The Productive Subject


It is impos­si­ble at the present time to write his­tory with­out using a whole range of con­cepts directly or indi­rectly linked to Marx’s thought and sit­u­at­ing one­self within a hori­zon of thought which has been defined and described by Marx. One might even won­der what dif­fer­ence there could ulti­mately be between being a his­to­rian and being a Marx­ist.1

Power: From Politics to the Economy

In the con­clud­ing sec­tion to The Will to Knowl­edge, Fou­cault explains what led him to con­sider power, as it exists today, not from a neg­a­tive per­spec­tive – as a con­straint that is ini­tially juridi­cal in form – but from a pos­i­tive one, inas­much as power relies on mech­a­nisms that mate­ri­ally orga­nize and even help to “pro­duce” human life, instead of impos­ing bound­aries on it. This idea is at the very core of his con­cep­tion of “biopower.” As he writes about it:

This biopower was with­out ques­tion an indis­pens­able ele­ment in the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism; the lat­ter would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the con­trolled inser­tion of bod­ies into the machin­ery of pro­duc­tion and the adjust­ment of the phe­nom­ena of pop­u­la­tion to eco­nomic processes. But this was not all it required; it also needed the growth of both these fac­tors, their rein­force­ment as well as their avail­abil­ity and docil­ity; it had to have meth­ods of power capa­ble of optimiz­ing forces, apti­tudes, and life in gen­eral with­out at the same time mak­ing them more dif­fi­cult to con­trol. If the develop­ment of the great instru­ments of the state, as insti­tu­tions of power, ensured the main­te­nance of pro­duc­tion rela­tions, the rudi­ments of anatomo- and biopol­i­tics, cre­ated in the eigh­teenth cen­tury as tech­niques of power present at every level of the social body and uti­lized by very diverse insti­tu­tions (the fam­ily and the army, schools and the police, indi­vid­ual med­i­cine and the admin­is­tra­tion of col­lec­tive bod­ies), ope­rated in the sphere of eco­nomic processes, their devel­op­ment, and the forces work­ing to sus­tain them. They also acted as fac­tors of seg­re­ga­tion and social hier­ar­chiza­tion, exert­ing their influ­ence on the respec­tive forces of both these move­ments, guar­an­tee­ing rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion and effects of hege­mony. The adjust­ment of the accu­mu­la­tion of men to that of cap­i­tal, the join­ing of the growth of human groups to the expan­sion of pro­duc­tive forces and the dif­fer­en­tial alloca­tion of profit, were made pos­si­ble in part by the exer­cise of biopower in its many forms and modes of appli­ca­tion. The invest­ment of the body, its val­oriza­tion, and the dis­trib­u­tive man­age­ment of its forces were at the time indis­pens­able.2

To put it schemat­i­cally, Fou­cault explains in this pas­sage the need to rethink power by free­ing it from the grip of pol­i­tics, so as to bring it closer to the con­crete level of the econ­omy; an econ­omy that is pri­mar­ily con­cerned with the “man­age­ment” of life, bod­ies and their “pow­ers” – a term that per­sis­tently recurs here – even before hav­ing as its focus the value of traded goods within an econ­omy of things. Fur­ther­more, for Fou­cault, it is impor­tant to restore a his­tor­i­cal dimen­sion to this new under­stand­ing of power, which he does by relat­ing it to the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism and the speci­fic social rela­tions of pro­duc­tion set in place in the con­text of the Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. Although the term “class” is not overtly men­tioned, it is clearly implied with the ref­er­ence in the above pas­sage to the “fac­tors of seg­re­ga­tion and social hier­ar­chiza­tion, exert­ing their influ­ence on the respec­tive forces of both these move­ments, guar­an­tee­ing rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion and effects of hege­mony,” and “the join­ing of the growth of human groups to the expan­sion of pro­duc­tive forces and the dif­fer­en­tial allo­ca­tion of profit.” Fou­cault appears here to almost flirt with Marx’s analy­ses in Cap­i­tal, which he rec­on­ciles with his attempt to view power from a pos­i­tive and “pro­duc­tive” per­spec­tive.

Five years later, com­ing back to this point in a lec­ture given in Bahia in 1976, pub­lished under the evoca­tive title “The Mesh of Power,”3 Fou­cault explic­itly con­firms this con­ver­gence. There, he writes:

How may we attempt to ana­lyze power in its pos­i­tive mech­a­nisms? It appears to me that we may find, in a cer­tain num­ber of texts, the fun­da­men­tal ele­ments for an analy­sis of this type. We may per­haps find them in Ben­tham, an Eng­lish philoso­pher from the end of the 18th and begin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, who was basi­cally the great the­o­reti­cian of bour­geois power, and we may of course also find these ele­ments in Marx, essen­tially in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal. It’s here, I think, that we may find some ele­ments that I will use for the analy­sis of power in its pos­i­tive mech­a­nisms.

Fou­cault means that Ben­tham and Marx are basi­cally talk­ing about the same thing, even if they do so in dif­fer­ent ways: the emer­gence of a new con­fig­u­ra­tion of power, coin­cid­ing with the rise of cap­i­tal­ism and the bour­geoisie, did not solely con­sist of an insti­tu­tional change or a seizure of polit­i­cal power, since it fun­da­men­tally depended upon an orig­i­nal har­ness­ing of the forces of life itself, pro­vid­ing the econ­omy with its speci­fic object ‒ an econ­omy whose trans­for­ma­tions have dri­ven social change. This per­spec­tive, it could be argued, moves toward the the­sis of the deter­mi­na­tion by the econ­omy in the last instance, on con­di­tion that the con­cept is extended to even­tu­ally sub­sume the man­age­ment or the “pro­duc­tion” (to fol­low Foucault’s ambigu­ous term) of life in all of its forms. In the rest of the lec­ture, Fou­cault enu­mer­ates the four dimen­sions that char­ac­ter­ize this his­tor­i­cal and social shift in power, and insis­tently refers to Marx for each one: the dis­per­sion of power into a mul­ti­plic­ity of het­ero­ge­neous pow­ers; its detach­ment from the state-form; its pos­i­tive, rather than pro­hib­i­tive or repres­sive, ori­en­ta­tion; and finally, its pro­gres­sive tech­ni­ciza­tion that devel­oped unplanned through trial and error, and thus was not sub­or­di­nated to any devised or pre­con­ceived ends. Fou­cault con­sid­ers this last point to be the most impor­tant: it appears in the pas­sage from the Will to Knowl­edge cited above con­cern­ing “meth­ods of power capa­ble of optimiz­ing forces, apti­tudes, and life in gen­eral with­out at the same time mak­ing them more dif­fi­cult to con­trol.”

When Fou­cault cites the “sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal,” he clearly has in mind the sec­ond vol­ume of the French edi­tion of Marx’s work, pub­lished by Édi­tions Sociales, which com­prises Parts 4, 5, and 6 of Vol­ume I, the only vol­ume to appear in Marx’s life­time, the final edit­ing of Vol­umes II and III being posthu­mously com­pleted by Engels. Althusser, in a pref­ace writ­ten for the 1969 pub­li­ca­tion of Vol­ume I of Cap­i­tal in Flammarion’s GF book series, had rec­om­mended read­ing it by start­ing directly with the sec­ond half, that is, by skip­ping the first part, as its inter­pre­ta­tion poses the most prob­lems, prob­lems only resolv­able when one gets to the end of the work and can grasp the argu­men­ta­tion as a whole. Fou­cault seems to go even fur­ther, advis­ing that Marx’s book be approached through the fourth part, which deals with “The Pro­duc­tion of Rel­a­tive Sur­plus-Value (Mehrw­ert).” Indeed, in this pas­sage he sees, appear­ing for the first time, the ele­ments enabling the def­i­n­i­tion of the new con­fig­u­ra­tion of power, her­alded from the end of the 18th cen­tury by the­o­rists such as Ben­tham: namely, “bour­geois power” and its mech­a­nisms, i.e., the speci­fic pro­ce­dures per­tain­ing to a tech­nol­ogy of power, to whose analy­sis Marx made the great­est con­tri­bu­tion. By focus­ing his atten­tion on this part of Cap­i­tal, Fou­cault thereby finds a way of dis­tanc­ing him­self from the polem­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion pro­vided in The Order Of Things – not of Marx’s thought stricto sensu, as found in his own texts, but what arose from it in the form of “ortho­dox” Marx­ism, in which Fou­cault had detected an avatar or epiphe­nom­e­non of polit­i­cal econ­omy in its Ricar­dian form, full stop. From this point of view, it is as if Fou­cault pro­posed to add a new chap­ter to the project Althusser him­self ini­ti­ated with the pub­li­ca­tion of Read­ing Cap­i­tal, which had already begun to chal­lenge tra­di­tional, ortho­dox Marx­ism.

What could have inter­ested Fou­cault in the pas­sages from Cap­i­tal, begin­ning with Part 4, to the degree that he presents them as sources for a pos­i­tive study of power, rooted in the devel­op­ment of the econ­omy and its “forces?” We would like to clar­ify this point by return­ing to Marx’s text, which Foucault’s sug­ges­tion prompts us to read in a man­ner that might be called “symp­to­matic,” since it is not at all obvi­ous at first glance how one might derive the prin­ci­ples for an analy­sis of “power” which is at best implicit in Cap­i­tal, hov­er­ing in the back­ground. To roughly pose our ques­tion: how is it pos­si­ble to draw the ele­ments of a the­ory of power from the expla­na­tion of the process of the pro­duc­tion of rel­a­tive sur­plus value, with­out falling into over­in­ter­pre­ta­tion, since the prob­lem of power, if not com­pletely extra­ne­ous to this expla­na­tion, is only posed at its mar­gins? Let us say straight away that this ques­tion, which involves the par­tic­u­lar rela­tion that power main­tains with the econ­omy of cap­i­tal­ism, and which leads us to bracket the rela­tions that power might oth­er­wise have with polit­i­cal and state forms, also leads us to take into account and re-estab­lish the pri­mary impor­tance of the notion Marx him­self saw as his prin­ci­pal the­o­ret­i­cal inno­va­tion, because it enabled him to rad­i­cally break with Ricar­dian eco­nom­ics: the con­cept of “labor-power,” whose word­ing con­tains pre­cisely a ref­er­ence to “power,” a ref­er­ence Fou­cault attaches such impor­tance to in his own con­cep­tion of the new econ­omy of power. This econ­omy, it can be said, is not an econ­omy of things or goods but an econ­omy of “forces,” and as such, inex­tri­ca­bly an econ­omy of per­sons; an econ­omy which in real­ity is closely inte­grated with pro­ce­dures for the sub­jec­tion of per­sons and, more pre­cisely, bod­ies. To put it in Foucault’s terms, we must ask our­selves how cap­i­tal­ism, by uti­liz­ing the exploita­tion of labor-power, devel­oped “meth­ods of power capa­ble of optimiz­ing forces, apti­tudes, and life in gen­eral with­out at the same time mak­ing them more dif­fi­cult to gov­ern.” It should be noted that the aim of such an inquiry is not to demon­strate that Foucault’s ideas are already black and white in Marx’s text, which would amount to invent­ing the fic­tion of a “Marx­ist” or “Marx­isant4 Fou­cault, as such an heir to Marx, but to enrich our poten­tial under­stand­ing of this text, by clar­i­fy­ing it in light of the hypothe­ses Fou­cault advances and thus tra­vers­ing the path that leads from Fou­cault back to Marx in the hope of reveal­ing new aspects of the latter’s thought and – this is the point that pri­mar­ily con­cerns us – refram­ing the ques­tion of power in par­tic­u­lar by shift­ing it from the level of pol­i­tics to that of the econ­omy.5

The System of Wage-Labor and the Exploitation of Labor-Power

In order to answer the ques­tions that have just been raised, we must first return to the the­ory of wage-labor, which, accord­ing to Marx’s pre­sen­ta­tion, forms the basis of the cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy and rad­i­cally dis­tin­guishes it from pre­ced­ing modes of pro­duc­tion. We can sum­ma­rize this the­ory by iden­ti­fy­ing three major traits. In the speci­fic con­text of cap­i­tal­ism itself, the pro­duc­tion of value-bear­ing, and thus exchange­able, com­modi­ties depends on the pro­duc­tive con­sump­tion of labor-power; this last, labor-power, is the prop­erty of the pro­le­tar­ian, and in exchange for a wage, the cap­i­tal­ist acquires the right to use it for a cer­tain time within the space of his enter­prise, where it is “con­sumed.” When he talks about the labor con­tract, Marx often writes that the pro­le­tar­ian sells its labor-power to the cap­i­tal­ist, a mis­lead­ing short­hand if taken lit­er­ally. What the worker actu­ally alien­ates in exchange for a wage is not his labor-power as such, con­sid­ered in its sub­stance as some­thing embod­ied in him, in the sense of being insep­a­ra­ble and even indis­cernible from his bod­ily exis­tence; if he were to do that, he would become, in a way, a slave to his employer – he would no longer be free and would lose as a con­se­quence the respon­si­bil­ity of main­tain­ing this sub­stance that is one with his per­son. In exchange for the wage, the pro­le­tar­ian in real­ity only grants the right to exploit his labor-power for a cer­tain time and in a cer­tain place: he rents it out, strictly speak­ing, with the stip­u­la­tion that the rent he is paid in exchange under the terms of this trans­ac­tion is deferred, the wage not being paid until after use and not before, as is the case in the major­ity of rental con­tracts. This pro­vi­sion ren­ders the exchange rela­tion unequal from the start, inso­far as it rep­re­sents a form of pres­sure exer­cised by the buyer over the seller. It fol­lows that if we want to under­stand what wage-labor is, we must care­fully dis­tin­guish between labor-power as such – what we have called its sub­stance – and its employ­ment, which is mea­sured in time and space, the basic unit of this mea­sure­ment being for­mally con­sti­tuted by the work­ing day as orga­nized within the bounds of the enter­prise (at least until the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury, man­ual labor­ers were gen­er­ally hired and paid by the day, which dis­tin­guished them from salaried employ­ees).

The wage-labor sys­tem, which deter­mi­nes the rela­tion of cap­i­tal to labor, pre­sup­poses the sep­a­ra­tion of these two aspects – the sub­stance and its employ­ment – and there­fore that labor-power, as an apti­tude borne by the body through­out its life, is in fact sep­a­rated from the con­di­tions of its acti­va­tion as it is imple­mented within cer­tain time lim­its and in the speci­fic space of the enter­prise, where the worker must go, bring­ing his labor-power with him, so that it can be used under suit­able con­di­tions. The exis­ten­tial capac­ity remains the inalien­able prop­erty of the worker who, in exchange for a wage, con­cedes to his boss the pos­si­bil­ity of using it, of putting it to work for his profit for a cer­tain period within a given frame­work. This first point shows that the notion of labor-power, while it ini­tially appears as a sim­ple, uni­fied, nat­u­ral given, as a “power” orig­i­nat­ing in life and the body, is much more com­plex; the his­tor­i­cal inter­ven­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and its speci­fic mode of pro­duc­tion, it could be sug­gested, has the pre­cise effect of com­pli­cat­ing this notion by exploit­ing the afore­men­tioned divi­sion, none of which is at all nat­u­ral.

In this respect, Fou­cault would be enti­tled to talk of a tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dure result­ing in the estab­lish­ment of a power rela­tion: in effect, when he exchanges the employ­ment of his labor-power for a wage, the worker is only for­mally “free” to do so. But for the pro­ce­dure to work, the worker must actu­ally be made to do so, because in order to sur­vive, he is placed in the posi­tion of a job-seeker; a docile posi­tion, it could be said, inso­far as it com­plies with an “eco­nomic” neces­sity that in the last instance has noth­ing juridi­cal about it. In other words, the fact that labor-power is sep­a­rated from its usage is his­tor­i­cally con­di­tioned: it cor­re­sponds to the devel­op­ment of a speci­fic mode of pro­duc­tion that depends on the exploita­tion of labor-power made pos­si­ble by this sep­a­ra­tion, and whose very first effect is to bind the worker, the bearer of labor-power, to the con­straints of the job mar­ket. Indeed, it is not enough that he “has” his labor-power, in the sense that his body belongs to him, as it still needs to be able to be set to work under cer­tain con­di­tions inde­pen­dent of him.

