Notes on Re-reading Postone VII: Capital.

Since I’ve been knocking Postone for treating capital as a bad externalized abstraction I thought I should post how he defines capital in section three of TLSD. To be fair he does move towards substantiating why capital is an intrinsic dynamic in terms of surplus value, valorization etc. He also hits the few points others hit in interpreting capital as subject. But I would still argue that this account is too abstract in the sense that it does not describe the fragmented social conditions etc. that constitute the imperatives of this dynamic. In some ways this might have to do with how Postone’s interprets the structure of Capital. He essentially treats all three volumes as further realizations of the essence of the commodity form and abstract labour. This goes against other accounts that view Marx’s presentation as unfolding more complex determinations and hence what I would argue is a more complex account. It can also be seen to differ with Banaji’s account of the two starting points of Capital or Arthur’s notion that part one already presupposes capital both of which I would also argue bypass the problems of Postone’s reading and are able to grasp the categories of money and capital as more complex categories rather than as realizations of the commodities structure.

Postone’s treatment of this process of unfolding can be seen here:

one should note that, within the structure of Marx’s argument, just as the concept of capital as self-valorizing value retrospectively illuminates his earlier determinations of the twofold character of the commodity, the concept of labor power as a commodity retrospectively illuminates the idea that the commodity as a value is constituted by abstract labor—that is, by labor as a socially mediating activity.

His definition of capital here:

The formula M-C-M’ does not refer to a process whereby wealth in general is increased but to a process whereby value is increased. Marx calls the quantitative difference between M and M’ surplus value.Value becomes capital, according to Marx, as a result of a process of the valorization of value, whereby its magnitude is increased. His analysis of capital seeks to grasp modern society in terms of a dynamic process inherent in those social relations which are objectified in the value form of wealth and, hence, in the value form of the surplus. What characterizes modern society, according to this analysis, is that the social surplus exists in the form of surplus value, and that this form implies a dynamic…

Capital, then, is a category of movement, of expansion; it is a dynamic category, “value in motion.” This social form is alienated, quasi-independent, exerts a mode of abstract compulsion and constraint on people, and is in motion. Consequently, Marx accords it the attribute of agency. His initial determination of capital, then, is as self-valorizing value, as the self-moving substance that is subject….

The movement of capital is without limit, without end. As self-valorizing value, it appears as pure process. In dealing with the category of capital, then, one is dealing with a central category of a society that becomes characterized by a constant directional movement with no determinate external telos, a society driven by production for the sake of production, by a process that exists for the sake of process.24 This expansion, this ceaseless motion is, within the framework of Marx’s analysis, intrinsically related to the temporal dimension of value. As we shall see, Marx’s concept of self-valorizing value attempts to grasp an alienated form of social relations that possesses an intrinsic temporal dynamic; this alienated form constitutes an immanent logic of history, gives rise to a particular structure of labor, and continually transforms social life while recon- stituting its underlying capitalist character. 269-270





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Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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3 Responses to Notes on Re-reading Postone VII: Capital.

  1. Pingback: Critical Notes on Moishe Postone « communism

  2. i’ve read your blog a few times and hadn’t ever seen these posts somehow. strikingly similar take on Postone as i had (and weirdly, i don’t see a lot of these critiques in the few critiques of Postone that are out there.) agree about the writing/structure of TLSD–it’s frankly just bad and bizarrely structured. i was reading it as part of an undergraduate thesis on whether value-form theory offers any political guideposts so i was dealing with, in part, his attempt to historicize the structure/agency dichotomy. i think his claim that it itself is a sort of reification that ultimately is grounded in capitalist social relations (sort of a la Sohn-Rethel imho) was interesting but he really didn’t theorize it enough and he said in a couple interviews that he basically doesn’t believe in agency but he does believe in the power of structure which imho is not really Aufheben that particular contradiction…have you read Werner Bonefeld’s critique in Historical Materialism? that and Robert Albritton’s critiques were the ones i found most compelling, a lot of the others are more technical disagreements that don’t seem to challenge a lot of Postone’s weird retreat into philo. idealism. sorry for the rambling thoughts, just wanted to say that this was a cool find and i appreciate your critical take!

    • HR says:

      I thought Arthur’s criticism that Postone put the cart before the horse, by focusing on abstract labour rather than money, was also good. In many ways Postone’s reliance on AL and mediation rather than money might be said to be one of the reasons his theory remains at such a high level of abstraction and generalisation.

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