Notas sobre Capitalismo gore (2010) de Sayak Valencia

Capitalismo gore (2010) de Sayak Valencia presenta, quizá, una de las versiones más llamativas para leer el capitalismo contemporáneo. Recuperando una vasta serie de conceptos y propuestas teóricas de América Latina y otras latitudes, el libro propone “el término capitalismo gore, para hacer referencia a la reinterpretación dada a la economía hegemónica y global en los espacios (geográficamente fronterizos)” (15). Esto quiere decir, que las propuestas teóricas del “capitalismo gore” surgen a partir de un conocimiento situacional, pero no excluyente: las consecuencias y argumentos se piensan desde Tijuana, México, pero esto no quita que se puedan tender puentes con otras situaciones o lugares. Sujeto endriago, necroempoderamiento, capitalismo snuff, subjetividades queer, necromercado y varios conceptos más son presentados en el libro como herramientas para entender eso que Valencia llama capitalismo gore. 

Este concepto propone, entonces, leer el capitalismo como una serie de procesos con mutaciones. Por ejemplo, decir que conforme pasa el tiempo el capitalismo cambia y requiere ser reinterpretado y entendido para comprender precisamente los mecanismos de dominación y explotación mediante los cuales somete a las diferentes multitudes que fluyen en la historia. Si bien, salvo en notas al pie y unas secciones del libro, no se enfatiza en qué medida los grandes cambios de finales de siglo XX e inicios del XXI son también una regresión a las peores y más cruentas formas de acumulación capitalista tal como sucedió en los años del inicio de la modernidad (finales del siglo XIV). Es decir, Valencia, parece, propone que el capitalismo gore es una categoría novísima, nunca vista. El término se define como una exageración, por éste se entiende el “derramamiento de sangre explícito e injustificado (como precio a pagar por el tercer mundo que se aferra a seguir las lógicas del capitalismo cada vez más exigentes) … todo como herramienta de necroempoderamiento” (15). Capitalismo gore, entonces, es una suerte de alargada teoría de la dependencia. En otras palabras, si hay “un precio” que los países tercermundistas se aferran en pagar, entonces, hay una dependencia tal cual esto se entendía en los setenta y ochenta en Latinoamérica, así como en otras partes. El libro, igualmente, toca tangencialmente las razones por las cuales los países tercermundistas se aferran a ese excesivo pago. Sin embargo, nunca se formula el problema preciso que pudiera articular esa necesidad de aferrarse al pago capitalista. 

El binomio entre regresión y novedad, que se ilustran de forma muy adecuada entre el término que motiva el libro, capitalismo gore, y el de uno de los principales conceptos propuestos, sujeto endriago, proponen una manera interesante de leer el desastre causado por el narcotráfico, la violencia extrema y los malos gobiernos en México. Así, entre lo gore, (un término tomado del cine que designa un género en el que la violencia es regocijante y, sobre todo, se explicita excesivamente el derramamiento de sangre), y lo endriago (un monstruo, según la obra, original del Amadís de Gaula, en el que se mezcla la forma humana con la de diversas fieras) se describe un capitalismo hiperviolento, exagerado, arcaico y a la vez novedoso. El asunto es que esta forma de describir el capitalismo no es, en cierta medida, novedosa. Ya sea porque el modo de producción y acumulación capitalista siempre evoca previos modos de dominación y explotación a la vez ofrece nuevos, Capitalismo gore sugeriría que la fase más reciente del capitalismo no es sino un retruécano de sí mismo, “otra vez vivimos en un mundo de bandidos y piratas” (20), menciona el libro. Por otra parte, es bastante sugerente el uso que la palabra “gore” y “endriago” juegan en el libro. Si bien, estos dos sintagmas evocan el inacabable retruécano del capitalismo, también, como advierte Valencia, lo gore vuelve comodificable y espectacular la forma de acumulación y producción capitalista (16). Lo endriago, por su parte, conforma una subjetividad que “sigue a pie de juntillas los dictados más radicales del mercado” (80). Entre un espectáculo de afectos ambivalentes (gore), que, como en el cine está hecho para ser un mero entretenimiento que va de la repulsión a la risa (muchas películas del género gore son también consideradas parodias), y lo endriago, una monstruo cuya única función radica en probar la valía de un “héroe” (el estado), la forma de dominación capitalista que Valencia sugiere busca la anestesia al mismo tiempo que la reactivación explosiva de la violencia. Es decir, capitalismo gore sería una forma de producción que extrae valor y domina a partir de la rápida transformación de lo anestesiado (gore) en violentamente activo (endriago).

