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from nudism as an illegalism

Below the break is an article by the conservative Cardus Institute, apparently published in the Calgary Herald on August 11, 2011; no record of the same has shown up, thus far, in my efforts to find it on the Herald's website. The text was taken from here, instead. It is presented on this blog – with some annotation, typographic clean-up, and contextualizing hyperlinks – as an amusing record of a historical event, namely a naked bike ride in Montréal that happened just over 10 years ago and some anarchists efforts' to contribute something to it.

:: ### ::

As Montréal falls down around its residents' heads, there is comfort knowing it is safe to drop your pants and bicycle through downtown at midnight.

Motorists forced to use the Ville-Marie tunnel for their commute when it reopened Monday [August 8] told media tales of terror at the prospect of another massive beam collapsing on their cars. [Part of the tunnel had collapsed on August 2.]

Bridges are considered unsafe at any speed. Overpasses mimic asteroids, tossing great chunks of debris from above: “Look out! It's coming right at us!”

But insouciance, which only sounds like a French word for idiocy, rolls on. Late Saturday night [August 6], it cruised through the heart of Montréal wearing nothing but a superior smile.

While I was safely tucked in my bed far away at the time (my staunch belief is nothing good can ever come of being awake after 10 p.m.), press reports advise that 40 to 50 naked souls rode the streets en masse to make the point that, well, no one's quite sure. Perhaps their only point was to show they had something to point.

Like everything these days, the nudie wheelabout was organized entirely on Facebook. There is no word whether organizers recognized this as a golden gift of paradox.

It's doubtful, however, that they did. No two groups of modern humans are more squint-eyed with sanctimony than nudists and cyclists. Plop a bare-buttocked progressive astride the ultimate vehicle for green self-congratulation and you create, on two wheels, a snob so myopic the Hubble telescope couldn't help him see things clearly.

Naturally, police passively stood by as public order was violated. What were they to do? Uphold the law? Arrest someone for brandishing a club in public? Not in Montréal, where failure to look the other way is deemed a dereliction of the duty to be insufferably culturally superior.

Curiously, the one yelp of agitation following the event was on a blog called AnarchistNews.org. Its auteur managed simultaneously to participate and slag other participants for their bourgeois blindness.

The work is worth quoting at length:

Every garment (and every commodity) is a thread in the most constricting of uniforms, imposed at gunpoint and at shopping centres: CIVILIZATION.

Whether we are naked or in parkas, our bodies remain trapped within the system that issues judgment according to clothing, skin colour, or desire. Whether we are on bikes or in Hummers, the police will enforce the rules of the road: keep to the right, don't torch department stores. As long as the logic of the commodity rules, the power of the well-dressed man in the limousine won't be threatened by the naked queer on the tallbike.

We take off our clothing to celebrate the beauty and diversity of our bodies, but what of the bodies we can't see, locked away in cells, or consigned to stitch American Apparel under fluorescent lights in “not sweatshops”? When will we see the bodies that are actually forbidden? Will we even see each other outside of this carefully controlled space with its set time, its predetermined route, its police escorts?

To begin answering these questions, we have to call into question the entire existing order. We have to strip away not just the layers that hide our bodies, but the entire apparatus of domination that ensures we'll put our pants back on and go back to work in the morning.

NO PANTS, NO MASTERS

means

WE MUST DESTROY CIVILIZATION

It would be fish in a barrel to dismiss this as the sophomoric mouth-breathing of a political imbecile. Although it is written in something approaching English sentences, for example, its “logic” is akin to one of those word wheels you spin to pick combinations of nouns and vowels that sound coherent, but are really genuine gibberish.

NO BIRDS, NO GARBAGE TRUCKS means WE MUST SING BARRY MANILOW SONGS.

NO GOLF, NO CONDOMINIUMS means WE MUST MOW THE LAWN.

One could go on. One won't.

Yet, behind the nonsense there is a kind of savage genius, and an eerie prescience given what's happening in England, in the phrase “keep to the right, don't torch department stores”. Likewise the sentence “imposed at gunpoint or at shopping centres”.

They are meaningless at the literal level, of course. Yet our anarchist's analysis ingeniously dispenses with civilized distinctions between differences of degree and differences of kind. In so doing, it presents a mentality prevalent well beyond niche political blogs. It represents the thinking that distinctions no longer matter because they belong to that outmoded habit called order.

So the core of a once great city can turn into a nude free-for-all zone while the edges crumble and become impassable. So taking your pants off in public becomes a valid political gesture and obliging motorists to dodge collapsing 25-ton beams is acceptable political inaction. What matter?

All things are just all things. And all things – pants, bridges – fall down.

Look out. It's coming right at us.

 
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from nudism as an illegalism

The last post on this blog didn't hit the internet in the way I would have liked.

At the time when I published the previous entry, I didn't yet know any name for the presumptive trans woman (whose last name is Merager, and who I will refer to by that name for the remainder of this post) who had been present in the women's section at Wi Spa on June 24. I first had a thought to write something a bit solidarious vis-à-vis the Wi Spa situation in July, shortly after the first antifa-vs.-maga clash in Koreatown, Los Angeles, on July 3, which is when I first heard about it. Alas, life happened and I didn't get too far beyond the draft stage – plus I still had another entry to finish up.

In an article published by Slate on July 9, it was said that the initial incident had simply been a hoax – or at least that there was strong evidence to suggest that it hadn't actually happened, e.g. there was no evidence that any trans woman had even been present at Wi Spa on June 24. I don't read Slate, but the lefty/progressive sorts of journalists and/or Twitter personalities I was getting my information do, perhaps, or at least they were saying much the same. I found the idea that it might be a hoax credible, which is to say, I'm not gonna put it past a certain kind of rightist to fabricate a story like the one that was being told in order to generate a useful controversy.

By the time I got around to actually putting together some sentences for the “Solidarity” post, however, it was already late September, and there had been some developments in the story. For instance, the Los Angeles police had issued a warrant for a suspect, who subsequently told her side of the story to a person employed as a journalist (and apparently that person was Andy Ngo, writing in the New York Post) before turning herself in to police. Slate updated its July 9 story on September 3. Of course, lazy hack that I am, I used a Wikipedia article on the Wi Spa affair to get myself up to speed; consequently I got some of the facts of these new developments mixed up, as I admitted in the October 2 update to my October 1 post. Wikipedia is often good enough for the sort of research I care to do, but that was absolutely not true in this situation, because several of these details were missing at the time when I was writing.

I stand by what I wrote and, to some degree, how I wrote it – which is to say, I think I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, and what I fucked up was the execution. The Wi Spa affair, which was at its origin a controversy about some exposed “private parts”, provided an obvious and relatively contemporaneous example of a situation in which nudists had a clear stake as nudists. I thought that articulating both the how and the why of those stakes might be useful. First off, I wanted to challenge a certain part of the naturist internet (in some ways, the most promising part, insofar as it has some kind of interest in doing quote-unquote “politics”) to transcend the single-issue activism mindset. Second, I also wanted to direct some energy from among those who read these posts (and I guess there are a few of you?) towards an ongoing issue that should have been of some concern for anyone with even half-decent attitudes about trans people. This would have worked a lot better if I had managed to publish initially in July, not October, but it is what it is.

It was always clear to me that Merager might be, at minimum, a person I wouldn't want to be seen defending – but also that nothing short of full-throated condemnation, never mind the available facts, would be enough to convince those whose minds are captured by transphobic, paranoid animus that I was not defending her. For these folks, my simple usage of the pronoun “her” in respect to Merager is enough to mark me as on the wrong side of a Manichaean fight between Good and Evil.

This project is about changing culture, for the better, but that second part won't be obvious to people with different ideas about nudity than mine and not much interest in changing those ideas. A lot of the time, too, there is political opportunity in mobilizing and enlisting a sort of common sense – often founded in ignorance and/or paranoia – that stands against change in how people live their lives, what will and will not be permitted in public, and so on.

All movements to change culture face opposition. In the present moment in much of North America, Europe, and elsewhere, rightist coalitions are stepping up to do just that, often mobilizing against the civil rights of LGBT people writ large or trying to isolate the T from the LGB, the better to target that letter specifically. This is what awaits those who wish for an expanded option of nudity in public, if we were to ever have ourselves a decade of “gains” parallel to those that like trans lib got between 2010 and 2020 (which is unlikely, because there is no such movement to speak of, at least at this time). By this, I would mean increasing familiarity with the philosophical underpinnings of what we're saying about clothes and bodies (without, necessarily, increasing acceptance), more accurate and/or sympathetic representation of nudist characters in popular culture, video games, and legacy news media (hooray), and correspondingly becoming more visible to those with an ideologically grounded grudge against us.

Furthermore, no movement and/or significant population of people is devoid of shady characters, ugly representatives, and bumbling buffoons. Merager, and a few years ago Jessica Yaniv, are to trans lib and/or the trans population what a certain woman from Berkeley – whose last name is Taub and whose first name (not the one given to her by her parents or recognized by the government) is an ethnic slur that she probably has no good reason to use as her personal moniker – is to the cause of decriminalizing public nudity and/or to nudists.

Let's talk about her. Taub was arrested on December 19, 2019, over accusations of stalking, and attempting to kidnap, a 14-year-old kid who had been friends with her son. As a result, whenever her name comes up on r/nudism and r/naturism – usually to discuss the nude protests that she was involved in organizing in the Bay Area over the years, starting in the lead-up to the 2013 ban on public nudity in San Francisco and continuing afterwards – there are invariably comments to the effect that, first of all, she is mentally ill and/or a moral wretch (and these two things are typically often conflated) and that, second, it is wrong to “support” her. There is never any question, of course, of actually supporting this woman, who has apparently spent the last two years in jail, by providing her with money for canteen, organizing a rally for her release, or trying to break her out of prison. Instead, simply commenting positively about her activism is framed as some kind of comprehensive endorsement, or at least almost.

To my mind, Taub is simply an important historic figure – at least within the limited scope of, say, the recent history of street activism in the Bay Area (which is not my concern) or the recent history of getting naked in public, and trying to make that option more available in general, anywhere on Earth. She is, in other words, worth discussing for her deeds and her impact, within the scope of conversations on these subjects. Although I am hardly an acritical supporter of her tactics or her ideas, I also think it's fine if some people, i.e. supporters of the minoritarian position that it should be okay to get naked in public, are a little bit inspired by the reason she is well-known. She actually did the thing, after all, rather than just posting on the internet about what she thinks would be cool and right.

I don't think we should ignore her history of inappropriate behaviour as regards young people (nor should we do the same for any other well-known activist), but that shouldn't be the only thing that can be said about her. Because, the thing is, almost no one wants to talk about Taub the whole person in these sorts of conversations; they want to talk about Taub as a means of getting to talking about a great political idea of their own (usually the most rudimentary, Reddit-brained sketch of a nudist utopia, but I'm not judging).

And, to the extent that people just want to shut down a conversation about street activism and nudism before it even happens, simply because someone started that conversation by mentioning Taub, I actually think it's not cool. All it is is derailing.

