In a recent polemic directed at one of the doyens (Partha Chatterjee) of the Subaltern Studies project, I had contended that subalternist politics does no more than end up reproducing capital as a structure of constitutive duality of subalternity and elitism through its continuous expansion and intensification. This, I had further insisted, was because the proponents of subalternism presuppose that radicalism lies in envisaging politics in terms of affirmation of sheer subalternity. A move that, I had argued, continuously reproduces the structure of measure and valorisation, together with its constitutive limit or crisis. I had also sought to demonstrate in passing that this contention of mine stemmed from the fact that subalternity is the determinate limit or crisis of the structure of measure and/or valorisation in its suturing on to that very structure.
Among the many criticisms levelled at this polemic, I am choosing to respond, at some length, to one in particular here. I am doing this because I think by responding to this particular criticism I will be able to make certain clarifications, albeit only provisionally, with regard to how the structure (or, more precisely, the architectonics) of capital is to be grasped from the Marxian vantage-point of critique of political economy. More importantly, this response of mine will, I hope, go some way in revealing the rather insidious defence of subalternism and its pernicious politics the criticism in question mounts.
The aforementioned criticism of my position begins by arguing that “Subalternity cannot be preassumed to be a node around a capital centric suture…”. It then goes on to contend, against my argument, that “The evacuation of politics and ignoring of political economy can only be presumed if one *begins* with the assumption that economy is coterminous with capitalism, and capitalism is defined around markets and uber-structure of a globe as per the Young Hegelians rather than through production relations as per Marx”. Now, I entirely concur with my critic’s implied insistence that capitalism is not coterminous with economy. However, my reasons for doing so are diametrically and fundamentally opposed to hers. When my critic suggests that capitalism is not coterminous with economy, she clearly implies the economy is much bigger than capitalism. The latter being restricted, as far as she is concerned, to the markets of the globe. My concurrence with her assertion, on the other hand, is based on making sense of economy as merely markets, and thus grasping capital as political economy, which is much more than what global markets per se signify.
Clearly, my critic, in suggesting the economy is greater than capital, is, in all likelihood, equating capital with the global markets. For all practical purposes, she is the one who, in effect, shares with the Left-Hegelians the presupposition that capitalism is exhausted by markets. The only thing that putatively distinguishes her from the Left-Hegelians is her conception of the economy, which is the dynamic of intercourse of capital-as-markets with a vast sphere that, in her estimation, lies outside capital. This is clearly on account of her avowed affinity with a so-called Marxian theoretical approach that claims to have rethought capitalist development in those terms. Insofar as forging a political strategy is concerned, this approach has, in the name of anti-capitalism, yielded all sorts of compromising, complicitous and cooptative manoeuvres. In fact, it can be demonstrated without too much difficulty that this so-called anti-capitalist strategy suggested by my critic and others of her ilk is no more than a Left-Hegelian politics of social-democratic reformism by ‘antihumanist’ theoretical means. But more on that later. For now, let us not get ahead of ourselves.
To conflate capital with its sphere of exchange, where it is only expressed, would surely amount to a Left-Hegelian move, which, thanks to its basis in an anthropologised dialectic, renders the structure of capital fully congruent with the markets of the globe, even as it renders those global markets an uber-structure. The strategy of ‘transformative’ politics that emanates from such Left-Hegelian dialectical anthropology is, needless to say, one of continuous democratisation of exchange relations, or juridical relations. It is by no means not geared towards suspension of the iron-cage of social relations of production, which are merely represented by those juridical or exchange relations. In more specific political terms, such a strategy is tantamount to the thwarting of the radical potential of concrete struggles and, as a result, reduces them to being competitive and reformist manoeuvrings.
Insofar as capital is the actuality of value-relations, the sphere of exchange-relations (read markets) is merely the moment of expression of value and does not, therefore, exhaust capital. The condition of possibility of exchange-relations that are the phenomenal sphere of its expression is — as Marx rigorously demonstrates in the famous first chapter of Capital, Volume I — value-relation. And this is founded entirely politically in the abode of production and is hidden precisely by its phenomenality, or appearance, of free exchange. It’s in this precise sense that capital is, from a Marxian standpoint, political economy.
The question then is, when one grasps and conceptually designates capital as a structure, is it always the case that one is necessarily thinking of capital as being coterminous with market? In other words, is conflation of capital (read value-relations) with its expressivist sphere of exchange relations — which would thereby render global markets into a transcendental structure — the only way in which one can possibly think and conceptually designate capital as a structure? Or, is it possible to explicate and conceptualise capital as a structure – more precisely, a dialecticalised structure and thus an architectonic – from the Marxian standpoint of value-relations (social relations of production)? In fact, it’s precisely from such a Marxian standpoint, which understands and defines capital in terms of value-relations (or social relations of production), rather than merely in terms of the ‘uber-structure’ of global markets, that one can arguably come up with a more rigorous and politically productive conception of capital as a structure. My critical explication of subalternity as a capital-centric suture presupposes capital as a structure in precisely those terms of value-relation or social relations of production.
My critic has, however, shown she is incapable of comprehending that. Her theoretical standpoint, which allows her to hastily misread the conceptual presuppositions of my polemic against subalternism in order to then arrogantly dismiss my critical explication of subalternity as misplaced Left-Hegelianism, is precisely the cause of her paradigmatic blindness on that score. Her theoretical standpoint, as she has herself clearly indicated, derives from the “far better redoing of the subalternist approach” in the work of Stephen Cullenberg, Anjan Chakrabarti and Anup Dhar. She probably forgets to mention the work of two other front-ranking figures of this ‘redoing’ fraternity: Ajit Chaudhury and the late Kalyan Sanyal.
