Marx Reading Group: Marx’s Sarcasm

August 30, 2009

Okay – so Chapter 25 of Capital is a monster, and I think it’ll take me quite a while to re-read it, taking notes, in a way that’ll allow me to say something helpful about the whole. So I thought I’d throw out a short ‘this is great’ kind of post before trying to say something more substantive.

There are a few qualities of Marx as a writer that are quite unusual, to my mind. First off, I’m not sure I know another writer/thinker of Marx’s stature who uses sarcasm so pervasively and centrally. It’s not just that he’s a sarcastic son of a bitch – although obviously he is. It’s that the sarcasm is woven deep into his articulation of many of his most central claims. Capital is (of course) a critique of political economy. But a lot of the time that critique is manifest mainly in Marx’s bitter, sardonic, bathetic turn of phrase. Hegelian (of a sort) that he is, Marx likes to articulate many of his points in a manner immanent to the positions being criticised – he wants to unfold the horrors of capitalism from out of the discourses aimed towards capitalist apologetics. Part of Marx’s reasoning, I think, is that if even those political economists most committed to making the case for capitalism, can be made to yield insights condemnatory of capitalism, Marx will have given his own condemnation extra power – made it more compelling. (He also, of course, wants to show that his own position contains the best of what he criticises.) (Plus he wants to show where the positions he criticises come from, what makes them – why and how.) [N Pepperell’s written a lot on issues related to this stuff – Marx’s presentational strategy, standpoint of critique, and lots of other things. I won’t put links to NP’s work in every post, because I think that’d be annoying – so take this as a general indication that a great deal of the stuff in my posts on Capital is going to be derived from NP’s work.] There’s an interesting double aspect to this procedure. On the one hand, Marx is overflowing with bile and rage at the apologism for violence and coercion that he encounters everywhere in the political economic literature. He never tires of denouncing bullshit – and it seems clear that this act of denunciation – holding up for all the world to see some particularly egregious piece of apologism, no matter how minor the text he finds it in – was one of the ways he motivated himself in his incredible labours of reading, assimilation, and synthesis. Marx the student of political economy will trudge through any piece of text – government reports, minor but interminable academic controversies, countless historical tracts. The reward at the end of it, for us, is Capital. But Marx needs more immediate satisfactions – and this is part of where the endless vicious pleasure of displaying the results of political-economic self-deception and self-interest comes from, I think. One can almost feel Marx’s glee as he happens upon a particularly revealing phrase on page 800 of some committee transcript.

On the other hand, although Marx is tireless in these condemnations, he is also doing work with his sarcastic deployment of other thinkers. The second thing that’s unusual about Marx as a writer, to my mind, is the extent to which (and the way in which) he deploys quotations. Marx will quote any fucking thing. Sometimes one wonders if there’s anything he read that he didn’t quote. (Obviously this impression is exacerbated by the fact that so much of his draftwork is extant..) So much of Marx’s own argument is made through the use of quotations. If Marx wants to say something, in Capital, he’ll find someone who’s already said it (if he can), quote them, and then show how this insight is far more powerfully and adequately articulated as part of Marx’s account of capitalism, than it is as part of whatever shonky system Marx has pulled the quote from.

Marx’s quotations, then, and the sarcastic way in which he deploys them, are central to his work.

This is by way of leading in to my favourite bit of Chapter 25 so far, re-reading. Which is Marx’s use, almost right at the start of the chapter, of Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees. (Not a minor text, in terms of capitalist apologetics.) On pages 764-765 of the Fowkes Penguin edition, Marx quotes Mandeville [ellipses and square brackets are in the text]:

“It would be easier, where property is well secured, to live without money than without the poor; for who would do the work? … As they [the poor] ought to be kept from starving, so they should receive nothing worth saving. If here and there one of the lowest class, by uncommon industry, and pinching his belly, lifts himself above the condition he was brought up in, nobody ought to hinder him; nay, it is undeniably the wisest course for every person in the society, and for every private family to be frugal; but it is in the interest of all rich nations, that the greatest part of the poor should almost never be idle, and yet continually spend what they get… Those that get their living by their daily labour… have nothing to stir them up to be serviceable but their wants which it is prudence to relieve, but folly to cure. The only thing then that can render the labouring man industrious, is a moderate quantity of money, for as too little will, according as his temper is, either dispirit or make him desperate, so too much will make him lazy… From what has been said, it is manifest, that, in a free nation, where slaves are not allowed of, the surest wealth consists in a multitude of laborious poor; for besides that they are the never failing nursery of fleets and armies, without them there could be no enjoyment, and no product of any country could be valuable. To make the society” (which of course consists in non-workers) “happy and people easier under the meanest circumstances, it is requisite that great numbers of them should be ignorant as well as poor; knowledge both enlarges and multiplies our desires, and the fewer things a man wishes for, the more easily his necessities may be supplied.”

What’s so great here (if ‘great’ is the word) – apart from the sheer hideousness of the quote – is the way that Marx deploys it. Marx doesn’t disagree with Mandeville’s analysis of capitalism – he thinks it’s more or less spot on. He just thinks Mandeville is an evil motherfucker. Marx’s small sarcastic textual intervention (“(which of course consists in non-workers)”) completely transforms (if it needed transforming, which apparently it does) the emphases and values of the passage quoted. Marx here hones in on the intellectual dishonesty that permits the ‘respectable’ propagation of this political and ethical monstrosity – the identification of ‘society’ with the tiny portion of society “which of course consists in non-workers”. Capitalist synecdoche. This – right up until our own time, and into the future of capitalism as well – is the most pervasive form of apologism. ‘Society’ benefits from the capitalist system. And of course ‘society’ is all of us. But in fact ‘society’ consists, really and truly, only in those who benefit. And since those who benefit benefit, everything is fine in the world. [Of course this is only part of Mandeville’s point. The other part is that if people are oppressed enough not to realistically desire decent living standards, they won’t mind the absence of decent living standards.]

Marx will consistently do this, throughout Capital. He will quote political economy, and at times he will disagree with it, and at times he will agree with it. But he will, throughout, show us what political economy means – and how this meaning – in however fig leaf a fashion – is obscured by political economy’s own forms of articulation. There’s a huge amount going on in Capital, and in Chapter 25, besides this, of course. But that can wait for other (and others’) posts.


49 Responses to “Marx Reading Group: Marx’s Sarcasm”

  1. JCD Says:

    Two remarks about this:

    1. I think it’s right to say that Marx’s use of sarcasm comes out of his critique of political economy. He’s not only interested in showing that political economy is wrong; he’s interested in showing that it is wrong even as it is right. A sarcastic mode is highly effective at conveying this: you can at once affirm that something is so, but inflect its so being with another shade of meaning.

    2. That second shade of meaning, I think, is crucial to the idea that new social forms grow out of older ones. The goal in Capital, as I take it anyhow, isn’t to simply do away with political economy; it’s to show that according to its own principles workers have grounds to articulate their demands. Which sort of recalls to my mind what Ranciere is getting at when he talks about politics: the principles that organize a society are taken up by the members who are less empowered by them, seen as implying something more than they do as utilized by those who use them to exploit, and taken as sufficient reason to demand a reorganization of social relations.

  2. duncan Says:

    Thanks JCD. Yes – I think this is all marvellously put. “He’s not only interested in showing that political economy is wrong; he’s interested in showing that it is wrong even as it is right. A sarcastic mode is highly effective at conveying this: you can at once affirm that something is so, but inflect its so being with another shade of meaning.” Exactly. 🙂

    Regrettably, I haven’t read Ranciere, so I can’t respond properly to your second point. But this also sounds spot on to me. One of the things Marx is doing in Capital, I guess, [and I’m going to throw in another reference to NP here – I promise I’ll stop soon, I realise how annoying it is, I just feel guilty channeling NP’s stuff without acknowledgement] is rifling through the resources made available by the capitalist mode of production. (Or as many as Marx can cram in to one book.) Intellectual resources and also social resources. So Marx will be scathing about whichever bourgeois economists understand the sphere of circulation as predicated on equality – scathing about the realm of “Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.” But the fact that some form of “contract of free persons, who are equal before the law” is a feature of capitalist society, makes available the concept and political goal of “free persons… equal before the law”, in a way that this goal wouldn’t have been available – or wouldn’t have been as readily available – in various other societies with various other justificatory discourses and social practices.

