Representation. A short comment on Multitude (2004), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Multitude. War and Democracy in The Age of Empire (2004) is the volume that follows Empire (2000). While the first volume offered a description of the reactive regime that followed the years after the end of the Cold War, that is, the formation of Empire, the second volume offers the project of the multitude, the active agent of change, that which precedes and presupposes Empire. If empire works by a flexible regime that expands like a network, but also that eludes easy clear-cut definitions, the multitude is the active collective subject that can dismantle Empire. The biggest challenge is, then, face “the global state of war” (xi) that beats at the heart of Empire. In a way, the book was thought to reflect on events that reply shook the world during the first years of the millennium. While, perhaps, somethings depicted by the book did not aged well —like the prediction that algorithm knowledge production would enable new forms of collective identities or freedoms— some of the main ideas of Multitude are still relevant and important. 

The book’s main project is to describe the “multitude.” This concept was, in a way described in the previous book. But what makes different Multitude from Empire is that the first will focus exclusively on the challenges that the concept of multitude faces today, from both right and left, from war and democracy. This collective subject, early in the book, is defined as an “open and expansive network in which all differences can be expressed freely and equally, a network that provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live in common” (xiv). What this concept offers, then, is openness and expansiveness as means to counter the closure and exclusion present in a world divided in an undividable war of all against all. That is, the multitude is the virtual promise for a world that is in stasis, in a civil war, in perpetual terror. It is not that difference is erased under the multitude, but what is at stake is the possibility of imagining a collectivity that does not serve identitarian means (like the political subject of the “people”) or like the unified collective subject of the “masses,” widely used and abused by work unions and so on. 

In a way, the book offers a radical way out from the politics of the twentieth century. The multitude truly is the way out of the politics of the party, of hegemony (even if the book does not mention this). But, at the same time the book does not go far enough. By focusing exclusively on democracy, as the only mean through which the multitude can expand its project, the book seems limit its own powerful concept. In fact, democracy is also tied to its own diseases, like representation. If as we are told, repeatedly, after the second half of the book, that representation is a mechanism that connects and separates (242-244), then, to what extent does the multitude needs representation? Or to put it differently, why does the politics of desire and positive affects of the multitude still needs a mechanism that, itself, is a trap? To a certain extent, this would imply that politics is unescapable from representation, but to another extent, the book could also suggest that the multitude errs. That is, since the multitude is “a diffuse set of singularities that produce a common life; it is a kind of social flesh that organizes itself into a new social body” (349), and consequently, representation is just one of the toys of the playful and creative forms of politics that the multitude is capable of creating. Then, as any other toy, representation will be no longer fun, but only time and the multitude would tell. 

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. 

Notes on Crack Capitalism (2010) by John Holloway

Crack Capitalism (2010), in a way, completes most of the reflections John Holloway started in Change the World Without Taking Power. While the first volume worries the most about the description of doing, a constituent force captured by labour that generates our common sense and our normal way of being into the world of capitalism. The second volume offers 32 thesis about the ways we, ourselves, build but also crack the system that oppresses us, how we are screaming and creating cracks in the system, how doing cannot be fully appropriate by labour. In another, perhaps, less obvios reading, the 32 thesis are, somehow, 32 steps into sobriety, into a life free of capitalism, but, would that addiction be easy to resolve?

As much as Crack Capitalism offers an inspiring and optimistic way of understanding doing, as something inherent to the way human beings do things for the sake of doing them, because we like doing things, perhaps today one should hesitate to accept Holloway’s optimism. The hesitation is understandable, as Holloway hesitates himself, about considering that with our cracks we are but realigning our struggle back to the terms that provoke the struggle in the first place. That is, Holloway asks, “how do we avoid our cracks becoming simply a means for resolving the tensions or contradictions of capitalism, just an element of crisis resolution for the system?” (53). Today we probably saw the worst of this predicament. We have seen how contemporary struggles, contemporary cracks, have been turned into solutions for capitalism’s crisis. We have witnessed a pretended liberation of “labour” through a massification of part-time online platform jobs (I.e. uber, ubereats, etc); a liberation of sexuality and imagination through streaming services that reterritorialize sexual and imaginary expression, among many. If a crack is “the perfectly ordinary creation of a space or moment in which we assert a different type of doing” (21), why is it that most of these different types of doing are still feeding and serving the tyrant, why is it that we are still weaving our self-oppression and self-destruction? Why is it, that perhaps, more than ever, we are unable to resolve Etienne de la Boétie’s riddle, why are we fighting for our oppression and voluntary servitude? This is the starting point for Holloway, and, to a certain extent, the place where his argument finishes too. Why is it that we are running in circles when trying to solve La Boétie’s riddle? 

There might be hesitation when reading Holloway, but for sure, even in the worst scenario, one should acknowledge that more than resolving things a crack is the proposition of question. A crack asks. To that extend, the territorialization and domination of spare time by social media, for example, is a two-edged sword, a delicate terrain where an always unprepared “wake up to other possibilities” (32) haunt the way doing is constantly fighting against the domination, the abstraction of labour. Wasn’t this what happened with Donald Trump and the tiktokers? But also, wasn’t this what gave the place for the affect of the masses that entered the US Capitol early this year? A crack is an ambivalent movement, a touch yet not a touch. From cracks we just know that they break a surface and that they desperately seek for the lines of other cracks. In that sense, while the right seeks to cover the rifts of the struggle of doing, the left should should find where one crack begins and where another ends, where the “lines of continuity that are often so submerged” (35) that are about to touch themselves, but they don’t. To understand the crack is to understand that certain struggles need only to keep pushing until their cracks touch other’s crack’s rifts. To explain how these lines work, how the rifts and cracks communicate, Holloway elaborates a strict distinction between labour and doing, alienated labour and conscious life-activity, and abstract time and concrete time of life. 

