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and their corresponding instances of somatization disappear, what means do people (having fallen out of work or having withdrawn from it) now use to constitute their own subjectivity?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Negt: I think it is quite conceivable that the classic concept of alienation is no longer valid.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

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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