    If Marx were writing today (as they say) he’d probably be doing this with Milton Friedman (among god knows how many others). The very fact that Friedman articulates his grotesque capitalist apologetics in terms of the triumph of Freedom shows the degree to which freedom as a political ideal has been enabled and given potency by our society. Freedom is both created as an ideal – in part because it’s been created as a social reality within a very limited aspect of our society – and suppressed. Capitalist apologetics, in order to function, need to take up that political ideal and desire and redirect it into praise of the current social set-up. But this is always a tricky and deceitful intellectual operation. In Capital Marx will engage in the contrary intellectual operation: slightly altering the political-economic discourse in order to massively transform its meaning, values and goals. But this is also a political-economic analysis of the current social set-up – an analysis that Marx hopes can lead to a related social transformation. Like Benjamin’s messiah, who completely transfigures the world by making a series of minor changes, Marx will completely transform political economy by altering its emphases, adding a bit here, taking away a bit there, synthesising it in a slightly different way. But all this is meant to make available an understanding of capitalist social dynamics that can help enable a similar set of social changes. By illuminating how exactly capitalism works – and how it doesn’t produce the realisation of the political ideals it nonetheless produces – Marx aims to make it easier for people to make the social changes that would transform capitalism into a society that gets closer to those ideals. If we understand how capitalism functions, and what social and material stuff it’s made up of, it’s easier to orient politics towards effective emancipatory change.

    Part of which, though (obviously) only part, is utilising the values thrown up by capitalist discourse and practice in an anti-capitalist politics.

    Which I guess is a longer-winded way of saying just what you said in your comment. :-P. Shorter response: Yes. 🙂

  3. duncan Says:

    God that was a terrible rambling comment :-P. Sorry. Quite tired and slightly drunk 🙂

  4. JCD Says:

    I actually think this cuts pretty close to what what I think should be the goal of Marxist analysis: it’s looking at the claims of certain things (the doctrine of an “equal exchange,” for instance) and seeing whether or not they hold. After doing so, it uses the categories of these things in order to formulate demands and structure action. What makes it “progressive” is that it doesn’t just want to cast away things and start afresh, which would be impossible, but wants to make use of what is there already.

    And of course there is something to be said about how this sort of approach is sensitive to way that meaning is historically situated, and how it realizes and activates potentials that are inherent in specific ways of doing.

    Plus sarcasm is funny. I thought I had written up some notes on Rancière on my blog; it turns out I did not! You should read The Distribution of the Sensible.

  5. chabert Says:

    “In Capital Marx will engage in the contrary intellectual operation: slightly altering the political-economic discourse in order to massively transform its meaning, values and goals. But this is also a political-economic analysis of the current social set-up – an analysis that Marx hopes can lead to a related social transformation. Like Benjamin’s messiah, who completely transfigures the world by making a series of minor changes, Marx will completely transform political economy by altering its emphases, adding a bit here, taking away a bit there, synthesising it in a slightly different way.”

    Hi – sorry I can’t resist just remarking,

    I wonder if the Messiah is really what’s up here. For Marx, political economy, like every other cultural product (“superstructre”), has two determinations a)history and b) class.

    Take “Freedom” – for Nietzcheans, Foucault, Derrida etc, there is one and one only; the story of the production of this kind of thing is basically childish, dry ice unicorns and knights in styrofoam armour; Freedom – however one explains it, in the Nietzschean strain, its the same for everyone (or so individualised as to amount to the same thing.) For Marx – and this is the big difference between Marxism and bourgeois theory – there have to be at least two. A bourgeois freedom and one for everybody else.

    It’s not really a Messiah’s perspective, then, an out of world super/non human viewpoint (or the future’s) that Marx is adding, or at least he’s not trying to do that. He is trying so he explains – to articulate the proletarian perspective – to oppose proletarian political economy to the ruling class, bourgeois political economy. (How messianic is the proletariat in Marx’ view? this can be overstated, and has been, a lot.) Anyway, the sarcasm works because the readers are assumed to get it. (Readers who don’t, humourless readers, theatrically earnest priestly readers, have managed since the 80s to create illusions of ambiguity, confusion, contradiction etc under cover of which to insert this silly Nietzschean conspiracy theory of culture production, “history is written by the winners”, “truth is illusion” and all this simplistic goofitude). The vast majority of humanity can easily tell that Milton Friedman is full of shit. Divine intervention is not necessary to expose this. Marx knew that.

    Surely there’s a bit of forward looking, prescription, in the proletarian political economy of Marx – there’s obviously the goal to teach and enlighten, to produce research and detailed explanation, to enrich hunches with meaty stuff, to add something to spontaneous proletarian political economy, to bring a science into being out of it or get it into the kind of shape that bourgeois political economy is already in. Not so much the perspective of a messenger of God or some supernatural agent, but taking up the role in proletarian political economy that Smith and Bentham and the rest took up in bourgeois political economy – Marx is their counterpart but expressing the perspective of the other class involved. The sarcasm (among other things) indicates Marx’ awareness of his audience, a community who already know.

  6. chabert Says:

    I mean, there is Justice arising from capitalist social relations, in fact there are two – bourgeois Justice (dominant) and proletarian Justice. They are related but not the same. And on top of that, this justice (with its bourgeois and its proletarian versions) is historically appropriate but therefore not eternal, (which is not the same as being “an illusion” or the nefarious plot of evil priests). There is the (near) certainty of a future transformation, in a classless society, with different social relations, and private property abolished, a different justice, which can only be vaguely anticipated (we can’t know it, which is to say we haven’t produced it; Marx is sure though that proletarian justice has some role in the future production of that society and its justice). Anyway, the sarcasm (directed at bourgeois justice from the standpoint of proletarian justice) would be, in light of this, actually early production of the new justice.

  7. chabert Says:

    I mean, what I think is most important to understand about marx is this is not some individualist branded theory stuff, some attempt at originality or whatever. It’s not philosophy or art. He’s trying to put into a book capitalism from the perspective of the productive majority. So –

    “not only interested in showing that political economy is wrong; he’s interested in showing that it is wrong even as it is right”

    I think rather the point is not that he is showing that political economy is wrong but that he is showing that it is _bourgeois_. It is “right” for capitalists. “Wrong” for everybody else. It’s not like the model here is an individual intellectual, the Individual of bourgeois imagination, faced with an object, capitalism, and seeking the truth of it. What Marx expresses constantly and vividly is class conflict, at the heart of production of all sorts, including intellectual production, including the production of descriptions of/knowledge of capitalism.

  8. chabert Says:

    (i should just clarify i don’t mean messenger of God literally but following the analogy as model for individual spiritual/intellectual product)

  9. duncan Says:

    Thanks both. (& really good to have you commenting chabert.)

    jcd – agreed, especially with this: “there is something to be said about how this sort of approach is sensitive to way that meaning is historically situated, and how it realizes and activates potentials that are inherent in specific ways of doing.” Yes. Exactly. (And much more clearly put than whatever I said :-P) I think this is probably one of the reasons for the incredible detail of Capital (besides Marx’s general obsessive-compulsive tendencies). Marx is looking for the specific potentials of his historical and social moment (a historical moment that has a great deal of overlap with ours, of course – since we’re still living with capitalism). Because many of those potentials are bound up with a lot of horrific coercion, etc., it requires a very fine-grained analysis to ‘extract’ them – or to distinguish them from the coercive social environment they’re part of. (Obviously there are some really glaringly obvious potentials too, and Marx is happy to just point at those, as it were. But Capital, in part, (and as opposed to the Manifesto, say) is about Marx trying to get every minute political possibility he can out of current modes of social existence – which requires quite a lot of digging.)