Para dejar atrás esto, Valencia propone una solución. Casi reelaborando la disputa entre multitud e imperio, elaborada por Michael Hardt y Toni Negri en Imperio, Valencia propone que para pensar algo que contrarreste lo gore y a los sujetos endriagos se debe pensar “una disidencia efectiva y no distópica y ésta debe estar emparentada con las cuestiones de desobediencias de género y con el transfeminismo; debe crear también alternativas comunes en las cuales pueda participar activamente la sociedad civil” (193). Esta solución es un “plano orientativo” (1994), que no busca ser prescriptivo, sino abierto. Si bien, no se explica a detalle cómo este remedio para contrarrestar los males del capitalismo gore deja de ser parte de las mismas opciones que el sistema da, es decir, que la diferencia entre endriago (como quimera) e identidades desobedientes emparentadas al transfeminismo no es clara. Más aún, si el capitalismo gore tiene un precio que se debe pagar para poder formar parte del modo de producción, ¿qué precio se deberá pagar para pensar esas disidencias que se sugieren al final de Capitalismo gore? ¿No será que se debería de pensar a contrapelo de una de las conclusiones y provocaciones más sugerentes del libro? Al finalizar el texto, a manera de testimonio y reflexión teórica, Valencia describe el momento en que un cadáver cayó frente a sus ojos mientras conducía por Tijuana. La terrible impresión se anuncia como lo peor del capitalismo gore, pues ésta no conmueve la sensibilidad de nadie, salvo la de la narradora. Hay que hacer algo al respecto de ese cadáver, dice Valencia. Y no es para menos, la desempeorada y anestesiada reacción de su acompañante es triste, grave y común. Todos nos hemos acostumbrado al espectáculo gore, descrito por Valencia. Sin embargo, mientras Capitalismo gore concluye que hay que hacer algo con esos muertos “porque si no eso hará algo [contigo]” (203), como si el cadáver se cobrara una revancha con los vivos, quizá habría que dejar hacer al cadáver y completamente dejarle que nos intervenga, que de nuevo nos afecte por sí, pues el cadáver no deja de ser cuerpo. 

Exceso. Notas sobre Balas de plata (2008) Elmer Mendoza

Entre el melodrama y la novela policial, Balas de plata (2008) de Elmer Mendoza cuenta la historia de unos “particulares” crímenes investigados por Edgar, el Zurdo, Mendieta en Culiacán, Sinaloa. El caso investigado por el Zurdo Mendieta es la muerte del hijo de un político con serias aspiraciones a la presidencia de la república. Bruno Cañizales, el hijo del político presidenciable, un joven miembro de diversos grupos de la sociedad civil, amante intenso, hombre de pasiones, bisexual, y además detestado por su padre, fue encontrado muerto por una de sus amantes, Paola Rodríguez, que se suicidó horas después del suceso. Si bien en Cañizales se acumulan y enredan una cantidad de sospechosos, tramas alternas, afectados y enigmas, lo más particular del asesinato, según las pesquisas de Mendieta, es la bala de plata que perforara sus sienes y el aroma penetrante en la habitación del muerto, un perfume afrodisiaco. 

“¿Quién puede matar a alguien que todos quieren?” (154), se pregunta Mendieta sobre la muerte de Cañizales. Bruno vivía en el paroxismo, “detestaba la vida ecuánime y prefería las emociones fuertes” (20). Como un junior, Bruno vivía en los excesos decadentes y lúcidos de las clases pudientes. De día era uno y de noche otro. Casi como un vampiro, Bruno por las noches se rodeaba de artistas y narcos, se encontraba con sus amantes y se vestía de mujer. “¿Qué estupidez es ésa de balas de plata? El muchacho era vampiro o qué” (33). Desde que Mendieta señala su extrañeza ante las exóticas balas, las interpretaciones no dejan de surgir al respecto de estos objetos. Ya sea que las balas podrían “ser un indicador del nivel social del asesino” (36), o podrían ser el objeto que permita achacar el crimen a los narcos asentados en Culiacán, y dominadores de todo el país, pues ellos “se ponen dientes de diamante y lucen esas joyas tan estrambóticas, ¿por qué no usarían balas de plata?” (44), las balas de plata van cargadas siempre de un exceso. 

Una de las maneras en que Karl Marx definió al capital, trabajo muerto, es como un vampiro que vive sólo de chupar trabajo vivo. Desde esta perspectiva, las clases acomodadas, la burguesía, son vampiros que succionan el trabajo vivo de quienes viven condenados a entregarles libremente sus horas y días. Bruno Cañizales sería, así, un vampiro que recibió su merecido. No obstante, Cañizales no es el único que muere por balas de plata. Desde un perro, hasta un chico de una bicicleta, las balas de plata y su lujosa y macabra muerte se distribuyen por toda la novela. Al final de la historia, cuando el asesinato de Cañizales se descubre como la perversión de un director de cine y su esposa, Goga Fox, también amante de Mendieta, las balas de plata carecen ya de su lujo.

