Dirty Capitalism

The concept of ‘dirty capitalism’ (Buckel 2015) opposes the idea of a “pure” capitalism according to which an analysis of social developments can be achieved by applying the category of class and focusing on the contradiction between capital and labor. With Marx and against Marx the term counters such conceptualizations with an analysis of the historically grown capitalist mode of socialization (“Vergesellschaftung”), in which diverse relations of power combine and newly articulate a complex whole.

Thus, categories such as race and gender neither present side contradictions (Nebenwidersprüche) of capitalism nor extensions to enrich its analysis, but are the product of conditions on whose continuation capitalism is constitutively dependent.

The term “dirty capitalism” emphasizes a double movement. Firstly, it is a social-theoretical concept which emphasizes that there is no, and has never been an, “impure”1 form of capitalism in the above-mentioned sense. Secondly, capitalism is dirty in that it is a multiple relation of domination. Critical analysis of capitalism therefore always means analyzing with the objective of emancipation.

From this analytical perspective emerges a modified view of emancipation: the challenge is to create a project which knits together strategies of resistance against the different relations of power in the knowledge that only an attack from various points of departure, while having in mind the complex whole, is able to question and overcome the capitalist mode of socialization.

Or, to put it in Marx‘ words: that genuinely all relations of power have to be taken into account in the attempt “to overthrow all relations in which the human being2 is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence.” (MEW 1, 385). Every omission marks a blind spot which in some circumstances might be accounted for by one’s own privileges but undermines emancipatory political practice.

If one thinks this Marxian version of the categorical imperative through to its end, there can be no talk of pure and abstract laws of movement anymore. This can also be shown when uncovering a marginalized Marx who himself approvingly states that such trans-historical “abstract laws do not exist” (MEW 23, 26f), and that the capitalist mode of production itself is dependent on the simultaneous existence of other modes of production (MEW 4, 114) which are not based in the value form (such as e.g. subsistence economy, production based on enslavement, and unwaged reproductive labor).

The underlying reason can be found in capitalism’s inability “to reproduce in its entirety through the value form. […] A complete commodification of everything and everyone, above all a pure capitalist economy, is out of question.” (Jessop 2001, 28, own translation).

However, with Marx one can argue against Marx, that although he recognized and selectively analyzed this relation – for instance with the “primitive accumulation of capital” – he never developed it systematically. Thereby, Marx falls short of his own research program since according to the “materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life.” (MEW 21, 27).3 Silvia Federici supposes that the reason for Marx’ tenacious omission of reproductive labor is the condition of the working class in England: on average, female workers hired themselves out in the factory for twelve to fourteen hours per day and had hardly any time to take care of the household. Up until the 1870s, consistent with a policy of the “unlimited extension of the working-day” (MEW 23, 248), “and the utmost compression of the cost of labor-power production, reproductive work was reduced to a minimum.” (Federici 2012, 94).

Whereas one could grant Marx the claim that the analysis of dirty capitalism, in which various relations of power are interlocking for the first time towards a globally articulated capitalist mode of socialization, would not have been possible considering the development of social movements as well as critical research and its division of labor at the time, today such thinking falls short.

Generations of movements, and with them theorists, referring to Marx have been struggling to overcome the conceptual self-limitation of concentrating on the value form when analyzing capitalism.

De-colonial works (cf. e.g. Quijano 2007, Lugones 2008, Dussel 2000) show that the capitalist mode of socialization, with its onset in the beginning of modernity, and the emergence of nation states which was articulated with it, have been imperatively dependent on the violent and unpaid appropriation of foreign labor, land and raw materials.

These works, however, insist that primitive accumulation does not stand, as Marx implied, at the outset of capitalism only, but presents an ongoing process (already Rosa Luxemburg pointed towards this) apparent in phenomena such as land-grabbing or bio-piracy (for an overview cf. Dörre 2012).

This highly violent process, which found its most brutal expression in transatlantic trade and in the devastation of enslaved persons, is combined with the formation of a colonial system whose effects persist despite formal decolonization. Its core is constituted by the racialization of humanity (Mills 1997, 20ff.) which enables in the first place the direct and indirect violence inscribed in diverse parts of this order, such as the division of labor, knowledge production, border regimes, differentiation of individual rights, and chances of life (Caceres 2017, 9ff).

Until this day, colonial relations of power are constitutive of the capitalist mode of socialization: economically they permit the continued seizure of land, raw materials and labor – either unpaid or below reproduction costs. Politically they have deeply divided the global working class and thereby serve as a stabilizing resource to follow through with its exploitation.

In the same manner also, gender relations are dividing the global working class. According to Marx’ value theory of labor, surplus value is created when the labor power is not only producing the equivalent to its own value, i.e. the value necessary for its own reproduction (Marx, MEW 23, 184), but works beyond this point and thereby produces excess value. The labor time necessary for the physical and emotional reproduction of labor power (a power that, according to Marx, takes the shape of the form of a commodity in capitalism) remains unpaid, and is thus free of charge to the capitalist class. If this would not be the case, costs would be so high that the surplus value of labor becomes marginal. Capitalist value-creation thus rests on a cushion of mainly unpaid and female care work (Wichterich 2009, 22).

In this, women* and men* are not given biological entities but embodiments of social relations of power: genders are socially produced as binary, and only binary, with respectively contrary desires along the heterosexual matrix. The gender-hierarchical division of labor is “a central, possibly even the central mode of the social construction of gender” (Wetterer 2002: 26, own translation), since the re-/production process is also bringing forth the possibility of differentiating between the genders and the firm belief in their naturalness: by constantly doing different things, men* and women* become different.

Undoubtedly, the analytical perspective which is articulated with the concept of dirty capitalism continues to be confronted with the challenges of over-complexity. However, those still convinced that capitalism can be analyzed by focusing exclusively on the value form or the relation between capital and labor only prove that they are neither up to date with current research nor with current struggles.

With regard to academic and theoretical work, the point is to achieve collective knowledge production by innovatively connecting divided and specialized research. It is therefore necessary to create the conditions and spaces for such collectivizing endeavors.

In order for this mode of socialization, which not only in its formative stages but today still operates behind people’s backs “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (MEW 23, 788), to come to its world-historical end and to be replaced by an emancipatory society, it is required that the protagonists of this change be equipped with a comprehensive social perspective, one which has been developed in the last decades in arduous conflicts.

Those who fall short of such a perspective have to put up with the accusation of bigotry. Because the real movement which aims to abolish the present state of things can only succeed when it establishes a common interest of all the “debased, enslaved, abandoned and despicable”, who despite being differently affected take the perspective of society as a whole and go all out for change.

Double Socialization of Women

The term “double socialization of women” [doppelte Vergesellschaftung von Frauen] was coined by the German sociologist Regina Becker-Schmidt (1991, 2003, 2010) in order to theorize the relation between gender and socialization as well as the discrimination and resistance of women. A former student of Theodor W. Adorno, Becker-Schmidt is strongly anchored within Marxist and critical theory but specifically criticizes the notions of ‘labor’ and ‘socialization’ employed by both theoretical traditions (e.g., Marx 1962, 53) for failing to capture the social significance of private housework (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 11). While Adorno and Horkheimer, for example, did criticize the inadequate social recognition of housework (see Becker-Schmidt 2003, 12) they nevertheless retained the Marxist equation of labor with productive labor and located women in the private sphere of the family (see Becker-Schmidt 1991, 289-390). In a feminist re-interpretation of Marxist and critical theory, Becker-Schmidt exposes not only the social and psychological consequences for women of the gendered division of labor in capitalist society, but also the ideological nature of ruling gender relations.