    And yes – sarcasm’s just plain funny :-).

    chabert – w/r/t the messiah – that was pretty loose and perhaps unhelpful on my part, w/r/t its resonances. I wasn’t really trying to do much work with the messiah, in that cite, so much as with the gesture to transformations. I don’t see Marx as any kind of messiah figure. In a lot of contemporary ‘theory’ (Derrida’s the figure I know best here, but ‘messianism’ seems to be really in vogue at the moment), the (supposedly metaphoric – but what the hell is it a metaphor for? [will ask about that in a bit in fact]) figure of the messiah seems to represent a radical break with current social or political conditions – a break that is entirely unimaginable (wholly other, tout autre, etc. etc.), and which, crucially, can only be awaited, not made or worked towards. Waiting for the Event of Justice as Revelation – or something. I think all this is really unhelpful and debilitating – probably deliberately debilitating, sometimes; certainly debilitating/apologetic in practice, often. The intended point of my Benjamin cite – and it was probably a poor choice of reference, given that intent – was to make sort of the opposite claim: that all we’ve got to work with is what we’ve already got; that the future society we want has to be built out of resources available here and now, by the people we are here and now, that we can’t wait for any revelation or whatever to orient ourselves towards. We just have to get down to it.

    So I don’t see Marx as providing a messiah’s perspective? (Where that’s understood as the future’s perspective or as some panoptic perspective.) I feel Marx sees a lot more than most (w/r/t political-economic & political stuff) – but that isn’t about perspective – it’s just about him having read – and understood (not just through reading) – a lot more than most. And having his head screwed on right.

    I have a more complex reaction to some of the other stuff you say – I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it out right. W/r/t the proletarian perspective, for instance, I think this is a complicated thing. The basic point that people on the hard end of capitalism (which is to say the vast majority of people) see or experience capitalism for what it is, in a way that the people who benefit from this system don’t – yes; yes. (I mean – this is more complicated too, because capitalism’s all of it; it’s just that there’s generally a massive occlusion in the perspective of the beneficiaries – whereas there’s no particular reason for the people suffering under capitalism not to notice that other people are doing really fucking well.) But this can inflect w/r/t class consciousness in different ways. I think this is something Marx is really oriented towards in many of his more directly political writings. (And the analysis that supports this is there in Capital too, imo.) So for instance this great passage:

    At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!

    One of the things Marx is (imo) doing in this extremely delicately balanced passage is pointing out that class consciousness – proletarian consciousness – can inflect in ways that are (in Marx’s opinion) harmful to the proletariat’s political goals – to our political goals. Marx sees a potential danger in the creation of a labour politics – a politics he of course fully endorses, and is attempting to help build and strengthen: wage labour as an institution can end up being valorised by political movements trying to oppose the interests of capital. Not that the opposition isn’t real and essential – it is, it is. But this opposition itself can inflect in different ways – with different political results

    So proletarian ‘class consciousness’ can just as easily inflect as “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” as it can towards anti-capitalism. And the former is necessary. A fair day’s wage is necessary. It must be fought for. But this fight can, potentially (not necessarily), also be a barrier, if aspects of it are made too absolute a goal, to other emancipatory political possibilities.

    It’s likely a bad idea to go to a more personal sense of stuff here – please take this with a pinch of salt. But… in my experience, fairly often, anger at people freeloading off of the labour of workers inflects in working class spaces – and in middle class spaces – and surely in upper class spaces too – as anger directed at the unemployed, at people living off welfare, at a basically fantasised class of ‘asylum seekers’, and at other comparably vulnerable groups. I think that this has shifted dramatically since the crisis (not that it was ever dominant or homogenous – I just mean shifted in degree) – I think there’s an incredible amount of anger, now, directed at the capitalist class – and this happened (my sense is) very very quickly after the crisis hit; it was to an extent there and ready to go. (The media’s fiercest attacks on bonuses and so on seem to me – and this is impressionistic and may be wrong – to have lagged behind that response.) (I’m writing from the UK, I should say – this is where the impressions come from.)

    What I’m saying is – I think Marx believes (rightly imo) that class consciousness doesn’t in itself translate into revolutionary or radical politics – only sometimes. Class consciousness is necessary but not sufficient, if you like? (Don’t like that way of putting it, but…) So while I think it’s completely true that Marx is channelling, articulating, endorsing the perspective of the proletariat, in Capital, he’s only doing so for one such perspective – a currently existent perspective, and also a potential larger or more widely held perspective he wants to help inculcate… and Marx’s political career is to a large extent an intervention within working class politics, not just a representation of it.

    I feel there’s more I ought to say on that – this kind of thing can be really fucking offensive if it’s not articulated carefully (or thought through properly) and Marx is a lot better at both of those than I am. But I hope the general idea is sort of clear…?

    On another issue… I’m not totally sure I follow – and I’m very interested by – what you mean here, chabert: “i don’t mean messenger of God literally but following the analogy as model for individual spiritual/intellectual product.” I think (?) you’re meaning something like – the individual, seeking after truth, and coming into contact with the object of inquiry, entirely separate from that object, above it, this individual is like a supernatural figure wholly separate from the material world they don’t truly inhabit (aren’t really made by). The product of this individual inquiry is given to the world though not made by it. Bourgeois economics; word of God.

    Sorry to put words in your mouth – just riffing I guess – hope I’m not too off base. But if this is the direction of your point I agree. Marx doesn’t adopt such a fantasised perspective – which is why he’s trying (among a load of other things), in Capital, to show where his own perspective comes from – how it’s made and shared.

    Hum… hope some of that’s clear. Quickly quickly: I totally agree about it being obvious to most people that Friedman’s full of shit. I don’t think Capital aims to persuade in that sense – it’s not oriented towards some imagined public sphere in which universal agreement can finally be reached by all parties. I feel that sometimes Marx assumes that rather too of his perspective is shared by his readers – Marx’s own opinions can sometimes be really baroque, and I feel he often thinks he’s getting across something, with a sardonic phrase, that should really be elaborated for several pages if he wants people to follow. But – basically – I agree.

    Hmm… also, thanks for the Ranciere suggestion, also, jcd – it’s been added to the depressingly long reading list.

    [Apologies for the length. Hope I haven’t left out anything central.]


  10. duncan Says:

    PS – chabert I miss your blog… more posts soon?

  11. JCD Says:

    Hi Chabert: nice to hear from you. I agree with your clarification about how political economy is “right” for the bourgeois, and “wrong” for whoever they employ.

    With regard to the messianism and miracles: I get so irritated by mysticism I almost have enough energy to write something long form. We’ll see what I can do.

  12. Nate Says:

    Duncan, great post. One (of many) I need to come back to later. It’ll take me a while. For now, your quote in one of the comments struck me a lot – Here’s a passage from the IWW Preamble, written in 1950: “Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.””

    I knew a lot of the IWW founders were marxists but didn’t catch the close paraphrase before. Neat.

    On the substance, I think the thing about Marx’s quoting is particularly important, and oddly unremarked on by many marxists, at least as I’ve read. It cuts against the “Marx discovered a whole new continent of thought!” individualist genius model of Marx hagiography – despite how much as I still ascribe to it. 🙂 Marx assembles and edits as much as he writes, and as you say much of the most damning stuff is quoted, not Marx’s own words. His letters of blood and fire are purloined, so to speak, and that’s what gives them so much punch.

