Primitive Accumulation and the State-Form: National Debt as an Apparatus of Capture

A new way to pay the National-Debt (James Gill­ray, April 21, 1786)


The moment has come to expose cap­i­tal to the absence of rea­son, for which cap­i­tal pro­vides the fullest devel­op­ment: and this moment comes from cap­i­tal itself, but it is no longer a moment of a “cri­sis” that can be solved in the course of the process. It is a dif­fer­ent kind of moment to which we must give thought.

- J-L. Nancy1

Commencement and Crisis2

In a brief moment of his the­o­ret­i­cal work, the great Japan­ese Marx­ist critic Tosaka Jun deployed a deci­sive and cru­cial phrase, a phrase that I believe con­cen­trates within it the his­tor­i­cal con­junc­ture we have been expe­ri­enc­ing on a world-scale in the recent years of cri­sis: he calls this ulti­mate crys­tal­liza­tion of pol­i­tics “the facts of the streets” or “the facts on the streets” (gaitō no jijitsu).3 I would like to exces­sively develop or over­write – in other words trans­late – this phrase into a con­cept in the strong sense, to raise this seem­ingly mar­ginal choice of words to the level of a prin­ci­ple, and to uti­lize this prin­ci­ple itself as a lever through which to force into exis­tence a cer­tain the­o­ret­i­cal sequence. What Tosaka essen­tially reminds us of is the lit­eral fac­tu­al­ity (or more specif­i­cally, in Alain Badiou’s terms, the “veridic­ity”) of the streets, the “fact” that the streets them­selves express the dense social­ity that capital’s ten­dency towards the social­iza­tion of labor must nec­es­sar­ily-inevitably pro­duce. In other words, what we have seen in the polit­i­cal energies that have been widely unleashed around the globe in the last year, is that the streets them­selves recur­rently-con­tin­u­ously tes­tify or bear wit­ness to their own “facts.” These “facts” are pre­cisely the verso or under­side of capital’s map­ping on a world-scale. Or, to put it in another way, a way that I would like to develop here, “the facts of the streets” is the cen­ter of the volatile “absence of rea­son” or (im)possibility that is always “pass­ing through” in between two polar­i­ties of the­ory that I will call capital’s log­i­cal topol­ogy and its his­tor­i­cal car­tog­ra­phy.

The log­i­cal topol­ogy of capital’s inside is always para­dox­i­cally search­ing for a way to trace out and mir­ror itself in the his­tor­i­cal car­tog­ra­phy, always attempt­ing to make itself a world. Since the begin­ning of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, the pri­mary lever through which to force the cap­ture of labor has always been the form of the state amal­ga­mated together with the form of the nation, sutured together in the process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion. Using this build­ing-block, cap­i­tal tries inces­santly-recur­rently to trans­late its log­i­cal struc­ture into the ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity of the earth, to inscribe itself into the actual sur­face of the world. For this task, an entire sequence of “mech­a­nisms” or “appa­ra­tuses” are nec­es­sary. But today, the “facts of the streets” are show­ing us more and more that, as capital’s log­i­cal topol­ogy oscil­lates itself into new, haz­ardous and volatile con­cen­tra­tions of its unsta­ble core, these mech­a­nisms, that for so long had guar­an­teed or legit­i­mated capital’s forc­ing of the his­tor­i­cal process, are them­selves descend­ing-ascend­ing into delir­ium. The deliri­ous and demented logic of cap­i­tal today con­fronts the dig­nity and refusal that lines the streets. Engels, in his stark and force­ful style, reminds us of what is essen­tially at stake:

The rela­tion of the man­u­fac­turer to the worker has noth­ing human in it; it is purely eco­nomic. The man­u­fac­turer is ‘Cap­i­tal,’ the worker is “Labour.” And if the worker will not be forced into this abstrac­tion, if he insists that he is not “Labour,” but a man, who pos­sesses, among other things, the attrib­ute of labour-power, if he takes it into his head that he need not allow him­self to be bought and sold in the mar­ket as the com­mod­ity “Labour,” the bour­geois rea­son comes to a stand­still.4

When the streets erupt against this com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and the bour­geois rea­son is halted, cap­i­tal must mod­ify its equi­lib­rium, it must deter­mine how this “absence of rea­son” can be “passed through,” because cap­i­tal can­not solve the cri­sis, but merely tra­verse it with­out resolv­ing it. But how does this seem­ingly improb­a­ble or exces­sive (il)logic oper­ate? Here we must lit­er­ally “go back to the begin­ning.”

The Erasure of Violence by Means of Violence

Today, the cri­sis is not sim­ply reducible to the finan­cial cri­sis, nor can it be said to be a purely polit­i­cal cri­sis of legit­i­ma­tion of the state appa­ra­tus. Rather, the cri­sis today is one cen­tered on the vio­lent-volatile amal­gam between capital’s lim­its and the lim­its of the state-form, par­tic­u­larly, the lim­its of the mech­a­nisms that have allowed this amal­gam to pri­mar­ily orga­nize social rela­tions since the advent of cap­i­tal­ism itself. In order to think the ways in which our moment, and the moment of the advent of indus­trial cap­i­tal con­verge, we have to think the ques­tion of the begin­ning, the origin. This is also a ques­tion of cri­sis as such, of the the­ory of cri­sis. Today, there is a con­stant ten­dency to see this cri­sis as an excep­tion, as a per­ma­nent state of excep­tion, as a mak­ing-per­ma­nent of some­thing con­tin­gent, and so forth. But this in turn obscures the sys­tem­atic and cycli­cal nature of cri­sis, which occurs only inso­far as the sys­tem­atic order in which it is placed is itself in ques­tion. Cri­sis, it must be said, can­not be sim­ply and eas­ily summed up in its typ­i­cal under­con­sump­tion­ist read­ing and its polit­i­cal con­se­quences. If under­con­sump­tion is the motor-force of cri­sis, it would appear merely as a con­tin­gent ques­tion of national pol­icy. But the speci­fic nature of cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis can never be explained on such a basis, pre­cisely because the under­con­sump­tion­ist expla­na­tion treats every cri­sis as a sur­prise. But noth­ing about this cri­sis is sur­pris­ing – or rather, if there is a sur­pris­ing ele­ment in our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, it is the rebirth of the polit­i­cal­ity of the “facts of the streets” that cap­i­tal has sui­ci­dally let loose. Cri­sis is always a rep­e­ti­tion, but a cycli­cal motion in which dif­fer­ence emerges within this rep­e­ti­tion. That is, every time the cir­cle has to be traced back to its start­ing point or com­mence­ment, the trac­ing itself always exhibits micro­scopic diver­gences. These diver­gences them­selves, because they are exposed to the fig­u­ra­tive or cre­ative dimen­sion of rep­e­ti­tion, always con­tain within them the pos­si­bil­ity for another arrange­ment: “From time to time the con­flict of antag­o­nis­tic agen­cies finds vent in crises. The crises are always but momen­tary and forcible solu­tions of the exist­ing con­tra­dic­tions. They are vio­lent erup­tions which for a time restore the dis­turbed equi­lib­rium.”5 But the “dis­turbed equi­lib­rium” is not itself a state of har­mony and peace. Rather, the dis­turbed equi­lib­rium is an under­tak­ing of “vio­lent erup­tions” that have been cov­ered over in new forms, and made to vio­lently erase their own vio­lence. But where does this vio­lence emerge from?

