CRITICAL THEORY OF MODERN AND SUPERMODERN CAPITALISM1
The society in which we live is obviously neither Weber’s ‘modern capitalism’ which he calls ‘the most fateful force of our modern life’, nor what Marx critically theorizes about in Capital; we live in the so–called supermodern capitalism and the problem before us is that of its historical fate; or, more theoretically speaking, of its historical limits. Still these lectures will not resist the temptation to raise this problem in staging a theoretical dialogue between the two thinkers: despite the time lapse (or maybe just because of it), it is these two who have bequeathed us ‘historical telescopes’ and ‘methodological microscopes’ that give us today the chance to notice just what the sociological mainstream, transfixed by urgencies, has ignored. According to Weber, it is somehow evident to modern man that the world is disenchanted and – through the expansion of formal rationality, through ‘the universal rationalization of life’ – he, if he only wished s, can foresee, calculate everything in his life and even have mastery over it (this, no doubt, is only an idealization). This was certainly so in the beginning of the last century: this idealization – although just roughly – has been confirmed in practices. In the supermodern capitalism of incalculable risks, this same idealization is no longer practically true: it came out that we can be overrun by an ecological collapse (the pollution of waters and air, the unstoppable warming of the planet or the death of bees, but also the supermodern biotechnological enhancement of man which can metamorphose classes into races, and the supermodern biopolitical solution for one-sex marriages with children). We can sum it all up also in the Weberian way: the magical forces are returning. This return of magical forces witnesses that ‘the earth is alive’ – that it can warn us, accuse us, take revenge and require redemption from us – and not just metaphorically; and this cannot fail to awake our anxiety but, as we will note immediately, also out hopes – the supermodern man is ambivalent deep within himself.
Modern capitalism is industrial in its essence, and it is this that offered it the historical chance for its fateful meeting with what Husserl called Galilean science in modern technology during the industrial revolution of the 18th and the 19th centuries. Although inspired – according to Weber’s sociology of religion – by Luther’s and most of all Kalvin’s religious reversal of Christianity within itself (a new religious ethic and a new economic ethos, a condition of possibility of protestant asceticism), it comes out that it has a structural affinity with Galileo’s ‘mathematization of nature’. The fateful meeting itself between modern capitalism and the Galilean science revolutionizes that science in its turn, but – as Weber would say – from without: modern capitalism harnesses Galilean science into industrial production while Galilean science offers to the modern entrepreneur incredible chances for economic innovations through technological inventions. Henceforth, the matihematizability of nature will not be just what it was when Galileo discovered it: it will be a function of the idealization of the modern capitalist, maybe primarily of the entrepreneur (and therefore of every modern man as far as he is an entrepreneur of himself), of the technologizability of nature – including the formless, according to the Ancient man, magical forces like the earth, the ocean and the air, and hence of life itself. Doesn’t this technologizability of nature promise to save us from the ecological collapse and doesn’t the promise of practical immortality of supermodern life inspire hope in this ambivalent man who lives within us?
If the problematization of supermodern capitalism requires Weber’s return to the historical stage, then Marx is a mandatory character in this staged dialogue most of all because of his critique of political economy (which was designed as a theory thinking through historical limits). It offers us the chance to theorize about modern – as well as supermodern – capitalist economy as a structure of mediation; and not only about it but also about modern politics, law, science etc., which in their formal rationalization have passed through the same historical metamorphoses as the economy. And this chance is not worth missing, even though Marx’s critique of political economy itself – and most of all his theory of surplus value – has come out erroneous. Ad it is erroneous because Marx – despite all of his revolutionary discoveries – instead of criticizing Ricardo’s labour theory of value and instead of understanding that surplus value is only produced by innovative labour, falls prey to ideological dogmas and modernist self-evidences; hence, instead of noticing that capital – very roughly – is quantitatively structured as c+v+V+m-z (where V is the force of innovative labour as variable capital and z is the ecological devaluation of capital, and both are essentially ‘incalculable numbers’), he stays with his famous c+v+m; thus Marx fails to understand what sets the limits of modern capitalism.