Becker-Schmidt further developed a number of feminist critiques of, and engagements with, Marxist theory. In Italy these debates were initiated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1972, 159-160), who in contrast to Marx ascribed surplus value to (mainly women’s) housework activities, arguing that the capitalist class could only produce surplus value because work as commodity was reproduced in the private sphere. Other Marxist feminists substantiated Dalla Costa’s manifesto using empirical data. Based on historical research, Silvia Federici (2012; other works on the topic date back into the mid- 1970s) interpreted the gendered division of labor as a (pre-)condition of capitalism. In Germany, the Bielefeld group around Maria Mies coined the term Hausfrauisierung der Arbeit [Housewification of work; trasl. N.R.] in order to theorize the observation that the gendered division of labor is not only a necessary basic condition of capitalist relations of production but also leads to the systematic demotion of reproductive labor (Werlhof, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen 1988).

Becker-Schmidt complemented these more structural Marxist feminist analyses by a psychological perspective that asks how working conditions are reflected in women’s psyches. Her theoretical endeavors were motivated by empirical analyses of the experiences of women employed as factory workers and who furthermore shouldered the majority of childcare and housework responsibilities in their families (Becker-Schmidt 1980). The interviewees insisted on the significance of both forms of work while relating their difficulties of combining and alternating between two incommensurable spheres of work. On top of the time-consuming nature of this double-burden, the women experienced considerable psychological pressure trying to live up to the distinct requirements of these two fundamentally different lines of work. Nevertheless, for their own personal fulfillment the women chose to put up with the consequences: “It is a lack within one domain of practice that is compensated by gratification within the other domain” (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 67; transl. N.R.). Becker-Schmidt (2010, 66-8) developed her social theory on the basis of the experiences of these women and called for a re-interpretation of the Marxist notion of socialization: women, insofar as they partake in both productive and reproductive labor, are subject to ‘double socialization’.

The process in which individuals in capitalist society become members of society is fundamentally mediated by (wage) labor. Along the lines of class, ethnicity, and other social groups, individuals are socialized into concrete relations of labor and gender (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 1-2). The logic of capitalism furthermore infiltrates all domains of social life by increasing rationalization, the logic of exploitation, unification, and ubiquitous commodification. However, the process of socialization is not only achieved by partaking in social life. Becker-Schmidt borrows the term ‘inner socialization’ from Adorno in order to theorize the fact that individuals adjust their inner lives to the demands of objective reality, i.e., drive and personality structures as well as patterns of action and perception are reconfigured in response to social forces. This intrapsychic adjustment does not come without resistance, though (Becker-Schmidt 1991, 36). Defiance arises when the potential of self-determination, i.e., ‘individuation’, is constrained too much in the process of socialization. Individuals can thus never be totally socialized (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 2).

Broadening the androcentric notion of labor in Marxist theory allows for the ideological nature of ruling gender relations to come into view. Becker-Schmidt here addresses the social separation of productive labor and reproductive labor as an artificial division of two social domains that are hierarchically ordered along gender lines, while at the same fundamentally interrelated. In order to understand the ideological nature of this division, she employs Marx’ analysis of commodity fetishism (Marx 1962, 86). Marx proposed that capital and human labor are structurally related. While capital is needed in order to produce machines, it is wage labor that puts them into operation. It is thus only when both capital and labor are combined that commodities can be produced. However, to the workers it seems as if machines produced without their effort. In commodity fetishism commodities appear as natural things, and the social conditions of their production, as well as the human labor necessary to produce them, are obscured. Becker-Schmidt (2010, 72) proposes that a similar mechanism makes the social value of women’s care and housework invisible: while reproductive labor is utterly indispensable in order for productive labor power to be (re-)created and sustained, the mutual interdependence of these two social domains is obscured in capitalist society. It is exactly by rendering the inextricable interrelation of productive and reproductive labor invisible that relations of power and oppression elude criticism and resistance (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 69-72).

Beyond a social-theoretical analysis of women’s exploitation and discrimination, the notion ‘double socialization of women’ also allows to take into view specific potentials for resistance, for both women’s inner and outer socialization are marked by more ruptures than are men’s. In their biographical development, girls tend to identify more strongly with parents of both genders and with their respective gender roles than do their male siblings. Thus, they do not unambivalently internalize their socially-attributed gender role. This mode of inner socialization of women creates specific patterns of perception and thought (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 68-9). Maybe more importantly, however, insofar as they partake in both productive and reproductive labor, women are not totally subject to the logic of rationalization that characterizes wage labor (Becker-Schmidt 1991, 389). It is exactly because women are socialized through both of these social domains that the contradictory nature of social organization can be unveiled. To Becker-Schmidt, this opening for defiance, critique, and resistance carries the enormous potential “of collapsing the entire casing of unreasonableness and unacceptability which houses women’s ambivalent socialization into two halved life-worlds.” (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 72-3; transl. N.R.).


Enthusiasm, an affect once associated with abstraction and testimony to divine inspiration, has its origins in religious experience.1 In the long history of this Western phenomenon, it was generally thought that the only real measure of humanity’s access to divinity could be confirmed by the expression of something named “enthusiasm.” Over time a series of religious reformations coupled with modern social and political enlightenments, transformed enthusiasm from a religious affect into a political danger. And, by the end of the 18th century, enthusiasm seemed to have become a centerpiece of revolutionary, rather than religious, life.2

Because of this complicated admixture of religious and revolutionary potencies, we should not be surprised that Marx struggled to orient himself to the concept of enthusiasm. If capital’s power manifests itself in abstractions that re-disguise materiality, enthusiasm might appear as a significant resource for capitalism, generating new pathways for novelty (Toscano 2008). But, as I hope to illustrate, Marx’s language on enthusiasm shifts, specifically from Enthusiasmus to Begeisterung, tracing Marx’s changing thinking on the communist revolution, as well as the religious imaginary. Following this shift, we see an opening for a new modality of enthusiasm that can be deployed against capitalism and towards collective agency, in the form of a revolutionary occupation.

1. Illusions

Marx’s struggle with religion, and its notable absence in his theory of a communist future, is well known (Colas 1997, 337-342). Contextually, Marx is often read as one who means to assault the passivity of religion, in contrast to the necessary activity of the enlightenment of communism (Rosenberg 2011, 60). Indeed, the religious experience he so often describes looks to be emblematic of a logic of abstraction. As he famously exclaims, “Religion is the general theory of the world – its encyclopedic compendium, logic in popular form, spiritualistic point-d’honeur, its enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus), its moral sanction, its solemn complement, its general consolation and justification.” (Marx 1976a, 378).3

What would Marx mean here by referring to religion as the enthusiasm of the world? His own vocabulary in this passage seems particularly abstract. In its totality of form and spirit, Marx presents religion with a force that is undeniable. As he continues, “Religious misery is at once the expression of true suffering and also the protest against true misery. Religion is the sigh of the desperate creature, the heart of a heartless world, the ghost of a spiritless condition. It is the opium of the people.” (Marx 1976a, 378). Here, in this famous passage, Marx illustrates the potency of religion’s force. There is a double, liminal quality to religion; religion appears to be both something and nothing – both pain and the protest against pain, heart and heartlessness, spirit and spiritlessness. Significantly, this double quality becomes a vehicle for bourgeois forces. Capital – so easily dressed in religious disguise – deploys such forces to exploit, with the consequence of deep-seated alienation. In naming enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus) as central to this double quality of religion, Marx highlights for us his thinking on this phenomenon. He sees enthusiasm as something of a passage between the presence and absence of reality – a sort of threshold between illusion and true reality.

