[Marxism] The latest challenge to the Brenner thesis

Angelus Novus fuerdenkommunismus at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 25 00:51:14 MDT 2012

Louis quoted Tayyab Mahmud:

> The construct of free wage-labor, envisaged as consensual sale of 
> labor-power by an autonomous and unencumbered individual in a market of 
> juridical equals governed strictly by economic laws of supply and demand, > is the bedrock of the purportedly universal category of labor under 
> capitalism. However, this conceptual ensemble is an instance, yet again, 
> of a particular masquerading as the universal – Europe’s autobiography 
> passing for world history. It also underscores the divergence between 
> mythologies and historical operations of capitalism. 

It's difficult to judge Mahmud's argument, since it's hidden behind a paywall, but the abstract seems to suggest that he misunderstands Marx's account in Capital for a **history** of capitalism.  It is not: it is, rather, an ** analysis of the social forms of capitalism **.

Ingo Stützle makes the point nicely in his response to David Graeber:

Graeber emphasizes particularly that the worker free in a double sense only plays a dominant role in Marx’s »as if« theory – as opposed to reality. Of course reality is different, since Marx’s object in Capital is not empirical reality anymore than it is the English capitalism of the 19th Century. Michael Heinrich writes:

    »What Marx depicts in Capital are the capitalistic aspects of capitalism, that is, that what differentiates this mode of production from all pre-capitalist modes of production. One of these is that exploitation can be brought off without a direct relationship of force having to exist between those who exploit and those who are exploited. Force can confine itself to the ‘force without a subject’ (cf. Heide Gerstenberger 2007) of the bourgeois state, which forces bourgeoisie as well as proletariat to obey the same rules: every person is free and equal, property is secured, the usual form of association is the contract, and a failure to observe it is threatened with sanctions. Relations of exploitation between unequal parties and exploitation of the non-free exist in all pre-capitalist modes of production. But the fact that there is no necessary contradiction between personal freedom and juridical equality on the one hand and exploitation on the
 other is principally new. But historical capitalism does not coincide with this ideal average, and is rather an agglomeration of capitalistic and non-capitalistic elements. But in order to analyze these connections, rather than merely describe them, one must have a concept of that which is ›capitalistic.‹«13 

For Marx, wage-labor is the generalization of slavery in the form of the compulsion to labor – wage-labor. This is a depersonalized compulsion, which at the same time generates a specific appearance of freedom, but not in the sense of »ideology« as Graeber writes. The contrast between free and unfree labor misses the point of Marx’s intention of working out the form of exploitation, and is itself the result of the imposition of wage-labor as the hegemonic form of exploitation. Clinical Wasteman also points this out in a review of Graeber’s Debt in the magazine Mute:

    »Graeber illustrates the ›secret scandal‹ [the existence of unfree labor] revelation with references to Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged, but Linebaugh’s great book is all about the way capital ‘organised around’ formally free labour draws in and feeds on extraneous social practices, with or without full assimilation into the ‘free’ wage system. The idea that the organisation of capital reaches only as far as its formal perfection curiously mirrors the most factory-centric workerism. The scandal of capital’s perpetual unwaged component is much like that of Apple’s failure to build physical computers in an enlarged Palo Alto garage, or a mafia boss who declines to shoot people personally.«14 

In her book Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, Susan Buck-Morss takes up this question and agrees with Linebaugh/Redeker (The Many-Headed Hydra) and David Brion Davis (The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution). The act of distancing from unfree labor was constitutive for the etablishment of wage-labor and amounted to a defeat for the workers’ movement.

Criticizing Marx for neglecting »unfree« labor misses the point. In Capital, he demonstrates how fluidly and changeable the various forms of exploitaiton shade into one another: the enslavement of children, the use of patriarchal violence for women’s labor, etc.

Wage labor manages to give forced labor a hegemonic form – which is demonstrated in the case of the slave uprisings (above all in Haiti), and which caused England, in its drive for hegemony, to become a »champion« for the formal abolition of slavery, for economic reasons among others.

With the imposition of the capitalist mode of production and wage-labor, slavery also undergos a metamorphosis.15 It obtains a new role from the domination of the capitalist mode of production. The dominance of the capitalist mode of production leads to a new pattern of legitimation (accompanied by a change in the nature of racism) and political and economic reproduction of unfree labor. This is again demonstrated early on in Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti) , where more than 3/4ths of foodstuffs were not cultivated by the slaves themselves, but imported as commodities from France. In classical antiquity, slaves still provided for their own reproduction. The assertion that unfree labor remains dominant blinds one to the new configuration of social relations of domination and exploitation.

Full: http://stuetzle.cc/2012/09/addendum-for-graebers-debt/

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