An Axiom for Everyone

If capitalism is a kind of cancer, does it need to be cured? What would it mean to be returned to health? Perhaps it is a question of exacerbating that cancer itself – or at least one aspect of that cancer: of allowing the disease to cure itself, or at least to metamorphose into something less horrifying.

Like a metastatising cancer, capitalism spreads, and it does so, as Deleuze and Guattari explain in their classic analysis, by releasing codes from their fixed determinations, unleashing a flow of means of production which is deterritorialised. This is what Marx called the ‘continual revolution of the means of production’ and it is a revolution: there is a great leap in creativity. But this unleashing is governed by the logic of money, which assigns everything a price. Herein lies the ambivalence of the revolution implicit to capitalism: at one and the same time, a new world is opened and then barred from us. New forces are unleashed but are captured almost instantaneously.

Deleuze and Guattari call axiomatisation the way in which flows are cojoined so that surplus can be extracted from them. The reterritorialisation this accomplishes shackles the creative forces unleashed through ‘constant revolutionising’. Still, there is always an interval: if forces of creativity, what Deleuze and Guattari call desiring-production, are freed, they are only freed for so long as the capitalist cannot make a profit on such freedom.

What chance is there of truly revolutionary action? This will depend upon experiencing the interval between the encounter with desiring-prodiction and the axiomatisation of such creativity. But how is this possible?
Do not think of it as what you set out to experience, but of what engages you. Do not think of this encounter as one you can bring about. Yes, we are all mortgaged, that is pledged to the death by capital; our future is determined by what is owed to capital. Capitalism has passed the stage of what Marx calls the ‘formal subsumption’ of labour by capital in order to accomplish ‘real assumption’, wherein, as Negri argues, all social activity is determined by capital. This is our control society ...

Nevertheless, there is the chance of tracing those intervals which open as it were in the very articulation of capital: they become the hinge which might unjoin capitalism from itself. This disarticulation, crucially, concerns time, or the temporal synthesis upon which capitalism is predicated. What is necessary is to attend to the interval as it unjoins the time of capitalism from itself. The time is out of joint.

This still sounds vague and utopian. The objection arises: how might this lead to a political programme? How to translate the revolts which occur from time to time and place to place into a global movement?

Credit, Trust, Desire

(Some notes in the margins of Goodchild's work. I also draw on Holland's study of Deleuze and Guattari.)

Money was born as a means of passage where coding reaches its limits. Alliez sumarises Aristotle’s account of the invention of money thus: cities far apart, cities which do not share values, can trade with one another. Money can now pass across the plains, the steppes, the whole world. But money is not just a way of mediating a spatial distance. As I argued in another post, it also implies a disassociation of time because of the temporal split between buyer and seller.

One might contrast a natural and a credit economy to make this point more clear. In the former, money facilitates exchange. Goods, labour and services can thereby answer wants, needs and interests. Property and money are exchanged’ they are commensurate. But when money is raised as a loan on the basis of a debt, then it is necessary to increase production to generate a profit in order to pay back this loan. When the supply of money is increased, prices do not rise proportionately to take account of this increase. It is the production of goods and services which expands.

In order to receive credit, it is necessary to commit to future production and profitability. One does not pay back one’s creditors in wealth (in goods), but in money. The circulation of a ‘natural’ economy can be increased without limit; money is now deterritorialised from natural exchange. The cycle of profit and debt drives the circulation of capital insofar as it necessitates the incessant creation of money through the contracting of new loans. It is not simply having money that matters, but credit-worthiness. Credit can be produced from thin air; it is born by fiat. It does not need to be repaid in goods and services. It is to be repayed by taking out more loans. But the circulation of credit demands the commitment to further production. Thus the future of capital opens which takes heed of nothing but its own increase.

As measure of value, money comes to supplant all other values; as a means of access to goods and services, it remains even when coding breaks down. You tell yourself that you do not desire money for its own sake, but for goods and services to which it provides access. But the financial market does not seek those goods and services, but only money, since it is the means of access to more money. Money is sought in the financial market as sheer investment potential; its value is measured not in terms of particular assets, but of rates of speculative return. Beyond any particular investor or financier, capitalism desires and realises its own increase. This desire produces other desires within the capitalist social machine. This is why William Large can write, 'Time and money are not our projections, but we the projections of time and money': as indebted or enthralled labour, we are enmeshed in the impersonal operation of capital. Our desires attest to this operation.

Here desire, along with belief, arrives from capital itself. Zizek likes to quote Sloterdijk: we know what we're doing, but we're doing it anyway, then comments that capitalism operates in the manner of Tibetan prayer-wheel. It desires for us and through us. But might there be other beliefs in desires which await us within this socius? Deleuze and Guattari's two volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia provides some indications.