2. Enthusiasm and Interest

Marx’s early language on enthusiasm demonstrates that this phenomenon might be caught between abstracted and material realities. This is especially clear in his pairing of the concepts of enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus) and interest (Interesse). Reflecting on the dangerous bourgeois logics he sees as apparent in earlier modalities of revolution, Marx explains, If the [French] revolution was a failure, it was not because the masses were ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘interested’ in the revolution, but because the most numerous part – the part distinct from the bourgeoisie – was not really interested in the principle of revolution, did not have a peculiarly revolutionary principle – only an ‘idea’ – and so only an object of momentary enthusiasm and apparent uprising.” (Marx 1972b, 87). Marx’s use of the idiom enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus) seems to borrow from the Greek etymology to be inspired, possessed by a god. Interest, by contrast, conveys the importance of something – that which is of interest is that something which would make a difference (from the Latin interresse – to be between, “inter” and “esse”, to be of difference). Joining enthusiasm and interest together, Marx highlights a notion of enthusiasm as that affect which “makes a difference” or at least that feeling that “a difference” is being made. This is consistent with several instances of Marx’s use of enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus) in his thought, prior to 1848. As Marx summarizes, “No class of civil society can play this [transformative] role without arousing a moment of enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus) in itself and in the masses… a moment in which it is truly the social head and the social heart.” (Marx 1976a, 388).4 The moment of enthusiasm matters; though Marx seems, at least in his early work, unclear as to why.

In Marx’s early uses of the term “enthusiasm” he seems to simply recapitulate the religious affect, even in political contexts. But such an expression of enthusiasm risks the agency of those who experience it. I propose that, at least within his terminology, we see an anxiety regarding the utilization of enthusiasm. If enthusiasm is an affect that shows us difference, what is the moment of difference, and who is making it? Attention to Marx’s changing language on enthusiasm highlights a resolution to this problematic. Indeed, in his later writing, we see a rethinking of enthusiasm, such that it might become possible to counteract the illusionary qualities latent in the previous “religious” conception.

3. New Possessions

As his work progresses, Marx begins to deploy a new vocabulary for enthusiasm. This shift in his language and his thinking is most obvious in the Communist Manifesto, where the language of the “spectre” (Gespenst) highlights a move in vocabularies away from revolution as confrontation, and towards a language of haunting through occupation.5 The work of the Manifesto highlights another form of political power – a “public” power – that lies in collectivity itself. This collectivity is best concieved as a spectre, haunting the living, coopting the ghostly power of capital from itself. This spectre becomes the “true democracy” to be fulfilled, where free development of each and all is possible. As Marx explains,

The bourgeoisie, when it comes to rule, has destroyed all the feudal, patricidal, idyllic conditions. It has mercilessly torn the multicolored and variegated feudal ties that bound humanity to any natural order and left no other link between man and man than pure, naked interest. It has drowned the holy shudders of pious fanaticism (Schwärmerei), of chivalrous enthusiasm (Begeisterung), of petty-bourgeois sadness in the icy waters of selfish calculation. (Marx 1972c,  464-65).

At this crucial moment in the Manifesto, when Marx is explicating the logic of “overturning” essential to the bourgeois activity of revolution, we see an important edit. The bourgeoisie have eradicated zealotry (Schwärmerei) and chivalrous enthusiasm (Begeisterung) in the icy waters of calculation. At first gloss, the emphasis here appears to be on calculation. But a close reading must also account for the specificity of Marx’s language, and what is present and absent: why Schwärmerei and Begeisterung, and not Enthusiasmus? Why this shift in vocabulary?6

The shift we find illustrated here highlights for us a change in Marx’s own thinking. Enthusiasmus may be left out precisely because it was the centerpiece of the bourgeois revolutions. Marx’s use of this new synonym for enthusiasm – Begeisterung (which we might read etymologically as mit Geist erfüllen / filled with spirit/ ghost) – is crucial, for it allows him to move away from the language of religion and divinity and towards the language of haunting. Here, enthusiasm is transformed, precisely at the moment where the word disappears. Enthusiasmas-Begeisterung becomes with spirit, with ghosts, enlivened with inspirations; a clear shift away from thinking on enthusiasm as “god within”. The Manifesto makes possible that shift by its claim to embody the specter that haunts (Gespenst / Geist). Here, Marx introduces us to embodied ghosts, beyond the bourgeois lifeworld and the means of production. This goes to the center of the bourgeois anxiety of production – all that is solid melts away. This shift from “being with god” to “being with spirits” offers a new affective vocabulary that helps to make manifest the activity of occupation (the haunting of capitalist systems of power). Taking over and occupying the networks of bourgeois power, and accelerating those networks—networks of communication, networks of transport, networks of power – enthusiasm as haunting (Begeisterung) becomes the means of countering the illusions manifest in bourgeois enthusiasm (Enthusiasmus). Revolution, in a moment of enthusiasm, is no longer overturning; revolution is occupation.


Marx’s shift in language – a shift which perpetuates throughout most of the remainder of his writings after the publication of The Communist Manifesto – traces a contrasting transformation in his thinking. Begeisterung brings us within enthusiasm. Now enthusiasm-as-Begeisterung has become the affect of revolutionary occupation, not simply the desire for abstraction or revolutionary overturning. “Enthusiasm” seems to be an affective threshold for Marx, residing on the boundary between the religious fantasy of human reality and the affective motivation of true human emancipation. In this way, we can read Marx as beginning a new political enthusiasm.



Taking up an Hegelian idea, Marx refers in Zur Judenfrage to the forms of inclusion and integration that a political state must guarantee. According to Hegel, freedom cannot be reduced to its individual form nor operate only by means of subjective moral reason: it has to be realized by virtue of the reciprocal recognition of individuals within a framework of rational institutions and practices that foster their self-realization, i.e. by way of their inclusion in a rational Sittlichkeit (Hegel 1986, §142-157). Against Bauer, Marx asserts for his part, that Jews do not have to renounce their religion in order to emancipate themselves politically and thus to have the possibility of such inclusive participation. That would have been precisely the end of the bourgeois political revolution: to relegate religion – like any other set of communitarian beliefs and practices – to the private sphere, thereby neutralizing difference and guaranteeing only an abstract political equality thanks to a formal right that exclusively serves the constitutive egoism of civil society (Marx 1972a, 367-370). But this, Marx holds, is insufficient for an authentic human emancipation.1 The problem lies, then, in a law made for unrelated individuals, for a fictitious “legal subject” that distorts the idea of the real individual (Gattungswesen) (ibid. 356-357, 370). As in Hegel, a broader, social notion of freedom is required (Neuhouser 2000), since human emancipation is only possible by virtue of the inclusion of human beings in social institutions and practices that encourage various types of intersubjective relationships which are equally necessary for their full self-realization (Marx 1972a, 370).