But that’s not all. At the out­set, wage-labor appears as an exchange which, like all exchanges between com­modi­ties, should in prin­ci­ple be an exchange of equal val­ues. What the worker brings to the labor mar­ket is him­self: his body, his labor-power, whose usage he alien­ates; and, for this, he receives a wage which, in prin­ci­ple, must pay for what he has sold at its value, cor­re­spond­ing to its main­te­nance over the period dur­ing which he grants its usage. Main­te­nance should be under­stood as every­thing that enables the regen­er­a­tion of this power as is nec­es­sary both for the sur­vival of the indi­vid­ual worker, and also that of his fam­ily. Not only is his own labor-power repro­duced within the fam­ily, but also that of his off­spring; and in pay­ing the wage, the cap­i­tal­ist takes out an option on this lat­ter, thereby exer­cis­ing a sort of pre-emp­tive claim over it. For the sys­tem to func­tion nor­mally – accord­ing to rules, thus mak­ing it legally indis­putable – the com­mod­ity must be sold at its true price, which fluc­tu­ates around an aver­age value deter­mined by mar­ket con­di­tions, that is, by vari­a­tions in the rela­tion­ship between sup­ply and demand, as is the case for all mar­ket trans­ac­tions. When he gets his wage, the worker there­fore has not been robbed or plun­dered, which he implic­itly acknowl­edges by com­ply­ing with and will­ingly com­ply­ing with the terms of the exchange, and for­mally speak­ing does so will­ingly. Nev­er­the­less, one can­not leave mat­ters here. For the exchange to effec­tively take place, it must reflect the inter­ests that con­cretely bind the con­tract­ing par­ties. The seller’s inter­est is com­pletely clear: the worker trans­fers the use of his labor-power for the wage because with­out it, he could not sat­isfy his needs or those of his fam­ily. If he brings his “com­mod­ity” to the labor mar­ket, then it is sim­ply because he can­not do oth­er­wise: it is the con­di­tion of his sur­vival. But in regards to the buyer, who will employ this labor-power to his ben­e­fit, things are much less clear: what the cap­i­tal­ist bought at its value, he in fact intends to exploit, not at equal value, but in order to derive from it an addi­tional value that will rep­re­sent his profit, a profit des­tined to either increase his pro­duc­tion or his wealth; at every turn he wins, and if this wasn’t the case, the trans­ac­tion would not inter­est him the slight­est. So there is some­thing strange, anom­alous, in the way that this rela­tion is estab­lished. Under the terms of the exchange between the wage laborer and the per­son pay­ing him, if one of them, the worker, strictly speak­ing, loses noth­ing, he does not gain any­thing either, that is, he can­not hope to gain more than he has ini­tially pledged; and, if turns out that his wage even mar­gin­ally exceeds his real needs, allow­ing him either to spend waste­fully on extras or to save for him­self, a cor­rec­tion almost auto­mat­i­cally takes place and his wage drops, even­tu­ally bring­ing about a fall in the aver­age value of the wages for all the other work­ers. Whereas, under the terms of the same exchange, the other party, the buyer, aims not only to recoup his stake, there­fore los­ing noth­ing, but to increase it, prov­ing this exchange of equal value, from which the sys­tem of wage-labor derives its legit­i­macy in terms of law, masks a con­jur­ing trick which trans­forms equal­ity into inequal­ity, with­out, how­ever, for­mally vio­lat­ing the com­mer­cial right of exchange. What has hap­pened?

To under­stand this bet­ter, it is use­ful to apply the schema elab­o­rated by Marcel Mauss – in another con­text, to account for the mech­a­nism of the gift, an exchange which puts two par­ties in a rela­tion of reci­procity – to the labor con­tract that sanc­tions the exchange.6 This schema is tri­an­gu­lar, and artic­u­lates three oper­a­tions: “giv­ing,” “receiv­ing,” and “return­ing.” Let us sup­pose that the labor con­tract, which is the basis for wage-labor, falls under this schema. The giver in this case is the per­son offer­ing the com­mod­ity he seeks to part with: namely, the worker who brings his labor-power, his body – whose employ­ment he rents out to some­one else – to the mar­ket. In exchange, the buyer, his future employer, “returns” to him a value equiv­a­lent to the main­te­nance needs of this power. But, when this buyer is the cap­i­tal­ist, what is there­fore “returned” – rec­om­pensed in the form of wages – isn’t exactly the same thing as what is “received” by the one who, in terms of the exchange, occu­pies the posi­tion of pur­chaser: this is the con­di­tion for this exchange of equal value to pro­duce inequal­ity. In other words, what the cap­i­tal­ist acquires in exchange for the wage, and grant­ing him the right to exploit it accord­ing to his own wishes, in a man­ner con­sis­tent with his inter­ests, is not exactly what has been brought, “given,” or for­mally sold in exchange for this wage. Thus, at this level, the pre­vi­ous divi­sion reap­pears, split­ting up labor-power into two sides: one of these is “given” by the seller, the worker, and the other “received” by the buyer, the cap­i­tal­ist; the afore­men­tioned con­jur­ing trick depends on this split­ting, which turns an exchange of equal val­ues into an oper­a­tion that ben­e­fits only one of the con­tract­ing par­ties, and is only pos­si­ble because this exchange occurs within the frame­work of a power rela­tion wherein one party, the seller, occu­pies the sub­or­di­nate posi­tion and the other, the buyer, the dom­i­nant posi­tion, enabling the lat­ter to impose their inter­ests. For the sys­tem of wage-labor to take effect, the worker has to be placed in the posi­tion of a split sub­ject who, while remain­ing entirely in con­trol of his labor-power, alien­ates only its usage, which pre­sup­poses that this power can effec­tively be sep­a­rated from its use.

On this basis, we can eval­u­ate the break intro­duced in the expla­na­tion of the sys­tem of wage-labor by the sub­sti­tu­tion of labor-power for labor, a break that Marx presents as his prin­ci­pal the­o­ret­i­cal inno­va­tion.7 If the seller, the wage laborer, alien­ated his labor, and if this was paid at equal value, as clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­omy until Ricardo sup­posed for all exchange, then the buyer, the cap­i­tal­ist, would gain noth­ing fur­ther, and the exchange would not hap­pen sim­ply because it would not present any inter­est for him. But if what the seller brings – “gives” – is his labor-power, or at least the pos­si­bil­ity of employ­ing it for a cer­tain time, then the same can­not be said: for what is trans­ferred, “received” at the end of the exchange is not exactly the same thing as pre­sented at the begin­ning. What is received is the pos­si­bil­ity of employ­ing labor-power over and above its real value, and there­fore to profit from its use. This profit is reserved for who­ever buys the right to employ labor-power at its value, which is not what it pro­duces, but what pro­duces it, that is, the value nec­es­sary for the main­te­nance of the power that once pro­duced, pro­duces, as the bearer of the capac­ity to pro­duce in excess of the value needed to pro­duce it. Antic­i­pat­ing con­cepts that will be intro­duced later on, we can say that at the moment he accepts the pro­vi­sions stip­u­lated by his employ­ment con­tract, the worker under­goes a quasi-mirac­u­lous muta­tion: he ceases to be his body in per­son, whose exis­tence is by def­i­n­i­tion equal to no other, and becomes a “pro­duc­tive sub­ject,” a bearer of “labor-power,” whose per­for­mance – “social labor” – is sub­jected to a com­mon eval­u­a­tion; and, in this fash­ion, he is sub­jected [assu­jetti], in all senses of the word.8

At stake here is the ambi­gu­ity sur­round­ing the con­cept of labor, an ambi­gu­ity rein­forced by the French lan­guage, which com­bi­nes in one term two things that the Eng­lish lan­guage and the Ger­man lan­guage dis­tin­guish: on the one hand, in these two lan­guages, the terms Werk and work indi­cate the result of labor, once it is fin­ished and thus when it has attained its end; and on the other hand, there is the oper­a­tion or the process that pro­duces, that is to say the activ­ity of pro­duc­tion as it is actu­ally in pro­gress, and is headed toward its end but has not attained it yet, which is indi­cated by the terms Arbeit and labor. One could say this ter­mi­no­log­i­cal dis­tinc­tion is taken up metaphor­i­cally by Marx in his dis­cus­sion of “dead labor” and “liv­ing labor.” Dead labor is “fin­ished,” objec­ti­fied labor, crys­tal­lized in the pro­duct wherein its tra­jec­tory is com­pleted. Liv­ing labor is labor in the course of its exe­cu­tion, on a level that gives it a par­tic­u­larly dynamic range, while the pro­duct rep­re­sent­ing dead labor exhibits only a sta­tic dimen­sion. In forg­ing the con­cept of “labor-power,” his own con­tri­bu­tion to the the­ory of wage-labor, Marx intro­duced these two aspects into this com­pound for­mula, just as the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, which pre­sup­poses the pos­si­bil­ity of sub­sti­tut­ing one for the other even though they cor­re­spond to dif­fer­ent deter­mi­na­tions, does in real­ity. One side of labor-power is decid­edly dynamic, a power, with the dimen­sion of capac­ity that defines it and has liv­ing labor as its bearer; dead labor is the other side, the sta­tic side of labor, in the sense of being the result of the com­pleted labor process.9 The con­cept of labor-power, which joins these two aspects together, in this way allows for an under­stand­ing of what really hap­pens when liv­ing labor trans­forms itself into dead labor and vice versa.10

Let’s return to the tri­an­gu­lar model of the gift on this basis. In exchange for a wage, the worker brings to the labor mar­ket some­thing that eco­nom­i­cally rep­re­sents dead labor – that is to say, the value of the goods that are nec­es­sary for his main­te­nance and enable his labor-power to exist, inas­much as labor-power is itself the pro­duct of a labor whose value is equal to that of these goods. This is what is paid to the worker, what is “returned” to him as the wage. From this point of view, labor-power is a pro­duct. But what the cap­i­tal­ist “receives,” with the aim of exploit­ing it, is liv­ing labor, the pos­si­bil­ity of employ­ing or acti­vat­ing the capac­ity that labor-power is the bearer of when it is exploited beyond what’s required for its sub­sis­tence, dur­ing the por­tion of time in which the worker, hav­ing ceased to work for him­self, works for the cap­i­tal­ist, that is, his profit. This is no longer a pro­duct strictly speak­ing, but what Marx rather enig­mat­i­cally calls a “pro­duc­tive power,” mean­ing a power defined by the activ­ity of pro­duc­tion that it is con­di­tioned to exer­cise. By play­ing with our terms, we can say that what the worker alien­ates is the usage of his Arbeit­skraft, his labor-power as it is wholly con­sti­tuted since it it is one with him; and what the cap­i­tal­ist exploits is a Arbeitsver­mö­gen, which through a process of exte­ri­or­iza­tion has been employed within the frame­work of pro­duc­tive activ­ity. We now under­stand why the cap­i­tal­ist is the win­ner – and even in a “win-win sit­u­a­tion” – in an exchange that is equal in prin­ci­ple, but in real­ity is a fool’s bar­gain, as most juridi­cal rela­tion­ships are, inas­much they tac­itly con­ceal a rela­tion­ship which itself is not juridi­cal.

The ques­tion, then, is how such a thing, improb­a­ble once its prin­ci­ple is revealed, can come to real­ize itself in fact. What brings the worker to “freely” – the quo­ta­tion marks are in Marx’s text – sub­mit to the con­di­tions of this pecu­liar con­tract that is in prin­ci­ple between equal val­ues but only in prin­ci­ple, since only one of the con­tract­ing par­ties emerges as the win­ner, and even can­not lose from an exchange which can­not be said to really “ben­e­fit” the other party engaged in this rela­tion­ship, because it can­not do oth­er­wise? This anom­aly can be explained as fol­lows: within the frame­work of the exchange in ques­tion, reci­procity is only appar­ent because, in the very process of the exchange, fol­low­ing its own tra­jec­tory, its nature has changed. At the start of this tra­jec­tory, as we have assumed, there is the Arbeit­skraft of the worker, that is to say, his labor-power, mean­ing his per­sonal labor, which is embod­ied in his indi­vid­ual exis­tence; and it is pre­cisely as an indi­vid­ual and on his own behalf that he agrees to enter into the labor con­tract, by which he trans­fers for a cer­tain time the use of his labor-power in exchange for a wage. But at the end of its course, that is, when the buyer – the cap­i­tal­ist – takes deliv­ery of the com­mod­ity he has bought, the lat­ter presents itself in a whole new light: it has become labor-power, exploitable within con­di­tions that are no longer those of indi­vid­ual labor, marked by the speci­fic char­ac­ter­is­tics of the pow­ers of ini­tia­tive of the per­son who per­forms the work, but which define pro­duc­tive activ­ity in gen­eral, sub­ject to com­mon norms. Once he has entered into the sys­tem of wage-labor, the worker, with­out even real­iz­ing it, has ceased to be the per­son he is, with his indi­vid­u­ally con­sti­tuted Arbeit­skraft; truly sub­jected, he has become the execu­tor of an oper­a­tion that sur­passes the lim­its of his own exis­tence. This oper­a­tion is “social labor” which strictly speak­ing is no longer his labor, or at any rate not only his, but labor car­ried out under con­di­tions which escape his ini­tia­tive and con­trol; these con­di­tions are the reg­u­la­tion or ratio­nal­iza­tion of labor, or what is called at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury, by Tay­lor in par­tic­u­lar, the “orga­ni­za­tion of labor,” whose out­line is already traced by Marx. To return to the ter­mi­nol­ogy employed pre­vi­ously, what the worker “gives” is the usage of his body inas­much as it is the bearer of his own power, and what the cap­i­tal­ist “receives,” with the aim of exploit­ing for his profit, is the right to use this power as a pro­duc­tive force, whose capac­i­ties are assessed, cal­i­brated, for­mat­ted, and, one can say, nor­mal­ized accord­ing to prin­ci­ples that con­di­tion its opti­mal use, in the sense of the con­di­tion­ing of a pro­duct – an oper­a­tion in which a pro­duct is reclas­si­fied in order to meet com­mon stan­dards. If the exchange autho­rized by the sys­tem of wage-labor takes place, it’s because in the course of the exchange the instru­ment of the exchange has been trans­formed with­out the per­son look­ing for work being aware of it, with the con­se­quence that this trans­for­ma­tion is not taken into account in cal­cu­lat­ing the terms of the exchange, an exchange that takes place between equal val­ues while still being unequal, con­form­ing to the inter­est of the per­son who in this same rela­tion holds the posi­tion of both payer and receiver or buyer. This is what defines the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion: labor-power is treated as a two-sided real­ity, and so is not exactly the same thing for the per­son who is its nat­u­ral bearer and for the per­son who has become its user. This results in the pos­si­bil­ity of deriv­ing a profit from its use, kept by the cap­i­tal­ist for him­self in the form of a sur­plus value (Mehrw­ert) that is not com­pen­sated by the wage and thus appears as a sur­plus. The exploita­tion of worker relies on this “trick”: although he remains in pos­ses­sion of his labor-power, he is relin­quishes its use, as if its usage was no longer part of this power and as if this force existed inde­pen­dently of its exer­cise. It really is a sleight of hand, whose invis­i­bil­ity is the con­di­tion for its effi­cacy. This leads us to extend the scope of the con­cept of indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, accom­pa­ny­ing the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. Besides sophis­ti­cated machin­ery (with the steam engine as pro­to­type), the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion depended on the inven­tion of the “pro­duc­tive power” essen­tial to the oper­a­tion of these machi­nes, “labor-power,” the result of a tech­ni­cal inven­tion asso­ci­ated with the deploy­ment of speci­fic pro­ce­dures of power, as Fou­cault explains fol­low­ing Marx. Machi­no­fac­ture is a com­plex sys­tem of pro­duc­tion that besides phys­i­cal equip­ment, includes the more or less skilled agents who run it and are at the same time incor­po­rated into its sys­tem as bear­ers of a labor-power des­tined to be pro­duc­tively con­sumed. The images in Chaplin’s film Mod­ern Times show pre­cisely this: they present a par­tic­u­larly force­ful analy­sis of the mode of labor speci­fic to indus­trial cap­i­tal­ism, in which inan­i­mate machi­nes and human machi­nes are closely inter­twined.

The sur­plus gen­er­ated by the exploita­tion of labor-power is vari­able by def­i­n­i­tion, inso­far as it is itself the result of a vari­a­tion. In order to the­o­ret­i­cally cal­cu­late the rate of exploita­tion (sur­plus value), Marx uses the model of the “work­ing day”: i.e., the total amount of time dur­ing each work­able day (and, as we have remarked, in the nine­teenth cen­tury, man­ual labor­ers were gen­er­ally employed “by the day,” ensur­ing max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity in their employ­ment) that the worker spends work­ing, thus acti­vat­ing his labor-power under con­di­tions imposed on him by the entre­pre­neur. This work­ing day is ide­ally rep­re­sented in the form of a seg­ment that can be bro­ken down into its ele­ments, which, accord­ing to Marx’s analy­sis, cor­re­spond to two dis­tinct peri­ods of time: one devoted to “nec­es­sary labor” (notwendige Arbeit) and the other to “sur­plus labor” (Mehrar­beit). Nec­es­sary labor is labor under­taken to pro­duce a quan­tity of value equiv­a­lent to that required for the main­te­nance of labor-power as Arbeit­skraft: it is this value that is effec­tively paid by the wage given to the worker in exchange for the right to exploit his labor-power, even though the result of this exploita­tion rep­re­sents a value that is not the same as that remu­ner­ated by the wage. Sur­plus labor for­mally cor­re­sponds to the other part of the day dur­ing which the worker per­forms tasks that are not remu­ner­ated by his wage, since they pro­duce a quan­tity of value exceed­ing that nec­es­sary to main­tain his labor-power, a quan­tity of value that, con­se­quently, within the frame­work of the per­for­mance of the labor process where Ver­mö­gen­skraft is employed, rep­re­sents the pro­duc­tive activ­ity whose exploita­tion releases a sur­plus value, Mehrw­ert. One must not how­ever lose sight of the fact that this divi­sion of the work­ing day into two peri­ods, rep­re­sented by sub-seg­ments fol­low­ing each other on a sin­gle line, has a purely the­o­ret­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Only for the pur­poses of for­mally cal­cu­lat­ing the rate of exploita­tion of labor-power is it assumed that the worker, in per­form­ing nec­es­sary labor, works for him­self until a cer­tain hour of the day, and beyond this limit, for the exclu­sive ben­e­fit of his employer; in real­ity, from the first hour to the last – every moment the worker acti­vates his labor-power – his time is com­posed of fixed pro­por­tions of nec­es­sary labor and sur­plus labor, whose bor­der­line is not clearly dis­cernible. This is made pos­si­ble by the fact that, quite unbe­knownst to the worker, who has no way of know­ing when he is still and when he is no longer work­ing for him­self, his labor-power is simul­ta­ne­ously exploited in its dual aspect: as Arbeit­skraft, whose value is mea­sured by the quan­tity of labor nec­es­sary to pro­duce it; and as Ver­mö­gen­skraft, whose value is mea­sured by the quan­tity of labor that it is capa­ble of pro­duc­ing. This being said, Marx intro­duces the cap­i­tal dis­tinc­tion between absolute sur­plus value (to which the third sec­tion of Vol­ume I of Cap­i­tal is devoted) and rel­a­tive sur­plus value (to which the fourth sec­tion is devoted, that is to say, the part of the text that par­tic­u­larly inter­ested Fou­cault for rea­sons yet to be spec­i­fied) on the basis of this for­mal divi­sion, and to sim­plify its proof.

