[OPE-L] Bloody Capital and Dead Labour Cultural Studies or the Critique of Political Economy? By Mark Neocleous

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Apr 21 2006 - 21:18:16 EDT

There is a lot in this piece about capital as undead. Wasn't
there some discussion on this list about that? I haven't
read Neocleous' book on the topic of the undead.

>The trick of fetishism is thus that it is the 
>inorganic realm of the dead which nonetheless 
>makes the dead appear alive. The vampire motif 
>is thus particularly apt in this context for the 
>vampire is dead and yet not dead: s/he is 
>⤗undead⤁ in the sense that s/he is a 
>⤗dead⤁ person who manages to live thanks to 
>the sensuousness of the living. In being brought 
>back to life in this way the vampire (that is, 
>capital) comes to rule.

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Institute for Advanced Studies in
Social and Management Sciences
University of Lancaster

Cultural Political Economy
Working Paper Series
Working Paper No. 5

Bloody Capital and Dead Labour
Cultural Studies or the Critique of Political Economy?
Mark Neocleous

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       Bloody Capital and Dead Labour
       Cultural Studies or the Critique of Political Economy?

       Mark Neocleous
Politics, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH

        *       the vipers, the bloodsuckers, the 
middlemen - that⤁s what needs to be 
rehabilitated in the Soviet Union. That⤁s what 
makes our kind of country click (Bruce Gelb, Head 
of the US Information Agency, 1990).

In the chapter on money in the Grundrisse Marx 
makes a comment in parenthesis that runs as 
follows: ⤗To compare money with blood - the 
term circulation gave occasion for this - is 
about as correct as Menenius Agrippa⤁s 
comparison between the patricians and the 
stomach⤁. He seems to have here two targets. 
First, the absurd tradition in political thought 
which compared various ⤗parts⤁ of society to 
various ⤗parts⤁ of the body politic. And, 
second, the established analogy between capital 
and blood: the way both capital and blood are 
said to ⤗circulate⤁, as he points out. This 
second target is important because its underlying 
assumption is that capital is somehow the 
⤗lifeblood⤁ of society. Adam Smith, for 
example, comments that ⤗blood, of which the 
circulation is stopt in some of the smaller 
vessels, easily disgorges itself into the 
greater, without occasioning any dangerous 
disorder; but, when it is stopt in any of the 
greater vessels, convulsions, apoplexy, or death, 
are the immediate and unavoidable 
consequences⤁, and goes on to present the 
problems of monopoly in the colonies as ⤗a 
small stop in that great blood-vessel⤁.
    This assumption that capital is the lifeblood 
of any economic system permeates both 
intellectual discourse and ⤗common sense⤁ to 
this day. I want to use this idea of some kind of 
relationship between capital and blood " or 
better still, capital as blood - to explore the 
tensions and possible parameters of a cultural 
political economy. Bob Jessop has suggested that 
one of the defining characteristics of cultural 
political economy (CPE) is that it combines 
concepts and tools from critical semiotics with 
concepts and tools from the critique of political 
economy. This is to be welcomed, the claim goes, 
because critical political economy can only 
benefit from taking on board the cultural 
dimensions of social and economic life " from 
⤗softening⤁ a little the otherwise ⤗hard⤁ 
economic analysis that permeates the critique of 
political economy. In this sense, CPE might be 
positioned within a much wider ⤗cultural 
turn⤁ within the social sciences generally.
    I have no reason to disagree with this 
reasoning, and welcome it myself, not least 
because in using tools from critical semiotics it 
is an approach which plays on the important ways 
in which we come to imagine political and social 
forms and therefore ties in with some of my own 
work.5 I want to suggest, however, that there is 
a danger in this of which we need to be aware 
from the outset. Through the idea of ⤗bloody 
capital⤁ I aim to explore some of the 
differences between cultural studies on the one 
hand and the critique of political economy on the 
other. These differences, I suggest, draw to our 
attention a fundamental tension and real danger 
at the heart of CPE. For the different ideas and 
claims about ⤗bloody capital⤁ in cultural 
studies and the critique of political economy 
illustrate a critical distance between vast 
chunks of cultural analysis and Marx⤁s work, 
such that the potentially positive developments 
brought about by linking the cultural to 
political economy run the real danger of falling 
into the purely cultural, in the worst sense of 
the term. I thus propose that if CPE is to be 
anything then it must retain at its core the 
political motivation of the critique that was 
always at the heart of the original Marxist 
encounter with political economy, an encounter 
which was also intensely imaginative and made 
wide use of cultural reference points. Failing to 
do so would create the possibility of CPE 
becoming merely a sub-grouping within cultural 
studies. To put this another way, I aim to 
suggest that there is something essentially 
unpolitical (or even anti-political) about 
cultural studies, and that if CPE is to have a 
genuinely critical and political edge then it 
will have to recognize that this edge will come 
more from the original critique of political 
economy than from mainstream cultural analysis.