In his Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie, Marx seems to complement this perspective with the development of the categories of exclusion and emancipation linked to the figure of the Proletariat – and its roots in the Hegelian notion of the Pöbel (rabble) – which transcends his critique of formal Right. For Hegel, the emergence of the Pöbel is associated with indignation and insurrection (Empörung) against society (Hegel 1986, §244Z). It knows that its condition of absolute deprivation is based on the principles of modern civil society, which is understood as a space of competition where laws only protect atomism, reproduce inequalities and reduce the complex scope of human relations to the satisfaction of private interests, and do not represent a space for the confluence of free wills (Casuso 2017a). Material deprivation by itself does not produce the Pöbel; what is also necessary is the feeling of not being able to guarantee its subsistence or participate in the social advantages by its own means (Hegel 1986, §245).2 It knows that its situation depends on a social structure that hinders the fulfillment of its own ideals of freedom and universal emancipation, which remain an unrealizable possibility (Ibid, §230, 237). The Pöbel perceives this unjust contradiction and this generates indignation (ibid, §244Z). Its members are the excluded: those who abide by the norms of society without obtaining benefits from it or being able to recognize themselves as its co-authors. Thus, unlike the salaried worker who is subjected to exploitation (Ausbeutung), the excluded are not functional to society. In the same way, exclusion is not really a relationship, but a “non-relationship” in which there is no intentionality on the part of an Other, an identifiable agent that could benefit from that relationship. The agent of exclusion is, therefore, society as a whole or, rather, the processes of constitution of a society made to the measure of abstract and selfish individuals. Exclusion, in this way, should not be understood only as the impossibility of participating in the advantages of an already constituted society, but, mainly, as the negative side of the constitutive power of the social (Casuso 2017b). From this a fundamental (or ontological) form of exclusion emerges, one which Marx analyzes in relation to the specific mode of exclusion in modern society: the Proletariat.3 This category has similar characteristics to the Hegelian Pöbel (Marx 1972b, 390-391). As in Hegel, it does not refer only to poverty, but carries the feeling of indignation against a society in which proletarians do not find their own place, not even as workers exploited by an easily identifiable part of the society. Hegel argued that in light of this, the generation of alternative spaces of cooperation was necessary, as these would directly combat the causes of exclusion (Hegel 1986, §253). Corporations (Korporationen) can be taken as a model of this kind of association that allow social restructuring by normatively modifying some modes of human relationship and combating the disintegration, atomism and selfishness of a mercantile society (Casuso 2017a). In that sense, they represent the ethical moment in civil society, its truth (Hegel 1986, §256). As we saw above, Marx’s Proletariat is not seen simply or directly as the working class, that is to say, a class among others, but rather as “a class of civil society that is not a class of civil society” (Marx 1972b, 390). It is, therefore, a “part with no part” (Rancière 2004). In that sense, the resolution of the problem caused by the appearance of the Proletariat necessarily implies the solution of the problems of the social order in terms of emancipation (Marx 1972b, 390). Since this requires “a sphere that has a universal character by virtue of its universal suffering” (ibid), the Proletariat, by transcending the particular, by not properly being a part of society, is in a position to bring about a structural transformation that would universally affect the whole of society and that would be oriented towards a better realization of social freedom. In that sense, as Marx implies in Zur Judenfrage, a political revolution is not enough, because it implies simply replacing one part with another in a liberal struggle for power (Marx 1972a, 368).

As a negative ontological category, the excluded denotes those who do not take part in the constitution of a world to whose rules they are subjected. But this condition entails a critical potential that can lead to social reconfiguration through the exploration of unrealized possibilities which inhabit their experiences of “universal suffering”. Precisely by virtue of this universality, such experiences can be communicated and transcend particular interests. This, in addition, confers on the excluded – as can be observed in the current operation of social movements4 – an epistemic privilege that allows them to first perceive certain malfunctions, reveal social contradictions and contribute to their overcoming. This is something that the more limited category of Ausbeutung – and correspondingly that of the working class – cannot explain with the same degree of clarity.



Educating the Educators

The notion of ‘educating the educator’ appeared as part of Marx’s posthumously published Theses on Feuerbach (1845), which criticizes the materialism of fellow Left Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach for being merely “contemplative [anschauend]” and one-sided. The latter accounts for the sensuousness (Sinnlichkeit) of the world of our experience and its impact on our consciousness, Marx argues, but fails to address the way our praxis constitutes this world. Feuerbach thus misses the fact that we are encountering ourselves, the outcome of our labor, when we encounter the world, which Georg Lukács will later describe as a condition of reification. Moreover, Marx continues, any materialism that overlooks the transformative role of our praxis—the negativity Hegel located at the core of subjectivity (Hegel 1977, 117) – prevents us from grasping not only the truth of experience, but the significance of revolutionary praxis as well.1 We are thus limited to what Jacques Rancière calls “impotent contemplation” (Rancière 2003, 132) and Lukács describes as a “fatalistic stance” (Lukács 1971, 38), allowing us to do little more than interpret the world, when, as Marx’s famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach proclaims, the task is to change it.

Although the eleventh thesis continues to be the most famous, Marx’s third thesis – wherein he asserts “it is essential to educate the educator” – arguably provides more insight into his critical project and the history of self-criticism within the Marxist tradition. Before I discuss the methodological, theoretical, and pedagogical senses of Marx’s claim, here is the relevant section:

The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances [Umstände] and upbringing [Erziehung], and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that it is essential to educate [erziehen] the educator [Erzieher] himself. Hence, this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society [Gesellschaft] into two parts, one of which is superior to society. (Marx 1978, 144)

The methodological conclusion Marx draws is that it is we mere mortals who produce and shape the conditions, which in turn produce and shape us, and thus our methodology must include dialectical and historical methods capable of comprehending this ongoing and multidirectional relationship. In this context, our praxis is the “educator” that shapes or “educates” the material conditions and social relations that inform our beliefs, values, and epistemic frameworks. In short, we produce the material conditions of our own upbringing [Erziehung] and this historical relation can only be understood dialectically and with our praxis at the center of the story.

To make this case, however, is to already enact the second sense of Marx’s claim, which concerns theory. The critique of Feuerbach is a form of educating the educator, but not simply because Feuerbach had been an “educator” to Marx. It is rather that Marx is seeking to re-center praxis in the production of theory. Marx argues that a materialism without praxis “necessarily arrives at dividing society [Gesellschaft] into two parts, one of which is superior to society.” He is referring to the division between theory and practice, which leads to theory becoming elevated and unaccountable. Reintegrating praxis and theory production keeps theory grounded, thus inhibiting it from being put on a pedestal—reified, granted authority, and defended beyond its time. Theory must remain in what Cornel West calls the ‘funk of life’, subject to revision in the face of actual material conditions with, again, praxis at the center of the story.

This self-critical (theoretical) notion of ‘educating the educator’ informs a tradition within so-called Western Marxism – from Karl Korsch, Georg Lukács, and Antonio Gramsci to the Frankfurt School, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre – revitalizing historical and dialectical methods and the centrality of praxis against the ossified determinism of the Second International and the “scientific” Marxism of the Soviet Union that express a clear separation of theory and practice. As Sartre describes it: “Men and things had to yield to ideas—a priori; experience, when it did not verify the predictions, could only be wrong” (Sartre 1963, 23).

Decolonial Marxist thought continued this critical and praxis-centering tradition. Frantz Fanon, for example, takes Sartre to task for his treatment of black praxis, or what Fanon calls the “intellectualization of black existence” (Fanon 2008, 113). In the context of colonial racism, Sartre had reduced the lived experience of negritude and black struggle to a mechanically conceived dialectical moment destined for negation. This kind of theory “expels me from myself,” Fanon wrote (Ibid, 144). It was Fanon’s mentor Aimé Césaire who famously equated colonization with “thingification” (Césaire 2001, 42) and noted that in the colonies “black people… were doubly proletarianized and alienated,” i.e. as workers and as black people (Ibid, 94; cf. Fanon 2008, 89-119). With these conditions in mind, Fanon argues in Wretched of the Earth (1961) that “a Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched when it comes to addressing the colonial issue” (Fanon 2004, 5). Given the material conditions of black life, labor, and decolonial resistance, it was essential to educate the educator and revise Marxist theory.

The third sense of ‘educating the educator’ is pedagogical and concerns the transformation of the teacher-student relation. Similar to the aforementioned problem with the elevation of theory, the paternalism of the teacher as master continues to be a focus of critique. Standpoint theory, developed most thoroughly by feminist theorists, is a critical response to traditional structures of epistemic authority, for it privileges knowledge grounded in the praxis of those experiencing domination and engaged in social struggles.2 This situated knowledge, notes Patricia Hill Collins, typically diverges from standard academic theory, taking the form of “poetry, music, essays, and the like” (Hill Collins 2000, 9). Relatedly, Paulo Freire sought to undermine the traditional “banking” model of education in which passive students receive deposits of knowledge from an all-knowing teacher (Freire 1993, 92). “The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic,” he wrote, “accept their ignorance as justifying the teachers existence—but, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher” (Ibid, emphasis mine). In Freire’s alternative, “pedagogy of the oppressed,” which he practiced for decades, each side in this dialectic is simultaneously treated as a teacher and student. And it was in response to his own teacher, Louis Althusser, who espoused the banking model, that Rancière called for a “method of equality,” which begins with the assumption of equal intelligence and eschews the logic of explication (Ranciére 1991, 12). Each of these examples of educating the educator is a critical response to the traditional division of teacher and student, rethinking the sites of knowledge production and re-centering the agents upon whose praxis it depends.

