Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Notes on Chris O'Kane's "Fetishism and Social Domination in Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre", Part 3

In contrast to the analysis in chapter one, Marx’s account of the dominating properties of the money form accounts for the agents who exchange commodities.”
For such a significant claim, this sort of dangles out there under-justified.  Not that it isn’t correct, but it needs some validation and fleshing out. At least a footnote.

I am always struck by the failure, IMO, to grasp that the worker is the owner of a commodity at this point in Capital’s development.

This is interesting as s summation:
“I argued earlier that Marx’s account of the fetish grows more complex as his analysis progresses, and one can see from the above that the fetish-character of money possesses more pronounced characteristics than the fetish-character of commodities. On the one hand, money is socially constituted as the general equivalent by the logic of the relations of commodities, which grants it the autonomous and personified properties of the universal incarnation of human labour. On the other hand, the means by which these autonomous properties invert and dominate individual action is concretised in the determinate form of the legal contract and the determination of the actions of commodity owners.

I don’t think I can actually overemphasize the degree to which talk of “capitalists do this” and “capitalists do that” sounds so very 19th century.  It has been a long time since individual capitalists played the key role in representing capital.  Capital needs representation in particular capitals more than in individual capitalists. 

The legal recognition of the corporation as a legal person by the United States Supreme Court is both horrific and rational.  Rational because corporations have been the particular capitals for a long time, but horrific because capital has survived to this point in its development wherein personification entails recognition of these homunculi of capital as persons.

“The domination exerted by the capitalists results from their actions, but the latter are in turn shaped by their role as personifications of capital; as individuals determined by the fetish-characteristic forms of value that are external to them, and which compel them to dominate and exploit the proletariat. Thus, because capitalists - as capital personified - are ‘fanatically intent on the valorization of value’ they ‘ruthlessly compel the human race to produce for production’s sake.’”

Seriously, domination is not exerted by capitalists in the 21st century in all but marginal cases.  Individual capitalists don’t ruthlessly compel the human race.  If only!!!  Then we could point to “the capitalist class” as a bunch of robber barons, but no one outside of the Left sees the matter this way anymore.  It is anachronistic at best.

As I complained with Werner Bonefeld’s new book, there is still this residue of a need to show the domination of “society” or “the working class” by the capitalist class, this class of individuals, when we have surpassed that point long ago.  Capital has shown very little need for these antediluvian phenomenal forms.

Check the quote from Marx on function and personification (Ehrbar translation, 989).  I wonder if Mar refers to the function of the proletariat in production, versus the function of the capitalists.  Function is a funny word with all sorts of overtones to people raised in a world after Parsonian sociology and functionalist explanations.

“As a result the worker ‘exists to satisfy the need of the existing value for valorisation, as opposed to the inverse situation, in which objective wealth is there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development’205”

So one could argue that if the worker exists to satisfy the need of the existing value for valorization, then valorization has to be at least posited in production, not in exchange or simply in the transformation of a commodity into money.

Doesn’t Marx’s theory of value also account for the centrality of labor and “relations of production” to the determinate social relations?  Or is that the same as 2?

Someone really ought to print The Trinity Formula in English in the correct order.  Or, you know, Volume 3 of Capital in a correct form.

I really like the way O’Kane follows through the thread of fetish-character and fetishism through to the end.  This is really an exciting way to read the book productively that is not another Marxist Political Economy reading.

The point about the collapse of fetish-characteristic form/fetishism/mystification into one mess is reasonable, as is the explanation of it being from an earlier period.  This point could be amplified by the changes Marx makes between the first and second German editions of Vol. 1 and the French edition.  A lot of the changes and work go into the fetish-characteristic section, so that was clearly something he was still working out as late as the mid-1870’s!

Para 2
“In this context ‘the mystifying character ’ mirrors his usage of fetish-characterisation which transforms ‘social relations’ into the ‘properties’ of things themselves (commodities), still more explicitly transforming the relation of production itself into a thing(money).”

This clarification is nice.  Not sure if it was used earlier in the book, but it is very concise.  Could further add that capital is the transformation of the total cycle into an autonomous, self-producing Subject which is Substance.  This may be the third usage of mystification.

I would add that is works very well with Nicole Pepperell’s reading of the first chapter as a phenomenology: the fetish characteristic of commodities explains how the various notions of value up until that point, while having a certain validity, are similar to empiricism, rationalism, and absolute idealism (which would cover the range of sense certainty, perception, and the understanding in Hegel.)

RE: esoteric/exoteric or money theory and neo-Ricardian, that Pepperell’s reading shows that this is a failure to read the text phenomenologically.  Taken so, Marx’s comments about labor as physical as opposed to his clear treatment in the “Theories of Surplus-Value” where even a clown, employed in the social form as wage-labor, can produce value, are comprehensible.

I think one has to work with Marx as one would with any opponent: take the strongest way of reading their argument.

Pepperell’s is not only reasonable, it is coherent and the strongest form of the argument.

RE: ideal average, Marx was not attempting a theory of society, a sociology.  One could further make the argument, pace Cyril Smith, that Marx’s critique of political economy is not a critique of capitalism, and as such is not concerned with empirical minutiae or historical representation except insofar as it is subordinated to the critique of political economy.  The critique of capitalism is a practical criticism, a question of struggle and overcoming.  Marx’s work is aimed at an ideological impediment, the ideology, to that struggle.  His is a work of clarification, and of bildung, a part of the self-education of the class.

In other words, I think this criticism of Marx mistakes the intent and purpose of the work, in the same way one might criticize Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit for not being a rigorous criticism of philosophy or specific philosophers, though it certainly does that.  It is not a pedantic work, but a working through of forms of consciousness.

I like this point and no doubt Adorno, Lukacs and Lefebvre respond to the “gaps” in Marx’s work, but also to maybe what they see as gaps that are not gaps at all.

Moving to Section 2 Next.

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