El exceso y el lujo van de la mano en Balas de plata. De hecho, los tantos encobijados que aparecen a lo largo del relato son prueba, no de una manera lujosa de matar, pero sí de un exceso de muerte. Si las balas de plata sirven, en las historias de vampiros, para saber qué es aquello que se mata, la forma en que el narco produce muerte no tienen semiótica, no se puede reconstruir su significado. Sobre el primer muerto que encuentra Mendieta, antes de ser comisionado al caso de Cañizales, se dice que “No necesitamos su nombre para saber a qué se dedicaba. No sólo lo han castrado, también le cortaron la lengua, aclaró Gris, no hemos localizado casquillos. Es igual, cualquier asunto con narcos de por medio ya ha sido resuelto” (13). El narco es una hermenéutica absoluta, y como se ve al final de la novela, horizonte final de venganza. Cualquiera puede ser asesinado con balas de plata, de la misma manera que a cualquiera pueden tocarle los estragos del narco.  

Males que duran mil años: determinismo y acumulación originaria. Notas sobre Juan Justino Judicial (1996) de Gerardo Cornejo M

Como anuncia la portada y contraportada de Juan Justino Judicial (1996) el texto está escrito a manera de corrido y novela. A esto se suma, según dice la contraportada, que la historia de Juan Justino Altata Sagrario “está narrada por tres voces imbricadas que se alternan y complementan” (s/p). De ahí, pues, que la mayoría de los capítulos impares estén narrados en un tono “impersonal,” que la contraportada identifica como la voz colectiva, la voz del corrido; los capítulos pares sean, en su mayoría, narrados por Juan Justino; y una voz narrativa, a manera de un narrador en segunda persona, intervenga en varios capítulos del texto, como si esta voz fuera, según la contraportada, el primer muerto de Justino Altata, su conciencia. Juan Justino Judicial es una obra donde diversas voces confluyen, sin embargo esa confluencia no cambia el monótono determinismo del relato. En otras palabras, este es un texto en el que muchas voces narrativas convergen, pero los cambios radicales dentro del mismo relato son mínimos. Se cuenta de muchas formas un determinismo melodramático ya sabido de antemano. 

Juan Justino Altata fracasa en componer su vida, como también fracasa en recomponer su corrido. El relato, contado a manera de novela picaresca, narra la vida de Juan Justino Altata, un campesino de la sierra del noroeste de México. La vida de Altata está sujeta a una doble marginalidad, pues, además de pobre, todo el mundo, en especial otros hombres, se burla de él, ya que “le falta la mitad de la varonía” (8). Expuesto, pues, al acoso y a la miseria, Justino va guardando odio y rencor contra sus semejantes. Años después, luego de probar suerte por toda la costa del Pacífico norte en México y de intentar cruzar al otro lado, Justino y otros peones roban al ingeniero de la plantación donde trabajan, pues el robo era “su oportunidad para salir de una vida que él no había escogido” (76). El problema es que luego del efervescente éxito, Justino es capturado por la policía judicial y luego convertido en miembro de la “corpo,” como él mismo llama al grupo policial. De ahí, Justino Altata deja de ser quien era y se convierte en el teniente Rodrigo Rodarte. Si el robo al ingeniero se le presentó a Justino como la posibilidad de mejorar su vida, pero cayó preso, ahora su incorporación a las fuerzas policiales parece abrir la posibilidad de finalmente mejorar. El problema es que no lo logra. 

Ya sea que se le conozca por su nombre de pila, Justino, por su nombre de judicial, o por su apodo, teniente Castro, debido a un cruel método de tortura que practica a sus detenidos (castrar y colgar de los genitales a sus víctimas), Justino Altata se hace de renombre y fama. Esa urgencia que tenía de “ser alguien” (63), se trastorna cuando Justino se da cuenta de que su fama se la debe a un corrido y este va contando eventos que él quisiera cambiar. “Así lo que yo cuento, uste recompone, porque quiero que vaya poco a poco poniendo de moda el nuevo corrido hasta que borre de la memoria de toda esa zarandaja que se anda contando por ái” (23). Como cada cambio que Justino da para mejorar su vida, la corrección del corrido, que es también la narración del texto, pareciera ser la última capa de cambio, el punto de cúspide que pudiera asegurar un cambio radical en la vida de Justino Altata. Sin embargo, recomponer un corrido es como recomponer una vida, un acto casi imposible. Mientras que la autoría del corrido subyace en una masa que no necesariamente busca la cristalización de una sola versión de la canción, una vida no subyace en las condiciones que le son propias: la vida del individuo descansa en las condiciones que lo presuponen y también en la manera habitual en que reacciona ante las cosas. Como Justino no mejora su vida, tampoco el corrido recompuesto le hace justicia, antes bien, esta nueva canción reprende las decisiones de Altata: “si uno nace incompleto/ hay que darse por sevido” (150). 

