As regular readers of this blog will know, I am not convinced that China is capitalist at all, given the overriding economic power of the state and its plan compared to the capitalist sector. The lives of Chinese are much more decided by the state and state enterprises than through the vagaries and uncertainties of the market and the law of value. As Milanovic says, China has grown in real GDP and average living standards in 70 years faster than any other economy in human history. So is this really a demonstration of a successful capitalist economy (when all other capitalist economies only achieved less than a quarter of China’s growth rate and were subject to regular and recurring slumps in investment and production)? Could not China’s different narrative be something to do with its 1949 revolution and the expropriation of its national capitalist class and the removal of foreign imperialism? Perhaps capitalism is not alone after all.
A decade after the financial crisis of 2008, global capitalism remains in dire straits. Despite central banks providing a steady diet of low interest rates and pumping over $12 trillion of new money into the world economy through quantitative easing, growth remains anaemic, even as debt levels in many countries are back on the rise and inequality rapidly spirals out of control. Secular stagnation now goes hand in hand with the emergence of new speculative bubbles in stocks and housing, raising fears that fresh financial turmoil and further debt crises may only be a matter of time.
With mainstream economics clearly incapable of providing a satisfactory account of capitalism’s inherent tendency towards crisis formation, the past decade has seen a resurgence of interest in the work of Karl Marx, undoubtedly the most astute observer of the system’s internal contradictions. Perhaps no other living scholar has played a more important role in this renaissance of Marxist theorizing than David Harvey, the geographer whose many books and celebrated online course on Capital weaned a new generation of students and activists on an innovative reading of Marx’s critique of political economy.
So too it goes in Capitalism and Schizophrenia: capital, described in Anti-Oedipus as a flow of “abstract or fictional quantities”, is oriented towards “the wilderness where the decoded flows run free, the end of the world, the apocalypse”. This plane of cosmic schizophrenia is constantly ward-offed by Oedipal and statist compensators – yet the more capital itself proliferates, the greater the schizophrenization that explodes back from the periphery to the center, and the more the compensatory mechanisms shake and, ultimately, shatter. When social bodies—themselves compositions of fictional quantities and myths—are “confronted with this real limit, repressed from within, but returns to them from without, they regard this event with melancholy as the sign of their approaching death”.
Dark Deleuze recovers the forgotten negativity that impregnates Deleuze’s collected works. This negativity has affinities with Walter Benjamin’s destructive character and Maurice Blanchot’s great refusal. The book Dark Deleuze proceeds by way of close reading, with particular attention to his characteristic ambivalence as seen in his use of de-, a-, in-, and non-prefixes. The result is a series of ‘contraries,’ which offer alternative terms to the canon of joy. The ‘contrary’ in this sense is an alternative to be taken, such as a fork in the road rather than a tendential opposite, dialectical antimony, or complementary pole – to name all seventeen, a philosophical task of “destroying worlds” in contrast to “creating concepts,” a theory of the subject of “un-becoming” in contrast to “assemblages,” an analysis of existence through “transformation” in contrast to “genesis,” an ontology derived from “materialism” in contrast to “realism,” a use of difference as “exclusive disjunction” in contrast to “inclusive disjunction,” a diagrammatics of “asymmetry” in contrast to “complexity,” a form of organization of “asymmetry” in contrast to “the rhizome,” an ethics of “conspiratorical communism” in contrast to “processural democracy,” an analysis of affects of “cruelty” in contrast to “intensity,” an inquiry into speed as “escape” in contrast to “acceleration,” a theory of flows as “interruption” in contrast to “production,” a focus on the substance of “political anthropology” in contrast to “techno-science,” a nomadism of the “barbarian” in contrast to the “pastoral,” a distribution of “the outside” in contrast to “nomos,” a politics of “cataclysm” in contrast to “the molecular,” a cinema of “the power of the false” in contrast to “the force of bodies,” and a theory of the sensible as “indiscernibility” in contrast to “experience.”
This might suggest that the project of Capital was an unfinished one, perhaps even a failed one. Thus, later interpreters have often gravitated to Marx’s earlier, long-unpublished writings—ranging from the Paris manuscripts of 1844 to the so-called Grundrisse that he abandoned in 1858—hoping to recover core intuitions that were lost when Marx got bogged down in Capital. At the very least, the checkered history of Capital’s composition might cut against the notion that Volume I forms a coherent whole. Thus, influential interpreters like David Harvey and Michael Heinrich insist on the need to analyze all three volumes as a unit (however fragmentary the latter two might be). Other interpreters, confronted with the patchwork quality of Volume I, lop off those pieces that they find extraneous, whether it’s the abstract analysis of the commodity form at the beginning or the historical account of “primitive accumulation” at the end.
Roberts, by contrast, treats Volume I as the authoritative distillation of Marx’s political theory, his “premier act of political speech.” He justifies this partly by the very fact of its publication: To prioritize Marx’s unpublished manuscripts and discarded drafts over the book that he was willing to present to the world is to reverse Marx’s own judgments about what was valuable in his work. But Roberts’s larger and more ambitious argument is that Marx’s readers have missed the underlying structure and coherence of Volume I itself.
The preponderance of abstract over concrete labor transforms the nature of work, by making it more routinized, machine-like, and abstracted from the sensuousness of the individual. It transforms our relation to nature, since it becomes increasingly viewed as a mere externality that must serve the dictates of capital accumulation. Nature ceases to be seen as having intrinsic value (in the moral sense); natural contingency and human creativity count only insofar as they augment economic value—and if they do not, they are ignored or cast aside. And capital’s drive for self-expansion transforms the meaning of time, since both workers and capitalists become governed by an abstract, quantitative, and invariable time-determination over which they have no control. The more abstract labor becomes, the greater the amount of value produced. And the more value produced, the more that capitalism is driven to augment value (and profit) ever more. In capitalism, “Time is everything, man is nothing; he is, at most, time’s carcass. Quality no longer matters. Quantity decides everything; hour for hour, day by day” (Marx 1976, 127). Capital is an endless quest for an infinite magnitude in a finite world.
None of this may seem to have anything to do with a post-capitalist society. However, Capital’s emphasis on the domination of human activity by abstract universal labor time intimates what must be done to transcend capitalism. It is not enough to simply abolish private property and unregulated markets, since stopping there leaves production relations intact. This is no discovery of Capital, of course; Marx had already arrived at this insight in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, in critiquing “crude communism” for presuming that the mere abolition of private property constitutes the transcendence of capitalism. Capital, in its entirety, is the fullest concretization of this critique. And in doing so it poses a far more radical and expansive vision than those who define socialism as the abolition of market anarchy and unorganized exchange. In fact, Capital suggests that the alternative to capitalism necessarily seems to center on organizing exchange because of the nature of value production itself. The value of a commodity can never be known immediately, by looking at it in isolation; its value becomes manifest only in the exchange relation between discrete commodities. Value is therefore a “social hieroglyphic” (Marx 1977, 167) that is deep, dark, and difficult to understand. It is immediately knowable only on the level of its phenomenal expression—exchange-value. It therefore appears—virtually inevitably—that “rationally” organizing relations of exchange is the sine qua non for ending capitalism. Those who remain on the surface of things—which is a great many of us—never get further than this, making it hard to grasp the radical implications of Marx’s critique of capital.