Merager is not an important historic figure at all (at least not yet), but the Wi Spa affair as a whole might be. Having already made the choice to write about the Wi Spa stuff, once I found out someone had been arrested, I was going to have to something about that person. The way I talked about Merager was then opportunistically used to derail any (online) conversation about the ideas in that post from manifesting, and to put forward instead a combination of uncontroversial truisms (like “protect women and children”) and specific anti-trans animus. I was also told that, by “supporting” her, I was destroying my own reputation going forward.

So, what did I say her? Well, apart from saying that I don't think she should be in prison, like an anarchist would say, I also presumed that I don't know everything about her just because she has a documented history as a sex offender, I did the pronoun thing (be mad about it), and I reiterated a basic idea among nudists, namely that seeing a penis is not an emergency. I suppose that a lawyer representing Merager's interests in the state's courts could argue some version of that last thing in order to get her a better deal of some kind, but that lawyer probably isn't reading this blog. I said these things because, surprise surprise, I broadly speaking support the goal of trans liberation, which is to say, the end of specific oppression of trans people by, like, society.

I have done nothing to support Merager as an individual. Certainly I have not sent any money to her defense fund.

By way of conclusion, there was one comment I saw on r/nudism that I actually did appreciate. It reads as follows:

Any sex offender, regardless of gender, should lose access to spaces where nudity is present. I see no reason that they should be admitted.

As someone who has experienced sexual assault, the place I feel safest is at the landed naturist club where I am a member. I find the bar is set much higher in terms of zero tolerance for harassment and in shared values. I feel far less safe in other clothed places, for example pumping gas or buying groceries.

The idea of safety in gender segregation is false. It's past behavior that is a much more realistic indicator.

I agree with this person. I have a lot of problems, personally, with both the notion of a state-administered sex offender registry, as well as the actual reality of it in California and many other places, because 1) I am an anarchist and 2) I read Foucault in university.

I don't think there is anything wrong, in principle, with identifying sex pests as such and excluding them from spaces where, for instance, people are going to be naked. I have more experience in demonstrations, occupations, and things of that nature; I have been annoyed when sex pests were present at these sorts of events, and generally felt okay about times when the organizers announced beforehand that specific people would not be welcome at the event. Exclusion is always complicated, but I don't think it's off the table, in other words. Sometimes it's justified on grounds far less than being a sex pest!

My concern, I suppose, how do assess the distance between cruelty and stupidity when it comes to trusting people to not keep fucking up?

 
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from nrg

Surveying is a collective and cooperative reading method. If interest is made manifest (through responses to this post), I propose we organize a preliminary meeting in December 2021, and begin surveying texts of interest in 2022.

In short: we choose a text that is a priori complex and we share it among the participants. Everyone reads their part, then we meet to discuss it collectively, share, criticize, open the reading to our own experiences.

The key point is that each participant reads a different section of the text, so that the meeting (ideally) ends with each person present having an individual and collective sense of the whole text.

Stemming from French working-class culture at the end of the 19th century, land surveying was put into practice by resistance fighters during the Second World War, then disseminated more widely by various popular education movements until today. The survey is not just a summary or an analysis; it also makes the link between theory and practice, between reading and experience.

It therefore stimulates cooperation but also the highlighting of differences in interpretation, and encourages participants to reflect on a subject beyond merely reading out of interest in the subject itself. Beyond its analytical interest, surveying is also a dynamic and proactive working method, far from the analyzes of classic texts and their preconceived criteria.

Sources:

 
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from bugs

Here are translations of some of the posts by Luo Huazhong (the Kind traveler) about their idea of Tang ping (lying flat).
These posts came from their now deleted Baidu account, screenshots and transcriptions of which you can find in various places by using a search engine. I started with machine translation and then went through and fixed the machine’s mistakes. There are certainly some things I got wrong, and I will continue to edit this post with further corrections, but even in its messy form this is a really beautiful bit of thought!

Lie flat is justice

I haven't had a job for more than two years, and I haven't felt like anything is wrong with using all my time for play. The pressure mainly comes from people around you comparing you to others or the traditional values of elders. They are everywhere. Every time you see hot news topics, they are about celebrities in love, getting pregnant and other “fertility” innuendo. The National People's Congress does not need to be like “invisible creatures” pressuring you to change your mind.

~

I can just sleep in my own wooden barrel and bask in the sun like Diogenes, or I can live in a cave and think about “Logos” like Heraclitus. Since there has never been a movement of thought that exalts human subjectivity in this land, then I can make it for myself. Lying flat is my movement of the wise. Only lying flat is the measure of all things.

Lying flat, in bed

Because I’m not going to be performing any labor, I am able to only eat two meals a day, noodles + eggs in the morning, rice + vegetables and eggs in the evening. On weekends, I can go to a restaurant for chicken chops and rice if I feel like it. For me, solving the problem of food is to solve everything. My monthly expenditure is controlled within two hundred Yuan, and I can work for one to two months a year.

~

I hate life lived for the sake of steel and concrete and “traditional family values”. People shouldn't be so tired. People should pursue a simple life, so I always do things very slowly, because I don't need to do things for anyone. I sometimes hide somewhere to watch and laugh at those busy people…

~

Why should people find excitement for an obviously meaningless existence?

~

Lying flat is the only objective truth in the universe. Rest, sleep, or death, the moment when a life full of desire and excitement becomes still and disappears is the embodiment of true justice. I choose to lie flat, and I am no longer afraid.

My position is not positioned by anyone. The ashes enter the sea and the soul floats to the universe. I'm just passing by. When the time comes, it will be another trip.

Cats have subjectivity, but people don't. When will the alienated world die out?

Cat lie flat

That's right, health is also important. Just after climbing the mountain, you can go swimming in the lake when the weather is a little hotter. I have been soaking in it almost all summer. It is essential to keep exercising.

~

I have an actor's certificate, and when I'm in a good mood, I still go to Hengdian to lie down. In short, I just lie down in a different way: life is to lie down.…

Lying flat

_

躺平即是正义

两年多没有工作了,都在玩 没觉得哪里不对,压力主要来自身边人互相对比后寻找的定位和长辈的传统观念,它们会无时无刻在你身边出现,你每次看见的新闻热搜也都是明星恋爱、怀孕之类的 “生育周边”,就像某些“看不见的生物”在制造一种思维强压给你,人大可不必如此。 我可以像第欧根尼只睡在自己的木桶里晒太阳,也可以像赫拉克利特住在山洞里思考“逻各斯”,既然这片土地从没真实存在高举人主体性的思潮,那我可以自己制造给自己,躺平就是我的智者运动,只有躺平,人才是万物的尺度。

-

由于不需要劳动,我一天可以只吃两顿饭,早上是面条+鸡蛋,晚上的时候可以米饭+蔬菜和蛋类,碰上周末心情好可以去餐馆吃鸡排饭,对我来说 解决食物问题就是解决一切,每月的花销控制在两百以内,一年可以工作一到两个月。

-

我厌恶那种一辈子为了钢筋水泥和“传统的家庭观念”,人不应该如此劳累,人应追求那种简朴的生活,所以我做事情总是特别慢,因为我不需要为任何人做事。 我有时会躲在某处看着那些忙碌的人发笑...

-

人为什么要给明明毫无意义的存在找一些亢奋呢?

-

躺平才是宇宙间客观的唯一真理,休息、睡觉或是死亡,充满欲望和亢奋的生命体静止和消逝的瞬间才是真正正义的体现,我选择躺平,我不再恐惧。

我的定位不被任何人定位,骨灰入海,灵魂飘向宇宙,我只是匆匆过客,时间一到就是另一趟旅行。

猫的主体性,人却没有,异化的世界何时消亡?

-

没错,还要有一个人好身体,刚爬完山,天气再热一点就可以去湖里游泳,我几乎整个夏天泡在里面,坚持锻炼是必不可少的。

-

我办有演员证,心情好的时候还会去横店 躺,总之就是换着方式躺,人生就是躺躺躺...

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 293-307

During the previous session the focus was on the concept and material process of labor. In this discussion we went through a critical element for understanding the discussion for this session. Specifically I am referring to the connection of laborer and context to product.

In the labor process the laborer enters into a conflict with the particularity of the moment and the nuances of material and tools. In the labor process a laborer, who is a person at a time and space, comes into contact with a material, which is in its form only in that time and space. This extreme historical particularity not only ensures that every act of production is a unique unrepeatable moment, unlike any other moment, but that it is inherently tied to the particularities of that moment.

As such, we cannot approach labor as something that either necessarily produces a specific product, all products, even of the same type, are different materially, nor something that can be thought of as a mechanism of the past or the future. Labor exists as an activity, in which we come into contact with material and tools, all of which contribute to the final outcome. But, this is just labor as labor. As we have seen, the introduction of capital fundamentally shifts the calculation around time.

Early in the chapter Marx foreshadows this a bit. In the discussion at the beginning of the chapter there are two distinctions that are made, one is between time and labour-power, and the second is between unique product of labor and generic object of commodification. During the act of production, as production, one is engaged in activity on a particularized basis. The act is a unique act, which have never occurred before and will never occur again, and this uniqueness is formed from the particularity of time, the particularity of material, of labor, of action and of tooling, all of which are not ever to be repeatable in this same form. This act is actualized immediately, it is only ever what it is, and results in the object being produced in a unique form.

The problem, within the context of commodity circulation, is that without a nested series of generalizations. The first layer of generalization we have discussed extensively, the generalization of value in the ways that value is attributed to objects. This imparting of equivalent forms of value eliminates the particularity of the object. On a second layer, this also generalizes the act of production as well.

When a capitalist purchases labor, they are not purchasing actualized labor, or labor that is occurring. Rather, what is purchased is the potentiality of activity of the worker in the future, or labour-power. In order to do this all acts of labor need to be rendered equivalent, and able to be valued quantitatively; we call that a wage. The process in which labor gets rendered equivalent and imbued into the value of the commodity is called valorization, and that is where we will be focusing our attention today.

Before jumping into the notes I want to re-emphasize another point made in weeks past. The content for this section really focuses heavily on the labor theory of value. Within this conceptualization labor is utilized through the medium of tools to change a material into a use-value. In the end product the value of that product is in itself an expression of all of the labor accumulated in that object, and every step that was taken to get to that object. But, as Marx has stated, there is a problem here. If labor were the only determination of all value, including exchange value, then all products would be valued at what their value in production was, and profit would be impossible.

What occurs in the valorization of the commodity, and labor within the commodity, is that value shifts form from a qualitative value of the particularized object and moment to the quantitative magnitude of equivalent objects and moments. After this process of wrenching moments and things out of history, profit margins are then added to this quantified value. These margins are based on conditions that exceed the object, such as social conditions, political circumstances, abstract risk, supply and demand dynamics and so on. This addition of profit margins have been used by capitalist economists to claim that the labor theory of value is not relevant, but this position misses something, once profit is added and the quantitative value exceeds that of the quantification of all labor embodied in the object we leave the realm of value and enter the realm of price. Again, it is the labor theory of VALUE, and not the labor theory of PRICE. To understand what is going on in this section that distinction is critical.

With that all out of the way, here are the notes for this session.

  • We begin where we left off during the last session, with the connection between labor and value. This discussion can get us pretty far in attempting to understand the ontology of capitalism, but there is a clear gap here; thus far we have been unable to really speak of labor itself as a commodity, except to say that it is one. That is what we will be approaching during this session.