A great shift occurs with capitalism as Deleuze and Guattari show in their analysis of the transition from savagery through despotism to capitalism: no longer are flows of matter and energy organised qualitatively and symbolically as in savagery and despotism. In savagery, social codes determine what is of value and therefore collectable. Bataille was right, however, to highlight the role of expenditure in such a system, whereby accumulation is always limited by the ritual destruction or dispersal of accumulated goods. In despotism, the despot must be paid in one representative of value, that is gold, which has a meaning over above the values particular goods have within particular tribes in savagery. Value is deterritorialised from goods with specific value and now accrues to a universal equivalent. But this equivalent is not yet the money of capitalism since it is imposed on tribes from without; it accomplishes the political subordination of particular groupings. Money is here only a kind of debt which passes to the despot.

What changes with capitalism? There is a more general deterritorialisation as money becomes a common currency whose value is to be understood in terms of exchange-value. Previously, the social machine was organised through symbolic codes, whether they are understood in terms of the goods of the savage or the figure of the despot who imposes a hierarchy. With capitalism, there is no such organisation; what matters above all is the production of surplus value; to that end, qualitatively dissimilar resources are brought together as quantitatively exchangable commodities in the universal market.

Deleuze and Guattari call axiomatisation that process through which various factors of production (money, skills, technologies, raw materials) are conjoined into order to extract a surplus. This conjoining of quantified flows operates through an ongoing decoding of all established meanings, customs and beliefs. But this decoding is not to be rejected as a simple reification as Lukacs argues. Decoding awakens a difference even as axiomatisation attempts to recapture this difference. In despotism and savagery, coding is the basis of identity. In capitalism, however, it is the addition of new axioms which allow a profit to be extracted from difference that operates as a principle of identity. True, capitalism is linked to a cycle of decoding and recoding; the axioms of capitalism sweep away existing codes of meaning and conduct replacing them temporarily with another set of codes, before this recoded set is itself swept away. But this is no reason to despair since there is a fundamental change in the shift from despotism to capitalism. As Holland comments:

Social valuation is now quantiative rather than qualitative: exchange-value simply disregards or over-rides the concrete differences between commodities, rather than reducing them in the name of similarity and identity, as codes strive to do.

The danger is that before we become aware of such concrete differences the addition of new axioms interrupts the potentially revolutionary movement of decoding. We all believe in capital; we believe in it and desire it. But there are other potencies which may engage us that offer the possibility of a new belief and a new desire.

Beliefs and desires: in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari draw on the work of the nineteenth century French ‘microsociologist’ Gabriel Tarde. They write: ‘Tarde’s best work was his analysis of a miniscule bureaucratic innovation, or a linguistic innovation, etc.’ What does this mean? Bonta and Protevi provide a useful gloss:

... flow is that micro-deviation from the norm, that little nuance ‘sure we’re all Americans but here we start our 4th July celebration with a parade from the our local Veterans Against War group, then we have the Dykes on Bikes group, then instead of hot dogs we have veggie burgers ...’ (Of course, on another level of analysis, there are always molecular flows escaping these representations: vegetarians who once in a while ... and so on).

A micro-deviation. The market is integrated, begetting money of itself. Yet there are openings within the infinite increase of money. True, capitalism always works through a reterritorialisation of flows. It does so for the most part through a reterritorialisation onto arbitrary, archaic signifiers, but there is also a reterritorialisation of credit capital onto exchange capital. The latter is more deterritorialised than the signifiers which play such an important role in savagery and despotism and offers us the potential of revolution. It is here one might seek the micro-deviation which could give rise to new beliefs and desires.

Goodchild: ‘It is [...] theoretically possible to isolate the flow of belief and desire from their reterritorialisation on credit capital, so as to fold them back upon themselves as specific styles and modes of existence.’ This from his introduction to Deleuze and Guattari (Religion and Capitalism develops this thought). But what does it mean?

Credit, folded back on itself, produces credit, not an exchangeable quantity. People are trusted who are capable of generating trust, and such trust becomes the precondition for collective activity. Such a refolded ‘capital’ no longer needs to be quantified; one discovers the liberation of autonomous and non-quantifiable flows of belief and desire.

It is credit, then, which Goodchild finds potentially liberating insofar as it may produce a different set of beliefs and desires. But is trust enough? After all, it can always be reterritorialised by directing itself towards a particular process or end. Accordingly trust must be 'folded back upon itself', Goodchild comments, 'in order to open itself to a new threshold of deterritorialisation: trust in trust, an immanent faith in this life as it is'. Only thus might it allow us to reach what Deleuze and Guattari call the plane of immanence of capitalism - its 'outside', that is: desire.

