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<nettime> Capital and Language: Christian Marrazi
Paul Miller on Sat, 4 Oct 2008 03:13:37 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Capital and Language: Christian Marrazi

There's been such a focus on market forces over the last week that it  
basically seems like "perception of the event has subsumed the actual  
event to the point that global financial markets, catastrophe theory,  
and the intersection of linguistics and contemporary finance have all  
blurred into one another. If there's one thing stuff like "credit  
default swaps" and "collateralized debt obligations" have shown us is  
simply that the more tenuous the relationship between finance and  
reality becomes, the more we move into the realm of what it's really  
like to live in an information economy. One of my favorite theorists  
on this kind of topic is Christian Marrazi. He has a new book out
"Capital and Language"

I thought I'd send this to the list, and a recent essay.

Capital and Language:
 From the New Economy to The War Economy
by Christian Marrzi
Introduction by Michael Hardt
MIT Press/Semiotexte

The Swiss-Italian economist Christian Marazzi is one of the core  
theorists of the Italian postfordist movement, along with Antonio  
Negri, Paolo Virno, and Bifo (Franco Berardi). But although his work  
is often cited by scholars (particularly by those in the field of  
"Cognitive Capitalism"), his writing has never appeared in English.  
This translation of his most recent work, Capital and Language  
(published in Italian in 2002), finally makes Marazzi's work available  
to an English-speaking audience.

Capital and Language takes as its starting point the fact that the  
extreme volatility of financial markets is generally attributed to the  
discrepancy between the "real economy" (that of material goods  
produced and sold) and the more speculative monetary-financial  
economy. But this distinction has long ceased to apply in the  
postfordist New Economy, in which both spheres are structurally  
affected by language and communication. In Capital and Language  
Marazzi argues that the changes in financial markets and the  
transformation of labor into immaterial labor (that is, its reliance  
on abstract knowledge, general intellect, and social cooperation) are  
just two sides of the same coin.

Capital and Language focuses on the causes behind the international  
economic and financial depression of 2001, and on the primary  
instrument that the U.S. government has since been using to face them:  
war. Marazzi points to capitalism’s fourth stage (after mercantilism,  
industrialism, and the postfordist culmination of the New Economy):  
the "War Economy" that is already upon us.

Marazzi offers a radical new understanding of the current  
international economic stage and crucial post-Marxist guidance for  
confronting capitalism in its newest form. Capital and Language also  
provides a warning call to a Left still nostalgic for a Fordist  
construct—a time before factory turned into office (and office into  
home), and before labor became linguistic.

Measure and Finance
By Christian Marrazi
I'll try to discuss the question of value and measure in the process  
of financialisation not from a written paper but on a list of points  
and questions that I'll share with you later on. Maybe let me start  
from the end to make sure that we'll get somewhere.

That is to ask: what are we talking about when we pose the question of  
measure or of unit of measure of something? I'll put it very straight:  
the only interest we usually have in the way the Marxian tradition  
defines value or constructs a theory of value, the only interest in  
this effort lies in the contradiction to which the theory of value  
leads. To measure value is, first of all, to pose the question of the  
crisis of value. The unit of measure of the process of valorization is  
the crisis, the mechanism of exploitation is unveiled through the  
crisis, and the material conditions of liberation are posed by the  
crisis. This is where I want to arrive at.

So, let's go back to the beginning. I think that the question of value  
and the question of measure in the process of financialisation always  
lies in the understanding of the transformation of the nature of work.  
Without an attempt to understand what has happened to work, it is  
impossible to fully understand what finance is. I wrote a book on the  
financial crisis 10 years ago, it was in 1997/1998, and I spent a lot  
of time catching up with the changing financial terminology, but there  
was a particular chapter on derivatives …. I must tell you that I  
don't remember what I wrote very well. But one thing I remember is  
that when I approached the question, the meaning of financial  
derivatives, I understood, I think I understood, that derivatives are  
just a way of commodifying risk. They are interesting precisely  
because they pose the question of how to commodify something that is  
usually out of the market of commodities, like risk, which is directly  
implied in technological changes and capitalist investment. Another  
thing I remember about the experience of writing or in any way trying  
to understand what was going on at the time, during the Asian crisis  
of 1997, is that I found myself immediately dissatisfied with the  
traditional critique or approach to finance. You know that there is a  
whole tradition, both in orthodox Marxism and Keynesianism, or anyway  
in something linked to neo-Ricardian visions of finance, that  
considers finance as a deviation from real productive capital. I don't  
think that we can talk about finance in this way anymore. This doesn't  
mean that finance has become sexier. Now it is as painful and awful as  
it's always been.