Labor, in its base form, creates use-values, or it produces objects that have a use for the recipient or consumer of that object. As we have discussed, this concept of value, which is particular to the consumer at a particular moment, is eliminated in the process of capitalist circulation, and all value is reduced to exchange value, with exchange value being expressed in a magnitude of quantity. In this form the object retains its use-value for the consumer, but for the capitalist these use-values are only produced to function as the “material substratum”, or mechanism of transport, for abstract exchange value. In this form use becomes contingent on exchange, and labor is turned toward producing objects, not based on utility or use, but purely based on the possibility of exchange.

“Our capitalist has two objectives : in the first place, he wants to produce a use-value which has exchange-value, i.e. an article destined to be sold, a commodity ; and secondly he wants to produce a commodity greater in value than the sum of the values of the commodities used to produce it, namely the means of production and the labour-power he purchased with his good money on the open market. His aim is to produce not only a use-value, but a commodity; not only use-value, but value; and not just value, but also surplus-value.” (293)

  • Just as the commodity functions as a materiality contingent on an abstraction, labor, inserted into capital flows, also attempts to function around a paradoxical fusion, now between the materiality of labor and the creation of value. The value of the commodity is related to the perceived use of the object conceived of by the buyer and expressed through quantified abstraction. Within this circulation of commodities, we also have to redefine the concept of use.

Take, for example, something like a stock. It is a commodity, even if it is an abstract commodity, and it would seem like that stock does not have any direct use-value. But, in reality that stock allows one to have a level of control over the entity they hold stock in to the proportion of stock that they own out of the total. Stock is also tradeable, and can in itself be used as a mechanism through which its direct use is to create surplus value. Even in this case, where we are talking about an abstraction that only exists in relation to another abstraction (a part of an abstract legal entity), there is still value in the use of the object.

For the object as such, the object as object, the value of the object is related to the labor utilized to produce the object as a use-value. Though the abstraction of price will emerge in the circulation process, the value of the capitalist commodity is still determined by aggregate labor, now expressed through the lens of capitalist production as a quantity of equivalent labor and laborers.

“It must be borne in mind that we are now dealing with the production of commodities, and that up to this point we have considered only one aspect of the process. Just as the commodity itself is a unity formed of use-value and value, so the process of production must be a unity, composed of the labour process and the process of creating value [ Wertbildungsprozess ].

Let us now examine production as a process of creating value. We know that the value of each commodity is determined by the quantity of labour materialized in its use-value, by the labour­ time socially necessary to produce it. This rule also holds good in the case of the product handed over to the capitalist as a result of the labour-process.” (293)

  • This value of aggregate labor manifests through a number of forms that are outside of immediate labor. The base material is extracted or purchased, which takes on the guise of labor valued through quantifiable magnitude. The same goes for the wear on the machine, which is expressed as a partial cost per object of the overall cost of the machine, product loss, social conditions and elements that impact efficiency and so on. All of these elements of overall value involve labor as a force of creating value, and all of which then contribute to the overall price of the object in market circulation.

Outside of labor itself, however, all of these circumstantial elements, like social unrest, cannot be directly taken into account in the price of the object for a very simple reason; the object is priced now, but social unrest, for example, has an endless timeline of possibility. These elements are also not able to be generalized as a standard cost, the events themselves and the dynamics of existence are not able to be subsumed to generalized concepts. But, most importantly for our discussion here, these elements cannot be eliminated either; they are the distance between life and abstraction, and to eliminate contingency would mean to eliminate life itself. So, without an ability to take these elements into account, or the ability to eliminate them in the calculation of value, the value of the commodity comes to be determined by an averaging of potential costs.

“Hence in determining the value of the yarn, or the labour-time required for its production, all .the special processes carried on at various times and in different places which were necessary, first to produce the cotton and the wasted portion of the spindle, and then with the cotton and the spindle to spin the yarn, may together be looked on a s different and successive phases of the same labour process. All the labour contained in the yarn is past labour; and it is a matter of no importance that the labour expended to produce its constituent elements lies further back in the past than the labour expended on the final process, the spinning. The former stands, as it were, in the pluperfect, the latter in the perfect tense, but this does not matter. If a definite quantity of labour, say thirty days, is needed to build a house, the total amount of labour in­corporated in the house is not altered by the fact that the work of the last day was done twenty-nine days later than that of the first. Therefore the labour contained i n the raw material and instruments of labour can be treated just as if it were labour expended in an earlier stage of the spinning process, before the labour finally added in the form of actual spinning.” (294-295)

  • Within this structure it is not just important to identify an average of contingent costs, it is also important to prevent anything from happening that could displace that average. To allow for this structure of exchange value to function, not only do conditions of production need to be leveled, but also the particularities of labor and laborers. When an object is made purely as a use-value the particularity of the labor expended helps determine the shape of the object. Within capitalist production this quality of labor disappears, and must, otherwise all objects would need to be valued separately, rendering mass production impossible.

In most economics this elimination of contingency if treated like a simple efficiency calculation. In reality, this imposition of generic average is the very foundations for the assembly line, Taylorism and the entirety of the performance metric driven workplace, which is structured to construct the worker as an entity as close to a machine as possible; this is the ultimate core of the alienation of the laborer from labor within the wage structure. We will return to some of these themes when we get to Chapter 15, which is about the factory, in a couple of weeks.

“We have now to consider this labour from a standpoint quite different from that adopted for the labour process. There we viewed it solely as the activity which has the purpose of changing cotton into yarn ; there, the more appropriate the work was to its purpose, the better the yarn, other circumstances remaining the same. In that case the labour of the spinner was specifically different from other kinds of productive labour, and this difference revealed itself both subjectively in the particular purpose of spinning, and objectively in the special character of its operations, the special nature of its means of production, and the special use-value of its product. For the operation of spinning, cotton and spindles are a necessity, but for making rifled cannon they would be of no use whatever. Here, on the contrary, where we consider the labour of the spinner only in so far as it creates value, i.e. is a source of value, that labour differs in no respect from the labour of the man who bores cannon, or (what concerns us more closely here) from the labour of the cotton-plan ter and the spindle-maker which is realized in the means of production of the yarn. It is solely by reason of this identity that cotton plan ting, spindle-making and spinning are capable of forming the component parts of one whole, namely the value of the yarn, differing only quantitatively from each other. Here we are no longer concerned with the quality, the character and the content of the labour, but merely with its quantity. And this simply requires to be calculated. We assume that spinning is simple labour, the average labour of a given society. Later it will be seen that the contrary assumption would make no difference.” (295-296)

  • In this process all labor is rendered both equivalent and potential. The labor that one sells to the capitalist is not work performed in a specific, particular, unique way in the past. Rather, one is only able to sell the potential of generic labor; this is the selling of a portion of the future to mediocrity. As labor is rendered generic, and measured as a quantity, all that comes to matter is the quantity and not the type of labor or laborer. For example, to a capitalist fine metal machining and mass produced metal casting do not differ on a qualitative level, but only on the level of the time and cost of that time. The products of that labor are equivalent, in that they are both quantities, and the labor aggregated in the object is also equivalent, as a quantity, even if machining is a fine craft that takes years to learn and casting is a common and simple process. The material is also reduced to a quantity, with the quanytitative difference disappearing through its role as the substrate to which labor is inscribed and, as a result, value attributed.

“During the labour process, the worker's labour constantly under­goes a transformation, from the form of unrest [ Unruhe] into that of being [Sein ] , from the form of motion [Bewegung] into that of objectivity [Gegenstiindlichkeit]. At the end of one hour, the spinning motion is represented in a certain quantity of yarn; in other words, a definite quantity of labour, namely that of one hour, has been objectified in the cotton. We say labour, i.e. the expenditure of his vital force by the spinner, and not spinning labour, because the special work of spinning counts here only in so far as it is the expenditure of labour-power in general, and not the specific labour of the spinner.

In the process we are now considering it is of extreme importance that no more time be consumed in the work of transforming the cotton into yarn than is necessary under the given social conditions; If under normal, i.e. average social conditions of production, x pounds of cotton are made into y pounds of yarn by one hour's labour; then a day's labour does not count as 12 hours' labour un­less 12x lb. of cotton have been made in to 12y lb. of yarn ; for only socially necessary labour-time counts towards the creation of value.

Not only the labour, but also the raw material and the product now appear in quite a new light, very different from that in which we viewed them in the labour process pure and simple. Now the raw material merely serves to absorb a definite quantity of labour. By being soaked in labour, the raw material is in fact changed into yarn, because labour-power is expended in the form of spinning and added to it ; but the product, the yarn, is now nothing more than a measure of the labour absorbed by the cotton. If in one hour 1 2/3 lb. of cotton can be spun into 1 2/3 lb. of yarn, then 10 lb. of yarn indicate the absorption of 6 hours of labour. Definite quantities of product, quantities which are determined by experience, now represent nothing but definite quantities of labour, definite masses of crystallized labour-time. They are now simply the material shape taken by a given number of hours or days of social labour.” (295-296)

  • From this process all that results is a value equivalent to capital invested. For capitalism to function there must be a differential between these values, and to achieve this difference surplus-value must be added. It is in the addition of this surplus value that production moves from creating value into valorization.

“By turning his money into commodities which serve as the building materials for a new product, and as factors in the labour process, 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, value which can perform its own valorization process, an animated monster which begins to ' work ', ' as if its body were by love possessed '.

If we now compare the process of creating value with the process of valorization, we see that the latter is nothing but the con­tinuation of the former beyond a definite point. If the process is not carried beyond the point where the value paid by the capitalist for the labour-power is replaced by an exact equivalent, it is simply a process of creating value ; but if it is continued beyond that point, it becomes a process of valorization.

If we proceed further, and compare the process of creating value with the labour process, we find that the latter consists in the useful labour which produces use-values. Here the movement of production is viewed qualitatively, with regard to the particular kind of article produced, and in accordance with the purpose and content of the movement. But if it is viewed as a value-creating process the same labour process appears only quantitatively. Here it is a question merely of the time needed to do the work, of the period, that is, during which the labour-power is usefully expended.Here the commodities which enter into the labour process no longer count as functionally determined and material elements on whieh labour-power acts with a given purpose. They count merely as definite quantities of objectified labour. Whether it was already contained in the means of production, or has just been added by the action of labour-power, that labour counts only according to its duration. It amounts to so many hours, or days, etc.” (302-303)

 
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from Dyscommunication

These are the rest of my notes from the anti-fascist interview. I didn't feel like spreading them out over several toots. My notes begin at https://kolektiva.social/@dysco/107198680141452079.

Overcome the scene, subcultural trappings by reaching out to everyday people: our neighbors, our co-workers, friends and family. Just be outspoken because everyone is going through a social crisis, and take this opportunity to listen to people and build a support network. Discuss the liberals and how they ignore fascists and crack down on antifascists, and show how fascism emerges out of our society, which is based on white supremacy, colonialism, and slave labor [and terrorist apartheid]. There isn't much time to stop the fascist take-over and climate disasters. Ask-an-Anti-fascist events where anti-fascists go to unions, schools, and workplaces and just talk to people and answer questions, demystifying and building relationships ultimately to prevent concentration camps. https://threewayfight.blogspot.com/

My thoughts — Millions of black and latinx people are already in “concentration camps” (prisons) largely for being people of color in a white supremacist nation that stalks them. Their friends and families would like our help. Secondly, people who are most vulnerable to fascism — people of color and LGBT+ — are also very concerned about the rising fascism and have put a lot of energy into getting people to vote against fascism. These people may have their own networks, but we should try to be their allies.