DERRIDEAN-MARXISTS AND THE ‘OUTSIDE’ OF CAPITAL
Since my critic has not spelt out how this fraternity of, what I choose to call, Derridean-Marxists ‘redoes’ the subalternist approach from a supposedly Marxian political-economic standpoint, let me do the honours. Of course, it’s not possible to go into the details of the work done by each of its various celebrated scholar-heroes here. I will, therefore, have to restrict myself to briefly stating its central thesis. This synoptic restatement of its central thesis here will, I guess, have to suffice for now. It will, hopefully, be adequate for the purposes of articulating a pertinent critique of its conceptual presupposition, and the strategic political orientation that consequently flows from it. This central thesis is arguably shared by all the proponents of this ‘school’ of Derridean-Marxism, notwithstanding the difference in nuances and stresses in their respective theoretical articulations.
The theoretical approach of these Derridean-Marxists is derived from Derrida’s “hauntological” reading of Marx, and the so-called anti-essentialist reading of Marx by Stephen Resnick and Rick Wolff. Their central thesis, which is underpinned and thoroughly informed by this theoretical approach of theirs, is the following: there is a vast outside of capital that the latter commands in order to reproduce itself without, however, subsuming this outside into its value-relational horizon of exploitation (or, extraction of surplus value). Another famous Derridean, with close ties to the Subaltern Studies project, would likely affirm this as a conception of ‘outside in the capital machine’. And this is what my critic also probably has in mind when she speaks of the “far better redoing of the subalternist approach” by some of those Derridean-Marxists. Without doubt this is, indeed, a redoing of the subalternist approach; one that rescues its restorative politics, which is based entirely on affirmation of sheer subalternity, by garbing it up better in the radical idiom of Marxism.
In fact, it is not at all surprising that my critic should assume that the only way in which one can think of capital as a structure, and subalternity as a capital-centric suture, is by presupposing that capital is coterminous with its phenomenalised and expressivist sphere of exchange-relations. Considering that her likely theoretical point of departure is this thesis of capital reproducing itself by commanding a vast outside without, however, subsuming it into its value-relational horizon, she could hardly think otherwise.
At this point, it must, however, be admitted that the work produced by these Derridean-Marxists is exceedingly rich in inquiry-based studies that have laid bare a whole host of socio-economic transactions, and the digits of power relations that underpin those transaction as their constitutive dynamic, especially in the geographical specificity of the Indian subcontinent. That is doubtless an important contribution on their part to the Marxian political-economic project. However, the theoretical framework within which those studies are situated robs them of much their revolutionary-transformative productivity. The only way those studies can be reclaimed for revolutionary-strategic purposes are by freeing them from the Derridean-Marxist conceptual framework in which they are embedded. That can only be accomplished through a process of sustained critique of that conceptual framework.
CAPITAL AS A VALUE-RELATIONAL STRUCTURE IN MARX
This Derridean-Marxist thesis, I wish to contend right away, is erroneous. Its error is arguably the result of not fully coming to terms with the lessons in critique of political economy that the Marx of Capital, particularly its first volume, has to offer. If one were to grasp value and its equation — following the Marx of Capital — in terms of congelation of human labour in the abstract, and the objective abstract labour time concomitant with it, then the abstraction of concrete labour and its own singular concrete time into a qualitatively equalisable objective measure comes across wholly as a question of politics. This is politics as class struggle, which is revealed by the objective dynamic of social relations of production. The politics of class struggle is constitutive of primitive accumulation — which is fundamentally the abstraction of concrete labour and its respectively singular concrete time in accordance with the objectively equalising measure of labour time through its extra-economic regimentation – and the resistance against it of that concrete labour and its respective use-value, which are a qualitative difference. This struggle is, therefore, over the degree of regimentation of concrete labour. For, the socially necessary labour time determined for a concrete labour that creates its respective use-value – something that through such determination is rendered equalisable as human labour in the abstract whose congealed yield would now be commodity as value – is a direct function of the degree of extra-economic regimentation of that concrete labour and its repository or potential. The latter being the vendible commodity of labour-power.
So, here we have in the ‘mind’ of capital – if one is allowed to talk in those terms for the sake of analysis – the resumption of qualitative difference (concrete labour/use-value), which is the limit of the horizon of qualitatively equalisable and thus quantifiable value-relation, precisely in and as its subsumption into that horizon of qualitative equalisation and measure. In other words, in the blind ‘mind’ of capital, it is the resumption of its limit in and as its subsumption into it. Here then we have a situation, wherein the limit of capital in its determinateness is, in the blind ‘mind’ of capital, not its limit but a barrier to be overcome. In this articulation of the limit of capital as a barrier by capital itself, the former gets sutured on to the latter to become its constitutive crisis or constitutive limit. In this context, subalternity, following Gramsci’s Marxian explication of the same, is precisely a historically concrete position of determinate limit of the horizon of value-relations thinking itself, not in its own terms, but in terms of its articulation and animation by that horizon. My contention that subalternity is a capital-centric suture is meant, contrary to what my critic presumes, in this precise sense of it being the constitutive limit/crisis of the horizon or structure of value relations or social relations of production.
Let us now approach the problem of value-relation as a structure from a slightly different angle. Let us begin by asking, how can there be an equation if there is no difference? More simply, the question of exchange arises only when there are qualitative differences (use-values). To paraphrase Marx, 20 yards of linen exchanged for 20 yards of linen will be no exchange at all. It will be a tautological absurdity. But an equation, thanks to its tendency to qualitatively equalise qualitative differences (singularities) tends to endanger precisely its own existence as that equation by tending to erase difference tends to preclude its own condition of possibility. The equation can, therefore, exist only when it’s a qualitative equalisation that nevertheless has to allow qualitative difference in order to be that qualitative equalisation. This paradox is the very heart of the algebraic logic of equation. And capital, or the law of value-relation, as the historical operation of this paradoxical logic of equation — or, qualitative equalisation of qualitative difference (singularity) — is, as Marx correctly states (particularly, in Grundrisse), a “moving contradiction”. This is precisely the reason why value as qualitative equalisation, in being represented by the quantitatively differentiated determination of exchange-value, instrumentalises the qualitatively different use-value component, or sheer bodily form, of a commodity to be embodied and thus realised as value. That capital for Marx is, indeed, a “moving contradiction” becomes amply evident when he unambiguously demonstrates right at the beginning of Capital that even as value in its representation by exchange-value has not an atom of use-value, use-value is the necessary material depository of value/exchange-value. Clearly, what Marx reveals to be the “two-fold nature” of commodity as the basic unit of capital is actually the germ of capital as a “moving contradiction”.
