July 22, 2008

Chapters Seven and Eight (condensed)

Below are two themes that stuck out for me (while listening to Sun Ra and drinking beer - a deadly triad of confusion) – the first theme opens into questions related to subjectivity, ideology and practice that, at some point, we should raise; but the latter theme I found really helped to tie all the chapters (thus far) together.

First: ideal: material and/or subjectivity
In Chapter Seven we get textual hints that later Marxists will expand into theories of subjectivity and/or Marx’s epistemology, such as the following quote:

“But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labour process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally. (284)”

This can open into a more sociological discussion of labour (Braverman and others who have looked to the distinction of mental and manual labour), a philosophical discussion of the material:ideal dialectic in Marx’s epistemology (Sohn-Rethel, Althusser, Zizek) or of Marx’s conceptualization of ‘subjectivity’ and the ‘subject’ itself (Althusser, Balibar, et al). But this does seem to posit some form of human anthropology and the role of “purposive will” as the subjective source of its labour-process (back to Andy’s discussion of Marx’s humanism). One would assume that this ontological “will” is alienated from labour by capital in the modern, and although Marx does not make that argument here, it seems to be necessary to the logic of the argument thus far.

Second: A further extension of Marx’s analytical logic introduced earlier
More interestingly, is that we can see in this chapter (and those directly connected to seven) that the logics that were first introduced in Marx’s analysis of the commodity-form are here driving the analysis of production, labour, and capital. In that initial chapter we saw that the commodity-form was the dialectic of use-value and exchange-value, and that they both constituted the conditions for the others existence (exchange value cannot be manifested unless the commodity has a desired use-value, and the consumption of use-value is only possible by locating that use in exchange). Marx links the logic of the labour process back to this original dialectic:

“It must be borne in mind that we are now dealing with the production of commodities, and that up to this point we have considered only one aspect of the process. Just as the commodity itself is a unity formed of use-value and value, so the process of production must be a unity, composed of the labour process and the process of creating value [Wertbildungsprozess]. (293)” (Reiterated at the end of the chapter [p. 304] as well)

In the next chapter (Ch. 8), this then gets extended into the process of self-valorization (capital) – when Marx makes the distinction between constant and variable capital. This is where we can tie all these levels of analysis together:

“The same elements of capital which, from the point of view of the labour process, can be distinguished respectively as the objective and subjective factors, as means of production and labour-power, can be distinguished, from the point of view of the valorization process, as constant and variable capital. (317)”

In other words, Marx is saying that capital is composed of two levels – labor and valorization (on one level corresponding to use-value and value) which, themselves, can be understood as the homologous dialectic of objective (means of production-dead labor)/subjective (living labour-valorization) and constant/variable capital respectively. Thus we have the same dialectical logic driving Marx's analysis but expressing itself differently depending on what level is being explored. It’s almost as if a huge spiraling dialectic is fanning out of the commodity-form, determining these wider and wider processes; or, reversely, that a dialectical process of capital's self-valorizing logic (both appearance and essence) - one that determines the entire historical formation - is contained with the dialectic that also constitutes the commodity-form.

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