I'm still not sure what Goodchild is pointing towards (this is my mistake, not his; I will simply have to work harder), but I think it has to do with the engaging of particular potencies which are given as the outside of capitalism, insofar as they escape the articulation of capital as a kind of chaos which has to be bridged by the operation of money. As chaos, this 'outside' gives itself to be experienced in terms of a different set of beliefs and desires 'within' capitalism. And it is given such there is a kind of folding of past and future into the present on the part of the experiencing individual.

This should no longer be understood on the model of autonomous self-determination. Rather - and here Goodchild breaks from the humanism of political science -it will entail the engagement with nonhuman powers, for example, fertile soil, fresh water, crops and domestic farm animals, all of which escape the technological-industrial subordination of producitivity to efficiency and output as well as with power-relations which open between us which usually passed over with too much haste.

Minor Communism

The Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.... Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away , all newly formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air...

We know it well: changes in means of production means workers are perpetually de- and reskilled; capital moves from one place to another; production and consumption are continually revolutionised in view of the desire for profit, for surplus value, upon which capitalism depends and makes us depend . This movement is like a moving band of locusts, alighting to devastate everything and then taking flight once more. Nothing is spared this devastation even as new places open to devastate ...

What is to be done? Rethink the revolution which allows the ongoing revolution upon which capitalism thrives. Rethink the ongoing crisis upon which capitalism depends. It is here that Deleuze and Guattari's work is immensely valuable; I also draw on Thoburn's excellent Deleuze, Marx and Politics, which brings their work into relation with the Italian autonomia movement.

A fundamental instability of meaning is built into capitalism from the start. Values, Deleuze and Guattari claim, are decoded by capitalism insofar as they are unbound from traditional structures; the danger, however, is that they are recoded by the market, which itself acknowledges no values except work and money. On another level deterritorialisation occurs such that labour power is unbound from a particular institution (unemployed miners in the North) and reterritorialised by others (light engineering). If there is always a turbulence, a revolutionisation that is constitutive of capitalism, it is one that is regulated. Indeed, it was this regulation, which Deleuze and Guattari call axiomatisation which first gave rise to capitalism. Recall the classic account of capitalism’s emergence in Marx: capital resulting from sold property meets workers who have been deterritorialised from the land.

How to resist, when capitalism proceeds through a massive and ongoing decoding and deterritorialisation which is the very basis of the economy? It is a matter of opening up the potential which emerges in the articulation of capitalism. Firstly, there is a question of perception: how do you attend to movements of becoming? How do you gain a perspective which would disclose an immanent potential within capitalism? How do you attend to what is active, inchoate, unformed which unfolds such that it is not recaptured by capitalism? Then, secondly, it is a question of engagement: how do you call forth a virtuality or potentiality which might permit a new effectuation, a counter-interpretation which would draw on these unforeseen powers?

These questions bring us towards the word communism. From the Communist Manifesto:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

True, Marx will sometimes hint at a post-capitalist state to come, presenting communism in terms of endstate where the division of labour is abolished, but the communism of the Manifesto is never simply an ideal. ‘The real movement which abolishes the present state of things’: It names a real engagement, a local and strategic intervention within capitalism. The danger is that the chance of communism appears to be given by capitalism. It is a question of thinking the relationship between capitalism and communism such as the latter is never simply a moment of the former. It is a question of resistance.

One might approach such a communism through the notion of the proletariat. When Marx writes about the proletariat, it is not to appeal to a class that is already constituted, which would have a conception of itself, of its history. The proletariat are deferred in the relation to themselves as a class and this is the point: they are not yet fixed on a molar model of the worker. This is why the term ‘working class’ is misleading. Gilles Dauvé is right: the proletariat are indeed ‘the class of the critique of work’.

But what would this mean? What is a critique of work and how is this linked to communism? Work, as the source of surplus value, is what allows capital to produce itself. Thereby the identity of the worker is delivered over to the relations that stretch across the capitalist socius. This is precarious because capital is ever-shifting and ever-revolutionizing; it is continually in crisis. If capital deterritorialises and decodes, it also reterritorialises and recodes; the worker continues to be elevated as a molar form, being ‘miraculated’, in Deleuze and Guattari's expression, over and again from the body of capital. Marx and Engels: 'The capitalist functions only as personified capital, capital as a person, just as the worker is no more than labour personified'.