As is well-known, the prob­lem of the “so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion,” cen­tered in the 24th chap­ter of the first vol­ume of Cap­i­tal, orig­i­nates from Marx’s recog­ni­tion of the fact that his own analy­sis of the log­i­cal struc­ture of cap­i­tal requires an end­lessly regress­ing series of pre­sup­po­si­tions: the move­ment of accu­mu­la­tion pre­sup­poses the exis­tence of sur­plus value, sur­plus value pre­sup­poses that cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion is already estab­lished, the exis­tence of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion pre­sup­poses a stock of cap­i­tal suf­fi­cient for the cycle to begin, and so on. Thus he argues, the whole move­ment requires that we assume what Adam Smith called the “pre­vi­ous accu­mu­la­tion,” a period of accu­mu­la­tion which pre­cedes capitalism’s estab­lished func­tion­ing, and from which it itself begins to move. But prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion does not mean a smooth tran­si­tion that estab­lishes the “good soci­ety,” nor the moment when mankind falls from an idyl­lic state. Rather, it is an irrup­tion of vio­lence, an instant in which what was pre­vi­ously unteth­ered, unde­fined, and unbound is vio­lently con­cate­nated into a sequence that fur­nishes the basic mate­rial con­di­tions for cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. Thus, in this moment, it is “noto­ri­ous that con­quest, enslave­ment, rob­bery, mur­der, briefly, force, play the great part.”6 It is not sim­ply that the peas­antry is “freed” to become the wage-labor required for the for­ma­tion and rota­tion of the cir­cuit of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion, it is also at the same time the inverse: this process also indi­cates the clo­sure of het­ero­gene­ity in order to pro­duce equiv­a­lences which can then “encoun­ter” each other: the owner of cap­i­tal and the owner of labor power.

In this sense, the process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion (which is not a period, but a cycli­cally repro­duced log­i­cal moment) describes the instal­la­tion of “real abstrac­tion” into his­tory, and the fact that this moment is repeat­ing every­day shows us the para­dox­i­cal nature of the his­tor­i­cal tem­po­ral­ity that char­ac­ter­izes cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. More than any­thing how­ever, we are imme­di­ately made aware of the vio­lence of the pro­duc­tion of the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­ity for cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, for the “encoun­ter” between buy­ers and sell­ers of labor power. Here we are reminded that “there is a prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion that, far from deriv­ing from the agri­cul­tural mode of pro­duc­tion, pre­cedes it: as a gen­eral rule, there is prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion when­ever an appa­ra­tus of cap­ture is mounted, with that very par­tic­u­lar kind of vio­lence that cre­ates or con­tributes to the cre­ation of that which it is directed against, and thus pre­sup­poses itself.”7 As Marx inci­sively pointed out, in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, which is never at rest, but rather a cir­cuit in con­stant motion, we must rec­og­nize that the “orig­i­nal sin is at work every­where” (die Erb­sünde wirkt über­all).8

There is a long debate on the trans­la­tion of die sogen­nante ursprungliche Akku­mu­la­tion as the so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion. But I would like to give this debate an added dimen­sion: what we must con­sider today is how the orig­i­nary accu­mu­la­tion is incor­po­rated into cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment as prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, as a rep­e­ti­tion of the origin that is also con­cerned with the divi­sion or “sep­a­ra­tion” (Tren­nung) of his­tor­i­cal time between the “prim­i­tive” or “back­wards” and the “on time” or “nor­mal” course of devel­op­ment. The trick of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion is to work on these two dimen­sions at once, as part of the same social motion, to divide the earth on the basis of “forms” in the same way as the abstrac­tion of the exchange process is divided between “two sides.” In other words, this moment of the begin­ning, which is cycli­cally-recur­sively repeated within the sphere of cri­sis (and in every cap­ture of the worker’s body to secure the grounds for the labor-power com­mod­ity), is repeated in rela­tion to a volatile his­tor­i­cal exte­rior, repeated in terms of the form-deter­mi­na­tion of the “nation-form” (Bal­ibar) and the “his­tor­i­cal and moral fac­tors” for the deter­mi­na­tion of the value and price of labor power, the “naïve anthro­pol­ogy” (Althusser) that lurks in the inte­rior of capital’s logic. Capital’s schema of the world divided up into “national cap­i­tals” is itself pro­foundly linked to the his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion of so-called “homo eco­nom­i­cus,” in the form of the two fig­ures of exchange, buy­ers and sell­ers. In other words, the fig­ure of “Man” – as Deleuze and Guat­tari impor­tantly point out, this fig­ure of human­ism is not sim­ply “white man” (l’homme blanc) but rather “White Man” (L’Homme blanc) – is not an “exte­ri­or­ity” or “cul­tural sup­ple­ment” to the eco­nomic field: it is rather the pre­sup­po­si­tion always-already at the very core of the cir­cu­la­tion process.

The image of the world that cap­i­tal presents to itself, by pre­sup­pos­ing a cer­tain accom­plished his­tory, also pre­sup­poses the pro­duc­tion of the indi­vid­u­als that would fur­nish the “needs” upon which “ratio­nal” exchange would emerge. But the very pro­duc­tion of these indi­vid­u­als itself pre­sup­poses the uni­tary and eter­nal area, or gra­di­ent which could legit­i­mate those indi­vid­u­als as indi­vid­u­als by means of the form of belong­ing, typ­i­cally to the nation-state. Thus, the whole cir­cuit con­sti­tutes a “vicious cir­cle,” one which never ade­quately returns to its start­ing point, because the whole sequence of pre­sup­po­si­tion forms an abyssal and regres­sive chain, in which some­thing must always be given: “the homo­ge­neous given space of eco­nomic phe­nom­ena is thus dou­bly given by the anthro­pol­ogy which grips it in the vice of ori­gins and ends.”9 The field of “inter­est,” which is sup­posed to rep­re­sent there­fore the pure or imme­di­ate expres­sion of “need,” sep­a­rated from any extra-eco­nomic coer­cion, direct vio­lence, and so forth, reveals itself as the ulti­mate expres­sion of this “vice of ori­gins and ends,” inso­far as it must always erase or cover over the pro­duc­tion of this fig­ure of “Man” itself. When Marx dis­cusses the fig­ures of the “guardians,” the “bear­ers” or “own­ers” of the labor power com­mod­ity, he refers to them specif­i­cally as “this race of pecu­liar com­mod­ity-own­ers” (diese Race eigen­tüm­licher Warenbe­sitzer),10 effec­tively remind­ing us that “the schema of the West and the Rest” is co-exten­sive and co-emer­gent with the dynam­ics of cap­i­tal itself.

