Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Making of Indebted Man - Maurizio Lazzarato

I am not completely comfortable with the language of this piece, but I think he is aware of a lot of the pitfalls.

For example, he is aware of the false distinction (distinction without a difference) between real and financial capital or between good and bad capitalists, etc. 

His comment on this credit/debt paradox instead of a “cognitive capitalism” has much more traction.  What I am not sure he recognizes and maybe cannot recognize, coming out of the Italian autonomist tradition, is that “cognitive capitalism” is a view that is attempting to see the matter from the point of view of labor and the key kind of labor which is structuring the labor process today, as opposed to the labor process as a whole and its relation to the contradiction between labor as necessary for the production of a social form and the social form of wealth and labor as increasingly marginal to the material production of wealth.  The credit/deb relation is deeply tied to this process and to the transformation of the worker into a mass consumer after WWII.  This latter part Lazzarato does get.

He has a pertinent critique of Badiou and Ranciere, who hypostatize the political (and as he notes, make it historically transcendental) by separating it from the economic.  In another language, one might say that they accept the existence of a separate political and economic sphere and then lay out a critique as if that was not itself only valid as constituted by capital, that it represents a contradictory (Lazzarato, in fine anti-Hegelian Italian fashion has to say “paradoxical”) relation constituted or produced by the capital-labor relation (a whole series of binary oppositions are related to this: production vs. power, economic vs. political, private vs. public, etc.)  As such, they accept as given the very distinction that is the problem.  Hence their purely political vision.

His point about debt/credit is very good, though I feel like he has problems relating it at the proper level to capital/labor.  Early on he seems to be saying that credit/debt is the new locus of the class struggle, as if it replaces the capital/labor relation.  Later he is aware that capital/labor does not map simply to credit/debt or creditor/debtor.  I have yet to see that he is quite aware that credit/debt tends to operate not at the level of production, but at the level of exchange and consumption. 

Still, he gets this as a mechanism of enforcement, as a both a relation of power and also, and this is huge, as an ethical determination.  Debt is not merely a whip, but a measure of the person as an ethical being.

This is because credit is given out to the borrower who is now in debt, but not merely “in debt”, but indebted to the creditor.  Hence his notes on Marx’s early writing on credit and debt as an apparent overcoming of what he will later call the fetish character of the commodity, which actually re-inscribes it into the very spirit of the individual since their moral worth = their credit-worthiness, their ability to pay back, to be solvent.

I especially recommend the first 80 pages of the book.

Where it goes downhill is where he tries to take up the transformation of money.  This is not a non-technical issue.  It requires more care than he gives and frankly his espousal of Deleuze and Guattari's work as an improvement on Marx is disappointing, since the "innovations" he cites are strictly speaking regressions from Marx's notion of money in capitalist society.  The entire evaluation of Deleuze and Guatarri's contribution is vacuous.

His idea that the debtor/creditor relation replaces the labor-capital relation, aside from my prior point that it simply falls into the bourgeois economist view from consumption, leaves us unable to reckon with value whatsoever.  It is not even clear where the antagonism within society would reside under these conditions.

I will try and return to this more later, if for no other reason that the problem of credit/debt is clearly of monumental importance in the present period.

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