All these dichotomies coincide in the understanding of the concrete doing as a “flow of life” (111). This flow is something that is always moving beyond and going through the rigid and oppressive shape of power, of labour. While capitalism wants labourers, “mutilated personification[s] of abstract labour” (122), the other world possible struggles for the dignity, the fragility and sacredness of everything that beats, of everything that lives. Doing, the flow of life, is the struggle of existence against its own conditions and possibilities of existence. That is, doing wants to desperately stop serving the tyrant, capitalism, without being able to completely abandon and refusing most of the tyrant’s structures, means, things. Doing is the praxis of knowing that we build our own tragedy, and our only way out is to “attack [and crack] time itself” (166). Only when time is broken, cracked, it will come to surface how the masks that capitalism via abstraction has given us, are but an empty container that oppresses the “shadowy figure (or figures) behind the character mask” (217). Once it all cracks there will not be, perhaps, distinctions, differences or the necessity to differentiate the multiplicity of ways of being that there is. Once it all cracks it will become obvious that radicalness starts by refusing, by a refusal of keep creating the weave that oppresses us and sustain us. Once it all cracks to what would we hang our anxiety to? How would we recover from that overdose of capitalism? 

Notes on The Theory of the Novel. A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Form of Great Epic Literature (1971) by György Lukács, trans. Anna Bostock

In the 1962 preface to his The Theory of the Novel (1971) György Lukács states his reasons and means of analyzing “the novel”. If “art becomes problematic precisely because reality has become non-problematic” (17) as Hegel suggested it, for Lukács, it happens the other way around. That is, the aesthetic form cannot fully be complex because reality has forsaken it. That is why the problems of the novel, as form, “are here the mirror-image of a world gone out of joint” (17). The novel is, then, something that reflects a deterritorialization, but also an abandonment. It is then, that as another part of the social tissue, the novel always is a symptom of something that changes in the material conditions that allow sociality to be. At the same time, the novel is a form that comes from another. There is an evolution, or better, a history and a philosophy that explains the unfolding change and persistence of a form whose ancestor is the Greek epic. 

The Greek world as depicted by the epic was a round and total world. This world where error “can only be a matter of too much or too little”, knowledge “the raising of a veil”, creation “the copying of visible and eternal essences”, virtue “a perfect knowledge of the paths” (32) is completely homogeneous. There is in the epic a certainty that things have their right place. The Greek epic is the grammar of totality, that is “the formative prime reality of every individual phenomenon” that “implies that something closed within itself can be completed” (34). There are no false ends, no wrong meanings in the epic, there is only a form whose main task is to question “how can life become essential?” (35). To answer this, the epic requires a question from the tragedy, “how can essence come alive?” (35). The epic’s bubble, its totality, is crashed when the tragedy’s globe rises. In other words, art is a sphere that holds and supplants the “natural unity of the metaphysical spheres [when these] have been destroyed forever” (37). While only the epic was able to completely carry the metaphysical homogeneous unity, “the totality of life”, drama (tragedy) testifies for the “intensive totality of essence” (46). That essence persisted because drama makes intelligible the “I of man”, but the totality of life of the epic vanished, the empirical “I” cannot find its correspondence in form. 

While it is easier to see the progression from tragedy to drama, it is harder to see the thread that connects the epic to the novel. At the same time, in the novel it persists the necessity to tie the empirical with the metaphysical, yet the novel cannot cover a totality it “succeeds only in mirroring a segment of the world” (53). The novel still thinks only about life as totality, but it fails and it succeeds at the same time: the novel is a contradiction that tries resolve the riddle of life. If the problem of life is “an abstraction”, in the novel tries to solve it by introducing and relating characters. At the same time “the relationship of a character to a problem can never absorb the whole fullness of that character’s life and every event in the sphere of life can relate only allegorically to the problem” (53-54). The novel is always fragmented, partial and incomplete, it shows a hole but not a lack. That is why “the epic gives form to a totality of life that is rounded from within; the novel seeks, by giving form, to uncover and construct the concealed totality of life” (60). The novel is always defined as something that it “cannot” something that differs in relation to the epic. At best, the novel appears as always that is “in the process of becoming” (73). 

With all these imperfections, the novel could be described as the summatory of the objective failure of maturity in comparison to childhood. The novel is an erasure and a (re)writing “the paradoxical fusion of heterogeneous and discrete components into an organic whole which is then abolished over and over again” (84). The task for the novelist is to master form so that failure after failure the novel finds a way to reaffirm its presence, its (lost) connection with the epic. In modernity a writer is someone in society that is “adopting and accustoming themselves to one another” finds a way to write as “a rich and enriching resignation, the crowning of a process of education, a maturity attained by struggle and effort” (133). All this, however, faints. At the same time the novel found a way to bloom and flourish in its imperfect form, at least for Lúkacs, in the twentieth century the novel is cracking up, it is losing its successful ability to fail. At the same time, perhaps, what Lúkacs witnessed was another beginning.