In other words, the “naïve anthro­pol­ogy” that is sup­pos­edly excluded from the cir­cu­la­tion process or the “total mate­rial exchange” between “ratio­nal” indi­vid­u­als, is in fact located at its very core. Exactly as Deleuze and Guat­tari point out in their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the nation-state as the ulti­mate model of the cap­i­tal­ist axiomatic, the form of “the nation” is already con­tained at the very origin of the sup­pos­edly “ratio­nal” and “uni­ver­sal” process of exchange, a process that acts as if it rep­re­sents the smooth and per­fect cir­cle of pure ratio­nal­ity, but that is per­ma­nently sus­pended between its impos­si­ble origin, which it is com­pelled to cycli­cally repeat, and its end, which is equally impos­si­ble, because it would rel­a­tivize the cir­cuit of exchange, and expose it to its out­side, which it must con­stantly erase. Thus the social body or socius itself must remain in its state of insan­ity or “derange­ment” forever pulled in two direc­tions of the pro­duc­tion of sub­jects. It can­not exit this “deranged form,” but must try per­pet­u­ally to prove its “uni­ver­sal­ity” sim­ply by oscil­lat­ing between these two bound­aries, two impos­si­bil­i­ties: its under­ly­ing schema of the world, which “seems absent from the imme­di­ate real­ity of the pheonoma them­selves” because it is per­ma­nently located in “the inter­val between ori­gins and ends,” a short-cir­cuit that inces­santly reveals to us that “its uni­ver­sal­ity is merely rep­e­ti­tion.”11 The para­dox of logic and his­tory in the appa­ra­tus of cap­ture thus is con­tained in the fol­low­ing prob­lem: “the mech­a­nism of cap­ture con­tributes from the out­set to the con­sti­tu­tion of the aggre­gate upon which the cap­ture is effec­tu­ated” (le mécan­isme de cap­ture fait déjà par­tie de la con­sti­tu­tion de l’ensemble sur lequel la cap­ture s’effectue).12 This para­dox, how­ever, is “no mys­tery at all” (pas du tout de mys­tère), pre­cisely because it is a mech­a­nism or schema that exists out in the open, on the sur­face of soci­ety. The his­tor­i­cal acci­dent, the moment of cap­ture for which there was no appar­ent neces­sity or pul­sion, pro­duces a form of tor­sion back upon itself. Once cap­ture has been effected, it loops back onto its own con­tin­gent ori­gins to once again derive itself, to antic­i­pate and “con­jure” itself up as if it were the nec­es­sary out­come of its own schema. In other words, the forms of cap­ture, enclo­sure, and order­ing are not sim­ply dis­tin­guished by their appear­ance as always-already prior; more fun­da­men­tally, they are dis­tin­guished by this para­dox­i­cal and demented struc­ture in which the con­tin­gent his­tor­i­cal event cycles back to itself, once again “dis­cov­er­ing” its own haz­ardous ori­gins, but does so pre­cisely to “recode” its emer­gence so as to appear as if what ought to be an acci­dent was always in fact a nec­es­sary out­come. Thus, the his­tor­i­cal acci­dent of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion is con­stantly “becom­ing what it is” nei­ther through its con­tin­gent foun­da­tions nor its inner drive to pre­tend it is nec­es­sary; this schema oper­ates pre­cisely by cycli­cally repeat­ing its origin in cap­ture in order to har­ness its haz­ardous flux ret­ro­spec­tively, to con­jure itself up as if its origin were a mere tes­ta­ment to its nec­es­sary emer­gence.

In this sys­tem of the vio­lence of inclu­sion, the vio­lence of the schema itself “hides in plain view,” it oper­ates imme­di­ately before our eyes, yet “it is very dif­fi­cult to pin­point this vio­lence because it always presents itself as preac­com­plished.”13 The seem­ing dou­ble-bind con­tained in the vio­lence of the appa­ra­tus of cap­ture might appear to dis­able any con­cep­tion of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion, to be a closed cir­cle, but we could also say pre­cisely the oppo­site. In the process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, “the con­cept of ‘deter­mined social for­ma­tion’ has become the con­cept of ‘class com­po­si­tion’: it restores, in other words, the dynamism of the subject’s action, of the will that struc­tures or destroys the rela­tions of neces­sity.”14 In other words, para­dox­i­cally it is the fact that our for­clo­sure into the social field has taken place that opens the pos­si­bil­i­ties of pol­i­tics. We have always-already been included into this sys­tem­atic expres­sion of cap­ture, but this inescapa­bil­ity of the rep­e­ti­tion of the begin­ning does not mean some­thing dis­abling.

Cap­i­tal, as the fun­da­men­tal con­cretiza­tion of social rela­tions, and there­fore as the apex of the social relation’s vio­lent verso, can­not rid itself of this fun­da­men­tal “con­di­tion of vio­lence” (Gewaltver­hält­nis),15 located in its log­i­cal alpha and omega, the labor power com­mod­ity, whose “indi­rect” pro­duc­tion is located para­dox­i­cally out­side com­mod­ity rela­tions. An excess of vio­lence is haunt­ing capital’s inte­rior by means of this con­stantly liminalizing/volatilizing forcible “pro­duc­tion” of labor power. Pre­cisely by this exces­sive vio­lence, cap­i­tal endan­gers itself and opens itself up to a whole con­ti­nent of raw vio­lence, and it is exactly this point that shows us some­thing impor­tant in terms of the ques­tion of how cap­i­tal uti­lizes the “anthro­po­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence” to effect the “indi­rect” pro­duc­tion of labor power. The pri­mal vio­lence, sus­tained as a con­tin­uum or “sta­tus quo,” appears as a smooth state, a cycli­cal repro­duc­tion cycle with­out edges. But this appear­ance or sem­blance of smooth con­ti­nu­ity is in fact a pro­duct of the work­ing of vio­lence upon itself: the vio­lence of the his­tor­i­cal car­tog­ra­phy must erase and recode itself by means of vio­lence as the smooth func­tion­ing of the log­i­cal topol­ogy. In other words, when we encoun­ter the basic social sce­nario of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, the exchange of a pro­duct for money, we are already in a sit­u­a­tion in which the raw vio­lence of sub­jec­ti­va­tion, whereby some absent poten­tial­ity within the worker’s body is exchanged as if it is a sub­stance called labor power which can be com­mod­i­fied, is cov­ered over by the form of money, which appears as a smooth con­tainer of sig­ni­fi­ca­tions that can serve as a mea­sure of this poten­tial­ity. But in order for labor power to be mea­sured and exchanged as money, there must be a repeated dou­bling of vio­lence. What must remain on the out­side of cap­i­tal as a social rela­tion is para­dox­i­cally what must also be simul­ta­ne­ously forced into its inside, per­pet­u­ally torn between the forms of sub­jec­ti­va­tion that pro­duce labor power as an inside, and the his­tor­i­cal field of repro­duc­tion in which the worker’s body is pro­duced on the vio­lent out­side of cap­i­tal.

The National Debt as a Conduit

Every time cap­i­tal requires the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of labor power, it must in effect repeat at the level of the log­i­cal topol­ogy the process of the tran­si­tion, the “so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion.” But the his­tor­i­cal process simul­ta­ne­ously forces cap­i­tal to under­take the tran­si­tion at a micro­scopic level, in the form of the shrink­ing com­mod­ity-unit, and there­fore in an even more para­dox­i­cal form than the his­tor­i­cal “begin­ning.” That is, cap­i­tal must cap­i­tal­is­ti­cally under­take a micro­scopic ver­sion of the tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism. At the “begin­ning” cap­i­tal could rely on direct force, on a struc­tural vio­lence that would enable or set in motion a field of effects that would gen­er­ate a gen­eral order of cap­ture. But how can the tran­si­tion be under­taken over and over again, in par­tic­u­lar after the his­tor­i­cal tran­si­tion is assumed to have already occurred? Marx gave us an essen­tial clue when he reminded us that the so-called prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion in effect reap­pears or takes up a sec­ond log­i­cal posi­tion in capital’s inte­rior, in the form of the national debt.