Wallachian boyars and cultural ⤗others⤁
The reason Marx thinks that the idea that capital 
is somehow the lifeblood of the system is 
ideological nonsense of the highest order is 
because it is the very opposite of the truth: far 
from being like blood, capital lives on the 
blood, and thus the lives, of the working class. 
It is for this reason that Marx so frequently 
describes capital as sucking the blood of the 
workers. ⤗If money comes into the world with a 
congenital blood-stain on one cheek,⤁ he says, 
then ⤗capital comes dripping from head to toe, 
from every pore, with blood.⤁ Lace-making 
institutions exploiting children are described as 
⤗blood-sucking⤁, while US capital is said to 
be financed by the ⤗capitalized blood of 
children⤁. The appropriation of labour is 
described as the ⤗life-blood of capitalism⤁, 
while the state is said to have here and there 
interposed ⤗as a barrier to the transformation 
of children⤁s blood into capital⤁. In this 
sense, far from being the life-blood of the 
system, capital lives off the real blood of the 
workers. Capital, in other words, is like a 
    I have elsewhere shown the extent to which the 
vampire motif runs through Marx⤁s work. For the 
sake of clarity, let me run through the main 
examples and points. In Capital Marx comments 
that ⤗capital is dead labour which, 
vampire-like, lives only by sucking living 
labour⤁. He also comments that the prolongation 
of the working day ⤗only slightly quenches the 
vampire thirst for the living blood of labour⤁, 
and that ⤗the vampire will not let go while 
there remains a single muscle, sinew or drop of 
blood to be exploited⤁. But a little more 
searching throws up more interesting connections. 
For example, in comparing the factory system with 
other forms of domination such as feudalism, Marx 
notes that the legal mechanisms through which 
peasants performed forced labour on behalf of 
landowners during the corvée could be stretched 
well beyond the stated number of days. Giving the 
example of Wallachian peasants performing forced 
labour on behalf of the Wallachian boyars, Marx 
cites one of the boyars: ⤗⤦The 12 corvée 
days of the Règlement organique,? cried a 
boyar, drunk with victory, ⤦amount to 365 days 
in the year.?⤁ The source Marx provides for 
this quote is Ô. Regnault⤁s Histoire politique 
et sociale des principautés danubiennes (1855). 
The ⤗Wallachian boyar⤁ in this text turns out 
to be none other than Vlad the Impaler: Vlad 
    We could go on in this vein. As Marx was 
putting the finishing touches to volume 1 of 
Capital, he writes to Engels about the industries 
being ⤗called to order⤁ by the Children⤁s 
Employment Commission: ⤗The fellows who were to 
be called to order, among them the big metal 
manufacturers, and especially the vampires of 
⤦domestic industry?, maintained a cowardly 
silence.⤁ In the Grundrisse capital is 
described as ⤗constantly sucking in living 
labour as its soul, vampire-like⤁. In the 
⤗Inaugural Address of the International Working 
Men⤁s Association⤁ Marx describes British 
industry as ⤗vampire-like⤁, which ⤗could 
but live by sucking blood, and children⤁s blood 
too⤁. In The Class Struggles in France he 
compares the National Assembly to ⤗a vampire 
living off the blood of the June insurgents⤁. 
In The Civil War in France he refers to agents of 
the French state, such as ⤗the notary, 
advocate, executor, and other judicial 
vampires⤁. In the Eighteenth Brumaire he 
comments that ⤗the bourgeois order...has become 
a vampire that sucks out its [the smallholding 
peasant⤁s] blood and brains and throws them 
into the alchemist⤁s cauldron⤁. In an essay 
on the Prussian Constitution of 1849 Marx 
comments on ⤗the Christian-Germanic sovereign 
and his accomplices, the whole host of 
lay-abouts, parasites and vampires sucking the 
blood of the people⤁. The Wallachian boyar also 
makes a reappearance in both the Eighteenth 
Brumaire and The Civil War in France. And in The 
Holy Family he and Engels comment about a 
character of Eugene Sue⤁s that ⤗he cannot 
possibly lead that kind of life without sucking 
the blood out of his little principality in 
Germany to the last drop like a vampire⤁. So 
important was this idea to Marx that his early 
plans to develop a fully-fledged political 
argument as ⤗The Correspondent from the 
Mosel⤁ included five sections, the fourth of 
which was to be on ⤗The Vampires of the Mosel 
    How are we to make sense of this joint 
metaphor - of a blood-sucking and vampiric 
capital? In speaking of capital in this way Marx 
was obviously using an imaginative cultural 
metaphor, playing on the role of blood-sucking in 
the literature of the time. We know that Marx 
loved reading horror stories, and that major 
works such as James Malcolm Ryner⤁s Varney the 
Vampire, serialized in 1847, had wide readership. 
