Marx and the ecstatic labor force


14 Jan , 2020  

Quite in contrast to mechanics, which defines the concept of force as the result of mutually canceling forces in their relationship to each other, Marx also seems to have always been intent, in his critique of political economy, on breaking the beautiful appearance of the balance and stability of the system, this wonderfully harmonizing syntax of forces, which at some point seemed quite strange to theoretical mechanics itself, until, in view of the historically newly emerging possibilities of quantification created by the machines themselves, it began to take an interest in possible differences by relating any existing states of equilibrium to earlier ones. Marx, on the other hand, was interested from the outset in breaking up the concept of rest and equilibrium (rest, which in theoretical mechanics is understood as the resultant of mutually neutralizing forces and their magnitudes), and then in the representation of reproduction schemes in the second volume of Capital, who are, after all, imbued with equilibrium, to include more strongly in their analyses the aspect of the temporal and unstable dynamics of capitalism, a dynamic that cannot be thought of without the concept of the limit, which with Hegel is the limit ever already exceeded, the immanent infinite of capitalism itself (and not the absolute limit). In theoretical mechanics, the relation of force and change of speed refers to the use of a uniform motion machine, whose essence (motion does not move itself) lies in the geometric form of motion, the immovable or the law. (Cf. Bahr 1983: 225) Theoretical mechanics thus equates force with causality, and in this way Aristotle had already identified the ontic with the logical, although the question raised much later by Galileo, how an effect can exist if the cause is only a residual force, to which Newton again replied that the difference between the action of force and movement/inertia was a purely perspective one, which was then radicalised in the succession of Hume and Kant to the effect that force is only what is given to the sensations, which themselves should be endowed with a minimum of force for unification. Ultimately, it seems indifferent whether one thinks of force from rest or from motion, and this because one has to consider the position of the observer, who relativizes the difference between rest and motion, making it impossible to adhere to uniform or circular motion, unless one defines circular motion with Newton as the result of two balancing forces. Modern physics, in turn, makes reality accessible through machines or apparatuses which, in the context of experiments, discourses and dispositives, translate into empiricism/theory, or even produce the so-called “unempirical things”, which have a multitude of differences or potentials (Souriau) “behind” them. The problem of force has thus been shifted and postponed more and more in the manifold discourses on machine systems, but it was already shifted into the machine (or ontology of the machine) itself before the birth of modern physics. (Ibid.: 199ff.)

Finally, Marxen’s own conceptual differentiation of the machine into power machine (working machine or engine), transmission machine and machine tool (MEW 23: 398f.), which is implicitly directed against an axiomatized concept of machine, reintroduces the teleological moment into the machine discourse by referring to the machines in terms of their tool character (tool as an extension of the human organs or as an expression of protosubjectivity) and thus in a certain way relativizes the turning away from teleology, which was ultimately necessary to gain the concept of abstract labor as a mere expenditure of muscle, brain and nerve etc., in order to then in a further step tie the explanation of added value to an ecstatic force – labor force. Although Marx assumes this transcendence of labor in some passages of the text, he must constantly confront the externalization of labor with its integration into the capitalist machinery (qua real subsumption of living labor under fixed capital), and indeed until, through the discussion of the different types of machinery, the difference between the corporeality (and cognition) of human labor and the machinery finally falls apart. Thus, the aspect of the axiomatization of the machinery comes more and more to the fore, including the mathem of ratios, which is the cooperation within a company through the numerical division, distribution and organization of the working body (many work the same way). (Cf. Bahr 1983: 268f./ Lenger 2004: 162f.) This is about an axiomatic theory that machines and their symbolic machine operations write and is today continued with the ubiquitous existence of the information machines, their object-oriented languages and algorithms, whereby at the same time every phenomenon in nature appears indistinguishable and undecidable from the machine, because the latter is interpreted by the machine and even produced in the first place. (Bahr 1983: 227)