STRUCTURE IN ITS TWO-SIDEDNESS AND THE PROBLEM OF STRATEGY
For this reason, capital offers itself to be read as both itself (a totalising value-relational structure), and as a symptom of its own immanent crisis and thus impossibility. That is because every moment of subsumption of qualitative difference or use-value and the concrete labour unique to it is also the moment of resumption of that qualitative difference or singularity, and thus the determinate moment of displacement and excess of subsumption. In such circumstances, it can hardly be the case that there is an outside of capital that capital commands without subsuming it in its value-relational structure. In fact, what this reveals is that capital is a structure of subsumption/totalisation that resumes itself as that structure precisely by (re-)commencing its own limit and thus excess. In other words, there is no outside in the capital machine. It is, instead, all about being inside capital precisely by virtue of being against it. The so-called absolute outside of capital in being commanded by the latter is already always subsumed within it.
Therefore, an effective strategy against capitalist class power (the value-relational structure of subsumptive exploitation) is not, as my critic and her Derridean-Marxist friends would have us believe, the resistance of the outside or the other of capital to its coercive, oppressive command. For, this type of resistance can only be thought and envisaged, as it indeed is by the Derridean-Marxists, in terms of the sequentially continuous affirmation of ontologised difference. An effective strategy against the horizon of capitalist class power would, instead, be the affirmative deployment of the qualitative difference (or singularity) — which is the determinate limit of capital that capital always needs to resume only in order to subsume it – in a manner that it in its actuality tends towards suspending or totally negating the subsumptive value-relational structure that is capital.
This particular anti-capitalist strategy is a constructionist manoeuvre to affirm itself in its subtraction from the subsumptive-exploitative structure of value-relations by tending towards destroying or totally negating that structure in the process of constructing and affirming itself as that subtraction. The strategy posited by our Derridean-Marxists is affirmation of singular-universality as the (successively sequential) infinity of ontologised difference vis-à-vis capital as the horizon of the law of value. On the other hand, the anti-capitalist strategy that emerges from a rigorous fidelity to the lessons of critique of political economy offered by Marx in Capital, is arguably universal-singularity as the construction of a subtractive ontology by way of simultaneity of infinite difference and infinite deployment of infinite difference. This conception of universal-singularity as the construction of subtractive ontology by way of simultaneity of infinite difference and infinite deployment of infinite difference has been rigorously conceptualised and explicated by Alain Badiou.
Hence, an effective practical critique (affirmative critique) of capital cannot be envisaged by articulating it as the resistance of an absolute outside of capital to capital’s non-subsumptive command of it. Such resistance of the outside of capital — which is premised on the thesis that capital reproduces itself by commanding this absolute outside without subsuming it — is all about envisaging struggles against capital as withdrawal, or lines of escape, from it. Therefore, struggles animated by this strategy of resistance of the outside, or the other, of capital to its non-subsumptive command would evidently do nothing to suspend capital as a subsumptive horizon of value-relations. All that such struggles of resistance would do is puncture the horizon of capital causing it now to reproduce itself as its own open and permanent crisis. Clearly, the so-called anti-capitalist strategy of infinition of ontologised difference (or finitudes) is, in objective terms, really a politico-ideological articulation of neoliberalism. An effective practical critique can, instead, materialise only when capital is grasped in terms of its own internal critique or crisis – the determinate moment of resumption of the limit of capital – so that such moments of crisis internal to capital are sustained against their susbsumption through an anticipatory construction of those moments into a constellation. This constellational construction would be the uninterrupted process of what Badiou would call the mutual partaking of generic singularities, which, as a consequence, would articulate destructive antagonism towards the subsumptive-valorising structure of capital. This would, therefore, be the construction of the ontology of subtraction from within the subsumptive structure of value-relations, and in destructive antagonism to it. Hence, this subtractive ontology, in and as the adventure of its own construction, would be the Badiouian “singular-multiple” or “universal -singularity”. Marx and Engels’ conception of communism as “the real movement” – or, Marx’s conception of revolution as “revolution in permanence” – is precisely this.
In this context, the anti-capitalist strategy that derives from the conception of “in and against capital” of Mario Tronti, early Antonio Negri and certain other Italian workerist and post-workerist militants and intellectuals is clearly more rigorous, by far, than the Derridean and Derridean-Marxist strategy of ‘outside in the capital machine’.
At this point, we also ought to demonstrate how this wokerist/post-workerist strategic conception of in and against capital is fundamentally distinct from politics as the affirmation of sheer subalternity. Subalternist politics, unlike the workerist/post-workerist politics of in and against capital, is not able to countenance the fact that the limit of the horizon of measure, valorisation and/or representation is in its determinate resumption already always subsumed within that horizon or structure. In fact, proponents of subalternist politics do not realise that what they designate as subalternity, in order to envisage emancipatory politics in terms of its sheer affirmation, is this moment of resumption of the determinate limit/excess of the horizon of measure and valorisation as already always the moment of its subsumption. For this reason, the strategy of subalternist politics as the affirmation of sheer subalternity — not at all unlike the political strategy envisaged by our Derridean-Marxists in their ‘redoing’ of the suablternist approach — is envisaged in terms of infinition of ontologised difference.