The orig­i­nal sin at the begin­ning of the cap­i­tal-rela­tion might as well be under­stood as an “orig­i­nal debt,” an his­tor­i­cal appear­ance of some­thing given, a gift. The process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion and its his­tor­i­cal acts of enclo­sure can­not sim­ply be under­stood as an exces­sive vio­lence that is then superceded by a more “ratio­nal” or “decent” and “restrained” order. Rather, what the process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion reminds us of, is the neces­sity for cap­i­tal of the given, the form of “sup­po­si­tion” (Set­zung) and “pre­sup­po­si­tion” (Voraus­set­zung). But how does this orig­i­nary debt-gift oper­ate? In what sense is this a prob­lem of actu­al­ity for us? In this sense, what exactly is the national debt itself?

The national debt is a mech­a­nism. A very spe­cial type of mech­a­nism, and one that cap­i­tal relies on inti­mately. Uno Kozo gave us a crit­i­cal clue to this type of mech­a­nism as fol­lows:

Through the law of pop­u­la­tion, cap­i­tal­ism comes into pos­ses­sion of mech­a­nisms or appa­ra­tuses which allow the (im)possibility of the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of labor power to pass through (‘muri’ o tôsu kikô). This is pre­cisely the point on which cap­i­tal­ism his­tor­i­cally forms itself into a deter­mi­nate form of soci­ety, and fur­ther, is what makes it inde­pen­dent in pure-eco­nomic terms. Like land, this is a so-called given for cap­i­tal­ism, one that is given from its exte­rior, but unlike land it can be repro­duced, and by means of this repro­duc­tion becomes capa­ble of respond­ing to the demands of cap­i­tal put for­ward through the speci­fic phe­nom­e­non of cap­i­tal­ism called cri­sis.16

Uno locates this mech­a­nism in the form of the “law of pop­u­la­tion pecu­liar to the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion” (der kap­i­tal­is­tis­chen Pro­duk­tion­sweise eigen­tüm­liches Pop­u­la­tion­s­ge­setz),17 a law that is cen­tral to the ques­tions of cri­sis and debt, because it con­cerns above all the man­age­ment of per­son­hood, the man­age­ment of the phys­i­cal-moral aspects of the mate­rial exis­tence of the body, so as to main­tain the “ratio­nal indi­vid­ual,” the form which would fur­nish ade­quate labor power for cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. But this struc­ture of such an appa­ra­tus is not lim­ited to the form of pop­u­la­tion; rather the “law of pop­u­la­tion” is one moment of the over­all tax­on­omy of these mech­a­nisms for the tra­ver­sal of the nihil of rea­son that cap­i­tal­ism neces­si­tates from the out­set. If at the begin­ning, there is a debt or gift, cap­i­tal can­not ever truly “begin.” That is, it is impos­si­ble to “start from the first instance” if the first instance is always-already delayed or deferred by means of some­thing that must be there already. In other words, if cap­i­tal can only expand on the basis of its orig­i­nary debt/gift, then cap­i­tal is per­ma­nently or eter­nally crip­pled and restrained by the nature of this given ele­ment, it can never extract itself from what is given in order to fully real­ize its image of a cir­cle with nei­ther end nor begin­ning. In order there­fore, to over­come or at least avoid this prob­lem, cap­i­tal must for­mu­late all sorts of these “appa­ra­tuses for the tra­ver­sal of (im)possibility.” That is, cap­i­tal must dis­cover ways in which some­thing that should restrain or even expose its lim­i­ta­tions can be tra­versed or passed through. But pre­cisely in con­stantly requir­ing mech­a­nisms or appa­ra­tuses out­side its inte­rior logic, cap­i­tal demon­strates its rel­a­tively volatile func­tion­ing, in which pre­cisely its exces­sive aspects (the reliance on the state, the enforce­ment of the nation-form, the vio­lence of the exte­rior allowed into the inte­rior and once more erased as vio­lence by means of vio­lence), its para­dox­i­cal and even “demented” aspects, appear as the cen­tral prin­ci­ples of its oper­a­tion. When we con­front this “demented” or “deranged” aspect of cap­i­tal, we are also imme­di­ately alerted to the fact that this aspect of cap­i­tal is also where an immense polit­i­cal breach exists, and it is on this point that we must clar­ify the cur­rent sce­nario of debt.

Marx recalls this prob­lem for us at an early his­tor­i­cal moment, remind­ing us that the sys­tem of national debt was gen­er­ated in the “forc­ing-house” (Treib­haus) of the colo­nial sys­tem: thus “National debts, i.e., the alien­ation of the state (Veräusserung des Staats) – whether despotic, con­sti­tu­tional or repub­li­can – marked with its stamp the cap­i­tal­is­tic era.”18 In this sense, already we are acquainted with the national debt as the “mark” or “stamp” (Stem­pel) of the entry into cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety on a world-scale, as the ini­tial moment in which the orig­i­nary accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal is at one and the same time the for­ma­tion of the mech­a­nisms that will install a car­tog­ra­phy onto the sur­face of the world.

The only part of the so-called national wealth that actu­ally enters into the col­lec­tive pos­ses­sions (Gesamtbe­sitz) of mod­ern peo­ples is their national debt. Hence, as a nec­es­sary con­se­quence, the mod­ern doc­trine that a nation becomes the richer the more deeply it is in debt. Pub­lic credit becomes the credo of cap­i­tal. And with the rise of national debt-mak­ing, want of faith in the national debt takes the place of the blas­phemy against the Holy Ghost, which may not be for­given. The pub­lic debt becomes one of the most pow­er­ful levers (ener­gis­chsten Hebel) of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion. As with the stroke of an enchanter’s wand, it endows bar­ren money with the power of breed­ing and thus turns it into cap­i­tal, with­out the neces­sity of its expos­ing itself to the trou­bles and risks insep­a­ra­ble from its employ­ment in indus­try or even in usury.19

The log­i­cal topol­ogy of capital’s origin and main­te­nance, and the his­tor­i­cal car­tog­ra­phy of the mod­ern world order, based on the unit of the state, are volatilely amal­ga­mated together in the form of the national debt. But Marx also alerts us to some­thing crit­i­cally impor­tant: here the national debt is not so much a sep­a­rate motion of vio­lence, but rather one of the most “pow­er­ful” or “ener­getic” “levers” for the con­tin­u­a­tion or main­te­nance of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion. But why would cap­i­tal need yet another exte­ri­or­ity? Prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion itself, its raw vio­lence, its “extra-eco­nomic coer­cion,” is already to an extent exte­rior to cap­i­tal. Yet what cap­i­tal always requires are ways and means of tak­ing the raw vio­lence on which it secretly rests and rein­sert­ing this vio­lence into a new modal­ity, in which its vio­lence can appear in another form. This is exactly why the national debt, as a mech­a­nism, allows cap­i­tal to avoid “expos­ing itself to trou­bles and risks.” Marx goes one step fur­ther, by con­nect­ing the national debt as prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion to the nation-form itself:

With the national debt arose an inter­na­tional credit sys­tem, which often con­ceals one of the sources (Quel­len) of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion in this or that peo­ple (Volk). […] A great deal of cap­i­tal, which appears today in the United States with­out any cer­tifi­cate of birth, was yes­ter­day, in Eng­land, the cap­i­talised blood of chil­dren.20

In other words, capital’s enclo­sure of the earth appears both within and by means of national bor­ders – by exten­sion, Marx essen­tially reminds us here that the nation-form itself allows for the con­ceal­ing within an orga­nized and bor­dered sys­tem of enti­ties, of capital’s orig­i­nary-prim­i­tive vio­lence, and yet erases this vio­lence pre­cisely by allow­ing it to van­ish into the nation as an appa­ra­tus for the tra­ver­sal of this gap, “van­ish­ing in its own result, leav­ing no trace behind.” But this the­o­ret­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal prob­lem is by no means sim­ply an inter­est­ing episode from the past.

