Under the capital's black sun

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By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO*

Considerations on Anselm Jappe's book

The name given to this article comes from a mere translation of the title of the last book by Anselm Jappe, Sous le soleil noir du capital, recently published in France. At the outset – it is strongly recommended – one should note its hyperbolic character: if the yellow sun that makes the day and hides at night guarantees life on the face of the planet, a black sun can only represent death.

The black sun is, as is well known, a fascist symbol. The negation of life that he represents therefore seems emphatic, terrible, absolute. Behold, it comes from a deep resentment and even hatred engendered by the frustrations that capitalism brings to many, especially to members of the middle classes. But this dark vision is not new in this author's work. It is worth remembering that his penultimate book, The autophagic society – capitalism, excess and self-destruction, also pointed to a tragic end.

The book brings together twenty-five articles written in the last ten years by one of the main current leaders of the current of critical thought that is known as “critique of value” or “critique of value/dissociation”. Founded by Robert Kurz in the early 1990s, it currently has a following in Germany, France, Brazil and other countries, but always in the form of small groups. The book begins with a brief history of the critique of value based on the writings of Robert Kurz, discusses fetishism in György Lukács and Theodor Adorno, as well as other themes, to ask, in the end, what children lack.

Where does Anselm Jappe come from?

It is worth remembering, in this sense, the beginnings of this current of thought that claimed Marx, but only to a certain extent. It came to light in the same year as the fall of the Berlin wall. The Soviet Union with its model of centralized accumulation had already entered into dissolution, the liberals celebrated the end of communism, but Robert Kurz announces in his book, almost obscurely, the collapse of capitalism. Behold, he publishes in Germany, in 1991, his The collapse of modernization.

As is known, the translation of the same work was published in Brazil,[I] in 1992, under the recommendation that it was “an audacious book”. Roberto Schwarz, thanks to his lucidity and perspicacity, considered that its publication was a counterattack to the advance of liberalism and neoliberalism. This is how he called into question the thesis of the end of communism in the fall of historical communism.

Robert Kurz's thesis went against the current, since an almost unanimous common sense prevailed at the time: for him, what was seen at the time and on the horizon was the uncontested victory of capitalism. According to the unusual critic, however, what the ruin of real socialism showed was not the triumph of the “market economy”, but the spectacular beginning of the gradual collapse of the economic system based on merchandise, abstract work, bourgeois money and accumulation. insatiable capital. For Robert Kurz, mentions Anselm Jappe, “the capitalist mode of production had reached, after two centuries, its historical limits: the rationalization of production, which replaces the workforce with technologies, had already undermined the basis of the production of value and surplus-value”. And without more, more and more, “surplus value”, as we know, the capital system cannot fail to enter a definitive structural crisis.

In the opening chapter, Anselm Jappe provides the beacons of the “value-critical” current of thought. First, she presents herself as a radical and incorruptible critique, which makes no concessions: “it defends the salutary tradition of philosophizing with a hammer, against all eclecticism, irenicism, consensual elaborations and tributes between “dear friends”. It is about criticizing capitalism and not just neoliberalism, financialization or the bad distribution of income and wealth. In particular, he does not intend and does not think it is possible to revive the Keynesianism that prevailed for about thirty years after the Second World War.

Showing his most notable characteristic right from the start, indicating that he is out of line with what he calls traditional Marxism, he peremptorily states that “a true critique of capitalism is necessarily a critique of capital and work”. As is well known, classical Marxism, on the contrary, sees non-alienated work positively; behold, it affirms it as an eternal condition for the existence of humanity, even if it disqualifies labor activity in capitalism as alien to human beings. Now, this already shows that this current of thought is, at the same time, Marxist and, in a certain way, not Marxist.

The book referred to here has many interesting things in its various chapters and, also for this reason, it is impossible to review it as a whole. Even if it is not going to be treated in sequence, neither with a drill, nor with pliers nor with a hammer, it is not going to be just acclaimed either. In fact, an attempt is made to examine its most sensitive point, which is precisely its central divergence with traditional Marxism.

The critique of value accuses this tradition of seeing the opposition between capital and labor as the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist mode of production and, at the same time, as the lever that allows its transformation. Thus, he transforms the critique of capital into a sociologism that begins to guide and misguide all political action on the left. “Then” – says Anselm Jappe – “based on a reading that embodies the social structure, capital and work are bluntly identified with “capitalists” and “workers”. And that “opens the doors to a 'truncated' anti-capitalism, or even to populism, anti-Semitism and conspiracyism”.

