How sickly seem all growing things

by cominsitu

writings of chris wright

Capital Cycle_01

The Total Capital-Consumption Cycle

This is kind of my take on the total capital-consumption cycle as I see it relating to race, class and gender. I’m not enamored of images and picture thinking in general, but sometimes they are productive.  This was inspired by reading Roswitha Scholz on value-dissociation.

The Abolition of Labor

Communism is nothing if it is not the entering of all of humanity into the realm of freedom, of freely disposed time to do or not do as one pleases.  This does not eliminate the realm of necessity, but reduces it to a subordinate, non-determinate position in the relation of between it and freedom.  This is impossible if the majority of time of a human life are spent doing work for an alien power, as a slave, a serf, a worker, a taxed peasant, regardless of whether that alien power is a lord or a master or the abstraction of capital.  Only when necessary labor by human beings is reduced to a minimum of human time and the work freely chosen engages the mental, physical, and emotional faculties of a person can we reasonably imagine actual freedom for all of humanity, as opposed to the abstract freedom of exchange and democracy.  It is also the unity in difference of the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, rather than merely the victory of one aspect over the other (the fantasy of Utopian Socialism) or the enforced domination of one over the other (society of direct domination) or the collapsing of one into the other (capitalism) . . .[continue]

“Use-Value” and “Useful” in Capital

What kind of labor contributes to valorization? Is it the kind of labor that produces a commodity as a material thing, as is seemingly implied in the first chapters of Capital? This is, after all, what many critics of Marx argue, that he has a self-contradictory notion of value and labor in this section. However, before Marx completed Volume 1, we know that in his notebooks published as Theories of Surplus-Value, Marx has a famous and under-appreciated discussion of what makes labor valorizing in his discussion of the labor of a clown. Marx’s humor and fine sense of irony, much like Hegel’s, is rarely appreciated, so the joke is generally missed (as are all the jokes in Capital, especially in footnotes, as Nichole Pepperell has brilliantly written on in her dissertation and her excellent Uncomfortable Science blog.) Marx distinguishes between two ways in which the clown might labor. In the first, the clown sells his labor to a family and then goes about his clowning for them. This is explicitly not capitalist labor or value-producing, this is just a service. However, if the clown is employed by a capital(ist), is payed a wage because he/she sells his/her labor as a commodity, and has his/her clown services (the product of his/her labor) sold as a commodity to customers, we have entered the realm of the value-form, of value-producing labor, The product of labor need not be a material thing, but can be a service, a material relation if you will, because what determines the validity of the labor is its usefulness for the capital as a commodity it can sell and its usefulness for the consumer, in this case, enjoyment or entertainment…[continue]

What’s the deal with Marx’s Capital?

Capital is, as its subtitle says, a critique of political economy and this has several implications.  Firstly, Marx is not trying to explain capital or capitalist society as a rational, coherent, consistent system.  Secondly, he is not abstracting from capital’s actual functioning in order to produce a model.  Finally, he is not trying to provide a more accurate theory that fixes the limitations of classical political economy associated with Smith, Ricardo, Petty, Quesnay, etc.  As a critique of political economy, Marx produced a book that treats even classical political economy as a necessarily failed attempt to provide a rational, consistent, coherent account of a system and a society that in his view is fundamentally irrational, inconsistent and incoherent.  Marxists, generally a confused lot more interested in the workers’ movement than in the critique of political economy, take Marx’s work to be a proof of the necessary collapse of capital and a critique of capital by labor.  In that story, capital and the capitalist class are evil and labor and the working class are good.  Capital ends up being a book about the good guys and the bad guys in the class struggle.  However, this point of view has a lot of problems, not the least of which is that Marx’s own notion of life beyond capital, beyond class society, is a life not determined by labor, but determined by freely disposable time.  Marx’s critique of political economy is therefore a critique of all of its elements, of capital and labor, of money and the means of production… [continue]

Elmar Flatschart on Critical Realism

“Critical Dialectics for the Social Sciences: Towards a Mediation of Critical Realism and Critical Theory”  is a valuable review of Critical Realism because it is a philosophical current which, despite Roy Bhaskar’s collapse into mysticism, is taken quite seriously, especially in philosophy of science milieus that want to approach logical positivism and its offshoots seriously without recourse to the relativism of hermeneutics and poststructuralism…[continue]

Class Notes by Adolph Reed Jr.