So in that sense we might want to take a cultural 
turn, and try and make sense of Marx⤁s comments 
through cultural studies. The theme of blood in 
general and the vampire in particular have for 
some time been prevalent topics in cultural and 
literary interpretation. Either through analyses 
of popular fiction, film and television, or 
through a wider focus on the culture of the 
Gothic, cultural studies has developed and 
sustained an interest in the semiotics of the 
vampire. While on the one hand interpretations of 
the vampire⤁s meaning have been fairly diverse, 
on the other hand there has also been a common 
approach which interprets the vampire as 
connected, in some way, with capital. Because of 
this latter interpretation, Marx⤁s comments on 
the vampire have a tendency to be mentioned 
within cultural studies: either invoked in 
support of the link or simply flagged up as 
indicative of the extent of the Gothic motif in 
the nineteenth century. Either way, the link is 
useful from the point of view of a cultural 
political economy, since it would seem to draw 
together the most trenchant critique of political 
economy ever with one of the most important and 
prevalent themes within cultural and semiotic 
analysis. Surely here, if anywhere, one could 
find a productive combination of the imaginative 
concepts and tools from critical semiotics and 
those of critical political economy? Let us take 
a brief look, then, at cultural analyses of the 
semiotics of the vampire.
    Space does not allow a full discussion of each 
of the variety of interpretations the vampire has 
within cultural studies, but the common feature 
is that they more or less all participate in what 
Chris Baldick and Robert Mighall call the 
⤗anxiety model⤁ of Gothic criticism. Such 
anxiety is said to be generated by the 
vampire⤁s alien features - its ⤗Otherness⤁ 
or ⤗difference⤁ in the lingua franca of 
contemporary theory. Like the monster in general, 
the vampire is said to be the ⤗harbinger of 
category crisis⤁, refusing easy categorization 
in the ⤗order of things⤁. Donna Haraway, for 
example, writes that ⤗defined by their 
categorical ambiguity and troubling mobility, 
vampires do not rest easy (or easily) in the 
boxes labeled good and bad. Always transported 
and shifting, the vampire⤁s native soil is more 
nutritious, and more unheimlich, than that⤁. As 
a form of monster the vampire disrupts the usual 
rules of interaction, occupying an essentially 
fluid site where despite its otherness it cannot 
be entirely separated from nature and man. As 
simultaneously inside and outside the monster 
disrupts the politics of identity and the 
security of borders. The vampire is in part a 
harbinger of category crisis because like the 
monster in general, s/he represents a form of 
difference. Within cultural studies many writers 
have connected this ⤗difference⤁ and/or 
⤗Otherness⤁ with the scapegoat and thus 
oppressed and marginalised groups. The vampire 
has been interpreted as the figure of the Jew, as 
transgressive sexuality either in general or in a 
particular form such as the homosexual or 
sexually predatory female - the vamp.
    It is with this range of readings that 
problems begin to emerge. It is clear that, 
historically, Gothic culture has always contained 
⤗a very intense, if displaced, engagement with 
political and social problems⤁. But, in terms 
of cultural interpretations of the vampire, the 
precise nature of the problems, the displacement, 
and the engagement is so blurred and undefined 
that rather than identifying the vampire with one 
particular group, an attempt is made to have it 
all ways by identifying the vampire with lots of 
groups. Judith Halberstam writes that Dracula 
⤗can be read as aristocrat [and yet] a symbol 
of the masses; he is predator and yet feminine, 
he is consumer and producer, he is parasite and 
host, he is homosexual and heterosexual, he is 
even a lesbian⤁. For Burton Hatlen, as a 
marauding and sexually perverse aristocrat 
Dracula is a threat and yet, because of his smell 
and colour, he is representative of the working 
class. Thus the vampire ⤗represents both the 
repressed masses of workers and a decaying 
aristocracy⤁. The point, it seems, is that 
rather than this or that ⤗other⤁, the vampire 
is all other(s): ⤗otherness itself⤁, as more 
than one cultural analysis has put it. The 
vampire is a ⤗composite of otherness⤁ and 
thus a ⤗highly overdetermined threat⤁. As 
Hatlen comments in a mode of argument aiming at 
developing a Freudian-Marxist account of the 
vampire and yet typical of cultural studies of 
the vampire:
        *       Count Dracula represents the 
physically ⤗other⤁: the ⤗dark⤁ 
unconscious, the sexuality that Victorian England 
denied, more specifically a sado-masochistic 
sexuality that recognizes no limits and that no 
structured order can accept. He is also 
culturally ⤗other⤁: a revenant from the ages 
of superstition when people believed that the 
communion wafer was the flesh of Christ. But more 
specifically of all he is the socially other: the 
embodiment of all the social forces that lurked 
just beyond the frontiers of Victorian middle 
class consciousness: the psychically repressed 
and the socially oppressed.