El origen de la familia de Justino no aparece sino hasta muy tarde en el relato. Sólo entonces se descubre que su estirpe es la de los últimos “Altata de los alzados” (133), de los últimos grupos indígenas que se alzaron en tiempos coloniales en la región norte del país. Este grupo, que resistió hasta el final, fue maldecido por un sacerdote español, y así, por cinco generaciones los descendientes de los Altatas procrearían varones como Justino, incompletos de su varonía, pero también, tal vez, condenados a repetir un proceso de acumulación originaria, a vivir “con la pura mitad de las potencias” (9), como diría el padre de Justino. La acumulación originaria es el proceso descrito por Karl Marx como presuposición general a la acumulación capitalista. Los orígenes del capitalismo, Marx afirma, son todo menos idílicos, son momentos como los que vive la familia de Marcial Campero (41), el amigo jornalero de Justino, tiempos en que a base de desposesiones de tierra, asesinatos, robo y legislaciones sanguinarias, la burguesía nace y el estado refuerza su condición de “dominador,” tiempos en que “multitudes son de repente y a la fuerza separadas de sus medios de subsistencia, luego son forzadas a formar parte del mercado laboral como aves sin nido [vogelfrei en el original]” (Capital Vol I. 876). Con esto, Juan Justino Judicial sugeriría que la larga maldición que el proceso de acumulación originaria trajo a los Altata llegaría a su fin con Justino. Aquejado por un cáncer y de regreso a su pueblo natal, Justino muere en un delirio permanente, “sus arranques de palabras entrecortadas parecían confundirse ya con las otras que le venían de otra parte” (148). La voz narrativa enunciada en segunda persona se reúne por fin con Justino y le recuerda lo vano de su empresa, “tratando de componer un pasado que no podía modificarse un pasado que era tu vida misma porque desde entonces estabas condenado por tu primera muerte” (149). El problema es que esa primera muerte no era sólo de Justino, sino también la de todos sus antepasados. Para cuando Justino termina la maldición colonial, al ser parte de la quinta generación de Altatas, otra maldición comienza. Si a Justino Altata, como castigo, “Dios lo volvió judicial” (150), el nuevo castigo divino, como el que sufre Marcial Campero, parece una maldición inacabable, pues una vez vuelto narco ni él ni su familia se salvan. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (7)

Notebook 7 and endnotes

“Capital absorbs labour into itself as though its body were by love possessed” (704). So says Karl Marx as he continues his reflections on the way capitalism runs. The original phrase in German says that capitalism absorbs labour “als hätte es Lieb im Leibe,” which is a quotation from Goethe’s Faust. The translation modifies some nuances of the original. That is, als hätte es Lieb im Leibe suggests that capital has a body, or it behaves as a body. While the nuance between original and translation certainly deserves a closer look, both fragments stress the fact that something that both exceeds and presupposes capitalism is moving it. To explain this something that is always escaping, this scurrilous thing, Marx relies on the figure of contradiction. For him capitalism, and society, can only be explained by contradictions. The mechanism of this contradiction in capitalism consists on pressing “to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, and the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth” (706). That means that something rather unknown happens in the process of extracting wealth out of the exploitation and domination of workers.

Throughout the Grundrisse Marx works on different ways to explain how production becomes reproduction as, perhaps, one of the main mechanisms that capitalism has at its sway. The relationship between production and reproduction consists in presupposing that capitalism must always circle and repeat its processes. No wonder why most of the examples used by Marx are those of the agricultural industry. If a harvest can be manipulated and controlled via the domination of workers by forcing them to sell their labour force, then, agriculture shows itself to be the industry par excellence of capitalism. In contrast to agriculture, mining is conceived by Marx as an industry that lacks the possibility to be understood via the idea of reproduction. “Extractive industry (mining the most important) is likewise and industry sui generis, because no reproduction process whatever takes place in it, at least not one under our control or known to us” (726). Extraction is, then, a mechanism that is always precapitalist but also integral to it because it means of creating wealth do not lie on reproduction’s realm. The fact that we cannot fully known what happens with a mine, that the earth and its minerals cannot be fully controlled, resonates with the way capitalism absorbs labour, “as though its body were by love possessed” (704), as if an unknown force were igniting production. 

It seems, at least from the last Notebook and the end notes (“On Value” and “Bastiat and Carey”) that there is not really a true certainty on how capitalism works, or what really moves it. At best, as perhaps in other works of Marx, we can see the effects of capitalism, but never it “truly” origin, or motivation. Notebook 7 offers a particular image of capital, as a circle and “by describing its circle it expands itself as the subject of the circle and thus describes a self-expanding circle, a spiral” (746). This image carries a certain degree of determinism and also ties life to capital. If capitalism is directly tied to grow, or life, then, there is something faustic, (as the quote mentioned above from Goethe suggests), about this mode of production, since everything in life is but a process of grow and eventual vanishment, of crack-up. Capital promises a never-ending grow. The problem is that this promise is but a fiction. But why would we chose to believe it? 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (6)

Notebook 6

Notebook 6, as the entirety of the Grundrisse, seeks to describe what moves capital. The challenge of describing this movement is that capital has no subject, capital is better understood without subjects. Or at least this is what the first pages of Notebook 6 suggest. Early in the Notebook, Marx comments on different approaches to what machines do in the capitalist cycle. For instance, Marx quotes a fragment from the work of Thomas De Quincey. For the latter, “a machine as soon as its secret is known, will not sell for the labour produced, but for the labour producing… it will no longer be viewed as a cause equal to certain effects, but as an effect certainly reproducible by a known cause at a known cost” (559). While Marx does not refute this observation, it is ratter suggested that a machine, per se, can be a worker too. That is, since the price of the commodity is equal to the quantity of living labour, then, a machine is not only a non-human device, but the assemblage between worker and tool, and the other way around. 