Let us recall here a pecu­liar his­tor­i­cal moment char­ac­ter­is­tic of our cur­rent con­junc­ture. In the Ger­man “gut­ter press” (Bild and the like) in 2010-2011, an entire series of dis­cus­sions of the Greek national debt (and by exten­sion the ongo­ing Euro­zone cri­sis) took place. The essence of the national debt was finally blamed on the Greek “national char­ac­ter” (sup­pos­edly “lazy,” exces­sively enjoy­ing hol­i­days, cor­rupt, inca­pable of “ratio­nal com­pe­ti­tion,” and so forth).21 This moment of the Ger­man-Greek oppo­si­tion on the ques­tion of the national debt exposes to us the recent his­tory of this mech­a­nism. The era of impe­ri­al­ism in the strict sense con­sisted in the for­ma­tion of “debt traps” for the periph­eral and under­de­vel­oped coun­tries: the cen­tral impe­ri­al­ist nations export the domes­tic sur­plus to the colonies, the periph­ery, and so forth, by cre­at­ing and enforc­ing demand, main­tained by the national debt. Thus the poorer nations end up not only import­ing from the impe­ri­al­ist nations but also effec­tively in an end­less spi­ral of debt, a mech­a­nism that then forces the periph­ery to accept the polit­i­cal and eco­nomic direc­tives of the impe­ri­al­ist nations for the plun­der and expro­pri­a­tion of raw mate­ri­als, cheap labor power, bor­der con­trols, sub­or­di­na­tion to polit­i­cal regimes, and so forth. Today, this same logic per­sists. If the old modal­ity of impe­ri­al­ism con­sists in the macro­scopic for­ma­tion of monopoly cap­i­tal and super-prof­its in the periph­eral vio­lence, the new modal­ity of impe­ri­al­ism finan­cial­izes this vio­lence into the minia­ture and dense con­cen­tra­tion of capital’s inte­rior. It is no acci­dent that today we see a “return of the origin,” “a moment when wage con­stric­tion is vio­lently man­i­fested, exactly like the 16th cen­tury enclo­sures where access to land as a com­mon good was repressed with the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the land and the putting of wages to the pro­le­tariat.”22 This is why we should over­lap capital’s his­tor­i­cal thresh­old with the moment we are liv­ing through today:

The logic of ‘gov­ern­ing through debt’ has its origin in the fun­da­men­tal rela­tion between cap­i­tal and labor. Finan­cial cap­i­tal­ism has glob­al­ized impe­ri­al­ism, its modus operandi that oper­ates through the form of ‘debt traps’, both national and pri­vate indebt­ed­ness, in order to real­ize and sell the sur­plus value extracted from liv­ing labor. In the impe­rial schema, debt is the mon­e­tary face of sur­plus value, the uni­ver­sal exploita­tion of labor power, and con­sti­tutes a trap pre­cisely because it pre­vents liv­ing labor from free­ing itself from exploita­tion, from auton­o­miz­ing the rela­tions of depen­dency and slav­ery that are proper to debt.23

The national debt allows the “reck­less ter­ror­ism” of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion to be main­tained as if it were absent by redi­rect­ing it to the mar­ket. The national debt is a mech­a­nism that “con­ducts” or forces the sit­u­a­tion onto a new site of the curve of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, but it is not a mech­a­nism that “resolves,” it is a mech­a­nism that “defers” or “dis­places” the sharp­en­ing of polit­i­cal strug­gles. The national debt there­fore is pre­cisely the “dan­ger­ous sup­ple­ment” of cap­i­tal­ism as a his­tor­i­cal force: the national debt exposes the fact that cap­i­tal itself can never resolve the sit­u­a­tion that emerges when the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion come into con­flict with the devel­op­ment of the pro­duc­tive forces. Cap­i­tal is always try­ing to cre­ate mech­a­nisms that allow it to tran­scend its own lim­i­ta­tions, while simul­ta­ne­ously per­mit­ting it to avoid mak­ing the polit­i­cal leap past its own bound­aries. Yet, this inevitable limit of capital’s self-deploy­ment is para­dox­i­cally the source of capital’s own dynamism. With­out this tense mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of its wounds, cap­i­tal would never develop – that is, cap­i­tal requires a cer­tain risk or reck­less­ness, but the more it defers this leap, the more spaces of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion are opened up in capital’s aus­tere move­ment. This move­ment keeps the ele­ments of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion cir­cu­lat­ing on the sur­face, a mech­a­nism by which to tra­verse the impos­si­bil­ity of the com­mence­ment as such, pre­cisely by begin­ning the com­mence­ment over and over again. In turn, this ele­ment of the national debt returns our focus to the role played by the nation-state in allow­ing this “first return to ori­gins” – the ele­ment of the national is exactly deployed in and within the move­ment of cap­ture in order to guar­an­tee labor power’s “elas­tic­ity” (Elas­tiz­ität).24 With­out the nation, the mal­leable ele­memts of labor power can­not be recir­cu­lated as if they were directly gras­pable, by means of the repro­duc­tion of the worker’s body on the out­side. The nation – the orig­i­nal fic­ti­tious “sub­stance” – con­jures up its own lit­tle images of its pseudo-sub­stan­tial­ity pre­cisely in order to then “re-derive” itself from their exis­tence. In this way the elas­tic­ity of labor power is sim­ply the micro­scopic or “micro­log­i­cal” exten­sion of the elas­tic­ity of the nation, the form by which cap­i­tal attempts inces­santly to ter­ri­to­ri­al­izes itself. Labor power’s impos­si­bil­ity is a micro­scopic image of the gap or chi­as­mus between the log­i­cal and the his­tor­i­cal: the his­tor­i­cal origin and the log­i­cal com­mence­ment, and this is the point on which “the insan­ity of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of con­cep­tion (die Ver­rück­theit der kap­i­tal­is­tis­chen Vorstel­lungsweise) reaches its cli­max.”25