The vampire is thus ⤗other⤁ in every sense of 
the word - sexually, socially, politically, 
culturally, psychically, economically. On this 
account the myriad and often contradictory 
interpretations of precisely which ⤗other⤁ 
group the vampire is a metaphor for - the 
perverse heterosexual and yet gay-lesbian, the 
proletarian and yet aristocratic foreigner from 
within - appear perfectly reasonable, since ⤗it 
is ⤦otherness? itself, not some particular 
social group, that the vampire represents; and, 
for the bourgeoisie, the modes of otherness are 
    This tendency to treat the vampire as a 
metaphor for the repressed, oppressed and 
outlawed has created a parallel tendency within 
cultural studies to treat the vampire as a 
subversive and thus liberating figure, on the 
rather simple (and simplistic) grounds that its 
very ⤗otherness⤁ makes the vampire a threat 
to bourgeois order. As the oppressed, repressed 
and outlawed the vampire is simultaneously an 
⤗antibourgeois⤁ ⤗symbol of injustice⤁. 
S/he thus ⤗threatens the tight, tidy world of 
upper middle class England⤁. As such, the 
vampire⤁s subversiveness is taken as read. Far 
from being undermined by what might appear to the 
uninitiated as essentially conflicting and thus 
mutually exclusive interpretations of the vampire 
- is its meaning racial, sexual, political, 
social? What on earth does a lesbian male look 
like? Just what is an aristocratic symbol of the 
masses? - the purported subversiveness is said to 
be enhanced by these conflicts. This is why 
cultural studies of the vampire fit so neatly 
into Baldick and Mighall⤁s ⤗anxiety model⤁ 
account of Gothic criticism. As they explain, the 
model employs an account of ⤗culture and 
history premised on fear, experienced by...a 
caricature of a bourgeoisie trembling in their 
frock coats at each and every deviation from a 
rigid, but largely mythical, stable middle-class 
consensus. Anything that deviates from this 
standard is hailed as ⤦subversive?, with [the 
vampire] standing as the eternal principle of 
subversion - Otherness itself, to be fashioned 
according to the desires and agendas of the 
    At the same time, however, and despite its 
supposed association with otherness and thus 
subversiveness, there is also within cultural 
studies a tendency to connect the vampire with 
the ruling bourgeois class and thus capital. 
Despite the fact that many writers insist that 
vampires are always aristocrats, a far more 
dominant interpretation holds that the vampire is 
in fact more representative of capital and the 
bourgeois class than land and the aristocracy. 
This view is most closely associated with Franco 
Moretti⤁s essay on the dialectic of fear. 
Situating his account in the context of Bram 
Stoker⤁s Dracula, Moretti disregards the 
conventional account of the vampire as an 
aristocrat. Dracula lacks the aristocrat⤁s 
conspicuous consumption in the form of food, 
clothing, stately homes, hunting, theatre-going, 
and so on. Moreover, the count disregards the 
usual aristocratic practice of employing servants 
- he drives the carriage, cooks the meals, makes 
the beds and cleans the castle himself. Far from 
being representative of the aristocratic class, 
Dracula⤁s desire for blood is read by Moretti 
as a metaphor for capital⤁s desire for 
accumulation. The more he gets the stronger he 
becomes, and the weaker the living on whom he 
feeds become. A constant hunger for blood means 
he is never satisfied and thus always seeking new 
victims. ⤗Like capital, Dracula is impelled 
towards a continuous growth, an unlimited 
expansion of his domain: accumulation is inherent 
in his nature⤁. This vampire is thus ⤗capital 
that is not ashamed of itself⤁.
    Within cultural studies this argument has been 
hugely influential in developing a reading of the 
vampire as capital and thus capital as vampire. 
Haraway comments that ⤗the vampire is...the 
marauding figure of unnaturally breeding capital, 
which penetrates every whole being and sucks it 
dry in the lusty production and vastly unequal 
accumulation of wealth⤁, while Nicholas Rance 
notes that in many vampire novels ⤗the Gothic 
metaphor...turns out to be merely a projection of 
the ruling capitalist economy⤁. Other writers 
make the same connection. Gelder, for example, 
comments that ⤗the representation of capital or 
the capitalist as vampire was, then, common 
to...popular fiction in the nineteenth century. 
It would not be an exaggeration to say that this 
representation mobilised vampire fiction at this 
time, to produce a striking figure defined by 
excess and unrestrained appetite⤁. Halberstam 
comments that capitalism is rather Gothic in that 
⤗like the vampire [it] functions through many 
different, even contradictory, technologies⤁. 
As David Skal sums it up in his cultural history 
of horror: the vampire is ⤗a sanguinary 
    It is with this reading that Marx and cultural 
studies meet around the vampire. Moretti⤁s 
argument oscillates between Stoker⤁s Dracula, 
general comments on the vampire and Marx⤁s 
references to the vampire in Capital. His general 
claim that like capital the vampire is impelled 
towards a continuous growth is sustained in part 
by his reading of Dracula but also in part by 
invoking Marx on capital. Thus the implication is 
that Marx⤁s use of the metaphor is entirely 
consistent with the reading presented in the 
essay. Rance⤁s comments concerning the vampire 
novel includes the idea that this is used in 
precisely the same sense as in Marx, while 
Gelder⤁s suggestion is that ⤗the 
representation of capital or the capitalist as 
vampire was, then, common to both Marx and to 
popular fiction in the nineteenth century⤁. 