This is not the point: the point is that there is a transformation of  
the categories used in the 20th century. For instance it is difficult  
today to make a distinction between profit and rent, there is a  
becoming rent of profit, the dividing line between them is falling  
apart, but this is not because capital is not accumulating or growing  
anymore and so everything is just speculation, but because this is a  
new mode of production in which the relation between capital and  
labour has changed. So, in what way has it changed recently?

In order to understand value, or measure, the new measure, the unit of  
measure, we have to tackle the question of class composition, at least  
in my view. Even though this expression is in becoming, because we  
don't have a homogenous composition, but the thing is that the  
relationship between capital accumulation and finance is based on a  
specific change or transformation. I think that what characterises the  
transition from the fordist regime of accumulation to the present one  
(whatever you call it) is this: to speak about the change in the  
nature of work, what really characterises this transition is the fact  
that the main functions of fixed capital, of the machine, which had  
been hegemonic in the fordist period, have been transposed into the  
body of labour power. This is what I mean by the emergence of a new  
general intellect, post Grundrisse, post-Marx's Grundrisse (when it  
was still fixed in fixed capital). Now what has allowed the overcoming  
of the crisis of fordism is this transposition of the functions  
previously fulfilled by fixed capital into the body of labour power.  
The previous general intellect is in living labour. In that sense  
there is a becoming machine of the body of labour power. Which is also  
the basis of Luciana Parisi's idea of vitalism in yesterday's  
presentation and Tarde as interpreted by Lazzarato, and the theory of  
multitude theorised by Hardt and Negri.

But this is just the basis of this theoretical and critical  
interpretation. This poses many questions: when we talk of  
transposition of the functions of fixed capital, for instance  
cooperation, and the production of knowledge, the contradiction  
between what we know and what we want to discover, is a typical  
contradiction in Marx's theory of value: already fixed capital cannot  
be amortised on the basis of the labour theory of value. The only way  
to recuperate what is invested in fixed capital is through the  
mechanism of prices, which are not a reflection of the portion of  
value that has been created by labour. This problem and contradiction  
is now inside our bodies and us as labour power, which poses a  
political question; today we can define the value of labour power as C 
+V but this C has no legitimacy in the labour market in the new regime  
of capitalist accumulation so the amortisation which is inside us, the  
effort that we make to stay alive, find a job, the effort we make to  
keep educated, is not acknowledged and implies at its foundation the  
institutionalisation of labour power.

We seem to be at great difficulty in finding the way to invest in this  
fixed capital that is inside us. National accounting still considers  
education as expenditure rather than an investment, for instance. But  
this transposition of fixed capital into the body of labour power is  
an anthropogenetic problem. The production of man by means of man. It  
means that the sectors that are the motor of capitalist accumulation  
are health, education and culture. These produce the most of income,  
jobs, and the most of problems because they are the new frontier of  
capitalist privatisation since these sectors used to be the realm of  
the welfare state or the public common. Hence, the anthropogenetic  
problem and the model resulting from this shift and transposition. The  
general intellect that we used to identify with the forces of  
production and the content of machinery of the industrial type now has  
to be seen in living labour's body. If there is some hesitation when  
we deal with immaterial and material, because it is easy to see all  
these theories as something separated from the materiality of life and  
concreteness of work, I don't think that there is a distinction in so  
far as there isn't a possible distinction between bodies and minds,  
there has been a sort of immaterialisation of work due to the fact  
that technology has reshaped domestic housework, but the effort of it  
has increased: there is more work today in the reproductive sphere  
than there was before, it might be more cultural work, more conceptual  
work, organising the life of children, but nonetheless it is very  
physical, painful. Maybe to see if fixed capital is in the body of  
living labour is to overcome these ambiguities, but we cannot  
underestimate the importance of intangibles today in order to meet the  
needs of the concrete effort to work.