Supermodern man – in his ambivalence, crucified between anxiety and hope – cannot be satisfied with Marx’s legacy. Therefore, although inspired by him, the theory of structures of mediation that is proposed in the lectured, in problematizing the modern and the supermodern capitalism, requires us a) to abandon Ricardo’s idealization in the labour theory of value – z=0 – and b) to Schumpeterize Marx and Marxicise Schumpeter in the theory of surplus value. It is only then that we will be aware of how exactly, in the fateful meeting of modern capitalism with the so-called Galilean science in modern technology, the ecological time-bomb bomb was set a few centuries ago – a meeting in which a historical necessity has happened (which,, however, precisely because it ‘has happened’, is not so fatal after all). In order to think theoretically all of that, during the lectures, we will turn to the mutual mediation of the structures of mediation in supermodern capitalism.
The very laconic conclusion from these lectures is that from this point on, several historical scenarios are possible that do not stay with the ambivalence of supermodern capitalism, only that they think it theoretically now (unfortunately, it is only in one of them that the human race and the good that is common to all of us – the living earth, Gaia – stay alive). And this scenario is again somewhat Weberian: it presupposes religious conversion – a new religious ethic and hence a new economic ethos binding us to live in asceticism with regard to capitalist productive labour, i.e. with regard to profitability thought as ‘constantly renewable profit’.
Structure of the problematic:
Introductory theme: To think modern capitalism through historical limits
1. Marx’s critique of political economy, Weber’s social economy and the critical theorizing on the historical fate of modern capitalism. To think through Marx and through Weber in the early 21st century: supermodern capitalism – enchantment that overruns Weber’s ‘disenchanted world’; the problem of revolutionary practice – barricades and asceticism.
2. The ‘universal rationalization of life’ and the idealization of modern man, discovered by Weber, that – if we only wish so – we can calculate and foresee everything in our life and, hence, rationally dispose of it. The return of the magical and the incalculable risks: in supermodern capitalism that idealization is no longer practically true.
Section 1: The critique of political economy as a problem (Marx after Marx)
1. Marx’s critique of political economy: modernist dogmas and a logic critical towards modernity. The commodity: use value and exchange value; particular labour and labour in general; labour and production. Problems with Ricardo’s legacy: labour theory of value; z=0. ‘Social relations between commodities and commodity relations between persons’ – thing–appearances; fetishism in general and commodity fetishism.
2. From immediate relation between commodities to money as a mediator; converted forms. Reversal in mediation: the universal form of capital – merchant, industrial and interest–bearing. Towards Marx’s theory of surplus value as a problem: surplus value cannot come from circulation. From problem to solution – appearance and essence: production.
3. Marx’s solution: the ‘doubly free worker’ and ‘force of labour’ as a commodity – ability to work and actual labour; labour and capital: production of surplus value and exploitation. Consequences from not resolving the modal problem: the dogma c+v+m. V, the force of innovative labour and variable capital. The estrangement of labour within labour itself and the exploitation of innovative labour.
4. Critical problematization of the opposition between constant and variable capital, c and v, in Marx. If the machine produces no value but is just a ‘transmission mechanism’ of the value passing into the product, isn’t its ‘living organ’ just one such transmission mechanism too? Is it possible for the machine to be a transmission mechanism not only of value but also for surplus value?
5. From production to reproduction of labour force: Marx’s ‘consumptive production’ is not ‘productive consumption’; the labour producing the commodity of workforce as labour in consumptive production. Investing into oneself: the working man as an entrepreneur of himself and a producer of the force of innovative labour as a commodity.
6. Marx again: practical and theoretical objects: industrial profit, commercial profit and interest as converted forms of surplus value. ‘Crises of overproduction’ as de-temporalizations: although surplus value, and value in general, are is not produced in circulation, it is only in circulation that they are affirmed as such; but this is not a ‘parallax view’.
7. Industrial capital ‘under a logical microscope’: the problem of self-mediation; monetary, production and commodity capital and their self-mediations: on converted forms again. The problem Marx missed is in the seemingly unnoticeable conversions: e.g. how monetary capital in commodity form becomes productive capital in commodity form?
