Article Ideas/tired tirade on Personfication.

Another thing I need to be working on is publishing articles. Publish and perish and all that jazz. So expect some upcoming posts on sketches for article ideas. This should be one of them. But i’m to tired and ornery from a day of cutting paper and marking essay.  So instead, here are two polemical theses on Marx’s concept of personification: (a) deals with the problem of Structure and Agency Postone seems to think his new interpretation of Marx might have. (at least this is one of the things he signals towards and never seems to have followed up on. (b) might be used to batter that tedious debate between Marxist humanists and Althusserians to shit.

The argument for (a) runs dangerously close to characterizing Marx’s theory of personification as ‘dialectical.’ This is true only insofar as you want to obfuscate how Marx’s theory of social constitution and inversion interact. If you think its helpful to say its a dialectic and that it mediates peoples actions and leave it at that be my guest. To me an full fledged account of how social labour constitutes personified things, capitalist valorization and the law of value which invert to personify and compel the action of individuals seems more interesting. So too does a discussion of how this process consists in agents constituting a structure which then compels agents. This full fledged account can also bypass Postone by articulating how money–not just this abstract entity called abstract labour–functions in this process.

Idea (b) is sorta related to (a) in the sense that the theory of personification seems to overcome the one sided humanists and althusserian interpretations of Capital. One might argue that such a theory points to Marx having a different conception of human nature in Capital, wherein humans are the only animals that can collectively construct social structures that in turn construct them.


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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11 Responses to Article Ideas/tired tirade on Personfication.

  1. Robert says:

    I am about half-way through my second attempt at Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value right now. I’m assuming this work holds some significant import for you, although I can’t recall explicit mention of it in any of your posts. Your use of “…agents constituting a structure which then compels agents” seems especially resonant to me in the way that it encapsulates a key element of Rubin’s understanding of what distinguishes Marx’s method from that of his predecessors. I apologize if this is stating the obvious.

    • HR says:

      Yes, well spotted, Rubin’s interpretation and that Marx passage are where I got the title for this blog. I also draw on it in my thesis as a way of distinguishing between reification and fetishism.

      I suppose the reason I never directly mention Rubin is that he isn’t very fresh in my mind. When I first read the book it was quite revelatory. I’ve revisited parts of it since but not properly. I’m holding off on doing that until HM put out the critical edition of his works, which include a number of revisions and post-faces to the theory of value. I think that’s supposed to come out sometime this year.

      How are you interested in the structure agency problem?

  2. Robert says:

    I should add that, of course, I’ve noticed that the title of your blog is very close to the title of chapter three of Rubin’s Essays – but if I’m not mistaken, your phrasing comes verbatim from Theories of Surplus Value.

  3. Robert says:

    I had no idea HM was planning this – it is supposed to be published in 2012?

    On on the problem of structure/agency, I have always tended toward died-in-the-wool structuralism, thinking strictly within a framework of methodological holism, almost exclusively, hesitating to posit even emergent or epiphenomenal individual subjects.  I’m disposed to thinking that the entire project of theorizing a subject which could in any way be bracketed from social totality, still less a problematic of agency and autonomy, is folly.  I’m so stereotypically Althusserian (maybe pathologically so!), I sometimes wonder how I get out of the bed in the morning. Although, I might mention, when I once discussed the question of revolutionary agency with Richard Seymour, he called me Lukácsian, I guess because I quoted  Mészáros.  I never knew whether this was supposed to be an insult, or his way of suggesting he was done with me.

    • HR says:

      Dunno about the release date, hopefully sometime in 2013. Here be the details:

      We will soon be issuing with Richard Day a thick volume with Rubin’s untranslated writings, including all his essays in “Under the Banner of Marxism”, “Essays on Marx’s Theory of Money,” “The Dialectical Development of Categories in Marx’s Economic System”, “Marx’s Teaching on Production and Consumption”, and a short biography by L.L. Vasina and Ya.I. Rokityanskii.

      A collection of texts by Rubin and by scholars about his life and work has just been published in German. It contains an unpublished book-length text on “Marx’s Theory of Money” by Rubin. I have not read the entire text, but even in the first few pages he seems to anticipate many of the ideas of the German “Neue Marx-Lektüre” since the 1970s, e.g. that value as a concept presupposes money.

      There is also correspondence that shows that Rubin was already a political prisoner when he published his “Essays on Marx’ Theory of Value”. He actually had to ask his OGPU captors to forward his translation of Marx’s “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” to the Marx-Engels-Institute! How absurd that this most talented Marx scholar of his generation became the prisoner and eventually the victim of a state, which had declared Marxism-Leninism its state religion!