Halberstam simply notes that Marx mentions the 
vampire a couple of times to describe an economic 
system which is ⤗positively Gothic⤁. In 
general, then, what happens in cultural studies 
of the vampire is that the link between the 
vampire and capital is drawn, Marx then becomes 
an obvious reference point, his comments on the 
vampire are noted, and thus the link reiterated. 
This of course has the added advantage of 
strengthening the cultural reading of the 
vampire⤁s subversiveness - for what could be 
more subversive than Marxism? Unperturbed by the 
fact that the vampire can hardly be a subversive 
⤗other⤁ creating fears and anxieties for the 
bourgeois class if it is simultaneously capital 
itself, cultural studies happily co-opts Marx 
into its reading of the vampire.
    Now, this might appear to be a useful example 
of the ways in which the cultural might be 
brought to bear on the critique of political. But 
I⤁m going to suggest that it in fact brings 
together the critique of political economy and 
the analysis of the cultural in a fashion that is 
way too easy, or even downright deceptive. Worse, 
possibly politically damaging. I want to show 
that there is in fact a dimension to Marx⤁s 
comments on bloodsucking and vampiric capital 
that cannot be assimilated into the mainstream 
cultural interpretation connecting the vampire 
and capital. This dimension is rooted in the very 
thing that separates Marx from mainstream 
cultural studies, namely his critique of 
political economy. The fact that Marx, in his 
critique of political economy, has used the 
imaginative trope of a bloodsucking vampire has 
encouraged cultural studies to try and assimilate 
Marx into its disciplinary mainstream, making 
Marx seem far more familiar to cultural theorists 
than he really is. It is symptomatic of cultural 
studies⤁ unwillingness or inability to deal 
with the dimension in question that Marx has a 
tendency to simply pop up in these texts and then 
just as quickly disappear. Rarely does one find 
any sustained treatment of Marx⤁s use of the 
vampire metaphor; a brief comment here or a quick 
reference there are all one ever finds. The 
reason for this is no doubt partly intellectual - 
Marx⤁s coherence jars with the absurd 
contradictions which cultural studies gleefully 
parades. But it is also deeply political - Marx 
has a very clear political point to be made, the 
communist implications of which are both obvious 
and enormous. In terms of CPE, however, the point 
is as follows: in treating the vampire in the 
ways that it does, cultural analyses appear to 
fulfil some of the five research injunctions that 
Ngai-Ling Sum and Bob Jessop suggest50 lie within 
the ⤗cultural turn⤁ in political economy: 
dealing with rhetorical devices, examining the 
role of discourse and systems of meaning, 
treating seriously the remaking of 
subjectivities, and examining questions of 
identity. I want to suggest, however, that the 
cultural analyses in question also have a 
tendency to subsume real economic practices under 
broad generalizations about cultural and social 
life and, in this sense, run a serious risk of 
depoliticizing the purpose of the critique of 
political economy. From the standpoint of 
cultural studies my argument will no doubt appear 
as too much like ⤗hard orthodox economics⤁ or 
⤗economistic⤁ - that bogeyman that has 
haunted cultural studies since its incorporation 
into the academy. But my aim is to show that Marx 
has a very clear and coherent reason for using 
the vampire in the ways that he does, which is 
rooted in his critique of political economy and 
not his adoption of some supposedly culturally 
universal image. Part of my intention is thus to 
argue that in missing what is truly distinctive 
about Marx⤁s position, cultural studies has 
missed one of the defining characteristics of 
capital itself. This, I then suggest, generates a 
strong suspicion that cultural studies may not be 
as subversive or radical as it sometimes likes to 
think. It also points to an important tension 
within CPE, which can perhaps only be resolved 
through a political decision.
Capital and death
In the Preface to the first edition of Capital, 
Marx comments that ⤗we suffer not only from the 
living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le 
vif!⤁. His references seem to be to the archaic 
and outmoded modes of production with their 
accompanying anachronistic social and political 
relations which threaten to restrain the 
revolutionary impulse and forward motion of 
revolutionary change. But it also suggests that 
one way to understand the vampire motif might be 
through the place of the dead in Marx⤁s 
critique of political economy.
    Dismissing the view that capital is something 
distinct from labour - a value-producing entity 
in its own right, for example - Marx argues that 
capital is nothing but accumulated labour. His 
distinction is thus between accumulated labour 
and labour per se or, as he often puts it, 
accumulated labour versus ⤗living labour⤁. 
⤗What is the growth of accumulated capital? 