All three senses of Marx’s call to educate the educator—the methodological, theoretical, and pedagogical—rely upon the dialectical method and seek to entrench the fundamental integration of theory and practice. The reflexive nature of Marx’s under-appreciated third thesis also ensures Marxism’s continued relevance to the extent it encourages its self-critical inclinations, which surely entitles it to greater recognition than it has gained thus far. 


Extractivism names a given economic form of organizing natural and social resources in which sustained profitability depends on the extraction, over time, of an increasing amount of natural resources from the earth. In the language of macroeconomics, Total-factor productivity (TFP) is a measure of cumulative increases in productivity that exceed technological, capital, and labour input (or cost-share): growth depends over time on increased TFP, which is achieved by both optimizing inputs (or reducing lag, waste, and drag) and via what Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson famously described as the “somewhat surprising” correlation between “non-electrical energy and productivity growth.” (Jorgenson 1984, 30). In 1963 the University of North Carolina economist Edward Renshaw offered a statistical image of this dependence on increases in energy for productivity gains over time, astonished as he was at the shift in energy requirements by mid-century, remarking, “nearly four times as much prime mover is required today to produce a dollar of real income as was required in 1880.” (Renshaw 1963, 284). Between 1870 and 2009, roughly 135 billion tons of oil have been extracted and unleashed into the global economy (Jones 2009, 30). As of December 31, 2014, an estimated 1,237 billion short tons of proven recoverable coal had been tagged for future extraction (EIA 2018).

Extractivism is thus the name for an economic problem internal to capitalism. For socialism, it is the name for an exogenous problem for politics: that is, until capitalism is no longer the de facto exogenous force coordinating decisions in socialist economies. Hence, extractivism originates under capitalism, while it merely inflects socialism, so long as the latter has not yet made its way through the transition period—when socialism is still a national, rather than international, political form. So far we have not seen a fully international socialism, and so we have seen neither a capitalist nor socialist economy immune to the problem of extractivism.

Extractivism generates rather obvious environmental challenges, but why is it also a source of socio-political conflict?  Marx is very clear about the energic content of capital over time and its consequence for labour. Look closely and you’ll see it spelled out in the all important twenty-fifth chapter of Capital Volume One:

The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, develop also the labour power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its torment of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. (Marx 1976 [1867], 798).

More commonly known as the immiseration thesis, Marx is here—at the critical heart of his magnum opus—revealing the twofold forms of energy that capital will acquire over time: first, as capital accumulates in larger quantities, reflected in the scale of operations, gross output, and relative command of individual firms and entire sectors, its need for less and less human labour-time per unit of output generates a tendency (or energy — “the energy of wealth”) toward contradiction. That contradiction is spelled out further in “the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation,” which is the fateful fall in the rate of profit as capitalist accumulation reaches its zenith (even if its zenith is cyclical, rather than terminal). More and more wealth accumulates in fewer and fewer hands, while more and more labourers subsumed into the economic process are suddenly shed from the production process, causing rolling and irresolvable waves of unemployment. This is the first valence of energy used by Marx in this passage: ever expanding stages of growth met by ever intensive forms of secular stagnation.1

The second valence is more literal: capital in its constant form—that is, the machines, buildings, hardware, and physical character of what capital employs as its own part of the bargain—is both ever growing in magnitude and value relative to the variable form of capital (i.e. labour power hired to light it all up) and, as a logical consequence, animated by more and more energy over time relative to the quantitative energy of human input.

What Marx calls the general law of capitalist accumulation is thus about a historical trajectory to accumulation—namely, the rising surplus army of labourers that capital paradoxically produces in the measure that its physical character over time displaces that same labour—at the same time as it is about an environmental relation: more and more resources will be needed from the earth’s subsurface to fuel the rising magnitude of capital’s constant forms—its machines, buildings, hardware, and so on. Of course there are moments when capital appears to need fewer resources, or when it suddenly appears to do more with less, but these do not contradict the historical arc of the general law: they confirm it. Cutting costs is the sine qua non of capital as a logic, and so individual firms and sectors naturally find cheaper and more efficient forms of energy as others become more costly. Yet the relative cheapness of a given form of energy becomes immediately compromised once it is no longer emergent, but is instead dominant. Hence cheap oil is largely credited for the golden era of US hegemony, from the early 1950s through to the late 1960s (see Levinson 2016), while cheap coal is understood to have provided the physical and economic conditions for large-scale industrialization in England, and then Germany and France in the early to mid-19th century (see Malm 2015). Flipped around, the same is true of the era of expensive oil that characterizes the post-70s era, most vividly expressed in the floating average of over $100 USD per barrel between 2000-2008. Not coincidentally, this is the era of what Neil Brenner has influentially termed “the long downturn,” when the rate of profit began its steady fall towards the negligible rates that mark the long present (Brenner 2006, 239).2

Capital, in other words, will always be an extractivist mode of social organization not despite, but because of, its intransigent drive to cut costs. Using more and more physical energy from fossil fuels is a form of cutting labour costs, until it is not. When the cost of energy rises to the level of a constraint, capital seeks out either new sources of energy or innovative ways to extract what’s left. That is to say, energy in the form of fossil fuels has typically been a very cost effective means to economize and minimize human labour power (or variable capital), and when specific forms of extracting fossil fuels become too costly, some other form is usually just over the horizon.

If extractivism is the logical mode of capitalist accumulation over time, then why does it act as an exogenous force on actually-existing socialisms of the 20th and 21st centuries? Álvaro García Linera, vice president in Evo Morales’ Bolivia since 2006, calls the entangled histories of Latin American socialism and resource extraction a part of the “long process of socialization of the conditions of production,” similar to the transitional programs of Mao’s China and Lenin’s Soviet Union (Linera 2013). The transition towards fully socialized conditions of production begins at a point of near full calibration to the international division of labour. The international division of labour is itself the expression at any given moment of the unfolding history of the capitalist mode of production, which in Linera’s words makes “Nature…a reservoir of material vehicles of exchange value, of profit.” (Linera 2013).

As we have already seen, capitalism is logically and historically extractivist in that its mode of production simultaneously compliments human labour power with the material wealth and puts them in competition, even if that complementarity and competition occur on opposite poles of the earth. Hence, while Stalin imagined that socialism in one country was possible—the outcome of which was a Soviet industrial complex at least as energy intensive as its capitalist counterparts—neither Lenin, Mao, or Linera thought, or think, the contradictions of capitalism can be resolved short of a global revolutionary process:

Socialism is not a new mode of production that would coexist alongside capitalism, territorially contesting the world or one country. Socialism is a battlefield between capitalism in crisis and the tendencies, potentialities and efforts to bring production under community ownership and control. In other words, it is the historical period of struggle between the dominant established capitalist mode of production and another potentially new mode of production. The only mode of production that will overcome capitalism is communism, the assumption of community ownership and control of production of the material life of society. And that mode of production does not exist piecemeal, it can only exist on a world scale. But until that happens the only thing that is left is the struggle. (Linera 2013).