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 283-293

The reading for this week is the beginning of the process of taking all of this complex, abstract and somewhat obtuse theory and grounding it in something tangible, in this case labor. Remember, when we discussed labor earlier that discussion tended to revolve around the concept of the labor theory of value or the positionality of labor within the wider dynamic of circulation.

These ideas are critical to understand, but throughout this discussion there is something lacking, namely a discussion of what labor even really is. That seems like a silly, self-evident element of everyday life, but it is actually a much more complex idea than we often allow it to be. For example, during this clapter Marx will differentiate between work, labor and labor-power. But, even beyond that the concept of labor is fundamentally bound up with the social structure of labor and the relationships between power, knowledge and our understandings of the world.

The concept of labor that has carried itself through the trajectory of Western philosophy is a concept that makes a series of difficult to identify assertions about life, and our relationship to the world. These assumptions are so commonly held that they almost disappear into a sense of unstated normality. But, core to this question, in its traditional understanding, is a very clear, and very problematic, concept of the human.

This conception of the human, which finds a clear early expression in Aristotle, will sound very familiar. It is the concept that there is a fundamental separation between the human and everything else, grouped under the concept of nature. This separation is typified by a dynamic of extraction and domination, namely that “nature” is the dominion of the human. Clearly this idea carried over into Christianity, through the Book of Genesis.

But, coupled with this idea is a specific concept of how we create, or what the process of making something entails. Within this Aristotelian conception the human functions in a relationship with nature in which the human has total sovereignty. This means that, not only can the human extract whatever they need, but also that “nature” is a sort of passive and inert substance. When we make something, say carving something out of wood, within this understanding of the world that carving transfers directly from the mind to the object, with the material presenting no resistance to human action.

Now, anyone that has ever carved wood or, in my case I mess around with amateur metal machining and fabrication, knows that materials all have tolerances, unevenness, gaps, areas which present different resistances, flows that move cleanly through a material and so on. A wood carving needs to take grain into account, as a really simple example, but also if one is welding the metal can warp due to heating differentials. None of that can possibly exist within this traditional understanding of the separation between “human” and “nature”.

There is a lot more to say on this topic, and someday I plan on doing a seminar on the concept of production and the dynamic between the concept of the human and the materiality of prosthetic tools. It is not time to dive into this here, now, but if you are interested I would recommend the Technics and Time series by Bernard Steigler or War In The Age of Intelligent Machines and Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel Delanda.

For now, what is relevant are two points that I will briefly summarize before getting into the heart of the notes. The first is that this traditional conception of production is something that a lot of Marxists impose into Marx; this is the entire basis for the 5 Year Plans, for example. But, as we will see, that reductionistic reading misses a lot of really critical nuance. Secondly, it is in this nuance that we can begin the process of understanding wage labor and the ways that labor is commodified, as well as the ontological impacts of that. We will leave the commodification, valorization, process for next week, and will focus on this understanding of labor presented here for this series of notes.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy!

  • Immediately Marx makes a subtle distinction which is very core to the arguments here. This distinction is between work and labor. The worker is defined through the lens of capitalist production, it is one who sells their potential labor as part of the production process. In the process of becoming-worker a metamorphosis of activity occurs, in which it is taken from a fundamental and simple form and inserted into a different mode of occurrence.

To exist one must possess the potential for activity; to not have the potential to act is to literally describe death. Though these possibilities must exist for one to exist, that does not mean that all of these potentialities are manifested. This potentiality of action, therefore, serves as a sort of labor in waiting, time and effort that can be turned toward a task.

In the construction of labour-power, or labor that has been utilized as part of a mode of a commodified mode of production, the individual is specifically selling this potential labor. During this process a space is opened between the production process itself and the social context of that production. In other words, in the process of labor becoming labour-power or work the social context of labor has been inserted into the dynamic, allowing for the commodification of labor to even be possible. Labor itself is a separate category, independent from the social context of labor, which comes to shape and channel labor. It is in this locality that the structure of power comes to impact the possibilities of activity.

On a second level another gap is opened, this time between the value produced and its circulation within capitalism. This separation has been discussed before, but the point takes on a slightly different shape here. To the degree that labor and the social context of labor are not inherently connected (there are many different social contexts in which labor can occur, and none are essential for labor to occur), this then comes to form the basis of the separation of value created and value circulated. When labor as such occurs the result is the production of use value. It is in the insertion and imposition of a specific context for labor in which this value gets rendered irrelevant, and the object can begin to express the exchange value that ultimately constructs the object as a commodity. It is in these separations that Marx can talk about workers being separated from the products of their labor; that labor ceases to be labor as such and becomes work through its insertion into commodity circulation.

“Hence what the capitalist sets the worker to produce is a particular use-value, a specific article. The fact that the production of use-values, or goods, is carried on under the control of a capitalist and on his behalf does not alter the general character of that production. We shall therefore, in the first place, have to consider the labour process independently of any specific social formation.” (283)

  • Labor, in this basic and fundamental form, prior to the question of social context, is framed here through a concept of a conflict between human and nature. There are an entire boatload of caveats in these statements, of which we will be focused on a few. Before diving into the complications it makes sense to discuss the traditional understanding of labor and its relationship to “nature”, as well as the Leninist interpretation of this (which is, surprisingly, super reductionistic and flat out wrong).

The traditional conception of labor has a number of different roots, including Aristotle and later the Bible. In these narratives this conflict between human and “nature” is based on a number of assumptions. Firstly, there is an assumption that the categories of human and nature are clear and absolute in their separation. This concept is one grounded in the arrogant narrative of “human reason”, and a lack of understanding of the non-human. It also essentializes the human as a thing when, if we follow thinkers like Bernard Steigler here, the human is more identified by the uses of what it is not, namely what Steigler terms prostheses, or, in other words, tools. Consequently this posits some essential characteristic to “nature” as well. These essentializing narratives would literally require understanding the totality of all possible things in all possible ways to even begin to venture some sort of discourse around.

The second element if this traditional understanding is centered around a domination narrative. In Leninist thought this conflict between the human and nature is one in which the task of the human is to dominate nature, to extract from it what is necessary, and to do so as some sort of absurd concept of political duty; this becomes very clear in the early Soviet modernization programs and later in the farm collectivization program and other state central planning processes. This narrative rests on the first, and then attempts to essentialize conflict as something with a victor and a conclusion. Conflict, however, is a much simpler concept, and means nothing more than the non-sameness of things, or the discordance between two entities, but not necessarily antagonism or domination. All of that content is being added in retroactively and used to support points that drift pretty far from this narrative.

These two assertions come together to form a narrative in which the natural is nothing but inert material that is able to be readily manipulated by the human without any resistance. The deficiencies of this understanding are obvious for anyone that has ever done wood or metal working. Both disciplines are largely centered around how to work with and compensate for irregularities and features of the material itself. For example, when welding one needs to tack down the pieces to one another at various points throughout the welding path, prior to actually welding the seam. This is because welding adds significant heat to the material, which causes distortions to the material and causes its shape to change. So, far from an inert and passive medium, the material itself presents distinct features that we are in “conflict” with during the act of making something.

There is plenty of language in this section of the chapter that seems to be pushing in this traditional direction, with concepts of sovereignty, power and some inherent separation between human and “nature. However, interspersed with that language you will find quotes (like the one below) in which it becomes clear that something more complex is going on here. Far from just repeating some sort of dogmatic humanism, Marx is actually expressing what, for the time, was a highly complex understanding of the interplay between laborer, material and ontology.The natural in the narrative Marx is crafting here is not one of a passive and definitive nature wholly separate from the human. Rather, this narrative is centered around a dynamic between labor and material, where the “natural” is an active and dynamic space that presents “forces” (to use Marx's term) that are acted upon by labor to ultimately produce a thing that is the result of both labor and the features of the material, or nature.

This allows us to think through a few questions that would be impossible to understand if we think of nature in this Aristotelian/Leninist framework of passive inert nature. Firstly, we would never be able to describe failure. If “nature” were a passive entity acted upon unilaterally by the human, then there could never be any mistakes in the process of taking concept and manifesting it in concrete form. Secondly, and this is critical later when we discuss value and price in the next section, without being able to speak of “nature” as a dynamic entity that is in flux, we can never discuss decay or degradation.

In this dynamic labor, prior to commodification, is in a dynamic with “nature”, or material, typified not by unchallenged human activity and inert materials, but is, rather, a dynamic based in intent and conflict. The shape of the object and material acts of construction exist in a dynamic between laborer and “nature”, making the resultant creation one that is inherently connected to both the laborer and the material in a particularized sense.

“Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature.” (283)

  • The tool functions as the medium through which human and material interact. Marx is speaking of this in a highly foundational way, namely that all prosthetics are tools, and tools are necessary for humans to make anything. For example, one cannot carve wood without a tool, or can't fight animals without weapons (we are kind of weak, slow and soft, and don't have claws or big sharp teeth). Even on the basic level of using a rock as a projectile, the object that we throw is a tool.

As with material, the tool itself presents additional and shifting resistances. Tools and the materials they are made of have limitations. Metal, for example, cannot cut harder metals. These tools also degrade, change shape, fail in their tasks. This is all added into the aggregate contingency of the nuances of the material, the skills and capability of the laborer and the social and political conditions of production to construct a far more complex relationship than one would ever derive from reading Lenin.

“An instrument of labour is a thing, or a complex of things, which the worker interposes between himself and the object of his labour and which serves as a conductor, directing his activity onto that object. He makes use of the mechanical, physical and chemical properties of some substances in order to set them to work on other substances as instruments of his power, and in accordance with his purposes. Leaving out of consideration such ready made means of subsistence as fruits, in gathering which a man's bodily organs alone serve as the instruments of his labour, the object the worker directly takes possession of is not the object of labour but its instrument. Thus nature becomes one of the organs of his activity, which he annexes to his own bodily organs, adding stature to himself in spite of the Bible. As the earth is his original larder, so too it is his original tool house. It supplies him, for instance, with stones for throwing, grinding, pressing, cutting, etc. The earth itself is an instrument of labour, but its use in this way, in agriculture, presupposes a whole series of other instruments and a comparatively high stage of development of labour-power.” (285)

-The process terminates in the object that is produced in this dynamic, and that object, regardless of social form, carries use-value along with it. This use-value is not some sort of direct transference of human idea onto inert material, but is rather a product of labor undertaken on a dynamic material, in a dynamic moment in history, using tools that only exist in a particular way in any moment. This fundamentally binds the production of the object to the particular time and space of its production, and not in the generalized, depersonalized, generic form we infer from mass production. The mass produced object does not escape this dynamic, but that is a topic for Chapter 15.

The product, however, is not some sort of final point of termination. As we can derive from the concept of the labor theory of value, or even just a basic understanding of the logistics of supply chains, products become bound up in the production of other products, and this complicates the relation between object and use-value. Within capitalist production resources are consumed, all of which were products from former acts of production. In this form the use-value of the object becomes directly bound up with the circulation of commodities, and begin to function purely on that basis. This debases the object from direct use-value, and begins to redefine use-value around the terms of exchange-value.