Growth of the power of accumulated labour over 
living labour⤁. Capital ⤗consists in living 
labour serving accumulated labour as a means for 
maintaining and multiplying the exchange value of 
the latter⤁. But if the distinction is between 
accumulated and living labour, then it makes 
perfect sense to treat the former, capital, as 
⤗dead labour⤁. Marx had toyed with this idea 
in the 1844 Manuscripts, combining the idea of 
capital as ⤗stored-up labour⤁ with the idea 
of ⤗dead capital⤁ or ⤗dead mammon⤁. But 
through the Grundrisse and by the fully fledged 
critique of political economy in Capital, capital 
gets thought through as dead labour as distinct 
from living labour, a distinction which then 
becomes a cornerstone of Marx⤁s critique of 
political economy. ⤗Owing to its conversion 
into an automaton, the instrument of labour 
confronts the worker during the labour process in 
the shape of capital, dead labour, which 
dominates and soaks up living labour-power⤁. 
Hence ⤗the rule of the capitalist over the 
worker is nothing but the rule of the independent 
conditions of labour over the worker...the rule 
of things over man, of dead labour over living⤁.
    But a fundamental part of the topsy-turvy 
world of capital that Marx is at pains to 
illustrate is that the rule of dead labour over 
living labour is brought about by the fact that 
living labour is forced to work on dead labour. 
Inactive machinery is useless - dead - without 
the active force of living labour: ⤗Iron rusts; 
wood rots...Living labour must seize on these 
things [and] change them from merely possible 
into real and effective use-values⤁. Labour, 
Marx comments, must ⤗awaken them from the 
dead⤁, or ⤗resurrect them from the dead⤁. 
It is this awakening or resurrecting of dead 
labour under the rule of private property that 
helps turn capital into a highly active social 
agent: ⤗capital-in-process, creative capital, 
sucking its living soul out of labour⤁. Through 
this power capital appears to have the power of 
resurrecting and animating the dead. ⤗By 
incorporating living labour into their lifeless 
objectivity, the capitalist simultaneously 
transforms value, i.e. past labour in its 
objectified and lifeless form, into capital...an 
animated monster⤁. The world of capital is a 
world in which ⤗living labour appears as a mere 
means to realize objectified, dead labour, to 
penetrate it with an animating soul while losing 
its own soul to it⤁.
    It is because of this that Marx makes a great 
deal of the way that within mechanised factory 
production living labour is ⤗subsumed under the 
total process of the machinery itself, as itself 
only a link of the system, whose unit exists not 
in the living workers, but rather in the living 
(active) machinery, which confronts his 
individual, insignificant doings as a mighty 
organism⤁. ⤗The objective conditions of 
labour [i.e. capital] assume an ever more 
colossal independence, represented by its very 
extent, opposite living labour, and that social 
wealth confronts labour in more portions as an 
alien and dominant power⤁. Capital is of course 
a social relation of domination and exploitation. 
But it is a relation of domination and 
exploitation in which the product of labour comes 
to appear as a living and thus alien thing. 
⤗The product of labour appears as an alien 
property, as a mode of existence confronting 
living labour as independent...; the product of 
labour, objectified labour, has been endowed by 
living labour with a soul of its own, and 
establishes itself opposite living labour as an 
alien power⤁. Living labour ⤗repulses this 
realization from itself as an alien reality⤁, 
and hence posits itself as a form of 
⤗not-being⤁ compared to the being of this 
alien power. But since this alien power is so 
powerful, labour posits itself ⤗as the being of 
its not-being⤁. Thus the trouble with dead 
labour is that it under the rule of capital it 
refuses to stay dead: like the vampire, it 
returns to thrive off and control the living. 
Capital thus appears as dead labour turned into a 
form of life which in turn destroys the workers. 
Capital in this sense is both dead (labour) and 
living (power). It is a ⤗mechanical monster⤁, 
or ⤗animated monster⤁, a ⤗monstrous 
objective power⤁. It is, in Gothic terminology, 
    It is this distinction between living labour 
and the dead labour embodied in capital on the 
one hand, and the fact of capital as a living 
exploitative and alien undead power on the other, 
that provides the initial aptness of the vampire 
image. But once the aptness of Marx⤁s image is 
recognized a host of connected readings follow. 
Because the production of surplus value relies on 
living labour working on dead labour, the length 
of the working day is of crucial political 
importance, since without any controls on the 
working day capital can literally work the 
proletariat to death. ⤗By extending the working 
day, therefore, capitalist production...not only 
produces a deterioration of human labour-power by 
robbing it of its normal moral and physical 
conditions of development and activity, but also 
produces the premature exhaustion and death of 
this labour-power itself⤁. Thus the struggle 
for legal limits on the working day is nothing 
less than a struggle through which workers can be 
saved ⤗from selling themselves and their 
families into slavery and death⤁. Given the 
political importance attached to the length of 
the working day, it is unsurprising to find that 
the three times that Marx uses the vampire 
explicitly in Capital all occur in the chapter on 
the working day; it is also in this chapter that 
the Wallachian Boyar makes his appearance.