Thus, let the work­ing day be a line (with a direc­tion, as it rep­re­sents the pas­sage of time in a cer­tain direc­tion) divided into two parts which are meant to suc­ceed one another:

working day222 (1)

The cap­i­tal­ist has an inter­est in chang­ing the pro­por­tions between the two quan­ti­ties of time (rep­re­sented above) in his favor; wherein the first seg­ment (A), if it costs him noth­ing because the value is fully con­tained in the pro­duct he keeps, it also brings in noth­ing, while only the sec­ond seg­ment (B) rep­re­sents a profit for him, because he does not need to invest the quan­tity of value rep­re­sented by the pay­ment of a wage to have at his dis­posal the goods this seg­ment pro­duces. To suc­ceed in chang­ing the rela­tion­ship between these two ele­ments, A and B, in his favor, the cap­i­tal­ist can take two courses of action accord­ing: lengthen the sub-seg­ment on the right of the dia­gram, which inter­ests him because it yields a profit, either by extend­ing it to the right (thereby pro­duc­ing absolute sur­plus value), or by short­en­ing it to the left, thereby reduc­ing the length of the first seg­ment (and pro­duc­ing rel­a­tive sur­plus value).

Con­cretely, the first solu­tion con­sists in extend­ing the length of the vital part of the day, devoted to the per­for­mance of pro­duc­tive tasks, as far as pos­si­ble, by post­pon­ing the end of the work­ing day: the worker, instead of work­ing a total amount of time, X, will work X+X’, then X+X’+X’’, etc…for exam­ple, if we take 12 hours of work activ­ity as a start­ing point, then 14 hours, 16, 18, etc …This ten­den­tial increase, how­ever, encoun­ters a nat­u­ral limit: the astro­nom­i­cal day has a fixed dura­tion of 24 hours. If the cap­i­tal­ist could fur­ther pro­long this length of time and there­fore find the tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dure allow­ing it to last for (why not?) 26 hours or 28 hours instead of 24 hours, enabling him to pro­duce more absolute sur­plus value, he would not hes­i­tate one sec­ond; but this pro­ce­dure has not yet been dis­cov­ered (he might pull it off by send­ing his work­ers to work on another planet with­out chang­ing their con­di­tions of pay; but the trans­port costs might burn a hole in his pocket, mak­ing the oper­a­tion unprof­itable). On the other hand, regard­less of this nat­u­ral obsta­cle, regret­tably insu­per­a­ble, the ten­dency toward the increased pro­duc­tion of absolute sur­plus value encoun­ters two lim­its: if the cap­i­tal­ist wants to fully profit from the worker’s labor-power for at least the period paid for by the wage, he must also con­cede a break period of non-work, devoted not to unpro­duc­tive leisure but to recu­per­a­tion, and more gen­er­ally to pro­ce­dures of main­te­nance and renewal of this labor-power: to eat­ing, per­haps to pro­cre­ation, and in this case to have some time to devote to his chil­dren, since if he did not do so, his capac­i­ties would be rapidly exhausted (as inten­sive agri­cul­ture may, beyond cer­tain lim­its, exhaust the soil’s yield) and then the col­or­ful expres­sion that “the worker works him­self to death” would no longer be just a metaphor. The cap­i­tal­ist who employs this labor-power must take into account the fact that it wears down and that its power would com­pletely dis­si­pate unless given time, even a min­i­mum amount, to restore itself. The ten­dency toward the increase in pro­duc­tion of absolute sur­plus value encoun­ters another limit, namely the resis­tance gen­er­ated by the employer’s insa­tia­bil­ity, which pushes him to go ever fur­ther in this direc­tion, and thus to con­tin­u­ally increase, lit­tle by lit­tle, the length of labor time: at a cer­tain point, the work­ers, who are always asked to do more, and real­iz­ing that enough is enough, under­stand that it is in their inter­est to unite to advance their demands. This ter­ri­fies the cap­i­tal­ist because for his enter­prise of extract­ing sur­plus value to pro­duce max­i­mum returns, he must be able to deal with the work­ers who appear before him as indi­vid­ual work­ers, whose divi­sions he can exploit – not as a group, which would increase their capac­ity to resist. When it assumes a col­lec­tive form, this work­ers’ resis­tance car­ries the addi­tional incove­nience of becom­ing pub­lic: the cap­i­tal­ist hates pub­lic­ity! He espe­cially does not want peo­ple shov­ing their noses in his busi­ness, which he means to carry on as he pleases! And what really per­turbs and infu­ri­ates him is when the work­ers’ demands, after obtain­ing a mea­sure of pub­lic­ity and offi­cial sta­tus, are taken up by pub­lic bod­ies and insti­tu­tions. Lo and behold, the idea of legally reg­u­lat­ing work­ing hours appears, in par­tic­u­lar the lim­i­ta­tion of child labor, a process that once set in motion expands to include ado­les­cent and adult labor. Then inspec­tors, who do not nec­es­sar­ily share the businessman’s point of view, and (how nar­row-minded! how naive!) claim­ing that all they are doing is enforc­ing the law, begin to visit the work­shops, make reports, record vio­la­tions, levy fines, etc., etc. – intol­er­a­ble from the businessman’s per­spec­tive, because as owner of his com­pany, he is resolved to remain mas­ter of his own house and rejects out of hand any exter­nal con­trol over his activ­i­ties. The lengthy tenth chap­ter in the third part of Vol­ume I of Cap­i­tal on “The Work­ing Day” (Chap­ter 10 of the French edi­tion trans­lated by Joseph Roy under Marx’s direc­tion) pro­vides abun­dant (and ter­ri­fy­ing) doc­u­men­ta­tion relat­ing to this theme, which Engels had already used in 1845 to write his book on The Con­di­tion of the Work­ing Class in Eng­land (After the Obser­va­tions of the Author and Authen­tic Sources), one of the foun­da­tional texts of what would later be called the “soci­ol­ogy of work.” The cur­rent con­tro­versy around the issue of the 35-hour week demon­strates that this chap­ter of work­ers’ strug­gles is not yet closed, and that the cap­i­tal­ists have not given up on squeez­ing a max­i­mum of absolute sur­plus value from the exploita­tion of labor-power, while deplor­ing the con­ces­sions to which they been forced to very reluc­tantly sub­mit due to the bal­ance of forces; but they always remain hope­ful that they can renege on these con­ces­sions when­ever the oppor­tu­nity arises, and specif­i­cally, that labor time can be extended (at the same wage-rate, of course).

When the pos­si­bil­ity of increas­ing the pro­duc­tion of absolute sur­plus value is blocked despite the capitalist’s efforts, he leaves open the option of switch­ing sides, thus increas­ing the length of sub-seg­ment B in the over­all schema of the work­ing day by stretch­ing it, not towards the right, in the direc­tion of the pro­duc­tion of absolute sur­plus value, but towards the left, in the direc­tion of the pro­duc­tion of rel­a­tive sur­plus value. How does he do this? Since he under­stands cost cal­cu­la­tion, his spe­cialty, he real­izes that this oper­a­tion, whose goal is to reduce to a min­i­mum the por­tion of time devoted to nec­es­sary labor, is con­di­tional on low­er­ing the value of labor-power in the strict sense, i.e., the Arbeit­skraft remu­ner­ated by the wage that pays nec­es­sary labor and noth­ing more. There is no other way of doing this other than by low­er­ing the over­all cost of goods, which auto­mat­i­cally results in a decrease in the amount of value needed for the main­te­nance of Arbeit­skraft, with­out this decrease being accom­pa­nied by a fall in the quan­tity of value cre­ated by the pro­duc­tive activ­ity in the form of Verm[o]genskraft. Not only will this quan­tity of value not decrease, it will increase: for this to hap­pen, less is paid for the same amount of labor time, cre­at­ing more value, with this decrease and increase being strictly cor­rel­a­tive. In other words, to increase his profit, the cap­i­tal­ist will cap­i­tal­ize on the pro­duc­tiv­ity of labor-power as a “pro­duc­tive power” from which, in the same period of time, and with the pro­duc­tion of absolute sur­plus value hav­ing been pro­vi­sion­ally sta­bi­lized, he can extract a much greater quan­tity of value in the form of rel­a­tive sur­plus value. This notion of pro­duc­tiv­ity allows us to under­stand the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion by going to its very heart, that is, its vital prin­ci­ple, its dri­ving force.

Labor-Power as Productive Power

What should be under­stood by the “pro­duc­tiv­ity” of labor-power? To answer this, it is nec­es­sary to revisit the con­cept of “pro­duc­tive forces” whose sig­nif­i­cance is cru­cial in this respect. Here, invalu­able ele­ments of expli­ca­tion may be found in the Dic­tio­n­naire cri­tique du marx­isme (Crit­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of Marx­ism), edited by Georges Lab­ica, in Jean-Pierre Lefebvre’s arti­cle on “pro­duc­tive power/productive forces.”11 By pro­duc­tive forces in the plu­ral, Pro­duk­tivkräfte, is meant the total­ity of the phys­i­cal and organic ele­ments which enter into the labor process: that is, both the nat­u­ral and arti­fi­cial means serv­ing pro­duc­tion as well as bod­ily dis­po­si­tions acti­vated by work­ers to employ these means to pro­duce mate­rial goods – the ulti­mate goal of craft and indus­trial pro­duc­tion. When Marx’s text employs this same con­cept in the sin­gu­lar, not with­out a cer­tain ter­mi­no­log­i­cal incon­sis­tency, Pro­duk­tivkraft refers not to the ele­ments present, whether these are raw mate­ri­als, tech­ni­cal instru­ments or liv­ing bod­ies, but some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. It refers to a capac­ity the force has inas­much as its real­ity is “dynamic” in the proper sense of the word, that is, it rep­re­sents a “power,” a Ver­mӧ­gen. Dunamis, in the Aris­totelian sense (Meta­physics Delta, 12) is “a source, in gen­eral, of change or move­ment in another thing or in the same thing qua other.” It is the expres­sion of the ten­den­tial and con­tin­u­ous process through which what exists at first as “poten­tial­ity” is des­tined, under the right con­di­tions, to real­ize itself “in action.” For exam­ple, when the art of the doc­tor man­ages to trans­form the sick body into a healthy body, rep­re­sent­ing a change in the state of the body, the doc­tor does so by exer­cis­ing the speci­fic “virtue” that applies to him and makes his art effec­tive. From this per­spec­tive, the power is meant to rep­re­sent the cause to which a change is imputed. Before this change takes place or is pro­duced, it exists as a pos­si­bil­ity real­iz­ing itself only when the change has taken effect, that is, when all the effects have been derived from the cause. The ref­er­ence to a power assigns to this poten­tial­ity a quasi-exis­tence, between being and non-being. For this rea­son it is marked by an indeli­ble ambi­gu­ity, inso­far as it “already is” that which it “is not yet,” two for­mu­las where the verb “to be” has two dif­fer­ent val­ues mis­taken under the same term. The cap­i­tal­ist exploits this ambi­gu­ity to the full: with the wage he pays labor-power for what it “already is,” as Arbeit­skraft [labor-power], reserv­ing for him­self the right to use it for what it “is not yet,” as Arbeitsver­mӧ­gen [labor-capac­ity], which he intends to mold accord­ing to his wishes in order to put it to work. As we have seen, the mir­a­cle that the sys­tem of wage-labor per­forms con­sists in sep­a­rat­ing power from its action by arti­fi­cially cre­at­ing con­di­tions that allow a power to be con­sid­ered inde­pen­dently from its action, as if a non-act­ing power, a power that would not be active, would still be a power. From the phys­i­cal point of view, this is more than a mys­tery: it is an absur­dity.

In the case of a pos­i­tivist philoso­pher like Auguste Comte, the causal­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tion of power and its action is tainted with meta­phys­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions which ren­der his pre­ten­tion to objec­tively under­stand real phe­nom­ena per­fectly vain. At best, he can only offer an approx­i­mate descrip­tion of them. To say that opium puts one to sleep since it is endowed with a sopori­fic virtue con­sti­tut­ing its power or its proper force, from which it draws its capac­ity to act, does not in any way advance knowl­edge. This is merely to invent the fic­tion of a “virtue” exist­ing inde­pen­dently of its actu­al­iza­tion, and con­se­quently pre­ced­ing it so that it “would already be” before even occur­ring, thus with­out hav­ing “yet” taken place. There­fore, when ratio­nal mechan­ics as a branch of math­e­mat­ics – which spares it the oblig­a­tion of fac­ing up to the givens of expe­ri­ence – employs the notion of “force” and states, as New­ton did, the laws of action of forces, one must be care­ful not to attrib­ute to this con­cept a phys­i­cal real­ity. One should con­fine it to the role of an abstract con­cept or intel­lec­tual con­struc­tion which has a demon­stra­tive value, but cer­tainly not an explica­tive one in the sense of a causal expla­na­tion. Stat­ing that forces are causes of the motion they gen­er­ate sim­ply means say­ing noth­ing at all. This is why mechan­ics aban­dons the eval­u­a­tion of forces for what they are and con­tents itself with cal­cu­lat­ing their “work,” rep­re­sented through their real effects.

From this point of view, we could say that when the cap­i­tal­ist occu­pies him­self with his work­ers’ labor-power, which he has acquired the right to employ in exchange for a wage, treat­ing it as a “pro­duc­tive power” whose pro­duc­tiv­ity he intends to increase in order to pro­duce rel­a­tive sur­plus value – he prac­tices meta­physics not in a the­o­ret­i­cal but in a prac­ti­cal way. He prac­tices this pecu­liar sort of meta­physics not dur­ing his leisure time, as a dis­trac­tion or men­tal exer­cise, as he would a cross­word puz­zle, but through­out the entire work­ing day ded­i­cated to pro­duc­tion. By open­ing up his com­pany to notions such as “power,” “capac­ity” and “cau­sa­tion,” he thereby makes them a real­ity, real­iz­ing these fic­tions, these prod­ucts of the mind, which he then employs with daunt­ing effi­cacy. In this way, with pay­rolls and charts of orga­ni­za­tional tasks at hand, he shows, bet­ter than a philosopher’s abstract proofs, that the work of meta­physics could not be more mate­rial, pro­vided that one knows how to put it to good use in intro­duc­ing it into the fac­tory. One could, inci­den­tally, derive from this a new and caus­tic def­i­n­i­tion of meta­physics: in this rather speci­fic con­text, it boils down to a mech­a­nism for profit-mak­ing, which is no small mat­ter. This means that, amongst other inven­tions that have changed the course of his­tory, cap­i­tal­ism has found the means, the pro­ce­dure, the “trick” enabling it to put abstract con­cepts into prac­tice – the hall­mark of its “genius.”