The poverty of radical writing on race, community, and representation in the U.S. scene is devastating, especially as the attacks on civil rights being directed at the poor and minorities in particular.  Exactly this poverty acts to hide itself from view, since there are so few voices calling out the domination of both (and I say “both” because the discussion is largely between revanchist re-segregationists and spineless liberals who seem to fundamentally accept the terms of the debate, sharing as they do the same fundamental agreement on the neoliberal order and its commands) sides.  This poverty makes writers like Adolph Reed Jr. all the more valuable.  His Class Notes is a devastating rejoinder both to the faux-radical Black intellectuals (bell hooks, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, et al) and to what is left of the “white Left” that seems hell bent on tail-ending them and succumbing to an essentializing non-politics of “whiteness”, eviscerated of its particular connection to a radical working class politics that fell off in the early 1970’s, and made into a mechanism by which to eliminate rather than stimulate a critique of racialization.  When Reed takes up communitarian notions of race, community, and representation, much of the book reads like it was written last year, not mostly 15 years ago.  And yet Reed remains committed to an activism which trumps his critical reason at crucial moments, short-circuiting a really adequate critique and leading to a banal commitment to a social democratic politics that is as dead as the liberalism whose Left it formed… [continue]

Notes on The Culture Industry by T.W. Adorno

If in 1967-8, the Society of the Spectacle still imagined a two-dimensional quality of capitalist society, this would be gone by the time of Comments on the society of the Spectacle with the notion of the “integrated spectacle”, which saw the transformation to a one-dimensional world of the sort that Adorno and Marcuse saw as already actual by the end of World War II. A large part of The Culture Industry, like One-Dimensional Man, is concerned with the harm done to the capacity for experience and the capacity for critique by the development of what Adorno will end up referring to as “late capitalism”. For the moment, I want to focus on the ending two essays, however, which focus on two important themes in Society of the Spectacle: time and the relationship of theory and practice. . . [continue]


Not only is experience a significant concept for Hegel, however, but it plays the central role in classical pragmatism and in the eyes of Marxists who read Hegel and Marx via pragmatism, most recently and of interest to me, Nicole Pepperell.  Experience is also not a small matter for Critical Theory.  Jay notes it, talks about it, but never invests it with any real excitement and it is hard to find in his discussion the importance it takes on there.  Maybe part of it is that Jay seems largely fixated on Walter Benjamin and I am not particularly enthralled by Benjamin, while the entirety of the problem of one-dimensionality enunciated by Adorno and Marcuse is about the loss of the capacity to experience in a way that would lead to a mass challenge to capital, but also maybe the opening up of something else.  Moishe Postone’s discussion of one-dimensionality in Frankfurt School critical theory, following on their theory of state capitalism is important here because Postone lays a ground for salvaging its insights without giving in to what John Holloway and Werner Bonefeld have referred to as the Frankfurt School’s “Cassandra call”. . . [continue]

On Productive vs. Unproductive Labor

Labor for capital is labor which produces a commodity, an exchange-value.  A self-employed clown produces no value, but a clown who works for a boss clown produces value because they are producing an exchange value and engaging in wage-labor. A soldier, like a butler, does not produce exchange-value despite being employed because their output is directly consumed, not a commodity to be sold.  So unlike the clown who is selling his labor for a boss and who’s service is a commodity purchased and then consumed, the directly employed butler (not a butler hired out by a company) and the soldier produce nothing of the sort. The difference is not in the materiality or immateriality of the commodity. That is a crude matter-ism, not a Marxian materialism.  IT software developers who write code produce a commodity, in fact they often produce crucial means of production.  Someone working at McDonald’s produces a commodity with value because they act as a wage-laborer for a boss who is not directly consuming their product but selling it to someone else…[continue]

