Archive for July, 2010

Stuff happens behind our backs

Comments for first session Capital I seminar, 7 August 2010, Redfern Community Centre.


My aim today is to give some sense of what Marx’s materialism is like.

A phrase Marx repeatedly comes back to in Capital I is ‘behind the backs’.

There is stuff going on behind the backs of workers and capitalists. When they act, they act in a world that was created while their backs were turned. They didn’t see its laws being enacted, nor its landscape change.

Yet the world is only the mass of their practices. So they must have had some hand in creating it. This is the problem at the centre of Marx’s attempt to think human society in general, but also to think capitalism as an individual instance of human society.

To work out what Marx’s materialism is like, we need to work out what Marx means by ‘behind the backs’. Continue reading ‘Stuff happens behind our backs’

Some Discussion of Labour…

JC: Labour in general and labour within capitalism. Here we could talk about the way Marx distinguishes between the long view historical generalities and the short view of what applies in capitalism. So Labour in the long view is useful activity, in capitalism it is labour that is treated as some generic instance of labour. Chapter 7 Vol. I. the distinction between labour as an ‘eternal natural necessity’ and valorisation Human activity that capital counts as socially valid counts as labour within capitalism. Living Labour and dead labour (dead labour is value – I only just worked that out as I was typing this! is this correct? (yes, -Sam) A means of production isn’t physically labour, only given capitalism is it treated as containing past acts of labour, and these past acts that are congealed in the means of production – which is a mass of commodities – are value, isn’t that what value is? acts of labour objectified in things?)

SAM: Response (Sam): value is _also_ still the use-values.  Value is in antagonistic contradiction with the use-value embodied in it.  That’s why realisation of value in circulation is important, why we can’t dig a hole and fill it in again.  This contradiction finds its apotheosis in war production (Sector IV I believe in a 4 sector scheme) and Sector III (waste).  Both of these achieve a useless realisation on the market, their use-value is socially recognised wastefulness!  The new trend sweeping America: Wasting Food!  The meaning of the use-values and utility of having produced value is lost, forever!  But for normal commodities the value circulates as congealed acts of past labour, at each moment of circulation the validity of the labour can be contested.  Over night people no longer want Pogs.  Despite circulating as M…M’ as usuary or C…C as direct exchange, their validity can be continually contested. Continue reading ‘Some Discussion of Labour…’