“The process is extinguished in the product. The product of the process is a use-value, a piece of natural material adapted to human needs by means of a change in its form. Labour has become bound up in its object : labour has been objectified, the object has been worked on. What on the side of the worker appeared in the form of unrest [Unruhe] now appears, on the side of the product, in the form of being [Sein], as a fixed, immobile characteristic. The worker has spun, and the product is a spinning...Although a use-value emerges from the labour process, in the form of a product, other use-values, products of previous labour, enter into it as means of production. The same use-value is both the product of a previous process, and a means of production in a later process. Products are therefore not only results of labour, but also its essential conditions.” (287)

  • For next time we will be working through the second part of this chapter, where we start to see how the process of production gets appropriated within the process of capitalist production.
 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 247-257

Welcome to Chapter 4!

This is one of the shortest chapters in the book, but probably one of the most important. Up to this point we have approached the concept of money as a mechanism of the transfer of value in circulation, and hoarding being what occurs when that money is taken out of circulation. Most anti-capitalists I have spoken to over the years utilize the terms capital and money interchangeably, but there is actually a really nuanced distinction between the two that has some profound impacts on the ways that economics functions on an ontological level.

This initial formulation, of money as a mechanism of transference, is able to explain how the structure of commodities, as material objects alienated from themselves and valued abstractly and quantitatively, allows for exchange and circulation to occur. It is even able to discuss certain aspects of the commodity form, such as the fact that the materiality of the object disappears in commodity circulation. This is all well and good when we are merely trying to discuss the ways in which commodities are bought and sold.

This formulation hits a distinct limit, however. Within this mechanism there is no way to explain the movement of money within a process of circulation in which money itself is the outcome, and not circulation. This is a structure that we call capitalism, and the nuanced shifts between capital and money interact with this initial formulation to allow us to explain much more complex phenomena, like credit, stocks, investments and so on.

That is what we will be discussing for this week, how money differs from capital, and how that distinction comes to shape some pretty critical elements of the discourse on capitalism.

Oh, I figured I should mention, I published my first article on economics, centered around the Chinese housing market, the collapse of Evergrande, the paradoxes of global economics at present and how this could all combine to generate economic crisis conditions globally. If any of you are interested you can find it here:

https://territories.substack.com/p/the-grand-crash

  • Marx begins this chapter by restating a core, and often misunderstood point; that the core of capital resides in commodity circulation, and thus the commodity form, of which production is only a part. This firmly positions the point of intervention broadly, on a wide social scale, at innumerable nodes, with not all of these existing within the realm of commodity production. I repeat this point often, but it is critical in the actual task we are undertaking here, which is not merely to read and understand Capital, or to even understand capitalism, but to identify and locate effective points of intervention within that circulation. Those that want to confine this to workerism are completely missing the vast array of terrain outside of the mechanisms of production (which is a question that in itself has been vastly disrupted in the move away from purely industrial production).

Commodity circulation forms the ontological core of capitalism, as we have been discussing, and this is embodied in the commodity form itself, the paradoxical construction of a material object in which its material particularity is irrelevant. It is in this process of rendering all things equivalent, and able to only be differentiated by magnitude or quantity, that the commodity gets displaced from itself, its material form is rendered irrelevant and it is reduced purely to a means through which value is transported between transactions.

The paradoxical construction of the commodity, and the alienation of the object from its own conditions of possibility, forms the foundations of the abstraction of the object, which allows for it to come into contact with all other commodity flows, and have those flows all function as a movement of value, regardless of the materiality marginalized by that abstraction. Without this dual removal (from itself as an object and from its conditions of possibility), the entire attempt to discuss circulating value, which is a precursor for capital, would be incomprehensible. The social and historical manifestations this ontological alienation finds its expression in circulation, and by extension production.

“If we disregard the material content of the circulation of commodities, i.e. the exchange of the various use-values, and consider only the economic forms brought into being by this process, we find that its ultimate product is money. This ultimate product of commodity circulation is the first form of appearance of capital” (247).

  • Money and capital are not purely equivalent terms. In its most basic form money only refers to the mechanism through which abstract value is transported through circulation outside of the commodity. In this form, where money is used to facilitate commodity circulation, where money has a direct use-value as a mechanism of exchange, it remains only money. When money is used to purchase or produce commodities purely for for the sale of the object, without this implying that the money acquired stays within circulation, it already functions as capital.

In this process where money is used to acquire the commodity for sale the commodity itself, as a material object, vanishes from relevance, and becomes nothing other than a mechanism through which value is transferred as well. Functionally what occurs at this point is that money is being traded for a different quantity of money. To put this another way, when we are engaged in circulation purely for the ability to extract value from the transaction, separate from the use of that value, what occurs is that the shape of the commodity and its material existence cease to matter, and what happens is that value is used to acquire the commodity, which results in getting value back from the sale of the commodity. In this scenario the commodity exists as a mechanism through which magic occurs, a mechanism through which one can “make” money. Money, when it is used in this form is capital.

Marx uses the example of buying bushels of corn. Say someone buys a bushel of corn for $100, and then they turn around and sell it for $110. What has occurred here is that $100 has become $110 simply by shifting form from money to commodity and back to money again. The materiality of the commodity can be anything in this space, all that matters is that it conveys value from money to money.

The quantities of money that are moved through in this process must be different between the beginning of circulation and the end of the circuit; if they were the same there would be no point in engaging in the activity. Capital only functions as capital due to a differential between money invested and the quantity of money acquired in exchange.

“In the circulation C-M-C, the money is in the end converted into a commodity which serves as a use-value; it has therefore been spent once and for all. In the inverted for M-C-M, on the contrary, the buyer lays out money in order that, as a seller, he may recover money. By the purchase of his commodity he throws money into circulation, in order to withdraw it again by the sale of the same commodity. He releases the money, but only with the cunning intention of getting it back again. The money is therefore not spent, it is merely advanced” (249).

  • As such, the core differentiation point between capital and money flows along around questions of circulation, of which production is a part. This introduces a tension that we see play out in a myriad of ways within everyday life in the 21st Century. Money becomes capital to the degree that money becomes an end in itself, to the degree that the objective is money itself, and not the use-value of money as a mechanism of purchase. This firmly attaches capital to accumulation, by definition, and as such, constructs capital as a flow of circulation which then pulls money out of circulation. It is only here that we start to see phenomena, such as the accumulation of wealth and wealth stratification, where accumulation exceeds the ability of commodities to circulate. At the end of this process, in theory, is the possibility of one person dominating all economic assets, but in that space commodity circulation ceases to occur. So, on this level, the very structure of capital itself exists as a self-destructive paradox in which the more capital functions as capital, and not as money, the less likely it is that commodity circulation can continue within a capitalist context.

We saw this dynamic play itself out in the formation of the New Deal, for example. The New Deal was an attempt to restart commodity circulation after the Great Depression, and construct a mechanism to always preserve the ability of consumers to spend by providing subsidies and social assistance. The Great Depression was largely caused, or at least heavily facilitated by, the fact that preceding the Depression the US saw the worst stratification of wealth in its history, with the exception of right now. In that condition there were not enough consumers (people with money) to be able to sustain the economy when the stock market crashed due to the failure of over-leveraged investments.

The Depression posed a systemic risk to capitalism as a result of the collapse of the consumer. The New Deal was structured specifically to build what they referred to as a “stable consumption index”, namely a base amount of consumer spending guaranteed by government programs that companies could base investment decisions around. By providing programs like the GI Bill, Welfare and Section 8 the state was able to keep consumers spending money by providing the money they would spend. In other words, the New Deal was less of a move toward some sort of odd market socialism, and a lot more about providing subsidies to companies through subsidizing consumption.

It is at this point that we start to see commodity circulation metastasize into capitalism through the medium of abstract value. To the degree that capital functions to extract money through commodity sale, and to store that money as an end in itself, then necessarily, to the degree that capital functions, the conditions of possibility for existence is fundamentally bound up in the conditions of circulating abstract value. This interplays with the core of the commodity form, the rendering equivalent of all things as quantities, which already displaces the conditions of existence away from materiality and into the circulation of abstract value. In this structure all activity becomes premised on exchange-value, rather than just exchange, or the use of money. The world floats into the background entirely.

“The process M-C-M does not therefore owe its content to any qualitative difference between its extremes, for they are both money, but solely to the quantitative changes. More money is finally withdrawn from circulation than was thrown into it at the beginning...The value originally advanced, therefore, not only remains intact while in circulation, but increases its magnitude, adds to itself a surplus-value, or is valorized. And this movement converts it into capital” (251-252).

  • The process starts to approach a limitlessness. When accumulation enters stasis in the hoard, technically capital is timeless within an infinite hoard, removing it from history in an active sense. We see this with Bitcoin, for example, where coin can persist indefinitely as long as there is still a blockchain in operation, regardless of whether anyone can actually access it. It is in this limitlessness that money itself changes form, from a mechanism of exchange where the result is use-value, both for money and the object, into a form in which money, like the commodity, ceases to matter in its physical shape and use. As such, it becomes nothing but a mechanism through which value is circulated, but is not value itself.

This means that with the emergence of capital value becomes decoupled from money, and starts to function as an autonomous element, one separated from history and the world, and one that comes to determine the possibilities in the world to the degree that it functions. In other words, value is no longer tied to money, and money itself becomes confined to the use and physical manifestation of the means of circulation. This is the only context that we can understand things like credit cards, stock trading, derivatives, fractional reserve banking and so on; these are all mechanisms of value transfer that exist outside of the constructs of money in its physical sense (its not like you get a bag with thousands of dollars in it when you get a car loan, for example).

The most obvious manifestation of this is fractional reserve banking, which is what the entirety of the economy functions based on. Let's take a situation in which I run a small bank with one customer that deposits $100. The next day someone comes in and asks for a $10 loan, which will be, say, $12 after interest. Obviously the bank only has the money of the other customer. So, the way that banks create debt begins with essentially borrowing from the accounts of their depositors. In this case we take $10 from customer 1s account and give it to customer 2. That is all fine unless customer 1 comes and asks for all of their money back, at which point you have an issue; this is what happens when there are runs on the banks. But, for the bank they just performed a magic trick. Rather than having $100 in assets, or the actual $90 that they physically have access to, now they have $112 dollars of assets, the $100 in that account and the $12 the bank will receive in payment for the loan. In this process $22 was manifested out of thin air. This is how the amount of money in circulation grows, and this is also why weird Ron Paul people complaining about the Federal Reserve controlling currency have no idea what they are talking about.

“In truth, however, value is here the subject of a process in which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization” (255).

 
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from nudism as an illegalism

CW: some inaccurate information (see update below), child abuse mention, discussion of genital terminology

Two notes before beginning:

  1. Instead of the overly Latin and slightly nauseating word “penis”, I have chosen to instead to use something a bit more whimsical and fun in this piece, namely “johnson”. For etymologically obvious reasons, this term does not pertain very well to the transfeminine penis, more colloquially known as “girldick” – but alas, for those who can only see a dick as chromosomally shaped mounds of flesh, blood, and other fluids, it might as well be a johnson for all they're concerned, no matter the precise context.