Whether widely or narrowly known, this criticism – the focal point of this current of thought – was presented by Robert Kurz and Ernst Lohoff, as early as 1989, in the writing The fetishism of class struggle. For, according to them, class struggle is the fetishism of traditional Marxism. If this criticism synthesizes what was pointed out in the previous paragraph, it also introduces an analogy that requires a deeper analysis.

As is known, commodity fetishism was defined by Marx in section four of the first chapter of The capital. He refers to the spontaneous confusion between the value form and the support of that form, an illusion engendered by the very way of being of capitalist sociability. A very forceful expression appears when it is said that “gold is money”, because, in this way, the property of having value is attributed to gold as such, when value is the form of a social relationship, which expresses a determined amount of work abstract.

Now, how can the expression “fetish of class struggle” be analyzed in a similar way? According to what has already been said, in support of the form, it seems that workers and capitalists must be understood as collectives of people-functions empirically existing in the society constituted by the capitalist mode of production. And by form it seems that one should understand classes not as mere collectives, but as supposed totalities, that is, as metaphysical universals. The confusion thus engendered, however, could not be thought of as spontaneous, but as a product of the mistaken discourse practiced by traditional Marxism.

However, at this point, a crucial question is posed: would Marx himself have fallen into this conceptual mistake. He had ingeniously created the critical notion of fetishism to refer to the reification of social relations in this mode of production, but in a vulgar, silly way, he ended up creating a political religion that associates workers and capitalists with abstract notions of antagonistic social classes, thus separating, very strongly, proletarians and bourgeois?

The answer found in the texts of authors who fit into the current of “critique of value” is a resounding “yes”; Marx, in the end, did, clumsily, fall into this trap, like a helpless bird. Behold, they not only point to a sociologism existing in traditional Marxism, in certain strands that were historically sheltered in it, but also because they believe they find it in the texts of the author of The capital.

More tellingly, these critical authors argue for a double Marx. Here, they unfold this author in two, which cannot be recognized in each other, that is, an exoteric Marx of the class struggle and an esoteric Marx of the critique of the capital relation and its constructive/destructive becoming. The first would be a vulgar sociologist, but the second would be a fundamental philosopher who had presented capital as an automatic subject and who had created, based on this, the unavoidable critique of political economy.

But where would the mistake be made? The authors of this current, taking classes as an empirical opposition between collectives of workers and capitalists, maintain that their interests would not be irreconcilable in the process of accumulation; behold, in fact, they would only and ultimately consist of brotherhoods in dispute over the appropriation of income. Deep down, both maintain a common interest in maintaining the commodity form as a form of social production. Consequently, they also maintain that this sociological analysis would be in accordance with the historical facts observed in the evolution of really existing capitalism.

But, after all, what are classes for Marx? And here we find a real difficulty since we can speak of a gap in the theoretical developments of this author. As is known, his work can be divided into two: a first, more important one, in which there is a rigorous dialectical exposition of the capital system as a concrete totality, and a second, made up of sparse texts, in which there are historical expositions and /or pieces of political intervention. The first has been left incomplete and thus with no explicit connection to the second.

Now, a rigorous answer to the question posed in the first sentence of the previous paragraph could only be given within the aforementioned dialectical presentation. As Ruy Fausto says about this key question: “in reality, the theory of classes, in Marx, is neither present nor absent. It is presupposed [in the exposition of The capital], but does not post. If there is position, it only occurs in texts that have remained fragmentary”.[ii] As is known, in The capital, class struggle is present in the form of economic struggle, not expressly political, that is, from the perspective of the class itself, but not for itself. And even in this case, as is well known, this exposition reconstructed by Engels cannot be considered complete.

Em The capital – says Fausto – “it is only the beginning, unfortunately, of a theory of classes inserted in a dialectical presentation. As for other problems, the State for example, the insufficiency of the Marxist tradition lies in the fact that it distances itself from the dialectical presentation”. In doing so, he wants to obtain a result only by immediately deducing class struggle from socioeconomic categories. “The result of this misunderstanding is a Marxism of understanding that turns out to be sterile and lacking in rigor. To analyze classes, as to analyze the State, it is necessary to find the place where they are inserted in a dialectical presentation”, that is, in the presentation found in the magnum oeuvre.