Hence, from the perspective of the Bolivian Democratic-Cultural Revolution, the transition to a mode of production that breaks the intransitive relation between surplus value and subsurface energy, minerals, and metals is paradoxically contingent on the temporary increase in socialist forms of extractivism. Critiques of the Latin American socialist project on the grounds of its dependency on fossil fuels thus make the same error as Stalin: “it is naïve”, Linera continues, “to think that extractivism, non-extractivism or industrialism are a vaccination against injustice, exploitation and inequality,” (Linera 2013) since for him, like all socialists, extractivism is a technical system for human interaction with natural systems, and not itself the mode of production. The mode of production that socialism aims to overcome is capitalism, which includes not just the genre of interaction between nature and culture, but the value form which dominates that relation.

If extractivism is an economic problem endogenous to capitalism, it is a fine metric with which to gauge at any given moment our collective proximity to communism.


Fake News

There is a feeling that the world changed in the past couple of years, and that it has something to do with the Internet. With “😂”, “post truth” and “fake news” as the UK Oxford Dictionary’s “words of the year” for the last three years, one has the sense of some sort of epistemological rupture — although history will ultimately be the judge of this. It seems that the logic and temporality of social media has penetrated deeply into culture and politics, reframing the legitimacy of issues and demanding new assessment criteria in order for one to stay abreast of the increasing pace of cultural change. Illustrative of this, are the vernacular interpretations of political events, as developed by fringe Internet communities, which seem to have acquired an enormous influence in the past several years. As demonstrated by Brexit and the election of Trump, within the new social media ecosystem it is the way in which emotional narratives confirm people’s pre-existing biases that seems to accounts for the viral spread of misinformation, disinformation and “alternative facts”. This phenomenon corresponds with the rise of automated personalization — as currently exemplified by the Facebook News Feed — and the concomitant argument that market segmentation decreases public argument and thereby diminishes the public sphere (Sunstein 2001, Pariser 2011). While these discussions are generally framed in terms of a declension narrative, as a provocation we can turn to dialectical materialism to speculate on the inversion of this fragmentary condition. Against the pervasive pessimism over the supposed death of liberalism, the Marxist wager here is that the seeds of a new class consciousness might lie dormant in this very fragmentary and neo-tribalistic condition.

The rise of fake news can be tied to systemic transformations in the news business. While Marx was a newsman himself during the years of the mid-nineteenth century German revolutions, it is hard to know what – if anything – he might have made about the twenty-first century problem of fake news. For while it can certainly be said that disinformation has roots that extend back into Marx’s time, it is arguably the case that what today we call fake news is the specific product of a quite particular constellation of factors, of which two are at central issue here. On the one hand there is an extreme concentration of media ownership such that, in the US for example, most people tend get their news from one single source: Facebook. On the other hand there is a greater variety of news content being generated by a plurality of sources with often dubious credentials. As such, the news media are no longer in a position to “manufacture consent” (Lippman 1922, Herman & Chomsky 1988). From this media ecological perspective, the concept of “the truth” thus appears increasingly as though it were a relic of an earlier paradigm wherein the news media collaborated with political power-brokers in order to maintain hegemony of what has been referred to as “embedded liberalism” (Harvey 2005, 11). With official accounts of the truth appearing more open to interpretation as well as to contestation, aspects of social constructivism can thus be said to have “gone mainstream,” as it were, to the extent that reality today seems far more malleable to many more people.

Once the relatively exclusive purview of academics on the post-Marxist left, since Brexit and Trump of late it has become increasingly common to hear right-wing populists embrace a paranoid form of epistemological relativism: “How does anybody decide? That’s an epistemological question… You reach your own truth, find the truth. It’s not that hard” (Cernovich 2017). As such, actors find themselves in possession of distribution networks that can rival long-established news organizations and which are moving beyond mere contestation to circulate their own vernacular interpretations of events. This “democratization” of media production often feels empowering and revelatory, both for these niche producers and their audiences. The universalist correspondence theory of truth — long out of fashion amongst postmodernists — thus yields to a newly ascendant conspiratorial notion of truth that is revealed through a process of unveiling. The journalistic belief in “cold hard facts” gives way to a search for a notion of revealed truth that is always somehow “out there” (as the X-Files tv-series had already presciently observed at the close of the millennium), almost within reach in spite of being actively obscured by the powers that be.

If one of the normative criteria for a democratic society — at least in the Rawlsian tradition of liberalism — is that citizens share some common “epistemic principles”, then it is arguable that the Internet actually works to undermine this epistemic consensus by providing each and every one of us with sources to validate our existing opinions, thereby allowing us to fit the facts to our antecedent systems of belief (Lynch 2016). As had already been noted nearly two decades ago, the cognitive bias towards group-think can make the Internet a breeding ground for radicalization, in which, “[r]epeated exposure to an extreme position, with the suggestion that many people hold that position, will predictably move those exposed, and likely predisposed, to believe in it.” (Sunstein 2001, 71). Indeed, findings from recent experimental research in evolutionary psychology confirm this echo-chamber theory, showing subjects to consistently, although unconsciously, favor intuitive as opposed to rational explanations when making moral value-judgments. Humans, we are told, tend to construct post-hoc rationalizations for what they believe to be true in conformity with the values of their own tribes (Haidt 2012, Sloman and Fernbach 2017). Thus empowered, our supposedly tribal natures are busy shattering the edifice of liberal-consensus reality into a million little pieces, with no hope of any universal project on the horizon that might be capable of reassembling its fragments.

While fake news is currently recognized within policy circles as one of the most pressing problems of technocratic governance, dialectical materialism might be seen to offer a quite different interpretation of the mainstreaming of epistemological relativism and of social constructivism. In History and Class Consciousness (1971), originally published in 1923, Georg Lukács combined aspects of Hegelian metaphysics and Weberian anti-positivist sociology in order to develop the concepts of reification and of totality. Taken from the German word for objectification [Verdinglichung], reification was Lukács’s term for the process of subsumption through which objects are transformed into subjects and subjects are turned into objects, while he defined totality as “the system of production at a given moment in history and the resulting divisions of society into classes” (ibid, 50). Following Engels’s assertion that the proletariat was “prescribed, irrevocably and obviously, in its own situation in life as well as in the entire organization of contemporary civil society” (1956, 134–5), Lukács claimed that totality in fact lay dormant in those commodities that Marx had theorized as “external to man, and therefore alienable” (1992, 182).

For Lukács, reification contained within it the roots of its own overcoming since it produced an epistemological standpoint from which the totality could be grasped. It was through the material encounter between the objectified subject (laborer) and the subjectified object (the commodity) that a truly universal class consciousness would emerge. As Marx and Engels had themselves alluded to, it was paradoxically only through the total subjugation to (and repurposing of) the commodity form that “man” would “face with sober senses, his real conditions of life” (1948, 12). So, while the liberal critique posits that fake news threatens to undermine the shared epistemic principles which underpin democracy, dialectical materialism might ironically invert this critique by identifying fake news as the initial by-product of a new kind of epistemology, one perhaps closer to the machine.

To conclude this provocation, we might look towards Stiegler’s (2010) proposal for a “new critique of political economy” that reorients the Marxist problematic over the ownership of the means of production to focus on the exteriorization of memory into corporately-owned inscription devices. While recognizing the threat that it poses to established liberal traditions, might we also see fake news in terms of Stiegler’s dialectic of pharmakon, in which the poison and remedy are of a piece? Might this new plasticity of reality actually provide some kind of real challenge to the hegemony of liberal consensus, as the partizans of post-truth populism like to claim? While its initial effect has been to empower the sock-puppets of established interests, arguably the scandal of fake news is also making us face our near total subjugation to a capitalist mode of production wherein the greatest problem is how to conceptualize a collective relationship to the labor that it extracts from us. It might thus be through the realization of what Stiegler refers to as the “generalized proletarianization” of consciousness that we could then come to recognize, with sober senses, the therapeutic value of technology for overcoming this same condition.