Fac­ing the cri­sis today, the form of the national debt alerts us to a cru­cial fact: “The cri­sis is nei­ther an eco­nomic nor a polit­i­cal cri­sis: it is a cri­sis of the cap­i­tal rela­tion, a cri­sis made inevitable by the inher­ent con­tra­dic­tions of that rela­tion. The cri­sis inevitably involves a restruc­tur­ing of the cap­i­tal rela­tion, a restruc­tur­ing which nec­es­sar­ily takes on eco­nomic and polit­i­cal forms. What is involved on both lev­els is an assault by cap­i­tal to main­tain the con­di­tions of its own exis­tence.”26 In this sense, the prob­lem of the national debt as a mech­a­nism for the con­tin­u­a­tion of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion within the cap­i­tal-rela­tion, can­not be solved on the level of the nation-form – we might say polem­i­cally that the national debt is in fact the origin of the nation itself. It itself is a tech­nol­ogy of draw­ing a bor­der around the form of the nation, some­thing that can­not be rig­or­ously bor­dered. The nation itself is a form of credit: it must be traced as if it could be located. But it must be traced by cap­i­tal itself. Because the nation can­not be bor­dered in any strict sense, it forces a coher­ence eco­nom­i­cally where there can­not be one his­tor­i­cally. But because this tech­nol­ogy con­tin­u­ously exposes it to the his­tor­i­cal exte­rior, it is there­fore always being under­mined by its own inabil­ity to escape the his­tor­i­cal process. At the origin there is already a debt, because some­thing has been pre­sup­posed as given, some­thing that uti­lizes this pre­sup­po­si­tion as a lever for its own func­tion­ing. The illog­i­cal logic of capital’s origin or begin­ning is recoded as the illog­i­cal his­tory of the state. This “inter­course” between cap­i­tal and the state is con­cen­trated or com­pressed into the insan­ity of the sup­pos­edly ratio­nal exchange process, this “Verkehr” at the begin­ning which appears pre­cisely as “Aus­tausch” in the log­i­cal inte­rior. This is exactly what Lenin meant when he famously empha­sized that “pol­i­tics is the con­cen­trated expres­sion of econ­omy.”27

The Facts on the Streets

Today, it behooves us to state the mat­ter clearly and with­out pre­tense: cap­i­tal can only “over­come” its own crises by pass­ing through them with­out resolv­ing them. And it can only under­take this tra­ver­sal or pass­ing by plac­ing the bur­den of vio­lence, suf­fer­ing, and immis­er­a­tion onto the backs of the world – the world work­ing class – the facies totius uni­versi, or “face of the entire uni­verse.” Cap­i­tal itself for­mu­lates these appa­ra­tuses – the state, the national debt – to over­come or tra­verse what it can­not solve. Our task lies in the relent­less and unend­ing expo­sure of its raw vio­lence, cov­ered over and hid­den by the form of finance. Labor power is an inter­nal out­side to cap­i­tal man­i­fested in its pure out­side, the worker’s body. But the body is under the con­trol of the state. Thus, when con­tem­po­rary global police power is employed against the con­crete bod­ies of the young, the unem­ployed, the old, the sick, the dropouts, those who are torn between an inabil­ity to func­tion in the expected style as the “self-con­scious instru­ments of pro­duc­tion” for cap­i­tal, or to be smoothly inte­grated into the state’s order, we are wit­ness­ing the raw and vio­lent his­tor­i­cal exterior’s inca­pac­ity to “reset” or “restart” the cycli­cal return of the origin. In think­ing through the con­tem­po­rary “facts of the streets,” let us pay close atten­tion to a famous pas­sage from Marx:

The speci­fic eco­nomic form (Form), in which unpaid sur­plus labour is pumped out of direct pro­duc­ers, deter­mi­nes the rela­tion­ship of rulers and ruled (Herrschafts- und Knechtschaftsver­hält­nis), as it grows directly out of pro­duc­tion itself and in turn, reacts upon it as a deter­min­ing ele­ment. Upon this, how­ever, is founded the entire for­ma­tion of the eco­nomic com­mu­nity which grows up out of the pro­duc­tion rela­tions them­selves, thereby simul­ta­ne­ously its speci­fic polit­i­cal form (Gestalt). It is always the direct rela­tion­ship of the own­ers of the con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion to the direct pro­duc­ers – a rela­tion always nat­u­rally cor­re­spond­ing to a def­i­nite stage in the devel­op­ment of the meth­ods of labour and thereby its social pro­duc­tiv­ity – which reveals the inner­most secret (innere Geheimnis), the hid­den basis of the entire social struc­ture (ver­bor­gene Grund­lage der ganzen gesellschaftlichen Kon­struk­tion), and with it the polit­i­cal form of the rela­tion of sov­er­eignty and depen­dence, in short, the cor­re­spond­ing speci­fic form of the state. This does not pre­vent the same eco­nomic basis – the same from the stand­point of its main con­di­tions – due to innu­mer­able dif­fer­ent empir­i­cal cir­cum­stances, nat­u­ral envi­ron­ment, racial rela­tions, exter­nal his­tor­i­cal influ­ences, etc., from show­ing infinite vari­a­tions and gra­da­tions in appear­ance, which can be ascer­tained only by analy­sis of the empir­i­cally given cir­cum­stances (empirisch gegebe­nen Umstände).28

These “empir­i­cally given cir­cum­stances” fur­nish us with capital’s “fac­tual” lim­its, lim­its that are being tested today by a new gen­er­a­tion of polit­i­cal upheavals. The ten­u­ous and search­ing exis­tence of the upsurge in the “facts of the streets” today, under the aspect of the muta­tions of the state, returns us to the com­mence­ment. Not only the com­mence­ment of cap­i­tal, in which the vio­lence of cap­ture must mas­quer­ade as the smooth oper­a­tion of the inte­rior, but also the (re)commencement of pol­i­tics. This would not seek to pro­duce a “sta­ble” and there­fore eas­ily-assumed sub­ject of our moment. Rather, it would assume that, as the “guardians” of labor power, the “bear­ers” of this frag­ile and ambigu­ous com­mod­ity, we are inca­pable of fully “being,” but only a sort of “para-being.” The aleatory or con­tin­gent dimen­sion which always enters into the ele­ment of “com­po­si­tion” in class strug­gle is pro­foundly man­i­fest today. But this aleatory under­cur­rent is not some­thing that under­mi­nes or that holds us back from pol­i­tics:

“Let us para-be,” that is our war cry.

And bet­ter yet: “We are noth­ing, let us para-be the Whole.”29

The Inter­na­tional today, that is “spring­ing out of the ground of mod­ern soci­ety”30 is not the old fan­tasy of the sta­ble sub­ject of the dis­course of “civ­i­liza­tional dif­fer­ence,” but rather a frag­ile haz­ard that cap­i­tal itself can no longer effec­tively police through its exter­nal “mech­a­nisms.” This “com­po­si­tion” (in the sense that Negri and oth­ers have given to “class com­po­si­tion”) indi­cates the whole logic by which the mech­a­nisms of cap­i­tal and the state attempt to effect a speci­fic logic of the social dimen­sion of sep­a­ra­tion (Tren­nung), but this “sep­a­ra­tion” is some­thing pro­foundly dif­fer­ent than the the­ory of alien­ation. It shows that where cap­i­tal has “forced” an amal­gam, there is a “slip­page” or “décalage.” Where the amal­gam seems most per­fectly sutured is also where this décalage can be raised as a social antag­o­nism and trans­formed into a polit­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion. The sui­ci­dal nature of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is expressed in its need to inter­nal­ize, to finan­cial­ize, its vio­lent exte­rior, to include within its “count” the “uncount­able” and sav­age process of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, recoded as the appa­ra­tus of the national debt. The para­dox is how­ever that we, the debtors, are trans­formed into a per­ma­nent reserve of debt, yet hold a social power over cap­i­tal, by occu­py­ing the posi­tion of the “guardians” (Hütern), the “bear­ers” (Träger) of labor power, the loca­tion of capital’s “orig­i­nal sin,” its pri­mal debt.31 This is the social antag­o­nism that today we find in the streets: when this antag­o­nism is raised to the level of a polit­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion, the ground­work is pre­pared for a new open­ing against capital’s sup­posed indif­fer­ence to the world.