LEFT-HEGELIANISM BY ANTIHUMANIST MEANS
It would perhaps not be out of place here to suggest that this Derridean-Marxist strategy of an absolute outside of capital haunting capital through its resistance against the latter’s non-subsumptive command amounts to mere dissemination. Now, dissemination, in spite of its radical antihumanist theoretical presuppositions, produces political effects that are, objectively speaking, hardly any different from the liberal-reformist and social-democratic effects produced by the Left-Hegelians, thanks to the latter’s humanist theoretical presuppositions. Repetition with a difference – or differance – does not, as we have observed earlier, suspend the objective horizon of value-relations. As a result, it amounts to no more than the puncturing of that horizon. Hence, it would not be entirely incorrect to insist that the political subjectivity articulated by this hauntological strategy of resistance is the Moses Hess-Proudhon-type of ethical-socialist subjectivity, which now stands refounded in tandem with the specificity of our late capitalist conjuncture: a conjuncture of barbarism that is characterised by capital existing as its own permanent and open crisis even as revolutionary-proletarian politics is in retreat. In other words, this is a neoliberal political subjectivity of radical communitarianism, which, in the objectivity of the neoliberal conjuncture, merely amounts to some kind of competitive reformism and identity politics. In this sense, it is a close kin of the pernicious political project of subalternism.
What must also be emphatically asserted here is that both subalternists and their Derridean-Marxist retrofitters are completely in the wrong when they insist that the so-called pre-political is actually political in its own right because it is absolutely autonomous, and thus a radical alterity, vis-à-vis the dominant political. Of course, the so-called pre-political is not actually pre-political. It is, without any dispute, political through and through. On that not a quarter ought to be yielded to the dominant historicist and stagiest tendency within both theoretical and political Marxisms. That said, one ought to also recognise that the so-called pre-political is actually political not because it is absolutely autonomous, and thus a radical alterity, vis-à-vis the dominant political. Rather, it’s as much political as the dominant political precisely because its relationship with the latter is constitutive of a structure that generates the political both in its dominant and subordinate instantiations. If capital is the structure of value-relations as the qualitative equalisation of qualitative difference, and is thus represented by quantitatively differentiated determinations of exchange-values, it is, in its world-becoming as that structure, manifest as combined and uneven development. In such circumstances, the political is neither the dominant nor the subordinate in any moment of this combination of unevenness. Rather, the political is the dynamic of the relation between the two, which is constitutive of their combinatory or structure. In this sense, the dominant political and that which, as a result, is produced and designated as ‘pre-political in that qualitatively equalised and thus quantitatively differentiated relationship are both equally political.
Now, let us focus on the workerist/post-workerist conception of being in and against capital in order to figure out how it is radically distinct from the modality of subalternist politics. The proponents of this strategic conception while envisaging the determinate resumption of qualitative difference (use-value/concrete labour) – which would be the determinate instantiation of excess of the structure of measure and valorisation — anticipate its subsumption. As a result, their strategy — premised on this conception of determinate resumption of excess as already always its subsumption — seeks to concretely prefigure the exceeding of the limit that the resumption of the excess in being determinately envisaged is anticipated to come up against. Clearly, this is a strategy of constructing subtraction – Badiou’s “subtractive ontology” to be precise – vis-à-vis the subsumptive horizon or structure of value-relations, which starts getting destroyed as a consequence of such subtractive construction, and in tandem with it.
This subtractionist strategy – which is as much integral to Badiou’s post-Maoist Maoism as arguably that of certain tendencies of workerism and post-workerism – is based on grasping capital through a process of dialectical reversal: capital, which is the subsumption of its determinate limit, is grasped as, and rendered, the limit of the determinate moment of its excess. Althusserian overdetermination, which is an explication of capital from the side of proletarian politics and in its strategic terms, affords precisely such a dialectically-reversed reading and conception of capital.
SUBTRACTION AND MARX’S ‘HEGELIANISM’
The ground for this was, however, cleared by Marx himself who anticipated this subtractionist strategy and its theoretical presupposition of being in and against capital. It was precisely because Marx grasped capital as a moving contradiction that he was able to rearticulate Hegel’s dialectic against its totalising mystifying grain, which “seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things”, as a “rational” dialectic that was “a scandal and an abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable break-up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence…”. This shows, among other things, that when one thinks capital as a structure – as one certainly should – one thinks of it as much as an abstracted totality as the discursive demonstration of its determinate excess. After all, the story of capital as a structure, if it’s seen in its longue duree, has so far been a story of its unraveling. However, this two-sided thinking of the dialectic – and the structure of capital – is bound to be lost on Derridean-Marxists because they do not fully grasp Marx’s demonstration of capital as a “moving contradiction”, wherein the inside of capital is that inside precisely in opposing capital by tending to exceed it as a subsumptive-exploitative structure of value-relations (or social relations of production). As a result, they do not see how the structure can be thought, and envisaged, as both a totalising closure, and precisely for that reason, as a discursively articulated exceeding and unraveling of the same.
It is this that compels them to make sense of oppression and social domination in terms of capital as a historically concrete horizon of social relations of production commanding its absolute outside in order to reproduce itself without, however, subsuming this outside into those relations of production. And it is precisely for this reason that someone like my critic cannot imagine that one can think of capital as a structure without either necessarily rendering the structure a transhistorical closure, or grasping it merely in terms of global markets.
When structure is grasped, or conceived, from the side of capital, we have structure as a totalised closure. This is structure as an abstraction. But when the same structure is thought, and/or envisaged, from the side of its immanent critique, then what we have is structure as the discursively demonstrated or articulated limit of the excess of structure as an abstraction. The fact that capital as a structure reproduces itself through expansion and recomposition shows it is not a stabilised totality. Precisely for this reason the structure of capital ought to be thought, not in terms of transcendental infinite totality, but as infinite totalisation. And this is the schizz of capital as a total structure. Therefore, to grasp, and envisage, capital as a structure is not necessarily to grasp it in terms of a transcendental or uber totality but to grasp it as totalisation (as opposed to totality), which must always begin as that totalisation precisely because in thus beginning it is constantly unravelled as the totality it tends to be. Clearly, the emphasis, when one grasps capital as a structure from the side of its immanent critique, is on the counter-tendency of resumption of its unraveling, or opening up, rather than its tendency of subsumption and closure.
