How Can We Problematise Supermodern Capitalism?

The first session of the Institute for Critical Theories of Supermodernity was entitled How Can We Problematise Supermodern Capitalism? and took place on January 9 and 10, 2016, in Sofia.


Saturday, January 9

Plenary 1: Critical theory and supermodern capitalismchair: Andrey Raychev

Deyan Deyanov, ‘Capital as a structure of mediation: c+v+V+m–z (an interim summary)


An interim summary of the theory of structures of mediation is not possible to do for 60 minutes. Instead of it, if I want to sum up that summary very laconically (but also very personally and dogmatically) for about two minutes, I may be able to do it: 1. capital is a quantitatively expanding structure of mediation which can hardly expand without limits and therefore every critique of political economy is a theory that has to think capital through historical limits; 2. Marx – despite all of his revolutionary discoveries – is not aware of what these limits are since, instead of criticizing the idealizations of Ricardo’s labour theory of value, and instead of understanding that surplus value is produced only by innovative labour, succumbs to ideological dogmas (and more generally, to modernist self-evidences); 3. hence, instead of noticing that capital is quantitatively structured as c+v+V+m-z (where V is the force of innovative labour as variable capital, and z is he ecological devaluation of capital), he stays with his famous c+v+m; 4. we, the supermoderns of the early 21st century, however, live precisely at these historical limits (supermodern is that modern capitalism in which modern man’s idealization is not practically true that everything in our life is calculable, predictable etc. – cf. Weber) and ecollapse and capitalist class racism are impending on us, so we cannot be content with Marx’s legacy; 5. therefore we must a) give up Ricardo’s idealization in the labour theory of value, i.e. z=0, and b) Schumpeterize Marx and Marxicise Schumpeter in the theory of surplus value; 6. only then will we become aware that the ecological time-bomb was set several centuries ago in the fateful meeting, in modern technology, of modern capitalism with the so-called Galilean science – a meeting in which, not by necessity, a historical necessity has happened (but this necessity, since it itself has not happened by necessity, is actually not so fatal as it appears to us); 7. in order to think theoretically all that is everyday before our eyes, we must put under a logical microscope the mutual mediation of such structures of mediation as economy and politics, science and technologies, ethics and religion in supermodern capitalism (not forgetting that they are not all, as such, quantitatively expanding); 8. such logical microscopes require logics that are far more multidimensional than Hegels’ and Marx’s syllogistics (therefore I promise to pester you with them as little as possible; 9. the conclusion of the presentation is that from now on, several historical scenarios are possible – and only in one of them the human race, as well as the good that is common for all of us, the living earth, Gaia, stay alive; 10. this scenario is somewhat Weberian: it presupposes a religious conversion – a new religious ethics, and hence a new economic ethos, obliging us to live in an ascesis with regard to the capitalist productive labour, i.e. with regard to profitability thought as a ‘constantly self-renewing profit’.

Plenary 2: Problematisations of the limits of modern capitalismchair: Darin Tenev

Andrey Bundjulov, ‘The boundaries of capitalism: subduing the irrational impulse’


The goal of the presentation is to problematize, in a very broad outline, the boundaries of capitalism and the possibility of emergence of new places (social communities) – of a new type ofheterotopias’, onesreassemblingthe connections between man, nature and society. The starting point is the clarification of the concept itself ofboundary/boundariesof capitalism/capitalisms, emphasizing those semantic transfers on the plane of the concepts oflimitboundarymeasure’, ‘bad infinity’, ‘substance-subject’, that took place unnoticeably from Hegels Logic to Marxs Capital. And also the distinction between the history and the everyday life of the capitalist ‘system-world’ through the prism of heliotropic and normalizing effects. Continuing this motive, I raise the question of history and everyday life in the capitalist ‘system-world’ based on the understanding that capitalist forms form specific historical and everyday contents (attitudes) for which are valid, respectively, history as an infinite tending towards a future and of everyday life as an infinite deviation from normatively explicit limits, i.e. from transcendent and immanent limits. The symptomatic of the so-called postmodern situation is one of falling into the ‘measureless’ as a destruction of the capitalist system’s specific measure defined through capital motivation as ‘limitlessly self-growing value’. The key role here is of Hegel’s concept of ‘bad infinity’ as a ‘quantitative progress to infinity which continually surmounts the limit it is powerless to remove’. Thus the boundaries of capitalism are outlined as immanent to capitalism itself, irresolvable contradictions, embedded in capital itself as an infinitely self-growing value – exploitation of man and of nature at the same time. Is it possible ‘to subdue the irrational impulse’ contained in the capital motivation itself? As we know, Marx’s answer is negative while Weber’s is positive. In Marx’s perspective, the boundaries of capitalism are outlines as its immanent, irresolvable contradictions/limits, residing in the very irrational character of capital as an infinitely self-growing value by exploitation of hired labour within the capitalist enterprise. Unlike Marx, Weber interprets capitalism as a ‘rational-capitalist organization of (formally) free labour’ which can be ‘identical precisely to the subduing, the rational regulation of this irrational impulse’ and in this sense, as we would say today, as an ‘infinitely adaptive system’. But in Weber, as in Marx, capital motivation oscillates along the ‘rational-irrational’ axis, revealing in the final account the symptomatic of the irrational. The new heterotopias, renouncing capital motivation itself, seek for answers, approaches to a new ethics (a new moral connection) defining on a new plane collective identities and social solidarity.