This is the premise for my reasoning on the process of  
financialisation. The latter starts in the 1970s with the New York  
fiscal crisis, when public pensions invested in city bonds in order to  
save the city confronted the fright of private investors. See for  
instance the idea of pension funds socialism. Financialisation is the  
new way capital produces the common, paradoxically, by means of  
private property rights, instead of social property rights, it is the  
nature of property rights that is at stake.

The usual way to look at finance is to see it as a parasitic process,  
but it is not, it is the equivalent of Keynesian deficit spending in  
Fordism. What makes it so different is that there has been a process  
of privatisation of deficit spending, now it is private debt that is  
adding the effective demand for accumulation, whereas in the past the  
state created this additional demand. But this deficit at work is a  
privatised deficit spending that cannot just be seen in parasitical  
terms but on the contrary relates to the property of what has been  
produced. To think that a few people have for a few months become the  
owners of their houses… This process started in the 1970s, opening up  
the chapter of what is the communism of capital. Years ago Toni said  
why don't you look at this, and whatever he says I look at it  
carefully because it changes my whole life and stability so I try to  
see him as little as possible, but he saw something there that was  
really at stake. But this process didn't simply have to do with this  
capitalisation or socialisation of our collective savings (by the way,  
when we speak of biocapitalism we need to look at the financial role  
of pension funds but also at what it means for us, for our future  
life, to be on the market). It also started a crisis of profit; the  
composition of capital in the 1970s was such that capital was unable  
to suck and extract surplus value anymore.

Normally when analysts look at these profit crisis of the 1970s they  
say that financialisation was a way of recuperating profit there that  
could not be realised within the factory, which is true, but this  
doesn't mean that we can on this basis consider what happened  
afterwards as something unproductive. The going out of the factory in  
order to recuperate what could not be realised inside the factory is a  
parallel and symmetrical process to the process of valorisation that  
has moved beyond and out of the gates: the socialisation of the  
proletariat, the social worker, we used to call it, meaning that the  
boundaries of the process of value production could not be confined  
within the factory. I think we can understand how financialisation is  
a form of capital accumulation and what effects of production are in  
society, diffused in the bodies of labour power. So indeed profit  
which used to be considered in a Ricardian or Marxist way as  
production of value inside the factory, is more similar to rent as  
ever to value extraction, but there is an externality of profit which  
is symmetrical to the autonomy of the new proletariat. As in, autonomy  
forms the means of production, not necessarily a good thing, as  
precariousness is an articulation of this autonomy. What used to be  
the externality of rent vis a vis the process of production as a  
dispositif of capture of value producing wealth, now is the same  
externality. What used to be the earth is now knowledge, to say it  
with the Physiocratic way of reasoning. Instead of the earth you have  
social knowledge, cooperation, you get close to what the situation is  
today. For the Physiocrats the means of production were unproductive,  
the only thing that was productive was the earth. Fixed capital is  
losing strategic importance. Financialisation is the way to capture  
surplus value from the new class composition.

What is measure at this point then? When we look at these processes of  
financialisation, we are confronted with emotions, sentiments, panic,  
all these Spinozian affective aspects of man, and I agree with the  
fact that the anthropogenetic model of capitalist accumulation is  
centred around these sentiments, but as far as finance is concerned,  
to return to the opposition between real and fictitious capital, there  
is a perfect rationality in these sentiments, which is due to the  
information deficit or overflow, which forces us to act in a way that  
is normally and rationally imitative because we don't know what to do.  
But emotions are part of the process by which we select the stocks in  
which to invest.

Alternative energy seems the new convention that in two years will  
lead to another bubble, the only way to introduce the notion of  
measure is that measure is possible not in terms of measuring infinity  
but to measure the process that leads to infinity and the measurement  
of these bits and pieces that lead to infinity is crisis.

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