If in the terms of transmission and transference not only the machine as “in-between world” (ibid.267), but if the concept of the mechanism, which implies the replacement of the productive by the reproductive (distribution), is only here completed, then for Marx, following Friedrich List (and this explicitly directed against Ricardo), the question arises all the more urgently how an asymmetrical, a-mechanical and at the same time historically situated concept of force can be thought of and how this can be linked to the productivity of living labor, namely the “idea of a force that expends itself, whose output has no energetic equivalence to its input.« (ibid.) And Marx tends to externalize the ecstatic labor force as the only productive source of surplus value against the immanence of the capitalist reproduction process and, in the same breath, to link the question of surplus value production more and more to the problem of technological innovation, to research and science, sectors that in Marx’s time initially still seemed to lie outside the immediate sphere of influence of industrial production. Marx’s description of the progressing machinization in the course of its structural differentiation into a tripartite machine thus ultimately leads to the insight that the human labor force itself degenerates into a machine part, and thus every increase in labor productivity is tantamount to a machine rationalization in production, a rationality that consists in the proximity of the various elements of production. (Ibid.: 268) Thus, value-added production would be understood primarily as the result of the elimination of the unproductive, and this is due to the condensation of human working time and the functional time of machines; these are strategies of acceleration that individual capital must inevitably employ if it wants to produce either a higher number or qualitatively better products per unit of time (a higher output per unit of time) with less or the same amount of living working time or machine time, in order to score points with other enterprises in and through the procedures of competition. With the increase in the rate of turnover of capital and the related scientificization of production, the difference between res extensa and res cogitans is increasingly eliminated in the context of the productive division of the labor body, as the analysis of clocked time now controls the composition of the various partial objects of living labor and cognition. The mechanism itself turns into a fluid machinism regulated by the mathesis of the clock, integrating the analogous areas of force, energetics and transmission, thus making recursive processes possible, which technically occur as orders of numerical flows, before cybernetic calculating machines and their binary symbolism write and read the production processes themselves, in order to control them simultaneously via the corresponding feedback processes.

In Capital Vol. 1, Marx insists on emphasizing the component of force with regard to the conceptual definition of labor, whereas in the floor plans he accentuates labor more strongly than property. If labor is defined as the “epitome of all physical and mental abilities” (MEW 23: 181) that exist in the physicality of the worker and are inseparable from his person, then this refers to the general capacity for work. And it must be noted that the production of labor itself requires labor, since its information value, to which it has essentially been transformed today, must be preserved physically and cognitively, and this through training, nutrition, qualification, etc., in order to enter the circulation as labor and not as work. As Paolo Virno observes, the worker is all the worker’s abilities, all kinds of assets, be it language, affects, imagination, memory, etc. (Cf. Virno 2008: 150f.) In this context, the capacity to work is to be understood as virtuality, which in capitalism always implies the universal usability and rentability of the assets, adding in the same breathshould add that labor capacity exists only as an integral part of the capitalist production process. It invents with it and is invented by it. And the labor capacity can only take on the meaning of an asset when it sells itself. If the labor capacity is not sold, then it shows that labor is literally nothing, and in this respect it is above all not a first, a foundation on which a metaphysics of labor could be built and established.

In this context, it is worth pointing out, with Peter Ruben, the connection between the physical and economic concepts of force: “Classical physics defines force (K) by the relationship of work to the distance (s) along which work is performed: K = A : s.” (Ruben 1995: 18) Such work is carried out, for example, by the transport worker without the use of additional work equipment, whereby Marx describes the transport work, which is productive, i.e., adds value to the products, as a means of forming goods. (MEW 24: 151) Moreover, Gabriel Tarde has linked the dimension “virtuality of a force” to that of money when he writes of the force that it is “the possibility of a certain quantity of movement in infinite directions; money is the possibility of a certain quantity of value that can be gained through infinite purchases. (Latour/Lepinay 2010: 59) Ruben, on the other hand, locates and at the same time spills over again the problem of dimensions that create added value when he argues purely content-logically with respect to the value of labor and quasi substantiates labor. Thus he writes: “This determination of dimensions represents the principle of a correctly determinable logic of value, provided that the dimensions are thematized as contents in the sense of the intentional logic conception and the two operations of relationship formation and unification (product formation) used are logically determined. (Ruben 1995: 19) Moreover, if Ruben fades out the dimensions of machinization, innovation and invention as fundamental economic dimensions alongside labor, time and utility value, then it is necessary to state again at this point that the conglomerates of labor to be integrated and incorporated via the machines must always be considered as economic dimensions, and precisely in the sense that the techne – the relations of production – begin to dominate over the forces of production.