 Petar-Emil Mitev, ‘Intellectual shortage and the crisis of the capitalist system-world’


In the 1990s, Bernard Muntian (1919–2006) launched the thesis thatlie is the number one global problem for the survival of the species of Homo Sapiens’. In the meantime, lie has grown long informational legs. In this presentation, ‘intellectual shortage’ is understood as a wider notion of thinking (measured in key evaluations and governing decisions) being under the level of knowledge, science and capacities of reason in the contemporary era. ‘Lie’ in this context is a special case of deliberate (malevolent) production of intellectual shortage. The presentation contains two aspects: concrete-historical and theoretical-analytic. The paradox of the epoch is that it moves towards a ‘knowledge society’ while intellectual deficiency deepens, as is seen from the attempts at geopolitical engineering and the clash with radical Islam. Deciphering the paradox leads to the insurmountable irrationality hidden in the mechanism of capitalist accumulation and in the geopolitical impasse of liberal ideology.

Todor Hristov, ‘Fictitious Capital, Fictional Capitalism’


Marx supposed that economic growth causes the growth of fictitious capital. But fictitions capital is produced by structures of mediation that draw their power from the crediting mechanisms. Due to that, as soon as in times of crisis credit becomes scarce, these structures of mediation are stuck and, devoid of their support, fictitious capital crumbles down to the level of real capital. But that didnt happen in the 2008 crisis. I will present a few Marxist and non-Marxist explanations as to why it didn’t. I will try to demonstrate that, despite their perspicacity, they suffer from a limited theory of fictionality that does not permit them to explain how it is possible for fictionality to generate reality. I will try to illustrate this reality effect by analyzing a few programs of providing liquidity to the banking sector in the recent years.

Plenary 3: On the nature of nature: biocapitalism, ecollapsechair: Todor Hristov

 Darin Tenev, ‘Nature and possibility: avenues of approach to the problem’


The problem of how to think nature today stands not only before the natural and mathematical sciences but also before every critical theory that wants to take into account the limits of supermodern capitalism (and whether there are ones) and of the possibilities and the eventual price of its surmounting; but further this question also stands before philosophy which has not given up asking what is being said when talking of the ‘nature’ of anything. A long tradition ahs imposed the definition of technology, culture, history, society etc. primarily by opposing nature. The presentation, which is to show the direction in which the present project will develop, will defend a position that renounces the still too easily accepted oppositions, by proposing a new rethinking of the relation between nature and possibility, which would outline a new concept of nature. The emphasis will be, on the one hand, on the problem of nature as natura naturans, where producing is conceived as production of unpregiven possibilities; and on the other, on the modes of self-restriction of the possible as the nature’s restricting itself. A quick glance will be thrown at two moments of the philosophical history of thinking nature – Aristotle’s physics and Hegel’s dialectics.

 Svetlana Sabeva, ‘Biocapitalism and the limits of supermodernity: the problem of “biologically gained time”


The historical process, starting in the 19th c., that Michel Foucault defines as ‘political occupation’ of the biological life of the human race and the emergence of ‘biopower’, has acquired a specific form today. The exercise of biopower is no longer just an integral part of supermodern capitalism: in unity with the supermodern technological paradigm and neoliberal ideology, contemporary capitalism is transformed into biocapitalism which turns the life substances into a profitable (and potentially immortal) ‘biological resource’.

Biocapitalism builds material production and human reproduction into the process of life in a new way, introducing into it a cleavage unknown heretofore, dividing it into living and surviving and turning the latter into the most insecure (and therefore ‘most exploited’) human condition. Survival is an undecision between life and death, a deprivation of time, and therefore a par excellence ‘place of desire’. Hence the symbolic constitution of the question of life as desired, valued, valorized, i.e. as a good; hence the discourses of risk, dangers and threats, their calculation, as well as the struggles for their privatization and collectivization. It is precisely because it invents and invests into the biological modality of survival – by the so-called ‘biologically gained time and the socialization of the process of life as zoéthat contemporary capitalism seems eternal.

In addition to the themes raised in my project, I will try to outline two more: the contemporary Life Sciences as a capitalist enterprise (‘enterprise’ in the meaning of Weber, and also of Heidegger); given time vs. biologically gained time’.

