiar with her work?

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About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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5 Responses to Many Marxisms/Many Communisms.

  1. Anjie Zheng says:

    Certainly, and to be fair, I’ve read little or nothing of Jodi Dean’s work (although I would like to and I will try to), but I disagree with most of her entry.

    But first, credit where credit is due. She makes a valid (or potentially valid) point that an exclusive focus on value-form theory can come at the cost of ignoring concrete and real socioeconomic conditions that affect workers. I try not to fall into that trap by understanding that attaining a strong, valid and politically relevant knowledge of value-form theory presents a twofold challenge: understanding the theory *and* trying to make connections between the theory to concrete and contemporary social and economic conditions.

    Now as to my disagreements, here’s one example, “My discomfort here is part and parcel with my dislike of emphases on alienation and reification. Those seem designed to show how capitalists are also trapped and oppressed, how everyone is caught in a bad system. I don’t buy it. I think that there are elites who benefit from the system, who like the system, and who even if they are somewhat alienated would gladly pay for their privilege with a little alienation. In fact, I think complete disalientation is an illusion.”

    Well, I doubt theorists working on Marxian value-form theory (and thus the Marxian critique of political economy) are arguing that the capitalist is “also trapped and oppressed” in the capitalist system. This socioeconomic class certainly benefits from the system too (as many contemporary rich-poor divisions in various countries demonstrate). However, said theorists *do* argue that the capitalist and working classes are collective social formations that *specifically* exist and operate within capitalism. It’s in that sense that the capitalist is as much a part of capitalism as the wage laborer.

    Furthermore and finally, you quote her as writing, “So the good thing about the value form is that it equates different kinds of labor in the form of abstract labor power. The problem with capitalism is that it doesn’t go far enough in this direction.”

    The sentence starting out as “The problem with….” should be cringe-inducing for any serious communist theorist. The problem with capitalism is that it doesn’t go far enough in allowing the value-form to equate more acts of concrete labor into abstract labor? That’s basically a call for *more* capitalism, for extending commodity exchange and production relationships into additional aspects of society. It’s up there with David Harvey calling for an “alternate” value-form under socialism – he makes this statement in his Capital volume one lectures.

    Tony Smith, in “The Logic of Marx’s Capital,” writes that a post-capitalist society worthy of the adjective “socialist” or “communist” is one that exists without the value-form. I’ll take Smith over Dean and Harvey on this any day.

  2. Anjie Zheng says:

    As for Dean herself, she’s a professor of political and media theory and the author of “The Communist Horizon” (Verso, 2012).

    http://www.versobooks.com/authors/1647-jodi-dean

    • HR says:

      Yes, I agree with both of your points.

      I’m watching her talk on the Communist Horizon now which seems to be the best source of information about how she conceives of communism:

    • HR says:

      From what I’ve gathered so far her notion of communism seems to be inherently political. Theoretically it seems to be derived from Zizek and post-structuralism, while her argument aims to interject into contemporary political discourse as a way to bypass liberalism and anarchism. When she discusses ‘traditional Marxism’ she cites Lenin. I have not heard her cite Marx. She also makes some interesting points but i’m not sure that the terms communism etc. are necessary for what she is arguing.

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