Machines are everywhere in capitalist production. One can argue that precisely the machine presupposes capitalism. No wonder why most of the landscapes of urban centers in Europe and elsewhere display machines at their center. Whatever is common is transformed by the machine, thus “in order to take over these works [what is common to the workers], capital does not create but rather takes over the accumulation and concentration of workers” (586 emphasis added). A machine, then, takes over what workers accumulate. Capitalist accumulation, from this perspective, is to take control, to establish domination on the things that workers accumulate. The machine does not accumulate, it takes over that accumulation. The concept of accumulation and concentration are, then, for Marx, are both “contained in the concept of capital —the concentration of many living labour capacities for one purpose” (590). Concentration, then, only exists for capital as living labour that accumulates for one single purpose. From this accumulation, as a presupposition to capitalist accumulation, does not have a single purpose, and is not something that necessarily is work oriented. 

To work is something ambivalent. It both cancels potentials, but also perpetuates the chance to elude this capture. Since every person that “arrives to maturity […] may be viewed as a machine which it has cost 20 years of assiduous attention and the expenditure of considerable capital to construct” (615), then, one works not only to increase the income of the capitalist, but to preserve the social that nurtured us. A worker is a machine, or better, a body in a perpetuate becoming. As the worker is crisscrossed by this ambivalent becoming, so capital is too determined by a need to double all the time its process of production. Once in movement, capital, must present itself as consumable product, raw material and instrument of labour, it “posits itself ahead of itself in its various form” (675). Capital, then, is moved by a force that not only sucks its live out of labour and the worker’s accumulation, but by a machine that squeezes the present. This machine has a two sided mechanism, it must recover and control all that was previous to the present state of capitalist accumulation while also promising the endurance, improvement and grow of that which was controlled. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (5)

Notebook 5

One of the main topics discussed in the Notebook 5 of the Grundrisse is the passage of transformation from the commune to the city. While the commune is, in a too simplified sense, a free gathering together, the city is a mandated and ruled gathering. While the commune “appears as a coming together, not as a being together, as a unification made up of independent subjects, landed proprietors, and not as a unity” (483), the city is the place of the sovereign, the walled community that hosts at its center the one who rules. While the distinction between state and stateless societies is important, Marx does not develop this in depth. For Marx land independence, or land appropriation and its usage, presupposes sovereignty and the figure of the sovereign. Something presupposes the nomos of the earth, so to speak. The commune escapes division, since “the land which cannot be divided if it is to serve as means of production in this specific form” (483).

To relate to the land without the necessity of a nomos, or a sovereign, Marx proposes that the individual proprietors refuse union. The fact that since the appropriation of the earth means the appropriation of the “natural conditions of labour […] as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials” (485), signals that the way we immediately relate to the earth presupposes a “relation of the earth […] always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form” (485). This means that the first struggle of humankind is the strive for affirming live with and within a territory, a form of living that does not consider private property or private forms of working, but positive and affirmative gestures of existence and coexistence. While all this picture is idyllic, or utopian, the form of relationship that Marx is proposing to understand the organization of the commune signals a threshold where utopianism reaches its limit. Since no individual has any existence or life outside of the commune, because those who live in commune do not exist “for [themselves] except in the assembly of the commune members, their coming-together for common purposes” (486), then, the commune eludes the nomos, the state and its oppression, but it erases, in a way, individuality, difference. At the same time, the assembly of the commons, their coming-together, or movement towards each-other, announces the possibility of a commonality, of a commune, with individuals and groups, a pack a formation like the one of the nomads, for whom “what is in fact-appropriated and reproduced here is not the earth but the herd; but the earth is always used communally at each halting place” (491). The commune, then, is the project without plan that seeks social reproduction in an apotropaic way: eating what kills and haunts, while persisting and affirming existence. 

The task in the times of Marx and today is to work and create the commons. The commons are the necessary presupposition of labour, of the land, for humankind to exist. At the same time, the commons are what humankind is yet to become, a plastic moment that is habitual. There is something magical about “appropriation,” of encountering oneself with an instrument, a tool, a body, something, that is so different and yet so keen with one strives for affirming oneself. While in the bourgeois world the worker sees the realization of their social existence by the way their skill is expressed by the production line, in the commune, skill has no name, but has still a presence. The skill is “what posits [the worker] as the owner of the instrument” (499), if we are all posited in front of our “instruments” as owners, then, “appropriation” has found a way to let something from its magic to flee capitalist territorialization. To be in front of big projects in a capitalist society reaffirms our oppression but also our chance for building the commons. Marx mentions that, when dealing with the construction of highways, for instance, capitalism faces a point of exhaustion, because building a highway escape what capitalism can do, it even exceeds what the state is able to do. Building for the multitude is always “a necessary use value for the commune, because the commune requires it at any price” (526). In a capitalist society surplus time and value to build a road exist, there are the materials, and costs, but without the “concentration” of the masses, the project dies. Concentration is defined by Marx as “always the addition of the part of labour capacity which each individual can employ on road building, apart from his particular work; but it is not only addition” (528 emphasis added). Concentration is an addition that is not only addition of labour. This addition is something that is heaping up in the way the workers present themselves in front of the project. Addition is a concentration of bodies, an assemblage, the surplus of the commons. While, of course, a road, or perhaps any project that requires the presence of the masses, is always what capitalism demands, and not what the commons need, the desire of the masses stays still always subaltern to whatever domination expects from them. Capitalism will always speculate with its constructions as a way of realizing value, while “living labour creates value” (543) in unexpected ways.

