Re: [OPE-L] Bloody Capital and Dead Labour Cultural Studies

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Tue May 02 2006 - 08:11:35 EDT

>  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.


I think this only captures one part of the meaning of the metaphor.

It is not simply a matter of undead capital dominating living labor.  

As you emphasize "capital itself is an active social agent."

What of labor? 

I've made this point before but I'll make it again.  It's really quite
simple and based on vampiric lore.

When vampires bite people (virgins) in order to draw blood and
thereby remain undead, *they transform the living themselves
into the undead*.  From that moment hence, the bitten [now also
undead] must slavishly follow the commands of their vampire

So,  if we are to follow the metaphor to its logical conclusion,
capital is undead and requires for its survival the transformation 
of living agents in the production process into the undead.  But, 
while both capital and labour are undead, the one issues 
commands which the other *must* follow.

This is a one-sided theorization of both capital and labor.  To
begin with,  capital -- while an active social agent -- does not
really have subjectivity in this scheme _because_ vampires 
act on a irresistible compulsion: i.e. it is part of their inner 
nature as vampires that they _must_ feed on blood. (I think
that, while one-sided, this seems to fit well into the "character
mask" assumption of Volume 1 of _Capital_.)

But, should labor be conceived of as being undead?  From 
Marx's philosophical and political perspective the answer should
be NO!  Indeed, if labour was conceived only as undead then
class struggle (let alone revolutionary action) could NOT
be conceived of.  Class struggle REQUIRES  (at least)
two active social agents.

What then is the meaning of the vampire metaphor?  Perhaps
one meaning concerns the one-sided and incomplete theorization
in _Capital_ and why within a systematic dialectical reconstruction
of the subject matter the theorization of Wage-Labour as an 
active social agent is required.  I.e. it tells us, in part, why the
theory needs to incorporate the subjects associated with the 
(never written) book on Wage-Labour.

Someone might say that this is reading too much into the metaphor.
Well, was Marx aware of  the meaning of vampiric lore or not?  Was
he a reader of Gothic novels or not?  If he knew _anything at all_
about vampires he _must_ have known that those who are bitten by
vampires become undead and can no longer resist the commands
of their master.  (Interestingly, in a capitalist class society in which
a number of other classes exist, if we were to leave the metaphor 'as 
is' it would mean that the two 'undead' classes -- capitalists and
wage-workers -- would _not_ have subjectivity, but landowners, 
peasants, and slaves _might_). 

In solidarity, Jerry

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