As a rule, capitalist companies hire for a given period of time more or less qualified workers, whose ownership is exclusively based on the freedom to offer these companies their labour assets on special markets. By concluding an employment contract, firms transform the potential work capacity of the “independent” actants into their own potency, the updating/realization of which involves the performance of a certain quantity of work by the workers in a given period of time.1 Once an employment contract has been concluded, which legally establishes work as an exchange and labor as a “thing”, the class opposition between worker and capitalist becomes significantly evident: those actors who are the economic owners of monetary capital (they do not have to function as such), whether it is debt or equity capital, and who thus have access to the materials (machines, buildings, raw materials, etc.) of the capitalist system, are the “independent” actors.Those actors who are the economic owners of monetary capital (they do not have to act as such), regardless of whether it is debt or equity capital, and who thus have the materials (machines, buildings, raw materials, etc.) for production, also appropriate the subjective components of the wage earners, because, insofar as they are separated from the means of production, they simply have to rent out their working capital, which remains linked to their persons, for certain phases. The freedom of wage earners, which allows the temporary letting of their physical and mental property, i.e. of the body and mind (cognitive, linguistic and affective abilities), finds a strange kind of counteracting in the letting: with this particular lease, wage earners are confirmed as owners of property by simultaneously affirming themselves (to a certain extent negotiable) as possessive wage earners, i.e. precisely in so far as their separation from the means of production has taken place and continues to take place. What the wage earners sell, however, is not their labour, but rather they rent out their labour, and this on the basis of the fact that the economic ownership of means of production, i.e. the way they are distributed, gives certain capitalist actors the power to combine labour and means of production in the production process according to specific technological conditions and to use them productively as an appropriation of overtime. This power thus refers less to the legal fact of law than to a specific way of distributing the means of production economically. And it is labour that the capitalists rent at its value, whereby its use as labour, which is to be understood in certain respects similarly to the consumption of a raw material in the production process, produces a greater value than labour itself represents. (MEW 26.1: 369f.) Ruben here rightly refers to Kant’s remarks on the wage contract, which he understands as a contract of employment: “The wage contract (locatio operae), i.e. the granting of the use of my powers to someone else for a certain price (merces). The worker according to this contract is the wage servant (mercennarius).” (Kant 1966: 101) And then Ruben specifies that the wage contract does not, of course, stipulate the affirmation of the use of my powers to someone else, but that the wage-earning employee uses his powers “only in the other place and in the name of someone else”. Ruben writes: “The contract of employment is essentially an agreement on the value of the work or service that the worker performs for the producer […] And the wage income is therefore the value stream opposite to this value stream (value creation). (Ruben 1998: 41) Hence, with the labor contract, an economic discourse qua captioned is opened, which describes wage labor very precisely, which means nothing other than that the labor force, within the framework of a semio-economic determination of form, is mutated/fixed for a fixed period of time into the quasi-ownership or possession of the enterprise, whereby the enterprise is simultaneously the debtor/owner of monetary capital as well as of machines, buildings and raw materials, etc. The wage bill is a part of the capital account, which can be written down as variable capital together with constant capital etc. in an accounting-symbolic way, but which itself says nothing about the effective composition of machines and labour. This means two things: work is done as it is written down in the wage contract and not until the minimum necessary for the reproduction of labour is reached (question of the equivalence of the exchange value of labour), and it is precisely this written regulation that legitimises the potential for exploitation, in that capital uses the temporal difference between (value-creating) labour, which arises from the utility value of labour, and the exchange value of labour. It should be noted that from an economic point of view, the interaction between ownership of means of production and productive wage labour is a single production relationship, whereas law distinguishes here between ownership as a relationship between person and thing and contract as a relationship between persons. (Cf. Althusser/Balibar 1972b: 311) With the authentication of the employment contract, the wage-earner has hardly any possibilities to shape working conditions, but the company tends to have all (objective as well as subjective) possibilities, because in the employment contract, work, more precisely, service is not only defined as “abstract” time, as time of genetic abilities, of the informational competences and qualifications of the worker, but above all also as the real time of the wage-earner’s presence at a significant workstation/space at any time within a fixed time interval, which corresponds to a very specific assignment of real time by the wage-earner. “But by ceding real time”, writes Lyotard, “the wage-earner remains pinned down by the deictic indicators of the employer’s rate (Yes, he is here) and the calendar (Yes, he arrived at eight o’clock). Real time cannot be shifted.” (Lyotard 1989: 292) The signifier of the contract of labor is thus the use of labor force determined by capital, while the signifier is wage, the surplus value is finally that part of the signifier which assumes the signification of a monetary reality that is completely removed from labor force. The exchange value of labour coagulates in the contractually secured wage, which at the same time carries with it the implication that the utility value of labour is reflected in products whose price sum is potentially higher than the wage sum, whereby these products with added value must be sent into circulation for realisation. While Marx in this context emphasizes above all the aspect of the separation of workers from the means of production, Foucault, in his concept of bio-power, placed the emphasis entirely on the power to intensify the labor force. In the nineteenth century, bodies and their time were transformed through a set of political techniques, techniques of power, into workers and working time, to serve as living machines for the production of profit. Foucault here already refers toto a posthuman anthropology that emphasizes the possibility of producing a productive body of work that is constantly being transformed and tamed by power.

