Deleuze and the Meanings of Immanence - Paper for ‘After 68’, Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht, 16 June, 2009 - Christian Kerslake (www.after1968.org)

Capitalism and Immanence in Anti-Oedipus

There is very little about capitalism as a social formation in the Cahiers pour l’analyse, and its Marxism is focused on Althusser’s model of structural causality, which concerns the sequence of modes of production, and the question of ideology. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari insist that this whole approach is inadequate for dealing with capitalism as a social formation. They criticise those who wish

to establish a new terrorism, diverting Lacan’s imperial discourse into a university discourse characterised by a pure scientificity, a ‘scientificity’ perfectly suited to resupplying our neuroses, for strangling the process once again, and for overcoding Oedipus with castration, while chaining us to the current structural functions of a vanished archaic despot. For it is certain that, even and especially in their manifestations of extreme force, neither capitalism nor revolution nor schizophrenia follows the paths of the signifier (AO 244).

Capitalism must instead be understood systematically, they claim, as a system of flows of money and credit. If one does not understand the new conditions that prevail in advanced capitalism, in which human ends have become subordinate to the “axiomatic of the world capitalist market” (AO 234), then one will be unable to seek a way out of it. That way out cannot be guaranteed by a commitment to science and a critique of ideology. If sciences progress through axiomatisation, as Badiou claims, following Cavaillès, then with what tools will one be able to analyse the axiomatic developed by capitalism itself? Instead, it is necessary to understand the immanent axiomatics of capitalism as a system of money, and to situate it within a longer history of debt.

It is not that capitalism covers over any original ‘lack’ proper to subjectivity; capitalism rather moves beyond the creditor-debtor relations of early human societies, beyond the systems of infinite debt maintained by feudal societies within the period of monotheism, and into a new space where the entire system of production and circulation of commodities is regulated by specific financial institutions – banks – that “create a debt spontaneously to themselves” that releases “a flow possessing a power of mutation” (AO 237) permitting the planning of investment in technology and labour. There is no longer an infinite debt to a despot or a deity, but rather an infinite flow of credit-debt that provides the basis for radical ‘investments’ and ‘re- investments’ – in both senses of economic investment (financial and libidinal) – of social fields. The effect of the tendential global implementation of the axiomatic of capitalism is what Deleuze and Guattari deterritorialization: the capitalist market rips up and reinvests social fields with the sole end of extracting surplus value.

Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of Marx is based on the work of French economists Suzanne de Brunhoff (specifically her books La monnaie chez Marx [1967; translated as Marx on Money] and L’offre de monnaie [1971]) and Bernard Schmitt (Monnaie, salaries et profits [1966]. Brunhoff claims that the opening arguments of Marx’s Capital have been misunderstood. Marx, she argues, conducts his analysis from the beginning from within a “general theory of money”. The crucial arguments about the commodity in the first part of Part 1 of Volume I of Marx’s Capital is entitled ‘Commodities and Money’ need to be read in the context of the theory of credit expounded in Part 5 of Volume III of Capital.
Marx’s opening analysis is an account of what a commodity is, something that has both use-value and an exchange-value. 

The value of something depends on the human labour put into extracting it or making it. In any society, there an amount of “socially necessary labour time” required to produce a commodity (I, 129). Commodities become representatives of “specific quantities of simple labour” (I, 135). The value of commodities is determined by “abstract human labour”. In chapter 2, Marx analyses ‘The Process of Exchange’, quickly arriving at chapter 3 on ‘Money, or the Circulation of Commodities’. He thus shows how abstract human labour makes the process of exchange possible, and how this is done through a ‘general equivalent’ – money. Then, having shown that money is the form taken by abstract labour, Marx is able to describe the process of the extraction of surplus value from the labour put in by workers (absolute surplus value: lengthening the working day, and relative surplus value: curtailment of necessary labour time through mechanization).

 Brunhoff’s point is that the ‘general’ theory of money with which Marx begins does not exist in reality, but only appears in the capitalist mode of production under the ‘special’ conditions of a system of credit.

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