    I also think that this speaks to some of what the text doesn’t do – it’s long on (incredibly important) analysis, and short on (also incredibly important) political and organizational project/program. Hence the compatibility of Marx (or at least invocations of Marx) with so many different political perspectives. I think this is at least as much a strength as it is a weakness, but I think Marx’s damn-them-by-their-own words approach to capitalism (as real system and body of ideas) doesn’t speak to the working class movement – I mean, it speaks to, but doesn’t assemble or draw from the speech of – in the same manner as it ventriloquizes the class enemy.

    Gotta go, need to be up early. More later. Glad you’re kicking things off.


  13. N Pepperell Says:

    Hey Nate – yes: I think this is right:

    I think Marx’s damn-them-by-their-own words approach to capitalism (as real system and body of ideas) doesn’t speak to the working class movement – I mean, it speaks to, but doesn’t assemble or draw from the speech of – in the same manner as it ventriloquizes the class enemy.

    Focussing so strongly on how the eddies of certain dominant discourses betray traces of the forms of domination and particular potentials for transformation, Capital basically doesn’t get around to whole other layers of the multifaceted “social” – doesn’t examine the potentials and possibilities (as well, perhaps, as forms of domination) that could arise from that.

    The Working Day chapter and other sections do analyse certain aspects of working class politics, of course – but even this is focussing on aspects most likely to arise in and through the process by which capital is reproduced. We know from other writings that Marx walks a complicated line between – as Duncan says above – holding these forms of political mobilisation to be necessary, but also criticising them for being (in Marx’s opinion) insufficient.

    I would hear you to be asking why the net couldn’t be cast much wider? And I agree – I think the basic methodology deployed in Capital could be extended much more widely than Marx does in that work. (Which isn’t to criticise the work per se, which does rather a lot… but just to point out that we don’t have to endlessly remain bound to its explicit ambit…) The methodological principles could be extended to a whole range of additional layers of social experience – including diverse forms of working class politics, as well as other forms of political mobilisation.

    Marx might reply that he limits the ambit in Capital because he regards the production of capital to be atypically systematic. That he can “theorise” the potentials traced in political economic discourses, because those discourses are drawing on aspects of social practice that are being reproduced in an unusual form of nonconscious social reproduction, which gives a particular slice of social practice an abnormally “theorisable” character. He might argue that you could write history about the potentials that arise in other dimensions of social experience or from other forms of political contestation – but that you couldn’t theorise it, at least using the same toolchest he deploys in Capital, because Capital is designed to unpack a process with very peculiar properties.

    I’m not sure to what degree I would agree with this (hypothetical) response. On the one hand, I’m partial to the notion that thinking politically needs to be done in a grounded, historical way – that a great deal of what’s important in effective movements can’t be theorised in advance, abstracted from the situation, and that it might not be possible to extrapolate in any easy way, from past political successes and failures, how and why future political successes and failures will occur.

    On the other hand, I’m agnostic about whether other dimensions of social experience can and cannot be “theorised” using the techniques Marx deploys in Capital. On the one hand, I don’t all of the techniques he uses actually require that the object of analysis be particularly “systemic” in character – a lot of the techniques for disaggregating phenomena and breaking social experience down into distinct performative stances and embodied forms of subjectivity, seem to me fairly “portable”. On the other hand, I probably don’t think capitalism itself is “systemic” in exactly the same way Marx’s gestures to Hegel sometimes suggest – to me, he hits sometimes on, and sometimes around, the mark here, depending on where his attention is focussed at the time. And, if I can borrow a third hand, I think it’s basically an empirical question whether particular dimensions of social experience are “systemic” – depending on the object, certain forms of analysis might be good or bad…

    I will try to put a post on the chapter up some time next week – all sorts of unexpected deadlines have sprung up on me, on top of the already-expected ones… ;-P And I’ve become a bit distracted with the whole SurveyFail debacle… ;-P But I’ll try to chime in with more soon…

  14. N Pepperell Says:

    I think a fourth – unmarked – hand somehow found its way into that comment as well… ;-P

  15. N Pepperell Says:

    Maybe a fifth…

  16. chabert Says:

    “Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!“

    One of the things Marx is (imo) doing in this extremely delicately balanced passage is pointing out that class consciousness – proletarian consciousness – can inflect in ways that are (in Marx’s opinion) harmful to the proletariat’s political goals ”


    I’d suggest that on the contrary, this is for Marx a clear example of the bourgeois formulation of class conflict (thus objectionable); there is assumed to be a fair wage, a fair price for labour power, a case of justice in the exchange of equivalents*; that is, the prevalence of this slogan indicates the absence of proletarian class consciousness (the counterpart of what you call capitalist synecdoche (political economy expresses bourgeois class consciousness even though almost no individual bourgeois are acquainted with it, just a teensy tiny group of pros)) results in this slogan about a fair day’s wage (a slogan which not only happens to be devised by biographically bourgeois intellectuals, but exhibits bourgeois ideology, a bourgeois way of concieving the worker’s struggle.) Proletarian class consciousness is not simply whatever individual proletarians happen to be conscious of at any given moment. So the existence of this soc dem/labour slogan about fair day’s wage is an instance not of the inreliability of proletarian class consciousness but of its absnece and of the need to repair that absence, to cultivate and propagate proletarian class consciousness (not simply the sum of all the thinking of all the proletarians whatever that may be) which is what Marx’ views as his task and the duty of the communist intellectual. A class conscious proletarian is revolutionary; it doesn’t doesn’t demand a wage, “fair” or “unfair” – a class conscious proletariat knows there is nothing just about wages and demands (and more, undertakes) the abolition of the ruling class’ property.

    I’m not saying that you can’t consider the desire for “a fair day’s wage” to be the perspective of the working class’ interests, no matter where the slogan/demand comes from, but it’s clear that Marx did not see it that way. For Marx, it’s not a matter of opinion; it’s not that if the mass of proletarians feel that having to sell their labour power is fair then they must be right. For Marx, there is a class perspective that is at once the product solely of the living human component of class and independent of every individual psychology. Because there _is_ ideology and there _is_ ignorance. You can’t discover proletarian class consciousness by taking a poll. This is what capital is trying to propagate. It doesn’t involve deferring to whatever this or that group of labour leaders or soc dem politicians think today.

    here’s a pretty straightforward reader of Marx:

    * One more thing on sarcasm: it is interesting I think that the last big Marx querelle in academia before the catastrophic triumph of Foucaultianism, the querelle of justice, revolved completely around a – rather suddenly appearing – determination/inability of liberal Marxists/Marxist liberals, anticipating poststructuralist neolibs, to perceive Marx’ sarcasm. The centre of this querelle was the line “a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means and injustice to the seller.” This line was repeatedly brought forward to show how Marx “did not consider exploitation of labour by capital unjust” and therefore in other words perceived capitalism as just. Poststructuralists took this and ran toward Nietzsche (Marx considers justice an “illusion” or whatever) while more traditional anarchy-liberals achieved much the same sort of apology with a less flashy angle. Before the 70s, I don’t think it was even possible for a reader of Marx to misconstrue that line (which is quoted prominently later by Engels); but it became possible (some might say humourless French goys made it possible). So it’s nice that you start of restoring the sense of humour, (and outrage) which also means restoring the sense tout court.

  17. chabert Says:

    oh and yeah I know you didn’t mean real mysticism (neither did Benjamin, of course)….I just meant the model of tikkun there is of intellectual/cultural work performed by specialists, as if Marx thinks that his thinking and writing about political economy is a) original product of his personal genius and b) politically effectual in itself. Most of Marx’ writings has rather a tone that says “this is how this bourgeois stiuff really looks to most people” – in other words, like, OBVIOUSLY this is more than a bit of good luck to the buyer and indeed more than a mere injustice to the seller, and only a self-serving bourgeois cretin would dispute this.