    This argument also sheds a little more light 
on the question of alienation from Marx⤁s 
earlier work. For the sake of brevity, we can 
identify two aspects of Marx⤁s arguments 
concerning alienation. On the one hand, Marx⤁s 
argument is that under the rule of capital human 
beings are alienated from the activity of labour, 
from the product and from other human beings and 
thereby also from themselves. This argument 
relies in part on Marx⤁s related argument 
concerning the sensuous creature. In damaging 
human beings capital damages them as sensuous 
creatures - feeling, experiencing, sensing 
creatures. To bring this point home Marx reverses 
Max Stirner⤁s comments on sensuousness. Marx 
cites Stirner as conceiving of sensuousness as a 
vampire: ⤗sensuousness, like a vampire, sucks 
all the marrow and blood from the life of man⤁. 
But for Marx the reverse is true: sensuousness is 
the foundation of our species-being; it is the 
vampire-like capital that is the death of true 
sensuousness. Thus only with the supersession of 
private property will human sensuousness be able 
to come into its own. Only under communism will 
the human senses be able to be realized in the 
fullest sense, and man once more be able to feel 
like a genuinely living creature, as opposed to 
one ruled by the dead (capital). Only vampires 
find anything sensuous in the dead.
    On the other hand, Marx⤁s also points out 
that although sensuous powers are alienated under 
the rule of capital, the capitalist is able to 
recuperate the estranged sensuality through the 
power of capital itself. Everything which capital 
takes from us in terms of life and humanity is 
restored to the capitalist in the form of money 
and wealth. Thus everything which we are unable 
to do, money can do for us: ⤗it can eat, drink, 
go dancing, go to the theatre, it can appropriate 
art, learning, historical curiosities, political 
power, it can travel, it is capable of doing all 
these things for you⤁. Capital here becomes an 
alien body, a monster which participates in 
pleasures beyond the reach of the bulk of the 
population. And the more the capitalist forswears 
any sensuous delights, the more fulfilment he may 
reap second-hand, so to speak. Once more capital 
becomes an image of the living dead. This 
argument is developed in Capital into an account 
of commodity fetishism. While many writers have 
highlighted the ⤗metaphysical subtleties and 
theological niceties⤁ that run through Marx⤁s 
discussion in the section on the fetishism of the 
commodity and its secret, what is relevant here 
is that the fetish in question concerns something 
Marx is describing as dead. Because capital is 
dead labour, the desire to live one⤁s life 
through commodities is the desire to live one⤁s 
life through the dead. What Marx is doing here is 
identifying nothing less than the ⤗necromancy 
that surrounds the products of labour⤁ (a 
necromancy, note, that ⤗vanishes as soon as we 
come to other forms of production⤁). The 
⤗horror⤁ of fetishism is of course that it 
conjures up ⤗fantastic⤁ - because 
⤗transcendent⤁ and ⤗mysterious⤁ - beings. 
But the horror also lies in the fact that these 
beings are conjured up out of the dead. On this 
basis we might say that the ⤗secret⤁ of 
commodity fetishism is that it allows the 
commodity fetish to partake of the realm of the 
dead. The trick of fetishism is thus that it is 
the inorganic realm of the dead which nonetheless 
makes the dead appear alive. The vampire motif is 
thus particularly apt in this context for the 
vampire is dead and yet not dead: s/he is 
⤗undead⤁ in the sense that s/he is a 
⤗dead⤁ person who manages to live thanks to 
the sensuousness of the living. In being brought 
back to life in this way the vampire (that is, 
capital) comes to rule.

Marx, contra cultural studies
Let us finish by getting back to the question of 
CPE. In one sense when Marx was using the vampire 
he was employing an imaginative and rhetorical 
literary device, one gleaned not from ⤗classic 
literature⤁ as many of his allusions are, nor 
from any of the ⤗great thinkers⤁ he so often 
refers to either directly or elliptically, but 
one which plays on a common belief within popular 
culture. But this was not simply a rhetorical 
device; nor was it simply an imaginative 
narrative mode. For Marx uses it to illustrate 
one of the central dynamics of capitalist 
production: its tendency to suck the very life 
out of the working class.