In this context, Althusser and Macherey’s conception of structure (or the dialectic) as the limit-form of its own displacement, because it’s an effect and thus a symptom of its own “decalage” (void), demonstrates that their articulation of capital as a “structured totality” – contra capital as an “expressivist totality” – is from the side of its immanent critique. A similar but more advanced rearticulation of the structural dialectic (of infinite totalisation) from the side of its immanent critique that renders it a “historical dialectic” (of “infinite thought” in action) is to be found in Badiou’s “metaontological” (re)articulation of the structural dialectic as the Real in its limit: the Real being the happening of the impossibility of conceptualisation and/or structuring, and thus its excess. Even a Hegelian-Marxist such as Moishe Postone in coming up with his conception of capital as structure clearly does so from the side of its immanent critique. He explicates his conception of capital as a “blind subjectivity” of totalisation in terms of this totalisation being an effect of precisely the determinate overcoming of social mediation (or totality). Postone arrives at this conception of totality/totalisation, thanks to his radical deployment of the Hegelian dialectic by pushing it to its extreme, and thus against its own idealist grain.
Clearly, emancipation is, and must be, an antidialectic. But the antidialectic of emancipation, if the same is to be thought rigorously and not in the fancy-free non-dialectical manner of so-called difference-thinking, can be actualised only through dialectical thinking as its own action. As both Postone and Badiou have shown from their respectively distinct radical-Hegelian and Althusserian points of departure, this antidialectic of emancipation cannot be ontologised, and can only be an immanently constructed constellation. This fundamentally distinguishes Badiou’s metaontological affirmation of the antidialectic of emancipation, for instance, from the ontologising and thus non-dialectical affirmation of the antidialectic in phenomenology of difference and Heideggerian-Levinasian deconstruction.
WHAT THE HELL IS UNPRODUCTIVE LABOUR?
We have so far articulated our critique of the Derridean-Marxist position in terms of the bare abstractions of the dialectic and the structure. We would do well now to critically examine their central thesis — capital commanding an absolute outside without subsuming it — in more concrete political-economic terms.
Let us begin with Marx’s conceptions of productive and unproductive labour in his Theories of Surplus Value, Part I. While critically engaging with Adam Smith’s conceptions of the same, Marx writes: “Only labour which produces capital is productive labour. Commodities or money become capital, however, through being exchanged directly for labour-power, and exchanged only in order to be replaced by more labour than they themselves contain. For the use-value of labour-power to the capitalist as a capitalist does not consist in its actual use-value, in the usefulness of this particular concrete labour – that it is spinning labour, weaving labour, and so on. He is as little concerned with this as with the use-value of the product of this labour as such, since for the capitalist the product is a commodity (even before its first metamorphosis), not an article of consumption. What interests him in the commodity is that it has more exchange-value than he paid for it; and therefore the use-value of the labour is, for him, that he gets back a greater quantity of labour-time than he has paid out in the form of wages.”
Marx then goes on to further explicate his conceptions of productive and unproductive labour through his continued critical assimilation of Smith: “…this distinction between productive and unproductive labour has nothing to do either with the particular specialty of the labour or with the particular use-value in which this special labour is incorporated. In the one case, the labour is exchanged with capital, in the other with revenue. In the one case the labour is transformed into capital, and creates a profit for the capitalist; in the other case it is an expenditure, one of the articles in which revenue is consumed.”
The domain of the absolute outside of capital, which capital commands in order to reproduce itself without at the same time subsuming that outside into its value-relational structure, is, for our Derridean-Marxists, possibly constituted by a range of practices of unproductive labour as defined by Marx in the passage above. There are, undeniably, a whole range of labouring activities (including heavily gendered care work in the domain of social reproduction), which yield products that are acquired not to be competitively exchanged for profit through transfer of value, but for immediate consumption. As a result, the domain of ‘production’ constitutive of such labouring activities involves no extraction of (surplus) value – or (surplus) labour time. Rather, what is involved, as far as such unproductive labour is concerned, is extraction of surplus use-values for immediate consumption. The forms through which such extraction of surplus labour (surplus use-values) — as opposed to extraction of surplus labour time (surplus value) – is operationalised are, more often than not, extra-economic or semi-extra-economic. That is perhaps why such forms can, at times, come across as ‘pre-capitalist’ (feudalism, slavery, bonded labour and so on in their various permutations and combinations) at the level of their discursive appearances. If one were to confine oneself strictly and purely at this level, one would be correct to observe that capital as a value-equational structure of social relations of production institutes socio-economic transactions with an outside of unproductive labour by way of extra-economic or semi-extra-economic command. Such unproductive labouring activities can be easily construed as the outside of capital because the products they yield are not value-embodying commodities in the strict sense, and such labouring activities are, for that reason, not integrated into the value-equational horizon of production relations.
However, from the vantage-point of Marx’s critique of political economy, such an analysis would be patently unrigorous and incomplete. To claim that such labour-practices constitute the unproductive outside of capital because the products they yield are not value-embodying commodities because they are merely use-values meant for immediate consumption, is to analyse the situation merely in terms of its immediate empirical appearance. To analyse such a situation more rigorously and accurately, one must attempt to grasp and reveal the concretely precise functionality that this immediate appearance of unproductive labour – labour producing use-values for immediate consumption – has with regard to the value-relational horizon of capital and its productive labour. And here the following excerpt from Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, becomes crucial: “The whole world of “commodities” can be divided into two great parts. First, labour-power, second, commodities as distinct from labour-power itself. As to the purchase of such services as those which train labour-power, maintain or modify it, etc., in a word, give it a specialised form or even only maintain it – thus for example the schoolmaster’s service, in so far as it is ‘industrially necessary’ or useful; the doctor’s service, in so far as he maintains health and so conserves the source of all values, labour-power itself – these are services which yield in return ‘a vendible commodity…’, namely labour-power itself, into whose costs of production or reproduction these services enter.”