What in fact is this famous pro­duc­tiv­ity attrib­uted to labor-power in order to mod­ify it, or rather to re-mod­ify it? It is the “virtue” or “power” that may be ascribed to it when one begins to con­sider and treat it mate­ri­ally: as a “pro­duc­tive power” in the sense of a capac­ity to be put to work. This power is not only mea­sur­able on paper but can be mod­elled and mod­i­fied so as to increase it. Such is effec­tively the goal of the ratio­nal­iza­tion of labor, which, by sub­or­di­nat­ing it to norms, and by shift­ing these norms, inten­si­fies labor’s “pro­duc­tiv­ity.” From this per­spec­tive, the norm not only has a con­sta­tive but a per­for­ma­tive dimen­sion. It serves not only to deter­mine an aver­age state, counted as “nor­mal,” but itself becomes “nor­ma­tive.” In other words, the norm acts to trans­form the real­ity to which it applies, grasps it not as it is but as it could be if one were to develop its poten­tial. This is the theme tack­led by Didier Deleule and François Guéry in their short book, The Pro­duc­tive Body, where they draw atten­tion to the fact that it is not at all the same to treat labor-power as a power that pro­duces and as a pro­duc­tive power.12 If the cap­i­tal­ist were to pay a wage to labor-power as the power that pro­duces, he would then be for­mally placed under the oblig­a­tion of rec­om­pens­ing the worker with a quan­tity of value equal to that effec­tively pro­duced by the worker’s labor. Thus the the­sis of Ricar­dian eco­nom­ics that the worker’s labor is paid at its real value would be ver­i­fied. But, quite evi­dently, such a thing can­not be of inter­est to the cap­i­tal­ist because even if this trans­ac­tion cre­ated value it would not make him any profit, or would at least force him to share with the work­ers he employs the sur­plus value cre­ated by the acti­va­tion of their labor-power. If he was to con­fine him­self to the exploita­tion of the labor-power of his work­ers mea­sured by results, that is to what it really pro­duces in value terms, such an approach would not gen­er­ate any “growth” in his terms; that is in the sense of an increase in the value of cap­i­tal, “his” cap­i­tal, which he jointly owns with his share­hold­ers, the only peo­ple he must account to for the way he man­ages it. That is why the labor-power he employs inter­ests him – in the strongest sense of the word – not as a power that pro­duces but a pro­duc­tive power. This cre­ates the pos­si­bil­ity of treat­ing it not as an active power, which it “already is,” but as a poten­tial power, which it “is not yet,” and as such the bearer of poten­tial­i­ties that one can apply pres­sure to and con­trol so as to inten­sify them.

The notion of “liv­ing labor” thus attains a new dimen­sion. Liv­ing labor is labor that not only pro­duces but is pro­duc­tive, that is, acti­vates labor-power as a “pro­duc­tive power.” Liv­ing labor pro­duces value under con­di­tions that can be reg­u­lated by exploit­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties for change that, thanks to its plas­tic­ity and adapt­abil­ity, life is so rich in. The issue of “flex­i­bil­ity,” so fash­ion­able today, is at the core of this prob­lem, which a meta­physi­cian of the cal­iber of Mme. Parisot13 per­fectly mas­ters, being a meta­physi­cian with­out know­ing it, mak­ing her “spec­u­la­tion” par­tic­u­larly effec­tive. Pre­cisely because it takes labor-power not as the power that pro­duces but as a pro­duc­tive power, cap­i­tal­ism can allow itself to treat labor-power with a max­i­mum of flex­i­bil­ity since it has every­thing to gain by doing so. To its dying breath it rejects the rules that the law seeks to impose on it under the pre­text that these rules stul­tify a real­ity it con­sid­ers to be liv­ing. As such, it treats real­ity as mal­leable, in the man­ner of a wild ani­mal to be tamed so that it per­forms amaz­ing tricks, which at first sight one would never have thought it capa­ble, jumps through flam­ing hoops, spins faster and faster in a revolv­ing cylin­der, etc., etc…In the sequences of his film Mod­ern Times, Charles Spencer Chap­lin, a meta­physi­cian of a dif­fer­ent class than Mme. Parisot, pro­vides a strik­ing illus­tra­tion of the high-wire acro­bat­ics per­fected by cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. There one sees his hero, Char­lot, being caught in an assem­bly line, his body becom­ing so sup­ple that, flat­tened by the con­veyor belt, he merges and becomes indis­tin­guish­able from it. He becomes an accel­er­ated bolt screw,14 to the point that once he gets out of the fac­tory he nei­ther knows nor can do any­thing else, which is a way of show­ing his “power” no longer belongs to him pre­cisely to the extent that it has been sep­a­rated from him. Of course, this man­age­ment of his capac­i­ties, which makes his labor-power “pro­duc­tive” as suits the cap­i­tal­ist, has the effect of cre­at­ing a new rigid­ity, riv­et­ing him to his assigned func­tion. He must ful­fil this func­tion obey­ing norms deter­mined for him in the strongest sense of the term. In this way, sup­ple­ness recre­ates rigid­ity. The cap­i­tal­ist does not con­tent him­self with being a meta­physi­cian. He is a dialec­ti­cian, he rec­on­ciles oppo­sites, which is his way of man­ag­ing the pow­ers he exploits, not just by trac­ing their par­al­lel­o­gram in the man­ner of a math­e­mati­cian but by forc­ing them to enter into the schema he has estab­lished accord­ing to his inter­ests. This schema con­sists in extract­ing the max­i­mum profit from the means of pro­duc­tion at his dis­posal, includ­ing the labor-power of his work­ers – in par­tic­u­lar by mak­ing them pro­duce rel­a­tive sur­plus value.

One pas­sage in Marx’s text strik­ingly illus­trates this. This pas­sage, which is at the end of Chap­ter 12, “Divi­sion of Labor and Man­u­fac­ture” (Chap­ter 14 of the Roy edi­tion15 ), high­lights the con­trast between the form the divi­sion of labor within the fac­tory already takes under the con­trol of the man­u­fac­tur­ing cap­i­tal­ist, there­fore before the sys­tem of indus­trial machi­no­fac­ture, and the form it takes within the wider frame­work of soci­ety:

While, within the work­shop, the iron law of pro­por­tion­al­ity sub­jects def­i­nite num­bers of work­ers to def­i­nite func­tions, in the soci­ety out­side the work­shop, the play of chance and caprice results in a mot­ley pat­tern of dis­tri­b­u­tion of the pro­duc­ers and their means of pro­duc­tion among the var­i­ous branches of social labour…Division of labor within the work­shop implies the undis­puted author­ity of the cap­i­tal­ist over men, who are merely the mem­bers of a total mech­a­nism which belongs to him. The divi­sion of labour within soci­ety brings into con­tact inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers of com­modi­ties, who acknowl­edge no author­ity other than that of com­pe­ti­tion, of the coer­cion exerted by the pres­sure of their rec­i­p­ro­cal inter­ests, just as in the ani­mal king­dom the “war of all against all” more or less pre­serves the con­di­tions of exis­tence of every species. The same bour­geois con­scious­ness which cel­e­brates the divi­sion of labour in the work­shop, the life­long annex­a­tion of the worker to a par­tial oper­a­tion, and his com­plete sub­jec­tion to cap­i­tal, as an orga­ni­za­tion of labour that increases its pro­duc­tive power, denounces with equal vigour every con­scious attempt to con­trol and reg­u­late the process of pro­duc­tion socially, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of prop­erty, free­dom and the self-deter­min­ing “genius” of the indi­vid­ual cap­i­tal­ist. It is very char­ac­ter­is­tic that the enthu­si­as­tic apol­o­gists of the fac­tory sys­tem have noth­ing more damn­ing to urge against a gen­eral orga­ni­za­tion of labour in soci­ety than that it would turn the whole of soci­ety into a fac­tory.16

In this pas­sage Marx pin­points the para­dox of lib­eral dis­course, which is the warp and woof of bour­geois ide­ol­ogy. If the lat­ter defends lais­sez-faire, dereg­u­la­tion, non-inter­ven­tion, it does so to bet­ter estab­lish a the­ory of author­ity, tak­ing the form of the “life­long annex­a­tion of the worker to a par­tial oper­a­tion and his com­plete sub­mis­sion to cap­i­tal, as an orga­ni­za­tion of labor that increases its pro­duc­tive power.” There­fore, a power rela­tion under­lies the treat­ment of labor-power not only as a power that pro­duces, but a power with a mea­sured pro­duc­tiv­ity that can be grad­u­ally raised. It is a power imposed on the indi­vid­ual worker, hence­forth dis­pos­sessed of all ini­tia­tive in the employ­ment of his labor-power, exploited in every sense of the word within the frame­work of a sys­tem of which he has become a cog. Free­dom is the word the cap­i­tal­ist con­stantly repeats and demands exclu­sively for him­self in order to turn it into a means of enslav­ing the work­ing classes, whose opin­ion he does not ask, let alone their con­sent, in sub­ju­gat­ing them to the norms of pro­duc­tiv­ity which he, the apos­tle of free­dom, has made into an “iron law.” Today, almost two cen­turies after the fac­tory sys­tem was estab­lished dur­ing the first half of the 19th cen­tury, coin­cid­ing with the explo­sion of a fre­netic cap­i­tal­ism, the rhetoric of the bosses has not changed one bit: free­dom is my free­dom, from which stems the unlim­ited right to enslave oth­ers, and is the con­di­tion of the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus value under both of its forms, rel­a­tive and absolute.

Thus it is exactly where the labor process actu­ally takes place that a sys­tem of power and sub­ju­ga­tion mirac­u­lously rec­on­cil­ing the oppos­ing val­ues of neces­sity and free­dom is estab­lished through the very forms in which labor is orga­nized, that is con­trolled. Once the worker has alien­ated the usage of his labor-power in exchange for a wage, it is as if he is split into two and becomes a divided, overde­ter­mined sub­ject. On the one hand, he remains the per­son he is, attached to his bod­ily exis­tence, whose invi­o­lable owner he rests to his death. He often drags it behind him like a bur­den, for he must feed it, shel­ter it, nurse it, repro­duce it (by hav­ing chil­dren), all this most often at his own expense and on his respon­si­bil­ity, even when he lacks the mate­rial resources to do so. On the other hand, he is trans­formed into a being whose power no longer depends solely on its own con­di­tions of exis­tence because its usage and acti­va­tion have become depen­dent on rules that tran­scend it, turn­ing him into a pro­duc­tive sub­ject. He is the bearer and owner of a labor-power divided into an Arbeit­skraft which belongs to him and is his exclu­sive con­cern and an Arbeitsver­mö­gen that may be refash­ioned at will; its sub­stance, Kraft, has been made sup­ple, flex­i­ble, so that it may be more closely annexed to the type of task assigned to the worker, at a given level of pro­duc­tiv­ity. Neces­sity in free­dom: that is the great inven­tion of cap­i­tal­ism. And, in fact, it had to be invented and appro­pri­ate pro­ce­dures found to put the idea into prac­tice.

This sys­tem of power, which dis­solves the oppo­si­tion between neces­sity and free­dom, is of a par­tic­u­lar kind, speci­fic to the epoch of the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion and the type of soci­ety it estab­lishes, which is, in Foucault’s ter­mi­nol­ogy, a soci­ety of norms. This sys­tem pre­sup­poses a com­plete rede­f­i­n­i­tion of the very notion of power. Namely, for it to work, for the dialec­ti­cal mir­a­cle to hap­pen, the rela­tion­ship it estab­lishes must not appear as a power on high whose author­ity con­sists in the real­iza­tion of an exter­nal order and there­fore has the char­ac­ter of a for­mal con­straint that is above all repres­sive and neg­a­tive. Quite the con­trary, the project of nor­mal­iza­tion, con­sist­ing in the orga­ni­za­tion of work so as to increase its pro­duc­tiv­ity and thereby the pro­duc­tion of rel­a­tive sur­plus value, is defined by fact that its inter­ven­tion must not appear as a com­mand out of the blue. Rather it must be hand in glove with the liv­ing real­ity, with “labor-power” as the “pro­duc­tive power” which it seeks to con­trol and suc­ceeds in inhab­it­ing so as to pos­sess it in its very being. From this per­spec­tive, it appears a gen­uine cre­ation cor­re­spond­ing to the pas­sage to a sec­ond nature.

The term sec­ond nature des­ig­nates a nec­es­sar­ily equiv­o­cal, ambigu­ous plane of real­ity which is a nature with­out actu­ally being one and has the para­dox­i­cal char­ac­ter of a nature that is not “nat­u­ral.” Hence it is a nature not given as such but pro­duced, cre­ated, con­structed from top to bot­tom, suited to become “pro­duc­tive,” flex­i­ble, trans­formable, to com­ply with the objec­tives of growth. Itself the pro­duct of change, it is always open to change, result­ing in an order whose per­sis­tence is asserted in the prin­ci­ple of change. There­fore, what we have here is an unsta­ble con­di­tion which, in the absence of a base or foun­da­tion or pur­pose to secure it, derives its very sub­stance from its insta­bil­ity. It rep­re­sents the same through the fig­ure of the other, per­ma­nence in the form of nov­elty. That great prac­ti­cal meta­physi­cian Mme Parisot might well adopt Nietzsche’s dic­tum accord­ing to which “man is the not yet deter­mined ani­mal” (das noch nicht fest­gestellte Tier). The mean­ing of this say­ing lies entirely in the “not yet” (noch nict), indi­cat­ing the fun­da­men­tal pre­car­i­ous­ness of a form of exis­tence in search of its real­iza­tion, towards which it does not cease to strive pre­cisely in so far as it never attains it. Arguably, if the human, together with human labor-power whose employ­ment con­sti­tutes liv­ing labor, belongs to sec­ond nature, it is because every­thing in its “nature” or alleged nature is poten­tially “sec­ondary”; that is, not strictly speak­ing derived but hav­ing an absolutely sec­ondary char­ac­ter that can­not be related to any base or foun­da­tion. There­fore, a pro­ce­dure of expro­pri­a­tion, going beyond the alter­na­tive of per­fect order and pure dis­or­der, lies behind the topic of sec­ond nature. This pro­ce­dure rep­re­sents an uncer­tain mix­ture of order and dis­or­der that is per­pet­u­ally flex­i­ble and open to manip­u­la­tion, always ready to tip the scales in a lit­er­ally never-end­ing back and forth, search­ing not above but below, always plumb­ing the depths of the unre­al­ized, of the “not yet fixed” where the idea of “pro­duc­tiv­ity” takes on its full mean­ing.17

What is it that allows sec­ond nature to present itself as “a” nature even though it is no longer “a” nature or “of” nature? It is the fact that it guides human behav­ior with­out ever appear­ing to con­scious­ness as its gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ple, this being the main con­di­tion of its effi­cacy. It oper­ates under the guise of spon­tane­ity. To belong to sec­ond nature is to live under com­pul­sion while accept­ing this con­di­tion as self-evi­dent, hence from the out­set refus­ing to ques­tion its raison d’être, the ends it serves and the speci­fic lim­its placed on these ends. This is, broadly speak­ing, what Bour­dieu sought to analyse using the con­cept of habi­tus, and Fou­cault that of dis­ci­pline. When he puts for­ward the con­cept of habi­tus,18 Bour­dieu resists the temp­ta­tion to put it under the head­ing of doc­tri­nes of “vol­un­tary servi­tude.” In his opin­ion these make the mis­take of rein­tro­duc­ing a cer­tain mea­sure of reflex­iv­ity into the adop­tion or accep­tance of a type of behav­ior that is acquired with­out even being aware of it and fol­lowed mechan­i­cally, so to speak nat­u­rally, except that this “nat­u­ral” belongs not to first but to sec­ond nature. In a sim­i­lar spirit, Fou­cault refuses to con­ceive of dis­ci­pline as an order or injunc­tion descend­ing from the soul into the body: for dis­ci­pline is only estab­lished at the level of the body and its acknowl­edged pow­ers through a process of trial and error, rely­ing on dis­ci­plin­ing strate­gies which, as far their func­tion­ing is con­cerned, do not obey any deter­mi­nate final­ity that can be con­sciously under­stood. This is the sense of the def­i­n­i­tion of dis­ci­pline put for­ward in the lec­ture “The Mesh of Power”:

Dis­ci­pline is basi­cally the mech­a­nism of power by which we come to exert con­trol in the social body right down to the finest ele­ments, by which we suc­ceed in grab­bing hold of the social atoms them­selves, which is to say indi­vid­u­als. Tech­niques for the indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion of power. How to super­vise [sur­veiller] some­one, how to con­trol his con­duct, his behav­ior, his apti­tudes, how to inten­sify his per­for­mance, mul­ti­ply his capac­i­ties, how to put him in a place where he will be most use­ful: this is what I mean by dis­ci­pline.19

When Fou­cault speaks, as he does here, of “the mech­a­nism by which we come to exert con­trol,” a for­mu­la­tion which seems to con­fuse the posi­tions of the one who ana­lyzes the sys­tem and the one who makes it func­tion for his own ben­e­fit – and not about “the mech­a­nism by which con­trol is exerted,” which would amount to sep­a­rat­ing out these posi­tions – he doubtless wishes to indi­cate that the exis­tence of such a sys­tem is con­sub­stan­tial with what he else­where calls “the ontol­ogy of present,” in the sense of a present which can­not but be ours and thus coin­cide with our his­tor­i­cal epoch. The dis­ci­pli­nary mech­a­nism imposes itself as some­thing that appears nat­u­ral pre­cisely at the level our actu­al­ity, to which it is strictly adapted as only a tech­nol­ogy aim­ing at effi­ciency can be. It is not self-evi­dent that it should be observed from a dis­tance and reduced to its guid­ing prin­ci­ple, which is what Marx in a tour de force nev­er­the­less man­aged to achieve.

