the soul of capital



Marx came close to developing a theory of the unconscious, of the social unconscious.

A little less than a year ago, around the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote a theoretical text on this same topic, which would be a kind of nightcap. A reader, always accurate, made a curious comment, in which she compared my text to those of an ancient philosopher reasonably recognized in certain São Paulo circles, especially at USP. I took a hit, because I consider that the texts of that philosopher stand out for their lack of clarity, precisely what I would have liked to avoid in my little essay.

In it, I preferentially examine texts by Althusser, Balibar, Derrida, Lukács and, of course, Marx. This “soul of capital” (I) was published, still in the 1st half of last year in the magazine Left margin with some small cuts aimed at adapting it to a size compatible with that required by the magazine.[1]

Well then, that unwanted comparison invites me to return to the theme, now in a minimalism that I hope does not mean lack of clarity.

about the title

At first, I will rewrite the title: “the soul↔ of capital”. This arrow in both directions indicates that both capital creates, molds its own soul, its own subjects, and the soul, that is, the subjects of capital make the complex machine of capital move. This also makes it clear that between the soul and capital there is an inextricable bond that some call the social bond, an expression that has the merit of pointing to capitalist sociability. Despite this double direction, in the relationship between the soul and capital, it is important not to forget that it is also a relation of filiation: the filiation of the soul to capital. Filiation that comes close to the notion of “determination in the last instance” coined by the French philosopher Louis Althusser.

Why then soul? In its affiliation to capital, the soul does not seem to carry even an iota of transcendence. However, this first moment, that of filiation, is completely involved by the secrets and mysteries of the commodity form that will condense in what, with great sensitivity, Marx called fetishism. Thus, the fetish, with its oddities and mandingas, or as our author says, full of metaphysical subtleties and theological tricks, comes to flood and compose the soul of capital.

Here, one can see how close Marx was to a theory of the unconscious, of the social unconscious. But the time had not yet come for this theory, which would only have its beginnings some forty years later.

If we take the Freudian Oedipus as a reference, it is not difficult to notice its social character. After all, a reasonably successful passage through Oedipus is nothing more than a journey from “house” to “street”, from house to city, in short, from house to market: a passport to the world of merchandise, to the world of goods. capital.

Althusser, in a rare approach, opens a passage that leads him to meet Freud. He proposes an intimate relationship between ideology and the unconscious. He tells us that for Freud the unconscious is eternal and, like the unconscious, ideology is eternal: “the eternity of the unconscious is related to the eternity of ideology in general”. And with less timidity he concludes: this is a “theoretically necessary” relationship because there is an “organic bond” between the two propositions. Even without returning to this theme, these last emphases make it clear that he wanted to leave his signature on these new findings.

The subjects of capital, especially the ideologues (religious, communicators, politicians, teachers), make ideology so explicit and transparent that, regardless of their wishes, they make access to its deepest dimension even more difficult – and I would also say, more effective – that it is the unconscious.

If we remember some of Marx's steps towards the formulation of a theory of ideology, we will find the link that ties ideology to religion. Religion serving as a model of all ideology. Then, what best characterizes this soul of capital stands out: the belief that has worship as a corollary. In this case, that of fetishism, the cult is aimed at the modern and always current golden calf: capital, merchandise, money. Under these conditions, the fetish, then, reveals itself as the matrix of subjective structures: the subjects of capital – the soul of capital. And complete with the thesis that illuminated this text: the fetish is the capitalist form of ideology.

* Paulo Silveira is a psychoanalyst and retired professor in the sociology department at USP. Author, among other books, of On the side of history: a critical reading of Althusser's work (Police).


[1] SILVEIRA, Paulo. “The soul of capital: the fetish is the capitalist form of ideology”. Left Margin Magazine, No. 34, p. 90-106. Sao Paulo, Boitempo, 2020.


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