Seen in this context, labour-practices that are unproductive in their immediate appearance, emerge as productive in the final analysis, in terms of their rearticulation and refunctionalisation by the causality of the structure within which they get situated precisely by virtue of producing only use-values for immediate consumption. The use-values such labour produces for immediate consumption effectuate, in being thus consumed, the production of the “vendible commodity” of labour-power, which, according to Marx, is “the source of all values”. Such unproductive labour, which produces use-values for immediate consumption, would, according to Marx, be “services” that enter into the “costs of production and reproduction” of the vendible commodity of labour-power. So, in the ultimate analysis, such labour is productive. Autonomist Italian Marxist-Feminists – particularly, Leopoldina Fortunati in her pathbreaking book, The Arcane of Reproduction – have developed this important insight of Marx to an advanced level of theorisation with regard to the familial domain of unwaged care work. Of course, one will not be able to grasp the full import of such work if one seeks to understand value merely in terms of calculation of its magnitude.
Value is, first and foremost, about politically instituting an equalising measure or rationality. Only then is it a calculable magnitude in accordance with this politically founded measure or rationality. Marx demonstrates that with great acuity in Capital. By seeking to explicate unwaged and thus apparently unproductive labour in the familial domain of reproductive or care work in terms of its integration into the capitalist value-chain of productive labour, Italian Marxist-Feminists such as Fortunati have revealed the constitutive crisis that value essentially is, at the level of its very appearance. They have shown how the unwaged, custom-based extra-economic familial domain of care work demonstrates value in and as the irrational (political) founding of itself as a rationality (economy). Therefore, in their theorisation, value is not merely a rationality or measure, but is, rather, a measure or rationality in and as its own constitutive crisis of the irrational and the unmeasured. In terms of bare logical abstraction, what they are suggesting, and with profound accuracy at that, is the following: the unmeasured is not only the constitutive limit of measure that makes the latter possible, but, precisely on that account, measure is the limit-form of the immeasurable. That primitive accumulation is not merely a one-time historical occurrence, but is constitutive of every moment of so-called normal, economic accumulation is rigorously substantiated by the work of these Italian Marxist-Feminists.
Our Derridean-Marxists with their conception of capital commanding its absolute outside without subsuming it cannot, unfortunately, understand that. They are unable to grasp and explicate capital as a structure, which for them can only and necessarily be an exitless totality that precludes all attempts to think a viable and effective strategy of emancipation. It is this that has arguably led them to think of capital in terms of it commanding an absolute outside to itself, and which this outside resists. This, they believe, is the only possible way through which one can develop an effective anti-capitalist strategy. It is precisely for this reason they think, like my critic here, that anybody who grasps capital as a structure is necessarily a Left-Hegelian thinking in terms of an transcendental structure created by global markets. And this, in turn, is, as we have seen earlier, due to their inability to grasp Marx’s explication of the value-relational structure of capital as a moving contradiction. This prevents them from understanding capital as the horizon of value-equational relations of production in terms of internal dialectics. As a result, they are incapable of seeing how the dialectic as a structure is not merely the totalising subsumption but is, precisely for that reason, the limit-form of its own antagonistic asymmetry. In other words, they do not realise that the inside of capital, a value-relational structure, is not merely this inside. That the inside of capital is that inside precisely as the limit or interruption of its determinately asymmetrical antagonism is something that completely eludes them. Their failure, or unwillingness, to countenance capital as a structure in its two-sidedness also obstructs a proper understanding of political economy in its concrete operation. They are unable to grasp how unproductive labour, whose apparent function is the creation of use-values for immediate consumption, is already always subsumed within capital’s value-relational structure of productive labour precisely by virtue of being such a producer of use-values for immediate consumption.
What the thesis of capital’s non-subsumptive command of an absolute outside also fails to account for is how labour-practices, which are apparently unproductive, fulfil yet another productive structural-functionality over and above the one demonstrated above. People, who apparently do unproductive labour in order to only reproduce themselves, constitute the “relative surplus- population” or the “industrial reserve army” (Marx, in Capital, Volume I). This reserve army of labour works to regiment the productively employed labour-power and increases the latter’s productivity, thereby leading to a concomitant increase in the extraction of surplus value and capital accumulation. In the ultimate analysis, this renders the apparently unproductive labour of the unemployed and underemployed reproducing itself, systemically productive.
The labour that is unproductive in an immediate sense must be grasped in terms of how its unproductive functionality is productively articulated by the structured totality of social labour within which it is constitutively situated. That is precisely what Marx does while explicating his concept of the “industrial reserve army”. He writes: “If the means of production, as they increase in extent and effective power, become to a less extent means of employment of labourers, this state of things is again modified by the fact that in proportion as the productiveness of labour increases, capital increases its supply of labour more quickly than its demand for labourers. The over-work of the employed part of the working-class swells the ranks of the reserve, whilst conversely the greater pressure that the latter by its competition exerts on the former, forces these to submit to over-work and to subjugation under the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working-class to enforced idleness by the over-work of the other part, and the converse, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army on a scale corresponding with the advance of social accumulation.”
This Marxian conception of industrial reserve army has become even more significant in this neoliberal (or, late-capitalist) conjuncture. That is so because this conjunctural moment is characterised by accelerating rates of same-skilling across the various segmental and sectoral divides of the working class, and an equally rapid diminution in the quantity of productively employed living labour due to a significant diminution of socially necessary labour time. All of this, thanks to an unprecedented and overall increase in the organic composition of capital. This, in turn, has brought into being the footloose and precarious “mass-worker”. Its ranks ceaselessly burgeoning with an ever-increasing rapidity. The mass-worker is clearly as much a part of the apparently unproductive reserve army of labour as he/she is productively employed in the production of value. The Derridean-Marxist thesis that there is a vast outside of capital that capital as a value-relational horizon non-subsumptively commands in order to reproduce itself is even more difficult to sustain in the face of the rise of the mass-worker, and its characteristically indeterminate and precarious positionality.
In fact, the crisis that capital has progressively been running into due to the increasing and accelerating diminution of living labour in the production of value has compelled it to turn towards the affective realm of ‘non-work’ socialisation in order to render its various moments sites for direct extraction of value. The rise of social media is a prime exemplar of that. This is “affective capital” – or “biocapitalism” – demonstrated and explicated with quite a bit of clarity by the Italian post-workerists, among others. This is life itself in its living as production of value, and thus productive work. This has led Negri, together with many other post-workerists and autonomist-Marxists, to come up with the conception of social factory. In this light, our Derridean-Marxists need to be asked, once again, where is this absolute outside of capital that capital commands without subsuming it? Where is it, indeed?