  18. Nate Says:

    hey all,

    Duncan, I still need to read this post and the other comments closer, will do ASAP, sorry for engaging only at a tangent here.

    NP, I sort of do want to criticize Marx for not casting a wider net, but I’m not sure. Either way, I don’t want to criticize v1 of Capital for it’s net/scope. I mostly think it’s important for all of us readers of Marx to recognize that point, which to my mind adds up to a probably obvious point anyway, that responses to Marx’s analysis that see themselves as in keeping with the (best) spirit of that analysis are underdetermined by the analysis. Marx’s critical account doesn’t give us the remedies in anything but very broad (I’m tempted to say platitudinous) strokes – end exploitation, increase proletarian power, etc. I think we’re on the same page here. I think it’s frustrating – I wish Marx had written more on all this! – but also provides a lot of room for thinking and experimenting.

    Chabert, just sort of riffing on your last comments,

    I’m SUPER ambivalent about your point. On the one hand, I love! You suggest, in keeping with a long line of marxism, that proletarian and bourgeois standpoints are at least partially independent of the consciousnesses of individual proletarians and bourgeoisie. I think that’s a useful point sometimes, and part of me agrees with you strongly and wants to suggest that Duncan should have said not “class consciousness” and “proletarian consciousness” but rather something like “the consciousness and organizations of at least some of the actually existing working class.” On the other hand, I think this perspective is troublesome as it’s double-edged, quite useful for attacking actual proletarians. (Ranciere’s quite good on this point, I forget where just now.)

    Respectfully, I’m not convinced of your claim that the slogan “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” was conceived by bourgeois people, I don’t know how that could be proven, and even if it was true it’s neither here nor there for the purposes of your larger point, because that point separates class position from class consciousness.

    Another reason I’m unsure about the distinction between class consciousness as actually existing consciounesses of actual people vs as an ideal type/epistemological or political perspective independent of actual people is that I think that can (doesn’t have to, but can) discourage attention to the processes by which actual consciounesses get worked out and how we might change them in political and mass organizing.

    All of that said, I really like your point linking to Marx’s sarcasm to a sort of “oh come now!” moment, appealing to how this stuff looks to most people who are not self-serving bourgeois cretins.


  19. chabert Says:

    thanks nate

    I think you may be now discussing your idea of the perspectives of Capital and Labour, not Marx’. I just meant to reply to Duncan insofar as Duncan was paraphrasing or interpreting Marx on these questions. For Marx, not every single owner of capital simply spontaneously has all the knowledge of capitalism that Ricardo had. Indeed arguably almost none did or do. But that in no way diminishes the ability of Ricardo to write a book that constitutes the perspective of Capital. That’s Marx view.

    It’s possible of course to prefer Rancière to Marx on the question of class and the objective positions and interests of Labour and Capital but I don’t think it’s legitimate to attribute Rancière’s basically liberal/libertarian individualist and psychologistic position to Marx.

    “I’m not convinced of your claim that the slogan “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” was conceived by bourgeois people, I don’t know how that could be proven”

    I couldn’t prove it surely. But this is what Marx thought about it; a ‘conservative’ (not revolutionary) motto adopted by some organised labour, thus something Marx remarked on; but my point was that it does not matter that/if it was in fact Lasalle and co. who proposed it as a slogan/motto which Marx found inadequate, what matters here for grasping Marx is that it’s content is bourgeois, that it is formed by bourgeois ideology; it is a bourgeois notion of fairness.

  20. Nate Says:

    hi Colonel,
    I got the Marxological point you’re making, about Marx’s views. I still think that views is wrong or worrisome. (I’m not convinced that Ranciere’s a liberal either, but your framing that way jogged something for me…) Part of R’s project at least in the 70s was retroactively defending/upholding the dignity of some actual workers against a version of Proletarian Consciousness. I’m uneasy about that too, as it seems to be like “hurray for worker poets!”, which, I mean, sure, great, but we need organizers rather than poets, but what I like is that it resonates with my own (limited) experience with trying to meet other workers where their at and move them to what I take to be better consciousness. At least in practice in my experience around the sectarian left, the idea of proletarian consciousness as an imputed/imputable position is of limited utility for building the consciousness of actual workers (something like that idea is needed, though, for “building the consciousness” to make much sense), it’s at least equally useful for discipling/stomping on/writing off actual workers.

  21. chabert Says:

    The phrase seems to be traceable to the coal capitalist and banker Chartist Thomas Attwood;

    It was popular with bourgeois thinkers as an expression of the hardworking deserving labourer’s just deserts:

    “‘A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work’: it is as just a demand as governed men ever made of governing. It is the everlasting right of man.” – Thomas Carlyle

    Here’s Engels:

  22. chabert Says:

    “I still think that view is wrong or worrisome.”

    i hear you. I just wanted to clarify that I was not advising from my own point of view that everybody should take a Marxist position on ideology; just trying to clarify what a Marxist position on ideology and class consciousness actually is. But I think this is about is there or is there not an objective (position of) Capital and an objective (position of) Labour? For Rancière, even communism is literally a state of mind. But for Marx, the social relations that are capital are objective, and exploitation and accumulation are objective. There really are objectively these relations which mean that no matter how anybody feels about it, propertyless people who have to sell their labour power for a living are in a situation that can be described without consulting everyone who was ever in that position, and a lot can be said about it despite the fact that, as Marx saw things, there was this immense widespead error in thinking affecting most actually existing proletarians (the misperception of their own alienated life/product – capital.)

    ” (I’m not convinced that Ranciere’s a liberal either, but your framing that way jogged something for me…)”

    Okay, I wouldn’t just say “he’s a liberal” (maybe that doesn’t mean anything) but on this question I just meant this as shorthand for the considerable differences between his views and those of Marx and Marxists.

    “Part of R’s project at least in the 70s was retroactively defending/upholding the dignity of some actual workers against a version of Proletarian Consciousness.”

    I liked the excellent Proletarian Nights book but I think it confirms the most popular version of Proletarian Consciousness and the one Marx assumed – that is the same consciousness everybody has except aware of having to sell labour power to survive (with varying degrees of hardship and want). In that book what Rancière discovers is that proletarians of the mid 19th century thought and dreamt and believed in fact just the way everyone already expected they would have from all the famous culture product about them and by them and judging from how we all feel about wage labour today – every one of them says their labours by day are exhausting and boring and unrewarding and everyone wishes they didn’t have to do them. While their bosses, the capitalists, will look upon their doing this labour completely differently – the sound of misery for the worker is the sound of profit and leisure and freedom for the capitalist. And then there is just the variation in thought about or comprehension of capital as one would expect. Did Rancière’s research uncover things which reversed the expectation? Does he find any happy wage labourers who want nothing more than to be worked to death? Does he find any capitalists who pay people not to work and who encourage everyone to rest and write poetry in the factory? He doesn’t – he documents just what everyone knows he’s going to find, what everyone knew from Marx and other writers of the era; he found exploited propertyless people who detest their horrible dehumanising exhausting jobs and wish they could be free and leisured like the bourgeoisie.

  23. chabert Says:

    ” At least in practice in my experience around the sectarian left, the idea of proletarian consciousness as an imputed/imputable position is of limited utility for building the consciousness of actual workers ”

    It seems very persuasive actually to impute a class determined consciousness to masses of people (- “are you becky bloomwood the shopaholic?” – “yes! I am! That’s me!”) but advertisers and propagandists are very good at this while labour organisers in the US really can’t compete.