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (4)

Notebook 4

“Notebook 4” of the Grundrisse is, perhaps, the one that focus the most on the way capitalist production relies in “transforming labour,” or the ways into which labour is transformed. At the same time, this notebook is also about what some critics have identified as the backbone of capitalism, the general equivalent. Continuing with the way surplus value is produced, Marx states that one of the main ways to approach this is via “developing the nature of surplus value as the equivalent of the absolute or relative labour time mobilized by capital above and beyond necessary labour time” (385). With this, then, surplus value must always be placed in one side of an axis of equivalence. The other side of this axis is meant to be occupied by absolute or relative labour time. With this, then, surplus value appears to be as a mere addition of labour (absolute or relative). The problem with this, is that by force of equivalence, surplus value can only be equal to surplus labour. Since capitalist production presupposes a specific use of machinery by the bourgeoisie, and this use implies “the saving of necessary labour and the creating of surplus labour” (389), then, new capital will always be equal to the old capital plus a fraction of it [the old capital]. Capitalism only works when surplus meets surplus, and consequently, the division of labour is never a necessary attribute that labour comes naturally with: labour suffers an imposition for its division and its eventual conversion into surplus labour. 

With not much surprise, as in the same Grundrisse it is already mentioned, wealth “is disposable time and nothing more” (397), since the time that can be completely thrown away is already producing surplus in all its forms, value, capital, and labour. At times, it seems that all the exercise and display of mathematical formulas is but trying to depict several forms of disguises, or mystifications, that capitalism requires. We see then that when it is written that “capital, as the positing surplus labour, is equally and in the same moment the positing and the not-positing of necessary labour; it exists only in so far as necessary labour both exists and does not exist” (401), this ambivalent existence of capital, that of being positing and not-positing, or existent and non-existent, is precisely what could be called a disguise, or a mystification. The very fact that capital exists only in the act of being placed in a position of ambivalence tells more about the fact that capital is always acting, performing a role in disguise as it is in the process of becoming something else. Capitalism, then, is a territorialization of becoming.

In “Notebook 4” there is also a topic later developed by Rosa Luxemburg, that of the limits of capitalism. Marx notes that there is a point after the different processes of circulation, production, and consumption have held sway in which capitalism becomes a barrier for itself, and “hence will drive towards its own suspension” (410). This suspension means that capitalism takes a step back only to eventually push forward its drive, to go “beyond [habitual] production” (413). The logic for Marx, then, is not that capital will wait for processes of crisis to expand, as Luxemburg will expand, but that capital in its highest points of development is when it “more appears as barrier to [its own] production —hence also to consumption— besides the other contradictions which make it appear as border some barrier to production and intercourse” (416). The logic is that capitalism, as with its axis of equivalences that only accepts in both sides different, but equalized, forms of surpluses, follows a drive for self-realization that demands “excess [that] it posits surplus labour, then, as the condition of the necessary, and surplus value as the limit of objectified labour, of value as such” (421). The only rule in town is to always demand an equivalence of excess. While it is emphatically mentioned that surplus value presupposes surplus labour, it happens otherwise when Marx explores the notion of “living labour.”

The realization of living labour is stated to be a process that “at the same time [realizes and then adds] the de-realization process of labour. It posits itself objectively, but it posits this, its objectivity, as its own not-being or as the being, of its not-being-of capital” (454). Consequently, it is not surplus value what presupposes surplus labour, and neither the other way around. What presupposes the exchanges and equivalences, the disguises, is living labour. When placed in front of capitalist production, living labour is territorialized (realized) and at the same time deterritorialized (de-realized). The process of deterritorialization of living labour is, by the same token, the process of becoming and of flight off capitalist production. Capitalism relies in something that is alien to it, something that is outside of it, something that carries the possibility of ending the never-ending spiral of accumulation or of repeating it. Living labour is a force of repetition, what haunts the production of surplus value, “the condition and presupposition of the becoming, of the arising, of capital presupposes precisely that it is not yet in being but merely in becoming” (459). Once capitalism has territorialized that becoming then the worker is negated from its products. But perhaps before it was different. 