    Marx⤁s use of the metaphor is thus far more 
sophisticated than that suggested by many 
cultural analyses. Marx is not just suggesting 
that capital and the vampire are somehow alike in 
constantly sucking or consuming the life and 
activity of their victims, but is making 
suggestive comments about the connection between 
capital and death. Writing for readers reared on 
and steeped in the central motifs of popular 
literature, Marx thus invoked one of its most 
powerful cultural metaphors to force upon his 
readers a sense of the appalling nature of 
capital: its blood-sucking tendency and thus its 
affinity with death. It⤁s a cultural reference 
with which his readers would have been familiar 
and about which there could be no ambiguity. It 
is neither a clever reference to ⤗otherness⤁ 
nor a cheeky hint about sexuality (this is Marx, 
after all, not Engels), but a straightforward and 
deeply political point about how year in and year 
out capital systematically destroys the lives of 
countless human beings. The implication of this 
is that the approach to the vampire which simply 
says the vampire ⤗represents⤁ capital and 
that this is why Marx uses the notion, have 
missed the point, assimilating Marx⤁s position 
to those of a thousand others. In so doing 
cultural studies has given us yet another flavour 
of Marx-lite. Marx becomes detached from the 
critique of political economy and presented 
instead as a cultural theorist like all the 
others; the truly original dimension of his work, 
the dimension on which he aimed to be judged in 
the most scholarly as well as the most political 
terms, gets left behind.
    That this is so might tell us something 
important about the ⤗discipline⤁ of cultural 
studies and its relation to Marx. As is well 
known, the emergence of cultural studies was 
closely tied with Marxism in Britain. But despite 
this - or perhaps because of it? - cultural 
studies has always had a decidedly fractured 
relationship to Marxism. Stuart Hall once 
commented that cultural studies can be seen as 
⤗working within shouting distance of Marxism, 
working on Marxism, working against Marxism, 
working with it, working to try to develop 
Marxism⤁. However much that may have been true 
historically, the account of the vampire I have 
presented here suggests that too many cultural 
theorists have given up reading Marx in any 
sustained fashion. Where once this working 
on/against/within produced work of enormous 
importance and enviable quality, Marx appears now 
to be barely read by a large number of cultural 
theorists. This is shame since, to take one 
simple metaphor, a more careful reading of Marx 
may well offer cultural theorists more than they 
realise. Whatever one feels about Marx⤁s use of 
the vampire that I have presented here, it cannot 
be denied that Marx had a far more credible grasp 
on what he was doing when he invoked the vampire 
to describe capital. Cultural studies, in 
contrast, has tended to view the vampire through 
a distorting lens in which the vampire⤁s 
Otherness and subversiveness appears everywhere. 
This is part of a far more widespread 
de-politicization within cultural studies, which 
has become so dominated by a relativist orthodoxy 
that taking up a clearly held political position 
has become almost impossible. The obsession with 
⤗difference⤁ and ⤗Otherness⤁ has made 
cultural studies more or less unable to hold a 
political position other than one which idealizes 
a politics of principled uncertainty. Or, worse, 
one might even suggest that it has in turn 
misrecognized this principled uncertainty and 
interest in otherness as the only political 
position worth holding. Either way, politics is 
thereby subsumed into the cultural.78 And since 
the cultural is all about recognizing difference 
and otherness, so the simple reassertion of these 
themes becomes the only politics possible. Jessop 
has rightly pointed out that ⤗although every 
social practice is semiotic (insofar as practices 
entail meaning), no social practice is reducible 
to semiosis⤁.79 But in cultural studies rather 
a lot is reduced precisely to semiotics. And this 
has a substantive political implication. Marx⤁s 
critique of political economy was founded on the 
assumption that the power of theory lies in its 
ability to transform consciousness, to change 
people and simultaneously spur them to change the 
world. He thus uses the notion of the vampire as 
an imaginative device to show how capitalism is 
literally founded on the death and constant 
horror of exploitation. In cultural studies, in 
contrast, the metaphorical is always given more 
weight than the literal. Debates about the 
vampire thus get reduced to their metaphorically 
exciting and/or subversive Otherness. Where Marx 
wanted to spur people into historical action, to 
liberate the living from the rule of the vampire 
capital, cultural studies collapses history into 
a universal cod-psychology regarding the 
liberating power of Otherness (and thus tales of 
its own fantastic, but ultimately fake, 
subversiveness). The outcome of this is the 
danger that capital itself goes uncriticised and 
    I suggest that this has potentially huge 
implications for the cultural turn taken by CPE. 
It has been pointed out that in CPE both history 
and institutions continue to matter in economic 
and political dynamics.82 But it is worth noting 
that cultural turns can sometimes leave history 
and institutions behind. CPE needs to learn from 
this experience. For while it may well be a way 
for political economy to incorporate key 
dimensions of the more general recent ⤗cultural 
turn⤁, it needs to be aware that cultural turns 
can sometimes turn out to be political wrong 
turns.83 I would therefore like to add a further, 
more explicitly political injunction, to the five 
research injunctions that Sum and Jessop suggest 
lie within the cultural turn in political 
economy: that we retain the political project 
inherent in Marx⤁s original critique of 
political economy. Doing so need not mean 
eschewing all the imaginative delights that the 
⤗cultural⤁ might bring; quite the opposite, 
as Marx⤁s own use of all sorts of cultural 
metaphors and imaginative motifs shows. But it 
would mean that keeping in sight the devastating 
effects of capital that Marx was intending to 
expose in his critique of political economy.


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