    “with trying to meet other workers where their at and move them to what I take to be better consciousness”

    if you look at the corporations who do this – meet workers (of many diverse resource and prestige levels) where they are at and move them where they want them to be – it’s astonishing how effective the typing is, and how willing, indeed eager, people are to recognise themselves and their own situation-feelings-worries in the type, the general, the composite. All these goils on social networks are just dying to do these quizzes which assign them some type or another, or where they can identify themselves as one of the four sex and the city girls or whatever. the idea that there is something just intolerably offensive in remarking that working for a wage is something signicant that lots of people have in common, that oh my god that is rude and reductive to assume that people who work for a wage have a common set of problems and concerns related to this, is an notion cultivated at fantastic expense, and the pretence that it is rude because it violates the mysterious uniqueness of every free self fashioning individual is kind of exposed by all this very popular culture product which delights young women by telling them “you’re a Samantha!” and promises to define and express these unique personalities with mass produced consumer goods, or whatever.


  24. duncan Says:

    Chabert, it’s latish and I may be misunderstanding, but I really don’t know who you’re addressing here? No one’s saying it’s offensive or reductive to say workers have something in common – workers have in common the fact of being workers, being wage-labourers – self-evidently. Maybe you’re addressing something in Ranciere, who I haven’t read. But if you’re addressing something articulated in the thread, I think you’re way off the mark.

    And surely you don’t mean that labour organisers should model their movement building after adverts for shopaholic movies or something? I guess it’s appropriate/ironic given that the post talks about sarcasm – but although I think I can spot the sarcasm here, I don’t know what it’s directed at? As in – I don’t know what or who you’re criticising.

    “the social relations that are capital are objective, and exploitation and accumulation are objective. There really are objectively these relations”


  25. duncan Says:

    Sorry not to contribute to the discussion earlier, btw.

  26. duncan Says:

    OT – though somewhat relevant to Chapter 25… and also, I guess, to the question of objectivity of Marxist analysis… came across this quote again the other day. Alan Budd, Economic Adviser to the [UK] Treasury 1970-1974, 1979-81: [He’s talking about the Thatcher government’s monetarism.]

    “The nightmare I sometimes have about this whole experience runs as follows: I was involved in making a number of proposals which were partly at least adopted by the government and put in play by the government. My worry is as follows; that there may have been people making the actual policy decisions, or people behind them, or people behind them, who never believed for a moment that this was the correct way to bring down inflation. They did however see that this would be a very very good way to raise unemployment.

    And raising unemployment was an extremely desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes; if you like, that what was engineered there – in Marxist terms – was a crisis of capitalism which recreated the reserve army of labour, and has allowed the capitalist to make high profits ever since.”


  27. duncan Says:

    Okay, read the Mandel piece. Here’s an example of what’s often troubling about these sorts of political articulations:

    “The fact that as a science Marxism is an expression of the highest degree in the development of proletarian class consciousness means simply that it is only through an individual process of selection that the best, most experienced, the most intelligent and the most combative members of the proletariat are able to directly and independently acquire this class consciousness in its most potent form.”

    Does the bit I’ve highlighted strike you as anti-capitalist ideology – or does it strike you (as it does me) as capitalist ideology – individual competition; social survival of the fittest; justified triumph of those hardy and most able few who come out on top, who get their reward – placed in the context of and causing problems for Marxist analysis & politics? I think this kind of analysis could easily be used against working class movements and people – those who don’t make the grade, who don’t pass the “individual process of selection.”

    Not saying this causes problems for the rest of Mandel’s analysis. But it’s troubling, imo.

  28. chabert Says:

    oh sorry Duncan –

    “No one’s saying it’s offensive or reductive to say workers have something in common ”

    That wage workers have definite collective common interests is what’s meant by the “a version of Proletarian Consciousness” that the American sectarian left attributes/imputes to people who work for wages which Rancière sees as an affront to the dignity of (19th century) individuals and sets himself to correcting. I assume that was the version meant by Nate – unless the moniker “sectarian” has undergone a change lately I don’t know about. Is that not what’s meant by “a version of proletarian consciousness” which American sectarian Marxists impute to workers? It’s not really elaborate; the imputing of points of view to labour and capital is basically “the investors (whoever they are, whatever their personality, whatever their tastes in poetry) want you to work longer hours for less money but you (whoever you are, whatever your personality, regardless of your aesthetic tastes) would rather be paid more for less work until such a day that you won’t have to work for wages at all.”

  29. chabert Says:

    “Does the bit I’ve highlighted strike you as anti-capitalist ideology – or does it strike you (as it does me) as capitalist ideology – individual competition”

    Yes I agree with you that this is bourgeois and Hegelian and individualist, but I also think it is a correct reading of Marx on this; maybe it doesn’t strike me as so social darwinist, but yeah, basically I agree, and its not surprising. Marx envisions the class conscious elite of the proletariat, with some bourgeois intellectuals and revolutionists to help with education, pr and organising, leading the masses and violently dispossess the ruling class. The point of writing Capital, as he saw it, was to pitch in as one of these intellectual allies of the proletariat to help educate the proletarian leadership.

    “I think this kind of analysis could easily be used against working class movements and people – those who don’t make the grade, who don’t pass the “individual process of selection.””

    Okay, yeah definitely. Do you have an instance in mind though?

    It’s not news that Marxism is not anarchistic and that Marx and Marxists always envisioned leadership (intellectual, organisational, military) in the revolutionary communist movement.

    Is it essential? Does it relate to everything else, follow from everything else? I dunno but I think yeah probably to a point. Marx obviously thinks capitalists and bourgeois ideologues/political economists understand capital better than most of his contemporary proletarians and peasants. Was he wrong? the idea that there is an advanced thinking elite who can enlighten others about capitalism probably is inextricable from Marx and Engels ideas about ideology, and certainly from the radical revolutionary tradition they inspired (Lenin, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Trotsky, Mao, but also Che Guevara, Camillo Torres and other post war revolutionary communists). Let’s say one is not satisfied with saying “well I’m not a Marxist because I’m not persuaded by anything Marx and Marxists wrote and said and i don’t like what they did either” but wants (like Derrida) to claim the brand, because of its existing power, but have something completely different understood by this brand (some kind of anarchistic liberalism, say). Can one seperate Marx analysis, the famous parts, from the idea that concrete actually existing workers experience their own alienated labour as a force dominating them?

    “And surely you don’t mean that labour organisers should model their movement building after adverts for shopaholic movies or something?”

    No, no, just noting that there is a very hoary tradition of anticommunist pop culture – Ninotchka and Silk Stockings come to mind – which stresses the contrast between individualism purportedly nourished by capitalism against robotic personalities produced by communism, and that this remains influential paradigm, and that it’s propagandistic. It’s a dated sort of thing but you still find it and one of the motifs – which you can get from Rancière for example, even in recent years – is that a Marxist is a humourless person in a grey jumpsuit who repeats learned phrases in every situation and has no creativity and uses Marx’ own old fashioned language inappropriately etc etc.. And this is supposed to be contrasted to the “free world” where everyone is free to be him or herself, a self fashioning individual, a taxpayer-middle child-homeowner-geek-Xtian-genX-soccermom-motorist-fanboy-codependent-AmericanManfromMars and not some kind of predictable grey “wage worker”.

  30. chabert Says:

    Oh and I don’t meant to be sarcastic, really. Notice that capitalists don’t take offense when everybody assumes they have a common point of view. A newscaster can say “investors are concerned that another rate cut will….” They don’t have to preface this with “each investor is a unique individual of course, and it would be impossible to generalise about their desires…” Now why would saying something similar about “wage earners” concerns (re rate cuts or other events) be deemed a presumptuous imputation to individuals of a class determined point of view? Why would this – the recognisition of a collective interest of the majority which would determine perspectives on certain political and economic policy – be effrontery?