As “Notebook 4” closes, Marx elaborates on different modes of production that did not require the disposition of the worker’s labour and its product to guarantee social existence. Perhaps this part is the one that most strongly influenced further explorations on what communism could be. At the same time, one might wonder if the exploration of these past commons (common land, labour, time, etc.) should not necessarily be the core of the search for the commons. That is, perhaps, the commons are already outside of the past, outside of history, repeating in many different ways, all the time always becoming. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (3)

Notebook 3

There is something in capitalism that not only relies on the way it affects and habituates the masses. While Marx famously stated that religion was the opium of the masses, capitalism, could also be said, relies on a psychotropic force. When describing how capitalists are directly affected by the time a worker consecrates to production, Marx notices that “the struggle for the ten hours bill […] proves that the capitalist likes nothing better than for him to squander his dosages of vital force as much as possible, without interruption” (294). The squander of dosages speaks volumes of the addictive relationship that capitalists have with the labour of workers. With not a lot of imagination one can picture capitalists as characters from The Wolf of Wall Street: bodies addicted to everything that excites them. In the Notebook 3, It is not the only time that Marx uses images that allude to addiction, or sickness. Marx compares labour “as the living source of virus” (296). Dosages and viruses are not necessarily contradictory in themselves. They are, in fact, tied by the idea of toxicity and addiction that both terms evoke. 

The body of the addict lives and breathes that which addiction dictates it. If the capitalists are like addicts and “labour is the yeast thrown into it, which starts fermenting” (298), the capitalists need the liveliness in order to satisfy their thirst, their craves. With this, then, the whole process of production is a process that relies on live above all. What does, then, capital do? That is, if normally we associate capitalism with death, dispossession and destruction, why is it that the mogul addicts that feed the machine need so much of live? And more importantly, how is it that even consumption “which terminates neither in a void, nor in the mere subjectification of the objective, but which is, rather, again posited as an object” (300-301) still has some of the live that capitalism transformed? Perhaps a point of departure for understanding this is the fact that “production for unproductive consumption is quite as productive as that for productive consumption; always assuming that it produces or reproduces capital” (306). If capital, as in Notebook 2, is considered as something intrinsic to the way the body extends its power and its plan on something, then, capital is something unavoidable, something that is produced and reproduced at any times. The question, not new at all, is why does capital imply capitalism as a system to be easier to observe? 

For capitalism, capital is something that must be preserved. Outside capitalism, if today we can possibly picture that, capital is something that sooner or later will stop working. That is, if capitalism acts as an addiction, capital is always a reactivation of withdrawal symptoms. As “the value of capital has preserved itself in the act of production, and [after it] now appears as a sum” (315), the addict too, after withdrawal sees the sum of further doses as the only target. Preservation at all costs is the slogan of capital in capitalism, like euphoria or dysphoria for the addict. Form this it is visible that for the sake of preserving oneself, the worker gives life to a system that extracts affect from it. Labour is moved, then, by a process of addition, while capitalism is moved by a process of addiction. Addition is that which labour do as living labour, as something that “adds a new amount of labour; however, it is not this quantitative addition which preserves the amount of already objectified labour, but rather its quality as living labour, the fact that it relates as labour to the use values in which the previous labour exists” (363). While labour adds, capitalism dosages that addition turning it into addiction. The distinction between these two, addition and addiction, is blurry, and perhaps today impossible to tell. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx (2)

“Notebook 2”

There is something special about money. The problem of money is that in itself it is something very abstract but also an object whose activity happens almost everywhere and in many different forms. Money is another commodity, but it is for certain that it is “the god among commodities” (221). The “Notebook 2” of the Grundrisse tries to explain money in capitalists societies. This explanation not only focuses in the many different ways that money is used, but also in the “particular” and specific way that makes money so special for capitalism. If money, as we read in the first pages of the notebook is so special, it is firstly because its possession “places [us] in exactly the same relationship towards wealth as the philosopher’s stone would towards science” (222). That is, money is responsible for placing the subject in the direction of what the subject thinks they want. Without surprise, then, money triggers greed “a particular form of drive” (222), that accelerates the speed travelled by the subject who approaches the object of their desires. To be against money, in capitalism, is to be against oneself, because only money can approach what we want and desire to us. 

At the same time that money is the oil that secures the function of the capitalist machine of exchanges and exploitation, money is also a scurrilous thing. While money is key to the production and accumulation of wealth, money cannot fulfill these duties on its own. “One is the richer the more of it [money] one possesses, and the only important process, for the individual as well as the nation is, to pile it up” (230). Money could easily be accumulated, because to accumulate is to “step back or outside of circulation” (230). But this has its risks. To display abundance and extraordinary wealth hoarding, or expense, reduces the way money circulates, and therefore, it reduces the way money is valued. To accumulate money is not based on a random greed-guided increase, but in a regulated competition because accumulation is completely dependent on circulation. If money has a close relationship to capital, then, as capital itself, money must be in constant movement, the moments it is accumulated it happens as a “wholly secret relation with the individual” (230). Of course, only sanctioned by society is the wealth (secret or not) of the individual valorized. 