Con­se­quently, sub­jec­tion to the order or dis­or­der of sec­ond nature, accord­ing to the speci­fic pro­ce­dures of a dis­ci­pline or habi­tus, elim­i­nates the for­mal­ity of rea­soned and con­scious assent: but this is to be sub­jected with­out any objec­tion to the rule of “it is so,” rul­ing out any prospect of reflec­tion and crit­i­cal dis­tance, the bases of con­tes­ta­tion. What we have here is a form of sub­jec­tion that cre­ates a cor­re­spond­ing sub­ject by recre­at­ing it ab ini­tio and entirely, deny­ing it any prior, pre­con­sti­tuted real­ity pre­ced­ing its impo­si­tion. When it func­tions under these con­di­tions, com­mand tran­scends the alter­na­tive of vio­lence and con­sen­sus, as Fou­cault explains in his essay “The Sub­ject and Power”:

The exer­cise of power may well inspire as much accep­tance as one would like: it can pile up the dead and hide itself behind what­ever threats it can imag­ine. In itself the exer­cise of power is not a vio­lence which some­times hides, nor is it an implic­itly renewed con­sent. It is a set of actions upon pos­si­ble actions; it oper­ates in the field of pos­si­bil­ity where the behav­ior of act­ing sub­jects is inscribed: it incites, it induces, it seduces, it makes eas­ier or more dif­fi­cult, it enlarges or lim­its, it ren­ders more or less prob­a­ble; in the extreme it con­strains or for­bids absolutely; but it is nev­er­the­less always a way of act­ing upon an act­ing sub­ject or act­ing sub­jects by virtue of their act­ing or being capa­ble of action…to gov­ern in this sense is to struc­ture the pos­si­ble field of action of oth­ers.20

The new power estab­lished in this way is one exer­cised not on real, already accom­plished actions, but on pos­si­ble ones whose imple­men­ta­tion it antic­i­pates by “struc­tur­ing the field of pos­si­ble action” in which the lat­ter will take place. This field of pos­si­ble action is pre­cisely what con­sti­tutes sec­ond nature, whose sub­jects are con­fig­ured so as to respond to what is expected of them with­out any need either to per­suade or force them. For they them­selves are “pos­si­ble” sub­jects, assem­bled from birth and trained so as to be more eas­ily gov­erned, that is, from the per­spec­tive of our return to Marx, eco­nom­i­cally “pro­duc­tive.” Homo oeco­nom­i­cus, whose inte­gra­tion is accom­plished by this struc­ture, is a fic­tion in that its real­ity or “nature” is com­pletely fab­ri­cated as a sec­ond nature; but this fic­tion nec­es­sar­ily became real from the his­tor­i­cal moment when it became part of the func­tion­ing of the mech­a­nisms it blindly serves.

It should now be clear why Bour­dieu and Fou­cault con­verge in dis­miss­ing the ref­er­ence to ide­ol­ogy, which pur­ports to place between peo­ple, their nat­u­ral dis­po­si­tions, and the his­tor­i­cal forms within which these are exploited an inter­me­di­ate layer occu­pied by ideal rep­re­sen­ta­tions located in the spirit. From this point of view, the Althusse­rian the­ory of the ide­o­log­i­cal inter­pel­la­tion of indi­vid­u­als into sub­jects is inap­pro­pri­ate and is diag­nosed as the return of a ram­pant spir­i­tu­al­ism. For them, the pro­ce­dure of sub­jec­tion takes place entirely at the level of the body as an act of pen­e­tra­tion or pos­ses­sion which nei­ther cor­re­sponds to any rec­og­niz­able goals of its own nor requires the medi­a­tion of any word, good or bad, because it becomes iden­ti­cal with the course of its repro­duc­tion. And it should be acknowl­edged that if the pro­ce­dure by which the power that pro­duces is trans­formed into a pro­duc­tive power finds its jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in the ide­ol­ogy of growth which intel­lec­tu­ally reunites the out­come of the pro­ce­dure in the dis­course of the cap­i­tal­ist who has him­self, lit­tle by lit­tle, and blindly, devel­oped this same pro­ce­dure, not know­ing exactly where he was going: then this ide­ol­ogy, which inter­ve­nes after the fact and takes the form of a sec­ondary elab­o­ra­tion whose role is to jus­tify recu­per­a­tion, has at best only an aux­il­iary value. It does not play any direct role in the oper­a­tion through which this trans­for­ma­tion takes place, a trans­for­ma­tion that can­not be reduced to a lan­guage game. It does not make the deci­sion. For the sys­tem of wage-labor – with its speci­fic type of sub­jec­tion that con­di­tions the exis­tence of the pro­duc­tive sub­ject and not only the sub­ject that pro­duces – to work it is not nec­es­sary for ideas and words to be prime movers. What is required are tech­no­log­i­cal and insti­tu­tional mech­a­nisms which com­pre­hen­sively refash­ion the sta­tus of the liv­ing beings sub­ject to this regime, that is the com­plex total­ity of the pro­ce­dures which Fou­cault groups together under the con­cept of “biopower.” Such a power is exer­cised and pro­duces its effects on the rhythm of life itself which, hav­ing taken over, it strives to recre­ate ab ini­tio. When the cap­i­tal­ist hires pro­duc­tive sub­jects –the bear­ers of a two-sided labor-power, both Arbeit­skraft and Arbeitsver­mö­gen, a divi­sion that enables him to extract sur­plus value in its two forms, absolute, by extend­ing the length of the work­ing day, and rel­a­tive, by low­er­ing the cost of goods through rais­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity – he does not have to act the smooth-talk­ing sales­man and con­vince them of the rea­son­able­ness of this divi­sion. This divi­sion appears to them, that is the pro­duc­tive sub­jects they have become, an estab­lished fact that they do not have the choice of accept­ing or refus­ing. Bour­dieu is right to claim that their servi­tude is by no means vol­un­tary sim­ply because there is no need, or even pos­si­bil­ity, for it to be so con­sid­ered to be accepted.21

In estab­lish­ing sec­ond nature as part of the process of mak­ing labor-power “pro­duc­tive,” cap­i­tal­ism has as it were dis­solved ide­ol­ogy in econ­omy, in the sense of both the sys­tem of mate­rial pro­duc­tion and the meth­ods that orga­nize it so as to extract max­i­mum profit at min­i­mum loss. One of those meth­ods, accord­ing to Fou­cault, is the dis­ci­pli­nary sys­tem which he defines in gen­eral as fol­lows:

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, it might be said that the dis­ci­plines are tech­niques for assur­ing the order­ing of human mul­ti­plic­i­ties. It is true that there is noth­ing excep­tional or even char­ac­ter­is­tic in this; every sys­tem of power is pre­sented with the same prob­lem. But the pecu­liar­ity of the dis­ci­plines is that they try to define in rela­tion to the mul­ti­plic­i­ties a tac­tics of power that ful­fils three cri­te­ria: firstly, to obtain the exer­cise of power at the low­est pos­si­ble cost (eco­nom­i­cally, by the low expen­di­ture it involves; polit­i­cally, by its dis­cre­tion, its low exte­ri­or­iza­tion, its rel­a­tive invis­i­bil­ity, the lit­tle resis­tance it arouses); sec­ondly, to bring the effects of this social power to their max­i­mum inten­sity and to extend them as far as pos­si­ble, with­out either fail­ure or inter­val; thirdly, to link this ‘eco­nomic’ growth of power with the out­put of the appa­ra­tuses (edu­ca­tional, mil­i­tary, indus­trial or med­ical) within which it is exer­cised; in short, to increase both the docil­ity and the util­ity of all the ele­ments of the sys­tem.22

Fou­cault clearly indi­cates here that this dis­ci­pli­nary econ­omy applies not to indi­vid­u­als taken sep­a­rately but to “mul­ti­plic­i­ties.” It is pre­cisely by incor­po­rat­ing indi­vid­ual lives into such mul­ti­plic­i­ties, “masses,” that it man­ages to “econ­o­mize” their usage in a way that, amongst other sav­ings, obvi­ates the need for ide­o­log­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions. The lat­ter weigh in, if at all, only after the event, when the job is already done, hav­ing no influ­ence over its course, a course already mapped out by sec­ond nature, with lit­tle chance of devi­a­tion and none of rene­go­ti­a­tion.

At first sight, such a sit­u­a­tion seems hope­less. If there is at best still some room left for a change in con­scious­ness, it comes only after the fact, hence too late for the prob­lem to be dis­cussed and nego­ti­ated. Does this mean that the new fig­ure of power – a hor­i­zon­tal power, close to the ground, insid­i­ous, which never has to admit its true nature because it has the advan­tage of appear­ing self-evi­dent and spon­ta­neous – wipes out any pos­si­bil­ity of resis­tance? No, but only on con­di­tion that our under­stand­ing of resis­tance is com­pletely revised. This revi­sion would dis­miss the idea of a global resis­tance, planned and ini­ti­ated from the start from a cen­ter; and because it is based on a clear under­stand­ing of the sit­u­a­tion, draws its effi­cacy from its abil­ity to develop a coher­ent dis­course of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Snared in the “mesh“ of the new power, which catches it so to speak at source in its every­day exis­tence, the pro­duc­tive sub­ject can rely only on mobile points of scat­tered resis­tance that are ini­tially blind and unco­or­di­nated. The insta­bil­ity of the con­junc­ture asso­ci­ated with the ambi­gu­ity of sec­ond nature, which is a mix­ture of order and dis­or­der, opens an inde­fin­able space for such points of resis­tance. Rather than adopt a project of per­ma­nent rup­ture cor­re­spond­ing to the for­mula “class against class” – a strik­ing exam­ple being the ide­o­log­i­cal theme of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary moment of truth, all the more strik­ing because it is divorced from real­ity – the pro­duc­tive sub­ject finds a way to oppose the sys­tem that cap­tures him from birth and con­sti­tutes the key to his sub­jec­tion, a sub­jec­tion that makes him a split sub­ject. He does so by engag­ing in par­tial strug­gles, most often impro­vised, mak­ing the most of those occa­sions when the under­ly­ing ambi­gu­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions of the sys­tem, whose trace can­not be com­pletely erased, come to the fore. There is no recourse against biopower, at least in the begin­ning, save in forms of bio-resis­tance that, with­out illu­sions and with the energy of despair, exploit its weak­nesses as much as pos­si­ble. They do so post­pon­ing the syn­the­sis, the pro­vi­sional reuni­fi­ca­tion of these dis­persed ini­tia­tives even if it means tak­ing up the prob­lem from scratch when the oppor­tu­nity arises. There­fore, the pro­duc­tive sub­ject is left with plu­ral strate­gies, whose threads he is in no hurry to gather into gen­eral pro­grammes. The lat­ter are nec­es­sar­ily mis­lead­ing if they claim to defin­i­tively resolve the ques­tion with which they are con­fronted, a ques­tion whose clear and ratio­nal per­cep­tion emerges only grad­u­ally with­out promises or guar­an­tees. The best thing for the worker, when pres­sured to be always more pro­duc­tive, is to fol­low the very path taken by the cap­i­tal­ist to estab­lish the sys­tem of exploita­tion from which he hopes to extract the max­i­mum profit. Namely, he must pro­ceed by trial and error, step by step, so as to estab­lish lit­tle by lit­tle, against the tech­nolo­gies of power that have taken con­trol of his very exis­tence, tech­nolo­gies of resis­tance that strive where pos­si­ble to loosen this grip. It is there­fore in the very process of pro­duc­tion, where the employer deploys var­i­ous fig­ures of author­ity, that the sub­ju­gated worker comes to fight and oppose the author­ity which has suc­ceeded in pen­e­trat­ing the inner­most recesses of his being. This strug­gle and this oppo­si­tion, how­ever, have no chance of suc­cess if they are waged indi­vid­u­ally. That is why they have to be taken in charge by work­ers’ asso­ci­a­tions, mainly by what are today called unions, that orga­nize their protests down to the last detail and sub­or­di­nate them to more and more col­lab­o­ra­tive and coor­di­nated plan­ning in such a way as to rid them of the unfin­ished char­ac­ter to which they are con­demned as long as they remain spon­ta­neous.

The New Power and Forms of Authority Developed Within the Labor Process Itself

From the above we can see why Fou­cault was par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the pas­sages of Cap­i­tal which high­light fig­ures of author­ity that are closely bound up with the labor process and rep­re­sent the advent of the new form of power. It is pos­si­ble in par­tic­u­lar to re-read the few pages con­cern­ing coop­er­a­tion of the eleventh chap­ter (Chap­ter 13 of Joseph Roy’s trans­la­tion) of the fourth sec­tion of the first book of Cap­i­tal where some speci­fic modal­i­ties of the inte­gra­tion of power rela­tions with the labor process are exam­ined: a trick the cap­i­tal­ist employs, like a magi­cian, to over­come the oppo­si­tion between free­dom and neces­sity to his advan­tage.

The first con­di­tion of this inte­gra­tion is pro­vided by the assem­bly of work­ers in the same place of work, not only next to but together with each other:

A large num­ber of work­ers work­ing together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you like, in the same field of labour, auf dem sel­ben Arbeits­feld), in order to pro­duce the same sort of com­mod­ity under the com­mand of the same cap­i­tal­ist, con­sti­tutes the start­ing point of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. This is true both his­tor­i­cally and con­cep­tu­ally.23

This assem­bly in the same “field” where their oper­a­tions are to be coor­di­nated has a direct impact on the way the work­ers set their labor-power in motion:

Even with­out an alter­ation in the method of work, the simul­ta­ne­ous employ­ment of a large num­ber of work­ers pro­duces a rev­o­lu­tion in the objec­tive con­di­tions of the labour process.24

Accord­ing to the proverb, “unity is strength,” a power result­ing not only from the addi­tion of asso­ci­ated ele­ments but from their com­bi­na­tion, which by syn­the­sis­ing them cre­ates a new power whose pro­duc­tive poten­tial is increased both quan­ti­ta­tively and qual­i­ta­tively:25

Just as the offen­sive power of a squadron of cav­alry, or the defen­sive power of an infantry reg­i­ment, is essen­tially dif­fer­ent from the sum of the offen­sive or defen­sive pow­ers of the indi­vid­ual sol­diers taken sep­a­rately, so the sum total of the mechan­i­cal forces exerted by iso­lated work­ers dif­fers from the social force that is devel­oped when many hands co-oper­ate in the same undi­vided oper­a­tion, such as rais­ing a heavy weight, turn­ing a winch or get­ting an obsta­cle out of the way. In such cases the effect of the com­bined labour could either not be pro­duced at all by iso­lated indi­vid­ual labour, or it could be pro­duced only by a great expen­di­ture of time, or on a very dwarf-like scale. Not only do we have here an increase in the pro­duc­tive power of the indi­vid­ual, by means of co-oper­a­tion, but the cre­ation of a new pro­duc­tive power, which is intrin­si­cally a col­lec­tive one.26

The com­bined work­ing day pro­duces a greater quan­tity of use val­ues than an equal sum of iso­lated work­ing days, and con­se­quently dimin­ishes the labour-time nec­es­sary for the pro­duc­tion of a given use­ful effect. Whether the com­bined work­ing day, in a given case, acquires this increased pro­duc­tiv­ity because it height­ens the mechan­i­cal force of labour, or extends its sphere of action over a greater space, or con­tracts the field of pro­duc­tion rel­a­tively to the scale of pro­duc­tion, or at the crit­i­cal moment sets large masses of labour to work, or excites rivalry between indi­vid­u­als and raises their ani­mal spir­its, or impresses on the sim­i­lar oper­a­tions car­ried on by a num­ber of men the stamp of con­ti­nu­ity and many-sid­ed­ness, or per­forms dif­fer­ent oper­a­tions simul­ta­ne­ously, or econ­o­mizes the means of pro­duc­tion by use in com­mon, or lends to indi­vid­ual labour the char­ac­ter of aver­age social labour – whichever of these is the cause of the increase, the spe­cial pro­duc­tive power of the com­bined work­ing day is, under all cir­cum­stances, the social pro­duc­tive power of labour, or the pro­duc­tive power of social labour. This power arises from co-oper­a­tion itself.27

In par­tic­u­lar, once it became a part of this col­lec­tive power indi­vid­ual labor-power changed its nature, mak­ing it cal­cu­la­ble accord­ing to dif­fer­ent para­me­ters. It has ceased to be this or that power whose char­ac­ter is specif­i­cally deter­mined by the bod­ily exis­tence of its owner. As explained, it has become labor-power, even social labor-power, mea­sur­able accord­ing to uni­fied cri­te­ria, enabling the plan­ning, the ratio­nal­iza­tion of its appli­ca­tion in order to increase its pro­duc­tiv­ity, a notion applied to labor-power in gen­eral, ter­med social labor-power, before being extended to the par­tic­u­lar labor-power of indi­vid­u­als. The main aspect of this change is con­sti­tuted by the appear­ance of, what Marx calls, “the aver­age work­ing day.” At the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury Tay­lor will take up this con­cept when talk­ing of “the loyal work­ing day,” the basic unit of his sys­tem of ratio­nal work orga­ni­za­tion. Like Quetelet’s “aver­age man,” this aver­age work­ing day is an abstrac­tion since it never actu­ally com­pletely coin­cides with the con­crete activ­ity of any given worker united in the same field of work, for whom this notion at best func­tions as a bench­mark, a pro­gram to ful­fill, pre­sup­pos­ing a cer­tain mar­gin of approx­i­ma­tion or error. But for the cap­i­tal­ist, this abstrac­tion is no longer exactly an abstrac­tion inas­much as he takes it into account in the cal­cu­la­tions accord­ing to which he man­ages his enter­prise. In effect, work for him exists only as the result of the employ­ment of a “col­lec­tive power,” and is defined as such in his accounts. Assert­ing his author­ity, he strives to trans­late this power into real­ity in his work­shops where work­ers are brought to work together and not sep­a­rately, each by and/or for him­self.

