Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reading Capital Politically

I have recently re-read Reading Capital Politically by Harry Cleaver. It's a book that injects contemporary discussion (until 1979) and class analysis into a reading of the first chapter of Karl Marx's Capital, Vol 1. I re-read an e-book edition (below) that I put together from Harry Cleaver's university webpage (which currently - Dec 2012 - no longer contains the files).

My edition is generally not as good as the PDF edition. The main disadvantage is that the footnotes aren't hyper-linked. However, it has the advantage of containing all the prefaces to the various editions that Cleaver has written over the years. It is current as of the preface to the German translation of November 2011. (I excluded the 2011 Polish preface as it is very similar to the German preface.) In that respect, it's the most complete version. I've also done some minor editing.

The formats that you can download are:
Below are some quotes that I found illuminating:

[...] the continuing spread of Taylorist and Fordist deskilling produced such an alienation of young workers from work that, by the 1960s, the desire to take over work and make it less alienating was being more and more replaced by its simple refusal. They didn’t want control; they wanted out.

For Marx, value was only understandable within the context of surplus value. It was not just a form, separable from its content. Value does have a form, exchange value, but it also has a content: imposed labor and the link between value and surplus value is that in the normal course of capital accumulation, the capitalists only impose labor when they can impose surplus labor.

The capitalists are capitalists, not when they consume the surplus, but when they invest it, i.e., when they impose more work. And this is exactly what the socialist critique of capitalist development fails to deal with. By focusing uniquely on the question of who owns or controls the surplus and demanding workers' control, it fails to come to grips with the substance of value and surplus value: endlessly imposed work.

Why did Marx hate money so much? Because it is the quintessential distillation of homogenized labor, of the reduction of all of human life to labor.

Rather than the usual Marxist image of the capitalist with a whip, better the image of would-be managers riding the tiger's back trying to coerce or cajole their mount along different lines of development, frequently coming within a hair's breath of falling off when the tiger rears or comes to a sudden halt, always in danger of the tiger turning around and ripping these upstarts from its back.

To the degree any group of people ruptures capitalist command and carves out their own space, capital responds by doing its best to isolate that space, to sever its connections with the rest of the system, to prevent it from drawing on the productivity of global social production and forcing it to rely on its own limited resources.

[...] the wage is not the only form through which the reduction of humans to abstract labor under capital is accomplished. Not in the Third World, not in the First. In all worlds where it holds sway the central problem for capital is the imposition of work, how it manages to do that is purely secondary.

But what, some may ask, of the peasants who produce a surplus they sell on the market? Are these not petty bourgeois producers and outside the working class? The answer is that they are still very much part of the working class if the result of their work is only self-reproduction. It does not even matter if they hire waged labor, if they are only earning subsistence. These peasants are essentially piece workers for capital and the per-unit price they obtain for their agricultural products is their piece rate.

It quickly becomes apparent to anyone who has read Engels and Stalin that Althusser and friends have added almost nothing to the original discussions of historical materialism except a more obscure vocabulary and a deeper scientific gloss. We are still left with a lifeless sociological taxonomy of modes of production, the unresolvable problems of the interactions between the base/superstructure dualism, the mystery of the articulation of modes, the absence of class struggle, and a fetishism of production that justifies contemporary socialism.

[...] despite the originality and usefulness of their research into the mechanisms of capitalist domination in both the economic and cultural spheres, and indeed precisely in the formulation of those mechanisms as one-sidedly hegemonic, Critical Theorists have remained blind to the ability of working-class struggles to transform and threaten the very existence of capital. Their concept of domination is so complete that the "dominated" virtually disappears as an active historical subject. In consequence, these philosophers have failed to escape the framework of mere ideological critique of capitalist society.

As Tronti pointed out, under the conditions of the unskilled mass worker, work itself could only be seen as a means of social control to be abolished, not upgraded. This understanding led directly to the realization that the basic characteristic of working-class struggle in this period is not only an escape from capital but also an escape from existence as working class. The aim of the mass worker is to cease to be a worker, not to make a religion of work.

[Quoting Marx:] "Bourgeois economy thus provides the key to the economy of antiquity, etc. But it is quite impossible [to gain this insight] in the manner of those economists who obliterate all historical differences and who see in all social phenomena only bourgeois phenomena. If one knows rent, it is possible to understand tribute, tithe, etc., but they do not have to be treated as identical."

No comments:

Post a Comment