To be famous for something means, above all, to be under discussion. What prompts this discussion, or more precisely, what someone is famous for does not always have to be obvious, much less comprehensible. Indeed, the attribute “famous” always refers to a specific quality, which can be connected to either a regular activity (be it singing, skiing or acting) or to a singular action (be it a one-hit wonder or a political scandal), sometimes though only to a rumor (for instance about an affair). Such a quality can, however, also simply persist in the virtuosity of bringing itself into a discussion in such a way that its own prominence beats by far the value of its fame. Ultimately, no matter how exceptional the achievement, without medial presence, it is hardly worth a dollar and any presence therefore as an achievement on its own. If capital, as Marx said, “eschews no profit”1 and fame eschews no attention, then the equation must be that profit accumulates with increasing attention. In this regard, attention is the product in the fame trade and everything that accumulates attention is capital.

In pop culture vocabulary, fame denominates the epitome of displaying the commodity form: when a famous person – “star” here – seizes a specific role, pose, or mask and roughly fuses with it, the star ego becomes the central resource for the delimitation of labor and labor power that is typical for creative capitalism. This delimitation, however, is necessary in order for the identification offers that a star makes for even arousing the desire in their recipients to know who it is that is singing, looking or dancing. Indeed, almost quite as if the star ego had always been there and had chosen some such point in time. In 1978, Grace Jones exemplarily sang about the impossibility of the seamless transgression from persona to person in the title song of her album “Fame”: “Fame, so alone with my name, even that don’t belong to me.” Andy Warhol makes a similar comment in From A to B and Back Again: “Movie stars get millions of dollars for nothing, so when someone asks them to do something for nothing, they go crazy – they think that if they’re going to talk to somebody at the grocery store they should get fifty dollars an hour. So you should always have a product that’s not just ‘you’” (Warhol 1975, 85f).

But because the star persona’s ego is – as Jones and Warhol in particular knew – a specifically chosen one, it can also be adapted to fit in with aesthetic-political concepts of queer self-empowerment. And precisely because this persona is a public figure, such concepts can be performatively carried out as exemplary experiments of anti-holistic subjectivities and identities. In this sense, Mike Kelley asserts in regards to John Waters’ films: “Waters celebrates ‘queerness’ for its abject nature relative to dominant American society. One need not search for an outside aesthetic in his films, because ‘you’, the supposedly empathic film viewer, already represent the other. […] The freakish characters in his films were not designed just to be laughed at; they are, in a sense, role models” (Kelley 2003, 104ff). Role models for subject forms that are not aiming for self-optimization. Role models of a freedom that is accessible to all. Surely, to speak with Butler, “[not] all performativity is to be understood as drag”, but it arguably “can become […] the possibility of an enabling social and political resignification” (Butler 2011, 176) . Therefore the fame cannot be invoked vividly enough for all those who sing like Planningtorock: “Patriarchal life, it’s time to step aside!”



Throughout history, more or less every state had to intrinsically rely on force and violence for coming into existence. Within the context of capitalism, Antonio Gramsci has formulated this insight as the claim that the capitalist state is made up of two different domains: a ‘political society’ – which operates through force – and a ‘civil society’ – which operates through consent (Gramsci 2011). Put very simply, Gramsci defined hegemony as the sum total of this latter force and consensus. Against this background, it is worth remembering Georgi Dimitrov’s definition of fascism as a reactionary, super-oppressive form of state that denies political freedoms, including fundamental rights such as freedom of thought, assembly, and association (Dimitrov 1983, 179-87). In other words, fascism is the most reactionary, terrorist, and bloody form bourgeois sovereignty can take when it is monopolized. In such a situation, political society (force) has gained an overwhelming power over civil society (consensus). In addition, according to Dimitrov, fascism is not a product of any time, but a product of the era of imperialism, the last stage of capitalism – a Marxist-Leninist standpoint (Dimitrov 1983). Defining fascism with reference to the power of capital,1 Dimitrov emphasizes the relationship between the level of capitalist development and fascism. The most savage fascist experience in history shows that Dimitrov was correct in a remarkable way. Why was German fascism so much more powerful and brutal than Italian fascism? In reply to this question, one should not, as some have done, point to the Weberian charismatic leadership (of Adolf Hitler). Such an approach clearly ignores the structural dynamics of fascism. Rather, building on Dimitrov’s analysis of the prerequisites of fascism, I would argue that there is a decisive structural reason, namely that Germany had the most advanced industrial production capability at that time in Europe (Pascal 2011, 109-17), and along with other historical conditions this enabled the most dramatic fascist experience in history.2

Although the experience of Nazi Germany is highly compatible with Dimitrov’s examination of fascism, a considerable number of scholars are currently arguing that contemporary capitalism, and its mechanisms of exploitation and oppression, cannot be read anymore through theories which depend on Marx’s understanding of capitalism. Even if for some it seems right at first glance, this proposition is very narrow-minded from the perspective of a structural approach. Of course, there is no doubt that contemporary capitalism is not the same in every aspect when compared with the capitalism that existed at the time of Marx – particularly if we think of ‘finance capital’. The term ‘finance capital’ was first defined by Rudolf Hilferding, the Austro-German Marxist theoretician, in response to the then growing strength and centralization of capital in large firms, cartels, and banks. For Hilferding, the earlier competitive ‘liberal capitalism’, which formed in response to the interventions by mercantilist states, was transforming, at the turn of the epoch, into a monopolistic finance capital that was integrated into a centralized and privilege-dispensing state (Hilferding 1983). For Hilferding, the flows of financial capital were aiming at imperialist integration into the nascent global economy. However, this imperialist expansion was not caused by the inadequacy of the internal market but by the pursuit of higher profit rates by capitalists controlling the means of production. Very importantly, Hilferding stresses that financial capitalism is not a different phenomenon from industrial capitalism when it comes to capital accumulation and its profit-making orientation. Some leading theoreticians within Marxism at that time, such as Otto Bauer or Karl Kautsky, considered Hilferding’s book (namely, Finance Capital) as the fourth volume of Marx’s Das Kapital. In fact, as David Harvey clearly indicated, there is a strong relationship between industrial and finance capital – “finance and money capitalists also demand their cut of the surplus value produced” (Harvey 2011, 89) – as shown by naming just a few examples in which special circumstances led to a developed financial capitalism without a developed industrial capitalism, e.g. Switzerland, Hong Kong, or the Cayman Islands.

Regarding the context given above, Marx’s theory of capital accumulation and over- accumulation (the crisis of capitalism) still have a strong claim to validity in today’s capitalism. As Marx claims:

Capitalism establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole. (Marx 2007, 708-9)

Capitalism as an industrial and financial economic system is characteristically crisis-prone. It is determined by forces that cause it to be unstable, chaotic and self-destructive. In The Communist Manifesto, written over 170 years ago, Marx and Engels described capitalism as:

a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, [that it] is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. (Marx and Engels 2012, 25)


However, this sorcerer has succeeded in pulling a rabbit from the hat during each time of crisis, and that rabbit is called fascism. In times of crisis, the capitalist state has succeeded in securing the hegemony of capitalism by using intense ideological and repressive powers via what Gramsci called political society. The capitalist state is essentially primed for the consolidation of bourgeois hegemony. As identified in Marxist theory, power in such a class-divided nation-state consists largely in class power. Class power is established on the objective position of different classes occupying different positions in the social division of labor; “it designates the capacity of each class to realize its specific interests” (Poulantzas 2000, 36) in relation to the power of other classes. Hence, class power is materialized with regard to definite apparatuses and performs. Louis Althusser expresses the historical role of the state in capitalism in the following way:

The state is a repressive ‘machine’ that enables the dominant classes (in the nineteenth century, the bourgeois class and the ‘class’ of big landowners) to ensure their domination over the working class in order to subject it to the process of extorting surplus value (that is, to capitalist exploitation). (Althusser 2014, 70)

This role of the state in capitalist formation is not merely an argument raised by the Marxists. In the opposing camp, Friedrich Hayek also says that the state must be a strong legislator and enforcer to ensure the development of individual entrepreneurial freedoms and the market (Hayek 2005). That is to say, the state has to forcefully create new markets for capital accumulation and increased profitability by making and implementing related laws and investments (Bonefeld  2010, 15-24). The problem now becomes how to minimize oppression by the state itself; the response of Hayek is the creation of a private sphere totally independent of communal interference. For Hayek, such a private sphere is only able to come into existence if there are definite actions and rights that are insured and not violated by the state. It necessitates not only individuals but also that the state be obliged by the rule of law. Such a theorization of liberty obviously conflicts with the idea of popular sovereignty as it means that there are various laws which should be beyond the domain of a government to change; however, the idea of popular sovereignty presupposes that a government voted by the citizens has the right to overturn and/or modify all laws. In brief, two fundamental points stand out in Hayek’s theory of ‘minimal’ state concept: (1) the reproduction of capitalism requires permanent state regulations, and (2) popular sovereignty can be sacrificed for a given rule of law which aims to support market interests.

In a nutshell, fascism is an integral part of capitalism and is visibly put into force when capitalism enters a crisis, due to its own contradictions or when faced with a counter-threat from an opposite or alternative ideology. Various predominant methods in this process include (at the local level) the restriction of rights and wages of non-capitalist classes, the monopolization of political decision-making mechanisms, the use of violence against dissident groups, and, (at the international level), regulatory wars against determined enemy states or groups. Here, someone may raise the question: why are the countries where capitalism is most developed the freest countries on the world? My reply is that you cannot fully comprehend how free a regime is without attempting to test the limits of the system. Especially in the western countries where capitalism is highly developed, capitalism’s ideological and cultural hegemony over civil society and its relatively high level of prosperity – mostly based on the exploitation of underdeveloped countries – means that capitalist reproduction is provided with a consensus within civil society, and thus there is no need for the use of force by political society in general. One of the best examples of this is the fact of communist parties being fully integrated into the neoliberal system. Therefore, Marx’s critique of capitalism (regardless of his teleological propositions) is still vivid today and provides us with a basis for a further deconstruction of capitalism. Adding all this to the account, there is no need to wait for concentration camps or mass genocidal practices to designate a regime as fascist in the 21st century. “The mistake of the 21st century human is to think that fascism will return in a Nazi uniform.”

General Intellect

In his Grundrisse Marx employs a powerful image to indicate the kind of knowledge which constitutes the heart of social production: general intellect is the name he gives to the abstract knowledge on which the production of wealth and the reproduction of life rest. Marx writes: “The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process.” (Marx 1973: 706). This passage of the Grundrisse includes the last pages of notebook VI and the first ones of notebook VII, (ibid. 690-712) and has been referred to as “The Fragment on Machines” since the early 1960s when discussions concerning the concept of the general intellect began. As is generally known, Grundrisse is a lengthy, unfinished manuscript, composed by Marx in the years 1857-58. A limited edition of the manuscript was published in Moscow in two volumes, in 1939 and 1941 respectively. But since only three of four copies of this edition ever reached the “Western world” one can say that discussion prompted by the Grundrisse began only in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, the manuscript was first effectively published in the German original only in 1953 by Dietz Verlag, Berlin. From the beginning the debate was heavily influenced by the reading of the text by the Italian workerist movement (Operaisti). The Operaisti (in primis Raniero Panzieri and Enzo Grillo, the latter also being the translator of the Grundrisse into Italian) were the first to give a completely new account of the text. According to the Operaisti, in the “Fragment on Machines”, Marx depicts a situation in which abstract knowledge becomes the main productive force on which the production of wealth rests. Marx writes: “In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour [a worker] himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather, the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth.” (Ibid. 705). The general productive force arises from social combination, the technological application of natural sciences, and scientific labour in general. Therefore, Marx writes: “The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value.” (Ibid. 105).

The interpretation of the Fragment on Machines developed by some workerists was all the more significant since it did not reduce the general intellect only to the dimension of fixed-capital.1 In fact, if general intellect is only understood as fixed-capital, the Marxian pages on machines cannot but prefigure a kind of humanism, in which the automated system of machines is going to replace human labour and, by the same token, to liberate human beings from the slavery of wage-labour. This kind of utopia has fed all kinds of socialist imageries and communist illusions even before the workerist reading of Grundrisse. Last but not least it has also nourished teleological interpretations of history based on deterministic ideas of the collapse of capital due to the force of its inner contradictions. However, we all recognise that this kind of transition towards a society finally liberated from wage labour has never taken place. Moreover, capitalism has even been able to intensify exploitation and the extraction of surplus-value from several other branches of human activity.

According to the workerists we have to give a much more controversial account of the meaning of the general intellect. In particular, we should not reduce it to fixed capital, that is to say, to the simple idea that under the new circumstances of capitalist production knowledge is encapsulated in the machines. Moreover, a new account of the meaning of the machine should also be developed, i.e. one that no longer considers the machine as an object confronting the human being. To limit these considerations to the seminal analyses of workerists, we should distinguish two main periods in the history of the interpretation of the Fragment on Machines: in the early 1960s and in the 1970s the fragment was interpreted, on one hand, as a powerful instrument for describing a situation in which human labour is going to disappear as a dominant factor of production. In this connection, human activity would be liberated from wage labour. On the other hand, by focusing on these aspects, workerists also emphasised the important role played by subjectivity (or “living labour”) in the Fragment. The transformation of the mode of production, the increasing role played by social cooperation and by knowledge, would lead to the emergence of a new class composition, i.e. to new subjects. In the 1970s the affirmation of the general intellect was interpreted as the possibility of the emergence of a new antagonistic subject, (this idea echoed, of course, the notion of the social individual present in Marx’s Fragment on Machines); a subject that was able to appropriate the wealth it was producing.

At the end of the 1990s it was already clear that the emancipatory force of the general intellect had failed to emerge. At the same time an antagonistic subject, which would be able to appropriate the common wealth, had also failed to emerge. In other words: the disappearance of labour-time as a measure of the production of wealth did not lead to the end of exploitation or to new forms of liberation. Rather, it had brought new, intensified forms of domination, misery for the masses, and wealth for small groups of capitalists.

From the 1990s a discussion began which was connected with political practices centred around the emergence of new social and political movements, and which emphasised the role of a new kind of intellectual subjectivity. This debate led to the most comprehensive and well-known analyses of the general intellect that are still at the forefront of contemporary discussions in political philosophy; discussions to which Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have prominently contributed, above all with their seminal work Commonwealth (2011). Here, the general intellect plays the role of the most constitutive form of biopolitical production: a mode of production that no longer revolves around fixed capital, but rather on various forms of social interaction and of social communication. This involves language, and epistemological paradigms, but also affects and relationality. It includes all aspects that are productive and which refer to living labour and living subjects. Hence the general intellect becomes the very terrain of struggle since it is living labour that has to be continually governed in order to constitute a source of profit for capital. By the same token the general intellect is also the terrain where life, while being produced, constantly escapes various forms of government imposed by capital.

If capital exercises its domination over society through political forms such as bureaucracy, administration, finance, and monetary politicism, or by controlling communication, desires, affects, and so on, the question at issue is how the common wealth that is constantly produced by new subjects can be appropriated by those very subjects instead of by capital. In other words: in recent discussions the question of the general intellect is transformed into the question as to whether an appropriation of the common wealth is possible – which is the question of the constituent power of the common.