Let us note in pass­ing that, beyond the trans­for­ma­tions that coop­er­a­tion stamps upon the pro­duc­tive con­sump­tion of labor-power ‒ which thereby becomes a “col­lec­tive power” – the char­ac­ter­is­tic of the new type of soci­ety, whose estab­lish­ment coin­cides with the indus­trial rev­o­lu­tion and which Fou­cault calls “the soci­ety of norms,” is the, so to speak, mass28 assem­bly and man­age­ment of its sub­jects. Thanks to ana­lytic tools such as sta­tis­tics and prob­a­bil­ity cal­cu­lus – pre­vi­ously unknown to the state admin­is­tra­tion– it has become pos­si­ble to eval­u­ate col­lec­tive per­for­mance not on the scale of iso­lated cases but of large num­bers, and from there to antic­i­pate the devel­op­ment of this per­for­mance and to adjust its course with the aim of improv­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity. Instead of being car­ried out on an ad hoc basis, in a dis­or­ga­nized way, indi­vid­ual actions are in some way antic­i­pated, pre­pared, pre­fig­ured by the global sys­tem within which they occur, thereby influ­enc­ing their out­come. One of the aspects of this change is rep­re­sented by the trans­for­ma­tion of agents of pro­duc­tion into pro­duc­tive sub­jects which fun­da­men­tally mod­i­fies the con­di­tions in which their work is done. In terms of work results, pro­duc­tive sub­jects must now meet pro­grammed expec­ta­tions over which they have lost con­trol. The objec­tives they must achieve are deter­minable prior to the process charged with accom­plish­ing them. What is deci­sive in this regard is that one has begun to think in terms of pos­si­bil­i­ties that can be defined inde­pen­dently of their imple­men­ta­tion. In gen­eral, “pow­ers” are sought out even beyond the lim­its of the field of man­u­fac­ture or indus­trial pro­duc­tion. These pow­ers have the sta­tus of vir­tual real­i­ties which are imparted in advance with capac­i­ties that have only to be actu­al­ized by con­form­ing to the mod­els pre­scribed to them.

In a soci­ety of norms every­thing is pro­grammed or can be pro­grammed. The behav­ior of each indi­vid­ual com­pelled to take his place in a process that is molded in such a way loses the char­ac­ter of indi­vid­ual actions pos­sess­ing an intrin­sic value. It is listed, cat­a­logued, for­mat­ted accord­ing to func­tional cri­te­ria that are not up for dis­cus­sion and impose them­selves by claim­ing to be self-evi­dent. In such a col­lec­tive way of life which is, as we already observed in rela­tion to indus­trial pro­duc­tion, meta­physics in action, one could say, in fact, that essence pre­cedes exis­tence. The order estab­lished fol­low­ing this type of pro­ce­dure is bind­ing but exerts its con­straints more smoothly, insid­i­ously, pre­cisely because it takes the sub­jects to which it is applied at the very source, antic­i­pat­ing their behav­ior, prepar­ing and lead­ing them towards their goal by incor­po­rat­ing itself into their con­duct. When their behav­ior does not com­ply with set objec­tives they are penal­ized with rejec­tion, side­lined with­out any need for for­mal sanc­tion. In this respect, we can speak of con­di­tion­ing by a norm which no longer depends on obe­di­ence to exter­nal com­mands, for like what we pre­vi­ously called “sec­ond nature,” it has become com­pletely imma­nent to the processes it affects as it com­pletes them. In this way, the new pol­i­tics of “pop­u­la­tions” of which Fou­cault speaks is prop­a­gated, a pol­i­tics that is simul­ta­ne­ously and insep­a­ra­bly an eco­nom­ics since, in the last instance, it is at the level of the econ­omy that the new chal­lenges of power are defined, from which new fig­ures of sub­jec­tion fol­low.

These remarks allow us to bet­ter grasp the scope and lim­its of the con­cept of “the dis­ci­pli­nary soci­ety,” on which Fou­cault from the out­set based his expla­na­tion of the nature of the new type of power estab­lished dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 18th cen­tury within the speci­fic frame­work of lib­eral soci­ety. The usage of this con­cept, intro­duced by Fou­cault in 1975 in Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, encoun­ters a basic prob­lem. Does describ­ing a cer­tain type of a soci­ety as “dis­ci­pli­nary” mean attribut­ing to it an orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple, “dis­ci­pline,” that applies equally to all its aspects and con­se­quently deter­mi­nes it in its very being, more pre­cisely in its “dis­ci­pli­nary being?” This issue is raised by Stéphane Legrand in his arti­cle, “Le marx­isme oublié de Fou­cault,” which warns against the essen­tial­ist and reduc­tive syn­cretism of the notion of dis­ci­pline under which Fou­cault some­times seems to sub­sume mutu­ally het­ero­ge­neous forms of sub­jec­tion, reduc­ing these to a sin­gle process for which “dis­ci­pline” always pro­vides the model: “One won­ders, how is it that this same schema can be used to pro­duce train­ing, mil­i­tary prowess, pro­duc­tiv­ity at work, hos­pi­tal treat­ment?”29 In the same spirit, we could ques­tion the rel­e­vance of the con­cept of “norm” when it lays claim to an explana­tory value in itself. How­ever, it is clear that when Fou­cault talks about the “soci­ety of norms” – if this for­mula means any­thing and can be taken seri­ously – it is not in ref­er­ence to the ideal model of a soci­ety of the norm but to a real­ity of a com­pletely dif­fer­ent order, to a com­plex and dif­fer­en­ti­ated game of norms, a notion that is at any rate bet­ter to employ only in the plu­ral. Oth­er­wise one risks attribut­ing to dif­fer­ent norms, coex­ist­ing at a given moment and poten­tially con­fronting each other in the same his­tor­i­cal social for­ma­tion, a sin­gle pur­pose relat­ing to the speci­fic power of a norm in itself, con­sid­ered both as an essence and as a cause. When, in Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, Fou­cault talks about “dis­ci­pline” in the sin­gu­lar (as he does when he gives this title to the third part of the book) he takes pre­cisely this risk and even appears to make mat­ters worse when he presents the panop­tic schema not as a par­tic­u­lar exam­ple but as a sort of model that, start­ing from the speci­fic case of the prison, can be uni­ver­sally applied, to other dis­ci­pli­nary insti­tu­tions like the army, school, work­shop, hos­pi­tal, etc…The notion of dis­ci­pline, like that of “norm,” can only serve as an effec­tive ana­lytic tool if it ceases to be reduced to the abstract pre­sup­po­si­tion of a con­ver­gence of its forms of appli­ca­tion and is instead directed towards the inter­ac­tion of these forms in a con­text where their con­tent is exposed to per­pet­ual rene­go­ti­a­tion. Anal­o­gously, if one presents the inter­ven­tion of norms in the social order by reduc­ing it to a pro­gram of “ratio­nal­iza­tion” for­mu­lated with ref­er­ence to the prin­ci­ple of a rea­son entirely con­sti­tuted a pri­ori in itself, one erases at once the his­tor­i­cal and thus con­junc­tural char­ac­ter of this inter­ven­tion.30

This gen­eral objec­tion is not the only one that we can make to the notion of the “dis­ci­pli­nary soci­ety.” If the soci­ety of norms was noth­ing but a soci­ety of dis­ci­pline, this would mean that the only point of appli­ca­tion for its mech­a­nisms would be behav­ior, and more specif­i­cally indi­vid­ual bod­ily behav­iors whose reform is pre­cisely their objec­tive. How­ever, what char­ac­ter­izes the soci­ety of norms is pre­cisely that it does not treat indi­vid­u­als as such but as ele­ments form­ing larger groups, the type formed by pop­u­la­tions. Thanks to this move, it is capa­ble of “gov­ern­ing” them in the very speci­fic mean­ing that Fou­cault imparts to this notion, that is, to use a for­mula we have already encoun­tered, “struc­tur­ing the field of their pos­si­ble action.” When Marx speaks of the “field of labor (Arbeits­feld),” where the cap­i­tal­ist orga­nizes the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus value under his com­mand, he aims pre­cisely at some­thing of this kind. Within such a “field,” the work­ers have ceased to exist as indi­vid­u­als and become pro­duc­tive sub­jects, totally immersed in the “col­lec­tive power,” that is in a col­lec­tive body out­side of which they no longer have a real­ity of their own.

Let us bring this digres­sion to an end and return to the analy­sis of new modes of the labor process, in so far as they rest upon the con­sump­tion of a col­lec­tive power, thus enabling the increase of its pro­duc­tiv­ity. Thanks to the uni­fi­ca­tion of indi­vid­ual pow­ers into a col­lec­tive power, the cap­i­tal­ist is now in a posi­tion to exert strict con­trol not only over the results of the labor process, hence over its pro­duct as dead labor (Werk, tra­vail, work), but also over its course as the appli­ca­tion of liv­ing labor (Arbeit, tra­vail, labor). The change in scale thus pro­vokes a mod­i­fi­ca­tion in the nature of labor. In the begin­ning the exploitation/extortion of sur­plus value applies to the indi­vid­ual worker, forced to work not for him­self but for another. As exploita­tion becomes inte­grated with and “mas­sifes” the oper­a­tion of the labor process, it comes to apply to the col­lec­tive worker who per­forms labor in com­mon, social labor whose orga­ni­za­tion it now takes in charge:

We also saw that, at first, the com­mand of cap­i­tal over labour (das Kom­mando des Kap­i­tals über die Arbeit) was only a for­mal result of the fact that the worker, instead of work­ing for him­self, works for, and con­se­quently under, the cap­i­tal­ist. Through the co-oper­a­tion of numer­ous wage-labour­ers, the com­mand of cap­i­tal devel­ops into a require­ment for car­ry­ing on the labour process itself, into a real con­di­tion of pro­duc­tion. That a cap­i­tal­ist should com­mand in the field of pro­duc­tion is now as indis­pens­able as that a gen­eral should com­mand on the field of bat­tle. All directly social or com­mu­nal labour on a large scale requires, to a greater or lesser degree, a direct­ing author­ity, in order to secure the har­mo­nious co-oper­a­tion of the activ­i­ties of indi­vid­u­als, and to per­form the gen­eral func­tions that have their origin in the motion of the total pro­duc­tive organ­ism, as dis­tin­guished from the motion of its sep­a­rate organs. A sin­gle vio­lin player is his own con­duc­tor: an orches­tra requires a sep­a­rate one. The work of direct­ing, super­vi­sion and medi­a­tion becomes one of the func­tions of cap­i­tal, from the moment that the labour under capital’s con­trol becomes co-oper­a­tive. As a speci­fic func­tion of cap­i­tal, the direct­ing func­tion acquires its own spe­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics.31

Marx here makes two com­par­isons in order to explain how the cap­i­tal­ist “directs” the exploita­tion of labor-power; on the one hand, with the army gen­eral, and on the other, with the con­duc­tor of an orches­tra. These com­par­isons become even more inter­est­ing once fur­ther par­al­lels have been drawn between them. The orches­tra rep­re­sents modal­i­ties of coop­er­a­tion con­form­ing pri­mar­ily to tech­ni­cal objec­tives; and the army modal­i­ties of coop­er­a­tion involv­ing a ver­ti­cal, hier­ar­chi­cal struc­ture which orga­nizes joint action by trans­mit­ting orders and check­ing that they are fol­lowed in prac­tice, that is obeyed. In line with these two mod­els, a sys­tem of author­ity com­bin­ing sev­eral func­tions is estab­lished: direct­ing, super­vi­sion and medi­a­tion, as enu­mer­ated by Marx in this pas­sage. Direc­tion is the very first form of author­ity which con­sists in giv­ing impe­tus to a move­ment by pre­scrib­ing it an uni­fied ori­en­ta­tion from which it must not devi­ate. It estab­lishes the prin­ci­ple of sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, reduc­ing diver­sity to homo­gene­ity. The very first task the con­duc­tor must ensure instru­men­tal­ists respect is that they play together, and not each for him­self accord­ing to whim. Under the com­mand of its gen­eral, com­mu­ni­cated through its “daily orders,” an army must march “as one man,” leav­ing no space for deviant behav­ior and elim­i­nat­ing in advance rebels or pro­test­ers who have no choice but to exit a game in which they no longer belong. How­ever, this direct form of author­ity, which is exer­cised far and wide, is not enough: left to itself it risks remain­ing a dead let­ter. That is why it must be cir­cu­lated and in a way cashed in, dis­trib­uted. Besides a higher author­ity that in the last instance gives the orders, this pre­sup­poses medi­at­ing bod­ies that super­vise their appli­ca­tion in detail, check­ing that the small­est indi­vid­ual acts con­form to com­mon rules and respect the norms. For this rea­son, instead of being uni­formly com­mu­ni­cated from cen­ter to periph­ery, author­ity expands through the count­less chan­nels of a com­plex orga­ni­za­tion, thus becom­ing suf­fi­ciently flex­i­ble to adapt itself to all aspects of pro­duc­tive activ­ity with­out excep­tion: in other words, it diver­si­fies. How­ever, to avoid diver­si­fi­ca­tion turn­ing into dis­per­sion, flex­i­bil­ity into a fac­tor of dis­or­der, it is nec­es­sary, more­over, that the mul­ti­plic­ity of medi­at­ing bod­ies, which con­cretely enact author­ity in such a way that it pen­e­trates the most min­ute details of the labor process, are not left to them­selves but are kept to the over­all per­spec­tive they must obey and from which they must not be detached. Thus, they are reduced to the sta­tus of “medi­a­tions” chained to one another. Once again, the hier­ar­chi­cal model of the army is fore­grounded. Its aides de camp, offi­cers, N.C.O.s, mar­tinets and min­ions of all kinds ensure that power, instead of resid­ing only at the head, is present at all points of the orga­ni­za­tion, even the most min­ute, where it is repro­duced, “rep­re­sented” to the extent that it is assigned a place within the sys­tem in which it par­tic­i­pates and on which it depends. In such an orga­ni­za­tion, there is not, on the one side, power, and on the other, oppo­site it, those it dom­i­nates, but a com­plex net­work whose pro­lif­er­at­ing inter­me­di­ary links occupy posi­tions that are at the same time those of dom­i­nant and dom­i­nated. Here obey­ing and com­mand­ing are no longer alter­na­tive func­tions but com­bine to the point where they can no longer be dis­tin­guished from one another, which means that those occu­py­ing these places obey by com­mand­ing. In this way, the oper­a­tions of direc­tion-super­vi­sion-medi­a­tion, which enable the orga­ni­za­tion of the labor process to pro­duce the max­i­mum rel­a­tive sur­plus value, are based on this orga­ni­za­tion, which becomes thor­oughly entan­gled in the “meshes of power” from which it can no longer escape. Fou­cault took up this idea in sum­mary fash­ion in his Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish:

Sur­veil­lance thus becomes a deci­sive eco­nomic oper­a­tor both as an inter­nal part of the pro­duc­tion machin­ery and as a speci­fic mech­a­nism in the dis­ci­pli­nary power.32

In a foot­note, Fou­cault cites the end of the pas­sage of Chap­ter 13 (Chap­ter 11 of the orig­i­nal Ger­man edi­tion) of the Roy trans­la­tion of Cap­i­tal that we have just com­mented on.33

In this regard, one can speak of a gen­er­al­iza­tion of author­ity, which as it extends becomes imma­nent to the process of its real­iza­tion, with which it fully merges. Para­dox­i­cally, this gen­er­al­iza­tion, which in the begin­ning fol­lows a pat­tern of homog­e­niza­tion, leads to an oper­a­tion of spec­i­fi­ca­tion or spe­cial­iza­tion, thus grant­ing rel­a­tive auton­omy to the medi­at­ing instances that we have just been dis­cussing:

If cap­i­tal­ist direc­tion is thus twofold in con­tent, owing to the twofold nature of the process of pro­duc­tion which has to be directed-on the one hand a social labour process for the cre­ation of a pro­duct, and on the other hand capital’s process of val­oriza­tion - in form it is purely despotic (despo­tisch). As co-oper­a­tion extends its scale, this despo­tism (Despo­tismus) devel­ops the forms that are pecu­liar to it. Just as at first the cap­i­tal­ist is relieved from actual labour as soon as his cap­i­tal has reached that min­i­mum amount with which cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion, prop­erly speak­ing, first begins, so now he hands over the work of direct and con­stant super­vi­sion of the indi­vid­ual work­ers and groups of work­ers to a spe­cial kind of wage-labourer. An indus­trial army of work­ers under the com­mand of a cap­i­tal­ist requires, like a real army, offi­cers (man­agers) and N.C.O.s (fore­men, over­seers), who com­mand dur­ing the labour process in the name of cap­i­tal. The work of super­vi­sion becomes their estab­lished and exclu­sive func­tion.34

In order to adhere to the oper­a­tion of the labor process, the com­mand of cap­i­tal fol­lows it in the dou­ble sense of guid­ing and super­vis­ing it, step by step, in such a way that the pres­sure that com­mand exerts is per­ma­nent and the chances of dis­crep­ancy or loss are kept to a min­i­mum. Con­se­quently, mass pro­duc­tion refines the forms of the divi­sion of labor, sep­a­rat­ing out func­tions cor­re­spond­ing to activ­i­ties that are not directly pro­duc­tive and per­form this role of guid­ance and super­vi­sion. The idea of super­vi­sion, as Fou­cault has shown, notably in the stud­ies devoted to dis­ci­pli­nary pro­ce­dures, is part and parcel of the func­tion­ing of the soci­ety of norms. What specif­i­cally does the super­vi­sion of activ­i­ties mean? It means that activ­i­ties should not only be con­trolled after­wards in terms of their effects or results but super­vised at source even before they have begun to take effect. The sys­tem of super­vi­sion has pri­mar­ily a pre­ven­tive role, acts as a deter­rent. It pre­fig­ures the ends it seeks to enforce and is the more effec­tive as it has no need to inter­vene in the activ­i­ties with sanc­tions or pun­ish­ment. This is exactly the func­tion assigned to man­age­rial staff whose author­ity, pre­cisely because it ful­fils a super­vi­sory func­tion, oper­ates in close con­tact with the labor process, which it “fol­lows” step by step and even pre­cedes, direct­ing the lat­ter in a such a way as to leave no mar­gin of devi­a­tion or error. Thanks to these inter­me­di­aries, the com­mand of cap­i­tal spreads through­out the pro­duc­tive body, through­out the col­lec­tive power of social labor, tak­ing full con­trol using dif­fer­ent chan­nels whose orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture it has mas­tered. This is the pre­con­di­tion for its spread­ing with­out dilut­ing. On the con­trary, it is all the stronger for employ­ing this mul­ti­plic­ity of chan­nels which refine its dis­tri­b­u­tion.