OF TRANSITION AND POSITIONALITY
At this point, it would perhaps be appropriate to underscore the importance of rethinking the problem of transition. Such rethinking is indispensable if one wishes to rigorously come to terms with the strategic conception of positionality. My critic, thanks to her affinity for the Derridean-Marxist theoretical approach, deploys this conception in the most slipshod fashion while criticising my polemic against Partha Chatterjee and his subalternist approach to politics. I had argued, while dwelling on Chatterjee’s rather troubling position on India’s occupations of Kashmir and its so-called north-eastern states, that “…this so-called criticism of colonial occupations by subalternists such as Chatterjee is not the determinate critique of political economy it ought to be in order to realise and fulfil its radical potential. And anti-colonialism and/or anti-occupation, in the discourse and thinking of such intellectuals, stands completely evacuated of all politics of class struggle to become no more than an idiom of competitive ethno-nationalisms and ‘militant’ reformism. Precisely through such a politico-theoretical move is the anti-colonial and/or anti-occupation politics of, say, Kashmir ostensibly affirmed only to be rendered a little nationalism or sub-nationalism that then serves to legitimise and reinforce India’s federalist-unionist big nationalism, which is the ideology that serves its imperial project of politically managing the South Asian moment of the globalising late-capitalist conjuncture. This particular modality of deployment of the language and ideas of anti-colonialism is nothing but their revisionist rearticulation, which is precisely what postcolonialism is.” I had also gone on to assert that “…this is not simply hypocrisy on Chatterjee’s part. It is something far more pernicious. It is neurosis that inheres in the very structure of his thinking and discourse.”.
The response my critic came up with is the following: “The critique of Chatterjee here sort of exculpates (him) by presuming the issue has something to do with the in-built limit of their analysis. I actually think that this is not so — which makes it worse. This is not a lapse because the analysis cannot go there. It is a lapse because we (I include my self here, as I don’t think I have worked this out for my own self) retain a nationalist presupposition coming from our positionality. Sort of like how whiteness works (so not inherent TO analyses of race that they cannot handle the transitions between racial formations from slavery to capitalism, but a blockage from the whiteness side of it…).”
A more disingenuous articulation would be difficult to come by. She attempts — with the surreptitious dexterity of a seasoned professional academic — to turn the tables on my polemic by suggesting that I provide Chatterjee with an exit route just because I seek to critically locate his pernicious position on Indian occupations in the limit internal to his structure of thinking and discourse. Well then, let me return the favour by laying bare in even more unqualified terms the political complicity of her theoretical approach in India’s occupation of Kashmir; among other things.
Even as she insinuates that my polemic against Chatterjee’s position on Kashmir and the so-called Indian Northeast is actually an apologia on his behalf, she goes on to suggest that Chatterjee’s problem is entirely an ethical problem of not being able to grapple with the “nationalist presupposition” of his positionality at the level of his self. By making this problem of positionality purely into a question of ethics, or practice of the self, my critic seems to be clearly suggesting that the politics of emancipation can be no more than a politics of reform – one that will compel people occupying dominant and oppressor positionalities to ethically grapple with the presuppositions of those positionalities to change the state of affairs by simply changing themselves. In making this utterly status-quoist political move – dressed up in the idiom of radical theory – not only does she naturalise the conception of positionality, but consequently ends up reinforcing the hegemony of the structure as the constitutive duality of dominance and subordination.
We would do well, at this point, to remind my critic, and her ethically-inclined Derridean-Marxist friends, what Marx says in the ‘Preface to the First German Edition’ of Capital, Volume I: “I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of our society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.”
My critic’s complicit and compromised position is arguably on account of how she understands the Marxist problem of transition. If one were to rethink the problem of transition in the light of how capital as a value-relational structure refunctionalises unproductive labour as productive, one would probably realise that the transition from various pre-capitalist modes of production to a capitalist one does not always necessarily involve alteration in the discursive appearances of the socio-economic forms that instantiated those pre-capitalist modes of production in their own respective times.
More often than not, such forms are carried into capitalism in their ‘pre-capitalist’ discursive appearances through a process of their rearticulation, reanimation, and/or refunctionalisation by the capitalist mode of production, or the value-relational structure that is capital. We already saw that when we were earlier dealing with how extra-economic or semi-extra-economic extraction of surplus use-values gets rearticulated into a productive relation. In such circumstances, apparently pre-capitalist social relations of race, caste, community, gender and so on are preserved at the level of their respective discursive appearances only and precisely through a process of their productive refunctionalisation in and by the value-relational structure of capital. Hence, race, caste, community and gender relations in their ‘pre-capitalist’ appearance operate as integral constituents of the value-relational structure of capital. They are now, therefore, fully capitalist in their structural-functionality.
In such a situation, the oppressed positionalities of, say, Blackness, Dalitness, Femaleness, Muslimness, or, for that matter, Kashmiriness can emancipate themselves from the oppression embodied in the oppressor positionalities of, say, Whiteness, Brahminism, Maleness, Hinduness, or, for that matter, Indiannness, only by seeking to unravel the value-relational structure of capital within which such oppressive relations are situated through their productive refunctionalisation by that structure.