In the face of this cri­sis – this rep­e­ti­tion of the orig­i­nal debt in the form of the national debt – we have to be able to say bluntly and openly: cap­i­tal and the state can­not resolve this cri­sis. They can only for­mu­late mech­a­nisms to tra­verse its “absence of rea­son.” These mech­a­nisms of bour­geois insan­ity can only oper­ate by trans­fer­ring the vio­lent spasms of cri­sis onto the back of the work­ing class, the unem­ployed, the poor and oppressed strata of the world. Increas­ingly, these “mech­a­nisms” them­selves are also fail­ing to sup­port capital’s leap to a new basis of accu­mu­la­tion. The state can only under­take such a leap through the increas­ing con­trol of the bod­ies, the “guardians” and “bear­ers” of labor power, that clash with its logic, that lie just out­side its strict sphere on influ­ence. His­tor­i­cally, the state has uti­lized “appa­ra­tuses for the tra­ver­sal of the nihil of rea­son” such as the “nation-form” (Bal­ibar) to suture and cover over this inca­pac­ity. But today, the nation-form can­not hold back or restrain the fact that “the con­di­tions for the cap­i­tal­iza­tion of sur­plus value clash increas­ingly with the con­di­tions for the renewal of the aggre­gate cap­i­tal”32 on a world-scale. There is no option today except to empha­size that our only hope lies in pre­cisely these “facts of the streets” that can­not be fully erased from capital’s image of the world. But rather than sim­ply con­clude with famous asser­tion from Marx that com­mu­nism is the “real move­ment that abol­ishes the present state of affairs,” a famil­iar ref­er­ence that has been recently revived in a num­ber of dis­cus­sions,33 we might instead appeal to another moment in The Ger­man Ide­ol­ogy that, fac­ing the cri­sis this time, returns to us today with a vital force:

In his­tory up to the present it is cer­tainly an empir­i­cal fact (eine empirische Tat­sache) that sep­a­rate indi­vid­u­als have, with the broad­en­ing of their activ­ity (Tätigkeit) into world-his­tor­i­cal activ­ity, become more and more enslaved under a power alien to them, a power which has become more and more enor­mous and, in the last instance, turns out to be the world mar­ket (in let­zter Instanz als Welt­markt ausweist). But it is just as empir­i­cally estab­lished that, by the over­throw of the exist­ing state of soci­ety by the com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion and the abo­li­tion of pri­vate prop­erty which is iden­ti­cal with it, this power will be dis­solved. […] Only then will the sep­a­rate indi­vid­u­als be lib­er­ated from the var­i­ous national and local bar­ri­ers (nationalen und lokalen Schranken), be brought into prac­ti­cal con­nec­tion with the mate­rial and intel­lec­tual pro­duc­tion of the whole world and be put in a posi­tion to acquire the capac­ity to enjoy (Genußfähigkeit) this all-sided pro­duc­tion of the whole earth (the cre­ations of man).34

This “empirische Tat­sache” of the world of cap­i­tal, linked above to the “empir­i­cally given cir­cum­stances” within which cap­i­tal attempts to make its most “fatal leap” between the log­i­cal topol­ogy and the his­tor­i­cal car­tog­ra­phy, lays the ground­work of “fac­tic­ity” or “fac­tu­al­ity” in the his­tor­i­cal world, the “given” that is implied in this “empirische.” In turn, this “Tat­sache” re-emerges para­dox­i­cally as the orig­i­nal rev­o­lu­tion­ary weapon of the peo­ple in the form of the “facts of the streets.” These “facts of the streets” that Tosaka alerted us to are at work today in the streets of the his­tor­i­cal world, where the demand for a rein­ven­tion of social­ism – of modes of life beyond the stran­gle­hold of aus­ter­ity, debt servi­tude, and an image of social rela­tions found in the “world mar­ket” – responds to the orig­i­nal residue or remain­der, the “empir­i­cal fact” of the orig­i­nary debt at capital’s origin, which we carry within our­selves, and which can open a new era of affir­ma­tive pol­i­tics and crit­i­cal thought.

  1. Jean-Luc Nancy, La créa­tion du monde, ou mon­di­al­i­sa­tion (Paris: Galilée, 2002). Let us note that Nancy’s claim that we must “expose cap­i­tal to its absence of rea­son” essen­tially dupli­cates Uno Kozo’s impor­tant claim that the muri, lit­er­ally the “absence of rea­son,” fur­nishes the ulti­mate point, the zenith of cap­i­tal­ism as a sys­tem. This homol­ogy between the two analy­ses should be kept in mind here, as a ques­tion of the decon­struc­tion of polit­i­cal econ­omy itself

  2. Many of the points in this arti­cle are expanded on in my forth­com­ing book The Sub­lime Per­ver­sion of Cap­i­tal: Marx­ist The­ory and the Pol­i­tics of His­tory in Mod­ern Japan (Duke Uni­ver­sity Press), and an ear­lier ver­sion of the present text was pub­lished in Japan­ese in Gendai shisō: Revue de la pen­sée d’aujourd’hui, no. 40-2 (Tokyo: Sei­dosha, Feb­ru­ary 2012), 96-109. My thanks go to Yutaka Naga­hara for his sup­port and friend­ship. 

  3. Tosaka Jun, Shisō to fūzoku in Tosaka Jun zen­shū, vol. 4 (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō), 466. We should not for­get that Tosaka deploys this phrase within his analy­sis of the film-form, a the­o­ret­i­cal moment that con­cerns pre­cisely the speci­fic mate­ri­al­ity of his­tory that appears in the cin­e­matic sce­nario. On this point, see Gavin Walker, “Filmic Mate­ri­al­ity and His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism: Tosaka Jun and the Pros­thet­ics of Sen­sa­tion” in Tosaka Jun: A Crit­i­cal Reader, eds. Ken Kawashima, Fabian Schae­fer, and Robert Stolz (Hon­olulu: Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii Press/Cornell East Asia Series, 2013), 218-254.  

  4. Friedrich Engels, Die Lage der arbei­t­en­den Klasse in Eng­land in MEW, Bd. 2, 487; The Con­di­tion of the Work­ing Class in Eng­land in MECW, vol. 4. Trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  5. K. Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 3 in MECW, vol. 37, 249. 

  6. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1 in MECW, vol. 35, 704-705. 

  7. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guat­tari, TP: 447; MP: 558-559. See for a devel­op­ment of these points Gavin Walker, “The Schema of ‘The West’ and the Appa­ra­tus of Cap­ture: Vari­a­tions on Deleuze and Guat­tari” in Deleuze Stud­ies (forth­com­ing). 

  8. Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, Erster Band in Marx-Engels Werke (Berlin: Dietz Ver­lag, 1964), Bd. 23, 619; Cap­i­tal, vol.1 in MECW, vol. 35, 589. 

  9. Louis Althusser, “The Object of Polit­i­cal Econ­omy” in Read­ing Cap­i­tal, trans. Ben Brew­ster (Lon­don: Verso), 163. 