  2. With respect to people who read this who may be just a touch “gender-critical” themselves, I already know how and why I disagree with you about this. I think your views on gender are a combination of boring, outdated, and too amenable to authoritarianism that's either rightist or might as well be rightist (never mind all the left-wing and/or anarchist bona fides certain people may harp on about); I'm not interested in wasting my time discussing it. To the extent you want some spaces to remain “cis women only”, I hardly even care, but I don't see it being very difficult for all of y'all to do that. You have such spaces and you will, in all likelihood, continue to have such spaces. They just may not be the only spaces anymore.

So! At the time of writing, the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article on the “Wi Spa controversy” reads as follows:

On June 24, 2021, a woman posted a video to Instagram in which she angrily confronted staff at Wi Spa, a Korean spa in Los Angeles, about the apparent presence of a nude individual with a [johnson], most commonly believed to be a trans woman, in the women's section of the spa. The video went viral, attracting significant attention from [trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) and right-wing] media, which led to protests and counter-protests on July 3 and 17 over the alleged access. Some media initially questioned whether the alleged incident had been a hoax.

The article goes on, stating that on August 30, someone “commonly reported to be a transgender woman” was arrested in connection to the original reported incident. There is at least one real person involved at the centre of all this, in other words – and things are still very much shaking out for her. I have not followed this story closely, and I don't even know how many details are easily available, but I suspect that she is in pre-trial lock-up at this time.

As an anarchist, I think that sucks. Furthermore, I think that all prisons should be burned to the ground; I'm into that shit. I am also open to the idea that this person genuinely sucks too, because I do not know what happened. My gut reaction, as a partisan in the culture war, is that this is (as some have claimed, because there was initially no evidence at all to suggest otherwise) a hoax, and that now some uninvolved trans woman is dealing with a lot of shit as a consequence. But I don't know – and hey, maybe that person has done some things I don't think are cool, at Wi Spa or elsewhere.

An aside: evidently, she was not arrested because she is necessarily known to have been at Wi Spa – although perhaps some witness testimony will come out in whatever court-and-media circus emerges from this some months hence. Her history of “indecent exposure” dating from about 2003, documented by the judicial system, is what flagged her as a possible suspect. She has apparently also been designated by the state as a “registered sex offender” since 2006, presumably for related reasons.

This woman, and the original incident in the Wi Spa women's changing room (be it a complete fabrication or not), is not really important, though. What is important is that there were, just outside of Wi Spa's location in Los Angeles, large rallies and counterrallies between rightists, on the one hand (including in some cases fascists, parafascists, as well as several people who are completely out of touch with reality), and on the other hand, a coalition of anti-fascist activists, e.g. various leftists, maybe some anarchists, the odd, essentially liberal concerned citizen, and so on. These events, on July 3, July 17, and possibly on other days since, were all overseen by the police.

What happened at Wi Spa was part of a larger story as soon as that went viral. It was, in fact, for at least a brief moment, The Story for both the “gender-critical” and anti-fascist commentariats, in the United States at least. This is what led to the rallies, which I am sure would have had various negative effects if left unopposed (difficulty for staff just working a job at Wi Spa, difficulty for many customers but certainly customers who are trans or might look trans, a sense of victory for the anti-trans side and/or their buddies the Nazis and the “Western chauvinists”), and so then there was also counteraction (widely framed as “antifa”), with all of its inherent risk for the side that, on other days of the week and/or with every breath, also happens to oppose the police, the colonial state, capitalism (of all kinds), the American flag, etc.

There were real stakes for both coalitions, in other words – both the rightist, TERF/“gender-critical”, religious conservative, and -adjacent coalition “opposing gender ideology” et al., as well as the trans, anti-fascist, liberal-progressive-secular, and -adjacent coalition that stands for “trans and queer liberation”, “LGBT rights”, etc., to one's tastes.

As an insurrectionary anarchist – which means, in the North American context today, a tradition within anarchism largely informed by people who had some close connection to struggles in Italy or in the Italian diaspora in the past, from Malatesta and Galleani about a hundred years ago, to the forebears of those forebears, and also to the lives of anarchists still living today like Bonanno, Weir, and others who got caught up in the biggest event for anarchists of the whole 1990s, which has been significantly degree identified with individualist currents as well in North America, also bringing names like Novatore especially to the fore – I inherit a tradition that, in its more modern, local, and generally English-language iterations, is extremely ambivalent about and wary of coalitional politics, insofar as it knows well that coalition partners, on the whole, aren't gonna fuck with what we think, aren't gonna put resistance to authority at the centre of their analysis and practice, and are pretty likely to betray us and/or disappoint us eventually.

All that said, there is a social-insurrectionary current too, which doesn't forget that it's not just insurrectionary anarchists or any other conspiratorial “elite” that makes the revolution – it's everyone, together. At least where I live, the individualist and the social-insurrectionary currents still exist in an uneasy tension, together sustaining (with difficulty) a form of anarchism that isn't just contemporary Blanquism lazily described as such.

Thus, in the spirit of realizing the perennial social-insurrectionary fantasy, of diverse demographics coming together, vanquishing various threats, and creating space for joyous novelty (also identified, by some, as “anarchy”), I wish to bring to the fore that there is also some stake in this for anyone who wants to “normalize nudity” in society at large.

The original controversy stems from the fact that a johnson visible to others for a brief moment in the women's changing room at Wi Spa on June 24 of this year; and if that was not the case, we can still concede that such a thing could happen, certainly has happened somewhere at some point, that it is in fact a logical consequence of a limited trans liberation taking place within the parameters of an otherwise unchanged society (i.e. a society that has commercial spas, which have bigendered changing rooms, and so on). And, either you're cool with that, or not.

Personally, I am cool with it, and not even on behalf of some especial militancy in favour of trans lib. It's more like, as a nudist, it is hard for me to understand what the big deal is about a loose johnson or a loose anything. “Don't look if it makes you uncomfortable” is my position, in more or less any setting, including in changing rooms, locker rooms, etc., to your preference.

Furthermore, I don't really believe that the specific “sanctity” of any space should be the most important principle in any ethical conundrum or social question, nor do I think it is acceptable or a good idea to accommodate ungrounded panic about sexual predators and pedophiles, especially if trans women and other groups are also being identified as the avatars of this threat. I suspect the rare event of a loose johnson in a women's locker room will be uncomfortable for some (though I would expect the discomfort to be more acute among isolated pre-op trans women than among cis women and girls who are in the company of other cis women and girls), but life is uncomfortable for everyone sometimes. Alas! Would that it were not, for everyone!

In men's changing rooms, there has also been a sort of drift towards less tolerance of loose johnsons in public view, which long predates more recent hysteria animated by the gains of pro-trans social movements. For example, where I live, local authorities have, in recent years, mandated that nudity is not to be tolerated in changing rooms for public pools, whether to change from a street outfit into swimclothes or to take a shower beforehand or after.

Although the policy applies across the board, the rhetorical focus was on the men's changing rooms, and the arguments were the same as those with respect to the Wi Spa controversy. Some people are uncomfortable with nudity, first off; it was implied that the people who were doing the complaining were mostly non-white immigrants, so when the policy was announced, both a potential “left” opposition to the policy was undermined for fear of association with racism, while a scapegoat was offered up by local authorities to magnetize the animus of any potential “right” opposition to the policy. A skillful maneuver.

There are also children present in men's changing rooms, just like in women's changing rooms. Apparently this matters because there is an epidemic of child sex trafficking happening at the public pools where parents and older siblings take young kids to cool off in the summer (fact check: there is not). What's really happening is that 6-year-olds are seeing normal human bodies in the locker room, and then potentially asking questions of their fathers and older brothers that can cause these men, young and old, quite a bit of discomfort and confusion. If we accept that the policy was adopted for exactly the same reasons as local authorities said it was, then the decision making doesn't give much credit to these men (among whom I suspect there are plenty of white “locals”, incidentally). Nor does a narrative that assumes crowds of cis women are uniquely threatened by the odd trans woman in a women's changing room (including the even rarer type of trans woman who is a bit large or a bit rude).

Even in the very limited number of spaces where public nudity has heretofore been considered acceptable because it is, in fact, quite practical – like, me being me, the nudist blog guy, I'd obviously prefer both the pool and poolside facilities to be comprehensively nudity-optional, but that's just not what's up – there is a push to keep “private parts” covered to an even greater point of impracticality than what was, mere decades earlier, still quite common in North America. And like, I think it should be as easy as possible, for everyone, for people to change their outfits when that is something they need to do just to enjoy their lives.

There may be more than one solution to this, none of which is likely to work for everyone, but a trans-inclusive policy with respect to bigendered changing rooms seems significantly better than simply ignoring the specific needs, experiences, or desires of trans women writ large in order to satisfy a bigoted sentiment among, for the most part, cis people, both women and men.

But, that's not what's going. The principal reason is a sort of anti-sexual hysteria, meaning confused and/or politically reactionary efforts to solve real sexuality problems that either lack strategic sense or, otherwise, are animated by paranoia and violent fantasy vis-à-vis identified enemy groups such as trans people.

This sort of thing never affects just one group of people. It has ripple effects. Certainly it has gotten mixed into the QAnon and -adjacent stuff at this point, e.g. ideological currents presently animating most incidents of fatality-inducing stochastic terror in the United States.

Among naturist spaces on the internet, the only one I am aware of that has any space at all for present-day political discourse is the r/naturism subreddit. At the time of writing, there is a wiki page “dedicated to resources to help the Black Lives Matter movement” as well as links to a “Belarus Solidarity Fund” and a “Hayastan All Armenian Fund” on the sidebar, presumably related to the ongoing situation in Belarus and last year's war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don't want to be too mean or critical, but I find this sort of thing a bit confusing. It is clear to me that one or more of the subreddit's admins care about things beyond the concerns of nudism-naturism, that they want to help with apparently urgent matters like social uprisings, wars, and dictatorial crackdowns on dissent, and that they think the users of r/naturism – who mostly post blog articles about “nakations” or their own experiences as nudists or other very much subcultural and individual concerns – should also give at least some amount of a fuck. And, that's great, but there is not much of an explicit argument being made to explain why anyone should care (apart from already agreeing with some cliché principles of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, internationalism, etc.), what any users of r/naturism are supposed to do about that, and why any of the suggestions of places to donate or things to keep in mind might actually be helpful, fit into a larger strategy, etc.

With respect to the Wi Spa situation, it's different. First of all, it is presumably a place that many SoCal nudists already know of, or that they may even frequent occasionally. Second, the original controversy is about an exposed “private part”, a linguistic and philosophical construction that is a perennial bugbear for would-be nudists. There is, in other words, some space for nudists to participate in the social eruption around the controversy – just one beat in the pulse of a larger, more diffuse cultural conflict across the whole anglosphere and beyond – as nudists (or perhaps more accurately, as partisans of nudism, i.e. it may not be useful to participate actually naked) and in solidarity.