Georgi Medarov, ‘The incommensurability in the conceptions of ecological crisis as a problem for the theory of structures of mediation’


I will view the incommensurabilities in the interpretations of ecologic crisis in a dialogue with the theory of structures of mediation. Do notions of crisis inscribe well into the logic of quantitatively expanding structures of mediation? Or are they an instrument of restoration of measure, pointing to the historical and natural limits of capital? The category of ‘nature’ needs to be explained. It is produced within the experience of the enlargement of quantitatively expanding structures of mediation that overcome bodily biological temporal, territorial etc. limits. ‘Nature’, however, is not the monopoly of capital but is potentially autonomous, and is mobilized for a multitude of goals.

Some interpretations of the ecological crisis involve it into the logic of quantitatively expanding structures of mediation, such as the trade of emissions andecosystem services’; the EC plans to reduce biodiversity to a quantitatively measurable universal equivalent; the techno-utopias of passing fromovercomingtoadaptation toclimate change; the EC strategy ofdeveloping the bio-economy’; visions of climate-sustainable ways of life as excluding thesuperfluous’ (from the perspective of capital) populations. The expectation of impending crisis can naturalize social inequalities and contribute toclasses becoming races’ (D. Deyanov). I will also consider those interpretations of crisis that presctibe the restoration of measure: the discourses of the colonial climate debt of developed nations; the critiques to the ‘financialization of nature’; the ‘economic downshifting’ movements. Important here re also the attempts to involve the ecologic question into Marx’s critique of political economy as a productive overproduction undermining the conditions of extracting surplus value.

Plenary 4: More on the nature of nature: labour power chair: Momchil Hristov

Tanya Orbova, ‘The problem of labour power in supermodern capitalism’


In the capitalist mode of production, as notes Marx, labour power turns into a special kind of commodity. He, by necessity, following the labour theory of value, thinks the value of labour power as defined by a definite quantity of average social labour reified in it, thus the working time necessary to produce labour power is reduced to the labour time necessary to produce means of life. That means that labour force as a definite quantity of human muscles, nerves and brains is only reproduced by reproducing life itself – i.e. it is a given magnitude, as are the means of life (although he says that they are a historical product). Thus Marx reduces the labour or production and reproduction of labour power to the labour in the productive process, leaving aside the category of leisure time, which is actually the time in which its value is realized, as does the possibility to add value. Hence the impossibility for Marx to think the innovative labour of the worker himself who, reproducing his labour power, also has the possibility, so to say, to innovate it. Therefore, in my presentation, I would like to trace how this develops logically on the side of the worker and what the objective and subjective consequences are of the alienation of labour power as commodity. Can we, in these supermodern, non-Marxian times, think labour power not as a special kind of commodity but as a special kind of capital, and what are the conditions under which the labour of reproducing labour power can be thought as innovative labour? I raise these questions in the context of my project’s overall problematic related to the acceleration of the pace of life and the crisis of symbolic forms in which supermodern man lives and thinks time.

 Konstantin Kabourov, ‘The human being as a socialised natural process. The problem of the enhanced human’


The socialization of natural processes is in the basis of societys development of society, nevertheless these processes should not be passed over uncritically.

In Privileged Points of View, A. Raychev writes that the socialization of a natural process inevitably leads to a change in the socium, but what is at stake when we speak of socializing the human body? How would that reflect on the production process? Marx speaks of critical history of the machine and analyses the relation between the machine and the worker, which problem becomes increasingly more topical today with the introduction of exoskeletons, robotized labour etc. The inscription of the machine into the human body must too be considered through the prism of the problem of human enhancements and their consequences.

Raising these problems related to supermodernity cannot do without the question of the limits of Galilean science and the more general problem of thinking capitalism through historical limits.

Sunday, January 10

Plenary 5: Scenes from the past, scenarios for the futurechair: Deyan Deyanov

Andrey Raychev, Kancho Stoychev, ‘Starting of a New Time, emergence of a new community’