  10. Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, Bd. 1 in MEW, Bd. 23, 186; Cap­i­tal, vol. 1 in MECW, vol. 35, 182. 

  11. Althusser, “The Object of Polit­i­cal Econ­omy,” 163. 

  12. Deleuze and Guat­tari, TP: 446; MP: 557. 

  13. Ibid. 

  14. Anto­nio Negri, Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grun­drisse (Lon­don: Pluto, 1991), 111. It is pre­cisely this point that allows us to an extent to cross-read the his­tory of the analy­sis of the value-form with Deleuze and Guattari’s work on capitalism’s “demen­tia,” a cross-read­ing that should also be linked to a com­plete rethink­ing of the aes­thetic and eth­i­cal arrange­ments that inhere in the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal dis­cus­sions of so-called “uneven devel­op­ment.” In rela­tion to this impor­tant pas­sage, let me note also that Negri’s con­cep­tion of the sub­ject is always linked to the pro­duc­tion of sub­jec­tiv­ity, to the gath­er­ing or arrange­ment of pos­si­ble expres­sions and should never be mis­un­der­stood as some­thing like “the national sub­ject.” 

  15. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1 in MECW, vol. 35, 609. 

  16. Uno Kōzō, “Ben­shōhōteki mujun ni tsuite” in Uno Kōzō chosakushū, vol. 10 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1974), 426-427. 

  17. [1] Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1 in MECW, vol. 35, 626; Das Kap­i­tal, Bd. 1 in MEW, Bd. 23, 660. In the 4th Ger­man edi­tion, Marx also adds a deci­sive and more sys­tem­atic phras­ing here, when he men­tions “the law of pro­gres­sive diminu­tion of the rel­a­tive mag­ni­tude of vari­able cap­i­tal” (das Gesetz der pro­gres­siven Abnahme der rel­a­tiver Größe des vari­ablen Kap­i­tals) in MECW, vol. 35, 625; MEW, Bd. 23, 660. 

  18. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1 in MECW, vol. 35, 742; Das Kap­i­tal, Bd. 1 in MEW, Bd. 23, 782. 

  19. Ibid. 

  20. Ibid., 743-44; Ibid., 783-84. 

  21. Of course, all of these so-called “expla­na­tions” of the cri­sis are absurd and openly incor­rect. The Ger­man tabloid “news­pa­per” (one hes­i­tates to truly call it a news­pa­per) Bild placed the fol­low­ing head­line on the front of the daily news: «Verkauft doch eure Inseln, ihr Pleite-Griechen!» (Lit­er­ally, “Sell your islands, you bank­rupt Greeks!”). In response to this, the Rosa-Lux­em­burg-Stiftung released an excel­lent pam­phlet, com­pre­hen­sively debunk­ing all the ide­o­log­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions that char­ac­ter­ized the attempt to place the national debt into the realm of “national char­ac­ter.” 

  22. Chris­tian Marazzi, The Vio­lence of Finan­cial Cap­i­tal­ism, New Edi­tion (New York: Semiotext(e), 2011), 118. 

  23. Chris­tian Marazzi, “Un oriz­zonte sovranazionale per rompere la trap­pola del deb­ito,” in Il man­i­festo, Decem­ber 16, 2011, 11. See also Andrea Fuma­galli, “Lotte di classe nel default” in the same issue, 10. 

  24. Karl Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, Bd. 1 in MEW, 630; Cap­i­tal, vol. 1 in MECW, vol. 35, 599. 

  25. Karl Marx, Kap­i­tal, Bd. 3 in MEW, Bd. 25, 463; Cap­i­tal, vol. 3 in MECW, vol. 37, 483. 

  26. John Hol­loway and Sol Pic­ciotto, “Cap­i­tal, Cri­sis and the State” in Cap­i­tal and Class, vol. 1, no. 2 (Sum­mer 1977), 92. 

  27. V.I. Lenin, “Once Again on the Trade Unions” in Col­lected Works of V.I. Lenin, vol. 32 (Moscow: Pro­gress, 1976). 

  28. Karl Marx, Das Kap­i­tal, Bd. 3 in MEW, Bd. 25, 799-800; Cap­i­tal, vol. 3 in MECW, vol. 37, 777-778.  

  29. Alain Badiou, The­ory of the Sub­ject, trans. Bruno Bosteels (Lon­don: Con­tin­uum, 2009), 124. 

  30. On this ques­tion of orga­ni­za­tion, and more specif­i­cally the so-called “party-form,” see Gavin Walker, “The Body of Pol­i­tics: On the Con­cept of the Party” in The­ory and Event 16, no. 4 (Bal­ti­more: Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Press, 2013) and “Lim­its and Open­ings of the Party: A Reply to Jason E. Smith” in The­ory and Event 16.4 (Bal­ti­more: Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Press, 2013). 

  31. We should keep in mind that the mech­a­nism of the national debt and capital’s increas­ing reliance on indi­vid­ual con­sumer debt are sealed together by means of the his­tor­i­cal pro­duc­tion of the indi­vid­ual itself, and the man­age­ment of indi­vid­u­als by means of the nation-state. Both of these moments cir­cle around the nature of cri­sis as located in the labor-power com­mod­ity, whose site of pro­duc­tion is none other than the his­tor­i­cal body on the out­side of the cap­i­tal-rela­tion. In this sense, capital’s demand for indebt­ed­ness dis­closes both its extra-eco­nomic vio­lence that can never be “eco­nom­i­cally” erased, and its inca­pa­bil­ity of truly fur­nish­ing the social total­ity that it fan­ta­sizes about. On this point, see Gavin Walker, “Cit­i­zen-Sub­ject and the National Ques­tion: On the Logic of Cap­i­tal in Bal­ibar,” Post­mod­ern Cul­ture 22, no. 3 (Bal­ti­more: Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Press, 2012). 

  32. Rosa Lux­em­burg, The Accu­mu­la­tion of Cap­i­tal (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2003), 347. 

  33. See in par­tic­u­lar, A. Badiou, The Com­mu­nist Hypoth­e­sis (Lon­don: Verso, 2010) and B. Bosteels, The Actu­al­ity of Com­mu­nism (Lon­don: Verso, 2011). On these impor­tant texts see Gavin Walker, “The Dig­nity of Com­mu­nism: Badiou’s Com­mu­nist Hypoth­e­sis” in Social­ism & Democ­racy 25:3 (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2011), 130-139, and Gavin Walker, “The Rein­ven­tion of Com­mu­nism: Pol­i­tics, His­tory, Glob­al­ity” in South Atlantic Quar­terly 113.4 (Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, Fall 2014), 671-685.  

  34. Karl Marx, Die deutsche Ide­olo­gie in MEW, Bd. 3, 37; The Ger­man Ide­ol­ogy in MECW, vol. 5, 51. 

Author of the article

is Assistant Professor of History and East Asian Studies at McGill University. He works on topics in modern Japanese intellectual history, Marxist theory and historiography, and contemporary critical theory. Recent publications include “The Absent Body of Labour Power: Uno Kozo’s Logic of Capital” in Historical Materialism, “The Body of Politics: On the Concept of the Party” in Theory & Event, and “On Marxism’s Field of Operation: Badiou and the Critique of Political Economy” also in Historical Materialism. His first book, The Sublime Perversion of Capital: Marxist Theory and the Politics of History in Modern Japan is forthcoming from Duke University Press.