INDIA’S NEOLIBERAL OCCUPATIONS
In the case of Kashmir, for instance, the Indian occupation retains the discursive appearance of classical colonialism. But the way it serves capital in its late, neoliberal conjuncture is significantly distinct from how classical colonialism served capital in its early conjuncture of so-called embedded liberalism. It might not be entirely misplaced to argue that the main function of Indian occupation of Kashmir now, thanks to the de-development it has wrought on the occupied territory, is that of rendering and maintaining the population of this territory as a reserve or pool of migrant labour with regard to certain economic sectors, and segments (mostly cognitarians) of the productive labour market in the Indian mainland. This is even truer of the Indian occupation of its so-called Northeast. The degree and extent of this phenomenon can, however, be revealed only through militant inquiries by politically committed activists and radical intellectuals within the Kashmiri movement against Indian occupation
This contention of mine should not, however, be taken to mean that certain other territories such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which have historically been an integral part of the Indian national project in its formation, have not been de-developed to function as labour reserves for the industrial economic centres of the country. What it simply means is that Kashmir and the so-called Indian Northeast have been functionalised as labour reserves through the historical process of occupation that is specific to them. Bihar and UP too have been similarly functionalised, but through different historical processes specific to their respective socio-economic and political geography. Besides, the economic sectors and labour segments the Kashmiri reserve serves, for instance, is not fully congruent with the economic sectors and segments served by the Bihari or Uttar Pradeshi reserves. There is also likely be a whole range of differences, both at the subjective-experiential plane and at the level of objective quantification, among the members of those diverse labour reserves in their operations in the social factory on the Indian mainland. What cannot, however, be disputed is the historical form of colonial occupation — which has been specific to the dynamic of relations between India and Kashmir, or India and its so-called Northeast — continues to perpetuate itself; and in doing so functionalises those regions as pools of migrant labour for different economic sectors, and segments of its productive labour market, on the Indian mainland.
Also, the occupation, by being a live demonstration of India’s imperialist hegemony vis-à-vis its south Asian neighbourhood, tends to bolster, both politically and ideologically, the nationalist consensus in the mainland thus preventing the accentuation of class contradictions there. Of course, such occupations, not unlike classical colonialism, continue to extract and appropriate resources and raw materials native to the occupied territories. But this arguably is no longer its primary structural-functionality. Rather, it is a discursive appearance that has been retained from its specific historical past and which is now an epiphenomenon that wreaks and sustains de-development in the occupied territories to functionalise them as migrant labour pools with regard to the mainland. All of this together, however, amounts to no more than a considered hypothesis. One that will, once again, have to be substantiated through militant investigations by activists and radical intellectuals in the anti-occupation struggles being waged in those areas.
The short point of all this hypothesising is that every struggle against its respectively specific form of oppression has to envisage its strategy in a manner that each of them in the determinateness of militating against its concrete form of oppression begins articulating the destruction of the value-relational structure of capital. Anything less would be reformist and restorative identity politics, which would rob those struggles of their radical potential, and render them competitive and reformist. This would make those struggles into reproducers and recomposers of precisely the same oppressive structure of the constitutive duality of domination and subordination they have been militating against. The reproduction of that structure, by way of its recomposition through such struggles, will amount to those struggles throwing up new layers of systemically-coopted elite intermediaries and subjugated subalterns of their own.
BETWEEN ETHICS AND PRIVILEGE-CALLING, AND THE ETHICO-POLITICAL OF REVOLUTIONARY MILITANCY
In this context, my critic’s theoretical move to delink the question of positionality from the problem of transition leads her to a thoroughly ethicalised conception of politics, whose preponderant strategic register is that of privilege-calling. The problem with this strategic register, if we carefully attend to the political language it generates, is that its emphasis is more on calling people out on their privileged positionalities than on strategising the unraveling of the value-relational structure of capital that is the condition of possibility of this constitutive duality of privileged and underprivileged positionalities.
This is, therefore, a strategy of “ressentiment” (Nietzsche). Underpinned by “slave-morality” (Nietzsche), it’s a strategy tailor-made to serve neoliberal capital. If on one hand, it is about struggle as a politics of competitive bargaining and cooption; its obverse, on the other hand, is that people occupying dominant/oppressor positionalities do no more than ethically grapple with those positionalities in their instantiations at the level of merely their selfhood. Collective politics, in this context, becomes a big laugh: it’s about the ‘collectivity’ of various selves ethically grappling with their oppressor positionalities to overcome them. This clearly implies that the structural condition of possibility of such mutually constitutive positionalities of the oppressor and the oppressed is left intact. Worse, the idiom of solidarity becomes, as far as the oppressor/dominant positionality is concerned, a register of philanthropic empathy and sympathy for the ‘less-fortunate’ occupiers of the oppressed/subordinate positionality. As a result, the idiom of solidarity becomes a systemic ideology, enabling not merely the reproduction of the structural condition of possibility of oppression as such, but perpetuating and deepening the same forms of oppression too.
This is, however, not to suggest that a political strategy orientated towards unraveling the value-relational structure of capital will have nothing to do with questioning privileged positionalities. To thinks that is preposterous, to say the least. Any strategising that seeks to unravel the value-relational structure of capital will have to envision how movements against specific forms of oppression can concretely articulate themselves as the simultaneity of “struggle in unity, unity in struggle”. This strategic conception and credo of Mao Zedong clearly shows that privilege-calling is integral to revolutionary-political movementality, and thus does not need to exist as an independent strategic register and/or political idiom. After all, what else can it mean when people are called on to struggle in the process of coming together in unity? Mao’s credo of “struggle in unity, unity in struggle” is all about envisaging strategy as the constellational construction of subtractive ontology in Badiou’s sense of the term. And it is not as if this is devoid of ethicality. In its revolutionary-proletarian conception, politics is the singularity of the ethico-political. This means it is no longer simply about ethics as the grappling with one’s positionality in its instantiation at the level of one’s self. Politics as the singularity of the ethico-political implies, instead, that ethics is integral and internal to concrete political struggles against concrete forms of oppression or social domination. This is manifest in the future-anterior orientation of those struggles that they seek to actualise from the determinateness of their respective concrete locations in striving to unravel the value-relational structure of capital while struggling against the specific forms of oppression they are faced with. According to Badiou, there cannot be a Marxist ethics, but there is an “ethics of Marxism”. And this ethics of Marxism is the revolutionary-proletarian subjectivity as the simultaneity of “unity in struggle, struggle in unity” in its actualisation amid and through concrete struggles against concrete forms of oppression.