Finally, it should be summarized that the conclusion of an employment contract does not mean the sale of the commodity of labor, as is commonly assumed in almost all varieties of Marxism, but rather the wage-earner agrees to the obligation, for a period of time fixed in the contract and for a fixed wage, to place or rent out his labor assets entirely in the service of the production of a company, for production processes that the company plans, organizes and operates on its own economic account. However, filling a position or position (the job exactly defined in terms of qualification, time and space), which at the same time means putting the worker to work, is also associated with the existence of costs for the company, of which wage costs are only a part. Ruben concludes compellingly: “Goods are economic things that have values. Values are dimensions that represent products (combinations) of the basic dimensions of labour, utility value and production duration. And because the factor of a product is not the product itself, labor is not a value (nor is labor). But if labour is not a value, it cannot be a commodity. To be a good is a sufficient objective condition for having value. (Ruben 1995: 20) While for Ruben labor is an economic dimension or factor, as Marx repeatedly showed, labor is by no means to be understood as a factor that can be added or multiplied with other factors of production such as capital and land, so that one finally arrives at a homogeneous concept of capital that includes everything that generates income (wage, profit, pension, interest, etc. as different types of income). In the capitalist system, labour is expressed only in the withdrawal of the difference between labour and labour power, and if it is not hypostasized as the first principle, as in traditional Marxism, it often appears as the great silence in many economic discourses, up to those of systems theory. But even the labour force, which is becoming quite obvious today in the context of digitalised network knowledge, is no longer to be understood simply as a factor of value production, but as “production of factored labour” (Kroker 2004). The labour force, into which even labour itself flows for its constitution and reproduction, is coupled from the very beginning to the production of fixed capital, so that the juxtaposition of capital as “thing” and labour force as factor does not make any real sense either, in so far as capitalist production always proves to be the same process ever since differential series of machinisation (including labour force) without beginning and end, i.e. reproduction. And affects, discourses and knowledge are today applied as capital fixe, which almost forces the digital worker to permanently re-create, regulate and train his working capacity in order to make his “creativity” constantly available to capital, thus carrying a standby availability like a light stone – and this paradoxically still under the dominance of dead labor. Kroker writes here of human labor as “the inertia of the (Heidegerrian) ‘standing reserve'” (Ibid.: 144)]. In post-Fordist capitalism, this standby availability includes a transversal precarization that tends to encompass all social strata and produces a fragmented social body, with which the times of work and those of non-work are no longer separated by any well-defined border, so that ultimately there is no longer any significant difference between employment and non-employment, so that the collective labor bodies implode. While the employment contract still contains the claim of maintaining the labour force, which is guaranteed by the indirect wage even if the job is lost, precarisation aims at the ubiquitous establishment of a “working life”, which is inherent in an existential risk that is always articulated as potential work. Insofar as human skills, competencies and qualifications (genetic, affective and linguistic) are today to be understood as part of the capital fixe, the worker as a machine put into service by the employment contract, of course (provided he remains as a source of added value), represents more than just a condition for the symbolic writing of variable capital (in relation to constant capital) in the accounts. Regarding the definition of labour as so-called human capital, Foucault writes..”If capital is defined in such a way that it allows for a future income, which is the wage, then it is clear that it is a capital that is practically inseparable from the person who owns it. In other words, the worker’s competence is a machine, but a machine that cannot be separated from the worker. This does not mean that capitalism transforms the worker into a machine and therefore alienates him. (Foucault 2004b: 312) Foucault here explicates the worker as an income-generating machine competence, and this within neoliberal governmentality, which considers the worker as a machine/flowing complex that is always ready to “support” the formation of an enterprise unit. Thus, there is no alienation, but rather, in the context of the technical recomposition of the machine body in the enterprise, the labor capacity is permanently integrated in material, affective and cognitive terms, i.e, divided, reorganized and controlled (and as a labor body, labor is not merely a parasite of capitalist property, as Luhmann assumes, for example; Luhmann 2004: 216f.). Finally, labor mutates into a part of capital or machine competence and is thus simultaneously considered a technologically regulated and at the same time to be regulated form of life that is condensed by codes, rules, habits, qualifications, competencies and affects. And the less labour is still available today, the more the demand for labour is supposed to congeal into a ubiquitous model, whereby the so-called producers are put into the role of consumers of “labour” via the various mediation services of the job centres, which corresponds to the networking and at the same time the control of body, language, affect and knowledge in the dispositive of the (digitalised) service, which however does not include internment for the purpose of wearing out and training the labour force, as was the case in the capitalism of the factories of the 19th century. It does not, however, include internment for the purpose of wear and tear and dressage of labour force, as was still the case in the capitalism of the factories of the nineteenth century, nor does it require a kind of internalization of labour discipline that regulates the subject in itself, as was the case throughout modernity. Today, it is rather a matter of installing the dispositive of a service which, in the course of the computerization of the body and its cognitive abilities in toto – language, affect, knowledge, etc. – still allows the extraction of added value, but based on service providers who no longer produce anything in the classical sense, but rather consume the service as pure information. At the same time, even the less fragile life and work designs today break with the omnipresence of the cuts with which life and service is divided, divided and scattered into intervals, and thus at the same time professional continuity is replaced by a kind of unlimited postponement – truly a persistent state of suspense that perpetuates the never-ending arrival of “lifelong learning” in the systems and institutions of education and training. These modes of education, living and learning remain permanently integrated into the ubiquitous flows of money, data and information, from which both wage earners and the pseudo-self-employed precarious can be absorbed and carried away as if they were rising and falling waves. “The man of discipline,” writes Deleuze, “was a discontinuous process of energy, whereas the man of control is more wavelike, in a continuous beam, in an orbit. Everywhere, surfing has already replaced the old sports.” And he continues: “Individuals have become ‘divisive’, and the masses have become samples, data, markets or banks.” (Deleuze 1993b: 258) Individual here in the sense of separateness, divisibility, and this is decisive, an information-regulated dispersion and at the same time division of the individual by means of the dispositives of public opinion polling, data collection and financialisation, by means of machines that not only ask the world-shaking, everyday questions, but at the same time, ergo quasi-tautologically, provide or pretend to provide the corresponding answers. (Günther Anders speaks here of the divisum, a serial individual that is divided and broken down into a plurality of functions. Consequently, he takes the concept of the divisum one step further, since he attributes it to the division of labor itself: “The distribution of labor to several divides the individuals who always work in this way. The ‘division of labor’ makes individuals into ‘dividends’. Different 1980: 177). And the fact that companies have a soul is really the biggest horror story in the world, Deleuze logically criticizes and in the same breath calls marketing an ugly instrument of social control (in the context of “demoscopic” social espionage one should add.