  31. duncan Says:

    Sorry to be hasty & late, couldn’t access wordpress last night, something wrong with my machine… but thanks, yeah. It’s not effrontery, it’s often sensible and right, but it’s a question of how it plays out too. Political views are underdetermined by class position or structural location within capitalism or whatever – though those are really important influences. I guess I don’t want to mix
    together too much “such and such would be a really good idea, politically – if such and such a political goal were to be achieved things would be better for you, for me, for most people, for wage-labourers, etc.” (though not for the capitalists getting filthy rich) with a strong concept of class consciousness – ’cause the latter can sometimes short circuit the argument. & misrepresent the political task, potentially. But that obviously doesn’t stop us talking about or diminish the reality of material interests as they relate to different structural positions in a capitalist economy, etc. But i guess we all know this.

    Just realised that wordpress ate one of your earlier comments, chabert, hopefully it’s showing up now.

  32. chabert Says:

    sorry that really wandered away from what I mean to say about class consciousness and Marx writing Capital as proletarian political economy (from the objective situation of the sellers of labour power) to counter bourgeois political economy:

    The Thatcher monetary policy is great example because it shows how significant it is that the owning class has class consciousness, and how huge a benefit that is to the owning class, and at least there and then, the working class didn’t have it, and this is why (one reason why) the owning class wins so much and gets more and more powerful and dominant (invinicble now possibly, unlike every previous ruling class) even in democracies with universal suffrage where the working class are the majority and even have populist/popular morality and sentiment on their side too.

    How does the ruling class implement a policy like this, so much to its own advantage at everyone else’s (catastrophic) expense? How does it do this even though the individual members of the owning class mostly don’t even know it is happening, and most of those that do don’t understand the policy? Despite this, there is 100% proprietor support for this policy, because the whole class has class consciousness – the individuals in it “know” they are members of a class, feel as members of a class, as propertied people, worthy people, not ambivalent about their own interests and rights, and recognise that they have certain interests as members of that class (which are not always identical to their individual interests). So this class has generations of refinement of itself as a class and as a ruling class; this class has specialist intellectuals and managers who serve the class’ interests and intellectuals and artists who paint those interests as the commonweal (the capitalist synechdoche), and the whole class recognises these specialists, and the legitimacy of their functions, and knows to defer to them, and so they as a class successfully design and implement policies to their own advantage as a class even though there are inevitably always some people who as individuals might have interests which even conflict with their interests as members of a class (the case of members of comprador elites is sometimes conflicted for example). When the working class is in as good shape on this score of consciousness, they achieve a lot as well as we see in many situations over the past couple hundred years. But in that situation, Thatcher’s Britain, the working class was lacking in class consciousness, it had even been reduced from previous generations and was in terrible shape and a large portion of the working class did not recognise their own objective interests as members of the working class, as sellers of labour power, and enthusiastically instead supported the owning class’ interests; the very high level of class consciousness of the owning class in Thatcher’s UK (as in Reagan’s US) is exhibited in the extraordinary levels of cooperation, obedience and self sacrifice for the interests of capital they managed to get out of the working class. And financialisation, which diminishes actual objective divergence and variation of interests among sections of the capital-owning class, has helped improve capital owner class consciousness even further. Notice the shareholders of commodity producing industry are absolutely obedient to the finance elites even when they have an immediate downside for themselves individually and as part of a sector. The capital owning class is acutely conscious of being a class; it’s so conscious of this it is unconscious of its consciousness (its class interests are just common sense, just unadorned right; what threatens them is just unadorned wrong) and – more important than anything – its specialists for the purpose are acutely conscious of fighting a class war against the entirety of humanity apart from themselves, and conscious that the enemy’s gain is there loss even if the details of the damage are not immediately apparent. The working class is nowhere near this level of awareness in the rich countries, the homelands of the global rulers, and not much closer anywhere. On the other side of this class divide, with the sellers of labour power and the propertyless, there is nothing comparable to this discipline and class self-awareness and cohesion.

    Politeness will no doubt require anyone trying to organise to try to avoid telling their colleague that they are wrong about anything. But you’d expect the organic working class intellectuals to be as straightforward as possible – like to say the working class supporters of Thatcher and Reagan were wrong, were supporting their enemies, were harming their own interests and those of people whose interests they share, were ill informed, befuddled, deceived. Not well that’s a valid perspective, every perspective is valid, and maybe low wages and high profits are in the interest of the commonweal, but there’s another point of view to consider, just as an idea, not necessarily a good idea, just one to consider. In the end whatever you decide – stomp some undermen with your doc martins or shoot them in southern arizona, walk a picket line, cross a picket line – is great. So long as you express youself and follow your bliss.

    I think this is the kind of thing – a class acting cohesively and consciously to further the (partly historical, but partly as good as eternal) material interests of those who belong to it, and in the case of the dominated class, acting in concert intelligently and relentlessly to emancipate its members and everyone else – Marx and after him most Marxists (not academics, but the rest) have been concerned with when bringing up consciousness and ideology; it’s a very different sort of problem and topic than what is usually understood by bourgeois theory as “the question of ideology”.

  33. duncan Says:

    This is the just-recovered missing comment, for anyone else reading. Rushing now.

  34. duncan Says:

    Ah, comments crossed on the interwires… still rushing though…

  35. chabert Says:

    thanks duncan, sorry to have overlapped

    just for reference, here’s the Marx snippet explaining this point:

    In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power. [1830] Thenceforth, the class-struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic. Still, even the obtrusive pamphlets with which the Anti-Corn Law League, led by the manufacturers Cobden and Bright, deluged the world, have a historic interest, if no scientific one, on account of their polemic against the landed aristocracy. But since then the Free-trade legislation, inaugurated by Sir Robert Peel, has deprived vulgar economy of this its last sting.

    The Continental revolution of 1848-9 also had its reaction in England. Men who still claimed some scientific standing and aspired to be something more than mere sophists and sycophants of the ruling-classes tried to harmonise the Political Economy of capital with the claims, no longer to be ignored, of the proletariat. Hence a shallow syncretism of which John Stuart Mill is the best representative. It is a declaration of bankruptcy by bourgeois economy, an event on which the great Russian scholar and critic, N. Tschernyschewsky, has thrown the light of a master mind in his “Outlines of Political Economy according to Mill.”

    In Germany, therefore, the capitalist mode of production came to a head, after its antagonistic character had already, in France and England, shown itself in a fierce strife of classes. And meanwhile, moreover, the German proletariat had attained a much more clear class-consciousness than the German bourgeoisie. Thus, at the very moment when a bourgeois science of Political Economy seemed at last possible in Germany, it had in reality again become impossible.

    Under these circumstances its professors fell into two groups. The one set, prudent, practical business folk, flocked to the banner of Bastiat, the most superficial and therefore the most adequate representative of the apologetic of vulgar economy; the other, proud of the professorial dignity of their science, followed John Stuart Mill in his attempt to reconcile irreconcilables. Just as in the classical time of bourgeois economy, so also in the time of its decline, the Germans remained mere schoolboys, imitators and followers, petty retailers and hawkers in the service of the great foreign wholesale concern.

    The peculiar historical development of German society therefore forbids, in that country, all original work in bourgeois economy; but not the criticism of that economy. So far as such criticism represents a class, it can only represent the class whose vocation in history is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes — the proletariat.

    The learned and unlearned spokesmen of the German bourgeoisie tried at first to kill “Das Kapital” by silence, as they had managed to do with my earlier writings. As soon as they found that these tactics no longer fitted in with the conditions of the time, they wrote, under pretence of criticising my book, prescriptions “for the tranquillisation of the bourgeois mind.” But they found in the workers’ press — see, e.g., Joseph Dietzgen’s articles in the Volksstaat — antagonists stronger than themselves, to whom (down to this very day) they owe a reply.