Money is strictly tied to capital production because money, as a system, is the one that guarantees equality and freedom at the moment of exchange. The problem of the ideas of freedom and equality, that money promises, is that these two features soon turn out to be “inequality and unfreedom” (249). In other words, to be part of the system of capitalist exchange one must always be aware that as simple as an exchange might be, that simplicity is not a simplified relationship. In an exchange relationship an individual is not merely exchanging with another, but their exchange actually “expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand” (265). This is why the money inside of ones pocket is never the same money as the one that is in the banks, or speculated in the stock market. What the relationship of money and capital problematizes is the fact that certain activities are the same and exchangeable at the same time that they are different and alien to each-other. In this landscape, the world market appears as an always under construction edifice of an inside that faces its own reflection repetitively. The world market is “not only the internal market [of a country] in relation to all foreign markets existing outside it, but at the same time the internal market of all foreign markets as, in turn, components of the home market” (280). As it is difficult to determine the difference between money and capital in capitalism, so it is to determine the inside-outside relationship that the idea of world market suggests. 

As monstruous as this could look, the shaping and reshaping of capitalist society requires not only money and commodities in exchange between free individuals. What is missing the picture depicted so far by Marx is the presence of those who produce, the workers, bodies without value but with an almost infinite capacity to dispose their own labour: free as birds subjects. 

Notes on “The Grundrisse” (1939/1993) by Karl Marx

What follows are a series of posts on Karl Marx’s Grundrisse. 

“Introduction” and “Notebook I”

Perhaps the main topic of the notebooks that today we can call Grundrisse, by Karl Marx, is production. In fact the “Introduction” to the rest of the notebooks focuses on production overall. The question that starts these notebooks is: is production possible without a social structure that presupposes the exchange within individuals? That is to say, if exchange, production, circulation and the other faces of economy relay on capital’s sway. Marx states that “whenever we speak of production, then, what is meant is always production at a definite stage of social development —production by social individuals” (85). This means that whatever we perceive as individual production, the latter relies on a social production that presupposes it. More importantly, production is not something a part, or a step, in the way political economy works. It is then, that Marx states that everything that is related to production “requires an instrument [but not necessarily a machine] […] the instrument could be the body itself” (85). Thus, all human activity, in a way, is but a form of production. Production is everywhere and it can hardly be stopped, at best production is reshaped, dominated, controlled and triggered towards something that is not necessarily production’s target. 

In the “Introduction” to the Grundrisse there is an invitation to rethink production. Marx, after this invitation, proposes to start thinking production through money. If all possession presupposes an act of power, then, the question is to determine how that power was stablished. In a very simple term, from today’s perspective, one can think, why is it that money is so powerful? Why is it that we do things without acknowledging the dangers that might come afterwards? The problem of money, in fact, puts at stake what is really what value tells us when we buy, exchange, or produce things. What is at stake, then, in the first notebook of the Grundrisse is to determine how is it that value is produce and how is it that we all embrace it. 

For Marx all value is to be examined through labour time. A coin, or money, is but accumulated labour. That is, that “what determines value is not the amount of labour time incorporated in products, but rather the amount of labour time necessary at a given moment” (135). It could be argued, then, that value is but an abstraction, something that happened in the past but still, somehow, haunt us until today. The problem is now to examine why is money so special, why is it that money can serve as a third party that exchanges what was produced in another time?, why can money perpetuate the dead, or past, labour? 

When we buy things, we don’t really buy them. Perhaps this is obvious for anyone who reads this post, but what Marx proposed at the end of XIX century is that commodities (merchandises) are but values when they faced a process of exchange. “All commodifies are perishable money; money is the imperishable commodity” (149). What Marx means when he stated the latter is that perhaps what is at stake when buying and selling commodities in the bourgeois system is the reaffirmation of a third party. Everything that cannot be turned into money cannot be a commodity. A commodity, then, carries within a potential to become money and the other way around. Of course, this does not mean that money resolves all the processes that are part of production. That is to say, that money itself does not resolve the problems of circulation or distribution of merchandises. 

What is really at stake with money is another thing, not only the way exchanges are made. If for Marx are value is but an abstraction, and that abstraction comes directly from a head (144), whose head is that? That is, who is abstracting value for everyone else? Marx stablishes that the comparison between merchandises consist in a process of comparison, and this process creates money. Then, this “comparison, which the head accomplishes in one stroke, can be achieved in reality only in a delimited sphere by needs, and only in successive steps” (144). Thus, there seems to be a “head” that presupposes all general exchange. That head, a head of an unknown person, gets whatever it wants in a single stroke, a dull, or hard, blow. The head that presupposes value hits hard. This characteristic, then, is pure affect. Consequently, whoever experiences this hard blow has but no other choice but to replicate the first blow of the aforementioned thinking head. Soon, all idea of the general equivalent seems to be but the habituation of that single stroke, or a process that happens “little by little” (144) in the formation of capitalist society.