This dis­tri­b­u­tion, end­ing up with the diver­si­fi­ca­tion of con­trol and super­vi­sion tasks, is even­tu­ally accom­plished by the sep­a­ra­tion of man­ual and intel­lec­tual labor, that is labor which is not sat­is­fied with just “doing” the job or work­ing but in return reflects upon it. This reflec­tion on the orga­ni­za­tion of the labor process, which aims to set in motion the new col­lec­tive power cre­ated by coop­er­a­tion, is accom­plished both at a dis­tance and in close prox­im­ity, on an ad hoc basis and unin­ter­rupt­edly. Freed from mate­rial, that is man­ual forms of labor, intel­lec­tual labor of dif­fer­ent lev­els of grad­u­a­tion pro­vides itself with the means to inter­vene all the time and every­where. The first to free him­self from the process of pro­duc­tion prop­erly speak­ing – that is the pro­duc­tive con­sump­tion of labor power – is the cap­i­tal­ist or boss. From his office, he pulls all the strings, takes impor­tant deci­sions, defines com­pany strat­egy. In his train, lit­tle by lit­tle, all those he needs to trans­mit his orders and make sure they are cor­rectly applied become detached or rather spe­cial­ized in the “super­vi­sion” of the work of oth­ers – mes­sen­gers, inspec­tors, secu­rity per­son­nel, drill sergeants of every shape and stripe, to whom he del­e­gates a part of his author­ity so as to con­sol­i­date its exten­sion.

In this respect, we can talk about an econ­omy of power which is simul­ta­ne­ously a con­ser­va­tion of power. Author­ity is man­aged like a mate­rial power, thereby rein­forc­ing its effec­tive­ness, whose mea­sure in the last instance is the max­i­mum pro­duc­tion of profit. Let us cite in this con­nec­tion a final pas­sage from the chap­ter of Cap­i­tal on coop­er­a­tion, which sum­ma­rizes its gains:

The worker is the owner of his labour-power until he has fin­ished bar­gain­ing for its sale with the cap­i­tal­ist, and he can sell no more than what he has – i.e. his indi­vid­ual, iso­lated labour-power. This rela­tion between cap­i­tal and labour is in no way altered by the fact that the cap­i­tal­ist, instead of buy­ing the labour-power of one man, buys that of 100, and enters into sep­a­rate con­tracts with 100 uncon­nected men instead of with one. He can set the 100 men to work, with­out let­ting them co-oper­ate. He pays them the value of 100 inde­pen­dent labour-pow­ers, but he does not pay for the com­bined labour-power of the 100. Being inde­pen­dent of each other, the work­ers are iso­lated. They enter into rela­tions with the cap­i­tal­ist, but not with each other. Their co-oper­a­tion only begins with the labour process, but by then they have ceased to belong to them­selves. On enter­ing the labour process they are incor­po­rated into cap­i­tal. As co-oper­a­tors, as mem­bers of a work­ing organ­ism, they merely form a par­tic­u­lar mode of exis­tence of cap­i­tal. Hence the pro­duc­tive power devel­oped by the worker socially is the pro­duc­tive power of cap­i­tal. The socially pro­duc­tive power of labour devel­ops as a free gift to cap­i­tal when­ever the work­ers are placed under cer­tain con­di­tions, and it is cap­i­tal which places them under these con­di­tions. Because this power costs cap­i­tal noth­ing, while on the other hand it is not devel­oped by the worker until his labour itself belongs to cap­i­tal, it appears as a power which cap­i­tal pos­sesses by its nature – a pro­duc­tive power inher­ent in cap­i­tal.35

This brings us back to the analy­ses pre­sented at the begin­ning of this essay. What the cap­i­tal­ist buys and pays with a wage – under the terms of the labor con­tract, which is an exchange between par­ties free and equal in law – is the pos­si­bil­ity of using the labor-power of each indi­vid­ual pro­ducer for a cer­tain time within the spa­tial lim­its of his firm. But, in real­ity, what he exploits in order to extract a sur­plus value that he appro­pri­ates in full is a gen­eral pro­duc­tive power that is more than the sum of indi­vid­ual labor-pow­ers, and which con­se­quently he obtains gratis. This gen­eral pro­duc­tive power – that, in Marx’s words, “cap­i­tal pos­sesses by its nature, a pro­duc­tive power inher­ent in cap­i­tal” – is the speci­fic result of coop­er­a­tion which inserts indi­vid­ual activ­i­ties into the col­lec­tive labor process as it is per­formed under the com­mand of cap­i­tal, cor­re­spond­ing to pro­duc­tiv­ity norms that have lit­er­ally seized hold of these activ­i­ties by plac­ing them under con­trol and super­vi­sion. The author­ity the cap­i­tal­ist exer­cises in this con­text is legit­i­mate, there­fore legally unas­sail­able, for it rests on an exchange based on rules mutu­ally agreed by the con­tract­ing par­ties. Besides being legit­i­mate this con­tract is from the point of view of the cap­i­tal­ist also effi­cient since its imple­men­ta­tion “returns” a sur­plus value in the form of the pro­duc­tion of rel­a­tive sur­plus value that con­sti­tutes his own profit. With­out any prospect of profit, unless he is a saint, which is unlikely, he would never embark on any such under­tak­ing. This enter­prise turns him into what we have pro­posed to call a meta­physi­cian in action, one bring­ing together all the con­di­tions required for essence to pre­cede exis­tence not only on paper but in real­ity as well. At a push, one could say that cap­i­tal­ist indus­trial pro­duc­tion man­u­fac­tures the human essence as a form of pro­duc­tive power in order to exploit it.

One can appre­ci­ate how much these analy­ses might have inter­ested Fou­cault and encour­aged him in his efforts to develop a new, non-juridi­cal con­cep­tion of power. These analy­ses make it pos­si­ble to get at, what he called, the “real func­tion­ing” of power, of which the law is, at best, the ide­o­log­i­cal reverse, that is, a rep­re­sen­ta­tion out of step with how it actu­ally oper­ates. How­ever, one can­not say in the abstract that this ide­ol­ogy is purely and sim­ply wrong and as such should be rejected as an illu­sion that it would suf­fice to dis­pel. For, in its own way, it par­tic­i­pates in the func­tion­ing of power and con­tributes to its effec­tive­ness:

Let me offer a gen­eral and tac­ti­cal rea­son that seems self-evi­dent: power is tol­er­a­ble only on con­di­tion that it mask a sub­stan­tial part of itself. Its suc­cess is pro­por­tional to its abil­ity to hide its own mech­a­nisms. Would power be accepted if it were entirely cyn­i­cal? For it, secrecy is not in the nature of an abuse; it is indis­pens­able to its oper­a­tion. Not only because power imposes secrecy on those whom it dom­i­nates, but because it is per­haps just as indis­pens­able to the lat­ter: would they accept it if they did not see it as a mere limit placed on their desire, leav­ing a mea­sure of free­dom how­ever slight – intact? Power as a pure limit set on free­dom is, at least in our soci­ety, the gen­eral form of its accept­abil­ity.36

To be pro­duc­tive, power must become inte­grated into net­works that, along with wealth-pro­duc­ing mate­rial goods, pro­duce the bod­ies which labo­ri­ously man­u­fac­ture these very goods, con­form­ing to norms that gov­ern their man­u­fac­ture. The con­di­tion for this is that the action of power is grad­ual, with­out draw­ing atten­tion or being rec­og­nized, oth­er­wise its attempts at pen­e­tra­tion run into points of resis­tance that its advance, once exposed, in turn pro­vokes. To achieve this goal, that is to remain invis­i­ble, power uses decoys, includ­ing the inverted rep­re­sen­ta­tion of its action pro­vided by juridi­cal dis­course. The trick is to recu­per­ate this rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which taken in itself cor­re­sponds to noth­ing real, and make it an ele­ment of the tech­nol­ogy of power.37 This oper­a­tion, which reduces the law to the level of a pure rep­re­sen­ta­tion dis­con­nected from any real con­tent, and thus to a neg­a­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion, does not have a time­less char­ac­ter, but takes place, as Fou­cault spec­i­fies, “at least in our soci­ety.” In other words, it should not be used to char­ac­ter­ize power in gen­eral, a con­cept devoid of any real con­tent. It rather applies to the type of his­tor­i­cal soci­ety which has made pro­duc­tiv­ity the heart of its exis­tence and devel­oped forms of indus­trial “coop­er­a­tion” to achieve this end, that is, in dif­fer­ent ter­mi­nol­ogy, cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. In the lat­ter the tech­nolo­gies of power have taken on a par­tic­u­larly refined appear­ance, per­mit­ting them amongst other feats to turn the lan­guage of law to their advan­tage as a mask for their real activ­ity which takes place on a plane entirely dif­fer­ent to that of the law and its pro­hi­bi­tions. In other forms of soci­ety, such as feu­dal soci­ety, one might ask whether the law was just a lan­guage serv­ing the same type of dis­course of recov­ery used by the bour­geoisie. Aca­d­e­mic Marx­ism fell head­long into this trap. It took lit­er­ally the dis­course of power elab­o­rated by bour­geois soci­ety which makes power appear as a “super­struc­ture” whose orders come down from high. In real­ity these orders ascend bot­tom up, from the depths of the sys­tem where value is pro­duced. The truth of power, “at least in our soci­ety,” is eco­nomic before being polit­i­cal.38

Accord­ing to Fou­cault, Marx helps us to bet­ter under­stand this, at least in those pas­sages of his work where he decon­structs the “mech­a­nisms” through which cap­i­tal exerts its author­ity over labor, exploit­ing labor-power so as to increase its “pro­duc­tiv­ity.” But, for this to hap­pen the sub­jects must them­selves be made “pro­duc­tive,” thanks to appro­pri­ate pro­ce­dures of sub­jec­tion which are part of the estab­lish­ment of the new econ­omy. These com­plex pro­ce­dures of sub­jec­tion are related to the estab­lish­ment of the new form of power which, by over­com­ing the alter­na­tive between the indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive, con­stantly moves back and forth between the sphere of the econ­omy and that of pol­i­tics. As Fou­cault has explained in a key pas­sage of Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish where he refers in a note to Chap­ter 11/13 of Cap­i­tal on coop­er­a­tion, and to Deleule and Guéry’s Pro­duc­tive Body:

If the eco­nomic take-off of the West began with the tech­niques that made pos­si­ble the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal, it might per­haps be said that the meth­ods for admin­is­ter­ing the accu­mu­la­tion of men made pos­si­ble a polit­i­cal take-off in rela­tion to the tra­di­tional, rit­ual, costly, vio­lent forms of power, which soon fell into dis­use and were super­seded by a sub­tle, cal­cu­lated tech­nol­ogy of sub­jec­tion. In fact, the two processes – the accu­mu­la­tion of men and the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal – can­not be sep­a­rated; it would not have been pos­si­ble to solve the prob­lem of the accu­mu­la­tion of men with­out the growth of an appa­ra­tus of pro­duc­tion capa­ble of both sus­tain­ing them and using them; con­versely, the tech­niques that made the cumu­la­tive mul­ti­plic­ity of men use­ful accel­er­ated the accu­mu­la­tion of cap­i­tal. At a less gen­eral level, the tech­no­log­i­cal muta­tions of the appa­ra­tus of pro­duc­tion, the divi­sion of labor and the elab­o­ra­tion of the dis­ci­pli­nary tech­niques sus­tained an ensem­ble of very close rela­tions (cf. Marx, Cap­i­tal, Vol. I, Chap­ter XIII and the very inter­est­ing analy­sis in Guéry and Deleule). Each makes the other pos­si­ble and nec­es­sary; each pro­vides a model for the other. The dis­ci­pli­nary pyra­mid con­sti­tuted the small cell of power within which the sep­a­ra­tion, coor­di­na­tion and super­vi­sion of tasks was imposed and made effi­cient; and ana­lyt­i­cal par­ti­tion­ing of time, ges­tures and bod­ily forces con­sti­tuted an oper­a­tional schema that could eas­ily be trans­ferred from the groups to be sub­jected to the mech­a­nisms of pro­duc­tion; the mas­sive pro­jec­tion of mil­i­tary meth­ods onto indus­trial orga­ni­za­tion was an exam­ple of this mod­el­ling of the divi­sion of labor fol­low­ing the model laid down by the schemata of power. But, on the other hand, the tech­ni­cal analy­sis of the process of pro­duc­tion, its “mechan­i­cal” break­ing-down, were pro­jected onto the labor force whose task it was to imple­ment it: the con­sti­tu­tion of those dis­ci­pli­nary machi­nes in which the indi­vid­ual forces that they bring together are com­posed into a whole and there­fore increased is the effect of this pro­jec­tion. Let us say that dis­ci­pline is the uni­tary tech­nique by which the body is reduced as a ‘polit­i­cal’ force at the least cost and max­i­mized as a use­ful force. The growth of a cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy gave rise to the speci­fic modal­ity of dis­ci­pli­nary power, whose gen­eral for­mu­las, tech­niques of sub­mit­ting forces and bod­ies, in short, “polit­i­cal anatomy,” could be oper­ated in the most diverse polit­i­cal regimes, appa­ra­tuses or insti­tu­tions.39

This pas­sage con­firms, with­out hav­ing to decide between the hypoth­e­sis of a Fou­cault who is (still) a Marx­ist and that of Marx who is (already) a Fou­cauldian, that the encoun­ter between these two ana­lysts of the mod­ern regime of socia­bil­ity had already taken place, result­ing in a new con­cep­tion of power, author­ity ‚and the sub­ject which can be taken as the basis for fur­ther analy­ses.

– Trans­lated by Tijana Okić, Patrick King, and Cory Knud­son

This text was orig­i­nally writ­ten as a con­tri­bu­tion to the col­lec­tive research project headed by Macherey, “Savoirs, Tex­tes, Lan­gage,” and first appeared on the group’s web­site, “La philoso­phie au sens large.” It sub­se­quently appeared in a slightly mod­i­fied form in Macherey’s 2014 col­lec­tion of essays, Le Sujet des normes. The present trans­la­tion is based on the ini­tial ver­sion. We thank the pub­lisher of Le sujet des normes, Édi­tions Ams­ter­dam, for allow­ing the release of the trans­la­tion. 

The trans­la­tors would also like to thank David Broder for com­ments on the draft and Sara Mendes for her help with the dia­gram. 

  1. Michel Fou­cault, “Prison Talk,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Inter­views and Other Writ­ings1972-1977, ed. Colin Gor­don, trans. Colin Gor­don, Leo Mar­shall, John Mepham, and Kate Soper (New York: Pan­theon Books, 1980), 53. 

  2. Michel Fou­cault, The His­tory of Sex­u­al­ity, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Hur­ley (New York: Pan­theon, 1978), 140-141, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  3. Michel Fou­cault, “The Mesh of Power,” trans. Christo­pher Chitty, View­point Mag­a­zine 2 (2012). 