In so doing, they could link struggles and also sharpen ideas about, in this case, issues of apparel and nudity more broadly. Out of that, there is a possibility for something beyond mere defense of reason and decency in a space where it is threatened (which is, frankly, a straightforwardly conservative goal, whether it is articulated by defenders or opponents of trans lib). Instead, the Crucible of Politics and the Arena of History could do as they have done before, forging new affinities which might lead, in turn, to new architectures (both physical and sociocultural) and new understandings of the world that do not subordinate exuberance and personal freedom to tradition, paranoia, and/or negative stereotypes about certain kinds of people. And I genuinely think that, apart from what nudists can do for the right side in this struggle as people like any other (e.g. we can throw down, provide first aid, donate money, etc.), there is also something uniquely useful we can contribute to this specific struggle that emerges from a nudist political sensibility (e.g. the argument that no one should rightly care too much about a hanging johnson being in potential sight range every now and then).

An effort to create a more actively solidarious culture among nudists (or among any other group of people, of course) shouldn't be directed first toward “issues” that are simply serious, be they geopolitical issues (“Belarus”, “Hong Kong”, “Venezuela”, etc.) or social justice issues (like trans lib or whatever). The primary focus instead should be to identify situations where nudists could understand that they have some skin in the game, as it were – situations such as those around the Wi Spa stuff this past summer, as well as the larger backdrop of both a widespread social precariousness and a multiplicity of rightist factions that want to seize power, exterminate the human avatars of perceived “corruption” (which presumably includes a lot of nudists), and generally make the world worse for everyone.

The Wi Spa situation has been on my mind since it happened in 2021, but not long before that, in the context of nationalist campaigns to punish people for wearing certain kinds of apparel associated with non-Christian religions in places like France, Québec, Austria, and elsewhere, I have also thought that it would have been great if some organized association of nudists could have intervened strategically in the discourse (i.e. in podcasts, in writing, in which there are no distracting representations of naked people, so that the ideas can take centre stage).

“From burqini to naked,” their slogan could have read. “We believe that what others wear is none of your business.”

As an anarchist who has participated in black blocs before, I would have appreciated even symbolic and rhetorical efforts at solidarity from nudists in the face of previous years' (and obviously pre-2020) efforts in various places to demonize and specifically criminalize face masks and other types of sensible apparel for street fighting in the context of political demonstrations and/or just in general. (Probably a bit spicy for the vast majority of nudists on the liberal-to-conservative political spectrum, sadly.)

It is important to note that solidarity is the only means by which any sort of anti-systemic social movement has ever achieved its objectives – and it's generally pretty useful for social movements that are significantly less anti-systemic, too. Nudism-naturism (the dominant “philosophy of nudism”, e.g. a set of ideas about how to understand humans' relationships to nudity, apparel, and other aspects of their lives, as well as to how imagine better ones), nudism-comfortism (a different philosophy informed by anarchism, articulated here), and any kind of anarchist and/or radical egalitarian politics seem pretty much destined to remain positions of the small minority for the foreseeable future. The experiences of minorities of various kinds, too, will remain obscure to most people, especially while there is an ongoing, well-supported campaign in the anglosphere countries (and beyond) to remove purported “gender ideology” (a bogeyman evil that overlaps with other evils in a suspicious rightist's mind) from existence, perhaps alongside those who promote it and those who embody it.

We (nudists, anarchists, people who are both) can make our own spaces, and we can take our own spaces. Unless we have money, though, we will need to develop other skills, including social skills. We need to know, and have a good and trusting relationship, with as many of our neighbours as we can – and sometimes, with people who are further away, too. We need to show our friends, or the people we wouldn't mind having as friends, that we will have their backs if they're dealing with a crisis. And then, maybe they'll help us out, both when we need help due to a crisis of some kind, or because we have aspirations of our own that we want to realize, that we hope others can help us realize.

(Update, October 2, 2021: a comment on @news led me to type a name into my search engine, which brought me to this article, by Andy Ngo, in the New York Post. I do not like Ngo or the Post, but the article provided new information that I expect is accurate. For instance, what happened on August 30 is that the Los Angeles police issued a warrant for a suspect in the Wi Spa “indecent exposure” case; no one was arrested on that day. The individual named in the warrant then spoke to Ngo for his September 2 article, and announced that she would turn herself into police afterwards. I got these facts wrong. In the Post article, the sought-after individual also admits to having been present at Wi Spa on June 24, meaning that, at the very least, the initial incident was not a hoax. I do not think these facts invalidate the overall thrust of my argument – I stated that the person at this centre of this story could very well be a person who I would think sucks, and that it's not about her – but I do regret using an evidently inadequate Wikipedia article for most of my research.)

[comments: Raddle | Reddit ++ | @news]

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 208-Conclusion

Chapter 3 of Capital is not the most enthralling text ever written, but in the notes from this week we will see the points of culmination. So far we have discussed money and the role of money both in the exchange of commodities and in the construction of an object as a commodity. As a universal equivalent that is in itself positioned as an object of the future, we spend money later, and as a structure of social functionality, we can see how capital starts to orient the possibilities of action around some market mediated understanding of future moments. This displacement into the future comes to then shape the conditions of possibility for the present around this displacement of value into a dynamic of commodities in circulation.

For the remainder of this chapter we will continue this discussion of futurity, and get into some of the more technical elements of how futurity functions, the ways this comes to impact commodity forms and circulation and, ultimately, what the social and ontological impacts of that displacement are. I am going to keep the introduction to the material for this week minimal, to allow for the content to stand on its own.

Away we go...

  • Marx begins this thread of discussion with the concept of commodity circulation operating as a circuit. In this discussion the core element is not so much the metaphor of the circuit, or even the metaphor of metabolism, but is the way that this repositions the temporality of the act. Within the process of circulation each act is displaced from its own present, and inserted into a hypothetical future, which in turn operates as a condition of possibility for the present. We can see this in a simplistic example. The act of production is premised on the exchange of the commodity for money, which is then accepted based on the assumption of its future social relevance (others accept this money as an equivalent for commodities in a future moment).

In this simple example of generic commodity production the act is displaced from itself and inserted into some outside moment which has yet to occur. This moment is not just confined to the specific anticipated exchange. Rather, it is the projection of a whole structure of social circulation and existential possibility. We will discuss the concept of circulation as point of intervention later, but for now suffice to say that this circulation is one which tends toward totality. The more people accept currency as money, and the more “stable” the political conditions are the more that these conditions facilitate commodity circulation. As such, capital only functions to the degree that all present moments are defined through the construction of the social structure of the future.

Clearly this is impossible, one cannot predict a moment that has not occurred unless we posit an existentially nullifying deterministic universe (which essentially means that all of these questions, including all of politics and the entire anarchist project are just events that were determined to occur by some controlling entity). So, if actions create contingent effects in their collision with other dynamics, and the aggregate of these effects constructs future moments, then the only way to attempt to construct the future is to limit the possibilities of the present. We have a name for the institution built to impose sovereignty as a limitation on possibility, we call them the police. It is in this sociality and futurity that we see the necessity of policing for commodity circulation to occur, and thus the necessity of the state for capitalism to function.

  • In this process of alienation from the present there is a dual displacement at work. Firstly, the commodity is displaced from the present in its mere existence as a commodity, or as an object produced for exchange only. In its existence as a commodity the condition of possibility for the object is not the object, or even the material use of the object. Rather, the object only exists as a carrier of abstract value, it is completely alienated from its materiality.

When sold the object is transferred both between owners but also between structures of value. For the seller the commodity is only relevant to the degree that it carries abstract exchange value; its material form or manifestation, whether pencils or ammunition, is irrelevant. For the buyer, however, the object fundamentally changes ontological shape, morphing from this object in which materiality has been completely alienated to an object which, again, is able to hold use-value; namely, the person that buys something uses it, and returns the object to its materiality. For the seller the commodity sheds its material guise, and carries forward in the form of pure quantifiable value, or money. This separation of abstract exchange value from the materiality of the commodity becomes really critical later when we discuss savings and hoarding.

The second displacement occurs here. Money, which is the form that value takes when decoupled from the material elements of the commodity (which are relevant to the degree that they carry value through a material object, in which the shape of the object is irrelevant), only matters to the degree that a second future is posited, the future of purchase. For money to function it is not enough for it to function for two people in an exchange in the present. For a seller to accept money they have to predict that some anonymous other in some unknown future moment will accept this as money. This is important, in that the other never needs to be specified, but needs to apply to all possible others, and the unknown future does not need a date, it must apply in all possible futures.

“The two opposite changes undergone by the same commodity are reflected in the displacement, twice repeated but in opposite directions, of the same piece of coin...The frequently repeated displacement of the same coins reflects not only the series of metamorphoses undergone by a single commodity, but also the mutual entanglement of the innumerable metamorphoses in the whole world of commodities” (212).

The commodity comes to exist both as an object with material particularity, for the buyer, as well as a structuring of value and the transportation of value that renders the material shape of the object irrelevant. The ability to nullify the material shape of the commodity in circulation is a product of the way that exchange value functions to render all things equivalent, as a magnitude of quantifiable exchange value. This reductionism, however, only exists in relation to the social logistics of circulation itself, and not just production, which, is itself just a product of circulation as well.

Circulation is where the dynamics of the market come into play, it is a calculus grounded in futurity and, in itself, necessitates this equivalence. So, therefore, we can say that it is circulation, and not production, that actually lives at the heart of the logistics of capitalism; without circulation, of which production is a part, capitalism would cease to function. A similar argument was made in 20 Theses on the Subversion of the Metropolis, which made the argument that the most effective points of intervention were within the logistics chains of capital themselves.

  • Money functions to the degree that the use of a specific commodity is standardized as a medium of representational value. In other words, money exists both as the marker of abstract value, and is a commodity in itself; in Marx's context he is using gold here, but today we can speak of paper and coin metals. This constructs the object of money along the lines of three distinct existential structures; the commodity, the mechanism of abstract value circulation ans as material object with use value. It is this structure that allows us to think of money as something that is able to be separated from circulation.

In the initial incursions into this area Marx discusses money through the lens of spending, leading to the impression of a smooth transition from sale to purchase, with all money staying in circulation. But, if this is the case then something like a bank becomes impossible. To the degree that we can separate money into a mechanism for conveying value, separate from its material commodity form or its use-value as a mechanism of circulation, we can begin to speak of the movements of value, and the storing of value for use in the future. In this existence as a mechanism of circulation money functions as coin, but when it is immobilized, removed from circulation, either through savings or interruptions in circulation, it only functions as abstract money devoid of a physical form.

“The continuous circular movement of the two antithetical metamorphoses of commodities, or the repeated alternating flow of sale and purchase, is reflected in the unceasing turnover of money, in the function it performs of a perpetuum mobile of circulation. But as soon as the series of metamorphoses is interrupted, as soon as sales are not supplemented by subsequent purchases, money is immobilized. In other words, it is transformed, as Boisguillebert says, from 'meuble' to 'immeuble', from coin into money” (227).

So, here we can see that money, as store of value, need not take the form of coin, or money in circulation. Rather, it is able to store value, as a conceptual quantity, separate from its utility in purchasing. It is this potential of to store immobile money that shifts the calculation. Money changes role from mechanism of circulation to an end in itself.