Now, the critique of value did not solve this problem, on the contrary, it remained at the level of traditional Marxism, albeit not affirmatively, but critically. For this reason, he fell into vulgar accusations such as the one that refers to a double Marx. To solve it, it would be necessary, first, as Fausto shows in his comments on the work of this author, to reconstruct the presentation of classes in themselves in order to show later how one can pass dialectically from classes themselves to classes for and by themselves. In this movement, what is presupposed in the exposition of The capital would be put, or rather, exposed in some way. Only then would it be possible to make a good critique of historical experience – undoubtedly necessary.

But this comment on a certain frankness constitutive of the critique of value is not meant to be destructive. He does not claim that in the texts of these authors there are ideas of interesting developments. Incidentally, a more complete study of this current would require much more space. It is also necessary to add here that the problem of the rigorous dialectical exposition of classes and the passage from the “in-itself” to the “for-itself” cannot be taken lightly. Ruy Fausto's texts point in this direction.[iii]

Here, in order not to end abruptly, mention is made only of the great steps needed to reach the classes in a political sense. Classes are assumed in The capital, but they will appear throughout the work through moments that place them, but not completely. What first appears are the supports, the personifications of labor power and capital. As such, they are just positions, albeit active, in the structure of production relations, that is, mere denied subjects. However, already in Book I, there may appear in nuce through occasional struggles between collective economic agents over wages, the length of the workday, etc.

At the end of Book III, the classes appear in inertia since they are defined there by means of the forms of their respective incomes, which derive from the typical modalities of ownership of the factors of production: the workforce receives wages, capital earns profits and land ownership gets rent from the land. Thus, they only denote the appearance of the system and they do so in a mystified way, since these sources appear to be independent of each other. Here there is neither economic struggle nor political struggle nor even functions. In short, as Fausto explains roughly, “in The capital Marx studies only the objective tendency of the system and not the effects of the class struggle.

It is only from there that one can begin to think about classes in terms of transformative political practices, whether reformist or radically democratic (that is, that bring about a society based “on freely associated workers”). beyond The capital as an accomplished work, but still from the perspective of dialectical presentation, it would be necessary to move from the presupposed class to the class that can be posited as such, that is, in the condition of an objective possibility that becomes effective – or not – in the course of history.

In the positive case, the class would cease to appear as a mere gender to become a substantive political existence, an integrated plexus of solidarity relations. Behold, the working class that was implicit, that was just possible, would become explicit through a process of emergence; the denied subjects who normally act only as supports would be transformed and constituted in the struggle process as a totality of political subjects. If this were the case, there would be the constitution of a concrete universal in social praxis – and not a metaphysical hypostasis.

As this course did not materialize historically, perhaps the authors of the critique of value want to argue that it would ultimately be a utopia. At first, however, it seems doubtful that good evidence to this effect can be found. But if it is viable, it could not be based on past historical facts; behold, a rigorous proof could only be provided in the course of dialectical exposition. Of course, many complications involved in the question were not mentioned here, such as, for example, the problem of knowing whether this transformation would be spontaneous or whether it would also require the catalyst of organized political movements. Perhaps the biggest impediment is the conditions under which this unification in working-class practice can take place.

However, it seems necessary to complement that if this process, for whatever reason, is blocked, then there would perhaps not be any alternative that could allow human beings to go beyond capitalism. For the only and inescapable historical perspective remaining would be that the “black sun” will, in the end, prevail. And with him death.

* Eleutério FS Prado is a full and senior professor at the Department of Economics at USP. Author, among other books, of From the logic of the critique of political economy (Ed. anti-capital fights).

 

Reference


Anselm Jappe. Sous le soleil noir du capital – Chroniques d'une ère de tenèbres. Paris, Crisis & Critique, 2021.

 

Notes


[I] Kurz, Robert- The collapse of modernization – From the collapse of barracks socialism to the crisis of the world economy. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land, 1992.

[ii] Fausto, Ruy – Marx: Logic and Politics. Volume II. São Paulo: Editora Brasiliense, 1987, p. 202-203.

[iii] VIEW Marx: Logic and Politics. Volume III. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2002, p. 229-271.

 

 


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