Between the City of Athens and the City of God 

I’ve been thinking about the problem of politics a lot lately.  This may seem a bit obvious, but I don’t mean it to be.  The problem I have been thinking about is what constitutes politics.  I have been re-reading a series of books and articles by thinkers as diverse as Gillian Rose, Gaspar Tamás and Jacques Rancière.  I was looking for an essay on Hegel’s notion of Law and I ran across an essay called “On Law, Transgression, and Forgiveness: Hegel and the Politics of Liberalism” by Sharon Hoff, who teaches at The Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.  I am struck by the broad similarities of all of these contributions, as well as of the subtle differences between them, and I believe a broad presentation of the ideas of each, a discussion of their differences, and a working through of the whole offers some important ways to begin to rethink what politics entails…[continue]

Towards a Politics of the Broken Middle

The various politics of human liberation identified with the workers’ movement were, certainly after 1917, dominated by the idea that revolution was primarily political, though not in the sense entailed here.  Rather, it was political in the sense that its focus was on the conquest of state power by an affirmed working class and its political party/ies.  The contradiction contained in Social Democracy prior to 1914 split on side into contemporary Social Democracy as the gradual democratic seizure of the state and the use of that power to usher in democratic control over civil society, and on the other side into Leninism as the smashing of the bourgeois state apparatus and its replacement with a proletarian apparatus which would usher in workers’ control over civil society.  Anarchism, the Communist Left, and councilism existed on the margins of these two tendencies after 1923.  Each differed in key respects with both the contemporary Social Democratic and Leninist, however in all cases the affirmation of the working class and labor was the majority position, whether in the senses of “the workers’ state”, “workers’ control of production”, “workers’ collectives”, “workers’ councils” or what have you.

Even as these politics have lost any credibility, what has emerged from several different directions is a conception of revolution which entails the self-abolition of the working class as revolution.  However this new notion is itself split.  On the one hand, the sort of notion of politics I have attempted to map out above, and on the other, a notion of a communising anti-politics.  What I would like to lay out below is a something of a critical analysis of the latter, which strikes me, despite its claims to being anti-(not a-)political, an essentially romantic and apolitical conception.  Hand-in-hand with romanticism and apoliticism is a failure to follow through on the question of the abolition of labor…[continue]

Misunderstanding Marx from the Beginning: Notes on the Three Peculiarities of the Equivalent Form in Vol. 1 of Capital

In the appendix to his essay “Hegel, Economics, and Marx’s Capital” (History, Economic History and the Future of Marxism, Essays in Memory of Tom Kemp), Cyril Smith corrects the typical and oft-repeated mistranslation of the third peculiarity of the equivalent form. However, he makes his own mistake in reading the relation of the three equivalents, which led us to a productive rethinking of this very important section of Chapter 1 of Volume 1 of Capital and some of Marx’s fundamental notions. This is not merely important from the point of view of accuracy, but has theoretical and political implications for understanding Marx’s project, his materialism and a contemporary communist politics…[continue]

Notes on “Abstraction”

A universal power opposed to individuals is also an abstract power: The state as the illusory community, for example or Marx’s contraposition of societies based on “direct relations of dominance and servitude” with capitalist society, in which the social form is not determined by direct relations of dominance, but by indirect relations of dominance.  Capital, money, the market, etc. compel us to work.  No individual capitalist or even individual capital can compel us to sell our labor power, though having sold it they can compel us to use it in whatever manner suit them.  We can go from employer to employer at will.  We can go to the state and the state can even take over the management of production and wipe out the class of capitalists in any meaningful sense.  However, if we want to live we must sell a commodity, which for most of humanity at this point is their capacity to labor, their labor power.  This compulsion is abstract not because it is an abstraction from, a merely formal gesture separate from a content, but because it is a universal existing in and through particular social practices, while those social practices only exist in relation to their universal social form…[continue]