  4. Translator’s Note: This term refers more broadly to some­one who is sym­pa­thetic to Marx­ism. – T.O. 

  5. This out­look is close to the one adopted by Stéphane Legrand in his “Le marx­isme oublié de Fou­cault,” Actuel Marx 36.2 (2004), 27-43: “The fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of the Fou­cauldian the­ory of power rela­tions in “dis­ci­pli­nary soci­ety” will remain per­ma­nently blind unless they are artic­u­lated with a the­ory of exploita­tion and a the­ory of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion” (28). We will not, how­ever, go so far as to affirm, as Legrand does, that Fou­cauldian the­ory was con­structed by rely­ing on a “Marx­ist frame of ref­er­ence” that it strove to hide. The side taken by the present study is to reread Marx in light of Fou­cault, rather than explain Fou­cault using Marx, by estab­lish­ing a rela­tion­ship of one-way deter­mi­na­tion or direct lin­eage between the lat­ter and the for­mer. 

  6. Cf. Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Rea­son for Exchange in Archaic Soci­eties, trans. W.D. Halls (New York: W.W. Nor­ton, 1990). 

  7. See the com­men­tary by Engels in his 1891 intro­duc­tion to the Eng­lish edi­tion of Marx’s Wage-Labor and Cap­i­tal

  8. We can ten­ta­tively make this com­par­ison: in an anal­o­gous fash­ion, dur­ing mass, when the sacra­men­tal words are spo­ken, the piece of bread becomes some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. The sys­tem of wage-labor, which is at the basis of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, basi­cally only trans­poses the mys­tery of tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion onto a worldly level in order to make the high­est profit, instead of rais­ing souls toward the heaven in the hope of earn­ing their sal­va­tion. 

  9. From this per­spec­tive, when Marx intro­duces the con­cept of labor-power into eco­nom­ics, he does so by implic­itly refer­ring to the vital­ist con­cep­tion of force, the­o­rized by [Paul-Joseph] Barthez using the notion of “vital force,” then taken up by [Marie François Xavier] Bichat when the lat­ter defined life as the dom­i­na­tion of life forces over phys­i­cal forces, and inversely death as the dom­i­na­tion of phys­i­cal forces over life forces. In this view, “liv­ing labor” is labor as action, which encoun­ters nat­u­ral obsta­cles that it seeks to over­come; and “dead labor” is labor as result, rein­te­grated with the givens of nature at the moment when, the action hav­ing been com­pleted, death takes hold of life again: the pas­sage from liv­ing labor to dead labor rep­re­sents the entropic con­sump­tion of energy. 

  10. In a per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Éti­enne Bal­ibar writes the fol­low­ing in this regard: “Marx is inter­ested in the ques­tion of the grow­ing ‘dis­pro­por­tion’ between ‘liv­ing labor’ and ‘dead (or objec­ti­fied) labor,’ that is, the fact that with the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ist ‘pro­duc­tiv­ity’ an ever smaller quan­tity of ‘liv­ing labor’ is able to be set in motion, or ‘bring back to life’ – reac­ti­vate – an ever greater quan­tity of ‘dead labor.’ This can be read ‘pos­i­tively’ (the pro­duc­tive power of labor-power con­tin­u­ously increases) or indeed ‘neg­a­tively’ (liv­ing labor is invari­ably dom­i­nated by dead labor); obvi­ously, the Promethean demi­urgy of the ‘social­ist’ Marx con­nects these two per­spec­tives as suc­ces­sive moments, of alien­ation and dis­alien­ation. But what’s espe­cially inter­est­ing, from the per­spec­tive of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­omy, is the shift to the notion of value: in real­ity, the basis of Marx’s argu­ment con­cern­ing the pro­duc­tion of sur­plus value is that the labor process simul­ta­ne­ously oper­ates on two lev­els: it ‘con­serves’ the value of means of pro­duc­tion (that is to say it recre­ates or repro­duces it) and it ‘adds’ new value (which only in part, an ever dimin­ish­ing part, cor­re­sponds to the repro­duc­tion of labor-power)…Marx’s implicit doc­trine is the inverse of the ‘log­i­cal’ order of the deriva­tion of con­cepts: ‘sur­plus value’ is in fact the con­di­tion of ‘value’ and not the other way around, since (in the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion) there is no repro­duc­tion of the value of the means of pro­duc­tion by liv­ing labor unless new sur­plus value is pro­duced. In this sense, the ‘raven­ing appetite’ of accu­mu­la­tion is always-already inscribed in the process of the ‘expen­di­ture of labor-power’ and this is what the notion of the ‘organic com­po­si­tion of cap­i­tal’ claims.Perhaps we can go so far as to say, extend­ing this analy­sis, that, in the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, the limit between what is value prop­erly speak­ing and what is sur­plus value is never clearly defined, enabling their rela­tion­ship to be con­stantly rene­go­ti­ated with the aim of what the cap­i­tal­ist calls, in their speci­fic ter­mi­nol­ogy, ‘growth’; that is to say, not growth in itself, but growth that serves his inter­ests, cor­re­spond­ing to increased exploita­tion through an increase in the “pro­duc­tiv­ity” of labor-power, an unsta­ble and infinitely flex­i­ble com­bi­na­tion of liv­ing labor and dead labor.” 

  11. Jean-Pierre Lefeb­vre, “Force(s) productive(s),” in Dic­tio­n­naire cri­tique du marx­isme, ed. Gérard Ben­sus­san and Georges Lab­ica (Paris: PUF, 1982), 466-471. Translator’s note: In the Pen­guin trans­la­tion of Cap­i­tal, Marx’s con­cepts Pro­duk­tivkraft and Pro­duk­tivkräfte are ren­dered by “pro­duc­tive power” in the sin­gu­lar, and as “pro­duc­tive forces” or less fre­quently “pro­duc­tive pow­ers” in the plu­ral. –T.O. 

  12. François Guéry and Didier Deleule, The Pro­duc­tive Body, trans. Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro (New York: Zero Books, 2014). 

  13. Translator’s note: Most likely a ref­er­ence to Lau­rence Parisot, a CEO and for­mer head of the main French employ­ers’ fed­er­a­tion, MEDEF. Macherey may have in mind “spec­u­la­tion” such as the fol­low­ing: “Life, health and love are pre­car­i­ous, so why should work escape this law?” As Pres­i­dent of MEDEF, Parisot called for the “mod­ern­iza­tion” of the labor code, the aban­don­ment of the legal dura­tion of work­ing time, and for “the enter­prise [to be placed] at the heart of French soci­ety.” – T.O. 

  14. The slang expres­sion “boulon­ner,” for “to work,” is thus par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant. Translator’s note: Macherey is refer­ring to “boulons” in the French text, mean­ing “bolts.” –T.O. 

  15. Translator’s Note: It is also Chap­ter 14 of the Eng­lish-lan­guage edi­tion. 

  16. Marx, op. cit., 466-467. 

  17. The demon­stra­tion of the uncer­tain­ties relat­ing to the usage of the term “sec­ond nature” under­pins the anthro­pol­ogy of the non-intrin­sic [impro­pre] devel­oped by Bertrand Ogilvie in his book, La sec­onde nature du poli­tique – Essai d’anthropologie neg­a­tive [The Sec­ond Nature of the Polit­i­cal –An Essay in Neg­a­tive Anthro­pol­ogy] (Paris: L’Harmattan 2012), which explains how this astound­ing philosopheme is “ani­mated by a move­ment of inter­nal con­tes­ta­tion, or nega­tion, which describes an essence that looks beyond but refuses in the end to tran­scend itself, with­out how­ever absolutely uphold­ing its imma­nence” (83). We pro­pose here to show how this same ambi­gu­ity cuts across the cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy when, in the grip of pro­duc­tiv­ity fever, it begins to employ labor-power as a “pro­duc­tive” power and no longer sim­ply a power that pro­duces. 

  18. Bour­dieu defines habi­tus as the “sys­tem of durable and trans­pos­able dis­po­si­tions, struc­tured struc­tures pre­dis­posed to func­tion as struc­turat­ing struc­tures, that is, as the gen­er­at­ing prin­ci­ples of the prac­tices and rep­re­sen­ta­tions that can be objec­tively adapted to their out­comes with­out pre­sup­pos­ing a con­scious aim­ing at ends or an express mas­tery of the oper­a­tions nec­es­sary to attain them.” Cf. Pierre Bour­dieu, The Logic of Prac­tice, trans. Richard Nice (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity Press, 1990), 53. 

  19. Fou­cault, “The Mesh of Power,” op. cit., trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. 

  20. Michel Fou­cault, “The Sub­ject and Power,” Dits et Ecrits, t. IV, éd. (Paris: Gal­li­mard, 1994), 236-237, Essen­tial Works of Fou­cault, 1954-1984, Vol. 3, ed. James D.Faubion, trans. Robert Hur­ley and Oth­ers, New Press, 2000, 341, Translator’s note: the ver­sion used here is from Crit­i­cal Inquiry, 8.4 (1982), trans. Leslie Sawyer, 777-795, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. –T.O. 

  21. This could be trans­lated into a dif­fer­ent lan­guage: in the case of exploited work­ers, class con­scious­ness can­not be auto­mat­i­cally deduced from class being, from which it is, on the con­trary, ini­tially dis­so­ci­ated. 

  22. Michel Fou­cault, Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, trans. Alan Sheri­dan, (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1977), 218. 

  23. Marx, op. cit. (1976), 439. 

  24. Ibid., 441. 

  25. Translator’s note: ‘l’union fait la force’ intro­duces a play on words on the notion of power as capac­ity, force, and strength which in French can be con­veyed by the same word “force,” but is untrans­lat­able as a sin­gle word in Eng­lish. –T.O. 

  26. Ibid., 443. 

  27. Ibid., 447. In the chap­ter of Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish devoted to “docile bod­ies,” Fou­cault cites an abridged ver­sion of this last pas­sage from Cap­i­tal; Fou­cault, Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1977), 163. 

  28. Translator’s note: “En masse” also alludes to the “force d’une masse,” the col­lec­tive power, aris­ing from the trans­for­ma­tion of labor-power into social labor-power through com­bi­na­tion in the cap­i­tal­ist labor process, and embod­ied in the pro­duc­tive sub­ject, the col­lec­tive worker. –T.O. 

  29. Legrand, op. cit., 32. 

  30. Fou­cault sharply cor­rected him­self on this point in later inter­ven­tions where he under­li­nes the fac­tual char­ac­ter of his analy­ses that guards them from the temp­ta­tion of essen­tial­ism. For exam­ple, in his con­tri­bu­tion to the vol­ume L’impossible prison [The Impos­si­ble Prison] edited by Michelle Perot, he writes, in a spirit one might call Der­ridean: “It is nec­es­sary to demys­tify the instance of the real as a total­ity to be restored. There is no “the” real that could be regained if one was to speak of all things or cer­tain things more “real” than oth­ers, that one would let slip, to the advan­tage of incon­sis­tent abstrac­tions, if one lim­ited one­self to show­ing other ele­ments and other rela­tions. It is per­haps also nec­es­sary to exam­ine the prin­ci­ple, often implic­itly assumed, that the only real­ity that his­tory should lay claim to is soci­ety itself. A type of ratio­nal­ity, a way of think­ing, a pro­gram, a tech­nique, a set of ratio­nal and coor­di­nated efforts, objec­tives that are defined and pur­sued, instru­ments to achieve it, etc., all this is real even if it does not claim to be “real­ity” itself nor “the” entire soci­ety. And the gen­e­sis of this real­ity, once the rel­e­vant fac­tors are brought to bear, is per­fectly legit­i­mate.” (« La pous­sière et le nuage » [“The Dust and the Cloud”], 1980, Dits et Ecrits, t. IV, éd. Gal­li­mard, 1994, 15.) And, dur­ing the round­table that fol­lowed the pre­sen­ta­tion of this text, he stated in sup­port of this gen­eral the­sis: “I do not think we can speak of “ratio­nal­iza­tion” in itself with­out, on the one hand, pre­sup­pos­ing the absolute value of rea­son and with­out expos­ing our­selves, on the other, to the dan­ger of lump­ing together any­thing and every­thing under the head­ing of ratio­nal­iza­tions. I think we should limit this word to an instru­men­tal and rel­a­tive meaning…We are not say­ing that prac­tices should be mea­sured in terms of a ratio­nal­ity that judges them as more or less per­fect forms of ratio­nal­ity; rather the ques­tion is how the forms of ratio­nal­iza­tion form part of prac­tices or sys­tems of prac­tices, and what role they play in these” (Id., 26). In other words, there are only regional and tem­po­ral ratio­nal­i­ties and prac­tices of ratio­nal­iza­tion that are rel­a­tive in each case to the con­junc­ture in which they oper­ate, and we can­not auto­mat­i­cally extend their action to other cir­cum­stances. 

  31. Marx, op. cit., 448-449, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied. Translator’s note: The orig­i­nal has: “Diese Funk­tion der Leitung, Überwachung und Ver­mit­tlung, wird zur Funk­tion des Kap­i­tals…” The French edi­tion used by Macherey has “medi­a­tion” for “Ver­mit­tlung.” In the Pen­guin edi­tion, the lat­ter is trans­lated as “adjust­ment,” which is some­what impre­cise. The pas­sage con­tains another usage of “medi­a­tion” (retained also in the French edi­tion): “Alle unmit­tel­bar gesellschaftliche oder gemein­schaftliche Arbeit auf größtem Maßstab bedarf mehr oder min­der einer Direk­tion, welche die Har­monie der indi­vidu­el­len Tätigkeiten ver­mit­telt und die all­ge­meinen Funk­tio­nen vol­lzieht, die aus der Bewe­gung des pro­duk­tiven Gesamtkör­per­sim Unter­schied von der Bewe­gung seiner selb­ständi­gen Organe entsprin­gen.” In the French edi­tion, ‘Überwachung’ is trans­lated as “sur­veil­lance.” The Pen­guin edi­tion has “super­in­tend­ing” and “super­vi­sion,” which is used inter­change­ably. We have inserted the lat­ter for the sake of con­sis­tency. –T.O. 

  32. Fou­cault, Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, 175. 

  33. Translator’s note: The cita­tion is: “The work of direct­ing, super­vi­sion and medi­a­tion becomes one of the func­tions of cap­i­tal, from the moment that the labor under capital’s con­trol becomes co-oper­a­tive. As a speci­fic func­tion of cap­i­tal, the direct­ing func­tion acquires its own spe­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics.” See Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, 175, where it has been incor­po­rated into the main body of the text. –T.O. 

  34. Marx, op. cit. (1976), 450. In a note in Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish (163-4), Fou­cault cites the last phrase of this pas­sage [in fact it is from a dif­fer­ent pas­sage repro­duced in Macherey’s text from Cap­i­tal, 443-trans.] from the chap­ter of Cap­i­tal on coop­er­a­tion, which, accord­ing to him, under­li­nes “the anal­ogy between the prob­lems of the divi­sion of labor and those of mil­i­tary tac­tics.” More gen­er­ally, he con­sid­ers that the true genius (in the sense of the spirit of inven­tion, inge­nium) of cap­i­tal­ism con­sisted in trans­fer­ring tech­ni­cal pro­ce­dures of power and com­mand that were first elab­o­rated in mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion to the devel­op­ment of the labor process. 

  35. Ibid., 451. 

  36. Fou­cault, op. cit. (1978), 86. 

  37. Thus a response is pro­vided to the ques­tion raised by Mitchell Dean in his study Crit­i­cal and Effec­tive His­to­ries. Foucault’s Meth­ods and His­tor­i­cal Soci­ol­ogy: “How is it pos­si­ble that a headless body so often behaves as if it did indeed have one?” (cited by Thomas Lemke in his study “Marx sans guillemets,” in Marx et Fou­cault, Actuel Marx, PUF, 2004, 15). Lib­eral soci­ety, which pro­fesses the end of ide­olo­gies, prac­tices ide­ol­ogy in the para­dox­i­cal form of its nega­tion and absence, allow­ing it to inte­grate ide­ol­ogy into its oper­a­tion by simul­ta­ne­ously depriv­ing ide­ol­ogy of the char­ac­ter of a lofty dis­course, pro­claimed from on high, as if it came from the top. 

  38. In the fourth lesson of his course at the Col­lège de France in 1977-1978 (under the gen­eral title, “Secu­rity, Ter­ri­tory, Pop­u­la­tion”), pub­lished sep­a­rately in 1978 under the title “Gov­ern­men­tal­ity,” Fou­cault explains, refer­ring to Ques­nay and Rousseau, that: “I believe that the essen­tial issue of gov­ern­ment will be the intro­duc­tion of econ­omy into polit­i­cal practice…To gov­ern a state will thus mean the appli­ca­tion of econ­omy, the estab­lish­ment of an econ­omy, at the level of the state as a whole, that is to say, the exer­cise of super­vi­sion and con­trol over its inhab­i­tants, wealth, and the con­duct of each and every­body, as atten­tive as that of a father over his house­hold and goods.” See Michel Fou­cault, Secu­rity, Ter­ri­tory, Pop­u­la­tion, Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France, 1977-8, edited by Michel Senel­lart, trans. Gra­ham Burchell (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2007), 133. By trans­fer­ring pol­i­tics to the plane of the econ­omy, mod­ern gov­ern­ment at the same time trans­forms the econ­omy into a pol­i­tics in its own right. 

  39. Fou­cault, op. cit. (1976), 220-221. 

Author of the article

is Professor of Philosophy at Université Lille Nord de France.