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

From: Christopher Arthur (arthurcj@WAITROSE.COM)
Date: Mon May 01 2006 - 09:12:53 EDT

On 25 Apr 2006, at 01:06, Rakesh Bhandari wrote:
> At any rate, has anyone read Neocleous' book on the monstrous in Marx 
> and
> Burke?
> Rakesh

I have. Here is a review to appear in Studies in Marxism
Chris A

Mark Neocleous

The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism
University of Wales  Press, Cardiff, 2005, pp.152.
ISBN  0-7083-1904-1 (hb.£45); 0-7083-19903-3 (pb. £17.99)

Reviewed by Chris Arthur

This is an original book on an interesting and unusual topic. It 
explores the political power of the monstrous and the dead in the 
traditions mentioned in the title. As is predictable, the monster in 
the Marx chapter on ‘Marx: the political economy of the dead’ is the 
famous vampire of capital, of which much has been written. But 
Neocleous is right that the real heart of the matter is not explicated 
in the usual discussions of bloodsucking and alien others. Marx says: 
‘Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking 
living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.’ As 
Neocleous stresses, this choice of metaphor is philosophically and 
politically important because through it Marx aims to make a 
substantive point about the social world. What Marx really gives us is 
‘the political economy of the undead.’ While it may be true that the 
substance of commodities, and of money, is dead labour, capital itself 
is an active social agent. Accumulated labour can exercise power over 
living labour because it refuses to stay dead, but like the vampire 
returns to drain the living energy of the workers. The domination of 
capital over labour is nothing less than the rule of undead labour.
In the second part of the Marx chapter Neocleous turns to a central 
tension in Marx’s revolutionary politics: on the one hand the 
revolution must draw its poetry from the future and ‘let the dead bury 
their dead’ (a favourite trope of Marx’s); but on the other hand the 
revolution is not a bolt from the blue but liberates a potential with 
which the present is already ‘pregnant’ (again, the obstetric metaphor 
is a favourite of Marx and Engels). Moreover many fall in the struggle 
for liberation. Following Benjamin and Adorno, Neocleous calls for a 
Marxist politics of remembrance. Adorno once commented that ‘one of the 
basic human rights possessed by those who pick up the tab for the 
progress of civilisation is the right to be remembered.’ Neocleous 
develops this idea persuasively through the Benjaminian category of 
redemption, in which liberation is completed in the name of the 
But isn’t Benjaminian talk of a secret agreement of generations the 
stock in trade of conservatism? Neocleous is indeed trying the wrest 
the dead from the hands of the enemy. Here he ingeniously collates the 
separate chapters of the book with a differentiating formula: Burke 
sought a reconciliation with the dead, fascism sought a resurrection of 
the dead, Benjaminian Marxism strives for the redemption of past 
suffering. Thus ‘redemption and conservatism are understood in 
political opposition: the task to be accomplished is not the 
conservation of the past, but rather the redemption of the hopes of the 
Neocleous is good on both fascist fears of monsters (e.g. an 
anti-semitic reading of vampires) and its cult of death. In particular 
he argues that central to fascist ideology was the immortality of the 
In sum the book demonstrates that the struggle over the dead is live 
political terrain. It is supported by a wealth of detail that cannot be 
resumed in a short review. However, I offer here a little detail of my 
own. One of the central cases covered in the chapter on fascism is the 
cult of Schlageter, a German nationalist executed in May 1923 by the 
French forces occupying the Ruhr. What is also interesting is that in 
response to this event the KPD adopted the so-called ‘Schlageter line’ 
following an electrifying speech given by Radek in June, in which he 
‘This martyr of German nationalism ... has much to teach us.... We 
believe that the great majority of the masses who are stirred by 
nationalist feelings belong not in the camp of capital but in that of 
labour.... We shall do everything to ensure that men who. like 
Schlageter, were ready to give their life for a common cause, will ... 
shed their blood ... in the cause of the great working people of 
Germany.’ (quoted in The German Revolution 1917-23, P. Broué, Brill, 
Leiden, 2005 p. 727)

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