8. On pre–capitalist forms of interest–bearing and commercial capital: is profitability, i.e. ‘constantly renewed profit’, possible without producing surplus value? Towards the critique of Marx: the theory of profit seems to logically precede the theory of surplus value; profit and pre–capitalist forms of exploitation of man and nature.
Section 2. From the critique of political economy to the generalized theory of structures of mediation (and back)
1. From the critique of political economy to the theory of structures of mediation: a critical theory of modern, and hence of supermodern, capitalism? The mutual mediation of structures of mediation as historical encounters; the so-called selective affinity. What does ‘historical necessity’ mean? Just as any necessity, historical necessity too happens – and not by necessity.
2. The mutual mediation of structures of mediation ‘under the logical microscope’: again on the thing–appearances of social relations. In the same thing, social relations can be reified from different structures of mediation, and this is precisely the condition of possibility of their mutual mediation. Therefore it happens ‘behind the back’ of those involved in practice.
3. Weber and the expansion of formal rationality – selective affinity and encounter. Despite the isomorphism between economy, politics, law, science etc., in modernity each of these structures of mediation is rationalized ‘according to its own law’. ‘The most fateful force’ in these encounters is ‘modern capitalism’. Weber and Lukacs: formal rationality and reification.
4. Conversely: formal rationalization in supermodernity is no longer ‘according to its own law’ – in its essence it is economical: „Everything is business!”. After the meeting of modern capitalism and Galilean science in modern technology, there is still only structural affinity between them; supermodern science, however, is no longer Galilean, it is oriented towards profitability.
5. All structures of mediation that follow the economy in their formal rationalization according to their own law are quantitatively expanding; therefore one could surmise that they too are capital structures; labour and capital outside the economic structure; mutual conversion of capitals. What would follow from here for the theory of surplus value?
6. The contradiction between community and society in Toennies and Weber; functional differentiation and functional diffuseness in Luhman. Only the properly social structures of mediation are functionally differentiated and hence quantitatively expanding. COmujnity and communitarization: functionally diffuse mediation structures of retaining the quality and bestowing measure.
7. The thing–appearance of social relation is differentia specifica of the quantitatively expanding structures of mediation; community relations in structures retaining quality appear as personal and those of communitarization in measure–bestowing structures appear as interpersonal. Again on the problem of the mutual mediation of structures of mediation.
8. Symbol and symbolic efficiency: personal and interpersonal appearances ‘under the logical microscope’. Weber again: the enchanted world of tradition and the disenchanted world of modernity; charisma and the enchantment of the world. The opposition, staying in the shadow, between mutual giving and exchange; on the practical logic of the gift. The magic of labour and disenchanted labour.
9. Back from the theory of structures of mediation to the critique of political economy. The estrangement of labour from itself in itself as a consequence of the disenchantment of the world by modern capitalism. An amphiboly of Marx: ‘living labour’ and ‘labour as formation by living time’ are not the same thing. Labour as formation by living time is the innovative labour that Marx has forgotten.
10. Is it possible for the enigma of surplus value to be resolved through innovative labour? If yes, then surplus value is not produced where Marx thinks – in the production process of the economy as a functionally differentiated structure – but in structures of mediation that are functionally diffuse; not by disenchanted labour but by the magic of labour.
Section 3: The critical theory of technology and its reverse influence on the theory of surplus value
1. Marx’s theory of labour and the uncritical idealization of homo faber; socialized natural processes. Marx’s idea of a critical history of technology: craft workshop, manufacture, and machine production; the machine in statu nascendi as ‘former manufacture’: the accelerations of the labour process as innovations. Labour and technology as structures of mediation.
2. The object of labour of homo faber and the two forms of socialized natural processes as objects of labour – the fire and the boar: on innovative labour again. Decisive consequences of that theory: critique of Marx’s theory of the labour process, of the labour theory of value and of the theory of surplus value. To the Schumpeterization of Marx, Marxization of Schumpeter.