At the same time, in the current phase of neo-liberal capitalism, we must assume that dualisms such as unemployment work or legal wage contract are permanently shifted or liquefied, so that employees and/or workers and welfare recipients tend to be understood as one, i.e. the boundaries between wage work, unemployment and welfare are characterized by extreme permeability. (Cf. Lazzarato 2012: 41f.) The production of added value always remains divided into plural monetary capital flows or This means that the worker is not only deprived of the “surplus product” by the payment of wages (it is not the “entire” work that is compensated – specifically the working time that he spends individually per hour, day, month), but the worker also experiences with the wage he receives for renting and using his working capital how much socially necessary working time he needs to reproduce his labour (goods, rent, culture, etc.).) – may his real work last longer or shorter. The real purchasing power of the worker is also dependent on external factors such as the realization of capitalist goods in circulation, on factors such as the price of raw materials, the productivity of the food industry, the basic rent/rent etc., factors that co-constitute what is called in economic jargon purchasing power or solvent demand. Finally, it should be noted here that the wage contract first appeared on the historical stage during the war, when soldiers were hired by the municipalities, and only later did the contract appear in production, where it prevailed with the establishment of the factory in the 19th century; among other things with the help of this instrument, the capitalists were able to consolidate and even exponentially increase the architecture of their power with a certain constancy and flexibility at the same time – despite the fiercest social struggles over wage levels – because the instrument of the wage contract forced the workers to act more and more flexibly and efficiently in the long run, which also advanced the fragmentation and division of the political body of the working class

1 “What the owner of money faces directly in the commodity market is in fact not the work, but the worker. What the latter sells is his labor. As soon as his labor really begins, it has already ceased to belong to him, and therefore cannot be sold by him. (MEW 23: 181.)

translated by deepl.

Foto: Stefan Paulus


, , , ,