We know from the crisis theory that every mediator is a former crisis, and resolving every crisis (as far as there is no disappearing, perishing, death) flows into a mediator. The mediator is a past crisis, a crisis in rest, a social thing.
 It follows from here that (1) every innovation essentially comes down to the emergence of a structure of mediation.
 On the other hand (2) mediators of type І reproduce communities – from another perspective – they provide the cyclicity of time.
 The two together generate a paradox:
 The new mediator cannot emerge within the community. But by definition it cannot emerge outside of it (merely because it is an object internal to the community).
 The solution to this paradox is as follows. The community marginalizes an individual, pushes him out into the beyond, into this community’s own beyond, there where there is no order. He wanders about the beyond and comes back with a mediator that restores the cycle of time in the community (e.g. the fire dies, someone is guilty and expelled, he comes back with a flint).
 However, this is not the elementary movement of ‘fire burning – fire dying fire burning’. This is not a simple negation and its removal. The movement is triple, it is a negation of negation, of the type:
 alive – dead – resurrected,
 sighted – blind – seeing again,
 nature – privation – gift,
 identity – difference – identity of identity and difference.
 From another perspective: identity – deidentification – reidentification. The latter can be conceived as ‘accumulation’ of subjecthood. Because the individual is already self-defined in a new way.
 But if we stay with this statement, we will put the burden of history, the processes of change, on the back of the creative individual. We can avoid this undesirable theoretical fate if we look at the community as a temporal structure. Namely:
 We can express cyclic time this way:
 (1) We do the same – the same happens.
 But by virtue of the ‘formula of capital’ as obtained by Deyanov, that the capital is c + v + m – z, we obtain a different movement of time:
 (2) We do the same – something different happens.
 This time of crisis flow out into:
 (3) We do something different – the same happens
 (which is precisely the restoration of a community commented above. E.g. even in Columbus seeks for a different way to reach that same India but without no Portuguese standing in the way).
 Hence, however, it follows that there is a fourth, principally different movement:
 (4) We do something different – something different happens.
 Which is what happens with Great Charismatics: Jesus, Mohammed, Luther, Lenin, Hitler, the hippies etc.
 Here a New Time starts, a new community emerges.

 Darin Tenev, critical comments on the presentation
 Andrey Raychev, Kancho Stoychev, reply to the critique

Svetlozar Anev, ‘Entrepreneurship and innovations in the production of surplus value’


The wide frame in which Schumpeters theory of economic development allows us to think entrepreneurial labour and its specific innovative actions provides a possibly true solution to the question of reproduction of surplus value. Moreover, the innovations related to expanding the market or to the discovery and imposing of new ways to sell goods support the transformation of surplus value into gains, i.e. they facilitate the unproblematic closing of capital’s turnover. With such a way of rising the problem, we can view as a series of innovations and skillful entrepreneurial solutions not only the incessant technological optimizations in production but also the different forms of ‘optimizing’ labour. The latter relates to not-so-nice practices in the constant territorial expansion of capitalism, be it supermodern or not.

Plenary 6: On the logic of critical theory: Hegel and Marx chair: Andrey Raychev

Martina Mineva, Marxicising Hegel’s syllogistics and the problem of modalities


The presentation’s main goal is to clarify the role of logical problematic for the development of the theory of structures of mediation. Thus it will neither propose a new Marxization of Hegel’s syllogistics, nor will it solely critically discuss the main hypotheses of the possibility of doing it. it is also conceives as an attempt to reach the idealizations and restrictions of these hypotheses and to outline basic modal logical problems that the theory of structures of mediation would have to face as a result. Hence it is possible to see that questions like ‘how is it possible that there be logic in the historical necessity and possibility that are not pregiven but happen?’ are not problems either for Hegel’s logic in the Encyclopedia or The Science of Logic, or for the logic in which Marx thinks in Capital. However, their thematization, on the one hand, gives a new density of meaning and depth to the logical problems that the theory of structures of mediation is facing today (more specifically, a theory of structures of mediation that bestow measure), an on the other hand it could provide a chance for supermodern capitalism to be thought through historical limits.

Deyan Deyanov, How is a non-Hegelian sublation possible?


I insist on saying honestly that this presentation is experimental: it, thinking through Hegel and Marx, problematizes their logical legislations and first of all the law of the negation of the negation). I will also say in the beginning what I rather sketchily hinted at in the 1980s: in Hegels logic, negation is the heir of Aristotles στέρησις, ofnegation as privationand the negation of the negation is the sublationHegels famous Aufhebung – of this privation and, eo ipso, a resolving of the contradiction (a sublation that is ‘with no residue’ in Hegel and ‘with residue’ in Marx). At that time, however, I was not yet aware that negation as privation and negation of the negation as a sublation of that privation in the predicate have as their necessary condition of possibility a negation as privation and a negation of the negation as sublation of the privation within the subject itself of the speculative proposition; and this raises in a wholly new way the problem of the critique of the laws of identity and the impossibility of contradiction in Hegel, putting the emphasis on the so-called cotradictio in subjecto. Besides that: at that time, I was primarily interested in the incommensurability between the logical legislations of Hegel and Aristotle and this is why I left in a methodological shadow the incommensurability between Hegel and Marx; it is on the latter that I will throw light in this presentation. What I will reach can be summed up roughly as follows: if in Hegel the negation of the negation is eo ipso an assertion (which is, therefore, pregiven), in Marx is just the opposite: the assertion, which as such is unpregiven, comes out to be eo ipso a negation of the negation (and even that is not pregiven by anything whatsoever). This is the negation of the negation that I will call ‘non-Hegelian sublation’.