“When the circulation of commodities first develops, there also develops the necessity and the passionate desire to hold fast to the product of the first metamorphosis. The product is the transformed shape of the commodity, or its gold chrysalis. Commodities are thus sold not in order to buy commodities, but in order to replace their commodity-form by their money-form. Instead of being merely a way of mediating the metabolic process, this change of form becomes an end in itself. The form of the commodity in which it is divested of content is prevented from functioning as its absolutely alienable form, or even as its transient money-form. The money is petrified into a hoard, and the seller of the commodity becomes a hoarder of money” (227-228).

To the degree that money functions socially everything becomes represented in a commodity form, giving the one who accumulates money “social power”. In other words, if all action, and therefore all possibility, falls within the commodity circulation process, as it necessarily must, then the accumulation of money allows for the purchasing of greater quantities of possibility, but a very limited form of possibility. Capitalism, unlike state run economies, prioritizes movement and a certain form of experimentation. Capitalists use this to claim that this means that capitalism is an expression of all life, when in reality it merely means that the categories relevant within capitalism displace life entirely, and reshape it within its image. As such, we can take whatever action we want, to the degree that it is commodified or commodifiable, and the more money we accumulate the greater the possibility of action is. Actions like looting, riots and the burning of police stations necessarily escapes commodification to the degree that these acts wholly live within the realm of the disruption of circulation.

  • The drive toward accumulation is grounded in a contradiction in the money-form. On the one hand money is boundless, it can be used as the equivalent for any commodifiable entity. Yet, on the other hand, there always exists a finite quantity of money, meaning that one can never accumulate enough to ever have maximal possibility.Money must always be finite for a relatively simple reason, exchange value is practically based on scarcity, or the imposition of scarcity.

For example, say that there was enough food to feed all the people on the planet, and there is plenty to do this. If that food were available openly then there would not be much of a reason to pay for it; the same applies if there are not police preventing theft. So, food becomes a commodity with exchange value to the degree that there is a scarcity of food. Now, we do actually produce enough food for all humans, so scarcity is not a product of limitation in supply, but is a product of limiting the possibilities of acquisition. This is why stores have loss prevention teams and why starvation can still occur on a planet with an abundance of food.

The same applies for money. During the time of this writing this would have existed within the calculations around commodity based currencies, such as the gold standard. In that space the value of the currency is directly connected to the quantity of gold divided by the amount of currency units exist in total, with each currency unit representing a fraction of this gold supply. In this structure every unit of currency created, either through printing money or the magic of fractional reserve banking and debt creation, adds to the total quantity of currency, lowering its value per unit in relation to gold, and driving up inflation. If an infinite supply were to be created, then it would be essentially worthless, hence people in Italy in the interwar period wallpapering and insulating their homes with money and, in many cases, reverting to a barter economy. The calculations are now based in supply of a currency compared to the demand for that currency in international currency markets, but the same principle applies in its core tenants, even if the actual math has changed.

As such, there is always the possibility of accumulating more money and, therefore, more social power, but this can never lead to a total accumulation, which in itself would lead to the end of commodity circulation. Therefore, though money can be accumulated, and the drive to accumulate is directly tied to power and possibility within capitalism, one can never accumulate all money, and must preserve the money of others in order for the economy to function. This is the core of the continual drive toward accumulation, but also the economic danger of wealth stratification (trickle-down economics is an attempt to disingenuously work around this, but at its core it is just bad, speculative economics theory with no veracity or much support outside of conservative circles in the US and UK).

“This contradiction between the quantitative limitation and the qualitative lack of limitation of money keeps driving the hoarder back to his Sisyphean task: accumulation. He is in the same situation as the world conqueror, who discovers a new boundary with each country he annexes” (131).

 
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from Staring Into the Abyss

Pages 188-207

Welcome to Chapter 3, where we start to pull together the threads drawn out in the first two chapters. As I am sure many of you have anticipated at this point, we will begin the discussion of money here. But, before we do so, let's rehash some of the relevant points, for this discussion, from weeks past.

The construct of money becomes relevant due to the centrality of abstract value in relation to the existence of the commodity. The commodity itself is an object that is produced for exchange, and has exchange value. This production for exchange displaces value from use and into exchange, and, as a result, displaces the conditions of possibility for the object or the act into the abstraction of quantifiable value.

This focus on exchange also generates this necessity of prediction, the prediction not only of the exchange, but also of the continued social operation of abstract value and exchange into the future. This is where we start to see capitalism colliding with policing, and where the concept of stable investment conditions emerges; more on that as we go along.

For this week, the critical point from these past discussions centers around the mechanism of exchange. For objects to be exchanged as commodities a third element must enter into the equation, the form of abstract value. This form operates as a universal equivalent, or a form that all things can be rendered in. So, clearly there is foreshadowing in play here, and clearly money comes to play that role.

In this week's reading, there are a number of concepts introduced, including the concept of the money commodity, the separation between the money commodity as money and money commodity as commodity, and the concept of social metabolism. Now, I will caution, this week's reading is largely a bridge. It lays out critical concepts to understand the second half of the chapter, which doubles back to discuss the commodity form in an interesting and impactful way (but I won't spoil that here).

Here we go!

-Money, and Marx is using gold here as the standard token, only becomes money to the degree that it fulfills a dual role. The first, most obvious, role is that money functions as this third item in the exchange, or the element that brings the other elements into equivalence with one another. In other words, for exchange value to function all items need to be rendered equivalent, they all need to be able to be abstracted into a quantity of value that can be exchanged for the item. Money is able to play this role to the degree that the exchange is broken apart. Rather than exchanging a thing for a thing, now one exchanges a thing for value and value for a thing (Marx articulates this in the M-C-M, C-M-C formulations in this chapter where M is money and C is commodity).

The second role money plays is that, by serving as the conduit for exchange, it allows the object to even be expressed as a commodity. The construction of the commodity involves the removal of the object from its material conditions, and the valuation of that object through a quantity of exchange value. Money is the form in which that quantity of value manifests, and without that functionality of abstract value the object cannot take on the commodity form.

  • The quantity of value carried by the object is not an expression of some qualitative value of the object rendered as a quantity. Rather, due to the materiality of the object being negated in the construction of the object as commodity, the quantity of value is in relation to the abstraction of work as labor-power. This is an extension of the labor theory of value, where labor is said to construct all things, and take materials and render them into objects with use-value. As a result it is labor that gives things value, and it is that value that is abstracted as a quantity, not a value of the object itself, which is negated in the commodity form. One may say, and many economists have, that the labor theory of value cannot address supply and demand, questions of monetary valuation, etc, and we will get to why that reading is wrong in a second.

“Money as a measure of value is the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is immanent in commodities, namely labour-time” (188).

Here Marx introduces the concept of price, as opposed to value. Price refers to the value of the commodity rendered as a quantity and expressed in money-form. This creates the opening for Marx to be able to discuss economic dynamics in relation to the cost of items. Obviously, the cost of items fluctuates, which would not be possible if labor determined price. But, if we decouple price from value, and discuss price as the mechanism through which commodities interact with market conditions, then we can say that price and value diverge based on conditions.

This simplifies exchange by eliminating the complexity of the material world, the complexity of trading commodities for commodities, which do not have an equivalent value materially, and in which a structure of valuation must be constructed that is unique to that exchange, what Marx refers to as complex relative value. With the advent of money, the commodity no longer exists in relation to another commodity, all commodities are isolated expressions of value, but only exists in relation to money, which is a simple relative value that can be carried between exchanges.

  • Though money allows for price, and even though the physicality of money is a commodity, money itself cannot have a price. Namely, money cannot be used to purchase money, it is a tautology. Now, of course there are currency exchanges, and the language used in that industry is based on the concept of buying other currencies, but this is a misnomer. When a commodity is purchased it transforms back into a use-value for the buyer. Money cannot function in this way, it can only be an equivalent of things that have use value. When a currency is exchanged for another currency one is trading abstract value for an equivalent amount of abstract value. Money is extracted through that process in the form of fees, which are valued in relation to labor, and market manipulations, which just allow one to store abstract value in the form of money, and then exchange that at a future time for the equivalent value at that future time. But, nowhere is money bought in a formal sense; it is merely traded or transformed.

  • “The price or money-form of commodities is, like their form of value generally, quite distinct from their palpable and real bodily form; it is therefore a purely ideal or notional form” (189).

Due to the abstraction of value in the money-form, the valuation of the commodity is not OF the object, it is not a part of the object in its material form, but it defines the object from this exteriority. To the degree that this valuation exists in relation to labor, and labor exists as a production of commodities, then the ability to exchange value also comes to be the condition of possibility for labor as well. In other words, activity produces value, but when the activity itself is premised on the production of objects for exchange, then the predicted futurity of exchange comes to determine the possibility of the action, rather than utility, use or necessity. But, even though labor creates value, and this value is quantified in price, the concept of price is independent from that of value in the sense that price can be impacted by the dynamics of exchange (supply and demand for example), and can fluctuate even if the amount of labor in the object remains the same. Remember, and this is something capitalist economists get wrong all the time, it is the labor theory of VALUE, not the labor theory of price.

  • This construction of the commodity around the dynamics of exchange at a future moment (we will return to temporal alienation in the next section) centers the commodity around a dual displacement. The very construct of the commodity is a removal of an object from itself, as well as from its present. To be able to engage with exchange, the commodity must become abstracted, with the dynamics of the production and circulation of that abstract value being determined by some speculation about the future.

“Though a commodity may, alongside its real shape (iron, for instance), possess an ideal value-shape or an imagined gold-shape in the form of its price, it cannot simultaneously be both real iron and real gold. To establish its price it is sufficient for it to be equated with gold in the imagination. But to enable it to render its owner the service of a universal equivalent, it must first be replaced by actual gold” (197).

  • Social metabolism is a term Marx uses to discuss the production to consumption process of the commodity, as a series of social relations within a wider social structure of commodity circulation. The commodity is produced for exchange, but following that exchange it morphs back into the object, as a use-value for this purchaser. These inflection points in the metamorphosis of the object all occur in exchanges of commodity for money-commodity, through the abstraction of price. In this process a dual move occurs, the metamorphosis of value in the commodity and the morphing of a commodity into money.

“Commodities first enter into the process of exchange ungilded and unsweetened, retaining the original home-grown shape. Exchange, however, produces a differentiation of the commodity into two elements, commodity and money, an external opposition which expresses the opposition between use-value and value which is inherent in it. In this opposition, the commodities as use-values confront money as exchange-value. On the other hand, both sides of this opposition are commodities, hence themselves unities of use-value and value. But this unity of differences is expressed at two opposite poles, and at each pole in an opposite way. This is the alternating relation between the two poles: the commodity is in reality a use-value; its existence as a value appears only ideally, in its price, through which it is related to the real embodiment of its value, the gold which confronts it as its opposite. Inversely, the material of gold ranks only as the materialization of value, as money. It is therefore in reality exchange-value. Its use-value appears only ideally in a series of expressions of relative value within which it confronts all the other commodities as the totality of real embodiments of its utility. These antagonistic forms of the commodities are the real forms of motion of the process of exchange” (199).

It is in this process where commodities are produced to exchange that the predictability of the totality of future dynamics comes to be at issue, as it implies the exchange of commodity for money, and money for commodity, in the future. The purchasing of the commodity for sale, likewise implies this future; one purchases to sell to another later.

“We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of human agents” (207).

 
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