      The collection also has a more crisp picture that I could send you. Below is a scan of the table of contents. (The actual texts in the book are in German, unfortunately.)

      /Isaak I. Rubin: /Studies of Marx’s Theory of Money 9

      I.Marx’s Theory of Value and Money 9

      [II.] The Necessity of Money 22

      [III.]Money as the Result of the Contradiction between Use-Value and Exchange Value 25

      [IV.]The Emergence of Money 43

      [V.]Money and Abstract-Social Labour 51

      [VI.]The Measure of Value 62

      [VII.] The Circulation of Money 81

      [VIII.] Money as Treasure 99

      /Ljudmila L. Vasina: /Rubin and his Manuscript on Marx’s Theory of Money 119

      /Wladislaw Hedeler: /Rubinscina 139

      /Ivan A. Boldyrev: /On Rubin’s Interpretation of Marx’s Theory of Money 145

      /Michail G. Pokidcenko: /Rubin’s History of Political Economy and his Criticism of West European Authors 153

      /Jakov G. Rokitjanskij, Rolf Hecker: /The Cabinet for Political Economy under Rubin’s Direction at the Marx-Engels-Institute 167 /Appendix: /Rubin’s Correspondence with the Marx-Engels-Institute (1923- 925) 173

      /Jakov G. Rokitjanskij: /Between Two Prison Terms. An Unknown Period in the Life and Works of Isaak Rubin 183

      /Appendix: /Isaak I. Rubin’s Testimony on November 23, 1937 197

      Bibliography of Isaak I. Rubin’s Works /(Ljudmila L. Vasina) /204

      Register of Persons 211

      Contents 215

    • HR says:

      Shamefully I have not properly read Althusser. I plan to. Have you read Milious work on trying to bring Althusser and Value-form theory together? its intersting.

  4. Robert says:

    I have a PDF of Karl Marx and the Classics that I have not gotten to yet, and have no familiarity with Milios outside of that. I would love to have the picture – really can’t wait for the HM volume! Richard Day’s and Daniel Gaido’s (as well as John Riddell’s) editing/translation work has been nothing short of Herculean. I recently got my hands on a copy of Discovering Imperialism – it’s a theoretical treasure to finally be able to have access to the documents of this crucial debate in English (at the risk of sounding “blurbish”)!

  5. Kambing says:

    If you’re interested in objectification, personification and fetishism as more general social processes rather than only directly in relation to Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism, there’s some interesting anthropological work looking into these, some of which tie in to Marxist value theory as well. I’m thinking particularly of Terry Turner’s stuff (for example, see his ‘Marxian value theory: An anthropological perspective’) as well as some of David Graeber’s work which builds on Turner (eg. his ‘Fetishism as social creativity’). (Graeber is now best known for his recent Debt book, but I think his Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value is actually more significant and definitely worth a read by anyone interested in value theory, Marxist or otherwise).

    There are of course particularities to the forms of objectification/personification associated with capitalist commodity fetishism, yet there is also a commonality in the human process of constructing-and-being-constructed-by objectified social structures and the mediation of this process by personified objects. One of the more persuasive aspects of Graeber’s ‘anthropological theory of value’ is the idea that what is distinctive (and also, from a communist point of view, terrible) about capitalism is not ‘fetishism’ as such but the way in which this fetishism is tied into a further abstracting and alienating system of value. Whereas in other social systems the objectification of value/personification of objects serves a more temporary purpose of mediating a specific social transaction and/or the creation of new social relations, with the ‘fetish’ then being dissolved back into more direct human social relations (vs being dissolved into an even more abstract quantitative form of value). So capitalist fetishism is more ‘reified’, with the personification of objects less clearly the result of human action/imagination, and the objectification of social relations/value a more abstract process less directly subject to conscious human control and dissolution.

    Anyway, I find this approach somewhat fruitful in overcoming any static opposition between structure and agency (of the sort often expressed within Marxist theory as Althusserian vs humanist interpretations). But then I also tend to use “it’s dialectical” as a shorthand for this :).

    • HR says:

      Thanks Kambing you always have excellent reading suggestions! As noted in the title of this post the dig at the use of the dialectic came from being overly tired and trying to write an a more accessible lecture on ‘The Social Construction of Reality.’

  6. Kambing says:

    No problem. It is true that “it’s a dialectical relation” is often used in Marxist versions of “against reductionist theories of ________, this paper addresses the complex interplay of ________ and ________, thus problematising standard understandings of __________ “, which is basically an academic form of vacuous PR waffle.

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