3. Gutenberg as an entrepreneur. From self–modernizing capitalism to properly modern capitalism: the meeting of capitalism with Galilean science in modern technology. Socialization of the very processing of natural processes and their acceleration; properly modern machines as former natural processes. Scientific discoveries, technological inventions and economic innovations.
4. Technological inventions as ideal machines for surplus value; quantum and quantity of surplus value. Entrepreneurial innovative labour and the wedging of these ideal machines – materialized in the production process – into circulation. Towards the critique of Marx: on the ‘socially necessary labour time’. Entrepreneurial profit as a converted form of surplus value.
5. Ideal machines for surplus value and the force for labour of their producer as commodities. Edison and the electric bulb: from laboratory experiments to serial production: again on technological invention and economic innovation. The world of the technological inventor as innovative labour that is exploited: the story of Edison and Tesla.
6. Abandoning Marx’s solution is not abandoning the problem he raises. Schumpeter doesn’t distinguish in his theory surplus value from profit, and is not aware that surplus value is only produced by innovations in production, not in circulation. Surplus value and Marx’s forgotten insight of ‘production in circulation itself’.
7. Machines, although not producing either value or surplus value, are ‘transmission mechanisms’ by which values can pass into the product. Constant capital: C+с? Machines as ideal machines for surplus values, materialized in the production process. Between constant and variable capital: the ambivalence of the force for labour of the technologically enhanced man.
8 . Innovations in Schumpeter: bankers and entrepreneurs; the problem of credit and of entrepreneurial profit. Do value and surplus value have a common origin? The labour of the entrepreneur as productive, i.e. labour producing surplus value, contrary to reproductive labour. Variable capital: V+v; is ‘productivity of reproductive labour’ an oxymoron?
9. Productive forces and relations of production; Marx’s mantra of ‘production and reproduction of relations of production’. Behind the ars combinatorica of Schumpeter’s entrepreneur, the Marxization will discover the enigma of the production of relations of production. The production of relations of production as a condition of possibility of ‘expanded reproduction’.
10. The labour of man and of nature: doesn’t the socialized natural process, e.g. the sheep – not as a natural process as such but as a living organ extending the living human body – produce value? This is the problem of x as an expansion of v. But when the very processing of the natural process is socialized, e.g. in the sheep Dolly, a technological simulacrum, this х comes out to be an expansion of c.
11. The socialization of the processing of natural processes, accelerating them, de-phases natural process that are not socialized but are conditions of possibility of the processing of the socialized ones. In supermodern capitalism the problem is no longer that the idealization z=0 isn’t practically true, that capital becomes devaluated, but that z>m, devaluation surpasses surplus value.
Closing themes: Towards Weber’s sociology of religion? (two scenarios in the face of ecollapse)
1. Supermodern capitalism and the unstoppable expansion of mediators gone mad: from Weber’s ‘last ton of coal’ to the ecollapse that is a consequence of the socialization of the processing of natural processes that de–phase such processes that are not socialized (but without which the socialized ones cannot process). Historical limits of modern capitalism.
2. Containing that expansion as a chance to avoid the ecollapse scenario. Marx, Weber and the historical fate of modern and supermodern capitalism: ‘expropriation of expropriators’ or a new economic eths having its conditions in a new religious ethic – a new asceticism but with regard to the capitalist productive labour, to profitability as ‘constantly renewed profit’?
3. Toward an economy inheriting the economic structure of mediation of modern capitalism; the problem of the function of capital in it. Containing the expansion means ‘capitals that are again not in a free form’ and ‘liberation of labour’ not according to Marx. What are the chances of the historical scenario in which labour is not estranged from itself in itself?
1 These lectures, essentially analogous to those in the Institute for Critical Theories of Supermodernity, but entitled ‘Historical sociology of modern and supermodern capitalism’, are mandatory in the doctoral programme of ‘Science, technology and supermodern capitalism’ in the University of Plovdiv (endeavours that are, so to say, in Wahlverwandschaft with those in the Institute). Therefore I think that in our discussions it is reasonable to follow the requirements of Ockham’s razor – footnote mine, D.D.