  36. duncan Says:

    Thanks, that’s a great passage. I still question whether class consciousness is the best way to express this though. This may partly be an artefact of the subsequent historical sedimentation/resonances of the term. Class consciousness means something different, maybe, after lukacs, after lenin. [Marx has his Hegelian moments, though, so this isn’t entirely a marxological point.]

    For unrelated reasons I was reading about Katrina again yesterday. Not sure there’s a clearer example of ruling class indifference and brutality and racism in the last few years – clearer all over, I mean, virtually everyone appalled, just unmistakable. But is this class consciousness on the part of the ruling class? I think class hatred and indifference, on the part of the rulers, the administrators, is explanation enough, consciousness-wise. Class consciousness, to me, implies something more. I’m not sure that something’s necessary.

    In your earlier comment you said that the ruling class, the owning class, has a more developed class consciousness than the working class – a better sense of their interests, i take you to mean. But I don’t think that’s generally necessary as an explanation – the main difference between the owning class and the working class (and obviously those are pretty imprecise categories, because most capitalists are managers not owners of capital) isn’t class consciousness, imo, however defined, but simply hard power. The constant and repeated triumph of capital over labour isn’t a function of superior class consciousness, imo – it’s mainly about where the force lies, who the army and police ultimately work for, in whose hands the threat of poverty and starvation lies.

    That’s not to say that the capitalist class won’t mobilise in a much more deliberate way when it’s threatened – crushing the revolts in ’68, destroying the bargaining power of organised labour in the ’80s, etc. But again, I’m not sure class consciousness is the best category to describe this. This may just be a terminological disagreement, not sure.

    [That said, the situation with political economy today is so strikingly similar to what Marx describes in that Afterword – those who claim “some scientific standing” – basically, post-Keynesian would-be technocrats – and the mass of vulgar apologists, who have no compunction in stooping to the basest lie if it serves capital’s demands. The difference, essentially, between those apologists whose very neural pathways are bribed (as roger put it recently i think) and those who apparently can’t comprehend the extent to which their entire discipline is oriented, via incentives, coercions, conventional wisdom, ideology, unexamined and constantly reproduced false premises, cliches, convenient simplifications, possibly conscience-stricken wilful blindnesses, professional demands, self-concealments, ignorance, stupidity, and straightforward deceit, towards capital’s domination. Etc. etc..]

  37. Nate Says:

    “the main difference between the owning class and the working class (and obviously those are pretty imprecise categories, because most capitalists are managers not owners of capital) isn’t class consciousness, imo, however defined, but simply hard power”

    I totally agree. i know loads of class conscious working class people, but what the fuck do we do w/ our consciousness…?

    sorry so brief, holding the baby

  38. […] started us off with some nice reflections on chapter 23. A nice discussion has been underway at Duncan’s blog, jumping off from some observations on Marx’s sarcasm, and developing into a discussion of […]

  39. […] Nate. What in the hell… Marx will we be reading? 30/8/09: Duncan. Marx’s sarcasm 13/9/09: NP. Revisiting the Product of the Hand Posted by duncan Filed in Uncategorized 5 […]

  40. chabert Says:

    thanks guys

    of course I agree about coercion but

    there’s something else, neither coercion nor consent, the structural pressures, arrangements of rewards and costs, which provoke a certain compliance that does not depend on psychological states of approval or misconstruction, but this cannot be pictured in the form of robinsonade.

    But the (indispensible) premiss of revolutionary communism of all kinds is that in fact the working class has all the real power and the ruling class produces none but weilds power because the working class is divided and polices eachother for the various rewards, and is largely obedient to the ruling class which rules and weilds the power produced by (the power that is) the ruling class through a complex of social relations inherited from the past.

    the army and the police are working class people capable of emancipating themselves along with the rest of the class who moreover are nothing but fists if not supplied, by the working class, with the tools and materials of their trade; the soldiers and warriors of the various kinds of armed forces don’t make their own weapons and vehicles, their own phones and bullets, satellites and unmanned drones, their own food and clothes, or pump and refine their own oil. The power they weild at the direction of the ruling class is not their personal power any more than it is the personal power of their ruling class employers. Their power is dependent on control of huge socially produced resources. The power rests in the hands of the working class who produce it, but the working class can’t weild the power it produces because of disunity.

    That’s the assumption. If you don’t assume that, then what would give the impression that the exploitation and domination of the majority by a minority could be abolished?

  41. chabert Says:

    “which rules and weilds the power produced by (the power that is) the ruling class through ”

    oops, should say “power that is) the working class through”

  42. Nate Says:

    hey colonel, one handed baby holdin again, sorry, so real quick – this is awesome: “there’s something else, neither coercion nor consent, the structural pressures, arrangements of rewards and costs, which provoke a certain compliance that does not depend on psychological states of approval or misconstruction”
    For one concrete illustration, race and redlining in detroit. I believe it’s in Thomas Sugrue’s book on detroit, might also be in Cohen, Consumers Republic, the post ww2 housing market gave incentives to white working class racism in exactly the way you describe.

    re: that assumption, I agree when you frame it as you do in your comment here re: rewards and re: violence. It’s easy to come off here like most workers are duped (you dont here) that’s always the position I leap to oppose when this kind of thing comes up. We’re bullied and occasionally rewarded, much much more than we;re tricked. gotta go

  43. duncan Says:

    Thanks guys. This is good stuff, and I ought to respond at some length. But, with apologies, I’m going to default on that debt – I want to focus my limited blogging energies on putting together a proper chapter 25 post, before I fall out of the reading group cycle altogether. Nate, I’ve been meaning to comment on your excellent ch. 23 & 24 posts.

    [As a complete aside, I don’t suppose anyone knows whether Marx’s Money System, Credit System, Crises (Geldwesen, Kreditwesen, Krisen) has been published in any form? This seems like a (potentially) really major text still to be inaccessible, but I can’t find any trace of it. If it is unpublished, does anyone know what the deal is?]


  44. duncan Says:

    chabert, chabert, what’s happened to your blogs???

  45. […] still in prefatory mode with regard to the reading group on chapter 25 of v1 of Capital. Duncan and NP have kicked things off good and proper with posts on chapter 25. There’s been some […]

  46. chabert Says:

    hey thanks, I quit smoking and have some big projects with deadlines, and deleting the blogs was sort of a rash extreme way of making sure I don’t get distracted by them.

    anyway, thanks for the discussion.

    I read something a couple years ago which quoted a lot from that notebook, but now I can’t remember what it was, but I think it doesn’t contain any notions not found elsewhere in better shape, but is only of interest for I guess what you would call some branch (biographical?) of Marxology.

    anyway – there’s this you’ll like:

    “Where does seriousness cease and jocularity begin? Where does modesty cease and immodesty begin? We are dependent on the temperament of the censor. It would be as wrong to prescribe temperament for the censor as to prescribe style for the writer. If you want to be consistent in your aesthetic criticism, then forbid also a too serious and too modest investigation of the truth, for too great seriousness is the most ludicrous thing of all, and too great modesty is the bitterest irony.”

  47. Nate Says:

    Colonel, sorry to see your blogs go. I can understand the need to take drastic anti-procrastination measures. Glad you quit smoking!

    Duncan, I’m not aware of a translation of that Marx text. You might be interested in this piece by Sergio Bologna, about what Marx was doing around the time he wrote that piece.

  48. duncan Says:

    Hey guys – thanks for the info. That’s set my mind at rest w/r/t the unpublished notebook.

    Nate – thanks for the link to the Bologna piece, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but it looks really interesting.

    Chabert – thanks for the Marx link, just read it, it’s hilarious…

    I treat the ludicrous seriously when I treat it ludicrously

    Damn right.

    Anyhow, I too am very sorry to see your blogs go, chabert. I found a great deal of brilliance and value in them. Though like Nate I totally understand if you want to focus on other stuff. Just saddened.

    Best wishes…

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