Each of us is enfolded within the capitalist socius, buying into its dynamic of ideals. One ‘works on oneself’ to transform oneself in accordance with the molar ideal of the worker. One is, as a worker, never hard-working enough. If labour, under capitalism, is the extraction of surplus-value from the world, this depends upon the elevation of the molar form of the worker as an ideal. Such an elevation is merely a reaction; the minor is 'miraculated' along with the worker from the body of capital. This means that although the molar might seem to come first as a norm or standard, preceding that which would subject it to variation, it must emerge as the virtual at the same stroke as the appearance of the minor since the ‘miraculation’ of the molar ideal is only an attempt on the part of capitalism to shore itself against ostensibly anti-productive, non surplus-value-producing movements – against what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘lines of flight’.

It may appear that it is not a question of a particular class which would come to understand itself as the agent of history, but of what Deleuze and Guattari would call a minor practice, which entails a tentative negotiation of existing social relations. What does this mean? It should not be understood as the elevation of a ghettoized or marginalized identity to the status of a molar standard, which would grasp itself in its exemplary ‘truth’, but attending and engageing with ‘lines of flight’ which open within the ongoing crisis, that is, the deterritorialisation-reterritorialisation, decoding-recoding movement of capitalism.

If it is to draw upon the potential of these lines of flight, communism must seize upon what is immanent to work itself, grasping the imbrication of the molar with the minor. But since this imbrication has always and already occurred in the capitalist socius, this means the critique of work, communism, has already happened. Communism, on this account - which is not Deleuze and Guattari's - is neither a particular strategy nor the position held by a political party but a kind of event: an ongoing differentiation or deviation from a molar standard. The question is once again one of perception (where is communism happening?) and engagement (how can we seize upon and intensify this event?) both depend on and affirm what has already occurred and will happen again as communism.

It may seem that means communism does not imply the privilege of a particular class as the subject of history. We begin wherever we are. Is this why Deleuze and Guattari write there is ‘only one class of servants, the decoding bourgeoisie, the class that decodes the castes and the statuses, and that draws from the machine an undivided flow of income convertible into consumer and production goods, a flow on which profits and wages are based’? Still, perhaps their analysis offers the possibility of displacing the figure of the proletariat still further from any molar standard – displacing it back into each of us, any of us insofar as we are each subjected to capital by capital.

What does this mean? The word proletarian would name that which names ‘in’ us, struggles against molar forms, against, in this sense, the figure of the worker. This is not Deleuze and Guattari's account. Where does this struggle, this resistance, this critique of work happen? Not in the will, that is, in the activity or work of a conscious subject. Nor in the beliefs or meanings which devolve from capitalist axiomatisation. If it occurs in the proletarian, this is no longer conceived as a member of a class but as a locus of experience that is as it were 'set back' (my expression) in each of us.

To be 'set back' – how should one understand this? The one who remains amidst our world, with its regime of productivity. The one who laughs, reads, makes love ... each of us, any of us, insofar as we fall short of that molar standard of being-a-good-worker. But isn't it the case that a certain model of work, of productivity has contaminated our private lives? No doubt, no doubt ... but there is something in us which outplays the molar standard of lover or host, intellectual or new man. (I will come back to this another day. I should note that the account of the figure of the child, the reader, the not-yet-thinker, the dreamer in my last few posts is an attempt to gesture towards a new account of the proletarian ...)

The proletarian names the one who is engaged by a minor movement such that we have each already been turned from the articulation of capital. Thus communism is the relation which would open from each of us to an ongoing, affirmative differentiation. It is the relation which calls us forth as proletarians. Yes, communism is inscribed within capitalism; it is part of the infernal machine, but it reinscribes or ex-scribes capitalism outside itself. The perpetual danger is that capitalism itself proceeds through such an exscription; resistance will depend upon how one understands the ex- of ex-scription.

Two tasks, urgent and necessary. Firstly, to engage communism itself, communism as event. It is not that the negotiation with capital is an effort, or something for which one would have to plan. What it is necessary to plan, by contrast, is the political project which would draw upon this ongoing event, affirming it and repeating it in turn. This is the minimal account of the notion of strategy with which it would necessary to work. (Example: it would be necessary, through the critique of work, to permit new kinds of worker self-management. What matters is the way in which anti-production is bound to production.)

Secondly, to produce a theory that would permit us to understand the relationship between production and anti-production, capitalism and its outside. Deleuze and Guattari provide indications of one kind, Hardt and Negri of another. Still others might be sought in a whole range of contemporary philosophy and political theory, as well as in the activities of new militantisms of various kinds. This is what I will now explore over the next few posts.