Re: [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: Mon May 01 2006 - 13:12:26 EDT

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

thanks for this review

>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.

yes indeed.

>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 

The best attempt I have read to save Benjamin on 
this point is Michael Lowy's Fire Alarm.

>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 past'.
>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 fallen.
>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 declared:
>'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)

I think Enzo Traverso has a very interesting 
discussion of this martyrdom in his book on 
Marxism and the Jewish Question??


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